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Boom Goes The Dynamite: The Crashing Price Of Oil Is Going To Rip The Global Economy To Shreds

Boom Goes The Dynamite - Public DomainIf you were waiting for a “black swan event” to come along and devastate the global economy, you don’t have to wait any longer.  As I write this, the price of U.S. oil is sitting at $45.76 a barrel.  It has fallen by more than 60 dollars a barrel since June.  There is only one other time in history when we have seen anything like this happen before.  That was in 2008, just prior to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression.  But following the financial crisis of 2008, the price of oil rebounded fairly rapidly.  As you will see below, there are very strong reasons to believe that it will not happen this time.  And the longer the price of oil stays this low, the worse our problems are going to get.  At a price of less than $50 a barrel, it is just a matter of time before we see a huge wave of energy company bankruptcies, massive job losses, a junk bond crash followed by a stock market crash, and a crisis in commodity derivatives unlike anything that we have ever seen before.  So let’s hope that a very unlikely miracle happens and the price of oil rebounds substantially in the months ahead.  Because if not, the price of oil is going to absolutely rip the global economy to shreds.

What amazes me is that there are still many economic “experts” in the mainstream media that are proclaiming that the collapse in the price of oil is going to be a good thing for the U.S. economy.

The only precedent that we can compare the current crash to is the oil price collapse of 2008.  You can see both crashes on the chart below…

Price Of Oil Since 2006

If rapidly falling oil prices are good economic news, that collapse should have pushed the U.S. economy into overdrive.

But that didn’t happen, did it?  Instead, we plunged into the deepest recession that we have seen since the Great Depression.

And unless there is a miracle rebound in the price of oil now, we are going to experience something similar this time.

Already, we are seeing oil rigs shut down at a staggering pace.  The following is from Bloomberg

U.S. oil drillers laid down the most rigs in the fourth quarter since 2009. And things are about to get much worse.

The rig count fell by 93 in the three months through Dec. 26, and lost another 17 last week, Baker Hughes Inc. data show. About 200 more will be idled over the next quarter as U.S. oil explorers make good on their promises to curb spending, according to Moody’s Corp.

But that was just the beginning of the carnage.  61 more oil rigs shut down last week alone, and hundreds more are being projected to shut down in the months ahead.

For those that cannot connect the dots, that is going to translate into the loss of large numbers of good paying jobs.  Just check out what is happening in Texas

A few days ago, Helmerich & Payne, announced that it would idle 50 more drilling rigs in February, after having already idled 11 rigs. Each rig accounts for about 100 jobs. This will cut its shale drilling activities by 20%. The other two large drillers, Nabors Industries and Patterson-UTI Energy are on a similar program. All three combined are “likely to cut approximately 15,000 jobs out of the 50,000 people they currently employ,” said Oilpro Managing Director Joseph Triepke.

Unfortunately, this crisis will not just be localized to states such as Texas.  There are tens of thousands of small and mid-size firms that will be affected.  The following is from a recent CNBC report

More than 20,000 small and midsize firms drive the “hydrocarbon revolution” in the U.S. that has helped the oil and gas industry thrive in recent years, and they produce more than 75 percent of the nation’s oil and gas output, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s February 2014 Power & Growth Initiative Report. The Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank in New York City.

A sustained decline in prices could lead to layoffs at these firms, say experts. “The energy industry has been one of the job-growth areas leading us out of the recession,” said Chad Mabry, a Houston-based analyst in the energy and natural resources research department of boutique investment bank MLV & Co. in New York City. “In 2015, that changes in this price environment,” he said. “We’re probably going to see some job losses on a fairy significant scale if this keeps up.”

If the price of oil makes a major comeback, the carnage will ultimately not be that bad.

But if it stays at this level or keeps going down for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a whole bunch of those firms will go bankrupt and their debt will go bad.

That would mean a junk bond crash unlike anything that Wall Street has ever experienced.

And as I have written about previously, a stock market crash almost always follows a junk bond crash.

These are things that happened during the last financial crisis and that are repeating again right in front of our eyes.

Another thing that happened in 2008 that is happening again is a crash in industrial commodity prices.

At this point, industrial commodity prices have hit a 12 year low.  I am talking about industrial commodities such as copper, iron ore, steel and aluminum.  This is a huge sign that global economic activity is slowing down and that big trouble is on the way.

So what is driving this?  The following excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article gives us a clue…

Globally there are over $9 trillion worth of borrowed US Dollars in the financial system. When you borrow in US Dollars, you are effectively SHORTING the US Dollar.

Which means that when the US Dollar rallies, your returns implode regardless of where you invested the borrowed money (another currency, stocks, oil, infrastructure projects, derivatives).

Take a look at commodities. Globally, there are over $22 TRILLION worth of derivatives trades involving commodities. ALL of these were at risk of blowing up if the US Dollar rallied.

Unfortunately, starting in mid-2014, it did in a big way.

This move in the US Dollar imploded those derivatives trades. If you want an explanation for why commodities are crashing (aside from the fact the global economy is slowing) this is it.

Once again, much of this could be avoided if the price of oil starts going back up substantially.

Unfortunately, that does not appear likely.  In fact, many of the big banks are projecting that it could go even lower

Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, Societe General and Commerzbank are among the latest investment banks to reduce crude oil price estimates, and without production cuts, there appears to be more room for lower prices.

“We’re going to keep on going lower,” says industry analyst Brian Milne of energy manager Schneider Electric. “Even with fresher new lows, there’s still more downside.”

OPEC could stabilize global oil prices with a single announcement, but so far OPEC has refused to do this.  Many believe that the OPEC countries actually want the price of oil to fall for competitive reasons…

Representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that the group won’t curb output to halt the biggest drop in crude since 2008. Qatar’s estimate for the global oversupply is among the biggest of any producing country. These countries actually want — and are achieving — further price declines as part of an attempt to hasten cutbacks by U.S. shale drillers, according to Barclays Plc and Commerzbank AG.

The oil producing countries in the Middle East seem to be settling in for the long haul.  In fact, one prominent Saudi prince made headlines all over the world this week when he said that “I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore.”

Never is a very strong word.

Could there be such a massive worldwide oil glut going on right now that the price of oil will never get that high again?

Well, without a doubt there is a huge amount of unsold oil floating around out there at the moment.

It has gotten so bad that some big trading companies are actually hiring supertankers to store large quantities of unsold crude oil at sea…

Some of the world’s largest oil traders have this week hired supertankers to store crude at sea, marking a milestone in the build-up of the global glut.

Trading firms including Vitol, Trafiguraand energy major Shell have all booked crude tankers for up to 12 months, freight brokers and shipping sources told Reuters.

They said the flurry of long-term bookings was unusual and suggested traders could use the vessels to store excess crude at sea until prices rebound, repeating a popular 2009 trading gambit when prices last crashed.

The fundamentals for the price of oil are so much worse than they were back in 2008.

We could potentially be looking at sub-$50 oil for an extended period of time.

If that is indeed the case, there will be catastrophic damage to the global economy and to the global financial system.

So hold on to your hats, because it looks like we are going to be in for quite a bumpy ride in 2015.

Who Is Behind The Oil War, And How Low Will The Price Of Crude Go In 2015?

War Peace Sign - Public DomainWho is to blame for the staggering collapse of the price of oil?  Is it the Saudis?  Is it the United States?  Are Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government working together to hurt Russia?  And if this oil war continues, how far will the price of oil end up falling in 2015?  As you will see below, some analysts believe that it could ultimately go below 20 dollars a barrel.  If we see anything even close to that, the U.S. economy could lose millions of good paying jobs, billions of dollars of energy bonds could default and we could see trillions of dollars of derivatives related to the energy industry implode.  The global financial system is already extremely vulnerable, and purposely causing the price of oil to crash is one of the most deflationary things that you could possibly do.  Whoever is behind this oil war is playing with fire, and by the end of this coming year the entire planet could be dealing with the consequences.

Ever since the price of oil started falling, people have been pointing fingers at the Saudis.  And without a doubt, the Saudis have manipulated the price of oil before in order to achieve geopolitical goals.  The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Andrew Topf

We don’t have to look too far back in history to see Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and producer, using the oil price to achieve its foreign policy objectives. In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat convinced Saudi King Faisal to cut production and raise prices, then to go as far as embargoing oil exports, all with the goal of punishing the United States for supporting Israel against the Arab states. It worked. The “oil price shock” quadrupled prices.

It happened again in 1986, when Saudi Arabia-led OPEC allowed prices to drop precipitously, and then in 1990, when the Saudis sent prices plummeting as a way of taking out Russia, which was seen as a threat to their oil supremacy. In 1998, they succeeded. When the oil price was halved from $25 to $12, Russia defaulted on its debt.

The Saudis and other OPEC members have, of course, used the oil price for the obverse effect, that is, suppressing production to keep prices artificially high and member states swimming in “petrodollars”. In 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel.

Turning to the current price drop, the Saudis and OPEC have a vested interest in taking out higher-cost competitors, such as US shale oil producers, who will certainly be hurt by the lower price. Even before the price drop, the Saudis were selling their oil to China at a discount. OPEC’s refusal on Nov. 27 to cut production seemed like the baldest evidence yet that the oil price drop was really an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and the US.

If the Saudis wanted to stabilize the price of oil, they could do that immediately by announcing a production cutback.

The fact that they have chosen not to do this says volumes.

In addition to wanting to harm U.S. shale producers, some believe that the Saudis are determined to crush Iran.  This next excerpt comes from a recent Daily Mail article

Above all, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies see Iran — a bitter religious and political opponent — as their main regional adversary.

They know that Iran, dominated by the Shia Muslim sect, supports a resentful underclass of more than a million under-privileged and angry Shia people living in the gulf peninsula — a potential uprising waiting to happen against the Saudi regime.

The Saudis, who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, also loathe the way Iran supports President Assad’s regime in Syria — with which the Iranians have a religious affiliation. They also know that Iran, its economy plagued by corruption and crippled by Western sanctions, desperately needs the oil price to rise. And they have no intention of helping out.

The fact is that the Saudis remain in a strong position because oil is cheap to produce there, and the country has such vast reserves. It can withstand a year — or three — of low oil prices.

There are others out there that are fully convinced that the Saudis and the U.S. are actually colluding to drive down the price of oil, and that their real goal is to destroy Russia.

In fact, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro openly promoted this theory during a recent speech on Venezuelan national television

“Did you know there’s an oil war? And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia,” he said in a speech to state businessmen carried live on state TV.

“It’s a strategically planned war … also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse,” he added, accusing the United States of trying to flood the market with shale oil.

Venezuela and Russia, which both have fractious ties with Washington, are widely considered the nations hardest hit by the global oil price fall.

And as I discussed just the other day, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to agree with this theory…

“We all see the lowering of oil prices. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”

Without a doubt, Obama wants to “punish” Russia for what has been going on in Ukraine.  Going after oil is one of the best ways to do that.  And if the U.S. shale industry gets hurt in the process, that is a bonus for the radical environmentalists in Obama’s administration.

There are yet others that see this oil war as being even more complicated.

Marin Katusa believes that this is actually a three-way war between OPEC, Russia and the United States…

“It’s a three-way oil war between OPEC, Russia and North American shale,” says Marin Katusa, author of “The Colder War,” and chief energy investment strategist at Casey Research.

Katusa doesn’t see production slowing in 2015: “We know that OPEC will not be cutting back production. They’re going to increase it. Russia has increased production to all-time highs.” With Russia and OPEC refusing to give up market share how will the shale industry compete?

Katusa thinks the longevity and staying power of the shale industry will keep it viable and profitable. “The versatility and the survivability of a lot of these shale producers will surprise people. I don’t see that the shale sector is going to collapse over night,” he says. Shale sweet spots like North Dakota’s Bakken region and Texas’ Eagle Ford area will help keep production levels up and output steady.

Whatever the true motivation for this oil war is, it does not appear that it is going to end any time soon.

And so that means that the price of oil is going to go lower.

How much lower?

One analyst recently told CNN that we could see the price of oil dip into the $30s next year…

Few saw the energy meltdown coming. Now that it’s here, industry analysts warn another move lower is possible as the momentum remains firmly to the downside.

“If this doesn’t hold, we could go back to price levels in late 2008 and early 2009 — down in the $30s. There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen,” said Darin Newsom, senior analyst at Telvent DTN.

Others are even more pessimistic.  For instance, Jeremy Warner of the Sydney Morning Herald, who correctly predicted that the price of oil would fall below $80 this year, is now forecasting that the price of oil could fall all the way down to $20 next year…

Revisiting the past year’s predictions is, for most columnists a frequently humbling experience. The howlers tend to far outweigh the successes. Yet, for a change, I can genuinely claim to have got my main call for markets – that oil would sink to $US80 a barrel or less – spot on, and for the right reasons, too.

Just in case you think I’m making it up, this is what I said 12 months ago: “My big prediction is for $US80 oil, from which much of the rest of my outlook for the coming year flows. It’s hard to overstate the significance of a much lower oil price – Brent at, say, $US80 a barrel, or perhaps lower still – yet this is a surprisingly likely prospect, the implications of which have been largely missed by mainstream economic forecasters.”

If on to a good thing, you might as well stick with it; so for the coming year, I’m doubling up on this forecast. Far from bouncing back to the post crisis “normal” of something over $US100 a barrel, as many oil traders seem to expect, my view is that the oil price will remain low for a long time, sinking to perhaps as little as $US20 a barrel over the coming year before recovering a little.

But even Warner’s chilling prediction is not the most bearish.

A technical analyst named Abigail Doolittle recently told CNBC that under a worst case scenario the price of oil could fall as low as $14 a barrel…

No one really saw 2014’s dramatic plunge in oil price coming, so it’s probably fair to say that any predictions about where it’s going from here fall somewhere between educated guesses and picking a number out of a hat.

In that light, it’s less than shocking to see one analyst making a case—albeit in a pure outlier sense—for a drop all the way below $14 a barrel.

Abigail Doolittle, who does business under the name Peak Theories Research, posits that current chart trends point to the possibility that crude has three downside target areas where it could find support—$44, $35 and the nightmare scenario of, yes, $13.65.

But the truth is that none of those scenarios need to happen in order for this oil war to absolutely devastate the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial system.

There is a very strong correlation between the price of oil and the performance of energy stocks and energy bonds.  But over the past couple of weeks this correlation has been broken.  The following chart comes from Zero Hedge

Energy Stocks - Zero Hedge

It is inevitable that at some point we will see energy stocks and energy bonds come back into line with the price of crude oil.

And it isn’t just energy stocks and bonds that we need to be concerned about.  There is only one other time in all of history when the price of oil has crashed by more than 50 dollars in less than a year.  That was in 2008 – just before the great financial crisis that erupted in the fall of that year.  For much, much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?…

Whether the price of oil crashed or not, we were already on the verge of massive financial troubles.

But the fact that the price of oil has collapsed makes all of our potential problems much, much worse.

As we enter 2015, keep an eye on energy stocks, energy bonds and listen for any mention of problems with derivatives.  The next great financial crisis is right around the corner, but most people will never see it coming until they are blindsided by it.

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.

Most People Cannot Even Imagine That An Economic Collapse Is Coming

Thinking - Public DomainThe idea that the United States is on the brink of a horrifying economic crash is absolutely inconceivable to most Americans.  After all, the economy has been relatively stable for quite a few years and the stock market continues to surge to new heights.  On Friday, the Dow and the S&P 500 both closed at brand new all-time record highs.  For the year, the S&P 500 is now up 9 percent and the Nasdaq is now up close to 11 percent.  And American consumers are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season.  That is an amount of money that is larger than the entire economy of Sweden.  So how in the world can anyone be talking about economic collapse?  Yes, many will concede, we had a few bumps in the road back in 2008 but things have pretty much gotten back to normal since then.  Why be concerned about economic collapse when there is so much stability all around us?

Unfortunately, this brief period of stability that we have been enjoying is just an illusion.

The fundamental problems that caused the financial crisis of 2008 have not been fixed.  In fact, most of our long-term economic problems have gotten even worse.

But most Americans have such short attention spans these days.  In a world where we are accustomed to getting everything instantly, news cycles only last for 48 hours and 2008 might as well be an eternity ago.

In the United States today, our entire economic system is based on debt.

Without debt, very little economic activity happens.  We need mortgages to buy our homes, we need auto loans to buy our vehicles and we need our credit cards to do our shopping during the holiday season.

So where does all of that debt come from?

It comes from the banks.

In particular, the “too big to fail banks” are the heart of this debt-based system.

Do you have a mortgage, an auto loan or a credit card from one of these “too big to fail” institutions?  A very large percentage of the people that will read this article do.

And a lot of people might not like to hear this, but without those banks we essentially do not have an economy.

When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, it almost resulted in the meltdown of our entire system.  The stock market collapsed and we experienced an absolutely wicked credit crunch.

Unfortunately, that was just a small preview of what is coming.

Even though a few prominent “experts” such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman have declared that the “too big to fail” problem is “over”, the truth is that it is now a bigger crisis than ever before.

Compared to five years ago, the four largest banks in the country are now almost 40 percent larger.  The following numbers come from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times

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

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

At the same time that those banks have been getting bigger, 1,400 smaller banks have completely disappeared from the banking industry.

That means that we are now more dependent on these gigantic banks than ever.

At this point, the five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks account for 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.

If someone came along and zapped those banks out of existence, our economy would totally collapse overnight.

So the health of this handful of immensely powerful banking institutions is absolutely critical to our economy.

Unfortunately, these banks have become deeply addicted to gambling.

Have you ever known people that allowed their lives to be destroyed by addictions that they could never shake?

Well, that is what is happening to these banks.  They have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the world.  Most of the time, their bets pay off and they make lots of money.

But as we saw back in 2008, when they miscalculate things can fall apart very rapidly.

The bets that I am most concerned about are known as “derivatives“.  In essence, they are bets about what will or will not happen in the future.  The big banks use very sophisticated algorithms that are supposed to help them be on the winning side of these bets the vast majority of the time, but these algorithms are not perfect.  The reason these algorithms are not perfect is because they are based on assumptions, and those assumptions come from people.  They might be really smart people, but they are still just people.

If things stay fairly stable like they have the past few years, the algorithms tend to work very well.

But if there is a “black swan event” such as a major stock market crash, a collapse of European or Asian banks, a historic shift in interest rates, an Ebola pandemic, a horrific natural disaster or a massive EMP blast is unleashed by the sun, everything can be suddenly thrown out of balance.

Acrobat Nik Wallenda has been making headlines all over the world for crossing vast distances on a high-wire without a safety net.  Well, that is essentially what our “too big to fail” banks are doing every single day.  With each passing year, these banks have become even more reckless, and so far there have not been any serious consequences.

But without a doubt, someday there will be.

What would you say about a bookie that took $200,000 in bets but that only had $10,000 to cover those bets?

You would certainly call that bookie a fool.

But that is what our big banks are doing.

Right now, JPMorgan Chase has more than 67 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.5 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Citibank has nearly 60 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 1.9 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Goldman Sachs has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Bank of America has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.2 trillion dollars in assets.

Right now, Morgan Stanley has more than 44 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.

Most people have absolutely no idea how incredibly vulnerable our financial system really is.

The truth is that these “too big to fail” banks could collapse at any time.

And when they fail, our economy will fail too.

So let us hope and pray that this brief period of false stability lasts for as long as possible.

Because when it ends, all hell is going to break loose.

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

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

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

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

Greed.

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

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

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

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But instead the problem has become much larger.

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

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

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

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

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

JPMorgan Chase

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

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

Citibank

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

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

Goldman Sachs

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

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

Bank Of America

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

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

Morgan Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12 Numbers About The Global Financial Ponzi Scheme That Should Be Burned Into Your Brain

Brain - Public DomainThe numbers that you are about to see are likely to shock you.  They prove that the global financial Ponzi scheme is far more extensive than most people would ever dare to imagine.  As you will see below, the total amount of debt in the world is now more than three times greater than global GDP.  In other words, you could take every single good and service produced on the entire planet this year, next year and the year after that and it still would not be enough to pay off all the debt.  But even that number pales in comparison to the exposure that big global banks have to derivatives contracts.  It is hard to put into words how reckless they have been.  At the low end of the estimates, the total exposure that global banks have to derivatives contracts is 710 trillion dollars.  That is an amount of money that is almost unimaginable.  And the reality of the matter is that there is really not all that much actual “money” in circulation today.  In fact, as you will read about below, there is only a little bit more than a trillion dollars of U.S. currency that you can actually hold in your hands in existence.  If we all went out and tried to close our bank accounts and investment portfolios all at once, that would create a major league crisis.  The truth is that our financial system is little more than a giant pyramid scheme that is based on debt and paper promises.  It is literally a miracle that it has survived for so long without collapsing already.

When Americans think about the financial crisis that we are facing, the largest number that they usually can think of is the size of the U.S. national debt.  And at over 17 trillion dollars, it truly is massive.  But it is actually the 2nd-smallest number on the list below.  The following are 12 numbers about the global financial Ponzi scheme that should be burned into your brain…

-$1,280,000,000,000 – Most people are really surprised when they hear this number.  Right now, there is only 1.28 trillion dollars worth of U.S. currency floating around out there.

-$17,555,165,805,212.27 – This is the size of the U.S. national debt.  It has grown by more than 10 trillion dollars over the past ten years.

-$32,000,000,000,000 – This is the total amount of money that the global elite have stashed in offshore banks (that we know about).

-$48,611,684,000,000 – This is the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts.

-$59,398,590,000,000 – This is the total amount of debt (government, corporate, consumer, etc.) in the U.S. financial system.  40 years ago, this number was just a little bit above 2 trillion dollars.

-$70,088,625,000,000 – This is the total exposure that JPMorgan Chase has to derivatives contracts.

-$71,830,000,000,000 – This is the approximate size of the GDP of the entire world.

-$75,000,000,000,000 – This is approximately the total exposure that German banking giant Deutsche Bank has to derivatives contracts.

-$100,000,000,000,000 – This is the total amount of government debt in the entire world.  This amount has grown by $30 trillion just since mid-2007.

-$223,300,000,000,000 – This is the approximate size of the total amount of debt in the entire world.

-$236,637,271,000,000 – According to the U.S. government, this is the total exposure that the top 25 banks in the United States have to derivatives contracts.  But those banks only have total assets of about 9.4 trillion dollars combined.  In other words, the exposure of our largest banks to derivatives outweighs their total assets by a ratio of about 25 to 1.

-$710,000,000,000,000 to $1,500,000,000,000,000 – The estimates of the total notional value of all global derivatives contracts generally fall within this range.  At the high end of the range, the ratio of derivatives exposure to global GDP is about 21 to 1.

Most people tend to assume that the “authorities” have fixed whatever caused the financial world to almost end back in 2008, but that is not the case at all.

In fact, the total amount of government debt around the globe has grown by about 40 percent since then, and the “too big to fail banks” have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since then.

Our “authorities” didn’t fix anything.  All they did was reinflate the bubble and kick the can down the road for a little while.

I don’t know how anyone can take an honest look at the numbers and not come to the conclusion that this is completely and totally unsustainable.

How much debt can the global financial system take before it utterly collapses?

How recklessly can the big banks behave before the house of cards that they have constructed implodes underneath them?

For the moment, everything seems fine.  Stock markets around the world have been setting record highs and credit is flowing like wine.

But at some point a day of reckoning is coming, and when it arrives it is going to be the most painful financial crisis the world has ever seen.

If you plan on getting ready before it strikes, now is the time to do so.

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.

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