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And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.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.
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.
Warren Buffett once said that derivatives are “financial weapons of mass destruction”, and that statement is more true today than it ever has been before. Recently, JP Morgan made national headlines when it announced that it was going to take a 2 billion dollar loss from derivatives trades gone bad. Well, it turns out that JP Morgan did not tell us the whole truth. As you will see later in this article, most analysts are estimating that the losses will eventually be far larger than 2 billion dollars. But no matter how bad things get for JP Morgan, it will not be allowed to fail. JP Morgan is the largest bank in the United States, so it is essentially the “granddaddy” of the too big to fail banks. If JP Morgan gets to the point where it is about to collapse, the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve will rush in to save it. Because of this “security blanket”, banks such as JP Morgan feel free to take outrageous risks. Today, JP Morgan has more exposure to derivatives than anyone else in the world. If they win, they win big. If they lose, U.S. taxpayers will be on the hook. Not only that, but thanks to Dodd-Frank, U.S. taxpayers are on the hook for bailing out the major derivatives clearinghouses if there is ever a major derivatives crisis. So when the derivatives market crashes (and it will) you and I will be left holding a gigantic bill.
Derivatives almost caused the complete collapse of insurance giant AIG back in 2008. But instead of learning our lessons, the derivatives bubble has gotten even larger since that time.
A Bloomberg article that was published last year contained a great quote from Mark Mobius about derivatives….
Mark Mobius, executive chairman of Templeton Asset Management’s emerging markets group, said another financial crisis is inevitable because the causes of the previous one haven’t been resolved.
“There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner because we haven’t solved any of the things that caused the previous crisis,” Mobius said at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo today in response to a question about price swings. “Are the derivatives regulated? No. Are you still getting growth in derivatives? Yes.”
Never in the history of the world have we ever seen anything like this derivatives bubble.
But instead of getting it under control, we just allowed it to get bigger and bigger and bigger.
Now JP Morgan is in quite a bit of trouble. A recent Daily Finance article summarized how JP Morgan got into this mess….
Bruno Iksil, a trader working in the bank’s London office, placed a massive bet in the derivatives market. Derivatives “derive” their value from the value of an underlying asset, like stocks, bonds, currencies, or a market index. The specific type of derivative used in Iksil’s bet was a credit default swap index, known as “CDX.NA.IG.9.”
CDX.NA.IG.9 tracks a basket of corporate bonds. Iksil’s positions on the index were so big (one report put it at $100 billion) that they were moving the market and interfering with other traders’ positions. These annoyed traders — hedge-fund managers — dubbed Iksil “the London Whale” for his outsize bets.
So if the real number isn’t 2 billion dollars, how much will JP Morgan eventually lose?
Morgan Stanley says that the losses could eventually reach 5 billion dollars.
The Independent is reporting that the losses could eventually reach 7 billion dollars.
One author featured on Zero Hedge suggested that the losses could ultimately reach 20 billion dollars….
Simple: because it knew with 100% certainty that if things turn out very, very badly, that the taxpayer, via the Fed, would come to its rescue. Luckily, things turned out only 80% bad. Although it is not over yet: if credit spreads soar, assuming at $200 million DV01, and a 100 bps move, JPM could suffer a $20 billion loss when all is said and done. But hey: at least “net” is not “gross” and we know, just know, that the SEC will get involved and make sure something like this never happens again.
The truth is that nobody really knows. Everybody agrees that the losses will likely far exceed 2 billion dollars, but the real extent of the crisis will not be known until the trades play out.
According to the Huffington Post, JP Morgan recently sold 25 billion dollars of profitable securities to raise some cash. The profit on the sale of those securities will be somewhere in the neighborhood of a billion dollars.
A billion dollars will help, but it will not be nearly enough.
Many are interpreting this move as a sign of panic by JP Morgan.
Meanwhile, JP Morgan CEO Jamie Dimon continues to do quite well. In fact, his 23 million dollar pay package was recently approved by shareholders at an annual meeting.
Wouldn’t you like to do your job badly and still make 23 million dollars?
Right now, JP Morgan is essentially in a “staring contest” with those on the other side of the derivatives trades that went bad. This “staring contest” was described in a recent CNN article….
It’s clear from public data filed with The Depository Trust & Clearing Corporation that JPMorgan Chase hasn’t sold any of its positions yet. The DTCC tracks trading activity and sizes of positions on the IG9 and other indexes, and there haven’t been any big moves since last week.
“Whatever the size was, it’s clearly not something that you can call one or two dealers and sell,” said Garth Friesen, a co-chief investment officer at AVM, a derivatives hedge fund that’s not involved in these trades.
As soon as it becomes clear that JPMorgan Chase is unwinding its position, it will be obvious to players on every major trading desk. Hedge funds will immediately start piling into that index and buying protection, driving up the bank’s losses.
Until then, it won’t cost the hedge funds much to sit and wait.
JP Morgan is desperately hoping that the markets move in their favor.
If the markets move against JP Morgan in a big way it could potentially be absolutely catastrophic for the biggest bank in America.
An excerpt from an email that Steve Quayle recently received from an anonymous international banking source contained some chilling analysis of the situation….
The derivative market that JPM plays in is the CDX.NA.IG.9, when factions within their London office (London Whale) made overly leveraged swaps, hedge funds smelled blood and so did a few banks. You see any moves that JPM does here on out exposes their weakness further. Which they can not afford any more exposure thus they are not buying back any more shares which is the equivalent of cutting an artery in a pool full of sharks. The strategy they are taking right now is to sit through the storm and ride it out as they can do nothing else for any action will make them even more vulnerable. They can not absorb hits in both JPM SLV and CDX.NA.IG.9. Inactivity is not something they want to do it is something they have to do. There is no other choice for them.
So what will happen if JP Morgan loses too much money?
Well, it will beg the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve for money and the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve will comply.
There is no way that they are going to let the largest bank in America fail.
In addition, as I mentioned earlier, Dodd-Frank has put U.S. taxpayers on the hook for future bailouts of derivatives clearinghouses. This was detailed in a recent Wall Street Journal article….
Little noticed is that on Tuesday Team Obama took its first formal steps toward putting taxpayers behind Wall Street derivatives trading — not behind banks that might make mistakes in derivatives markets, but behind the trading itself. Yes, the same crew that rails against the dangers of derivatives is quietly positioning these financial instruments directly above the taxpayer safety net.
One of the things that Dodd-Frank does is that it gives the Federal Reserve the power to provide “discount and borrowing privileges” to derivatives clearinghouses in the event of a major derivatives crisis.
This is what our politicians love to do.
They love to have the U.S. taxpayer guarantee everything.
Our politicians look at us as one giant insurance policy.
Apparently they believe that if anything in the financial world goes wrong that U.S. taxpayers should be the ones to clean up the mess.
But will we really have enough money to bail everyone out when the derivatives market crashes?
Today, the 9 largest banks in the United States have a total of more than 200 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.
That is approximately 3 times the size of the entire global economy.
The U.S. government is already nearly 16 trillion dollars in debt.
How in the world can we afford to keep bailing out the huge messes that Wall Street makes?
Sadly, most Americans have no idea how vulnerable our financial system really is.
It is a poorly constructed house of cards that could come crashing down at any time.
If you still have faith in our financial system you are being quite foolish and you will soon be bitterly, bitterly disappointed.