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

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

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

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

Greed.

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

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

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

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.

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

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

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

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

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

But instead the problem has become much larger.

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

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

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

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

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

JPMorgan Chase

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

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

Citibank

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

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

Goldman Sachs

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

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

Bank Of America

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

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

Morgan Stanley

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Nightmare Scenario

NightmareMost people have no idea that the U.S. financial system is on the brink of utter disaster.  If interest rates continue to rise rapidly, the U.S. economy is going to be facing an economic crisis far greater than the one that erupted back in 2008.  At this point, the economic paradigm that the Federal Reserve has constructed only works if interest rates remain super low.  If they rise, everything falls apart.  Much higher interest rates would mean crippling interest payments on the national debt, much higher borrowing costs for state and local governments, trillions of dollars of losses for bond investors, another devastating real estate crash and the possibility of a multi-trillion dollar derivatives meltdown.  Everything depends on interest rates staying low.  Unfortunately for the Fed, it only has a certain amount of control over long-term interest rates, and that control appears to be slipping.  The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has soared in recent weeks.  So have mortgage rates.  Fortunately, rates have leveled off for the moment, but if they resume their upward march we could be dealing with a nightmare scenario very, very quickly.

In particular, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is a very important number to watch.  So much else in our financial system depends on that number as CNN recently explained…

Indeed, since May, just before Bernanke announced a probable end to QE3, the yield on 10-year Treasuries has jumped around almost one percentage point, to 2.6%, wiping out more than two years of interest payments. The markets clearly fear that far higher long-term rates are lurking in the absence of exceptional policies to rein them in.

That’s a crucial issue, because those rates are highly influential in determining the future performance of stocks, bonds, and real estate. Investors grant equities higher multiples when long-term rates are lower; both longer-maturity Treasuries and corporate bonds jump when rates decline; and developers pocket more cash flow from their projects when they borrow cheaply, raising the values of office and apartment buildings. When rates reverse course, so do all of those prices the Fed has been endeavoring to swell as a tonic for the economy.

Even though the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has risen substantially, it is still very low.  It has a lot more room to go up.  In fact, as the chart posted below demonstrates, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries was above 6 percent back in the year 2000…

10 Year Treasury Yield

And the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries should rise substantially.  It simply is not rational to lend the U.S. government money at less than 3 percent when the real rate of inflation is about 8 percent, the Federal Reserve is rapidly debasing the currency by wildly printing money and the federal government has been piling up debt as if there is no tomorrow…

National Debt

Anyone that lends the U.S. government money at current rates is being very foolish.  You will end up getting back money that has much less purchasing power than you originally invested.

Why would anyone do that?

But if interest rates rise, the U.S. government could be looking at some very hairy interest payments very rapidly.  For example, if the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt just gets back to 6 percent (and it has been far higher than that in the past), the federal government will be shelling out a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt.

State and local governments all over the nation could also very rapidly be facing a nightmare scenario.

Detroit is already on the verge of formally declaring the largest municipal bankruptcy in the history of the United States, and there are many other state and local governments from coast to coast that are rapidly heading toward financial disaster even though borrowing costs are super low right now.

If interest rates start rising dramatically, it would cause a huge wave of municipal financial disasters, and municipal bond investors would lose massive amounts of money

“Muni bond investors are in for the shock of their lives,” said financial advisor Ric Edelman. “For the past 30 years there hasn’t been interest rate risk.”

That risk can be extreme. A one-point rise in the interest rate could cut 10 percent of the value of a municipal bond with a longer duration, he said.

Many retail buyers, though, are not ready for the change and “when it starts, it will be too late for them to react,” he said, adding that he was encouraging investors to look at their portfolio allocation and make changes to protect themselves from interest rate risks now.

In fact, bond investors of all types could be facing monstrous losses if interest rates go up dramatically.

It is being projected that if U.S. Treasury yields rise by an average of 3 percentage points, it will cause bond investors to lose a trillion dollars.

And already we have started to see a race for the exits in the bond market.  A total of 80 billion dollars was pulled out of bond funds during the month of June alone.  If you want a visual of the flow of money out of the bond market, just check out the chart in this article.

We are witnessing things happen in the financial markets that have not happened in a very, very long time.

And junk bonds will be hit particularly hard.  About a decade ago, the average yield on junk bonds was about twice what it is right now.  When the junk bond crash comes, there is going to be mass carnage on Wall Street.

But of much greater importance to most Americans is what is happening to mortgage rates.  As mortgage rates rise, it becomes much more difficult to sell a house and much more expensive to buy a house.

According to CNBC, there is an increasing amount of concern that the rise in mortgage rates that we are witnessing could throw the real estate market into absolute turmoil…

The housing recovery is in for a major pause due to higher mortgage rates. It is not in the numbers now, and it won’t be for a few months, but it is coming, according to one noted analyst. The market has seen rising rates before, but never so far so fast; there is no precedent for a 45 percent spike in just six weeks. The spike is causing a sense of urgency now, a rush to buy before rates go higher, but that will be short term. Home sales and home prices will both come down if rates don’t return to their lows, and the expectation is that they will not.

We have seen the number of mortgage applications fall for four weeks in a row, and at this point mortgage applications have declined by 28 percent over the past month.

That is an absolutely stunning decline, but it just shows the power of interest rates.

Let’s try to put this into real world terms.

A year ago, the 30 year rate was sitting at 3.66 percent.  The monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $1374.07.

If the 30 year rate rises to 8 percent, the monthly payment on a 30 year, $300,000 mortgage at that rate would be $2201.29.

Does 8 percent sound crazy to you?

It shouldn’t.  8 percent was considered to be normal back in the year 2000…

30 Year Mortgage Rate

This is what we are talking about when we talk about the “bubbles” that the Federal Reserve has created.  The housing market is now completely and totally dependent on these artificially low mortgage rates.  If rates go back to “normal”, the results would be absolutely devastating.

But of course the biggest problem with rapidly rising interest rates is the potential for a derivatives crisis.

There are several major U.S. banks that have tens of trillions of dollars of exposure to derivatives.  The following is from one of my previous articles entitled “The Coming Derivatives Panic That Will Destroy Global Financial Markets“…

JPMorgan Chase

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)

Citibank

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)

Goldman Sachs

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.

The largest chunk of those derivatives contracts is made up of interest rate derivatives.

I have mentioned this so many times before, but it bears repeating that there are approximately 441 trillion dollars worth of interest rate derivatives sitting out there.

If rapidly rising interest rates suddenly cause trillions of dollars of those bets to start going bad, we could potentially see several of the “too big to fail” banks collapse at the same time.

So what would happen then?

Would the federal government and the Federal Reserve somehow come up with trillions of dollars (or potentially even tens of trillions of dollars) to bail them out?

The Federal Reserve has created a giant mess, and when this current low interest rate bubble ends our financial system is going to slam very violently into a very solid brick wall.

As Graham Summers recently pointed out, entrusting Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke with control of our financial system is like putting a madman behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle…

Imagine if you were in the car with a driver who was going 85 MPH down a road with a speed limit of 35 MPH (this isn’t a bad metaphor as there is absolutely no evidence that QE creates jobs or GDP growth so there is no reason for the Fed to be doing it in the first place).

The guy is obviously out of control. The dangers of driving this fast are myriad (crashing, running someone over, etc.) while the benefits (you might get where you want to go a little faster assuming you don’t crash) are minimal.

Now imagine that the driver turned to you and said, “I’m thinking about slowing down.” Seems like a great idea doesn’t it? But then a mere two minutes later he says “ we need to continue at 85 MPH for the foreseeable future.”

At this point any sane person would scream, “STOP.” The driver is clearly a madman and shouldn’t be let anywhere near the driver’s seat. Moreover, he’s totally lost all credibility and isn’t to be trusted.

That’s our Fed Chairman.

Sadly, most Americans do not understand any of this.

Most Americans have no idea about the immense economic pain that is going to hit us when interest rates go back to normal levels.

All of this could have been avoided, but instead the American people let the central planners over at the Federal Reserve run wild.

When the bubble finally bursts, the official unemployment rate is going to rocket well up into the double digits, millions of families will lose their homes and America will find itself in the middle of the worst economic crisis in modern U.S. history.

Please share this article with as many people as you can.  We need to help people understand what is coming so that they will not be blindsided by it.

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