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Signs Of Financial Turmoil In Europe, China And The United States

Earth In Peril - Public DomainAs we move toward the second half of 2015, signs of financial turmoil are appearing all over the globe.  In Greece, a full blown bank run is happening right now.  Approximately 2 billion euros were pulled out of Greek banks in just the past three days, Barclays says that capital controls are “imminent” unless a debt deal is struck, and there are reports that preparations are being made for a “bank holiday” in Greece.  Meanwhile, Chinese stocks are absolutely crashing.  The Shanghai Composite Index was down more than 13 percent this week alone.  That was the largest one week decline since the collapse of Lehman Brothers.  In the U.S., stocks aren’t crashing yet, but we just witnessed one of the largest one week outflows of capital from the bond markets that we have ever witnessed.  Slowly but surely, we are starting to see the smart money head for the exits.  As one Swedish fund manager put it recently, everyone wants “to avoid being caught on the wrong side of markets once the herd realizes stocks are over-valued“.

I don’t think that most people understand how serious things have gotten already.  In Greece, so much money has been pulled out of the banks that the European Central Bank admits that Greek banks may not be able to open on Monday

The European Central Bank told a meeting of euro zone finance ministers on Thursday that it was not sure if Greek banks, which have been suffering large daily deposit outflows, would be able to open on Monday, officials with knowledge of the talks said.

Greek savers have withdrawn about 2 billion euros from banks over the past three days, with outflows accelerating rapidly since talks between the government and its creditors collapsed at the weekend, banking sources told Reuters.

All over social media, people are sharing photos of long lines at Greek ATMs as ordinary citizens rush to get their cash out of the troubled banks.  Here is one example

And if there is no debt deal by the end of this month, the Greek debt crisis is going to totally spin out of control and financial chaos will begin to erupt all over Europe.  But instead of trying to be reasonable, EU president Donald Tusk “has delivered an ultimatum to Greece”, and it almost appears as if EU officials are more concerned about winning a power struggle than they are about averting financial catastrophe…

EU president Donald Tusk has delivered an ultimatum to Greece, claiming the country must ‘accept an offer or default’ at an emergency summit set for Monday – in a last-ditch effort to stop the debt-stricken nation crashing out of the euro.

‘We are close to the point where the Greek government will have to choose between accepting what I believe is a good offer of continued support or to head towards default,’ Mr Tusk said today.

His comments come as Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras warned that his country’s exit from the eurozone would trigger the collapse of the single currency.

‘The famous Grexit cannot be an option either for the Greeks or the European Union,’ he said in an Austrian newspaper interview.

‘This would be an irreversible step, it would be the beginning of the end of the eurozone.’

While all of this has been going on, the obscene stock market bubble in China has started to implode.  Just check out the following numbers from Zero Hedge

As the carnage began last night in China we noted the extreme levels of volatility the major indices had experienced in recent weeks. By the close, things were ugly with the broad Shanghai Composite down a stunning 13.3% on the week – the most since Lehman in 2008 (with Shenzhen slightly better at down 12.8% and CHINEXT down a record-breaking 14.99%).

Under normal circumstances, numbers like these would be reason for a full-blown financial panic over in Asia.  But these are not normal times.  Even with these losses, stock prices in China are still massively overinflated.  For example, USA Today is reporting that the median stock over in China is “trading at 95 times earnings”…

Margin debt in China has soared to a record $363 billion, according to Bloomberg, and the median stock in mainland China is now trading at 95 times earnings, which even tops the price-to-earnings multiple of 68 back at the 2007 peak.

That is absolutely ridiculous.  When a stock is trading at 25 or 30 times earnings it is overpriced.  So these numbers that are coming out of China are beyond crazy, and what this means is that Chinese stocks have much, much farther to fall before they get back to any semblance of reality.

Meanwhile, in the U.S. money is flowing out of bonds at a staggering pace.  The following quote originally comes from Bank of America

“High grade credit funds suffered their biggest outflow this year, and double the previous week (and also the biggest since June 2013). High yield outflows also jumped to $1.1bn, the biggest since the start of the year. However, government bond funds suffered the most amid the recent spike in volatility, with outflows surging to the highest weekly number on record ($2.7bn). This brings the total outflow from fixed income funds to almost $6bn over the last week, the highest since the Taper Tantrum and the third highest outflow ever.”

What this means is that big trouble is brewing in the bond markets.  This is something that I warned about in my previous article entitled “Experts Are Warning That The 76 Trillion Dollar Global Bond Bubble Is About To Explode“.

For the moment, U.S. stocks are doing fine.  But just about everyone can see that we in a massive financial bubble that could burst at any time.  Presidential candidate Donald Trump says that what we are witnessing is a “big fat economic and financial bubble like you’ve never seen before”

Yesterday during an interview on MSNBC, presidential candidate Donald Trump said he has some big names in mind for the Treasury secretary if he wins the White House. “I’d like guys like Jack Welch. I like guys like Henry Kravis. I’d love to bring my friend Carl Icahn.” He also opined on the economy and the stock market, admitting that the Fed has benefited people like him but that the economy and is in a “big fat economic and financial bubble like you’ve never seen before.

Ron Paul also believes that this financial bubble is going to end very badly.  Just check out what he told CNBC earlier this week

Despite record highs in the market, former Rep. Ron Paul says the Fed’s easy money policies have left stocks and bonds are on the verge of a massive collapse.

“I am utterly amazed at how the Federal Reserve can play havoc with the market,” Paul said on CNBC’s “Futures Now” referring to Thursday’s surge in stocks. The S&P 500 closed less than 1 percent off its all-time high. “I look at it as being very unstable.”

In Paul’s eyes, “the fallacy of economic planning” has created such a “horrendous bubble” in the bond market that it’s only a matter of time before the bottom falls out. And when it does, it will lead to “stock market chaos.”

Yes, this financial bubble has persisted far longer than many believed possible, but all irrational bubbles eventually burst.

And you know what they say – the bigger they come the harder they fall.

When this gigantic financial bubble finally implodes, it is going to be absolutely horrifying, and the entire planet is going to be shocked by the carnage.

Goldman Sachs Made 400 Million Betting On Food Prices In 2012 While Hundreds Of Millions Starved

Starving Child In Ethiopia - Photo by Cate Turton - Department for International DevelopmentWhy does it seem like wherever there is human suffering, some giant bank is making money off of it?  According to a new report from the World Development Movement, Goldman Sachs made about 400 million dollars betting on food prices last year.  Overall, 2012 was quite a banner year for Goldman Sachs.  As I reported in a previous article, revenues for Goldman increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and the price of Goldman stock has risen by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months.  It is estimated that the average banker at Goldman brought in a pay and bonus package of approximately $396,500 for 2012.  So without a doubt, Goldman Sachs is swimming in money right now.  But what is the price for all of this “success”?  Many claim that the rampant speculation on food prices by the big banks has dramatically increased the global price of food and has caused the suffering of hundreds of millions of poor families around the planet to become much worse.  At this point, global food prices are more than twice as high as they were back in 2003.  Approximately 2 billion people on the planet spend at least half of their incomes on food, and close to a billion people regularly do not have enough food to eat.  Is it moral for Goldman Sachs and other big banks such as Barclays and Morgan Stanley to make hundreds of millions of dollars betting on the price of food if that is going to drive up global food prices and make it harder for poor families all over the world to feed themselves?

This is another reason why the derivatives bubble is so bad for the world economy.  Goldman Sachs and other big banks are treating the global food supply as if it was some kind of a casino game.  This kind of reckless activity was greatly condemned by the World Development Movement report

“Goldman Sachs is the global leader in a trade that is driving food prices up while nearly a billion people are hungry. The bank lobbied for the financial deregulation that made it possible to pour billions into the commodity derivative markets, created the necessary financial instruments, and is now raking in the profits. Speculation is fuelling volatility and food price spikes, hurting people who struggle to afford food across the world.”

So shouldn’t there be a law against this kind of a thing?

Well, in the United States there actually is, but the law has been blocked by the big Wall Street banks and their very highly paid lawyers.  The following is another excerpt from the report

“The US has passed legislation to limit speculation, but the controls have not been implemented due to a legal challenge from Wall Street spearheaded by the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, of which Goldman Sachs is a leading member. Similar legislation is on the table at the EU, but the UK government has so far opposed effective controls. Goldman Sachs has lobbied against controls in both the US and the EU.”

Posted below is a chart that shows what this kind of activity has done to commodity prices over the past couple of decades.  You will notice that commodity prices were fairly stable in the 1990s, but since the year 2000 they have been extremely volatile…

Commodity Prices

The reason for all of this volatility was explained in an excellent article by Frederick Kaufman

The money tells the story. Since the bursting of the tech bubble in 2000, there has been a 50fold increase in dollars invested in commodity index funds. To put the phenomenon in real terms: In 2003, the commodities futures market still totaled a sleepy $13 billion. But when the global financial crisis sent investors running scared in early 2008, and as dollars, pounds, and euros evaded investor confidence, commodities — including food — seemed like the last, best place for hedge, pension, and sovereign wealth funds to park their cash. “You had people who had no clue what commodities were all about suddenly buying commodities,” an analyst from the United States Department of Agriculture told me. In the first 55 days of 2008, speculators poured $55 billion into commodity markets, and by July, $318 billion was roiling the markets. Food inflation has remained steady since.

The money flowed, and the bankers were ready with a sparkling new casino of food derivatives. Spearheaded by oil and gas prices (the dominant commodities of the index funds) the new investment products ignited the markets of all the other indexed commodities, which led to a problem familiar to those versed in the history of tulips, dotcoms, and cheap real estate: a food bubble. Hard red spring wheat, which usually trades in the $4 to $6 dollar range per 60-pound bushel, broke all previous records as the futures contract climbed into the teens and kept on going until it topped $25. And so, from 2005 to 2008, the worldwide price of food rose 80 percent –and has kept rising.

Are you angry yet?

You should be.

Poor families all over the planet are suffering so that Wall Street bankers can make bigger profits.

It’s disgusting.

Many big financial institutions just seem to love to make money on the backs of the poor.  I have previously reported on how JP Morgan makes billions of dollars issuing food stamp cards in the United States.  When the number of Americans on food stamps goes up, so does the amount of money that JP Morgan makes.  You can read much more about all of this right here: “Making Money On Poverty: JP Morgan Makes Bigger Profits When The Number Of Americans On Food Stamps Goes Up“.

Sadly, the global food supply is getting tighter with each passing day, and things are looking rather ominous for the years ahead.

According to the United Nations, global food reserves have reached their lowest level in nearly 40 years.  Global food reserves have not been this low since 1974, but the population of the world has greatly increased since then.  If 2013 is another year of drought and bad harvests, things could spiral out of control rather quickly…

World grain reserves are so dangerously low that severe weather in the United States or other food-exporting countries could trigger a major hunger crisis next year, the United Nations has warned.

Failing harvests in the US, Ukraine and other countries this year have eroded reserves to their lowest level since 1974. The US, which has experienced record heatwaves and droughts in 2012, now holds in reserve a historically low 6.5% of the maize that it expects to consume in the next year, says the UN.

“We’ve not been producing as much as we are consuming. That is why stocks are being run down. Supplies are now very tight across the world and reserves are at a very low level, leaving no room for unexpected events next year,” said Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist with the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

The world has barely been able to feed itself for some time now.  In fact, we have consumed more food than we have produced for 6 of the last 11 years

Evan Fraser, author of Empires of Food and a geography lecturer at Guelph University in Ontario, Canada, says: “For six of the last 11 years the world has consumed more food than it has grown. We do not have any buffer and are running down reserves. Our stocks are very low and if we have a dry winter and a poor rice harvest we could see a major food crisis across the board.”

“Even if things do not boil over this year, by next summer we’ll have used up this buffer and consumers in the poorer parts of the world will once again be exposed to the effects of anything that hurts production.”

We desperately need a good growing season next summer, and all eyes are on the United States.  The U.S. exports more food than anyone else does, and last summer the United States experienced the worst drought that it had seen in about 50 years.  That drought left deep scars all over the country.  The following is from a recent Rolling Stone article

In 2012, more than 9 million acres went up in flames in this country. Only dredging and some eleventh-hour rain kept the mighty Mississippi River from being shut down to navigation due to low water levels; continuing drought conditions make “long-term stabilization” of river levels unlikely in the near future. Several of the Great Lakes are soon expected to hit their lowest levels in history. In Nebraska last summer, a 100-mile stretch of the Platte River simply dried up. Drought led the USDA to declare federal disaster areas in 2,245 counties in 39 states last year, and the federal government will likely have to pay tens of billions for crop insurance and lost crops. As ranchers became increasingly desperate to feed their livestock, “hay rustling” and other agricultural crimes rose.

Ranchers were hit particularly hard.  Because they couldn’t feed their herds, many ranchers slaughtered a tremendous number of animals.  As a result, the U.S. cattle herd is now sitting at a 60 year low.

What do you think that is going to do to meat prices over the next few years?

Meanwhile, the drought continues.  According to the U.S. Drought Monitor, this is one of the worst winter droughts the U.S. has ever seen.  At this point, more than 60 percent of the entire nation is currently experiencing drought.

If things don’t turn around dramatically, 2013 could be an absolutely nightmarish year for crops in the United States.  If 2013 does turn out to be another bad year, food prices would soar both in the U.S. and on the global level.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

The severe drought that swept through much of the U.S. last year is continuing into 2013, threatening to cripple economic growth while forcing consumers to pay higher food prices.

“The drought will have a significant impact on prices, especially beef, pork and chicken,” said Ernie Gross, an economic professor at Creighton University and who studies farming issues.

So let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.

It looks like higher food prices are on the way, and millions of poor families all over the planet will be hard-pressed to feed their families.

Meanwhile, Goldman Sachs will be laughing all the way to the bank.

A Global Food Crisis Is Coming - Are You Ready? - Photo by Oxfam East Africa

The Biggest Financial Scandal In History?

We always knew that the financial markets were rigged, but this is getting ridiculous.  It is now being alleged that 20 major banks have been systematically fixing global interest rates for years.  Barclays has already been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for manipulating Libor (the London Inter Bank Offered Rate).  But Barclays says that a whole bunch of other banks were doing this too.  This is shaping up to be the biggest financial scandal in history, and criminal investigations have been launched on both sides of the Atlantic.  What those investigations are likely to uncover could shake the financial markets to their very core.  In the end, this scandal could absolutely devastate confidence in the global financial system and it could potentially bring down a number of major global banks.  We have never seen anything quite like this before.

What Is Libor?

As mentioned before, Libor is the London Inter Bank Offered Rate.  A recent Washington Post article contained a pretty good explanation of what that means….

In the simplest terms, LIBOR is the average interest rate which banks in London are charging each other for borrowing. It’s calculated by Thomson Reuters — the parent company of the Reuters news agency — for the British Banking Association (BBA), a trade association of banks and financial services companies.

Why Does Libor Matter?

If you have a mortgage, a car loan or a credit card, then there is a very good chance that Libor has affected your personal finances.  Libor has been a factor in the pricing of hundreds of trillions of dollars of loans, securities and assets.  The following is from a recent article by Maureen Farrell….

These traders influenced the pricing of the London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor, a benchmark that dictates the pricing of up to $800 trillion of securities (yes trillion)

$800 trillion?

That is a number that is hard to even imagine.

Most American consumers do not even know what Libor is, but it actually plays a key role in the U.S. economy as the Washington Post recently explained….

In the United States, the two biggest indices for adjustable rate mortgages and other consumer debt are the prime rate (that is, the rate banks charge favored or “prime” consumers) and LIBOR, with the latter particularly popular for subprime loans. A study from Mark Schweitzer and Guhan Venkatu at the Cleveland Fed looked at survey data in Ohio and found that by 2008, almost 60 percent of prime adjustable rate mortgages, and nearly 100 percent of subprime ones, were indexed to LIBOR

Who Was Involved In This Scandal?

According to the Daily Mail, in addition to Barclays it is being alleged that at least 20 banks (including some major U.S. banks) were involved in this interest rate fixing scandal….

Hundreds of bankers across three continents are embroiled in the interest-rate fixing scandal that has left Barclays chief executive Bob Diamond fighting to save his job.

As pressure intensified on Britain’s highest paid banking boss to quit, MPs heard a string of other financial institutions across the world were under investigation.

At least 20 banks are believed to be under suspicion, with growing demands for a criminal investigation.

There are also indications that the Bank of England itself may have been involved in this scandal.

What Did They Do?

Employees at Barclays (and apparently at about 20 other major banks) were brazenly manipulating interest rates.  A recent Yahoo Finance article described how this worked…

To help the bank’s trading positions between 2005 and 2009, and most notably during the global financial crisis of 2007-09, the bank made false submissions to the Libor-setting committee, which agrees rates daily in London.

At the request of its own traders of interest-rate derivatives, Barclays made false submissions relating to Libor and Euribor (the eurozone benchmark rate). By doing this, Barclays personnel aimed to help their trading colleagues to profit by manipulating Libor.

Rigging the world’s leading benchmark for interest rates is pretty serious stuff. Indeed, in the words of the FSA, “Barclays’ behaviour threatened the integrity of the rates, with the risk of serious harm to other market participants”.

Many in the financial world have been absolutely horrified by the details of this scandal that have been emerging.

One recent CNN article declared that “the stench” coming from London is now “overwhelming”….

The Libor scandal has confirmed what many of us have known for some time: There is something smelly in the London financial world and the stench is now overwhelming.

But It is only when I read the Financial Services Authority report — all 44 pages of it — that is became clear just how widespread, how blatant was the fixing of the benchmark interest rate Libor and Euribor by Barclays. Brazen is the only word for it.

The emails and phone calls reveal that on dozens of occasions those who stood to gain by the decisions asked for favors (and got them) from those who helped set the interest rates.

You can read many examples of the kinds of emails that were exchanged between traders in New York and traders at Barclays in London right here.

What Does This Scandal Mean For The Future?

This scandal is making the global financial system look really, really bad.  Confidence in global financial markets has already been declining, and these new revelations are not going to help at all.  The following is how an article in the Huffington Post put it….

The ballooning interest rate manipulation scandal at Barclays, coupled with stock market instability, is likely to fuel fresh doubts about the integrity of the stock market, insiders said.

“Every time people begin to gain a little confidence, something else comes up,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. “If it’s not Europe, it’s [troubled] IPOs, or JPMorgan or Barclays. Something new blows up and people say, ‘I knew it was rigged.’”

In addition, we are undoubtedly going to see a huge wave of lawsuits come out of this scandal.  Those lawsuits alone will gum up the financial system for a decade or more.

So needless to say, this is a very big deal.

Sadly, the revelations that have come out about Barclays in recent days are probably just the very tip of the iceberg.  Before this is all over, we are probably going to find out that most of the major global banks were involved.

At a time when the global financial system is already on the verge of a major implosion, this is not welcome news.

This financial scandal is just another reason to be deeply concerned about the second half of 2012.  The house of cards is starting to look really shaky, and nobody knows exactly when it will fall, but anyone with half a brain can see that things are progressively getting worse.

A “perfect storm” is rapidly developing, and when it strikes it is going to be very, very painful.

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