Dan Amoss

A hidden time bomb ticks away inside the government budget: Within a handful of years, US taxpayers will be on the hook for over $100 billion in student loan defaults.

Just last Friday, the US Department of Education released new data on student loan defaults. In short: The hissing sounds coming from the student loan bubble are getting louder.

I doubt it’s a coincidence the Department of Education chose last Friday (when attentions had shifted to the weekend) to release new three-year cohort default rate data for federal student loans. The three-year cohort default rate is defined as follows: the percentage of borrowers who enter repayment on certain loans during a particular federal fiscal year (Oct. 1-Sept. 30) and default or meet other specified conditions prior to the end of the second following fiscal year.

The default rate is horrendous, and it’s only going to get worse. These are uncollateralized loans, so losses given default will be orders of magnitude higher than losses on subprime mortgages; in subprime, losses were mitigated by the value of housing collateral.

“More than one in 10 borrowers defaulted on their federal student loans, intensifying concern about a generation hobbled by $1 trillion in debt and the role of colleges in jacking up costs,” a Bloomberg story notes. The story continues:

“The default rate, for the first three years that students are required to make payments, was 13.4%, with for-profit colleges reporting the worst results, the US Education Department said today.

“The Education Department has revamped the way it reports student loan defaults, which the government said had reached the highest level in 14 years. Previously, the agency reported the rate only for the first two years payments are required. Congress demanded a more comprehensive measure because of concern that colleges counsel students to defer payments to make default rates appear low.”

This 13.4% figure will surely go higher. The post-2008 surge in student loan volume won’t season and start defaulting until after the Class of 2013 graduates. Then we will see the real fireworks. This crisis will finally capture the public’s attention.

What are the investing implications of these defaults-in-waiting? An obvious conclusion is to avoid owning the for-profit education stocks, no matter how cheap they may appear. Education stocks including Apollo Group (APOL) and ITT Educational Services (ESI) probably face a surge in legal and regulatory risk once the enormous scale of student loan defaults comes to public attention next year. In fact, even after they’ve suffered large declines, the for-profit education stocks are starting to look like attractive short sales.

Regards,

Dan Amoss,
for The Daily Reckoning

Dan Amoss

Dan Amoss, CFA, is a student of the Austrian school of economics, a discipline that he uses to identify imbalances in specific sectors of the market. He tracks aggressive accounting and other red flags that the market typically misses. Amoss is a Maryland native, a graduate of Loyola University Maryland, and earned his CFA charter in 2005. In spring 2008, he recommended Lehman Brothers puts, advising readers to hold the position as the stock fell from $45 to $12. Amoss is our macro strategist and guardian of The 5 Min. Forecast PRO.

Recent Articles

5 Min. Forecast
How the Swiss Could Set Off a Financial Avalanche

Dave Gonigam

There have been quite a few disappointing numbers in the global economy recently. But as these numbers are just economic "snowflakes" building toward a financial avalanche. All you need is one to push it over the edge. And as Dave Gonigam explains, the deciding snowflake may come from Switzerland. Read on...


Addison Wiggin
One World, One Bank, One Currency

Addison Wiggin

After the 2008 financial crisis, little could be heard over the deafening cries of "mission accomplished." And while the Fed's massive QE program seemed to work, the question remains: for how long? Addison Wiggin explains why the next round of QE will fail miserably, paving the way for the IMF to step in with something called "special drawing rights." Read on...


Addison Wiggin
Profit from Global Warming, Even if You Don’t Believe In It

Addison Wiggin

Global warming is one of the most debated subjects of the last few years. But regardless of whether you're a "true believer" or a merely an unconvinced skeptic, there are significant ways to make serious money from this controversial topic. Today, Addison Wiggin brings you three of them. Read on...


Don’t Drink the Tap Water (It’s Not What You Think)

Chris Campbell

Under the auspices of benefiting public health, the government has been administering medication to you and your family for generations. But is it really necessary? Or worse... Could it actually be harmful? Chris Campbell takes a closer look at this, and other personal health decisions the feds don't trust you to make...


One Metal to Watch in the Current Commodity Crash

Greg Guenthner

Commodities have been in freefall lately. Everything from corn to soy beans to precious metals is headed lower right now. But is this just a brief downturn, or is this the beginning of a long-term trend? Greg Guenthner explains, with a closer look at one specific precious metal that could snap back violently before heading lower. Read on...


Extra!
What to Hold When the U.S. Economic Blimp Deflates

Jim Mosquera

The inflation vs. deflation debate is a heated one. Heck, it almost brought Peter Schiff and Harry Dent to blows. But at the core of this debate is a common misunderstanding of the nature of both inflation and deflation. Today, Jim Mosquera seeks to explain each... and which one the U.S. is more likely to experience. Read on...