Opinion

Mohamed El-Erian

Deal or no deal, debt drama is not going away

Mohamed El-Erian
Aug 1, 2011 13:58 UTC

Are you tired of all the stories on Europe’s financial crisis and American politicians’ endless bickering about debt and deficits? Are you tired of weekends of hectic negotiations as policymakers rush to cobble together some agreement before markets open? If you are, you are not the only one.

Millions of people, including stressed-out policymakers on both sides of the Atlantic, wish to put these issues behind them. Unfortunately, despite many announcements, they are unable to do so decisively, and for good reason.

So we better understand why, if we want to minimize the risk of collateral damage and unintended consequences.

To do so, you need only remember one rather clumsy phrase: “safe de-levering” (also known to some as “safe de-leveraging”), or the lack thereof. Consider please each word, starting with the second one.

De-levering refers to the rehabilitation of balance sheets that have gotten over-indebted to such an extent that they are unsustainable going forward. The contributing causes are usually numerous and many years in the making.

Americans can ill-afford this debt ceiling debacle

Mohamed El-Erian
Jul 25, 2011 14:45 UTC

By Mohamed A. El-Erian
The opinions expressed are his own.

Friday’s stunning and very public quarrel between the president and the Speaker of the House of Representatives was the catalyst for a weekend of frantic negotiations on how to increase America’s debt ceiling, maintain the country’s sacred AAA rating, and avoid a near-term default. Meanwhile, administration officials and members of Congress took to the airwaves on Sunday trying, but largely failing, to strike the balance between statesmanship and another round of the Washington blame game.

It was hoped that all this would serve as a prelude to a political compromise announced just before the opening of Asian markets. This did not materialize. But while another self-imposed deadline has been missed, it is likely that the nation’s leadership will stumble into a short-term compromise over the next few days — one that raises the debt ceiling and avoids a debt default but, importantly, leaves the AAA rating extremely vulnerable and does little to lift the damaging clouds hanging over the US economy.

It will come down to the wire; and when the stopgap compromise is reached, many in Washington will declare victory and, in the process, claim credit for averting a national disaster. Yet the resolution will likely be temporary, and the damage will be real and long-lasting — both of which render an already worrisome situation even more difficult going forward. Indeed, by illustrating so vividly to the whole world what is ailing America, the weekend’s political theatrics should make us all worry even more about the world’s largest economy.

  •