When 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.
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And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.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…
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)
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)
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)
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.
Is there any doubt that we are living in a bubble economy? At this moment in the United States we are simultaneously experiencing a stock market bubble, a government debt bubble, a corporate bond bubble, a bubble in San Francisco real estate, a farmland bubble, a derivatives bubble and a student loan debt bubble. And of course similar things could be said about most of the rest of the planet as well. In fact, the total amount of government debt around the world has risen by about 40 percent just since the last recession. But it is never sustainable when asset prices and debt levels increase much faster than the overall level of economic growth. History has shown us that all financial bubbles eventually burst. And when these current financial bubbles in America burst, the pain is going to be absolutely enormous.
You know that things are getting perilous when even the New York Times starts pointing out financial bubbles everywhere. The following is a short excerpt from a recent NotQuant article…
The New York Times points out that just about everything on Earth is expensive by historical standards. And then asks the seemingly obvious question: Does that make it a bubble?
Welcome to the Everything Boom — and, quite possibly, the Everything Bubble. Around the world, nearly every asset class is expensive by historical standards. Stocks and bonds; emerging markets and advanced economies; urban office towers and Iowa farmland; you name it, and it is trading at prices that are high by historical standards relative to fundamentals. The inverse of that is relatively low returns for investors.
“Quite possibly?” We’re not sure what definition of the word “bubble” they’re using. But in our book when the price of literally everything blasts upwards, obliterating the previous ceilings of historical benchmarks, it’s a pretty good indication that you’re in a bubble.
Of course when most people think of financial bubbles the very first thing they think of is the stock market. And without a doubt we are in a stock market bubble right now. The Dow has risen more than 10,000 points since the depths of the last recession. And it is nearly 3,000 points higher than it was at the peak of the last stock market bubble in 2007 when our economy was far stronger than it is now…
But of course these stock prices do not reflect economic reality in any way whatsoever. Our economy has not even come close to recovering to the level it was at prior to the last financial crisis, and yet thanks to massive Federal Reserve money printing stock prices have soared to unprecedented heights.
At some point a massive correction is coming. No stock market bubble lasts forever. For a whole bunch of technical reasons why serious market turmoil is on the horizon, please see a recent Forbes article entitled “These 23 Charts Prove That Stocks Are Heading For A Devastating Crash“.
The bubbles in the financial markets have become so glaring that even the central bankers are starting to warn us about them. For example, just consider what the Bank for International Settlements is saying…
The Bank for International Settlements has warned that “euphoric” financial markets have become detached from the reality of a lingering post-crisis malaise, as it called for governments to ditch policies that risk stoking unsustainable asset booms.
While the global economy is struggling to escape the shadow of the crisis of 2007-09, capital markets are “extraordinarily buoyant”, the Basel-based bank said, in part because of the ultra-low monetary policy being pursued around the world. Leading central banks should not fall into the trap of raising rates “too slowly and too late”, the BIS said, calling for policy makers to halt the steady rise in debt burdens around the world and embark on reforms to boost productivity.
In its annual report, the BIS also warned of the risks brewing in emerging markets, setting out early warning indicators of possible banking crises in a number of jurisdictions, including most notably China.
“Particularly for countries in the late stages of financial booms, the trade-off is now between the risk of bringing forward the downward leg of the cycle and that of suffering a bigger bust later on,” it said.
Sadly, just like in 2007, most people are choosing not to listen to these warnings.
Another very troubling bubble that is brewing is the massive bubble of consumer credit in the United States. According to the Wall Street Journal, consumer credit in the United States increased at a 7.4 percent annual rate in May…
The Federal Reserve reported Tuesday that consumer credit—consumer loans excluding real estate debt—in May increased at an annual rate of 7.4% to a record $3.195 trillion. Most of that gain came from a 9.3% increase in nonrevolving credit, the bulk of which is accounted for by auto and student loans. Revolving credit, which is primarily credit-card debt, expanded at a more muted 2.5% rate after jumping 12.3% in May.
That might be okay if our paychecks were increasing at a 7.4% annual rate, but that is not the case at all. In fact, median household income in America has gone down for five years in a row. As the quality of our jobs goes down the drain, our paychecks are shrinking even as our bills go up. This is putting an incredible amount of stress on tens of millions of American families.
And when you look at the overall debt bubble in this country, things become even more frightening.
In a previous article, I shared a chart which shows the incredible growth of total debt in the United States. Over the past 40 years, it has gone from about 2.2 trillion dollars to nearly 60 trillion dollars…
Is this sustainable?
Of course not.
None of these financial bubbles are.
It is not a question of “if” they will burst. It is only a question of “when”.
And some believe that we are rapidly approaching that point. In fact, Marc Faber believes that we are seeing signs that it may be starting to happen already…
It’s the question investors everywhere are wrestling with: Are asset prices in a bubble, or do they simply reflect the fact that the global economy is growing once again?
For Marc Faber, editor of the Gloom, Boom & Doom Report, the answer is clear. In fact, he says the bubble may already be bursting.
“I think it’s a colossal bubble in all asset prices, and eventually it will burst, and maybe it has begun to burst already,” Faber said Tuesday on CNBC’s ‘Futures Now‘ as the S&P 500 lost ground for the second-straight session.
So what do you think?
How much time do you believe that we have before these bubbles start to burst?
Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…
The 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…
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)
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)
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.
None of the problems that caused the last financial crisis have been fixed. In fact, they have all gotten worse. The total amount of debt in the world has grown by more than 40 percent since 2007, the too big to fail banks have gotten 37 percent larger, and the colossal derivatives bubble has spiraled so far out of control that the only thing left to do is to watch the spectacular crash landing that is inevitably coming. Unfortunately, most people do not know the information that I am about to share with you in this article. Most people just assume that the politicians and the central banks have fixed the issues that caused the last great financial crisis. But the truth is that we are in far worse shape than we were back then. When this financial bubble finally bursts, the devastation that we will witness is likely to be absolutely catastrophic.
Too Much Debt
One of the biggest financial problems that the world is facing is that there is simply way too much debt. Never before in world history has there ever been a debt binge anything like this.
You would have thought that we would have learned our lesson from 2008 and would have started to reduce debt levels.
Instead, we pushed the accelerator to the floor.
It is hard to believe that this could possibly be true, but according to the Bank for International Settlements the total amount of debt in the world has increased by more than 40 percent since 2007…
The amount of debt globally has soared more than 40 percent to $100 trillion since the first signs of the financial crisis as governments borrowed to pull their economies out of recession and companies took advantage of record low interest rates, according to the Bank for International Settlements.
The $30 trillion increase from $70 trillion between mid-2007 and mid-2013 compares with a $3.86 trillion decline in the value of equities to $53.8 trillion in the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The jump in debt as measured by the Basel, Switzerland-based BIS in its quarterly review is almost twice the U.S.’s gross domestic product.
That is a recipe for utter disaster, and yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.
And of course the U.S. government is the largest offender.
Back in September 2008, the U.S. national debt was sitting at a total of 10.02 trillion dollars.
As I write this, it is now sitting at a total of 17.49 trillion dollars.
Is there anyone out there that can possibly conceive of a way that this ends other than badly?
Too Big To Fail Is Now Bigger Than Ever
During the last great financial crisis we were also told that one of our biggest problems was the fact that we had banks that were “too big to fail”.
Well, guess what?
Those banks are now much larger than they were back then. 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 since the last financial crisis.
Meanwhile, 1,400 smaller banks have gone out of business during that time frame, and only one new bank has been started in the United States in the last three years.
So the problem of “too big to fail” is now much worse than it was back in 2008.
The following are some more statistics about our “too big to fail” problem that come from a previous article…
-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.
The Derivatives Bubble
Most people simply do not understand that over the past couple of decades Wall Street has been transformed into the largest and wildest casino on the entire planet.
Nobody knows for sure how large the global derivatives bubble is at this point, because derivatives trading is lightly regulated compared to other types of trading. But everyone agrees that it is absolutely massive. Estimates range from $600 trillion to $1.5 quadrillion.
And what we do know is that four of the too big to fail banks each have total exposure to derivatives that is in excess of $40 trillion.
The numbers posted below may look similar to numbers that I have included in articles in the past, but for this article I have updated them with the very latest numbers from the U.S. government. Since the last time that I wrote about this, these numbers have gotten even worse…
Total Assets: $1,989,875,000,000 (nearly 2 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $71,810,058,000,000 (more than 71 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,344,751,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $62,963,116,000,000 (more than 62 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,438,859,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,386,713,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $111,117,000,000 (just a shade over 111 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,467,154,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)
During the coming derivatives crisis, several of those banks could fail simultaneously.
If that happened, it would be an understatement to say that we would be facing an “economic collapse”.
Credit would totally freeze up, nobody would be able to get loans, and economic activity would grind to a standstill.
It is absolutely inexcusable how reckless these big banks have been.
Just look at those numbers for Goldman Sachs again.
Goldman Sachs has total assets worth approximately 111 billion dollars (billion with a little “b”), but they have more than 47 trillion dollars of total exposure to derivatives.
That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 427 times greater than their total assets.
I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about this.
This is utter insanity.
During the next great financial crisis, it is very likely that the rest of the planet is going to lose faith in the current global financial system that is based on the U.S. dollar and on U.S. debt.
When that day arrives, and the U.S. dollar loses reserve currency status, the shift in our standard of living is going to be dramatic. Just consider what Marin Katusa of Casey Research had to say the other day…
It will be shocking for the average American… if the petro dollar dies and the U.S. loses its reserve currency status in the world there will be no middle class.
The middle class and the low class… wow… what a game changer. Your cost of living will quadruple.
The debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying now will not last forever. A day of reckoning is fast approaching, and most Americans will not be able to handle the very difficult adjustments that they will be forced to make. Here is some more from Marin Katusa…
Imagine this… take a country like Croatia… the average worker with a university degree makes about 1200 Euros a month. He spends a third of that, after tax, on keeping his house warm and filling up his gas tank to get to work and get back from work.
In North America, we don’t make $1200 a month, and we don’t spend a third of our paycheck on keeping our house warm and driving to work… so, the cost of living… food will triple… heat, electricity, everything subsidized by the government will triple overnight… and it will only get worse even if you can get the services.
All of this could have been prevented if we had done things the right way.
Unfortunately, we didn’t learn any of the lessons that we should have learned from the last financial crisis, and our politicians and the central banks have just continued to do the same things that they have always done.
So now we all get to pay the price.
Will rapidly rising interest rates rip through the U.S. financial system like a giant lawnmower blade? Yes, the U.S. economy survived much higher interest rates in the past, but at that time there were not hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives hanging over our financial system like a Sword of Damocles. This is something that I have been talking about for quite some time, and now a Mexican billionaire has come forward with a similar warning. Hugo Salinas Price was the founder of the Elektra retail chain down in Mexico, and he is extremely concerned that rising interest rates could burst the derivatives bubble and cause “massive bankruptcies around the globe”. Of course there are a whole lot of people out there that would be quite glad to see the “too big to fail” banks go bankrupt, but the truth is that if they go down our entire economy will go down with them. Our situation is similar to a patient with a very advanced stage of cancer. You can try to kill the cancer with drugs, but you will almost certainly kill the patient at the same time. Well, that is essentially what our relationship with the big banks is like. Our entire economic system is based on credit, and just like we saw back in 2008, if the big banks start failing credit freezes up and suddenly nobody can get any money for anything. When the next great credit crunch comes, every important number in our economy will rapidly start getting much worse.
The big banks are going to play a starring role in the next financial crash just like they did in the last one. Only this next crash may be quite a bit worse. Just check out what billionaire Hugo Salinas Price told King World News recently…
I think we are going to see a series of bankruptcies. I think the rise in interest rates is the fatal sign which is going to ignite a derivatives crisis. This is going to bring down the derivatives system (and the financial system).
There are (over) one quadrillion dollars of derivatives and most of them are related to interest rates. The spiking of interest rates in the United States may set that off. What is going to happen in the world is eventually we are going to come to a moment where there is going to be massive bankruptcies around the globe.
What is going to be left after the dust settles is gold, and some people are going to have it and some people are not. Then the problem is going to be to hold on to what you’ve got because it’s not going to be a very pleasant world.
Right now, there are about 441 trillion dollars of interest rate derivatives sitting out there. If interest rates stay about where they are right now and they don’t go much higher, we will be fine. But if they start going much higher, all bets will be off and we could see financial carnage on a scale that we have never seen before.
And at the moment the big banks have got to behave themselves because the government is investigating allegations that they have been cheating pension funds and other investors out of millions of dollars by manipulating the trading of interest rate derivatives. The following is from an article that the Telegraph posted on Friday…
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is probing 15 banks over allegations that they instructed brokers to carry out trades that would move ISDAfix, the leading benchmark rate for interest rate swaps.
Pension funds and companies who invest in interest rate derivatives often deal with banks to insure against big movements in the ISDAfix rate or to speculate on changes to interest rate swaps
ISDAfix is published each morning after banks submit bids for swaps via Icap, the inter-dealer broker, in a number of currencies. The CFTC has been investigating suggestions that the banks deliberately moved the rate in order to profit on these deals.
Given the hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives trades that occur annually, even the slightest manipulation can have a substantial effect. The CFTC, which started to investigate ISDAfix after last summer’s Libor scandal has now been handed emails and phone call recordings that show the rate was deliberately moved, according to Bloomberg.
Essentially they got their hands caught in the cookie jar and so they have got to play it straight (at least for now).
Meanwhile, it looks like the Fed may not be able to keep long-term interest rates down for much longer.
The Federal Reserve has been using quantitative easing to try to keep long-term interest rates low, but now some officials over at the Fed are becoming extremely alarmed about how bloated the Fed balance sheet has become. For example, the following was recently written by the head of the Dallas Fed, Richard Fisher…
This later program is referred to as quantitative easing, or QE, by the public and as large-scale asset purchases, or LSAPs, internally at the Fed. As a result of LSAPs conducted over three stages of QE, the Fed’s System Open Market Account now holds $2 trillion of Treasury securities and $1.3 trillion of agency and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Since last fall, when we initiated the third stage of QE, we have regularly been purchasing $45 billion a month of Treasuries and $40 billion a month in MBS, meanwhile reinvesting the proceeds from the paydowns of our mortgage-based investments. The result is that our balance sheet has ballooned to more than $3.5 trillion. That’s $3.5 trillion, or $11,300 for every man, woman and child residing in the United States.
Fisher has compared the current Fed balance sheet to a “Gordian Knot”, and he hopes that the Fed will be able to unwind this knot without creating “market havoc”…
The point is: We own a significant slice of these critical markets. This is, indeed, something of a Gordian Knot.
Those of you familiar with the Gordian legend know there were two versions to it: One holds that Alexander the Great simply dispatched with the problem by slicing the intractable knot in half with his sword; the other posits that Alexander pulled the knot out of its pole pin, exposed the two ends of the cord and proceeded to untie it. According to the myth, the oracles then divined that he would go on to conquer the world.
There is no Alexander to simply slice the complex knot that we have created with our rounds of QE. Instead, when the right time comes, we must carefully remove the program’s pole pin and gingerly unwind it so as not to prompt market havoc. For starters though, we need to stop building upon the knot. For this reason, I have advocated that we socialize the idea of the inevitability of our dialing back and eventually ending our LSAPs. In June, I argued for the Chairman to signal this possibility at his last press conference and at last week’s meeting suggested that we should gird our loins to make our first move this fall. We shall see if that recommendation obtains with the majority of the Committee.
But of course it should be obvious to everyone that the Fed is not going to be able to reduce the size of its balance sheet without causing huge distress in the financial markets. A few weeks ago, just the suggestion that the Fed may eventually begin to slow down the pace of quantitative easing caused the markets to throw an epic temper tantrum.
Unfortunately, the Fed may not be able to keep control of long-term interest rates even if they continue quantitative easing indefinitely. Over the past several weeks long-term interest rates have been rising steadily, and the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries crept a bit higher on Monday.
At this point, many on Wall Street are convinced that the bull market for bonds is over and that rates will eventually go much, much higher than they are right now no matter what the Fed does. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article…
The Federal Reserve will lose control of interest rates as the “great rotation” out of bonds into equities takes off in full force, according to one market watcher, who sees U.S. 10-year Treasury yields hitting 5-6 percent in the next 18-24 months.
“It is our opinion that interest rates have begun their assent, that the Fed will eventually lose control of interest rates. The yield curve will first steepen and then will shift, moving rates significantly higher,” said Mike Crofton, President and CEO, Philadelphia Trust Company told CNBC on Wednesday.
If the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries does hit 6 percent, we are going to have a major disaster on our hands.
Hugo Salinas Price is exactly right – the derivatives bubble is the number one threat that our financial system is facing, and it could potentially bring down a whole bunch of our big banks.
But for the moment, Wall Street is still in a euphoric mood. The Dow is near a record high and many investors are hoping that this rally will last for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t count on that happening. The truth is that the stock market has become completely divorced from economic reality.
Since March 2009, the size of the U.S. economy has grown by approximately $1.3 trillion, but stock market wealth has grown by an astounding $12 trillion.
And the stock market has just kept on rising even though GDP growth forecasts have been steadily falling.
It doesn’t make any sense.
But Obama, Bernanke and the wizards on Wall Street assure us that there is no end to the party in sight.
Believe them at your own peril.
The people at the controls are completely and totally clueless and we are rapidly careening toward disaster.
Perhaps we should do what one little town in Minnesota did and put a 4-year-old kid in charge.
That kid certainly could not be much worse than our current leadership, don’t you think?
When financial markets in the United States crash, so does the U.S. economy. Just remember what happened back in 2008. The financial markets crashed, the credit markets froze up, and suddenly the economy went into cardiac arrest. Well, there are very few things that could cause the financial markets to crash harder or farther than a derivatives panic. Sadly, most Americans don’t even understand what derivatives are. Unlike stocks and bonds, a derivative is not an investment in anything real. Rather, a derivative is a legal bet on the future value or performance of something else. Just like you can go to Las Vegas and bet on who will win the football games this weekend, bankers on Wall Street make trillions of dollars of bets about how interest rates will perform in the future and about what credit instruments are likely to default. Wall Street has been transformed into a gigantic casino where people are betting on just about anything that you can imagine. This works fine as long as there are not any wild swings in the economy and risk is managed with strict discipline, but as we have seen, there have been times when derivatives have caused massive problems in recent years. For example, do you know why the largest insurance company in the world, AIG, crashed back in 2008 and required a government bailout? It was because of derivatives. Bad derivatives trades also caused the failure of MF Global, and the 6 billion dollar loss that JPMorgan Chase recently suffered because of derivatives made headlines all over the globe. But all of those incidents were just warm up acts for the coming derivatives panic that will destroy global financial markets. The largest casino in the history of the world is going to go “bust” and the economic fallout from the financial crash that will happen as a result will be absolutely horrific.
There is a reason why Warren Buffett once referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”. Nobody really knows the total value of all the derivatives that are floating around out there, but estimates place the notional value of the global derivatives market anywhere from 600 trillion dollars all the way up to 1.5 quadrillion dollars.
Keep in mind that global GDP is somewhere around 70 trillion dollars for an entire year. So we are talking about an amount of money that is absolutely mind blowing.
So who is buying and selling all of these derivatives?
Well, would it surprise you to learn that it is mostly the biggest banks?
According to the federal government, four very large U.S. banks “represent 93% of the total banking industry notional amounts and 81% of industry net current credit exposure.”
These four banks have an overwhelming share of the derivatives market in the United States. You might not be very fond of “the too big to fail banks“, but keep in mind that if a derivatives crisis were to cause them to crash and burn it would almost certainly cause the entire U.S. economy to crash and burn. Just remember what we saw back in 2008. What is coming is going to be even worse.
It would have been really nice if we had not allowed these banks to get so large and if we had not allowed them to make trillions of dollars of reckless bets. But we stood aside and let it happen. Now these banks are so important to our economic system that their destruction would also destroy the U.S. economy. It is kind of like when cancer becomes so advanced that killing the cancer would also kill the patient. That is essentially the situation that we are facing with these banks.
It would be hard to overstate the recklessness of these banks. The numbers that you are about to see are absolutely jaw-dropping. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, four of the largest U.S. banks are walking a tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to derivatives. Just check out how exposed they are…
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.
To get a better idea of the massive amounts of money that we are talking about, just check out this excellent infographic.
How in the world could we let this happen?
And what is our financial system going to look like when this pyramid of risk comes falling down?
Our politicians put in a few new rules for derivatives, but as usual they only made things even worse.
According to Nasdaq.com, beginning next year new regulations will require derivatives traders to put up trillions of dollars to satisfy new margin requirements.
Swaps that will be allowed to remain outside clearinghouses when new rules take effect in 2013 will require traders to post $1.7 trillion to $10.2 trillion in margin, according to a report by an industry group.
The analysis from the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, using data sent in anonymously by banks, says the trillions of dollars in cash or securities will be needed in the form of so-called “initial margin.” Margin is the collateral that traders need to put up to back their positions, and initial margin is money backing trades on day one, as opposed to variation margin posted over the life of a trade as it fluctuates in value.
So where in the world will all of this money come from?
Total U.S. GDP was just a shade over 15 trillion dollars last year.
Could these rules cause a sudden mass exodus that would destabilize the marketplace?
Let’s hope not.
But things are definitely changing. According to Reuters, some of the big banks are actually urging their clients to avoid new U.S. rules by funneling trades through the overseas divisions of their banks…
Wall Street banks are looking to help offshore clients sidestep new U.S. rules designed to safeguard the world’s $640 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market, taking advantage of an exemption that risks undermining U.S. regulators’ efforts.
U.S. banks such as Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) have been explaining to their foreign customers that they can for now avoid the new rules, due to take effect next month, by routing trades via the banks’ overseas units, according to industry sources and presentation materials obtained by Reuters.
Unfortunately, no matter how banks respond to the new rules, it isn’t going to prevent the coming derivatives panic. At some point the music is going to stop and some big financial players are going to be completely and totally exposed.
When that happens, it might not be just the big banks that lose money. Just take a look at what happened with MF Global.
MF Global has confessed that it “diverted money” from customer accounts that were supposed to be segregated. A lot of customers may never get back any of the money that they invested with those crooks. The following comes from a Huffington Post article about the MF Global debacle, and it might just be a preview of what other investors will go through in the future when a derivatives crash destroys the firms that they had their money parked with…
Last week when customers asked for excess cash from their accounts, MF Global stalled. According to a commodity fund manager I spoke with, MF Global’s first stall tactic was to claim it lost wire transfer instructions. Then instead of sending an overnight check, it sent the money snail mail, including checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The checks bounced. After the checks bounced, the amounts were still debited from customer accounts and no one at MF Global could or would reverse the check entries. The manager has had to intervene to get MF Global to correct this.
How would you respond if your investment account suddenly went to “zero” because the firm you were investing with “diverted” customer funds for company use and now you have no way of recovering your money?
Keep an eye on the large Wall Street banks. In a previous article, I quoted a New York Times article entitled “A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives” which described how these banks dominate the trading of derivatives…
On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.
The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.
According to the article, the following large banks are represented at these meetings: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup.
When the casino finally goes “bust”, you will know who to blame.
Without a doubt, a derivatives panic is coming.
It will cause the financial markets to crash.
Several of the “too big to fail” banks will likely crash and burn and require bailouts.
As a result of all this, credit markets will become paralyzed by fear and freeze up.
Once again, we will see the U.S. economy go into cardiac arrest, only this time it will not be so easy to fix.
Do you agree with this analysis, or do you find it overly pessimistic? Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…
Today there is a horrific derivatives bubble that threatens to destroy not only the U.S. economy but the entire world financial system as well, but unfortunately the vast majority of people do not understand it. When you say the word “derivatives” to most Americans, they have no idea what you are talking about. In fact, even most members of the U.S. Congress don’t really seem to understand them. But you don’t have to get into all the technicalities to understand the bigger picture. Basically, derivatives are financial instruments whose value depends upon or is derived from the price of something else. A derivative has no underlying value of its own. It is essentially a side bet. Originally, derivatives were mostly used to hedge risk and to offset the possibility of taking losses. But today it has gone way, way beyond that. Today the world financial system has become a gigantic casino where insanely large bets are made on anything and everything that you can possibly imagine.
The derivatives market is almost entirely unregulated and in recent years it has ballooned to such enormous proportions that it is almost hard to believe. Today, the worldwide derivatives market is approximately 20 times the size of the entire global economy.
Because derivatives are so unregulated, nobody knows for certain exactly what the total value of all the derivatives worldwide is, but low estimates put it around 600 trillion dollars and high estimates put it at around 1.5 quadrillion dollars.
Do you know how large one quadrillion is?
Counting at one dollar per second, it would take 32 million years to count to one quadrillion.
If you want to attempt it, you might want to get started right now.
To put that in perspective, the gross domestic product of the United States is only about 14 trillion dollars.
In fact, the total market cap of all major global stock markets is only about 30 trillion dollars.
So when you are talking about 1.5 quadrillion dollars, you are talking about an amount of money that is almost inconceivable.
So what is going to happen when this insanely large derivatives bubble pops?
Well, the truth is that the danger that we face from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet has called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.
Unfortunately, he is not exaggerating.
It would be hard to understate the financial devastation that we could potentially be facing.
A number of years back, French President Jacques Chirac referred to derivatives as “financial AIDS”.
The reality is that when this bubble pops there won’t be enough money in the entire world to fix it.
But ignorance is bliss, and most people simply do not understand these complex financial instruments enough to be worried about them.
Unfortunately, just because most of us do not understand the danger does not mean that the danger has been eliminated.
In a recent column, Dr. Jerome Corsi of WorldNetDaily noted that even many institutional investors have gotten sucked into investing in derivatives without even understanding the incredible risk they were facing….
A key problem with derivatives is that in the attempt to reduce costs or prevent losses, institutional investors typically accepted complex risks that carried little-understood liabilities widely disproportionate to any potential savings the derivatives contract may have initially obtained.
The hedge-fund and derivatives markets are so highly complex and technical that even many top economists and investment-banking professionals don’t fully understand them.
Moreover, both the hedge-fund and the derivatives markets are almost totally unregulated, either by the U.S. government or by any other government worldwide.
Most Americans don’t realize it, but derivatives played a major role in the financial crisis of 2007 and 2008.
Do you remember how AIG was constantly in the news for a while there?
Well, they weren’t in financial trouble because they had written a bunch of bad insurance policies.
What had happened is that a subsidiary of AIG had lost more than $18 billion on Credit Default Swaps (derivatives) it had written, and additional losses from derivatives were on the way which could have caused the complete collapse of the insurance giant.
So the U.S. government stepped in and bailed them out – all at U.S. taxpayer expense of course.
But the AIG incident was actually quite small compared to what could be coming. The derivatives market has become so monolithic that even a relatively minor imbalance in the global economy could set off a chain reaction that would have devastating consequences.
In his recent article on derivatives, Webster Tarpley described the central role that derivatives now play in our financial system….
Far from being some arcane or marginal activity, financial derivatives have come to represent the principal business of the financier oligarchy in Wall Street, the City of London, Frankfurt, and other money centers. A concerted effort has been made by politicians and the news media to hide and camouflage the central role played by derivative speculation in the economic disasters of recent years. Journalists and public relations types have done everything possible to avoid even mentioning derivatives, coining phrases like “toxic assets,” “exotic instruments,” and – most notably – “troubled assets,” as in Troubled Assets Relief Program or TARP, aka the monstrous $800 billion bailout of Wall Street speculators which was enacted in October 2008 with the support of Bush, Henry Paulson, John McCain, Sarah Palin, and the Obama Democrats.
But wasn’t the financial reform law that Congress just passed supposed to fix all this?
Well, the truth is that you simply cannot “fix” a 1.5 quadrillion dollar problem, but yes, the financial reform law was supposed to put some new restrictions on derivatives.
And initially, there were some somewhat significant reforms contained in the bill. But after the vast horde of Wall Street lobbyists in Washington got done doing their thing, the derivatives reforms were almost completely and totally neutered.
So the rampant casino gambling continues and everybody on Wall Street is happy.
One day some event will happen which will cause a sudden shift in world financial markets and trillions of dollars of losses in derivatives will create a tsunami that will bring the entire house of cards down.
All of the money in the world will not be enough to bail out the financial system when that day arrives.
The truth is that we should have never allowed world financial markets to become a giant casino.
But we did.
Soon enough we will all pay the price, and when that disastrous day comes, most Americans will still not understand what is happening.