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A New Digital Cash System Was Just Unveiled At A Secret Meeting For Bankers In New York

Secret - Public DomainLast month, a “secret meeting” that involved more than 100 executives from some of the biggest financial institutions in the United States was held in New York City.  During this “secret meeting“, a company known as “Chain” unveiled a technology that transforms U.S. dollars into “pure digital assets”.  Reportedly, there were representatives from Nasdaq, Citigroup, Visa, Fidelity, Fiserv and Pfizer in the room, and Chain also claims to be partnering with Capital One, State Street, and First Data.  This “revolutionary” technology is intended to completely change the way that we use money, and it would represent a major step toward a cashless society.  But if this new digital cash system is going to be so good for society, why was it unveiled during a secret meeting for Wall Street bankers?  Is there something more going on here than we are being told?

None of us probably would have ever heard about this secret meeting if it was not for a report in Bloomberg.  The following comes from their article entitled “Inside the Secret Meeting Where Wall Street Tested Digital Cash“…

On a recent Monday in April, more than 100 executives from some of the world’s largest financial institutions gathered for a private meeting at the Times Square office of Nasdaq Inc. They weren’t there to just talk about blockchain, the new technology some predict will transform finance, but to build and experiment with the software.

By the end of the day, they had seen something revolutionary: U.S. dollars transformed into pure digital assets, able to be used to execute and settle a trade instantly. That’s the promise of a blockchain, where the cumbersome and error-prone system that takes days to move money across town or around the world is replaced with almost instant certainty.

So it is not just Michael Snyder from The Economic Collapse Blog that is referring to this gathering as a “secret meeting”.  This is actually how it was described by Bloomberg.  And I think that there is a very good reason why this meeting was held in secret, because many in the general public would definitely be alarmed by this giant step toward a cashless society.  Here is more on this new system from Bloomberg

While cash in a bank account moves electronically all the time today, there’s a distinction between that system and what it means to say money is digital. Electronic payments are really just messages that cash needs to move from one account to another, and this reconciliation is what adds time to the payments process. For customers, moving money between accounts can take days as banks wait for confirmations. Digital dollars, however, are pre-loaded into a system like a blockchain. From there, they can be swapped immediately for an asset.

“Instead of a record or message being moved, it’s the actual asset,” Ludwin said. “The payment and the settlement become the same thing.”

Why this is so alarming is because we are seeing other major moves toward a cashless system all over the planet.  In Sweden, 95 percent of all retail transactions are already cashless, and ATM machines are being removed by the hundreds.  In Denmark, government officials actually have a stated goal of “eradicating cash” by the year 2030.  And in Norway, the biggest bank in the country has publicly called for the complete elimination of all cash.

Other nations in Europe have already banned cash transactions over a certain amount. Here are just a couple of examples

As I have written about previously, cash transactions of more than 2,500 euros have already been banned in Spain, and France and Italy have both banned all cash transactions of more than 1,000 euros.

Little by little, cash is being eradicated, and what we have seen so far is just the beginning. 417 billion cashless transactions were conducted in 2014, and the final number for 2015 is projected to be much higher.

The global push toward a cashless society is only going to intensify, because banks and governments both tend to really like the idea of such a system.

Banks really like the concept of a cashless society because it would force everyone to be their customers.  There would be no more hiding cash in a mattress at home or trying to pay all of your bills with paper money.  Under a cashless system, we would all be dependent on the banks, and they would make lots of money whenever we swiped our cards or our “chips” were scanned.

Governments see a lot of advantages in a cashless society as well.  They tell us that they would be able to crack down on drug dealers, tax evaders, terrorists and money launderers, but the truth is that it would enable them to watch, track, monitor and control virtually all of our financial transactions.  Our lives would become open books to the government, and financial privacy would be a thing of the past.

In addition, the potential for tyranny would be absolutely off the charts.

Just imagine a world where the government could serve as the gatekeeper for who is allowed to use the cashless system and who is not.  They could require that we all submit to some sort of government-issued form of identification before being permitted to operate within the system, or it is even conceivable that a loyalty oath would be required.

Of course if you did not submit to their demands, you could not buy, sell, open a bank account or get a job without access to the cashless system.

Hopefully people can understand where this is going.  Paper money is a very important component of our freedom, and if it is taken away from us that will open the door for all sorts of abuse.

Even now, cash is slowly being “criminalized” in America.  For example, if cash is used to pay for a hotel room that is considered by federal authorities to be “suspicious activity” that should be reported to the government.  Of course it isn’t against the law to pay your hotel bill in cash just yet, but according to the government it is something that “terrorists” do so it needs to be closely watched.

It doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to see where all of this is going.  And for those of us that understand what time it is, this is a clear indication that it is getting late in the game.

*About the author: Michael Snyder is the founder and publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog. Michael’s controversial new book about Bible prophecy entitled “The Rapture Verdict” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.*

JP Morgan And Citigroup Agree That The U.S. Economy Is Steamrolling Toward A Recession

Locomotive - Public DomainAs we approach the end of 2015, researchers at both JP Morgan and Citigroup agree that the probability that the U.S. economy will soon plunge into recession is rising.  Just last week, a member of the U.S. House of Representatives asked Janet Yellen about Citigroup’s assessment that there is a 65 percent chance that the United States will experience an economic recession in 2016.  You can read her answer below.  And just a few days ago, JP Morgan economists Michael Feroli, Daniel Silver, Jesse Edgerton, and Robert Mellman released a report in which they declared that “the probability of recession within three years” has risen to “an eye-catching 76%”

“Our longer-run indicators, however, continue to suggest an elevated risk that the expansion is nearing its end, and our preferred model now puts the probability of recession within three years at an eye-catching 76%.”

The good news is that the economists at JP Morgan believe that a recession will probably not hit us within the next six months.  But due to steadily weakening economic conditions, they are convinced that one is almost certain to strike within the next few years

“When we first wrote, only manufacturing sentiment was signaling an above-average probability of imminent recession,” they said. “But recent weakening in the Richmond Fed services survey and the ISM nonmanufacturing index have now pushed the nonmanufacturing sentiment probability up somewhat as well.”

In the short term, the note says that the 6-month likelihood is only 5%, but within a year it stands at 23%, in two years 48%, and in three years the “eye-popping” 76%.

To be honest, I believe that this assessment is far too optimistic, and it appears that researchers at Citigroup agree with me.  According to them, there is a 65 percent chance that the U.S. economy will plunge into recession by the end of next year.  Last week, Janet Yellen was asked about this during testimony before Congress

In testimony before Congress’ Joint Economic Committee, Yellen was asked by Rep. Pat Tiberi about a piece of research released by Citigroup’s rates strategy team Monday.

Specifically, Tiberi, an Ohio Republican, wanted to know what Yellen made of Citi’s conclusion that there is a 65 percent chance of a U.S. recession in 2016.

“The economists said that they would assign about a 65 percent likelihood of a recession in the United States in 2016. Now, 65 percent sounds high to me, but I’m not an economist and I’m not the Fed chair. But zero risk might be too low as well. So what would you assign a risk level of a recession next year?” Tiberi asked.

So how did Yellen respond?

Her answer was about what you would expect

“I absolutely wouldn’t see it as anything approaching 65 percent,” the central banker said.

This reminds me so much of what former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said when he was asked a similar question back in 2008

“The Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession.”

Later on, when the official numbers finally came out and all the revisions were done, we learned that the U.S. economy was already in a recession when he made that statement.

And when it is all said and done this time around, I believe that history will show that a new global recession had already started when Janet Yellen made her statement.

But don’t just take my word for it.  British banking giant HSBC is the largest bank in the western world, and they recently announced that the global economy has already entered a “dollar recession“.  According to HSBC, total global trade has fallen 8.4 percent so far this year, and global GDP expressed in U.S. dollars is down 3.4 percent.

If their figures are correct, a new global recession has definitely begun.

And without a doubt, we have already seen a tremendous amount of global financial turmoil.  This is something that I highlighted in my recent article entitled “27 Major Global Stocks Markets That Have Already Crashed By Double Digit Percentages In 2015“.  When Zero Hedge republished my article, several excellent charts were added that really illustrate how bad things have gotten, and I wanted to share a couple of them with you.  Of the 93 largest stock market indexes in the world, an astounding 47 of them (more than half) are down at least 10 percent year to date.  This first chart shows which ones fall into that category…

47 Out Of 93

Another chart that was added to the article by Zero Hedge shows how decoupled U.S. stocks have become from global stocks overall.  As you can see, U.S. stocks are not too far from recent highs at the moment, but global stocks overall are solidly in bear market territory…

US Stocks And World Stocks

Since mid-2015, trillions of dollars of stock market wealth has been wiped out globally.

Let that sink in for a moment.

The debate is over.  The “major financial collapse” that so many warned was imminent has actually happened.

It is just that U.S. stocks have not gotten the memo yet.  Up to this point they have defied gravity, but at some point U.S. stocks and world stocks will converge once again.

And if you want to see many of the reasons why U.S. stocks will soon take a big tumble, just check out this article.  There is no way that U.S. stocks will be able to defy the underlying economic fundamentals that are pummeling other global markets for much longer.  Just like in 2008, a global stock market slide that starts elsewhere will eventually hit the United States.  It is just a matter of time.

But once again, even though U.S. stocks are doing okay for the moment, that doesn’t negate the fact that more than half of all major global stock indexes are down by double digit percentages year to date.

We have not seen numbers like this since the great stock market crash of 2008, and it seems abundantly clear to me that the great financial shaking that so many warned was coming in 2015 is already happening.

And if JP Morgan and Citigroup are correct, what we have seen so far is just a preview of some very troubling times ahead.

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.

Too Big To Fail Banks Are Taking Over As Number Of U.S. Banks Falls To All-Time Record Low

Lower East Manhattan - Photo by Eric KilbyThe too big to fail banks have a larger share of the U.S. banking industry than they have ever had before.  So if having banks that were too big to fail was a “problem” back in 2008, what is it today?  As you will read about below, the total number of banks in the United States has fallen to a brand new all-time record low and that means that the health of the too big to fail banks is now more critical to our economy than ever.  In 1985, there were more than 18,000 banks in the United States.  Today, there are only 6,891 left, and that number continues to drop every single year.  That means that more than 10,000 U.S. banks have gone out of existence since 1985.  Meanwhile, the too big to fail banks just keep on getting even bigger.  In fact, 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.  If even one of those banks collapses, it would be absolutely crippling to the U.S. economy.  If several of them were to collapse at the same time, it could potentially plunge us into an economic depression unlike anything that this nation has ever seen before.

Incredibly, there were actually more banks in existence back during the days of the Great Depression than there is today.  According to the Wall Street Journal, the federal government has been keeping track of the number of banks since 1934 and this year is the very first time that the number has fallen below 7,000…

The number of federally insured institutions nationwide shrank to 6,891 in the third quarter after this summer falling below 7,000 for the first time since federal regulators began keeping track in 1934, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.

And the number of active bank branches all across America is falling too.  In fact, according to the FDIC the total number of bank branches in the United States fell by 3.2 percent between the end of 2009 and June 30th of this year.

Unfortunately, the closing of bank branches appears to be accelerating.  The number of bank branches in the U.S. declined by 390 during the third quarter of 2013 alone, and it is being projected that the number of bank branches in the U.S. could fall by as much as 40 percent over the next decade.

Can you guess where most of the bank branches are being closed?

If you guessed “poor neighborhoods” you would be correct.

According to Bloomberg, an astounding 93 percent of all bank branch closings since late 2008 have been in neighborhoods where incomes are below the national median household income…

Banks have shut 1,826 branches since late 2008, and 93 percent of closings were in postal codes where the household income is below the national median, according to census and federal banking data compiled by Bloomberg.

It turns out that opening up checking accounts and running ATM machines for poor people just isn’t that profitable.  The executives at these big banks are very open about the fact that they “love affluent customers“, and there is never a shortage of bank branches in wealthy neighborhoods.  But in many poor neighborhoods it is a very different story

About 10 million U.S. households lack bank accounts, according to a study released in September by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. An additional 24 million are “underbanked,” using check-cashing services and other storefront businesses for financial transactions. The Bronx in New York City is the nation’s second most underbanked large county—behind Hidalgo County in Texas—with 48 percent of households either not having an account or relying on alternative financial providers, according to a report by the Corporation for Enterprise Development, an advocacy organization for lower-​income Americans.

And if you are waiting for a whole bunch of new banks to start up to serve these poor neighborhoods, you can just forget about it.  Because of a whole host of new rules and regulations that have been put on the backs of small banks over the past several years, it has become nearly impossible to start up a new bank in the United States.  In fact, only one new bank has been started in the United States in the last three years.

So the number of banks is going to continue to decline.  1,400 smaller banks have quietly disappeared from the U.S. banking industry over the past five years alone.  We are witnessing a consolidation of the banking industry in America that is absolutely unprecedented.

Just consider the following statistics.  These numbers come from a recent CNN article

-The assets of the six largest banks in the United States have grown by 37 percent over the past five years.

-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.

-Approximately 1,400 smaller banks have disappeared over the past five years.

-JPMorgan Chase is roughly the size of the entire British economy.

-The four largest banks have more than a million employees combined.

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

-Bank of America accounts for about a third of all business loans all by itself.

-Wells Fargo accounts for about one quarter of all mortgage loans all by itself.

-About 12 percent of all cash in the United States is held in the vaults of JPMorgan Chase.

As you can see, without those banks we do not have a financial system.

Our entire economy is based on debt, and if those banks were to disappear the flow of credit would dry up almost completely.  Without those banks, we would rapidly enter an economic depression unlike anything that the United States has seen before.

It is kind of like a patient that has such an advanced case of cancer that if you try to kill the cancer you will inevitably also kill the patient.  That is essentially what our relationship with these big banks is like at this point.

Unfortunately, since the last financial crisis the too big to fail banks have become even more reckless.  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.

Keep in mind that U.S. GDP for the entire year of 2012 was just 15.7 trillion dollars and the U.S. national debt is just 17 trillion dollars.

So when you are talking about four banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives you are talking about an amount of money that is almost incomprehensible.

Posted below are the figures for the four banks that I am talking about.  I have written about this in the past, but in this article I have included the very latest updated numbers from the U.S. government.  I think that you will agree that these numbers are absolutely staggering…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,947,794,000,000 (nearly 1.95 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $71,289,673,000,000 (more than 71 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,319,359,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $60,398,289,000,000 (more than 60 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,429,737,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $42,670,269,000,000 (more than 42 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $113,064,000,000 (just a shade over 113 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $43,135,021,000,000 (more than 43 trillion dollars)

Please don’t just gloss over those huge numbers.

Let them sink in for a moment.

Goldman Sachs has total assets worth approximately 113 billion dollars (billion with a little “b”), but they have more than 43 TRILLON dollars of total exposure to derivatives.

That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 381 times greater than their total assets.

Most Americans do not understand that Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world.  The big banks are being incredibly reckless with our money, and if they fail it will bring down the entire economy.

The biggest chunk of these derivatives contracts that Wall Street banks are gambling on is made up of interest rate derivatives.  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.

When that Ponzi scheme finally comes crumbling down, there won’t be enough money on the entire planet to fix it.

We had our warning back in 2008.

The too big to fail banks were in the headlines every single day and our politicians promised to fix the problem.

But instead of fixing it, the too big to fail banks are now 37 percent larger and our economy is more dependent on them than ever before.

And in their endless greed for even larger paychecks, they have become insanely reckless with all of our money.

Mark my words – there is going to be a derivatives crisis.

When it happens, we are going to see some of these too big to fail banks actually fail.

At that point, there will be absolutely no hope for the U.S. economy.

We willingly allowed the too big to fail banks to become the core of our economic system, and now we are all going to pay the price.

Too Big To Fail Is Now Bigger Than Ever Before

Lower Manhattan At Night - Photo by Hu TotyaThe too big to fail banks are now much, much larger than they were the last time they caused so much trouble.  The six largest banks in the United States have gotten 37 percent larger over the past five years.  Meanwhile, 1,400 smaller banks have disappeared from the banking industry during that time.  What this means is that the health of JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley is more critical to the U.S. economy than ever before.  If they were “too big to fail” back in 2008, then now they must be “too colossal to collapse”.  Without these banks, we do not have an economy.  The six largest banks control 67 percent of all U.S. banking assets, and Bank of America accounted for about a third of all business loans by itself last year.  Our entire economy is based on credit, and these giant banks are at the very core of our system of credit.  If these banks were to collapse, a brutal economic depression would be guaranteed.  Unfortunately, as you will see later in this article, these banks did not learn anything from 2008 and are being exceedingly reckless.  They are counting on the rest of us bailing them out if something goes wrong, but that might not happen next time around.

Ever since the financial crisis of 2008, our politicians have been running around proclaiming that they will not rest until they have fixed “the too big to fail problem”, but instead of fixing it those banks have rapidly gotten even larger.  Just check out the following figures which come from 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.

We are witnessing a consolidation of the banking industry that is absolutely stunning.  Hundreds of smaller banks have been swallowed up by these behemoths, and millions of Americans are finding that they have to deal with these banking giants whether they like it or not.

Even though all they do is move money around, these banks have become the core of our economic system, and they are growing at an astounding pace.  The following numbers come from a recent CNN article

-The assets of the six largest banks in the United States have grown by 37 percent over the past five years.

-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 the other 6,934 banks account for only 33 percent of those assets.

-Approximately 1,400 smaller banks have disappeared over the past five years.

-JPMorgan Chase is roughly the size of the entire British economy.

-The four largest banks have more than a million employees combined.

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

As I discussed above, without these giant banks there is no economy.  We should have never, ever allowed this to happen, but now that it has happened it is imperative that the American people understand this.  The power of these banks is absolutely overwhelming

One third of all business loans this year were made by Bank of America. Wells Fargo funds nearly a quarter of all mortgage loans. And held in the vaults of JPMorgan Chase is $1.3 trillion, which is 12% of our collective cash, including the payrolls of many thousands of companies, or enough to buy 47,636,496,885 of these NFL branded toaster ovens. Thanks for your business!

A lot of people tend to focus on many of the other threats to our economy, but the number one potential threat that our economy is facing is the potential failure of the too big to fail banks.  As we saw in 2008, when they start to fail things can get really bad really fast.

And as I have written about so many times, the number one threat to the too big to fail banks is the possibility of a derivatives crisis.

Former Goldman Sachs banker and best selling author Nomi Prins recently told Greg Hunter of USAWatchdog.com that the global economy “could implode and have serious ramifications on the financial systems starting with derivatives and working on outward.” You can watch the full video of that interview right here.

And Nomi Prins is exactly right.  Just like we witnessed in 2008, a derivatives panic can spiral out of control very quickly.  Our big banks should have learned a lesson from 2008 and should have greatly scaled back their reckless betting.

Unfortunately, that has not happened.  In fact, according to the OCC’s latest quarterly report on bank trading and derivatives activities, the big banks have become even more reckless since the last time I reported on this.  The following figures reflect the new information contained in the latest OCC report…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,948,150,000,000 (just over 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $70,287,894,000,000 (more than 70 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,306,258,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $58,471,038,000,000 (more than 58 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,458,091,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,543,003,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $113,743,000,000 (a bit more than 113 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $42,251,600,000,000 (more than 42 trillion dollars)

That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 371 times greater than their total assets.

How in the world can anyone say that Goldman Sachs is not being incredibly reckless?

And remember, the overwhelming majority of these derivatives contracts are interest rate derivatives.

Wild swings in interest rates could set off this time bomb and send our entire financial system plunging into chaos.

After climbing rapidly for a couple of months, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasury bonds has stabilized for the moment.

But if that changes and interest rates start going up dramatically again, that is going to be a huge problem for these too big to fail banks.

And I know that a lot of you don’t have much sympathy for the big banks, but remember, if they go down we go down too.

These banks have been unbelievably reckless, but when they fail, we will all pay the price.

Wall Street Banks Extract Enormous Fees From The Paychecks Of Millions Of American Workers

Greed - Photo by J. Solana from Madrid, SpainWould you be angry if you had to pay a big Wall Street bank a fee before you could get the money that you worked so hard to earn?  Unfortunately, that is exactly the situation that millions of American workers find themselves in today.  An increasing number of U.S. companies are paying their workers using payroll cards that are issued by large financial institutions.  Wal-Mart, Home Depot, Walgreens and Taco Bell are just some of the well known employers that are doing this.  Today, there are 4.6 million active payroll cards in the United States, and some of the largest banks in the country are issuing them.  The list includes JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Wells Fargo and Citigroup.  The big problem with these cards is that there is often a fee for just about everything that you do with them.  Do you want to use an ATM machine?  You must pay a fee.  Do you want to check your balance?  You must pay a fee.  Do you want a paper statement?  You must pay a fee.  Did you lose your card?  You must pay a big fee.  Has your card been inactive for a while?  You must pay a huge fee.  The big Wall Street banks are systematically extracting enormous fees from the working poor, and someone needs to do something to stop this.

The truth is that most American families need every penny that they earn.  In America today, 53 percent of all workers make less than $30,000 a year.

It is hard to do everything that you need to do on less than $2,500 a month.  If you doubt this, you should try it some time.

That is one reason why the fees that the big Wall Street banks hit payroll card users with are so insidious.  The following is a short excerpt from a recent CNBC article about this phenomenon…

But in the overwhelming majority of cases, using the card involves a fee. And those fees can quickly add up: one provider, for example, charges $1.75 to make a withdrawal from most A.T.M.’s, $2.95 for a paper statement and $6 to replace a card. Some users even have to pay $7 inactivity fees for not using their cards.

These fees can take such a big bite out of paychecks that some employees end up making less than the minimum wage once the charges are taken into account, according to interviews with consumer lawyers, employees, and state and federal regulators.

Devonte Yates, 21, who earns $7.25 an hour working a drive-through station at a McDonald’s in Milwaukee, says he spends $40 to $50 a month on fees associated with his JPMorgan Chase payroll card.

If you are just barely scraping by every month, can you really afford to be paying $50 a month in fees to the fatcats at JPMorgan Chase?

Of course not.

But JPMorgan Chase is far from alone.  Just check out all of the fees that another large financial institution is hitting users with…

On some of its payroll cards, NetSpend charges $2.25 for out-of-network A.T.M. withdrawals, 50 cents for balance inquiries via a representative, 50 cents for a purchase using the card, $5 for statement reprints, $10 to close an account, $25 for a balance-protection program and $7.50 after 60 days of inactivity, according to an April presentation by the company reviewed by The Times.

They are taking advantage of extremely vulnerable people and they know it.

And we see this kind of thing happening with other types of cards as well.  For example, in some states unemployment benefits are now deposited on prepaid debit cards, and the banks that issue these cards are more than happy to extract huge fees from unemployed people

Shawana Busby does not seem like the sort of customer who would be at the center of a major bank’s business plan. Out of work for much of the last three years, she depends upon a $264-a-week unemployment check from the state of South Carolina. But the state has contracted with Bank of America to administer its unemployment benefits, and Busby has frequently found herself incurring bank fees to get her money.

To withdraw her benefits, Busby, 33, uses a Bank of America prepaid debit card on which the state deposits her funds. She could visit a Bank of America ATM free of charge. But this small community in the state’s rural center, her hometown, does not have a Bank of America branch. Neither do the surrounding towns where she drops off her kids at school and attends church.

She could drive north to Columbia, the state capital, and use a Bank of America ATM there. But that entails a 50 mile drive, cutting into her gas budget. So Busby visits the ATMs in her area and begrudgingly accepts the fees, which reach as high as five dollars per transaction. She estimates that she has paid at least $350 in fees to tap her unemployment benefits.

There is something that is so greedy about all of this.

When the financial crisis hit back in 2008, the big banks had no problem begging the entire nation for mercy.

But when it comes time to show mercy to the poor, they tell us that it is “just business”.

In America today, there are tens of millions of families that are just barely surviving from month to month.  The big banks should not be preying on them like this.

With each passing year, the ranks of the working poor in this country continue to get larger.  The following statistics are from one of my previous articles entitled “35 Statistics About The Working Poor In America That Will Blow Your Mind“…

#1 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 146 million Americans are either “poor” or “low income”.

#2 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 57 percent of all American children live in a home that is either “poor” or “low income”.

#3 Back in 2007, about 28 percent of all working families were considered to be among “the working poor”.  Today, that number is up to 32 percent even though our politicians tell us that the economy is supposedly recovering.

#4 Back in 2007, 21 million U.S. children lived in “working poor” homes.  Today, that number is up to 23.5 million.

#5 In Arkansas, Mississippi and New Mexico, more than 40 percent all of working families are considered to be “low income”.

#6 Families that have a head of household under the age of 30 have a poverty rate of 37 percent.

#7 Half of all American workers earn $505 or less per week.

#8 At this point, one out of every four American workers has a job that pays $10 an hour or less.

#9 Today, the United States actually has a higher percentage of workers doing low wage work than any other major industrialized nation does.

#10 Median household income in the United States has fallen for four consecutive years.

#11 Median household income for families with children dropped by a whopping $6,300 between 2001 and 2011.

#12 The U.S. economy continues to trade good paying jobs for low paying jobs.  60 percent of the jobs lost during the last recession were mid-wage jobs, but 58 percent of the jobs created since then have been low wage jobs.

#13 Back in 1980, less than 30% of all jobs in the United States were low income jobs.  Today, more than 40% of all jobs in the United States are low income jobs.

#14 According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the middle class is taking home a smaller share of the overall income pie than has ever been recorded before.

#15 There are now 20.2 million Americans that spend more than half of their incomes on housing.  That represents a 46 percent increase from 2001.

#16 Low income families spend about 8.6 percent of their incomes on gasoline.  Other families spend about 2.1 percent.

#17 In 1999, 64.1 percent of all Americans were covered by employment-based health insurance.  Today, only 55.1 percent are covered by employment-based health insurance.

#18 According to one survey, 77 percent of all Americans are now living paycheck to paycheck at least part of the time.

#19 Millions of working poor families in America end up taking on debt in a desperate attempt to stay afloat, but before too long they find themselves in a debt trap that they can never escape.  According to a recent article in the New York Times, the average debt burden for U.S. households that earn $20,000 a year or less “more than doubled to $26,000 between 2001 and 2010“.

#20 In 1989, the debt to income ratio of the average American family was about 58 percent.  Today it is up to 154 percent.

You can find the rest of the list right here.

The working poor simply cannot afford to be paying hundreds of dollars in fees to the big banks each year just to use the money that they worked so very hard to earn.

Unfortunately, we seem to be living during a time when the big financial institutions will squeeze every nickel that they possibly can out of average Americans no matter how high the human cost is.

8 Theories For Why The Stock Market Plunged Almost 1000 Points In A Matter Of Minutes On May 6th

In one of the most dizzying half-hours in stock market history, the Dow plunged nearly 1,000 points on Thursday, May 6th before bouncing back to close down 347.80 points.  This represented the biggest intraday decline since 1987.  But what made this crash so absolutely shocking is that it happened in the course of less than an hour.  Between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. the Dow lost over 700 points before dramatically bouncing back about 600 points.  Two of the 30 stocks in the Dow, Procter & Gamble and 3M, plunged more than 30% in just 15 minutes.  Accenture went from trading at around 40 dollars a share all the way down to one cent before bouncing back.  Traders and investors were left completely stunned and wondering what in the world had just happened.

So what did happen?

The following are some of the most common theories being put forward to explain what happened….

#1) A Bad Trade

It has been widely suggested that a “fat finger trade” was responsible for triggering the panic.  According to CNBC, “sources” have told that network that a trader (possibly at Citigroup) entered a “b” for billion instead of an “m” for million in a trade involving Procter & Gamble.

However, Citigroup has already announced that it has found “no evidence” that it was involved in any erroneous trades.  In fact, a statement was released in which Citigroup spokesman Stephen Cohen said this….

“At this point, we have no evidence that Citi was involved in any erroneous transaction.”

#2) A Computer Glitch

New York Stock Exchange spokesman Rich Adamonis says that “there were a number of erroneous trades” on May 6th, and that these could have been caused by computer error.

And the truth is that trading in the financial markets is more automated and more reliant on computers than it ever has been before.  Trading literally moves at lightning speed now, and a number of analysts are warning that the pace of the market is so fast at this point that it is really easy for things to spin out of control very quickly.

But if this was really primarily caused by a “computer glitch”, how are investors supposed to have any confidence at all in the market?  After all, if a computer error can wipe out half your account in less than an hour, why invest at all?

#3) Cascading Stop Losses

Once the market hits certain technical levels, it is going to automatically start triggering stop loss orders.  Once those stop loss orders are triggered, it will push the market down further thus triggering more stop loss orders.

While there have been some protections implemented to guard against this kind of thing, the reality is that it does still happen.

#4) Hackers

Hackers have become more sophisticated and more cunning than ever before.  In fact, the bigger a target is, the more enjoyment most hackers get out of taking them down.  Is it a possible that someone could have hacked in to the New York Stock Exchange?

#5) Cyberterrorism

Rogue nations and terrorist organizations have been developing their “cyber warfare” capabilities for some time now.  We have been repeatedly warned that someday we will see an “Internet 9/11”.  Could this stock market plunge be a preview of that?

#6) Fear Of The European Debt Crisis Spreading

There are mounting concerns in the financial markets about Greece’s financial condition and that the European debt crisis could spread around the globe.

In fact, the Dow has lost 631 points, or more than 5%, in just the last three days amidst worries about the situation in Greece.  This represents the biggest three day drop since March 2009.

#7) Stop Hunting

Anyone who has spent much time in the Forex market knows what this is all about.  The truth is that some of the big financial sharks in the marketplace seem to really enjoy blowing out stop losses.

So could have this have been a situation where a stop loss hunting expedition spun wildly out of control?

#8) A Real Panic

There is also the possibility that this was a real financial panic.  There are huge concerns about what is going on in Europe and the currency markets are fluctuating wildly.  The Dow was already down several hundred points even before the massive plunge took place.  The reality is that there is a lot of fear in the financial markets right now.

But if it was a real panic, then why did the Dow bounce back so quickly?  Well, it is the job of the “plunge protection team” to keep the stock market from declining too rapidly.  So did the “plunge protection team” swing into action today?  Well, the truth is that we will probably never know because the general public is not supposed to know when they intervene.

In any event, the next couple of days should hopefully make all of this a lot clearer.  The trading during the afternoon of May 6th at the big firms will be gone over with a fine-toothed comb, and the exchanges will be closely analyzing their systems for any glitches.

It has already been announced that some of the most erroneous trades will be cancelled.  The Nasdaq and NYSE’s ARCA trading unit have both said that they will cancel trades executed between 2:40 p.m. and 3 p.m. on May 6th where a stock price rose or fell more than 60 percent from the last trade in that security at 2:40 p.m.

But this episode shows just how vulnerable our financial markets really are.  After witnessing what we saw today, it is going to be really hard to have confidence in the system.

In fact, even if this was just one “bad trade” or a “simple computer glitch”, the reality is that this episode is going to inject even more fear into a marketplace that is already filled with tension.

When fear grips a market things can go south very, very quickly.  The truth is that markets tend to fall more quickly than they rise, and if a wave of panic starts sweeping over the financial markets we could see things get quite messy in the coming days.

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The Economic Recovery Is Moving Along Quite Well – For The Boys Down On Wall Street

If you are part of the Wall Street establishment, the economic recovery is moving along quite well.  Many of the biggest firms on Wall Street just handed out record-setting bonuses, the Stock Market has been moving up steadily and the DOW is back up to around 11,000.  Profits at the top banks have been quite impressive lately.  Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup and Wells Fargo combined for first quarter profits of $13.4 billion – the most in almost three years.  Yes, life is quite good down on Wall Street these days.  People are still buying fast cars, big yachts and homes in the Hamptons.  It is almost as if “the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression” didn’t even happen.  Things are quickly getting back to “normal” for the banking elite and to many it seems like there are a lot more smiles down on Wall Street than there have been in a long, long time.

Bank of America’s chief executive officer, Brian T. Moynihan, is being quoted by Reuters as saying that “the worst of the credit cycle is clearly behind us” and that the economic growth we are experiencing is “real”.

JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon is quoted as saying that the U.S. economy may be poised for “a strong recovery”.

And why wouldn’t they say these things?  Profits are up.  Their stock portfolios are up.  They are getting record bonuses.  They know that if anything does go wrong again that their friends in Washington D.C. will bail them out because they are “too big to fail”.

But for tens of millions of other Americans, the economy seems like it is getting worse than ever.  It is hard to explain the gut-wrenching agony that many highly-educated and highly-qualified American workers are going through as they send out hundreds of resumes only to get no response.  Or the absolute frustration of only being able to get a very low paying retail job and realizing that it will not even be able to pay the mortgage – much less support an entire family.  Or the soul-crushing despair of working two or three jobs and still not being able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

But these are the daily realities that millions of Americans must face now.  The truth is that there are not nearly enough jobs for everyone.  The number of unemployed Americans per job opening hit 5.5 in February.  It is like we are all caught in some bizarre game of musical chairs, and the losers end up destitute and out in the street.

Even many of those who can get jobs find themselves in bad situations.  Gallup’s underemployment measure hit 20.0% on March 15th.  That was up from 19.7% two weeks earlier and 19.5% at the start of the year.  A lot of very educated, very qualified people find themselves slaving away at jobs that high school students are qualified for.

But the ones being hurt the worst by this unemployment epidemic are the poor.  Check out the following chart.  At the end of 2009, the unemployment rate for those at the top end of the income scale in the United States was about 3%.  For those at the bottom of the income scale, the unemployment rate was about 30%….

It isn’t the boys down on Wall Street that are losing their homes and their jobs.

No, they are “too big to fail”.

It is millions of ordinary Americans that are losing their homes and their jobs.

And things keep getting worse.

According to RealtyTrac, foreclosure filings were reported on 367,056 properties in the month of March.  This was an increase of almost 19 percent from February, and it was the highest monthly total since RealtyTrac began issuing its report in January 2005.

Not only that, but RealtyTrac projects that there will be a total of 4.5 million home foreclosures by the end 2010.  If you figure that there are approximately 4 people per household, that is another 18 million people that will be facing the pain of a foreclosure filing.

For many Americans, losing their home to foreclosure is just too much.  For example, one man in Ohio actually decided to bulldoze his own home rather than let the bank take it in foreclosure proceedings.

Because of the extreme economic conditions, millions of Americans are in severe pain and are becoming increasingly desperate.  In some of the most depressed areas, crime is absolutely spiralling out of control.  So far this year in Detroit, car thefts are up 83%, robberies are up 50%, burglaries are up 20% and property destruction is up 42%.

Adding to all of this economic despair is the fact that food and gas prices are starting to shoot up.

In some areas of the United States, people are already paying as much as $3.50 for a gallon of gasoline, and many experts are now predicting that gasoline could hit $4.00 a gallon by the end of 2010.

Not only that, but wholesale food prices rose 2.4% in March, matching the biggest gain in 26 years.

So while the economic recovery is buzzing along quite well down on Wall Street, the reality is that for millions of other Americans things are really hard.  In fact, not even the smaller banks are experiencing much of a recovery.  The FDIC’s list of problem banks just hit a 17-year high.

No, the main beneficiaries of this “economic recovery” are the boys over on Wall Street.  They should enjoy it while it lasts, because even harder economic times are on the way, and the reality is that none of us will be able to completely escape the economic pain that is coming.

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Megabanks: The Banking Oligarchy That Controls Assets Equivalent To 60 Percent Of America’s GNP

Today financial power is being concentrated in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals.  In fact, the six biggest banks in the United States now possess assets equivalent to 60 percent of America’s gross national product.  Back in the 1990s that figure was less than 20 percent.  These six banks – Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo – literally dictate what goes on in the U.S. banking industry.  These entities are the poster children for “too big to fail”, and they donate massive amounts of cash to the campaigns of both Republicans and Democrats to ensure that they will continue to receive favorable treatment.  The vast majority of Americans have had a banking account, a credit card and/or a mortgage with one of these institutions at some point.  If they acted in concert, these six banks could literally bring down the U.S. economy overnight if they wanted to.  Together with the Federal Reserve, these six banks represent the real financial power in America.  They are the 800 pound gorilla in the room that influences nearly every major financial deal that gets done and virtually every major political decision that gets made.  As the last couple of years have demonstrated, top politicians from both parties (John McCain and Barack Obama for example) will instantly jump into action and start advocating that the U.S. government spend billions upon billions of dollars when the interests of these behemoths are threatened.  The frightening thing is that the power of these megabanks is growing at a frightening pace.  As dozens upon dozens of smaller U.S. banks are “allowed to fail”, they either go out of existence or the Feds actually encourage these smaller banks to sell themselves to one of the big sharks.  In either event, the banking power in the United States becomes further consolidated in the hands of the megabanks.

Bill Moyers recently interviewed Simon Johnson and James Kwak, the authors of a new book entitled 13 Bankers: The Wall St. Takeover and the Next Financial Meltdown.  During that interview Kwak described to Moyers just how explosive the growth of the power of these megabanks has been….

Bill Moyers: And you write that they control 60 percent of our gross national product?

James Kwak: They have assets equivalent to 60 percent of our gross national product. And to put this in perspective, in the mid-1990s, these six banks or their predecessors, since there have been a lot of mergers, had less than 20 percent. Their assets were less than 20 percent of the gross national product.

Does it alarm you that the banking elite have accumulated such a large amount of financial power?

It should.  These institutions have the power to wreck entire economies.  Just consider what happened in Greece lately.  Now, it is being alleged that the megabanks are ripping off American cities with the same kinds of predatory deals that brought down the financial system in Greece. 

And that is what these megabanks are.

They are predators.

In fact, a very revealing article in Rolling Stone described Goldman Sachs this way….

The first thing you need to know about Goldman Sachs is that it’s everywhere. The world’s most powerful investment bank is a great vampire squid wrapped around the face of humanity, relentlessly jamming its blood funnel into anything that smells like money.

Unfortunately, they may have actually been understating things a bit.

These megabanks have rigged the game so that the wealth of the nation is slowly transferred from us to themselves and to the international financial interests that control them.

They can make money if the markets are going up, and they can make money if the markets are going down.

For example, in a newly released email from the height of the housing crash, the CEO of Goldman Sachs bragged that his firm “made more than we lost” by betting against the housing market.

Thankfully the SEC is starting to look into the fraud that Goldman Sachs committed during this time period, but the truth is that Goldman is not likely to receive any more than a slap on the wrist for what it has done.

They are way too big, way too powerful and have too many friends in high places for them to get into any real trouble.

For example, it has come out that Barack Obama does not intend to return any of the campaign contributions that he received from Goldman Sachs.  And surely they will be glad to continue to pour big money into his political coffers.

So where does that leave the rest of us?

Well, the rest of us can expect higher taxes and a lower standard of living according to the IMF.  The IMF (which has deep connections to these megabanks) says that the party is “over” for nations that have been enjoying the good life.  In a recent article, the Washington Post summarized the message that the IMF is trying to communicate through their recent policy papers….

To keep the global economy on track, people in the United States and the rest of the developed world need to work longer before retiring, pay higher taxes and expect less from government. And the cheap imports lining the shelves of mega-chains such as Wal-Mart and Target? They need to be more expensive.

So are you ready to work longer, pay higher taxes, expect less from government and have a lower standard of living?

That is what the IMF says we are all going to be facing in the years ahead.

We are all going to financially suffer as the megabanks continue to thrive and consolidate power.

Isn’t that wonderful?

You say you don’t like that so much?

Well, good luck taking on the 800 pound gorilla.

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