The Beginning Of The End
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New Law Would Make Taxpayers Potentially Liable For TRILLIONS In Derivatives Losses

Derivatives - Banksters - Public DomainIf the quadrillion dollar derivatives bubble implodes, who should be stuck with the bill?  Well, if the “too big to fail” banks have their way it will be you and I.  Right now, lobbyists for the big Wall Street banks are pushing really hard to include an extremely insidious provision in a bill that would keep the federal government funded past the upcoming December 11th deadline.  This provision would allow these big banks to trade derivatives through subsidiaries that are federally insured by the FDIC.  What this would mean is that the big banks would be able to continue their incredibly reckless derivatives trading without having to worry about the downside.  If they win on their bets, the big banks would keep all of the profits.  If they lose on their bets, the federal government would come in and bail them out using taxpayer money.  In other words, it would essentially be a “heads I win, tails you lose” proposition.

Just imagine the following scenario.  I go to Las Vegas and I place a million dollar bet on who will win the Super Bowl this year.  If I am correct, I keep all of the winnings.  If I lose, federal law requires you to bail me out and give me the million dollars that I just lost.

Does that sound fair?

Of course not!  In fact, it is utter insanity.  But through their influence in Congress, this is exactly what the big Wall Street banks are attempting to pull off.  And according to the Huffington Post, there is a very good chance that this provision will be in the final bill that will soon be voted on…

According to multiple Democratic sources, banks are pushing hard to include the controversial provision in funding legislation that would keep the government operating after Dec. 11. Top negotiators in the House are taking the derivatives provision seriously, and may include it in the final bill, the sources said.

Sadly, most Americans don’t understand how derivatives work and so there is very little public outrage.

But the truth is that people should be marching in the streets over this.  If this provision becomes law, the American people could potentially be on the hook for absolutely massive losses

The bank perks are not a traditional budget item. They would allow financial institutions to trade certain financial derivatives from subsidiaries that are insured by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. — potentially putting taxpayers on the hook for losses caused by the risky contracts.

This is not the first time these banks have tried to pull off such a coup.  As Michael Krieger of Liberty Blitzkrieg has detailed, bank lobbyists tried to do a similar thing last year…

Five years after the Wall Street coup of 2008, it appears the U.S. House of Representatives is as bought and paid for as ever. We heard about the Citigroup crafted legislation currently being pushed through Congress back in May when Mother Jones reported on it. Fortunately, they included the following image in their article:

Derivatives Bill From Liberty Blitzkrieg

Unsurprisingly, the main backer of the bill is notorious Wall Street lackey Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a former Goldman Sachs employee who has discovered lobbyist payoffs can be just as lucrative as a career in financial services. The last time Mr. Himes made an appearance on these pages was in March 2013 in my piece: Congress Moves to DEREGULATE Wall Street.

Fortunately, it was stopped in the Senate at that time.

But that is the thing with bank lobbyists.  They are like Terminators – they never, ever, ever give up.

And they now have more of a sense of urgency then ever, because we are moving into a period of time when the big banks may begin losing tremendous amounts of money on derivatives contracts.

For example, the rapidly plunging price of oil could potentially mean gigantic losses for the big banks.  Many large shale oil producers locked in their profits for 2015 and 2016 through derivatives contracts when the price of oil was above $100 a barrel.  As I write this, the price of oil is down to $65 a barrel, and many analysts expect it to go much lower.

So guess who is on the other end of many of those trades?

The big banks.

Their computer models never anticipated that the price of oil would fall by more than 40 dollars in less than six months.  A loss of 40, 50 or even 60 dollars per barrel would be catastrophic.

No wonder they want legislation that will protect them.

And commodity derivatives are just part of the story.  Over the past couple of decades, Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world.  At this point, the amounts of money that these “too big to fail” banks are potentially on the hook for are absolutely mind blowing.

As you read this, there are five Wall Street banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.  The following numbers come from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2)

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,520,336,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $68,326,075,000,000 (more than 68 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,909,715,000,000 (slightly more than 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $61,753,462,000,000 (more than 61 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $860,008,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $57,695,156,000,000 (more than 57 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,172,001,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $55,472,434,000,000 (more than 55 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $826,568,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,134,518,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

Those that follow my website regularly will note that the derivatives exposure for the top four banks has gone up significantly since I last wrote about this just a few months ago.

Do you want to be on the hook for all of that?

Keep in mind that the U.S. national debt is only about 18 trillion dollars at this point.

So why in the world would we want to guarantee losses that could potentially be far greater than our entire national debt?

Only a complete and utter fool would financially guarantee these incredibly reckless bets.

Please contact your representatives in Congress and tell them that you do not want to be on the hook for the derivatives losses of the big Wall Street banks.

When this derivatives bubble finally implodes and these big banks go down (and they inevitably will), we do not want them to take down the rest of us with them.

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 Economic Implications Of A Potential Ebola Pandemic In The United States

Fear Of Ebola - Public DomainFor the moment, our top public health officials are quite adamant that there absolutely will not be a major Ebola outbreak in the United States.  But what if they are wrong?  Or what would happen if terrorists released a form of weaponized Ebola or weaponized smallpox in one of our major cities?  What would such an event do to our economy?  I think that we can get some clues by looking at the economic collapses that are taking place in Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone right now.  When an extremely deadly virus like Ebola starts spreading like wildfire, the fear that it creates can be even worse for a society than the disease.  All of a sudden people don’t want to go to work, people don’t want to go to school and people definitely don’t want to go shopping.  There are very few things that can shut down the economy of a nation faster.  Considering the fact that our big banks are being more reckless than ever, we better hope that we don’t see a “black swan event” such as a major Ebola outbreak come along and upset the apple cart.  Because if that does happen, our Ponzi scheme of an economy could implode really quick.

Right now there is just one confirmed case of Ebola in Texas.  If they isolated him before he infected anyone else, we might be okay for the moment.  But already we are being told that there may be “a possible second Ebola patient” in Dallas…

Health officials are closely monitoring a possible second Ebola patient who had close contact with the first person to be diagnosed in the U.S., the director of Dallas County’s health department said Wednesday.

All who have been in close contact with the man officially diagnosed are being monitored as a precaution, Zachary Thompson, director of Dallas County Health and Human Services, said in a morning interview with WFAA-TV, Dallas-Fort Worth.

“Let me be real frank to the Dallas County residents: The fact that we have one confirmed case, there may be another case that is a close associate with this particular patient,” he said. “So this is real. There should be a concern, but it’s contained to the specific family members and close friends at this moment.”

We have learned the name of the man that is confirmed to have Ebola.  His name is Thomas Eric Duncan and when he went to Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital last Friday, he told them that he was feeling quite ill and that he was from Liberia.  You would have thought that should have set off major alarm bells.  But instead, he got sent back home

The first Ebola patient diagnosed in the U.S. initially went to a Dallas emergency room last week but was sent home, despite telling a nurse that he had been in disease-ravaged West Africa, the hospital acknowledged Wednesday.

The decision by Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital to release him could have put many others at risk of exposure to the disease before he went back to the ER two days later, after his condition worsened.

Thomas Eric Duncan explained to a nurse Friday that he was visiting the U.S. from Liberia, but that information was not widely shared, said Dr. Mark Lester, who works for the hospital’s parent company.

So a fully contagious Duncan had the opportunity to spread the virus around for another 48 hours before he was finally admitted to the hospital for treatment.

And it wasn’t just adults that he potentially exposed to the disease.  It is being reported that he had “close contact” with five students that attend four different Dallas schools.  Local media is reporting that the names of those schools are Tasby Middle School, Hotchkiss Elementary School, Dan D. Rogers Elementary and Conrad High School.

Predictably, many parents are already pulling their kids out of school in the Dallas area.

It shall be very interesting to see how many kids actually show up for school tomorrow morning.

But this is what happens to a society when the fear of Ebola takes hold.  People almost immediately start shutting down their activities and staying home.

Over in West Africa, months of Ebola fear is starting to take a major toll on the economy.  For example, the president of Guinea says that his economy is on the verge of complete collapse

Guinea has been more successful in containing the Ebola epidemic than its immediate neighbors in West Africa, but the loss of revenue caused by the crisis has left the country in dire financial straits, President Alpha Condé said after concluding a round of meetings at the United Nations General Assembly.

Mr. Condé said Guinea would need about $100 million until December to cover its budget gap, which will grow if Ebola is not tackled by the end of the year.

“The slowing down of our economies due to Ebola requires that most of our countries get some budgetary support … it’s going to be crucial that we get that support so our economies don’t completely collapse,” he said.

And things are even worse in Liberia.  The Washington Post says that Liberia is descending “into economic hell”…

Liberia, the West African nation hardest it by Ebola, has begun a frightening descent into economic hell.

That’s the import of three recent reports from international organizations that seem to bear out the worst-case scenarios of months ago: that people would abandon the fields and factories, that food and fuel would become scarce and unaffordable, and that the government’s already meager capacity to help, along with the nation’s prospects for a better future, would be severely compromised.

If thousands of people start getting Ebola in major cities all over America, the same thing will happen here too.

A major Ebola pandemic in America would mean an almost total economic shutdown and basic essentials would start disappearing from the marketplace almost immediately.  Just check out what is happening in Liberia even as you read this…

The basic necessities of survival in Liberia — food, transportation, work, money, help from the government — are rapidly being depleted, according to recent reports by the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank.

Even though economic demand would drop through the floor for most things, prices for food and other essential supplies tend to skyrocket during a major emergency.  The IMF says that the inflation rate will hit approximately 13 percent in Liberia by the end of the year even though economic activity has declined dramatically.  It is going to become extremely challenging for most families over there to feed themselves.

And as economic activity withers, tax revenues also dry up.  Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone are all facing massive revenue shortfalls, and they are asking for international assistance.

But if the same thing happened in the United States, do you think the rest of the world would send us lots of money to help us pay our bills?

I don’t think so.

Needless to say, an Ebola outbreak is not good for financial markets either.  News of the confirmed case of Ebola in Texas helped push down the Dow more than 238 points on Wednesday, and airline stocks in particular declined sharply.

If there are no more confirmed cases of Ebola in Texas, things will probably get back to normal for U.S. markets.

But if Ebola does start spreading and cases start popping up all over the country, that could be just the thing to burst our massive stock market bubble.

Let us hope that this is just a false alarm.

Let us hope that our public health authorities have everything under control.

Nobody should want to see thousands (or potentially millions) of fellow Americans get sick and die.

Unfortunately, scientists tell us that it is only a matter of time before another major pandemic of some sort ravages this nation.

When that happens, will our fragile economy be able to handle the shock?

15 Quotes From Our Founding Fathers About Economics, Capitalism And Banking

George Washington At The Constitutional Convention 1787 - Public DomainWhy have we turned our backs on the principles that this nation was founded upon?  Many of those that founded this nation bled and died so that we could experience “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”.  And yet we have tossed their ideals aside as if they were so much rubbish.  Our founders had experienced the tyranny of big government (the monarchy) and the tyranny of the big banks and feudal lords, and they wanted something very different for the citizens of the new republic that they were forming.  They wanted a country where private property was respected and hard work was rewarded.  They wanted a country where the individual was empowered, and where everyone could own land and start businesses.  They wanted a country where there were severe restrictions on all large collections of power (government, banks and corporations all included).  They wanted a country where freedom and liberty were maximized and where ordinary people had the power to pursue their dreams and build better lives for their families.  And you know what?  While no system is ever perfect, the experiment that our founders originally set up worked beyond their wildest dreams.  But now we are killing it.  Why in the world would we want to do that?

Most people are under the illusion that the United States has a “capitalist economy” today, but that simply is not accurate.  At best, we have a “mixed economy” that is becoming a little bit more socialist with each passing day.  We pay dozens of different types of taxes each year, and some Americans actually end up giving more of their earnings to the government than they keep themselves.  But that is still not enough, and so our state governments have accumulated astounding amounts of debt, and our federal government has amassed the largest single debt that the world has ever seen.  If future generations of Americans get the chance, they will curse us for the chains of debt that we have placed upon their shoulders.

So what do our government officials do with all of this money?

Well, today approximately 70 percent of all federal government activity involves taking money from some Americans and giving it to other Americans.

Despite this unprecedented wealth-redistribution program, poverty is absolutely exploding in this country and 49 million Americans are dealing with food insecurity.

Meanwhile, the bankers have been getting fabulously wealthy from all of this debt.  The Federal Reserve system was designed to trap the U.S. government in an endless spiral of debt from which it could never possibly escape, and that mission has been accomplished.  In fact, the U.S. national debt is now more than 5000 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was first created a little more than 100 years ago.

Most people like to think of big banks as “capitalist” institutions, but that is not really accurate.  In the end, giant corporate banks like we have in the United States are actually collectivist institutions.  They tend to greatly concentrate wealth and power, and socialists find those kinds of banks very useful.

In fact, Vladimir Lenin once said that “without big banks, socialism would be impossible.”

While there may be a bit of animosity between big government and big banks once in a while, the truth is that they are usually very closely tied to one another.  We saw this close relationship very clearly during the financial crisis of 2008, and it is no secret that there is a revolving door between the boardrooms of Wall Street and the halls of power in Washington.  The elite dominate both spheres, and it is not for the benefit of the rest of us.

In America today, government just keeps getting bigger and the banks just keep getting bigger.  Meanwhile, the percentage of self-employed Americans is at an all-time low and the middle class is steadily dying.

What we are doing right now is clearly not working.

So why don’t we go back and do the things that we were doing when we were extremely successful as a nation?

In case you don’t know what those things were, here are some clues…

#1 “A wise and frugal government… shall restrain men from injuring one another, shall leave them otherwise free to regulate their own pursuits of industry and improvement, and shall not take from the mouth of labor the bread it has earned. This is the sum of good government.” — Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Address, March 4, 1801

#2 “A people… who are possessed of the spirit of commerce, who see and who will pursue their advantages may achieve almost anything.” – George Washington

#3 “Government is instituted to protect property of every sort; as well that which lies in the various rights of individuals, as that which the term particularly expresses. This being the end of government, that alone is a just government which impartially secures to every man whatever is his own.” – James Madison, Essay on Property, 1792

#4 “Banks have done more injury to the religion, morality, tranquility, prosperity, and even wealth of the nation than they can have done or ever will do good.” – John Adams

#5 “To take from one, because it is thought his own industry and that of his fathers has acquired too much, in order to spare to others, who, or whose fathers, have not exercised equal industry and skill, is to violate arbitrarily the first principle of association, the guarantee to everyone the free exercise of his industry and the fruits acquired by it.” — Thomas Jefferson, letter to Joseph Milligan, April 6, 1816

#6 “The moment the idea is admitted into society that property is not as sacred as the laws of God, and that there is not a force of law and public justice to protect it, anarchy and tyranny commence. If ‘Thou shalt not covet’ and ‘Thou shalt not steal’ were not commandments of Heaven, they must be made inviolable precepts in every society before it can be civilized or made free.” — John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1787

#7 “I place economy among the first and most important virtues, and public debt as the greatest of dangers to be feared. To preserve our independence, we must not let our rulers load us with perpetual debt. If we run into such debts, we must be taxed in our meat and drink, in our necessities and in our comforts, in our labor and in our amusements.” – Thomas Jefferson

#8 “Beware the greedy hand of government thrusting itself into every corner and crevice of industry.” – Thomas Paine

#9 “If we can but prevent the government from wasting the labours of the people, under the pretence of taking care of them, they must become happy.” – Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, November 29, 1802

#10 “All the perplexities, confusion and distress in America arise not from defects in the Constitution or Confederation, not from a want of honor or virtue so much as from downright ignorance of the nature of coin, credit and circulation.” – John Adams, at the Constitutional Convention (1787)

#11 “The principle of spending money to be paid by posterity, under the name of funding, is but swindling futurity on a large scale.” – Thomas Jefferson

#12 “Liberty must at all hazards be supported. We have a right to it, derived from our Maker. But if we had not, our fathers have earned and bought it for us, at the expense of their ease, their estates, their pleasure, and their blood.” – John Adams, 1765

#13 “If ever again our nation stumbles upon unfunded paper, it shall surely be like death to our body politic. This country will crash.” – George Washington

#14 “I wish it were possible to obtain a single amendment to our Constitution. I would be willing to depend on that alone for the reduction of the administration of our government to the genuine principles of its Constitution; I mean an additional article, taking from the federal government the power of borrowing.” – Thomas Jefferson

#15 “When the people find that they can vote themselves money, that will herald the end of the republic.” — Benjamin Franklin

The Size Of The Derivatives Bubble Hanging Over The Global Economy Hits A Record High

Bubble - Photo by Brocken InagloryThe global derivatives bubble is now 20 percent bigger than it was just before the last great financial crisis struck in 2008.  It is a financial bubble far larger than anything the world has ever seen, and when it finally bursts it is going to be a complete and utter nightmare for the financial system of the planet.  According to the Bank for International Settlements, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to an astounding 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).  Other estimates put the grand total well over a quadrillion dollars.  If that sounds like a lot of money, that is because it is.  For example, U.S. GDP is projected to be in the neighborhood of around 17 trillion dollars for 2014.  So 710 trillion dollars is an amount of money that is almost incomprehensible.  Instead of actually doing something about the insanely reckless behavior of the big banks, our leaders have allowed the derivatives bubble and these banks to get larger than ever.  In fact, as I have written about previously, the big Wall Street banks are collectively 37 percent larger than they were just prior to the last recession.  “Too big to fail” is a far more massive problem than it was the last time around, and at some point this derivatives bubble is going to burst and start taking those banks down.  When that day arrives, we are going to be facing a crisis that is going to make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

If you do not know what a derivative is, Mayra Rodríguez Valladares, a managing principal at MRV Associates, provided a pretty good definition in her recent article for the New York Times

A derivative, put simply, is a contract between two parties whose value is determined by changes in the value of an underlying asset. Those assets could be bonds, equities, commodities or currencies. The majority of contracts are traded over the counter, where details about pricing, risk measurement and collateral, if any, are not available to the public.

In other words, a derivative does not have any intrinsic value.  It is essentially a side bet.  Most commonly, derivative contracts have to do with the movement of interest rates.  But there are many, many other kinds of derivatives as well.  People are betting on just about anything and everything that you can imagine, and Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the planet.

After the last financial crisis, our politicians promised us that they would do something to get derivatives trading under control.  But instead, the size of the derivatives bubble has reached a new record high.  In the New York Times article I mentioned above, Goldman Sachs and Citibank were singled out as two players that have experienced tremendous growth in this area in recent years…

Goldman Sachs has been increasing its derivatives volumes since the crisis, and it had a portfolio of about $48 trillion at the end of 2013. Bloomberg Businessweek recently reported that as part of its growth strategy, Goldman plans to sell more derivatives to clients. Citibank, too, has been increasing its derivatives portfolio, despite the numerous capital and regulatory challenges, In fact, its portfolio has risen by over 65 percent since the crisis — the most of any of the four banks — to $62 trillion.

According to official government numbers, the top 25 banks in the United States now have a grand total of more than 236 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  But there are four banks that dwarf everyone else.  The following are the latest numbers for those four banks…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,945,467,000,000 (nearly 2 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $70,088,625,000,000 (more than 70 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,346,747,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $62,247,698,000,000 (more than 62 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,433,716,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $38,850,900,000,000 (more than 38 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $105,616,000,000 (just a shade over 105 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $48,611,684,000,000 (more than 48 trillion dollars)

If the stock market keeps going up, interest rates stay fairly stable and the global economy does not experience a major downturn, this bubble will probably not burst for a while.

But if there is a major shock to the system, we could easily experience a major derivatives crisis very rapidly and several of those banks could fail simultaneously.

There are many out there that would welcome the collapse of the big banks, but that would also be very bad news for the rest of us.

You see, the truth is that the U.S. economy is like a very sick patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.  You can try to kill the cancer (the banks), but in the process you will inevitably kill the patient as well.

Right now, the five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the entire country, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If they go down, we go down too.

That is why the fact that they have been so reckless is so infuriating.

Just look at the numbers for Goldman Sachs again.  At this point, the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 460 times greater than their total assets.

And this kind of thing is not just happening in the United States.  German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more than 75 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  That is even more than any single U.S. bank has.

This derivatives bubble is a “sword of Damocles” that is hanging over the global economy by a thread day after day, month after month, year after year.

At some point that thread is going to break, the bubble is going to burst, and then all hell is going to break loose.

You see, the truth is that virtually none of the underlying problems that caused the last financial crisis have been fixed.

Instead, our problems have just gotten even bigger and the financial bubbles have gotten even larger.

Never before in the history of the United States have we been faced with the threat of such a great financial catastrophe.

Sadly, most Americans are totally oblivious to all of this.  They just have faith that our leaders know what they are doing, and they have been lulled into complacency by the bubble of false stability that we have been enjoying for the last couple of years.

Unfortunately for them, this bubble of false stability is not going to last much longer.

A financial crisis far greater than what we experienced in 2008 is coming, and it is going to shock the world.

83 Numbers From 2013 That Are Almost Too Crazy To Believe

83 SignsDuring 2013, America continued to steadily march down a self-destructive path toward oblivion.  As a society, our debt levels are completely and totally out of control.  Our financial system has been transformed into the largest casino on the entire planet and our big banks are behaving even more recklessly than they did just before the last financial crisis.  We continue to see thousands of businesses and millions of jobs get shipped out of the United States, and the middle class is being absolutely eviscerated.  Due to the lack of decent jobs, poverty is absolutely exploding.  Government dependence is at an all-time high and crime is rising.  Evidence of social and moral decay is seemingly everywhere, and our government appears to be going insane.  If we are going to have any hope of solving these problems, the American people need to take a long, hard look in the mirror and finally admit how bad things have actually become.  If we all just blindly have faith that “everything is going to be okay”, the consequences of decades of incredibly foolish decisions are going to absolutely blindside us and we will be absolutely devastated by the great crisis that is rapidly approaching.  The United States is in a massive amount of trouble, and it is time that we all started facing the truth.  The following are 83 numbers from 2013 that are almost too crazy to believe…

#1 Most people that hear this statistic do not believe that it is actually true, but right now an all-time record 102 million working age Americans do not have a job.  That number has risen by about 27 million since the year 2000.

#2 Because of the lack of jobs, poverty is spreading like wildfire in the United States.  According to the most recent numbers from the U.S. Census Bureau, an all-time record 49.2 percent of all Americans are receiving benefits from at least one government program each month.

#3 As society breaks down, the government feels a greater need than ever before to watch, monitor and track the population.  For example, every single day the NSA intercepts and permanently stores close to 2 billion emails and phone calls in addition to a whole host of other data.

#4 The Bank for International Settlements says that total public and private debt levels around the globe are now 30 percent higher than they were back during the financial crisis of 2008.

#5 According to a recent World Bank report, private domestic debt in China has grown from 9 trillion dollars in 2008 to 23 trillion dollars today.

#6 In 1985, there were more than 18,000 banks in the United States.  Today, there are only 6,891 left.

#7 The six largest banks in the United States (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) have collectively gotten 37 percent larger over the past five years.

#8 The U.S. banking system has 14.4 trillion dollars in total assets.  The six largest banks now account for 67 percent of those assets and all of the other banks account for only 33 percent of those assets.

#9 JPMorgan Chase is roughly the size of the entire British economy.

#10 The five largest banks now account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States.

#11 Right now, four of the “too big to fail” banks each have total exposure to derivatives that is well in excess of 40 trillion dollars.

#12 The total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 381 times greater than their total assets.

#13 According to the Bank for International Settlements, the global financial system has a total of 441 trillion dollars worth of exposure to interest rate derivatives.

#14 Through the end of November, approximately 365,000 Americans had signed up for Obamacare but approximately 4 million Americans had already lost their current health insurance policies because of Obamacare.

#15 It is being projected that up to 100 million more Americans could have their health insurance policies canceled by the time Obamacare is fully rolled out.

#16 At this point, 82.4 million Americans live in a home where at least one person is enrolled in the Medicaid program.

#17 It is has been estimated that Obamacare will add 21 million more Americans to the Medicaid rolls.

#18 It is being projected that health insurance premiums for healthy 30-year-old men will rise by an average of 260 percent under Obamacare.

#19 One couple down in Texas received a letter from their health insurance company that informed them that they were being hit with a 539 percent rate increase because of Obamacare.

#20 Back in 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 54.9 percent of all Americans are covered by employment-based health insurance.

#21 The U.S. government has spent an astounding 3.7 trillion dollars on welfare programs over the past five years.

#22 Incredibly, 74 percent of all the wealth in the United States is owned by the wealthiest 10 percent of all Americans.

#23 According to Consumer Reports, the number of children in the United States taking antipsychotic drugs has nearly tripled over the past 15 years.

#24 The marriage rate in the United States has fallen to an all-time low.  Right now it is sitting at a yearly rate of just 6.8 marriages per 1000 people.

#25 According to a shocking new study, the average American that turned 65 this year will receive $327,500 more in federal benefits than they paid in taxes over the course of their lifetimes.

#26 In just one week in December, a combined total of more than 2000 new cold temperature and snowfall records were set in the United States.

#27 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, median household income in the United States has fallen for five years in a row.

#28 The rate of homeownership in the United States has fallen for eight years in a row.

#29 Only 47 percent of all adults in America have a full-time job at this point.

#30 The unemployment rate in the eurozone recently hit a new all-time high of 12.2 percent.

#31 If you assume that the labor force participation rate in the U.S. is at the long-term average, the unemployment rate in the United States would actually be 11.5 percent instead of 7 percent.

#32 In November 2000, 64.3 percent of all working age Americans had a job.  When Barack Obama first entered the White House, 60.6 percent of all working age Americans had a job.  Today, only 58.6 percent of all working age Americans have a job.

#33 There are 1,148,000 fewer Americans working today than there was in November 2006.  Meanwhile, our population has grown by more than 16 million people during that time frame.

#34 Only 19 percent of all Americans believe that the job market is better than it was a year ago.

#35 Just 14 percent of all Americans believe that the stock market will rise next year.

#36 According to CNBC, Pinterest is currently valued at more than 3 billion dollars even though it has never earned a profit.

#37 Twitter is a seven-year-old company that has never made a profit.  It actually lost 64.6 million dollars last quarter.  But according to the financial markets it is currently worth about 22 billion dollars.

#38 Right now, Facebook is trading at a valuation that is equivalent to approximately 100 years of earnings, and it is currently supposedly worth about 115 billion dollars.

#39 Total consumer credit has risen by a whopping 22 percent over the past three years.

#40 Student loans are up by an astounding 61 percent over the past three years.

#41 At this moment, there are 6 million Americans in the 16 to 24-year-old age group that are neither in school or working.

#42 The “inactivity rate” for men in their prime working years (25 to 54) has just hit a brand new all-time record high.

#43 It is hard to believe, but in America today one out of every ten jobs is now filled by a temp agency.

#44 Middle-wage jobs accounted for 60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession, but they have accounted for only 22 percent of the jobs created since then.

#45 According to the Social Security Administration, 40 percent of all U.S. workers make less than $20,000 a year.

#46 Approximately one out of every four part-time workers in America is living below the poverty line.

#47 After accounting for inflation, 40 percent of all U.S. workers are making less than what a full-time minimum wage worker made back in 1968.

#48 When Barack Obama took office, the average duration of unemployment in this country was 19.8 weeks.  Today, it is 37.2 weeks.

#49 Investors pulled an astounding 72 billion dollars out of bond mutual funds in 2013.  It was the worst year for bond funds ever.

#50 Small business is rapidly dying in America.  At this point, only about 7 percent of all non-farm workers in the United States are self-employed.  That is an all-time record low.

#51 The six heirs of Wal-Mart founder Sam Walton have as much wealth as the bottom one-third of all Americans combined.

#52 Once January 1st hits, it will officially be illegal to manufacture or import traditional incandescent light bulbs in the United States.  It is being projected that millions of Americans will attempt to stock up on the old light bulbs before they are totally gone from store shelves.

#53 The Japanese government has estimated that approximately 300 tons of highly radioactive water is being released into the Pacific Ocean from the destroyed Fukushima nuclear facility every single day.

#54 Back in 1967, the U.S. military had more than 31,000 strategic nuclear warheads.  That number is already being cut down to 1,550, and now Barack Obama wants to reduce it to only about 1,000.

#55 As you read this, 60 percent of all children in Detroit are living in poverty and there are approximately 78,000 abandoned homes in the city.

#56 Wal-Mart recently opened up two new stores in Washington D.C., and more than 23,000 people applied for just 600 positions.  That means that only about 2.6 percent of the applicants were ultimately hired.  In comparison, Harvard offers admission to 6.1 percent of their applicants.

#57 At this point, almost half of all public school students in America come from low income homes.

#58 Tragically, there are 1.2 million students that attend public schools in the United States that are homeless.  That number has risen by 72 percent since the start of the last recession.

#59 According to a Gallup poll that was recently released, 20.0 percent of all Americans did not have enough money to buy food that they or their families needed at some point over the past year.  That is just under the all-time record of 20.4 percent that was set back in November 2008.

#60 The number of Americans on food stamps has grown from 17 million in the year 2000 to more than 47 million today.

#61 Right now, one out of every five households in the United States is on food stamps.

#62 The U.S. economy loses approximately 9,000 jobs for every 1 billion dollars of goods that are imported from overseas.

#63 Back in 1950, more than 80 percent of all men in the United States had jobs.  Today, less than 65 percent of all men in the United States have jobs.

#64 According to one survey, approximately 75 percent of all American women do not have any interest in dating unemployed men.

#65 China exports 4 billion pounds of food to the United States every year.

#66 Overall, the United States has run a trade deficit of more than 8 trillion dollars with the rest of the world since 1975.

#67 The number of Americans on Social Security Disability now exceeds the entire population of Greece, and the number of Americans on food stamps now exceeds the entire population of Spain.

#68 It is being projected that the number of Americans on Social Security will rise from 57 million today to more than 100 million in 25 years.

#69 Back in 1970, the total amount of debt in the United States (government debt + business debt + consumer debt, etc.) was less than 2 trillion dollars.  Today it is over 56 trillion dollars.

#70 Back on September 30th, 2012 our national debt was sitting at a total of 16.1 trillion dollars.  Today, it is up to 17.2 trillion dollars.

#71 The U.S. government “rolled over” more than 7.5 trillion dollars of existing debt in fiscal 2013.

#72 If the U.S. national debt was reduced to a stack of one dollar bills it would circle the earth at the equator 45 times.

#73 When Barack Obama was first elected, the U.S. debt to GDP ratio was under 70 percent.  Today, it is up to 101 percent.

#74 The U.S. national debt is on pace to more than double during the eight years of the Obama administration.  In other words, under Barack Obama the U.S. government will accumulate more debt than it did under all of the other presidents in U.S. history combined.

#75 The federal government is borrowing (stealing) roughly 100 million dollars from our children and our grandchildren every single hour of every single day.

#76 At this point, the U.S. already has more government debt per capita than Greece, Portugal, Italy, Ireland or Spain.

#77 Japan now has a debt to GDP ratio of more than 211 percent.

#78 As of December 5th, 83 volcanic eruptions had been recorded around the planet so far this year.  That is a new all-time record high.

#79 53 percent of all Americans do not have a 3 day supply of nonperishable food and water in their homes.

#80 Violent crime in the United States was up 15 percent last year.

#81 According to a very surprising survey that was recently conducted, 68 percent of all Americans believe that the country is currently on the wrong track.

#82 Back in 1972, 46 percent of all Americans believed that “most people can be trusted”.  Today, only 32 percent of all Americans believe that “most people can be trusted”.

#83 According to a recent Pew Research survey, only 19 percent of all Americans trust the government.   Back in 1958, 73 percent of all Americans trusted the government.

So do you have any numbers from 2013 that you would add to this list?  If so, please feel free to share them by posting a comment below…

How Big Banks Can Steal Your Home From You Even If Your Mortgage Is Totally Paid Off

Foreclosure - Photo by respresDid you know that the big banks have a way to legally steal your house from you even if you don’t owe a single penny on your mortgage?  Big banks and hedge funds are buying billions of dollars worth of tax liens from local governments all over the nation, and they are ruthlessly foreclosing on homeowners when they can’t pay the absolutely ridiculous penalties and legal fees that are tacked on to the original tax bill.  As you will see below, one 76-year-old man lost his $197,000 home that he fully owned over a $134 tax bill.  A 95-year-old woman lost her $300,000 home over a $44.79 tax bill.  This is a very, very dirty way to make money, and the predatory financial institutions that are involved in this business definitely do not want to talk about it.

Of course much of the blame should also be shouldered by the local governments that are coldly selling these tax liens to these ruthless predators.  If local governments want to collect their tax bills, they should do it themselves.  They should not be auctioning off their tax liens to cold-hearted financial institutions that are very eager to commit a legal version of highway robbery.

A few days ago, the Washington Post reported on the tragic story of a 76-year-old former Marine named Bennie Coleman.  Coleman had originally purchased his home with cash, but that didn’t stop tax lien predators from stealing his home over an unpaid $134 property tax bill…

On the day Bennie Coleman lost his house, the day armed U.S. marshals came to his door and ordered him off the property, he slumped in a folding chair across the street and watched the vestiges of his 76 years hauled to the curb.

Movers carted out his easy chair, his clothes, his television. Next came the things that were closest to his heart: his Marine Corps medals and photographs of his dead wife, Martha. The duplex in Northeast Washington that Coleman bought with cash two decades earlier was emptied and shuttered. By sundown, he had nowhere to go.

All because he didn’t pay a $134 property tax bill.

So why couldn’t he pay such a small bill?

Well, as the Post explained, these big banks and hedge funds keep tacking on interest, penalties and legal fees until the tax bills are many times the size that they originally were.  When the distressed homeowners can’t come up with thousands of dollars to pay off the debts, the big banks and the hedge funds move in for the kill…

For decades, the District placed liens on properties when homeowners failed to pay their bills, then sold those liens at public auctions to mom-and-pop investors who drew a profit by charging owners interest on top of the tax debt until the money was repaid.

But under the watch of local leaders, the program has morphed into a predatory system of debt collection for well-financed, out-of-town companies that turned $500 delinquencies into $5,000 debts — then foreclosed on homes when families couldn’t pay, a Washington Post investigation found.

In particular, hedge funds have discovered that this is a great way to make huge piles of money.  The following is a short excerpt from a CNN article that was published back in May

With buyers identified only by numbers or unrelated names, the fragmented, unregulated industry is opaque. Even the market’s size is debated — $15 billion a year, according to Howard Liggett, the chief executive of Distressed Real Estate Consulting Services, or $5 billion a year, according to the National Tax Lien Association, a trade group. While returns are a closely kept secret, investors typically make between 2.5% and 10% a year, or in the low teens for larger buys.

“The hedge funds are chasing yield in this business” says Albert Friedman, a principal at Alterna Capital, an alternative investment firm in Boca Raton that buys tax liens.

Insiders estimate hedge funds now control 40% of the tax-lien market, from under 5% five years ago, with regional banks, obscure partnerships sporting names like God’s ATM LLC, and mom-and-pop investors making up the rest.

And a number of “too big to fail” banks are involved in this business as well.

In a previous article, I described exactly how this works…

1) The big Wall Street banks set up or invest in shell companies that will disguise who they really are.

2) These shell companies run around and buy up all of the tax liens that they can get their hands on.

3) Predatory levels of interest (in some states as high as 18 percent), fees and penalties rapidly pile up on these unpaid tax liens.  The affected homeowners quickly end up owing much, much more than what the original tax bills were for.

4) If the collecting firm has to hire a lawyer, then that gets charged to the homeowner as well.  The bloated legal fees for some of these lawyers can end up being the biggest expense of all.

5) If the tax liens do not get paid, the collecting firms move in to foreclose as quickly as legally possible.

According to the Huffington Post, Wall Street banks such as Bank of America and JPMorgan Chase have been gobbling up several hundred thousand tax liens from local governments.  It appears that “distressed housing markets” are being particularly targeted.

Many of these tax liens are sold in online auctions, so it is unclear if many local government officials even realize who the big money behind many of these shell companies is.

These big financial institutions may consider this to be “good business”, but the truth is that they are absolutely shattering lives in the process.  This is particularly true when it comes to older people that do not fully understand what is happening to them.  Just consider the following examples from a recent Washington Post article

A 48-year-old math teacher paid his taxes in 2007, but the tax office took his $1,400 payment and applied it to the wrong house, crediting an entirely different taxpayer.

A 58-year-old bank employee almost lost her house in 2010 because the tax office mistakenly sent bills and notices to a wooded lot across from a strip shopping center in Virginia — 12 times.

A 69-year-old hat designer was given the wrong payoff amount and ended up in court to save her property, owned by her family since 1943.

Those homeowners found out about the mistakes in time to fight. Ninety-five-year-old Daisy Dolsey, living in a nursing home and struggling with Alzheimer’s, wasn’t so lucky: She lost her $300,000 house over a $44.79 tax debt even after she paid her taxes.

Doesn’t that just sicken you?

And then the big banks and the hedge funds have the gall to wonder why people dislike them so much.

In this day and age, large financial institutions have become more cold-hearted than ever before.

Always make sure that your property taxes are fully paid, and always keep a paper record of all financial transactions involving your home.

If you do slip up and make a mistake at some point, there is a very good chance that a ruthless financial institution will try to swoop in and steal your home right out from under your nose.

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