Did you know that there are 5 “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have exposure to derivatives contracts that is in excess of 30 trillion dollars? Overall, the biggest U.S. banks collectively have more than 247 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives contracts. That is an amount of money that is more than 13 times the size of the U.S. national debt, and it is a ticking time bomb that could set off financial Armageddon at any moment. Globally, the notional value of all outstanding derivatives contracts is a staggering 552.9 trillion dollars according to the Bank for International Settlements. The bankers assure us that these financial instruments are far less risky than they sound, and that they have spread the risk around enough so that there is no way they could bring the entire system down. But that is the thing about risk – you can try to spread it around as many ways as you can, but you can never eliminate it. And when this derivatives bubble finally implodes, there won’t be enough money on the entire planet to fix it.
A lot of readers may be tempted to quit reading right now, because “derivatives” is a term that sounds quite complicated. And yes, the details of these arrangements can be immensely complicated, but the concept is quite simple. Here is a good definition of “derivatives” that comes from Investopedia…
A derivative is a security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is a contract between two or more parties based upon the asset or assets. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes.
I like to refer to the derivatives marketplace as a form of “legalized gambling”. Those that are engaged in derivatives trading are simply betting that something either will or will not happen in the future. Derivatives played a critical role in the financial crisis of 2008, and I am fully convinced that they will take on a starring role in this new financial crisis.
And I am certainly not the only one that is concerned about the potentially destructive nature of these financial instruments. In a letter that he once wrote to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”…
The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.
Since the last financial crisis, the big banks in this country have become even more reckless. And that is a huge problem, because our economy is even more dependent on them than we were the last time around. At this point, the four largest banks in the U.S. are approximately 40 percent larger than they were back in 2008. The five largest banks account for approximately 42 percent of all loans in this country, and the six largest banks account for approximately 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.
So the problem of “too big to fail” is now bigger than ever.
If those banks go under, we are all in for a world of hurt.
Yesterday, I wrote about how the Federal Reserve has implemented new rules that would limit the ability of the Fed to loan money to these big banks during the next crisis. So if the survival of these big banks is threatened by a derivatives crisis, the money to bail them out would probably have to come from somewhere else.
In such a scenario, could we see European-style “bail-ins” in this country?
Ellen Brown, one of the most fierce critics of our current financial system and the author of Web of Debt, seems to think so…
Dodd-Frank states in its preamble that it will “protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts.” But it does this under Title II by imposing the losses of insolvent financial companies on their common and preferred stockholders, debtholders, and other unsecured creditors. That includes depositors, the largest class of unsecured creditor of any bank.
Title II is aimed at “ensuring that payout to claimants is at least as much as the claimants would have received under bankruptcy liquidation.” But here’s the catch: under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claims, secured and unsecured, insured and uninsured.
The over-the-counter (OTC) derivative market (the largest market for derivatives) is made up of banks and other highly sophisticated players such as hedge funds. OTC derivatives are the bets of these financial players against each other. Derivative claims are considered “secured” because collateral is posted by the parties.
For some inexplicable reason, the hard-earned money you deposit in the bank is not considered “security” or “collateral.” It is just a loan to the bank, and you must stand in line along with the other creditors in hopes of getting it back.
As I mentioned yesterday, the FDIC guarantees the safety of deposits in member banks up to a certain amount. But as Brown has pointed out, the FDIC only has somewhere around 70 billion dollars sitting around to cover bank failures.
If hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars are ultimately needed to bail out the banking system, where is that money going to come from?
It would be difficult to overstate the threat that derivatives pose to our “too big to fail” banks. The following numbers come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2), and they reveal a recklessness that is on a level that is difficult to put into words…
Total Assets: $1,808,356,000,000 (more than 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $53,042,993,000,000 (more than 53 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $2,417,121,000,000 (about 2.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $51,352,846,000,000 (more than 51 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $880,607,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $51,148,095,000,000 (more than 51 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $2,154,342,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $45,243,755,000,000 (more than 45 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $834,113,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $31,054,323,000,000 (more than 31 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,751,265,000,000 (more than 1.7 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $6,074,262,000,000 (more than 6 trillion dollars)
As the “real economy” crumbles, major hedge funds continue to drop like flies, and we head into a new recession, there seems to very little alarm among the general population about what is happening.
The mainstream media is assuring us that everything is under control, and they are running front page headlines such as this one during the holiday season: “Kylie Jenner shows off her red-hot, new tattoo“.
But underneath the surface, trouble is brewing.
A new financial crisis has already begun, and it is going to intensify as we head into 2016.
And as this new crisis unfolds, one word that you are going to want to listen for is “derivatives”, because they are going to play a major role in the “financial Armageddon” that is rapidly approaching.
If 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:
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)…
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)
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)
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)
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.
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.