Gillian Tett:

But car finance – along with student loans – jumped in that same month. Even more notable is that this has occurred amid a sharp deterioration in loan quality. Five years ago, subprime loans represented barely a 10th of the total; today they account for a third. A particularly high proportion of GM cars sales are financed by subprime loans. Meanwhile, a 10th of new loans are now going to so-called “deep subprime”, or consumers who would previously have had little chance of getting funding – particularly given that incomes for poorer households have stayed flat or declined, even as car prices jumped.

There are several reasons for this boom. One is the fact that asset managers are currently so desperate to find something – anything – that produces a return in an ultra-low interest rate world that they are gobbling up all manner of bonds. And investors are particularly keen to buy bonds backed by car loans because these performed better than mortgages during the last credit crisis. This has spawned a widespread (and potentially dangerous) assumption that American consumers are so attached to their cars they will do anything to retain them.