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Why The Price Of Oil Is More Likely To Fall To 20 Rather Than Rise To 80

Oil - Public DomainThis is just the beginning of the oil crisis.  Over the past couple of weeks, the price of U.S. oil has rallied back above 50 dollars a barrel.  In fact, as I write this, it is sitting at $52.93.  But this rally will not last.  In fact, analysts at the big banks are warning that we could soon see U.S. oil hit the $20 mark.  The reason for this is that the production of oil globally is still way above the current level of demand.  Things have gotten so bad that millions of barrels of oil are being stored at sea as companies wait for the price of oil to go back up.  But the price is not going to go back up any time soon.  Even though rigs are being shut down in the United States at the fastest pace since the last financial crisis, oil production continues to go up.  In fact, last week more oil was produced in the U.S. than at any time since the 1970s.  This is really bad news for the economy, because the price of oil is already at a catastrophically low level for the global financial system.  If the price of oil stays at this level for the rest of the year, we are going to see a whole bunch of energy companies fail, billions of dollars of debt issued by energy companies could go bad, and trillions of dollars of derivatives related to the energy industry could implode.  In other words, this is a recipe for a financial meltdown, and the longer the price of oil stays at this level (or lower), the more damage it is going to do.

The way things stand, there is simply just way too much oil sitting out there.  And anyone that has taken Economics 101 knows that when supply far exceeds demand, prices go down

Oil prices have gotten crushed for the last six months. The extent to which that was caused by an excess of supply or by a slowdown in demand has big implications for where prices will head next. People wishing for a big rebound may not want to read farther.

Goldman Sachs released an intriguing analysis on Wednesday that shows what many already suspected: The big culprit in the oil crash has been an abundance of oil flooding the market. A massive supply shock in the second half of last year accounted for most of the decline. In December and January, slowing demand contributed to the continued sell-off.

At this point so much oil has already been stored up that companies are running out of places to put in all.  Just consider the words of Goldman Sachs executive Gary Cohn

“I think the oil market is trying to figure out an equilibrium price. The danger here, as we try and find an equilibrium price, at some point we may end up in a situation where storage capacity gets very, very limited. We may have too much physical oil for the available storage in certain locations. And it may be a locational issue.”

“And you may just see lots of oil in certain locations around the world where oil will have to price to such a cheap discount vis-a-vis the forward price that you make second tier, and third tier and fourth tier storage available.”

[…] “You could see the price fall relatively quickly to make that storage work in the market.”

The market for oil has fundamentally changed, and that means that the price of oil is not going to go back to where it used to be.  In fact, Goldman Sachs economist Sven Jari Stehn says that we are probably heading for permanently lower prices

The big take-away: “[T]he decline in oil has been driven by an oversupplied global oil market,” wrote Goldman economist Sven Jari Stehn. As a result, “the new equilibrium price of oil will likely be much lower than over the past decade.”

So how low could prices ultimately go?

As I mentioned above, some analysts are throwing around $20 as a target number

The recent surge in oil prices is just a “head-fake,” and oil as cheap as $20 a barrel may soon be on the way, Citigroup said in a report on Monday as it lowered its forecast for crude.

Despite global declines in spending that have driven up oil prices in recent weeks, oil production in the U.S. is still rising, wrote Edward Morse, Citigroup’s global head of commodity research. Brazil and Russia are pumping oil at record levels, and Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran have been fighting to maintain their market share by cutting prices to Asia. The market is oversupplied, and storage tanks are topping out.

A pullback in production isn’t likely until the third quarter, Morse said. In the meantime, West Texas Intermediate Crude, which currently trades at around $52 a barrel, could fall to the $20 range “for a while,” according to the report.

Keep in mind that the price of oil is already low enough to be a total nightmare for the global financial system if it stays here for the rest of 2015.

If we go down to $20 and stay there, a global financial meltdown is virtually guaranteed.

Meanwhile, the “fracking boom” in the United States that generated so many jobs, so much investment and so much economic activity is now turning into a “fracking bust”

The fracking-for-oil boom started in 2005, collapsed by 60% during the Financial Crisis when money ran out, but got going in earnest after the Fed had begun spreading its newly created money around the land. From the trough in May 2009 to its peak in October 2014, rigs drilling for oil soared from 180 to 1,609: multiplied by a factor of 9 in five years! And oil production soared, to reach 9.2 million barrels a day in January.

It was a great run, but now it is over.

In the months ahead, the trickle of good paying oil industry jobs that are being lost right now is going to turn into a flood.

And this boom was funded with lots and lots of really cheap money from Wall Street.  I like how Wolf Richter described this in a recent article

That’s what real booms look like. They’re fed by limitless low-cost money – exuberant investors that buy the riskiest IPOs, junk bonds, leveraged loans, and CLOs usually indirectly without knowing it via their bond funds, stock funds, leveraged-loan funds, by being part of a public pension system that invests in private equity firms that invest in the boom…. You get the idea.

As all of this bad paper unwinds, a lot of people are going to lose an extraordinary amount of money.

Don’t get caught with your pants down.  You will want your money to be well away from the energy industry long before this thing collapses.

And of course in so many ways what we are facing right now if very reminiscent of 2008.  So many of the same patterns that have played out just prior to previous financial crashes are happening once again.  Right now, oil rigs are shutting down at a pace that is almost unprecedented.  The only time in recent memory that we have seen anything like this was just before the financial crisis in the fall of 2008.  Here is more from Wolf Richter

In the latest reporting week, drillers idled another 84 rigs, the second biggest weekly cut ever, after idling 83 and 94 rigs in the two prior weeks. Only 1056 rigs are still drilling for oil, down 443 for the seven reporting weeks so far this year and down 553 – or 34%! – from the peak in October.

Never before has the rig count plunged this fast this far:

Fracking Bust

What if the fracking bust, on a percentage basis, does what it did during the Financial Crisis when the oil rig count collapsed by 60% from peak to trough? It would take the rig count down to 642!

But even though rigs are shutting down like crazy, U.S. production of oil has continued to rise

Rig counts have long been used to help predict future oil and gas production. In the past week drillers idled 98 rigs, marking the 10th consecutive decline. The total U.S. rig count is down 30 percent since October, an unprecedented retreat. The theory goes that when oil rigs decline, fewer wells are drilled, less new oil is discovered, and oil production slows.

But production isn’t slowing yet. In fact, last week the U.S. pumped more crude than at any time since the 1970s. “The headline U.S. oil rig count offers little insight into the outlook for U.S. oil production growth,” Goldman Sachs analyst Damien Courvalin wrote in a Feb. 10 report.

Look, it should be obvious to anyone with even a basic knowledge of economics that the stage is being set for a massive financial meltdown.

This is just the kind of thing that can plunge us into a deflationary depression.  And when you combine this with the ongoing problems in Europe and in Asia, it is easy to see that a “perfect storm” is brewing on the horizon.

Sadly, a lot of people out there will choose not to believe until the day the crisis arrives.

By then, it will be too late to do anything about it.

 

Swiss Shocker Triggers Gigantic Losses For Banks, Hedge Funds And Currency Traders

Trading - Public DomainThe absolutely stunning decision by the Swiss National Bank to decouple from the euro has triggered billions of dollars worth of losses all over the globe.  Citigroup and Deutsche Bank both say that their losses were somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million dollars, a major hedge fund that had 830 million dollars in assets at the end of December has been forced to shut down, and several major global currency trading firms have announced that they are now insolvent.   And these are just the losses that we know about so far.  It will be many months before the full scope of the financial devastation caused by the Swiss National Bank is fully revealed.  But of course the same thing could be said about the crash in the price of oil that we have witnessed in recent weeks.  These two “black swan events” have set financial dominoes in motion all over the globe.  At this point we can only guess how bad the financial devastation will ultimately be.

But everyone agrees that it will be bad.  For example, one financial expert at Boston University says that he believes the losses caused by the Swiss National Bank decision will be in the billions of dollars

The losses will be in the billions — they are still being tallied,” said Mark T. Williams, an executive-in-residence at Boston University specializing in risk management. “They will range from large banks, brokers, hedge funds, mutual funds to currency speculators. There will be ripple effects throughout the financial system.”

Citigroup, the world’s biggest currencies dealer, lost more than $150 million at its trading desks, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. Deutsche Bank lost $150 million and Barclays less than $100 million, people familiar with the events said, after the Swiss National Bank scrapped a three-year-old policy of capping its currency against the euro and the franc soared as much as 41 percent that day versus the euro. Spokesmen for the three banks declined to comment.

And actually, if the total losses from this crisis are only limited to the “billions” I think that we will be extremely fortunate.

As I mentioned above, a hedge fund that had 830 million dollars in assets at the end of December just completely imploded.  Everest Capital’s Global Fund had heavily bet against the Swiss franc, and as a result it now has lost “virtually all its money”

Marko Dimitrijevic, the hedge fund manager who survived at least five emerging market debt crises, is closing his largest hedge fund after losing virtually all its money this week when the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly let the franc trade freely against the euro, according to a person familiar with the firm.

Everest Capital’s Global Fund had about $830 million in assets as of the end of December, according to a client report. The Miami-based firm, which specializes in emerging markets, still manages seven funds with about $2.2 billion in assets. The global fund, the firm’s oldest, was betting the Swiss franc would decline, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information is private.

This is how fast things can move in the financial marketplace when things start getting crazy.

It can seem like you are on top of the world one day, but just a short while later you can be filing for bankruptcy.

Consider what just happened to FXCM.  It is one of the largest retail currency trading firms on the entire planet, and the decision by the Swiss National Bank instantly created a 200 million dollar hole in the company that desperately needed to be filled…

The magnitude of the crisis for U.S. currency traders became clear Friday when New York-based FXCM, a publicly traded U.S. currency broker, and the largest so far to announce it was in financial trouble after suffering a 90-percent drop in the firm’s stock price, reported the firm would need a $200-$300 million bailout to prevent capital requirements from being breached. Highly leveraged currency traders, including retail customers, were unable to come up with sufficient capital to cover the losses suffered in their currency trading accounts when the Swiss franc surged.

Currency traders worldwide allowed to leverage their accounts 100:1, meaning the customer can bet $100 in the currency exchange markets for every $1.00 the customer has on deposit in its account, can result in huge gains from unexpected currency price fluctuations or massive and devastating losses, should the customer bet wrong.

Fortunately for FXCM, another company called Leucadia came riding to the rescue with a 300 million dollar loan.

But other currency trading firms were not so lucky.

For example, Alpari has already announced that it is going into insolvency

Retail broker Alpari UK filed for insolvency on Friday.

The move “caused by the SNB’s unexpected policy reversal of capping the Swiss franc against the euro has resulted in exceptional volatility and extreme lack of liquidity,” Alpari, the shirt sponsor of English Premier League soccer club West Ham, said in a statement.

“This has resulted in the majority of clients sustaining losses which exceeded their account equity. Where a client cannot cover this loss, it is passed on to us. This has forced Alpari (UK) Limited to confirm that it has entered into insolvency.”

And Alpari is far from alone.  Quite a few other smaller currency trading firms all over the world are in the exact same boat.

Unfortunately, this could potentially just be the beginning of the currency chaos.

All eyes are on the European Central Bank right now.  If a major round of quantitative easing is announced, that could unleash yet another wave of crippling losses for financial institutions.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

One of Europe’s most influential economists has warned that the quantitative easing measures seen being unveiled by the European Central Bank (ECB) this week could create deep market volatility, akin to what was seen after the Swiss National Bank abandoned its currency peg.

“There was so much capital flight in anticipation of the QE to Switzerland, that the Swiss central bank was unable to stem the tide, and there will be more effects of that sort,” the President of Germany’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research, Hans-Werner Sinn, told CNBC on Monday.

As I have written about previously, we are moving into a time of greatly increased financial volatility.  And when we start to see tremendous ups and downs in the financial world, that is a sign that a great crash is coming.  We witnessed this prior to the financial crisis of 2008, and now we are watching it happen again.

And this is not just happening in the United States.  Just check out what happened in China on Monday…

Chinese shares plunged about 8% Monday after the country’s securities regulator imposed margin trading curbs on several major brokerages, a sign that authorities are trying to rein in the market’s big gains. It was China’s largest drop in six years.

Sadly, most Americans have absolutely no idea what is coming.

They just trust that Barack Obama, Congress and the “experts” at the Federal Reserve have it all figured out.

So when the next great financial crisis does arrive, most people are going to be absolutely blindsided by it, even though anyone that is willing to look at the facts honestly should be able to see it steamrolling directly toward us.

Over the past couple of years, we have been blessed to experience a period of relative stability.

But that period of relative stability is now ending.

I hope that you are getting ready for what comes next.

Plummeting Oil Prices Could Destroy The Banks That Are Holding Trillions In Commodity Derivatives

Panic Button - Public DomainCould rapidly falling oil prices trigger a nightmare scenario for the commodity derivatives market?  The big Wall Street banks did not expect plunging home prices to cause a mortgage-backed securities implosion back in 2008, and their models did not anticipate a decline in the price of oil by more than 40 dollars in less than six months this time either.  If the price of oil stays at this level or goes down even more, someone out there is going to have to absorb some absolutely massive losses.  In some cases, the losses will be absorbed by oil producers, but many of the big players in the industry have already locked in high prices for their oil next year through derivatives contracts.  The companies enter into these derivatives contracts for a couple of reasons.  Number one, many lenders do not want to give them any money unless they can show that they have locked in a price for their oil that is higher than the cost of production.  Secondly, derivatives contracts protect the profits of oil producers from dramatic swings in the marketplace.  These dramatic swings rarely happen, but when they do they can be absolutely crippling.  So the oil companies that have locked in high prices for their oil in 2015 and 2016 are feeling pretty good right about now.  But who is on the other end of those contracts?  In many cases, it is the big Wall Street banks, and if the price of oil does not rebound substantially they could be facing absolutely colossal losses.

It has been estimated that the six largest “too big to fail” banks control $3.9 trillion in commodity derivatives contracts.  And a very large chunk of that amount is made up of oil derivatives.

By the middle of next year, we could be facing a situation where many of these oil producers have locked in a price of 90 or 100 dollars a barrel on their oil but the price has fallen to about 50 dollars a barrel.

In such a case, the losses for those on the wrong end of the derivatives contracts would be astronomical.

At this point, some of the biggest players in the shale oil industry have already locked in high prices for most of their oil for the coming year.  The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

US producers have locked in higher prices through derivatives contracts. Noble Energy and Devon Energy have both hedged over three-quarters of their output for 2015.

Pioneer Natural Resources said it has options through 2016 covering two- thirds of its likely production.

So they are protected to a very large degree.  It is those that are on the losing end of those contracts that are going to get burned.

Of course not all shale oil producers protected themselves.  Those that didn’t are in danger of going under.

For example, Continental Resources cashed out approximately 4 billion dollars in hedges about a month ago in a gamble that oil prices would go back up.  Instead, they just kept falling, so now this company is likely headed for some rough financial times…

Continental Resources (CLR.N), the pioneering U.S. driller that bet big on North Dakota’s Bakken shale patch when its rivals were looking abroad, is once again flying in the face of convention: cashing out some $4 billion worth of hedges in a huge gamble that oil prices will rebound.

Late on Tuesday, the company run by Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma wildcatter who once sued OPEC, said it had opted to take profits on more than 31 million barrels worth of U.S. and Brent crude oil hedges for 2015 and 2016, plus as much as 8 million barrels’ worth of outstanding positions over the rest of 2014, netting a $433 million extra profit for the fourth quarter. Based on its third quarter production of about 128,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, its hedges for next year would have covered nearly two-thirds of its oil production.

Oops.

When things are nice and stable, the derivatives marketplace works quite well most of the time.

But when there is a “black swan event” such as a dramatic swing in the price of oil, it can create really big winners and really big losers.

And no matter how complicated these derivatives become, and no matter how many times you transfer risk, you can never make these bets truly safe.  The following is from a recent article by Charles Hugh Smith

Financialization is always based on the presumption that risk can be cancelled out by hedging bets made with counterparties. This sounds appealing, but as I have noted many times, risk cannot be disappeared, it can only be masked or transferred to others.

Relying on counterparties to pay out cannot make risk vanish; it only masks the risk of default by transferring the risk to counterparties, who then transfer it to still other counterparties, and so on.
This illusory vanishing act hasn’t made risk disappear: rather, it has set up a line of dominoes waiting for one domino to topple. This one domino will proceed to take down the entire line of financial dominoes.
The 35% drop in the price of oil is the first domino. All the supposedly safe, low-risk loans and bets placed on oil, made with the supreme confidence that oil would continue to trade in a band around $100/barrel, are now revealed as high-risk.

In recent years, Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world.

Most of the time the big banks are very careful to make sure that they come out on top, but this time their house of cards may come toppling down on top of them.

If you think that this is good news, you should keep in mind that if they collapse it virtually guarantees a full-blown economic meltdown.  The following is an extended excerpt from one of my previous articles

—–

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks.  If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

—-

Our entire economy is based on the flow of credit.  And all of that debt comes from the banks.  That is why it has been so dangerous for us to become so deeply dependent on them.  Without their loans, the entire country could soon resemble White Flint Mall near Washington D.C….

It was once a hubbub of activity, where shoppers would snap up seasonal steals and teens would hang out to ‘look cool’.

But now White Flint Mall in Bethesda, Maryland – which opened its doors in March 1977 – looks like a modern-day mausoleum with just two tenants remaining.

Photographs taken inside the 874,000-square-foot complex show spotless faux marble floors, empty escalators and stationary elevators.

Only a couple of cars can be seen in the parking lot, where well-tended shrubbery appears to be the only thing alive.

I keep on saying it, and I will keep on saying it until it happens.  We are heading for a derivatives crisis unlike anything that we have ever seen.  It is going to make the financial meltdown of 2008 look like a walk in the park.

Our politicians promised that they would do something about the “too big to fail” banks and the out of control gambling on Wall Street, but they didn’t.

Now a day of reckoning is rapidly approaching, and it is going to horrify the entire planet.

The Economy Of The Largest Superpower On The Planet Is Collapsing Right Now

Globe Earth World - Public DomainHow do you fix a superpower with exploding levels of debt, that has a rapidly aging population, that consumes far more wealth than it produces, and that has scores of zombie banks that could collapse at any moment.  You might think that I am talking about the United States, but I am actually talking about Europe.  You see, the truth is that the European Union has a larger population than the United States does, it has a larger economy than the United States does, and it has a much larger banking system than the United States does.  Most of the time I write about the horrible economic problems that the U.S. is facing, but without a doubt economic conditions in Europe are even worse at the moment.  In fact, there are many (including the Washington Post) that are calling what is happening in Europe a full-blown “depression”.  Sadly, this is probably only just the beginning.  In the months to come things in Europe are likely to get much worse.

First of all, let’s take a look at unemployment.  If the U.S. was using honest numbers, the official unemployment rate would probably be somewhere close to 10 percent.  But in many nations in Europe, the official unemployment rate is already above the ten percent mark…

France: 10.2%

Poland: 11.5%

Italy: 12.6%

Portugal: 13.1%

Spain: 23.6%

Greece: 26.4%

The official unemployment rate for the eurozone as a whole is currently 11.5 percent.  The lack of good jobs is causing the middle class to shrink all over Europe, and more people than ever are becoming dependent on government assistance.  European nations are well known for their generous welfare programs, but all of this spending is causing  debt to GDP ratios to absolutely explode…

Spain: 92.1%

France: 92.2%

Belgium: 101.5%

Portugal: 129.0%

Italy: 132.6%

Greece: 174.9%

At the same time, the value of the euro has been steadily declining over the last six months.  This is significantly reducing the purchasing power that European families have…

Dollar Euro Exchange Rate

Many believe that the euro will ultimately go much lower than this.  Nations such as Greece and Spain are already experiencing deflation, and the inflation rates in Germany and France are both currently below one percent.  If the European Central Bank starts injecting lots of fresh euros into the system to combat this perceived problem, that will lift the level of inflation but it will also further erode the value of the euro.

In the long run, it would not be a surprise to see the U.S. dollar at parity with the euro.

When it happens, remember where you heard it.

The Europeans are scared to death of a deflationary depression, but that is precisely where the long-term economic trends are taking them right now.  The following is from a recent Forbes article

Market consensus believes that the eurozone is edging toward that moment when the scourge of deflation actually becomes a crippling reality. Eurozone data is constantly reminding investors that the region’s economy is barely limping along, as companies slash selling prices in a vain attempt to improve sales in the face of a weakening economy and evaporating new orders. Corporate deflationary reactions like this only hurt a company’s bottom line by squeezing profit margins even further. The obvious knock-on effect will limit resources for hiring and investing, which in turn only dampens any chances of an economic rebound, again putting the region into a bigger hole.

In a desperate attempt to avoid widespread deflation in Europe, the ECB will inevitably take action at some point.

It may not happen immediately, but when it does it will be yet another salvo in the emerging global currency war.

Speaking of currencies, it is being reported that Russia is actually considering legislation that will ban the circulation of the U.S. dollar in that nation.  The following is from an article that was posted on Infowars

Russia may ban the circulation of the United States dollar.

The State Duma has already been submitted a relevant bill banning and terminating the circulation of USD in Russia, APA’s Moscow correspondent reports.

If the bill is approved, Russian citizens will have to close their dollar accounts in Russian banks within a year and exchange their dollars in cash to Russian ruble or other countries’ currencies.

Otherwise their accounts will be frozen and cash dollars levied by police, customs, tax, border, and migration services confiscated.

That is not good news for the U.S. dollar at all.

Expect wild shifts in the foreign exchange markets in the months and years to come.  Turbulent times are ahead for the dollar, the euro and the yen.

Getting back to Europe, let us hope that things stabilize over there – at least for a while.

But that might not happen.  In fact, things could take a turn for the worse at any moment.

Most people don’t realize this, but European banks are even shakier than U.S. banks, and that is saying a lot.

For example, the largest bank in the strongest economy in Europe is Deutsche Bank.  At this point, Deutsche Bank has approximately 75 trillion dollars worth of exposure to derivatives.  That amount of money is about 20 times the size of German GDP, and it is more exposure than any U.S. bank has.

And Deutsche Bank is far from alone.  All over Europe there are zombie banks that are essentially insolvent.  Many of them are being propped up by their governments.  Those governments know that if those banks failed that it would make their economic problems even worse.

Just like in the United States, most economic activity in Europe is fueled by debt.  So those banks are needed to provide mortgages, loans and credit cards to average citizens and businesses.  Unfortunately, bad debt levels and business failures continue to shoot up all over Europe.

The system is breaking down, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next.

So keep an eye on Europe.  In particular, keep an eye on Italy.  I have a feeling that big economic news is about to start coming out of Italy, and it won’t be good.

In 2014, we have been experiencing “the calm before the storm”.

But 2015 is right around the corner, and it promises to be extremely “interesting”.

Low Inflation? The Price Of Ground Beef Has Risen 17 Percent Over The Past Year

Inflation Public DomainThanks to the Federal Reserve, the middle class is slowly being suffocated by rising food prices.  Every single dollar in your wallet is constantly becoming less valuable because of the inflation the Fed systematically creates.  And if you try to build wealth by saving money and earning interest on it, you still lose because thanks to the Federal Reserve’s near zero interest rate policies banks pay next to nothing on savings accounts.  The Federal Reserve wants you to either spend your money or to put it in the giant casino that we call the stock market.  But when Americans spend their paychecks they are finding that they don’t stretch as far as they once did.  The cost of living continues to rise at a much faster pace than wages are rising, and this is especially true when it comes to the price of food.

Someone that I know wrote to me today and let me know that she had to shut down the food pantry that she had been running for the poor for so many years.  It isn’t that she didn’t want to help the poor anymore.  It was that she just couldn’t deal with the rising food prices any longer.  Now she is just doing the best that she can to survive herself.

Perhaps you have also noticed that food prices have gotten pretty crazy lately.  In particular, meat prices have become absolutely obscene.  For example, the average price of ground beef has risen to a new record high of over $4.09 a pound.  Over the past twelve months, that works out to a whopping 17 percent increase…

The average price for a pound of ground beef climbed to another record high–$4.096 per pound–in the United States in September, according to data released today by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

In August, according to BLS, the average price for a pound of all types of ground beef topped $4 for the first time–hitting $4.013. In September, the average price jumped .083 cents, an increase of 2.1 percent in one month.

A year ago, in September 2013, the average price for a pound of ground beef was $3.502 per pound. Since then, it has climbed 59.4 cents–or about 17 percent in one year.

The “intellectuals” over at the Federal Reserve insist that “a little bit of inflation” is good for an economy, but the truth is that inflation slowly robs us of our buying power.

In a previous article, I shared a chart that showed how food inflation has risen dramatically since the year 2000.  For this article, I wanted to show how food inflation has risen since the 1970s.  As you can see, the rise in food prices has been absolutely relentless for more than 40 years…

Food Inflation 2014

If our paychecks were going up at the same rate or even faster that would be okay.

But they aren’t.

In fact, CNN is reporting that our paychecks have fallen back to 1995 levels…

Americans also don’t feel any better off. While more people may have jobs, they aren’t bringing home fatter paychecks. Wages and income have remained stagnant for years, making it tough for folks even though inflation is low. Median household income, which stood at $51,939 last year, is back to 1995 levels.

Consumers expect a median income boost of 1.1% over the next year, Curtin said. But that won’t keep up with their inflation expectations of 2.8%.

“American households, on average, are still struggling with their living standards slowly eroding,” he said.

This is one of the primary reasons why the middle class is disappearing in America.

The purchasing power of our dollars is continually diminishing.

And this could be just the beginning.  Right now, severe drought is affecting some of the most important agricultural areas around the globe.  Most people are aware of the nightmarish drought in California, but did you know that things in Brazil are even worse?  Brazil is one of the most important food exporters in the world, and so they definitely need our prayers.

In addition, a “black swan event” such as a worldwide explosion of the Ebola pandemic could quickly drive food prices into the stratosphere.

Just this week, we learned that food prices in the Ebola-stricken regions of Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone have already risen by an average of 24 percent

Infection rates in the food-producing zones of Kenema and Kailahun in Sierra Leone, Lofa and Bong County in Liberia and GuDeckDedou in Guinea are among the highest in the region. Hundreds of farmers have died.

The three governments quarantined districts and restricted movements to contain the virus’ spread. But those measures also disrupted markets and led to food scarcity and panic buying, further pushing up prices, WFP and the Food and Agriculture Organization have said.

“Prices have risen by an average of 24 percent,” said WFP spokeswoman Elisabeth Byrs, adding an assessment of major markets showed the price of basic commodities was rising in Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone and in neighboring Senegal.

If you have been storing up food, I think that you will be very happy with your decision in the long run.

Without a doubt, food prices are only going to be going up from here.

But the Federal Reserve continues to insist that inflation is under control.

One of the ways that they make the “official numbers” look good is by playing accounting games.  They regularly change the way that inflation is calculated in order keep everyone calm.

You don’t have to take my word for it.  Posted below is an excerpt from an article by Mike Bryan, a vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed’s research department…

The Economist retells a conversation with Stephen Roach, who in the 1970s worked for the Federal Reserve under Chairman Arthur Burns. Roach remembers that when oil prices surged around 1973, Burns asked Federal Reserve Board economists to strip those prices out of the CPI “to get a less distorted measure. When food prices then rose sharply, they stripped those out too—followed by used cars, children’s toys, jewellery, housing and so on, until around half of the CPI basket was excluded because it was supposedly ‘distorted'” by forces outside the control of the central bank. The story goes on to say that, at least in part because of these actions, the Fed failed to spot the breadth of the inflationary threat of the 1970s.

I have a similar story. I remember a morning in 1991 at a meeting of the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland’s board of directors. I was welcomed to the lectern with, “Now it’s time to see what Mike is going to throw out of the CPI this month.” It was an uncomfortable moment for me that had a lasting influence. It was my motivation for constructing the Cleveland Fed’s median CPI.

I am a reasonably skilled reader of a monthly CPI release. And since I approached each monthly report with a pretty clear idea of what the actual rate of inflation was, it was always pretty easy for me to look across the items in the CPI market basket and identify any offending—or “distorted”—price change. Stripping these items from the price statistic revealed the truth—and confirmed that I was right all along about the actual rate of inflation.

It is all a game to them.

It is all about getting to the “right number” to release to the public.

But anyone that goes to the grocery store knows what has been happening to food prices.

The next time you get to the checkout register and you feel tempted to ask the cashier what organ you should donate to pay for your groceries, please keep in mind that it is not the fault of the cashier.

Instead, there is one entity that you should blame.

Blame the Federal Reserve – their policies are slowly pushing the middle class into oblivion.

Smoking Gun Evidence That The New York Fed Serves The Interests Of Goldman Sachs

Goldman Sachs And The New York Fed - Public DomainFor years, many people have suspected that the New York Fed is more or less controlled by the “too big to fail” banks.  Well, now we have smoking gun evidence that this is indeed the case.  A very brave lawyer named Carmen Segarra made a series of audio recordings while she was working for the New York Fed.  The 46 hours of meetings and conversations that she recorded are being called “the Ray Rice video for the financial sector” because of the explosive content that they contain.  What these recordings reveal are regulators that are deeply afraid to do anything that may harm or embarrass Goldman Sachs.  And it is quite understandable why Segarra’s colleagues at the New York Fed would feel this way.  As a recent Bloomberg article explained, it has become “common practice” for regulators to leave “their government jobs for much higher paying jobs at the very banks they were once meant to regulate.”  If you think that there is going to be a cushy, high paying banking job for you at the end of the rainbow, you are unlikely to do anything that will mess that up.

To say that the culture at the New York Fed is “deferential” to big banks such as Goldman Sachs would be a massive understatement.

When Carmen Segarra was first embedded at Goldman Sachs, she was absolutely horrified by what she was seeing and hearing.  But her superiors were so obsessed with covering up for Goldman that they actually pressured her to alter the notes that she took during meetings

The job right from the start seems to have been different from what she had imagined: In meetings, Fed employees would defer to the Goldman people; if one of the Goldman people said something revealing or even alarming, the other Fed employees in the meeting would either ignore or downplay it. For instance, in one meeting a Goldman employee expressed the view that “once clients are wealthy enough certain consumer laws don’t apply to them.” After that meeting, Segarra turned to a fellow Fed regulator and said how surprised she was by that statement — to which the regulator replied, “You didn’t hear that.”

This sort of thing occurred often enough — Fed regulators denying what had been said in meetings, Fed managers asking her to alter minutes of meetings after the fact — that Segarra decided she needed to record what actually had been said.

Needless to say, someone like Segarra that did not “go along with the program” was not going to last long at the New York Fed.

After only seven months, she was fired

In 2012, Goldman was rebuked by a Delaware judge for its behaviour during a corporate acquisition. Goldman had advised one energy company, El Paso Corp., as it sold itself to another energy company, Kinder Morgan, in which Goldman actually owned a $4-billion stake. Segarrra asked questions and was told by a Goldman executive that the bank did not have a conflict of interest policy. The Fed found some divisions of the bank did have a policy, though not a comprehensive one. The Fed pressured Segarra not to mention the inadequate conflict of interest policy at Goldman in her reports and, she alleges, fired her after she refused to recant.

If Segarra had not made the recordings that she did, we would have probably never heard much from her ever again.

After all, who is going to believe her over Goldman Sachs and the New York Fed?  A minority would, of course, but the general public would have probably dismissed her accusations as the bitter ramblings of an ex-employee.

But she did make those recordings, and they are causing chaos on Wall Street right now.

The following is how Michael Lewis summarized the importance of this audio…

But once you have listened to it — as when you were faced with the newly unignorable truth of what actually happened to that NFL running back’s fiancee in that elevator — consider the following:

1. You sort of knew that the regulators were more or less controlled by the banks. Now you know.

2. The only reason you know is that one woman, Carmen Segarra, has been brave enough to fight the system. She has paid a great price to inform us all of the obvious. She has lost her job, undermined her career, and will no doubt also endure a lifetime of lawsuits and slander.

The New York Fed says that it “categorically rejects” all of the allegations made by Carmen Segarra.

Of course they do.

But what is there to deny?  The evidence is right there in the audio recordings.

The New York Fed has been caught red-handed serving the interests of Goldman Sachs, and no number of strongly-worded denials is going to change that.

Sadly, this is not likely to change any time soon.  Employees of the New York Fed are going to continue to want to get hired by the big banks, and the big banks are going to continue to hire them.  So the incestuous relationship between the New York Fed and Goldman Sachs is probably not going to change in any meaningful way despite this bad publicity.

What this means is that Goldman Sachs is going to continue to do pretty much whatever it wants to do, and nobody is going to stop them.

But someone should be doing something.

As I wrote about the other day, Goldman Sachs has less than a trillion dollars in total assets, but it has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.

When the derivatives crisis strikes, some of these “too big to fail” banks are going to go down very hard.

Goldman might be one of them.

And when Wall Street starts collapsing, it is going to plunge the entire U.S. economy into a complete and utter nightmare.

Much of this could have been avoided if we had good rules in place and we had regulators that were honestly trying to enforce those good rules.

But instead, the wolves are guarding the hen house and the big banks are going absolutely wild.

Ultimately, this is all going to end very, very badly.

5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives

Roulette Wheel - Public DomainWhen is the U.S. banking system going to crash?  I can sum it up in three words.  Watch the derivatives.  It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.  Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about 17.7 trillion dollars, so when we are talking about 40 trillion dollars we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable.  And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything.  They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future.  The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games.  Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet.  When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe.

If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it?

The answer to that question comes down to just one thing.

Greed.

The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading.  According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them. But the 2008 crisis revealed how flaws in the market had allowed for dangerous buildups of risk at large Wall Street firms and worsened the run on the banking system.

The big banks have sophisticated computer models which are supposed to keep the system stable and help them manage these risks.

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.

When a “black swan event” comes along such as a war, a major pandemic, an apocalyptic natural disaster or a collapse of a very large financial institution, these models can often break down very rapidly.

For example, the following is a brief excerpt from a Forbes article that describes what happened to the derivatives market when Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008…

Fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2008 and what do we see? America again was celebrating. The economy was booming. Everyone seemed to be getting wealthier, even though the warning signs were everywhere: too much borrowing, foolish investments, greedy banks, regulators asleep at the wheel, politicians eager to promote home-ownership for those who couldn’t afford it, and distinguished analysts openly predicting this could only end badly. And then, when Lehman Bros fell, the financial system froze and world economy almost collapsed. Why?

The root cause wasn’t just the reckless lending and the excessive risk taking. The problem at the core was a lack of transparency. After Lehman’s collapse, no one could understand any particular bank’s risks from derivative trading and so no bank wanted to lend to or trade with any other bank. Because all the big banks’ had been involved to an unknown degree in risky derivative trading, no one could tell whether any particular financial institution might suddenly implode.

After the last financial crisis, we were promised that this would be fixed.

But instead the problem has become much larger.

When the housing bubble burst back in 2007, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world had risen to about 500 trillion dollars.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, today the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to a staggering 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).

And of course the heart of this derivatives bubble can be found on Wall Street.

What I am about to share with you is very troubling information.

I have shared similar numbers in the past, but for this article I went and got the very latest numbers from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report.  As I mentioned above, there are now five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,476,986,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $67,951,190,000,000 (more than 67 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,894,736,000,000 (almost 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,944,502,000,000 (nearly 60 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $915,705,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,564,516,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,152,533,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,457,605,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $831,381,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,946,153,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

And it isn’t just U.S. banks that are engaged in this type of behavior.

As Zero Hedge recently detailed, German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more exposure to derivatives than any of the American banks listed above…

Deutsche has a total derivative exposure that amounts to €55 trillion or just about $75 trillion. That’s a trillion with a T, and is about 100 times greater than the €522 billion in deposits the bank has. It is also 5x greater than the GDP of Europe and more or less the same as the GDP of… the world.

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks.  If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

But as you have just read about in this article, they are being more reckless than ever before.

We are steamrolling toward the greatest financial disaster in world history, and nobody is doing much of anything to stop it.

Things could have turned out very differently, but now we will reap the consequences for the very foolish decisions that we have made.

Wall Street Admits That A Cyberattack Could Crash Our Banking System At Any Time

Cyberattack - Public DomainWall Street banks are getting hit by cyber attacks every single minute of every single day.  It is a massive onslaught that is not highly publicized because the bankers do not want to alarm the public.  But as you will see below, one big Wall Street bank is spending 250 million dollars a year just by themselves to combat this growing problem.  The truth is that our financial system is not nearly as stable as most Americans think that it is.  We have become more dependent on technology than ever before, and that comes with a potentially huge downside.  An electromagnetic pulse weapon or an incredibly massive cyberattack could conceivably take down part or all of our banking system at any time.

This week, the mainstream news is reporting on an attack on our major banks that was so massive that the FBI and the Secret Service have decided to get involved.  The following is how Forbes described what is going on…

The FBI and the Secret Service are investigating a huge wave of cyber attacks on Wall Street banks, reportedly including JP Morgan Chase, that took place in recent weeks.

The attacks may have involved the theft of multiple gigabytes of sensitive data, according to reports. Joshua Campbell, supervisory special agent at the FBI, tells Forbes: “We are working with the United States Secret Service to determine the scope of recently reported cyber attacks against several American financial institutions.”

When most people think of “cyber attacks”, they think of a handful of hackers working out of lonely apartments or the basements of their parents.  But that is not primarily what we are dealing with anymore.  Today, big banks are dealing with cyberattackers that are extremely organized and that are incredibly sophisticated.

The threat grows with each passing day, and that is why JPMorgan Chase says that “not every battle will be won” even though it is spending 250 million dollars a year in a relentless fight against cyberattacks…

JPMorgan Chase this year will spend $250 million and dedicate 1,000 people to protecting itself from cybercrime — and it still might not be completely successful, CEO Jamie Dimon warned in April.

Cyberattacks are growing every day in strength and velocity across the globe. It is going to be continual and likely never-ending battle to stay ahead of it — and, unfortunately, not every battle will be won,” Dimon said in his annual letter to shareholders.

Other big Wall Street banks have a similar perspective.  Just consider the following two quotes from a recent USA Today article

Bank of America: “Although to date we have not experienced any material losses relating to cyber attacks or other information security breaches, there can be no assurance that we will not suffer such losses in the future.”

Citigroup: “Citi has been subject to intentional cyber incidents from external sources, including (i) denial of service attacks, which attempted to interrupt service to clients and customers; (ii) data breaches, which aimed to obtain unauthorized access to customer account data; and (iii) malicious software attacks on client systems, which attempted to allow unauthorized entrance to Citi’s systems under the guise of a client and the extraction of client data. For example, in 2013 Citi and other U.S. financial institutions experienced distributed denial of service attacks which were intended to disrupt consumer online banking services. …

“… because the methods used to cause cyber attacks change frequently or, in some cases, are not recognized until launched, Citi may be unable to implement effective preventive measures or proactively address these methods.”

I don’t know about you, but those quotes do not exactly fill me with confidence.

Another potential threat that banking executives lose sleep over is the threat of electromagnetic pulse weapons.  The technology of these weapons has advanced so much that they can fit inside a briefcase now.  Just consider the following excerpt from an article that was posted on an engineering website entitled “Electromagnetic Warfare Is Here“…

The problem is growing because the technology available to attackers has improved even as the technology being attacked has become more vulnerable. Our infrastructure increasingly depends on closely integrated, high-speed electronic systems operating at low internal voltages. That means they can be laid low by short, sharp pulses high in voltage but low in energy—output that can now be generated by a machine the size of a suitcase, batteries included.

Electromagnetic (EM) attacks are not only possible—they are happening. One may be under way as you read this. Even so, you would probably never hear of it: These stories are typically hushed up, for the sake of security or the victims’ reputation.

That same article described how an attack might possibly happen…

An attack might be staged as follows. A larger electromagnetic weapon could be hidden in a small van with side panels made of fiberglass, which is transparent to EM radiation. If the van is parked about 5 to 10 meters away from the target, the EM fields propagating to the wall of the building can be very high. If, as is usually the case, the walls are mere masonry, without metal shielding, the fields will attenuate only slightly. You can tell just how well shielded a building is by a simple test: If your cellphone works well when you’re inside, then you are probably wide open to attack.

And with electromagnetic pulse weapons, terrorists or cyberattackers can try again and again until they finally get it right

And, unlike other means of attack, EM weapons can be used without much risk. A terrorist gang can be caught at the gates, and a hacker may raise alarms while attempting to slip through the firewalls, but an EM attacker can try and try again, and no one will notice until computer systems begin to fail (and even then the victims may still not know why).

Never before have our financial institutions faced potential threats on this scale.

According to the Telegraph, our banks are under assault from cyberattacks “every minute of every day”, and these attacks are continually growing in size and scope…

Every minute, of every hour, of every day, a major financial institution is under attack.

Threats range from teenagers in their bedrooms engaging in adolescent “hacktivism”, to sophisticated criminal gangs and state-sponsored terrorists attempting everything from extortion to industrial espionage. Though the details of these crimes remain scant, cyber security experts are clear that behind-the-scenes online attacks have already had far reaching consequences for banks and the financial markets.

In the end, it is probably only a matter of time until we experience a technological 9/11.

When that day arrives, will your money be safe?

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