It's not exactly the deleveraging that many hoped for; total debt in mature economies is still near 400% of GDP, a decade after the crisis. But by the same token, after a decade of stimulus bills and bailouts and automatic stabilizers and soaring student loans and ultra-cheap funding costs, it's an achievement in itself that debt hasn't gone up.
The details: The debt is safer now, too. Governments account for more of it, while the financial-services sector has deleveraged more than anybody else. When governments run into debt trouble, they implement financial repression, which is less painful than crisis-triggering defaults.
All of this comes as U.S. homes have deleveraged their debt as well:
At the height of the crisis, there was a terrifying $600 billion in leveraged loans outstanding. This junk-rated debt looked highly likely to default, because it couldn't be refinanced: Just $77 billion of such loans were issued in 2009.
- Here, the deleveraging never really happened, and now we're seeing record issuance (an annualized $666 billion, year-to-date) and record debt levels, too ($1.1 trillion, at last count).
Most of this debt lives in CLOs (collateralized loan obligations), where it doesn't pose a huge systemic risk. It would be much more dangerous if it was being held on banks' balance sheets. But there could be hundreds of billions of dollars in losses if a stock-market correction causes the leveraged-loan window to close.
- The big picture: To put these numbers in perspective, total subprime mortgage originations peaked in 2006 at just over $600 billion.