The Implications Of The Stuytown Default

Stuytown

In many respects, the non-news of the day was the decision by Tishman Speyer Properties to hand back to the lenders its Peter Cooper Village and Stuyvesant Town apartment complex. This particular train wreck has been a foregone conclusion for the better part of a year. Yet, it generated considerable attention in the blogosphere.

Why did it get so much play? Well the short answer is that it raises the question of why shouldn’t the average American avail themselves of the same remedy that Tishman and other big real estate players are opting for. Most pundits seem to think that they should do precisely the same thing if they think it’s in their best interest. I find it hard to disagree.

We may well look back at 2010 as the year in which American society underwent a sea change in how it views its obligations to repay borrowed money. You see, there isn’t really any reason that this should be confined to mortgage debt. It’s not beyond reason or imagination to suppose that millions burdened by credit card debt will opt for the same solution. Ditto for students with crushing debt taken out to finance an education that isn’t producing any job or income to service the debt. There’s no reason to believe that with the stigma of being classified as a dead beat removed that default won’t become the new financial rage. Just as Americans clued each other in on the ins and outs of gaming mortgages during the boom so too are they likely to pass on the dirty little secret that you can walk from your debts with no consequences.

One of the best quotes I read today on the subject came from the Curious
Capitalist:

But the larger take away from Tishman Speyer’s spectacular news is that it is just the latest entry in an expanding log of debt forgiveness that is transforming America’s economy. Whether it is residential homeowners walking away from mortgages they can no longer afford or want, or a super-sized borrowers kissing their assets goodbye, debt written off is debt forgiven.

And that puts us one step closer to a sustainable economic recovery.

I’m not sure that I would agree with the last sentence as I don’t know what sort of financial system you end up with if you change the system that radically but otherwise, the author is spot on in his comments about deleveraging. The idea that corporate America could shed its debts with the support of the American taxpayer while individuals would continue to service theirs in order to preserve a FICO score must rank as one of the larger miscalculations ever.

The potential for this to turn into a tsunami is not insignificant. If it does then isn’t it reasonable to ask if the financial crisis is really over.

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