Nouriel Roubini: The “Mother Of All Economic Crises” Is Coming – Here’s Why
Economist Nouriel Roubini believes the world economy is lurching toward an unprecedented confluence of economic, financial, and debt crises, following…
Economist Nouriel Roubini believes the world economy is lurching toward an unprecedented confluence of economic, financial, and debt crises, following the explosion of deficits, borrowing, and leverage in recent decades.
By* Lorimer Wilson, Managing Editor of munKNEE.com – Your KEY to Making Money. Here’s why.
In his latest commentary, titled ‘The Unavoidable Crash’, Roubini writes: After years of ultra-loose fiscal, monetary, and credit policies and the onset of major negative supply shocks, stagflationary pressures are now putting the squeeze on a massive mountain of public- and private-sector debt. The mother of all economic crises looms, and there will be little that policymakers can do about it.
Central to his thesis is the mountain of private and public debt that has been accumulating. Private debt includes corporations and households (mortgages, credit cards, car loans, etc.) while public debt comprises government bonds and other formal liabilities, as well as implicit debts such as pay-as-you-go pension schemes.
Globally, total private- and public-sector debt as a share of GDP rose from 200% in 1999 to 350% in 2021. The ratio is now 420% across advanced economies, and 330% in China. In the United States, it is 420%, which is higher than during the Great Depression and after World War II.
For years, many at-risk borrowers were propped up by ultra-low interest rates, which kept their debt-servicing costs manageable but now, inflation has ended what Roubini calls “the financial Dawn of the Dead”. Central banks, forced to raise interest rates to deal with inflation, have sharply increased debt-servicing costs (higher interest):
For many, this represents a triple whammy, because inflation is also eroding real household income and reducing the value of household assets, such as homes and stocks. The same goes for fragile and over-leveraged corporations, financial institutions, and governments: they face sharply rising borrowing costs, falling incomes and revenues, and declining asset values all at the same time.
The next part of Roubini’s argument harkens back to an earlier article he wrote, titled ‘The long forecast stagflationary debt crisis of the world has begun’.
According to Roubini, global debt, when combined with the coming stagflation, sets up a “stagflationary debt crisis” (stagflation = high inflation + low growth). What would this look like?
The first thing to understand, is this stagflationary period differs from that of the late 1970s/ early 1980s, due to the much higher debt levels. read: A stagflationary debt crisis looms.
According to the FRED chart below, the US debt to GDP ratio in the ‘70s was around 35%. Today it is three and a half times higher, at 125% and this severely limits how much and how quickly the Fed can raise interest rates, due to the amount of interest that the federal government will be forced to pay on its debt.
US debt to GDP ratio
Total public debt
During 2021, before interest rates began rising, the federal government paid $392 billion in interest on $21.7 trillion of average debt outstanding, @ an average interest rate of 1.8%. If the Fed raises the Federal Funds Rate to 4.6%, interest costs would hit $1.028 trillion — more than 2021’s entire military budget of $801 billion!
The national debt has grown substantially under the watch of Presidents Obama, Trump and Biden. Foreign wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have been money pits, and domestic crises required huge government stimulus packages and bailouts, such as the 2007-09 financial crisis and the covid-19 pandemic in 2020-22.
Each interest rate rise means the federal government must spend more on interest. That increase is reflected in the annual budget deficit, which keeps getting added to the national debt, now sitting at a shocking $31.3 trillion.
Now let’s bring in what Roubini says about the stagflationary debt crisis. First, he argues that debt ratios in advanced economies and most emerging markets were much lower in the 1970s, compared to today.
Conversely, during the financial crisis, high private and public debt ratios caused a severe debt crisis, exemplified by the housing bubble bursting. The ensuing recession led to low inflation/ deflation (falling prices), and there was a shock to aggregate demand. This time, however, we can’t simply cut interest rates to stimulate demand. Today, the risks are on the supply side, such as the Ukraine war’s impact on commodity prices (fertilizer, food, diesel, metals) China’s zero-covid policy, and a series of prolonged droughts.
According to Roubini, the economist who predicted the 2008 market meltdown,
Unlike in the 2008 financial crisis and the early months of COVID-19, simply bailing out private and public agents with loose macro policies would pour more gasoline on the inflationary fire. That means there will be a hard landing – a deep, protracted recession – on top of a severe financial crisis…
With governments unwilling to raise taxes or cut spending to reduce their deficits, central-bank deficit monetization will once again be seen as the path of least resistance but you cannot fool all of the people all of the time. Once the inflation genie gets out of the bottle – which is what will happen when central banks abandon the fight in the face of the looming economic and financial crash – nominal and real borrowing costs will surge. The mother of all stagflationary debt crises can be postponed, not avoided.
Targeting the wrong inflation
Another key point, that ties into what Roubini is saying, is the fact that the Federal Reserve is targeting the wrong inflation. The Consumer Price Index (CPI) is currently 7.7%. This is the number most quoted in the financial press; it is the official inflation rate. The CPI includes food, energy and rent increases.
US inflation (CPI). Source: Trading Economics
In contrast the Fed’s go-to inflation gauge, core PCE, under-weights rent and over-weights health care. It also strips out two of the most vital categories of household spending, food and energy/ gasoline.
According to Moody’s Analytics’ analysis of October 2022 inflation data, via CNBC, the average American household is spending $433 more a month to buy the same goods and services it did a year ago.
Among the most dramatic price increases, food at work and school rose 95.2%, eggs were up 45%, butter and margarine climbed 33.2%, and public transportation was 28.1% more expensive. These are all “non-discretionary” expenditure items.
While October’s core CPI was down 0.3% compared to 6.6% in September, the so-called necessities of life — shelter, food and energy — continue to climb. Year over year, shelter prices are up 6.9%, food prices gained 10.9%, gasoline prices rose 17.6%, and staples such as eggs (+43%), bread (+14.8%) and milk (+14%) remain elevated, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Surely for the broader CPI to fall substantially, food and energy costs must decline; I have my doubts whether this will happen anytime soon.
According to the US Department of Agriculture, food prices in 2023 are predicted to rise between 3 and 4%. Within this category, food at home prices are forecast to rise 2.5-3.5%, and food away from home is expected to go up 4-5%.
US food inflation. Source: Trading Economics
As for energy prices dropping, they probably won’t, at least not for the foreseeable future. When the OPEC+ group of countries meets on Dec. 4, they are expected to stick to their current output target, two sources told Reuters on Friday. The 13-member crude oil cartel plus 10 other oil-exporting nations, including Russia, in October agreed to cut their collective oil production by 2 million barrels a day.
WTI crude futures have come down considerably from their one-year pinnacle of $119.78, on March 8, but they remain high by historical standards. Ditto for US natural gas futures and US retail gasoline.
WTI crude futures. Source: Trading Economics
US natural gas futures. Source: Trading Economics
US retail gas for the week of Nov. 28. Source: YCharts
If Nouriel Roubini is right about “the mother of all economic crises” heading our way, and we are correct about inflation not coming down, investors would be wise to adjust their portfolios accordingly.
For one thing, the stock market is unlikely to be a growth vehicle.
In a recent letter to investors, Mark Spiegel of Stanphyl Capital said he believes the major indexes, though not all individual stocks, have considerably more downside — “the inevitable hangover from the biggest asset bubble in US history.”
Spiegel via Quoth the Raven (Zero Hedge) also observes that the US stock market’s valuation as a percentage of GDP (the “Buffett Indicator”) is very high, and thus valuations have a long way to go before reaching “normalcy”. The indicator is currently sitting at 166%, 30% higher than the long-term trend line.
As importantly, Spiegel predicts commodities “will have a brand new tailwind in 2023,” thanks to the eventual end of China’s zero-covid policy, its November reversal of bailing out its real estate industry, combined with the end of President Biden’s SPR (Strategic Petroleum Reserve) drawdowns.
The commodities bull market is just getting started
Longer terms, he believes the “war on fossil fuel”, expensive “onshoring”, fewer available workers and perpetual government deficits will make a new 4% baseline inflation likely — double the Fed’s current 2% target.
This shows we’re not alone in thinking that the Fed has to bump up its inflation expectations to fit economic reality, given that price increases are certain to continue into next year and likely beyond.
Spiegel also agrees with Roubini in his assessment of how interest rate increases will play out with US government interest payments on its monstrous debt, writing:
Meanwhile, interest costs on the Federal debt are already set to grow massively. Does anyone seriously think this Fed has the stomach to face the political firestorm of Congress having to slash Medicare, the defense budget, etc. in order to pay the even higher interest cost that would be created by upping those rates to a level commensurate with crushing even just 4% inflation? [let alone the current 7.7% – Rick]
Powell doesn’t have the guts for that, nor does anyone else in Washington; thus, this Fed will likely be behind the inflation curve for at least a decade. And that’s why we remain long gold.”
Few analysts seem to recognize the direct link between debt, looming deficits and inflation. Inflation is the fourth horseman of an economic apocalypse, accompanying stagnation, unemployment and financial chaos. The size of the US government’s debt — currently $31.3T — and unsustainable future deficits, puts us in an unfamiliar danger zone.
Raising interest rates won’t work, because the current inflation is supply-oriented not demand-driven.
The crisis threatens to envelope both the developed economies and the emerging markets. Developing-world economies that borrowed heavily in dollars when interest rates were low, are now facing a huge surge in refinancing costs. About 60% of the poorest countries are already in, or at high risk of, debt distress.
Gold historically performs best when government deficits are large and/ or growing. It appears all but certain the world economy will enter a recession within the next six to 12 months. The warnings are written in the inverted yield curve (an extremely reliable recession indicator), stagnant US manufacturing data, and a return to high debt levels among US and Canadian consumers, post-pandemic. The latter is a concern because it ups the risk of bankruptcies, delinquencies and forced stock selling, amid higher interest rates.
Gold does well during stagflationary episodes. Gold is also a traditional inflation hedge, and while high inflation hasn’t yet resulted in a flight to gold, I believe it will happen when there is a shift from monetary tightening to easing as a result of poor US economic performance and/or the widely anticipated recession. The latter will almost certainly crush the dollar, bringing about higher commodity prices.
*The content of the above article is sourced from one by Richard (Rick) Mills of aheadoftheherd.com and has been edited ([ ]) and abridged (…) for the sake of clarity and brevity to provide the reader with a fast and easy read.recession depression unemployment bankruptcies pandemic covid-19 stimulus bonds yield curve government bonds emerging markets stocks fed federal reserve budget deficit link real estate congress us government trump recession gdp interest rates unemployment stimulus commodities gold oil russia ukraine china
Economic Death Spiral
Economic Death Spiral
Authored by Robert Stark via Substack,
Fed Trap: Financial Collapse or Hyper Inflation?
With this banking crisis,…
Authored by Robert Stark via Substack,
Fed Trap: Financial Collapse or Hyper Inflation?
With this banking crisis, which has serious Lehman vibes, it is a good time to revisit my article, Is This The End of The End of History, from March of last year. The article dealt with the theme of collapse vs stagnation, and historical cycles, in light of the Ukraine war, the post-pandemic climate, the onset of inflation, and speculation about economic collapse. A point of mine, that has especially been vindicated, is that “a delay in the Fed raising interest rates, could cause a short term rally in stocks, further expanding the bubble. The bigger the bubble, the worse inflation gets, and the longer the Fed keeps delaying raising rates, the worse the crash will be down the road.” For the most part, most of my geopolitical and economic forecasts have come true, though I actually predicted an economic collapse to occur sooner, which actually vindicates that point, that kicking the can down the road will just create a much worse crisis.
Despite countless signs of economic volatility, the recent bank failures, with shockwaves to the entire financial system, are a turning point, where it is clear that there is going to be a severe economic downturn. For instance, Elon Musk recently said, lot of current year similarities to 1929, and Moody’s cut the outlook on the entire U.S. banking system to negative from stable, citing a "rapidly deteriorating operating environment." Even the perma bulls, mainstream media, and financial “experts,” can no longer deny the obvious signs of economic peril. However, the bullish propaganda was still strong as recently as January, which was really the bulls’ last gasp, with the monkey rally, in response to the Fed only raising interest rates by .25 points, plus economic data showing record low unemployment plus a dip in inflation.
It is important to emphasize that the same figures in media, banking, and government, who were recently shilling a soft landing or mild recession, were previously saying that inflation is transitory. It is especially laughable to think that there are people who take someone like CNBC’s, Jim Cramer, seriously, who in 2008 told his audience don’t be silly on Bear Stearns, right before it crashed, and more recently shilled for Silicon Valley Bank, and is still predicting a soft landing. A lot of the recent propaganda is practically identical to right before the 08 crash, as well as during stagflation in the 70s, and even before the Great Depression, as the media has vested economic and political interests in propping up the markets. The financial YouTuber, Maverick of Wall Street, brilliantly uses this “self-love” gif of Jack Nicholson, from the film, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, as a metaphor for whenever perma-bulls see any data that may signify a Fed pivot, causing stocks to rally. As the desperation really kicks in, expect further talk of a soft landing, as well as more rallies in stocks, as we saw in response to the bailouts, as well as desperate investors switching back and forth between the NASDAQ and S&P500, which happened in 08. So any return to bullish sentiment is actually a sign of greater economic catastrophe. The stock market rallying over bad economy news, as a sign of a potential pivot, just further shows that the markets are not a good metric for the health of the economy. Not to mention that the top 1% own over half of all stocks.
It has always been the case with bubbles, that the greater the size of the bubble, the more copes to deny reality, and the more vested interests there are in preventing the inevitable crash. Certainly many corporations and banks have made economic decisions based upon an assumption of a soft landing or Fed pivot. This also explains the gaslighting to justify that the 2010s economic boom, especially in tech, was based upon productivity and innovation, when it was primary due to Fed monetary policy, plus data mining in the case of Big Tech. While it is silly for conservatives to blame wokeness as the primary culprit of bank failures, wokeness and bullshit DEI jobs, are a symptom of the corruption that Fed policy enabled.
Fed Balance Sheet: Return to QE
The current banking crisis is triggering more stock buybacks, and a return to Quantitative Easing with the bank bailouts, including plans to inject another $2 Trillion into the banking system, on top of the $300 billion increase in the Fed’s Balance Sheet, in just the last week. This seems counter intuitive, as QE caused inflation, but the economy is so addicted to the “Cocaine,” that is cheap money. So basically quantitative tightening is being implemented and interest rates raised to stop inflation, but as soon as the first major economic disruption of raising rates is felt, then a return to financial policies to further prop up the bubble, causing more inflation. Now the Fed is trapped with two bad options, raise rates or pivot, both of which will lead to inevitable economic doom.
Populists can talk about nationalizing the banks into public debt free banking, and Austrian School libertarians can call for ending the Fed, and returning to a gold standard. While it is true that the Federal Reserve is a corrupt system, that is quasi private in how private banks own shares, the reality is that we are stuck with this system of relying upon the Fed’s interest rates, for the incoming economic crisis. If the Fed continues raising rates, there will be a liquidity crisis, with more bank failures. While interest rates were close to zero, banks used uninsured deposits to both invest in securities and purchase bonds, and thanks to fractional reserve banking, banks are only required to hold a fraction of deposits. So when rates rose, bonds fell in value and unrealized losses surged, so the banks were not able to pay off their depositors.
Regional banks make up about half of all US banking, so any contagion in the banking system, as people and businesses move their deposits to mega banks, deemed “too big to fail,” could trigger a Depression. One of the main reasons that the economy has not crashed sooner is because more people have been tapping into their savings and maxing out their credit cards. However, high interest rates will cause many people to default on their credit card debt, which will exacerbate the banking crisis. Not to mention Auto loans defaults wiping out credit unions, and the potential for another mortgage crisis, due to rising mortgage rates. There is a ripple effect, as far as rising interest rates being felt by debt holders, and now is just the tip of the iceberg. This could end up being a multifaceted debt crisis, in banking, corporate debt, personal debt, and government debt.
Besides the Fed likely pivoting soon due to the banking crisis, higher rates will make interest payments on the National Debt too expensive to pay off, risking a default on government debt. Overall levels of debt, both public and private, are much worse than when Fed Chair, Volcker, raised rates very high to successfully quell inflation. Any freeze in Federal spending or a default on the national debt, in response to the debt ceiling, will crash the economy, and any major extension in the debt ceiling will accelerate inflation. There is a good chance that inflation will be tolerated, with the dollar greatly devalued, to make government debt cheaper so that creditors eat the costs.
Source: Peter G. Peterson Foundation
A tight labor market is the main case that the bulls make to prove a strong economy. However, the official BLS jobs numbers are “baked” to exclude those who have given up on seeking employment, as well as counting 2nd or 3rd jobs. Not to mention that the BLS numbers were exposed by the Fed as overstating 1 million jobs during 2022. Even if one accepts the “baked” numbers, layoffs have a lagging effect on unemployment, including by industry (eg. tech layoffs before service sector). Now new jobless claims have grown at the fastest pace since Lehman'. It is also noteworthy that just about every recession has been preceded by low unemployment numbers. The increase in layoffs will put further pressure on the Fed to pivot, which on top of increased unemployment benefits, will cause inflation to surge again. This creates another doom loop, as inflation leads to more unemployment, as consumers are forced to cut back on spending.
While bulls can say that this time is different from past crashes, all of the signs are pointing to this crisis being much worse than previous crashes. For instance, the economic recovery, after Volcker was done raising rates to fight inflation, was possible because of lower levels of debt, but the US has never entered a recession with debt/GDP at 125% and deficit/GDP at 7% in at least 85 years. Also the fallout of the 2008 crash was mitigated by a strong dollar, which also minimized the effects of inflation last year, but inflation will surge if the dollar is weakened. Despite signs of a pivot, the Fed has been moving much faster to fight inflation, then in the past, even with Volker. This crisis is also unique in that rates are being raised while entering a severe recession, and inflation could coincide mass layoffs. While the general assumption is that severe economic downturns are deflationary, financial commentator, Peter Schiff, makes a compelling case as for why an Inflationary Depression is a likelihood. Under this nightmare scenario, which would be much worse than even the Great Depression, inflation will negate any of the remedies that ended past crises, such as the New Deal, quantitative easing in 08, and the covid stimulus. Other signs of economic peril include, the steepest yield curve inversion since the early 80s recession, which is a barometer that has predicted just about every single recession, a major decline in ISM manufacturing sales, a big decline in savings rates, and Americans’ credit card debt approaching a record $1 Trillion.
This is the perfect storm with inflation, stagflation, recession, a potential debt crisis, as well as energy and supply chain issues. With this bubble to end all bubbles or too big to fail on steroids, the Fed has two choices, cause a liquidity crisis by shrinking the money supply, or letting inflation rip. While raising rates appears to be the least bad of these two options, further rate hikes are futile with the return of QE. A combo of QE plus interest rates having to remain high, is what could lead to that scenario of inflationary financial collapse, that Peter Schiff warned about. Though most likely it will either be long term stagflation or a deflationary Depression. This is not a hyperbole, nor clickbait, but a Depression is a very real possibility, especially if policy makers continue to kick the can down the road, to prop up the bubble.
* * *
Spread & Containment
Three Years To Slow The Spread: COVID Hysteria & The Creation Of A Never-Ending Crisis
Three Years To Slow The Spread: COVID Hysteria & The Creation Of A Never-Ending Crisis
Authored by Jordan Schachtel via ‘The Dossier’…
Authored by Jordan Schachtel via 'The Dossier' Substack,
Last Thursday marked the three year anniversary of the infamous “15 Days To Slow The Spread” campaign.
By March 16, yours truly was already pretty fed up with both the governmental and societal “response” to what was being baselessly categorized as the worst pandemic in 100 years, despite zero statistical data supporting such a serious claim.
The Moment That Shook the World: "15 Days to Slow the Spread" (March 16, 2020)— The Vigilant Fox ???? (@VigilantFox) March 16, 2023
Fauci: "In states with evidence of community transmission, bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be https://t.co/T9CGrYFNjv… https://t.co/SwDYBgN438 pic.twitter.com/k5oaU36YAR
I was living in the Washington, D.C. Beltway at the time, and it was pretty much impossible to find a like-minded person within 50 miles who also wasn’t taking the bait. After I read about the news coming out of Wuhan in January, I spent much of the next couple weeks catching up to speed and reading about what a modern pandemic response was supposed to look like.
What surprised me most was that none of “the measures” were mentioned, and that these designated “experts” were nothing more than failed mathematicians, government doctors, and college professors who were more interested in policy via shoddy academic forecasting than observing reality.
Within days of continually hearing their yapping at White House pressers, It quickly became clear that the Deborah Birx’s and Anthony Fauci’s of the world were engaging in nothing more than a giant experiment. There was no an evidence-based approach to managing Covid whatsoever. These figures were leaning into the collective hysteria, and brandishing their credentials as Public Health Experts to demand top-down approaches to stamping out the WuFlu.
DeSantis on Covid lockdowns: “So I call and say, ‘Deborah [Birx], tell me: when in American history has this been done?’ And she says, ‘It’s kind of our own science experiment that we’re doing in real time.’”— Dr. Eli David (@DrEliDavid) March 14, 2023
Lockdowns were Fauci's “science experiment”????pic.twitter.com/K7H8NIBPaV
To put it bluntly, these longtime government bureaucrats had no idea what the f—k they were doing. Fauci and his cohorts were not established or reputable scientists, but authoritarians, charlatans, who had a decades-long track record of hackery and corruption. This Coronavirus Task Force did not have the collective intellect nor the wisdom to be making these broad brush decisions.
Back then, there were only literally a handful of people who attempted to raise awareness about the wave of tyranny, hysteria, and anti-science policies that were coming our way. There were so few of us back in March in 2020 that it was impossible to form any kind of significant structured resistance to the madness that was unfolding before us. These structures would later form, but not until the infrastructure for the highway to Covid hysteria hell had already been cemented.
Making matters worse was the reality that the vast majority of the population — friends, colleagues, peers and family included — agreed that dissenters were nothing more than reckless extremists, bioterrorists, Covid deniers, anti-science rabble rousers, and the like.
Yet we were right, and we had the evidence and data to prove it. There was no evidence to ever support such a heavy-handed series of government initiatives to “slow the spread.”
By March 16, 2020, data had already accumulated indicating that this contagion would be no more lethal than an influenza outbreak.
The February, 2020 outbreak on the Diamond Princess cruise ship provided a clear signal that the hysteria models provided by Bill Gates-funded and managed organizations were incredibly off base. Of the 3,711 people aboard the Diamond Princess, about 20% tested positive with Covid. The majority of those who tested positive had zero symptoms. By the time all passengers had disembarked from the vessel, there were 7 reported deaths on the ship, with the average age of this cohort being in the mid 80s, and it wasn’t even clear if these passengers died from or with Covid.
Despite the strange photos and videos coming out of Wuhan, China, there was no objective evidence of a once in a century disease approaching America’s shores, and the Diamond Princess outbreak made that clear.
Of course, it wasn’t the viral contagion that became the problem.
It was the hysteria contagion that brought out the worst qualities of much of the global ruling class, letting world leaders take off their proverbial masks in unison and reveal their true nature as power drunk madmen.
And even the more decent world leaders were swept up in the fear and mayhem, turning over the keys of government control to the supposed all-knowing Public Health Experts.
They quickly shuttered billions of lives and livelihoods, wreaking exponentially more havoc than a novel coronavirus ever could.
In the United States, 15 Days to Slow The Spread quickly became 30 Days To Slow The Spread. Somewhere along the way, the end date for “the measures” was removed from the equation entirely.
3 years later, there still isn’t an end date…
Anthony Fauci appeared on MSNBC Thursday morning and declared that Americans would need annual Covid boosters to compliment their Flu shots.
NEW - Fauci: Americans will likely need "a booster shot once a year."pic.twitter.com/Ec0zSWhV2b— Disclose.tv (@disclosetv) March 16, 2023
So much of the Covid hysteria era was driven by pseudoscience and outright nonsense, and yet, very few if any world leaders took it upon themselves to restore sanity in their domains. Now, unsurprisingly, so many elected officials who were complicit in this multi-billion person human tragedy won’t dare to reflect upon it.
In a 1775 letter from John Adams to his wife, Abigail, the American Founding Father wrote:
“Liberty once lost is lost forever. When the People once surrender their share in the Legislature, and their Right of defending the Limitations upon the Government, and of resisting every Encroachment upon them, they can never regain it.”
Covid hysteria and the 3 year anniversary of 15 Days To Slow The Spread serves as the beginning period of a permanent scar resulting from government power grabs and federal overreach.
While life is back to normal in most of the country, the Overton window of acceptable policy has slid even further in the direction of push-button tyranny. Hopefully, much of the world has awakened to the reality that most of the people in charge aren’t actually doing what’s best for their respective populations.
From the bed sheets to the TV remote, a microbiologist reveals the shocking truth about dirt and germs in hotel rooms
The filthy secrets of hotel rooms and why you might want to pack disinfectant on your next trip.
For most of us, staying in a hotel room is either something of a necessity – think business travel – or something to look forward to as part of a holiday or wider excursion.
But what if I told you there’s a large chance your hotel room, despite how it might appear to the naked eye, isn’t that clean. And even if it’s an expensive room, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s any less dirty.
Indeed, whoever has stayed in your room prior to you will have deposited bacteria, fungi and viruses all over the furniture, carpets, curtains and surfaces. What remains of these germ deposits depends on how efficiently your room is cleaned by hotel staff. And let’s face it, what is considered clean by a hotel might be different to what you consider clean.
Typically, assessment of hotel room cleanliness is based on sight and smell observations –- not on the invisible microbiology of the space, which is where the infection risks reside. So let’s take a deep dive into the world of germs, bugs and viruses to find out what might be lurking where.
It starts at the lift
Before you even enter your room, think of the hotel lift buttons as germ hotspots. They are being pressed all the time by many different people, which can transfer microorganisms onto the button surface, as well back onto the presser’s fingers.
Communal door handles can be similar in terms of germ presence unless sanitised regularly. Wash your hands or use a hand sanitiser after using a handle before you next touch your face or eat or drink.
The most common infections people pick up from hotel rooms are tummy bugs – diarrhoea and vomiting – along with respiratory viruses, such as colds and pneumonia, as well as COVID-19, of course.
Toilets and bathrooms tend to be cleaned more thoroughly than the rest of a hotel room and are often the least bacteriologically colonised environments.
Though if the drinking glass in the bathroom is not disposable, wash it before use (body wash or shampoo are effective dishwashers), as you can never be sure if they’ve been cleaned properly. Bathroom door handles may also be colonised by pathogens from unwashed hands or dirty washcloths.
Beware the remote
The bed, sheets and pillows can also be home to some unwanted visitors. A 2020 study found that after a pre-symptomatic COVID-19 patient occupied a hotel room there was significant viral contamination of many surfaces, with levels being particularly high within the sheets, pillow case and quilt cover.
While sheets and pillowcases may be more likely to be changed between occupants, bedspreads may not, meaning these fabrics may become invisible reservoirs for pathogens – as much as a toilet seat. Though in some cases sheets aren’t always changed between guests, so it may be better to just bring your own.
Less thought about is what lives on the hotel room desk, bedside table, telephone, kettle, coffee machine, light switch or TV remote – as these surfaces aren’t always sanitised between occupancies.
Viruses such as the norovirus can live in an infectious form for days on hard surfaces, as can COVID-19 – and the typical time interval between room changeovers is often less than 12 hours.
Soft fabric furnishings such as cushions, chairs, curtains and blinds are also difficult to clean and may not be sanitised other than to remove stains between guests, so washing your hands after touching them might be a good idea.
If all those germs and dirty surfaces aren’t enough to contend with, there are also bedbugs to think about. These bloodsucking insects are experts at secreting themselves into narrow, small spaces, remaining dormant without feeding for months.
Small spaces include the cracks and crevices of luggage, mattresses and bedding. Bed bugs are widespread throughout Europe, Africa, the US and Asia – and are often found in hotels. And just because a room looks and smells clean, doesn’t mean there may not be bed bugs lurking.
Fortunately, bed bug bites are unlikely to give you a transmissible disease, but the bite areas can become inflamed and infected. For the detection of bedbugs, reddish skin bites and blood spots on sheets are signs of an active infestation (use an antiseptic cream on the bites).
Other signs can be found on your mattress, behind the headboard and inside drawers and the wardrobe: brown spots could be remains of faeces, bed bug skins are brownish-silvery looking and live bed bugs are brown coloured and typically one to seven millimetres in length.
Inform the hotel if you think there are bed bugs in your room. And to avoid taking them with you when you checkout, carefully clean your luggage and clothes before opening them at home.
As higher-status hotels tend to have more frequent room usage, a more expensive room at a five-star hotel does not necessarily mean greater cleanliness, as room cleaning costs reduce profit margins. So wherever you’re staying, take with you a pack of antiseptic wipes and use them on the hard surfaces in your hotel room.
Also, wash or sanitise your hands often – especially before you eat or drink anything. And take slippers or thick socks with you so you can avoid walking barefoot on hotel carpets – known to be another dirt hotspot. And after all that, enjoy your stay.
Primrose Freestone does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.africa europe covid-19
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