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Is The 505 Trillion Dollar Interest Rate Derivatives Bubble In Imminent Jeopardy?

Bubble In Hands - Public DomainAll over the planet, large banks are massively overexposed to derivatives contracts.  Interest rate derivatives account for the biggest chunk of these derivatives contracts.  According to the Bank for International Settlements, the notional value of all interest rate derivatives contracts outstanding around the globe is a staggering 505 trillion dollars.  Considering the fact that the U.S. national debt is only 18 trillion dollars, that is an amount of money that is almost incomprehensible.  When this derivatives bubble finally bursts, there won’t be enough money in the entire world to bail everyone out.  The key to making sure that all of these interest rate bets do not start going bad is for interest rates to remain stable.  That is why what is going on in Greece right now is so important.  The Greek government has announced that it will default on a loan payment that it owes to the IMF on June 5th.  If that default does indeed happen, Greek bond yields will soar into the stratosphere as panicked investors flee for the exits.  But it won’t just be Greece.  If Greece defaults despite years of intervention by the EU and the IMF, that will be a clear signal to the financial world that no nation in Europe is truly safe.  Bond yields will start spiking in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and all over the rest of the continent.  By the end of it, we could be faced with the greatest interest rate derivatives crisis that any of us have ever seen.

The number one thing that bond investors want is to get their money back.  If a nation like Greece is actually allowed to default after so much time and so much effort has been expended to prop them up, that is really going to spook those that invest in bonds.

At this point, Greece has not gotten any new cash from the EU or the IMF since last August.  The Greek government is essentially flat broke at this point, and once again over the weekend a Greek government official warned that the loan payment that is scheduled to be made to the IMF on June 5th simply will not happen

Greece cannot make debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its Interior Minister said on Sunday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail.

Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions. With its future as a member of the 19-nation euro zone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture.

After four months of talks with its eurozone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in aid to avert bankruptcy.

And it isn’t just the payment on June 5th that won’t happen.  There are three other huge payments due later in June, and without a deal the Greek government will not be making any of those payments either.

It isn’t that Greece is holding back any money.  As the Greek interior minister recently explained during a television interview, the money for the payments just isn’t there

The money won’t be given . . . It isn’t there to be given,” Nikos Voutsis, the interior minister, told the Greek television station Mega.

This crisis can still be avoided if a deal is reached.  But after months of wrangling, things are not looking promising at the moment.  The following comes from CNBC

People who have spoken to Mr Tsipras say he is in dour mood and willing to acknowledge the serious risk of an accident in coming weeks.

“The negotiations are going badly,” said one official in contact with the prime minister. “Germany is playing hard. Even Merkel isn’t as open to helping as before.”

And even if a deal is reached, various national parliaments around Europe are going to have to give it their approval.  According to Business Insider, that may also be difficult…

The finance ministers that make up the Eurogroup will have to get approval from their own national parliaments for any deal, and politicians in the rest of Europe seem less inclined than ever to be lenient.

So what happens if there is no deal by June 5th?

Well, Greece will default and the fun will begin.

In the end, Greece may be forced out of the eurozone entirely and would have to go back to using the drachma.  At this point, even Greek government officials are warning that such a development would be “catastrophic” for Greece…

One possible alternative if talks do not progress is that Greece would leave the common currency and return to the drachma. This would be “catastrophic”, Mr Varoufakis warned, and not just for Greece itself.

“It would be a disaster for everyone involved, it would be a disaster primarily for the Greek social economy, but it would also be the beginning of the end for the common currency project in Europe,” he said.

“Whatever some analysts are saying about firewalls, these firewalls won’t last long once you put and infuse into people’s minds, into investors’ minds, that the eurozone is not indivisible,” he added.

But the bigger story is what it would mean for the rest of Europe.

If Greece is allowed to fail, it would tell bond investors that their money is not truly safe anywhere in Europe and bond yields would start spiking like crazy.  The 505 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives scam is based on the assumption that interest rates will remain fairly stable, and so if interest rates begin flying around all over the place that could rapidly create some gigantic problems in the financial world.

In addition, a Greek default would send the value of the euro absolutely plummeting.  As I have warned so many times before, the euro is headed for parity with the U.S. dollar, and then it is going to go below parity.  And since there are 75 trillion dollars of derivatives that are directly tied to the value of the U.S. dollar, the euro and other major global currencies, that could also create a crisis of unprecedented proportions.

Over the past six years I have written more than 2,000 articles, I have authored two books and I have produced two DVDs.  One of the things that I have really tried to get across to people is that our financial system has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world.  Big banks all over the planet have become exceedingly reckless, and it is only a matter of time until all of this gambling backfires on them in a massive way.

It isn’t going to take much to topple the current financial order.  It could be a Greek debt default in June or it may be something else.  But when it does collapse, it is going to usher in the greatest economic crisis that any of us have ever seen.

So keep watching Europe.

Things are about to get extremely interesting, and if I am right, this is the start of something big.

Greece Says That It Will Default On June 5th, And Moody’s Warns Of A ‘Deposit Freeze’

Greece Euro - Public DomainThe Greek government says that a “moment of truth” is coming on June 5th.  Either their lenders agree to give them more money by that date, or Greece will default on a 300 million euro loan payment to the IMF.  Of course it won’t technically be a “default” according to IMF rules for another 30 days after that, but without a doubt news that Greece cannot pay will send shockwaves throughout the financial world.  At that point, those holding Greek bonds will start to panic as they realize that they might not get paid as well.  All over Europe, there are major banks that are holding large amounts of Greek debt and derivatives that are related to the performance of Greek debt.  If something is not done to avert disaster at the last moment, a default by Greece could be the spark that sets off a major European financial crisis this summer.

As I discussed the other day, neither the EU nor the IMF have given any money to Greece since August 2014.  So now the Greek government is just about out of money, and without any new loans they will not be able to pay back the old loans that are coming due.  In fact, things are so bad at this point that the Greek government is openly warning that it will default on June 5th

Greece cannot make an upcoming payment to the International Monetary Fund on June 5 unless foreign lenders disburse more aid, a senior ruling party lawmaker said on Wednesday, the latest warning from Athens it is on the verge of default.

Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s leftist government says it hopes to reach a cash-for-reforms deal in days, although European Union and IMF lenders are more pessimistic and say talks are moving too slowly for that.

Of course this is all part of a very high stakes chess game.  The Greeks believe that the Germans will back down when faced with the prospect of a full blown European financial crisis, and the Germans believe that the Greeks will eventually be feeling so much pain that they will be forced to give in to their demands.

So with each day we get closer and closer to the edge, and the Greeks are trying to do their best to let everyone know that they are not bluffing.  Just today, a spokesperson for the Greek government came out and declared that unless there is a deal by June 5th, the IMF “won’t get any money”

Greek officials now point to a race against the clock to clinch a deal before payments totaling about 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) to the IMF come due next month, starting with a 300 million euro payment on June 5.

“Now is the moment that negotiations are coming to a head. Now is the moment of truth, on June 5,” Nikos Filis, spokesman for the ruling Syriza party’s lawmakers, told ANT1 television.

If there is no deal by then that will address the current funding problem, they won’t get any money,” he said.

But the Germans know that the Greeks desperately need more money and can’t last much longer.  The Greek banking system is so close to collapse that Moody’s just downgraded it again and warned that “there is a high likelihood of an imposition of capital controls and a deposit freeze” in the months ahead…

The outlook for the Greek banking system is negative, primarily reflecting the acute deterioration in Greek banks’ funding and liquidity, says Moody’s Investors Service in a new report published recently. These pressures are unlikely to ease over the next 12-18 months and there is a high likelihood of an imposition of capital controls and a deposit freeze.

The new report: “Banking System Outlook: Greece”, is now available on www.moodys.com. Moody’s subscribers can access this report via the link provided at the end of this press release.

Moody’s notes that significant deposit outflows of more than €30 billion since December 2014 have increased banks’ dependence on central bank funding. In our view, the banks are likely to remain highly dependent on central bank funding, as ongoing uncertainty regarding Greece’s support programme continues to compromise depositors’ confidence.

Unfortunately, when things really start going crazy in Greece people might be faced with much more than just frozen bank accounts.  As I wrote about just a few days ago, there is a very strong possibility that we could actually see Cyprus-style wealth confiscation implemented in Greece when the banks collapse.

In fact, the Greek government is already talking about the possibility of a special tax on banking transactions

Athens is promoting the idea of a special levy on banking transactions at a rate of 0.1-0.2 percent, while the government’s proposal for a two-tier value-added tax – depending on whether the payment is in cash or by card – has met with strong opposition from the country’s creditors.

A senior government official told Kathimerini that among the proposals discussed with the eurozone and the International Monetary Fund is the imposition of a levy on bank transactions, whose exact rate will depend on the exemptions that would apply. The aim is to collect 300-600 million euros on a yearly basis.

Fee won’t include ATM withdrawals, transactions up to EU500; in this case Greek govt projects EU300m-EU600m annual revenue from measure.

Sadly, most people living in North America (which is most of my audience) does not really care much about what happens on the other side of the world.

But they should care.

If Greece defaults and the Greek banking system collapses, stocks and bonds will crash all over Europe.  Many believe that such a crash can be “contained” to just Europe, but that is really just wishful thinking.

In addition, the euro would plummet dramatically, which would cause substantial financial problems all over the planet.  As I recently explained, the euro is headed to parity with the U.S. dollar and then it is going to go below parity.  Before it is all said and done, the euro is going to all-time lows.

Of course the U.S. dollar is eventually going to totally collapse as well, but that comes later and that is a story for another day.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, 74 trillion dollars in derivatives are directly tied to the value of the euro, the value of the U.S. dollar and the value of other global currencies.

So if you believe that what is happening in Greece cannot have massive ramifications for the entire global financial system, you are dead wrong.

What is happening in Greece is exceedingly important, and it is time for all of us to start paying attention.

Grexit: Remaining In The Eurozone Is No Longer ‘The Base Case’ For Greece

Exit - Public DomainAccording to the Wall Street Journal, Greece staying in the eurozone is no longer “the base case” for European officials, and one even told the Journal that “literally nothing has been achieved” in negotiations with the new Greek government since the Greek election almost three months ago.  In other words, you can take all of that stuff you heard about how the Greek crisis was fixed and throw it out the window.  Over the next few months, a big chunk of Greek government bonds held by the IMF and the European Central Bank will mature.  Unless negotiations produce a load of new cash for Greece, there will be a default, and right now there is very little optimism that we will see an agreement any time soon.  In fact, as I wrote about the other day, behind the scenes banks all over Europe are quietly preparing for a Grexit.  European news sources are reporting that the Greek banking system is on the verge of collapse, and over the past couple of weeks Greek bond yields have shot through the roof.  Most of the things that we would expect to see in the lead up to a Greek exit from the eurozone are happening, and now we will wait and see if the Greeks actually have the guts to pull the trigger when push comes to shove.

At this point, many top European officials are quietly admitting that it is more likely than not that Greece will leave the euro by the end of this year.  The following is an excerpt from the Wall Street Journal article that I mentioned above

It’s still possible that Greece can remain in the eurozone—though that is no longer the base case for many policy makers. At the very least, most fear the situation is going to get much, worse before it gets any better. No one now expects a deal to unlock Greek bailout funding at this week’s meeting of eurozone finance ministers in Riga—originally set as the final deadline for a deal. The new final, final deadline is now said to be a summit on May 11.

But among European politicians and officials gathered in Washington DC last week for the International Monetary Fund’s Spring Meetings, there was little optimism that a deal will be agreed by then.

The two sides are no closer to an agreement than when the Greek government took office almost three months ago. “Nothing, literally nothing has been achieved,” says an official.

Literally nothing has been achieved?

That is not what the mainstream media has been telling us over the past few months.

They kept telling us that agreements were in place and that everything had been fixed.

I guess not.

The Germans believe that the risks of a “Grexit” have already been priced in by the financial markets and that a Greek exit from the euro can be “managed” without any serious risk of contagion.

So they are playing hardball with the Greeks.

On the other hand, the Greeks believe that the risk of contagion will eventually force the Germans to back down

Greece’s Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis said in an interview broadcast on Sunday that if Greece were to leave the euro zone, there would be an inevitable contagion effect.

“Anyone who toys with the idea of cutting off bits of the euro zone hoping the rest will survive is playing with fire,” he told La Sexta, a Spanish TV channel, in an interview recorded 10 days ago.

“Some claim that the rest of Europe has been ring-fenced from Greece and that the ECB has tools at its disposal to amputate Greece, if need be, cauterize the wound and allow the rest of euro zone to carry on.”

In this case, I believe that the Greeks are right about what a Grexit would mean for the rest of Europe and the Germans are wrong.

Once one country leaves the euro, that tells the entire world that membership in the euro is only temporary.  Immediately everyone would be looking for the “next Greece”, and there are lots of candidates – Italy, Spain, Portugal, etc.

There is a very good chance that a Grexit would set off a full-blown European financial panic.  And once a financial panic starts, it is very hard to stop.  The danger that a Grexit poses is so obvious that even the Obama administration can see it

A Greek exit from the euro zone would carry significant risks for the global economy and no one should be under the impression that financial markets have fully priced in such an event, the chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers said.

The comments by Jason Furman in an interview with Reuters in Berlin are among the strongest by a senior U.S. official and are at odds with those of German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who told an audience in New York last week that contagion risks from a so-called “Grexit” were limited.

“A Greek exit would not just be bad for the Greek economy, it would be taking a very large and unnecessary risk with the global economy just when a lot of things are starting to go right,” Furman said.

Meanwhile things continue to get even worse inside Greece.  If you have any money in Greek banks, you need to move it immediately.  The following comes from Zero Hedge

Things for insolvent, cashless Greece are – not unexpectedly – getting worse by the day.

Following yesterday’s shocking decree that the government will confiscate local government reserves and “sweep” them into the central bank to provide the country more funds as it approaches another month of heavy IMF repayments, earlier today Bloomberg reported that the ECB would add insult to injury and may increase haircuts for Greek banks accessing Emergency Liquidity Assistance, thus “reining in” the very critical emergency liquidity which has kept Greek banks operating in recent weeks as the bank run sweeping the domestic banking sector has gotten worse by the day.

And many Greeks don’t even have any money to put in the banks because they haven’t been paid in months

Meanwhile, the reality is that for a majority of the Greek population, none of this really matters because as Greek Ta Nea reports, citing Labor Ministry data, about one million Greek workers see delays of up to 5 months in salaries payment by their employers. The Greek media adds that about 45% of salaried workers in Greece make no more than €751 per month, the country’s old minimum wage; which also includes part-time workers.

No matter what European officials try, things just continue to unravel in Greece and in much of the rest of Europe.

We stand on the verge of the next great global economic crisis.  The lessons that we should have learned from the last crisis were never learned, and instead global debt levels have exploded much higher since then.  In fact, according to Doug Casey, the total amount of global debt is 57 trillion dollars higher than it was just prior to the last crisis…

In 2008, excess debt pushed the global financial system to the brink. It was a golden opportunity for governments and banks to reform the system. But rather than deal with the problem, they papered over it by issuing more debt. Worldwide debt levels are now $57 trillion higher than in 2008.

The eurozone as it is constituted today is doomed.

That doesn’t mean that the Europeans are going to give up on social, economic and political integration.  It just means that we are entering a time of transition that is going to be extremely messy.

And once the European financial system begins to fall apart, the rest of the world will quickly follow.

The Six Too Big To Fail Banks In The U.S. Have 278 TRILLION Dollars Of Exposure To Derivatives

Bankers - Public DomainThe very same people that caused the last economic crisis have created a 278 TRILLION dollar derivatives time bomb that could go off at any moment.  When this absolutely colossal bubble does implode, we are going to be faced with the worst economic crash in the history of the United States.  During the last financial crisis, our politicians promised us that they would make sure that “too big to fail” would never be a problem again.  Instead, as you will see below, those banks have actually gotten far larger since then.  So now we really can’t afford for them to fail.  The six banks that I am talking about are JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo.  When you add up all of their exposure to derivatives, it comes to a grand total of more than 278 trillion dollars.  But when you add up all of the assets of all six banks combined, it only comes to a grand total of about 9.8 trillion dollars.  In other words, these “too big to fail” banks have exposure to derivatives that is more than 28 times greater than their total assets.  This is complete and utter insanity, and yet nobody seems too alarmed about it.  For the moment, those banks are still making lots of money and funding the campaigns of our most prominent politicians.  Right now there is no incentive for them to stop their incredibly reckless gambling so they are just going to keep on doing it.

So precisely what are “derivatives”?  Well, they can be immensely complicated, but I like to simplify things.  On a very basic level, a “derivative” is not an investment in anything.  When you buy a stock, you are purchasing an ownership interest in a company.  When you buy a bond, you are purchasing the debt of a company.  But a derivative is quite different.  In essence, most derivatives are simply bets about what will or will not happen in the future.  The big banks have transformed Wall Street into the biggest casino in the history of the planet, and when things are running smoothly they usually make a whole lot of money.

But there is a fundamental flaw in the system, and I described this in a previous article

The big banks use very sophisticated algorithms that are supposed to help them be on the winning side of these bets the vast majority of the time, but these algorithms are not perfect.  The reason these algorithms are not perfect is because they are based on assumptions, and those assumptions come from people.  They might be really smart people, but they are still just people.

Today, the “too big to fail” banks are being even more reckless than they were just prior to the financial crash of 2008.

As long as they keep winning, everyone is going to be okay.  But when the time comes that their bets start going against them, it is going to be a nightmare for all of us.  Our entire economic system is based on the flow of credit, and those banks are at the very heart of that system.

In fact, the five largest banks account for approximately 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks account for approximately 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.

So that is why they are called “too big to fail”.  We simply cannot afford for them to go out of business.

As I mentioned above, our politicians promised that something would be done about this.  But instead, the four largest banks in the country have gotten nearly 40 percent larger since the last time around.  The following numbers come from an article in the Los Angeles Times

Just before the financial crisis hit, Wells Fargo & Co. had $609 billion in assets. Now it has $1.4 trillion. Bank of America Corp. had $1.7 trillion in assets. That’s up to $2.1 trillion.

And the assets of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank, have ballooned to $2.4 trillion from $1.8 trillion.

During this same time period, 1,400 smaller banks have completely disappeared from the banking industry.

So our economic system is now more dependent on the “too big to fail” banks than ever.

To illustrate how reckless the “too big to fail” banks have become, I want to share with you some brand new numbers which come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2)

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,573,126,000,000 (about 2.6 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $63,600,246,000,000 (more than 63 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,842,530,000,000 (more than 1.8 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,951,603,000,000 (more than 59 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $856,301,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $57,312,558,000,000 (more than 57 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,106,796,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,224,084,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $801,382,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $38,546,879,000,000 (more than 38 trillion dollars)

Wells Fargo

Total Assets: $1,687,155,000,000 (about 1.7 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $5,302,422,000,000 (more than 5 trillion dollars)

Compared to the rest of them, Wells Fargo looks extremely prudent and rational.

But of course that is not true at all.  Wells Fargo is being very reckless, but the others are being so reckless that it makes everyone else pale in comparison.

And these banks are not exactly in good shape for the next financial crisis that is rapidly approaching.  The following is an excerpt from a recent Business Insider article

The New York Times isn’t so sure about the results from the Federal Reserve’s latest round of stress tests.

In an editorial published over the weekend, The Times cites data from Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the FDIC, who, in contrast to the Federal Reserve, found that capital ratios at the eight largest banks in the US averaged 4.97% at the end of 2014, far lower than the 12.9% found by the Fed’s stress test.

That doesn’t sound good.

So what is up with the discrepancy in the numbers?  The New York Times explains…

The discrepancy is due mainly to differing views of the risk posed by the banks’ vast holdings of derivative contracts used for hedging and speculation. The Fed, in keeping with American accounting rules and central bank accords, assumes that gains and losses on derivatives generally net out. As a result, most derivatives do not show up as assets on banks’ balance sheets, an omission that bolsters the ratio of capital to assets.

Mr. Hoenig uses stricter international accounting rules to value the derivatives. Those rules do not assume that gains and losses reliably net out. As a result, large derivative holdings are shown as assets on the balance sheet, an addition that reduces the ratio of capital to assets to the low levels reported in Mr. Hoenig’s analysis.

Derivatives, eh?

Very interesting.

And you know what?

The guys running these big banks can see what is coming.

Just consider the words that JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon wrote to his shareholders not too long ago

Some things never change — there will be another crisis, and its impact will be felt by the financial market.

The trigger to the next crisis will not be the same as the trigger to the last one – but there will be another crisis. Triggering events could be geopolitical (the 1973 Middle East crisis), a recession where the Fed rapidly increases interest rates (the 1980-1982 recession), a commodities price collapse (oil in the late 1980s), the commercial real estate crisis (in the early 1990s), the Asian crisis (in 1997), so-called “bubbles” (the 2000 Internet bubble and the 2008 mortgage/housing bubble), etc. While the past crises had different roots (you could spend a lot of time arguing the degree to which geopolitical, economic or purely financial factors caused each crisis), they generally had a strong effect across the financial markets

In the same letter, Dimon mentioned “derivatives moved by enormous players and rapid computerized trades” as part of the reason why our system is so vulnerable to another crisis.

If this is what he truly believes, why is his firm being so incredibly reckless?

Perhaps someone should ask him that.

Interestingly, Dimon also discussed the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone

“We must be prepared for a potential exit,”  J. P. Morgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said. in his annual letter to shareholders. “We continually stress test our company for possible repercussions resulting from such an event.”

This is something that I have been warning about for a long time.

And of course Dimon is not the only prominent banker warning of big problems ahead.  German banking giant Deutsche Bank is also sounding the alarm

With a U.S. profit recession expected in the first half of 2015 and investors unlikely to pay up for stocks, the risk of a stock market drop of 5% to 10% is rising, Deutsche  Bank says.

That’s the warning Deutsche Bank market strategist David Bianco zapped out to clients today before the opening bell on Wall Street.

Bianco expects earnings for the broad Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to contract in the first half of 2015 — the first time that’s happened since 2009 during the financial crisis. And the combination of soft earnings and his belief that investors won’t pay top dollar for stocks in a market that is already trading at above-average valuations is a recipe for a short-term pullback on Wall Street.

The truth is that we are in the midst of a historic stock market bubble, and we are witnessing all sorts of patterns in the financial markets which also emerged back in 2008 right before the financial crash in the fall of that year.

When some of the most prominent bankers at some of the biggest banks on the entire planet start issuing ominous warnings, that is a clear sign that time is running out.  The period of relative stability that we have been enjoying has been fun, and hopefully it will last just a little while longer.  But at some point it will end, and then the pain will begin.

 

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.

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