U.S. balance sheet data show that more adjustment is necessary before the economy can resume a normal growth path, says Mohamed El-Erian, CEO of fund manager Pimco.
“It’s critical to look at balance sheets,” he told CNBC. “What the market is telling us today is that balance sheets matter.”
So what’s going on there?
“Right now there’s only one healthy balance sheet in the U.S. That’s the corporate sector,” El-Erian said. Both the government and household balance sheets are too big.
The Federal Reserve’s flow of funds data show that household debt contracted 2.4 percent in the first quarter, while business debt was unchanged and federal government debt soared 18.5 percent.
“The household continues to de-lever, the government is levering up its balance sheet and corporations are completely bipolar,” El-Erian said. Small companies can’t get credit, and big companies, which can get it, don’t want it.
So the private sector is de-levering, while the public sector re-levers. "That is not an ingredient for sustainable growth. That is the ingredient for a multi-year adjustment," he said.
Pimco sees U.S. economic growth staying below 3 percent for three to five years.
In one of the market’s many contradictions of late, while U.S. government debt is soaring, as El-Erian mentioned, investors have been clamoring for Treasury bonds as a haven from Europe’s debt crisis and money market rates near zero.
El-Erian’s own Pimco colleague Bill Gross recently sang Treasuries’ praises.
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