Should central banks create money out of thin air and give it directly to governments and average citizens? If you can believe it, this is now under serious consideration. Since 2008, global central banks have cut interest rates 637 times, they have injected 12.3 trillion dollars into the global financial system through various quantitative easing programs, and we have seen an explosion of government debt unlike anything we have ever witnessed before. But despite these unprecedented measures, the global economy is still deeply struggling. This is particularly true in Japan, in South America, and in Europe. In fact, there are 16 countries in Europe that are experiencing deflation right now. In a desperate attempt to spur economic activity, central banks in Europe and in Japan are playing around with negative interest rates, and so far they seem to only have had a limited effect.
So as they rapidly run out of ammunition, global central bankers are now openly discussing something that might sound kind of crazy. According to the Telegraph, central banks are becoming increasingly open to employing a tactic known as “helicopter money”…
Faced with political intransigence, central bankers are openly talking about the previously unthinkable: “helicopter money”.
A catch-all term, helicopter drops describe the process by which central banks can create money to transfer to the public or private sector to stimulate economic activity and spending.
Long considered one of the last policymaking taboos, debate around the merits of helicopter money has gained traction in recent weeks.
Do you understand what is being said there?
The idea is basically this – central banks would create money out of thin air and would just give it to national governments or ordinary citizens.
So who would decide who gets the money?
Well, they would.
If you are anything like me, this sounds very much like Pandora’s Box being opened.
But this just shows how much of a panic there is among central bankers right now. They know that we are plunging into a new global economic crisis, and they are desperate to find something that will stop it. And if that means printing giant gobs of money and dropping it from helicopters over the countryside, well then that is precisely what they are going to do.
In fact, the chief economist at the European Central Bank is quite adamant about the fact that the ECB can print money out of thin air and “distribute it to people” when the situation calls for it…
ECB chief Mario Draghi has refused to rule out the prospect, saying only that the bank had not yet “discussed” such matters due to their legal and accounting complexity. This week, his chief economist Peter Praet went further in hinting that helicopter drops were part of the ECB’s toolbox.
“All central banks can do it“, said Praet. “You can issue currency and you distribute it to people. The question is, if and when is it opportune to make recourse to that sort of instrument“.
Apparently memories of the Weimar Republic must have faded over in Europe, because this sounds very much like what they tried to do. I don’t know why anyone would ever want to risk going down that road again.
Here in the United States, the Federal Reserve is not openly talking about “helicopter money” just yet, but that is only because the stock market is doing okay for the moment.
Most Americans don’t realize this, but the primary reason why stocks are doing better in the U.S. than in the rest of the world is because of stock buybacks. According to Wolf Richter, corporations spent more than half a trillion dollars buying back their own stocks over the past 12 months…
During the November-January period, 378 of the S&P 500 companies bought back their own shares, according to FactSet. Total buybacks in the quarter rose 5.2% from a year ago, to $136.6 billion. Over the trailing 12 months (TTM), buybacks totaled $568.9 billion.
When corporations buy back their own stocks, that means that they are slowly liquidating themselves. Instead of pouring money into new good ideas, they are just returning money to investors. This is not how a healthy economy should work.
But corporate executives love stock buybacks, because it increases the value of their stock options. And big investors love them too, because they love to see the value of their stock holdings rise.
So we will continue to see big corporations cannibalize themselves, but there are a couple of reasons why this is starting to slow down.
Number one, corporate profits are starting to fall steadily as the economy slows down, so there will be less income to plow into these stock buybacks.
Number two, many corporations have used debt to fund buybacks, but now it is getting tougher for corporations to get new funding as corporate defaults rise.
As stock buybacks slow, this is going to put downward pressure on the market, and we will eventually catch up with the rest of the planet. At this point, many experts are still calling for stocks to fall by another 40, 50 or 60 percent from current levels. For example, the following comes from John Hussman…
From a long-term investment standpoint, the stock market remains obscenely overvalued, with the most historically-reliable measures we identify presently consistent with zero 10-12 year S&P 500 nominal total returns, and negative expected real returns on both horizons.
From a cyclical standpoint, I continue to expect that the completion of the current market cycle will likely take the S&P 500 down by about 40-55% from present levels; an outcome that would not be an outlier or worst-case scenario, but instead a rather run-of-the-mill cycle completion from present valuations. If you are a historically-informed investor who is optimistic enough to reject the idea that the financial markets are forever doomed to extreme valuations and dismal long-term returns, you should be rooting for this cycle to be completed. If you are a passive investor, you should at least align your current exposure with your investment horizon and your tolerance for cyclical risk, which we expect to be similar to what we anticipated in 2000-2002 and 2007-2009.
When the S&P 500 does fall that much eventually, the Federal Reserve will respond with emergency measures.
So yes, we may see “helicopter money” employed in Japan and in Europe first, but we will see it here someday too.
I know that a lot of people out there are feeling pretty good about things for the moment because U.S. stocks have rebounded quite a bit lately. But remember, the fundamental economic numbers just continue to get even worse. Just today we learned that existing home sales in the United States had fallen by the most in six years. That is definitely not a sign that things are “getting better”, and I keep trying to warn people that tumultuous times are dead ahead.
And if global central bankers did not agree with me, they would not be talking about the need for “helicopter money” and other emergency measures.
We have not seen global economic activity fall off this rapidly since the great recession of 2008. Manufacturing activity is imploding all over the planet, global trade is slowing down at a pace that is extremely alarming, and the Baltic Dry Index just hit another brand new all-time record low. If the “real economy” consists of people making, selling and shipping stuff, then it is in incredibly bad shape. Here in the United States, the dismal economic numbers continue to stun all of the experts. For example, on Monday we learned that the Texas general business activity index just hit a six year low…
Economic activity in Texas keeps getting worse.
The general business activity index out Monday from the Dallas Federal Reserve for January was -34.6, a six-year low and much worse than economists had expected.
The forecast for the monthly index was -14, following a December reading of -21.6 (revised from -20.1) that was also worse than expected.
One could perhaps argue that this is to be expected in Texas because of the collapse in the price of oil.
But what about the very unusual things that we are seeing in other areas of the country? In Erwin, Tennessee, a rail terminal that had been continuously operating for 135 years was just permanently shut down, and hundreds of workers now find themselves without a job…
The last coal train to leave Erwin rolled slowly out of town just after at 3 p.m. Thursday, less than eight hours after CSX Transportation employees heard the news that rocked all of Unicoi County.
“Its a hard pill to swallow,” county Mayor Greg Lynch said. “Of course, we heard rumors that something was coming down. But never in my wildest dreams did I imagine they would just shut down and leave town.”
CSX delivered the news of its decision to immediately close Erwin’s 175-acre rail yard and abruptly end the employment of the facility’s 300 workers in a series of meetings with employees conducted at the start of their morning shifts.
It has been said that if you want to know what is really happening with the U.S. economy, just watch the railroads.
And right now, rail traffic all over the nation is falling to depressingly low levels.
One of Steve Quayle’s readers says that rail traffic in Colorado has slowed down so much that hundreds of engines are just sitting there on the tracks…
With regard to the train freight article this morning, we have in Grand Junction, CO., literally hundreds of engines sidelined on the tracks. They are three deep on some tracks and easily number over 250. I have never seen this many engines on the tracks before and I feel this is just another indicator of the slowdown in shipping.
In case you are tempted to think that this is just anecdotal evidence, I want you to consider what is happening to the largest railroad company in the United States.
According to Wolf Richter, operating revenues for Union Pacific were down 15 percent last year…
Union Pacific, the largest US railroad, reported awful fourth-quarter earnings Thursday evening. Operating revenues plummeted 15% year over year, and net income dropped 22%.
It was broad-based: The only category where revenues rose was automotive (+1%). Otherwise, revenues fell: Chemicals (-7%), Agricultural Products (-12%), Intermodal containers (-14%), Industrial Products (-23%), and Coal (-31%). Shipment of crude plunged 42%.
So Union Pacific did what American companies do best: it laid off 3,900 people last year.
And of course we can see evidence of the emerging economic slowdown all around us pretty much wherever we look. Sprint just laid off 8 percent of its workforce, GoPro is letting go 7 percent of its workers, and Wal-Mart just announced the closure of 269 stores.
But instead of dealing with reality, there are a lot of irrational optimists that insist that things will start bouncing back any day now. For instance, CNBC is reporting that Goldman Sachs is forecasting that the S&P 500 will end up finishing the year back at 2,100…
Goldman, though, is sticking with its forecast that the S&P 500 will rebound and finish the year at 2,100, a rise of about 11 percent from current levels but basically no net gain for the full year.
It is easy to say something like that, but the actions of the big banks speak louder than words.
Most people don’t realize this, but several of the “too big to fail” banks laid off thousands of workers in 2015…
Bank of America and Citigroup reduced headcount the most, eliminating about 20,000 staffers between them, according to fourth-quarter earnings reports from each bank. The respective moves amount to 4.6 percent and 4 percent fewer workers at the banks. JPMorgan Chase reported in its earnings that it employs 6,700 fewer workers than a year ago.
And guess what?
The “too big to fail” banks did the exact same thing just before the great stock market crash of 2008.
When are people going to finally start understanding that we have a major league crisis on our hands?
Since June 2015, approximately 15 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has been wiped out. After a brief respite at the end of last week, it appears that the global financial crisis is getting ready to accelerate once again.
On Monday, the price of oil dipped back under 30 dollars, the Dow was down another 208 points, and the Nikkei is currently down another 389 points in early trading.
Somewhere close to one-fifth of all global stock market wealth has already been wiped out.
We only have about four-fifths left.
But in the end, I can talk about these numbers until I am blue in the face and some people will still not get prepared.
Some people have so much faith in Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve and the mainstream media that they would literally follow them off a cliff.
By now, most of the people that believe that they should prepare for the coming crisis have already gotten prepared, and most of those that want to believe that everything is going to work out just fine somehow are never going to get prepared anyway.
What is going to happen is going to happen, and tens of millions of people are going to end up bitterly regretting not listening to the warnings when they still had the chance.
Economic activity is slowing down all over the planet, and a whole host of signs are indicating that we are essentially exactly where we were just prior to the great stock market crash of 2008. Yesterday, I explained that the economies of Japan, Brazil, Canada and Russia are all in recession. Today, I am mainly going to focus on the United States. We are seeing so many things happen right now that we have not seen since 2008 and 2009. In so many ways, it is almost as if we are watching an eerie replay of what happened the last time around, and yet most of the “experts” still appear to be oblivious to what is going on. If you were to make up a checklist of all of the things that you would expect to see just before a major stock market crash, virtually all of them are happening right now. The following are 11 critical indicators that are absolutely screaming that the global economic crisis is getting deeper…
#1 On Tuesday, the price of oil closed below 40 dollars a barrel. Back in 2008, the price of oil crashed below 40 dollars a barrel just before the stock market collapsed, and now it has happened again.
#2 The price of copper has plunged all the way down to $2.04. The last time it was this low was just before the stock market crash of 2008.
#3 The Business Roundtable’s forecast for business investment in 2016 has dropped to the lowest level that we have seen since the last recession.
#4 Corporate debt defaults have risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession. This is a huge problem because corporate debt in the U.S. has approximately doubled since just before the last financial crisis.
#5 The Bloomberg U.S. economic surprise index is more negative right now than it was at any point during the last recession.
#6 Credit card data that was just released shows that holiday sales have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.
#7 As I mentioned yesterday, U.S. manufacturing is contracting at the fastest pace that we have seen since the last recession.
#8 The velocity of money in the United States has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded. Not even during the depths of the last recession was it ever this low.
#9 In 2008, commodity prices crashed just before the stock market did, and late last month the Bloomberg Commodity Index hit a 16 year low.
#10 In the past, stocks have tended to crash about 12-18 months after a peak in corporate profit margins. At this point, we are 15 months after the most recent peak.
#11 If you look back at 2008, you will see that junk bonds crashed horribly. Why this is important is because junk bonds started crashing before stocks did, and right now they have dropped to the lowest point that they have been since the last financial crisis.
If just one or two of these indicators were flashing red, that would be bad enough.
The fact that all of them seem to be saying the exact same thing tells us that big trouble is ahead.
And I am not the only one saying this. Just today, a Reuters article discussed the fact that Citigroup analysts are projecting that there is a 65 percent chance that the U.S. economy will plunge into recession in 2016…
The outlook for the global economy next year is darkening, with a U.S. recession and China becoming the first major emerging market to slash interest rates to zero both potential scenarios, according to Citi.
As the U.S. economy enters its seventh year of expansion following the 2008-09 crisis, the probability of recession will reach 65 percent, Citi’s rates strategists wrote in their 2016 outlook published late on Tuesday. A rapid flattening of the bond yield curve towards inversion would be an key warning sign.
Personally, I am convinced that we are already in a recession. There is a lag in the official numbers, so often we don’t know that we are officially in one until it is well underway. For example, we now know that a recession started in early 2008, but in the summer of 2008 Ben Bernanke and our top politicians were still insisting that there was not going to be a recession. They were denying what was actually happening right in front of their eyes, and the same thing is happening now.
And of course if the government was actually using honest numbers, we would all be talking about the recession that never seems to end. According to John Williams of shadowstats.com, honest numbers would show that the U.S. economy has continually been in recession since 2005.
But just like in 2008, the “experts” at the Federal Reserve are assuring all of us that everything is going to be just fine. In fact, Janet Yellen is convinced that things are so rosy that she seems quite confident that the Fed will raise interest rates in December…
Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen signaled Wednesday that the Fed is all but certain to raise interest rates this month for the first time in nearly a decade, saying that gains in the economy and labor market have met the central bank’s goals.
Her comments at the Economic Club of Washington amount to the strongest indication the Fed has provided so far that it will take action at a December 15-16 meeting.
This is the exact same kind of mistake that the Federal Reserve made back in the late 1930s. They thought that the U.S. economy was finally recovering, and so interest rates were raised. That turned out to be a tragic mistake.
But this time around, any mistake that the Fed makes will have global consequences. The rising U.S. dollar is already crippling emerging markets all around the globe, and an interest rate hike will just push the U.S. dollar even higher. For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “The U.S. Dollar Has Already Caused A Global Recession And Now The Fed Is Going To Make It Worse“.
Many people are waiting for “the big crash”, but the truth is that almost everything has crashed already.
Oil has crashed.
Commodities have crashed.
Gold and silver have crashed.
Junk bonds have crashed.
Chinese stocks have crashed.
Dozens of other stock markets around the world have already crashed.
But the “big event” that many are waiting for is the crash of U.S. stocks. And just like in 2008, it is inevitable that a U.S. stock crash will follow all of the other crashes that I just mentioned.
Sometimes I get criticized for issuing these kinds of alarms. But just think of how many people could have been helped if they would have known that the financial crisis of 2008 was going to happen ahead of time.
The exact same patterns that we experienced back then are playing out once again right in front of our eyes, and the more people that we can warn in advance the better.
When the global economy is doing well, the amount of stuff that is imported and exported around the world goes up, and when the global economy is in recession, the amount of stuff that is imported and exported around the world goes down. It is just basic economics. Governments around the world have become very adept at manipulating other measures of economic activity such as GDP, but the trade numbers are more difficult to fudge. Today, China accounts for more global trade than anyone else on the entire planet, and we have just learned that Chinese exports and Chinese imports are both collapsing right now. But this is just part of a larger trend. As I discussed the other day, British banking giant HSBC has reported that total global trade is down 8.4 percent so far in 2015, and global GDP expressed in U.S. dollars is down 3.4 percent. The only other times global trade has plummeted this much has been during other global recessions, and it appears that this new downturn is only just beginning.
For many years, China has been leading the revolution in global trade. But now we are witnessing something that is almost unprecedented. Chinese exports are falling, and Chinese imports are absolutely imploding…
Growth of exports from China has been dropping relentlessly, for years. Now this “growth” has actually turned negative. In September, exports were down 3.7% from a year earlier, the “inevitable fallout from China’s unsustainable and poorly executed credit splurge,” as Thomson Reuters’ Alpha Now puts it. Most of these exports are manufactured goods that are shipped by container to the rest of the world.
And imports into China – a mix of bulk and containerized freight – have been plunging: down 20.4% in September from a year earlier, after at a 13.8% drop in August.
This week it was announced that Chinese GDP growth had fallen to the lowest level since the last recession, and that makes sense. Global economic activity is really slowing down, and this is deeply affecting China.
So what about the United States?
Well, based on the amount of stuff that is being shipped around in our country it appears that our economy is really slowing down too. The following comes from Wolf Richter, and I shared some of it in a previous article, but I think that it bears repeating…
September is in the early phase of the make-or-break holiday shipping season. Shipments usually increase from August to September. They did this year too. The number of shipments in September inched up 1.7% from August, according to the Cass Freight Index.
But the index was down 1.5% from an already lousy September last year, when shipments had fallen from the prior month, instead of rising. And so, in terms of the number of shipments, it was the worst September since 2010.
It has been crummy all year: With the exception of January and February, the shipping volume has been lower year-over-year every month!
The index is broad. It tracks data from shippers, no matter what carrier they choose, whether truck, rail, or air, and includes carriers like FedEx and UPS.
What major retailers such as Wal-Mart are reporting also confirms that we are in a major economic slowdown. Wal-Mart recently announced that its earnings would fall by as much as 12 percent during the next fiscal year, and that caused Wal-Mart stock to drop by the most in 27 years.
And of course this is going to have a huge ripple effect. There are thousands of other companies that do business with Wal-Mart, and Reuters is reporting that they are starting to get squeezed…
Suppliers of everything from groceries to sports equipment are already being squeezed for price cuts and cost sharing by Wal-Mart Stores. Now they are bracing for the pressure to ratchet up even more after a shock earnings warning from the retailer last week.
The discount store behemoth has always had a reputation for demanding lower prices from vendors but Reuters has learned from interviews with suppliers and consultants, as well as reviewing some contracts, that even by its standards Wal-Mart has been turning up the heat on them this year.
“The ground is shaking here,” said Cameron Smith, head of Cameron Smith & Associates, a major recruiting firm for suppliers located close to Wal-Mart’s headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. “Suppliers are going to have to help Wal-Mart get back on track.”
Similar things are going on at some of the other biggest companies in America as well.
For instance, things have gotten so bad for McDonald’s that one franchise owner recently stated that the restaurant chain is “facing its final days”…
“McDonald’s announced in April that it would be closing 700 ‘underperforming’ locations, but because of the company’s sheer size — it has 14,300 locations in the United States alone — this was not necessarily a reduction in the size of the company, especially because it continues to open locations around the world. It still has more than double the locations of Burger King, its closest competitor.”
However, for the franchisees, the picture looks much worse than simply 700 stores closing down.
“We are in the throes of a deep depression, and nothing is changing,” a franchise owner wrote in response to a financial survey by Nomura Group. “Probably 30% of operators are insolvent.” One owner went as far as to speculate that McDonald’s is literally “facing its final days.”
Why would things be so bad at Wal-Mart and McDonald’s if the economy was “recovering”?
Come on now – let’s use some common sense here.
All of the numbers are screaming at us that we have entered a major economic downturn and that it is accelerating.
CNBC is reporting that the number of job openings in the U.S. is falling and that the number of layoffs is rising…
Job openings fell 5.3 percent in August, while a 2.6 percent rise in layoffs and discharges offset a 0.3 percent gain in hires. Finally, the amount of quits — or what Convergex calls its “take this job and shove it” indicator because it shows the percentage of workers who left positions voluntarily — fell to 56.6 percent from 57.1 percent, indicating less confidence in mobility.
And as I discussed the other day, Challenger Gray is reporting that we are seeing layoffs at major firms at a level that we have not witnessed since 2009.
We already have 102.6 million working age Americans that do not have a job right now. As this emerging worldwide recession deepens, a lot more Americans are going to lose their jobs. That is going to cause the poverty and suffering in this country to spike even more, if you can imagine that.
Just consider what authorities discovered on the streets of Philadelphia just this week…
Support is flooding in for a homeless Philadelphia family whose two-year-old son was found wandering alone in a park in the middle of the night.
Angelique Roland, 27, and Michael Jones, 24, were sleeping with their children behind cardboard boxes underneath the Fairmount Park Welcome Center in Love Park when the toddler slipped away.
The boy was found just before midnight and handed over to a nearby Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority police officer, who took him to the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia.
He was wearing a green, long sleeve shirt, black running pants and had a diaper on, but did not have shoes or socks.
Could you imagine sleeping on the streets and not even being able to provide your two-year-old child with shoes and socks?
These numbers that I write about every day are not a game. They affect all of us on a very personal level.
Just like in 2008 and 2009, millions of Americans that are living a very comfortable middle class lifestyle today will soon lose their jobs and will end up out in the streets.
In fact, there will be people that will read this article that this will happen to.
So no, none of us should be excited that the global economy is collapsing. There is already so much pain all around us, and what is to come is beyond what most of us would even dare to imagine.
If we were going to see a stock market crash in the United States in the fall of 2015 (to use a hypothetical example), we would expect to see commodity prices begin to crash a few months ahead of time. This is precisely what happened just before the great financial crisis of 2008, and we are watching the exact same thing happen again right now. On Wednesday, commodities got absolutely pummeled, and at this point the Bloomberg Commodity Index is down a whopping 26 percent over the past twelve months. When global economic activity slows down, demand for raw materials sinks and prices drop. So important global commodities such as copper, iron ore, aluminum, zinc, nickel, lead, tin and lumber are all considered to be key “leading indicators” that can tell us a lot about where things are heading next. And what they are telling us right now is that we are rapidly approaching a global economic meltdown.
If the global economy was actually healthy and expanding, the demand for commodities would be increasing and that would tend to drive prices up. But instead, prices continue to go down.
The Bloomberg Commodity Index just hit a brand new 13-year low. That means that global commodity prices are already lower than they were during the worst moments of the last financial crisis…
The commodities rout that’s pushed prices to a 13-year low pulled some of the biggest mining and energy companies below levels seen during the financial crisis.
The FTSE 350 Mining Index plunged as much as 4.9 percent to the lowest since 2009 on Wednesday, with BHP Billiton Ltd. and Anglo American Plc leading declines. Gold and copper are near the lowest in at least five years, while crude oil retreated to $50 a barrel.
“This commodity bear market is like a train wreck in slow motion,” said Andy Pfaff, the chief investment officer for commodities at MitonOptimal in Cape Town. “It has a lot of momentum and doesn’t come to a sudden stop.”
Commodity prices have not been this low since April 2002. According to Bloomberg, some of the commodities being hit the hardest include soybean oil, copper, zinc and gasoline. And this commodity crash is already having a dramatic impact on some of the biggest commodity-producing nations on the globe. Just consider what Gerald Celente recently told Eric King…
We now see that the Australian dollar is at a six-year low against the U.S. dollar. What are Australia’s biggest exports? How about iron-ore and other metals.
If we look at Canada, their currency is also now at a six-year low vs the U.S. dollar. Well, Canada is a big oil exporter, particularly some tar sands oil, which is expensive to produce.
We also now have the Brazilian real at a 10-year low vs the U.S. dollar. Why? Because it’s a natural resource rich country and they don’t have a strong market to sell their natural resources to.
Meanwhile, the Indian rupee is at a 17-year low vs the U.S. dollar. This is because manufacturing is slowing down and there is less development. If the Americans aren’t buying, the Indians, the Chinese, the Vietnamese — they’re not making things.
All of this is so, so similar to what we experienced in the run up to the financial crisis of 2008. Just a couple of days ago, I talked about how the U.S. dollar got really strong just prior to the last stock market crash. The same patterns keep playing out over and over, and yet most in the mainstream media refuse to see what is happening.
Something else that happened just a few months before the last stock market crash was a collapse of the junk bond market.
That is starting to happen again too. Just check out this chart.
I know that I must sound like a broken record. But I think that it is extremely important to document these things. When the next financial collapse takes place, virtually everyone in the mainstream media will be talking about what a “surprise” it is.
But for those that have been paying attention, it won’t be much of a “surprise” at all.
When the stock market does crash, how far might it fall?
During a recent appearance on CNBC, Marc Faber suggested that it could decline by up to 40 percent…
The U.S. stock market could “easily” drop 20 percent to 40 percent, closely followed contrarian Marc Faber said Wednesday—citing a host of factors including the growing list of companies trading below their 200-day moving average.
In recent days, “there were [also] more declining than advancing stocks, and the list of 12-month new lows was very high on Friday,” the publisher of The Gloom, Boom & Doom Report told CNBC’s “Squawk Box.”
“It shows you a lot of stocks are already declining.”
Others, including myself, believe that what we are going to experience is going to be even worse than that.
We live in such a fast-paced world, and most of us don’t have the patience to wait for long-term trends to play out.
If the stock market is not crashing today, to most people that means that everything must be fine.
But once it has crashed, everyone is going to be complaining that they weren’t warned in advance about what was coming and everyone will be complaining that nobody ever fixed the things that caused the exact same problems the last time around.
Personally, I am trying very hard to make sure that nobody can accuse me of not sounding the alarm about the storm that is on the horizon.
The world has never been in more debt, our “too big to fail” banks have never been more reckless, and global financial markets have never been more primed for a collapse.
Amazingly, there are still a lot of “experts” out there that insist that everything is going to be okay somehow.
Of course many of those exact same “experts” were telling us the same thing just before the stock market crashed in 2008 too.
A great financial shaking has already begun around the world, and it will hit U.S. financial markets very soon.
I hope that you are getting ready while you still can.
Get ready for another major worldwide credit crunch. Today, the entire global financial system resembles a colossal spiral of debt. Just about all economic activity involves the flow of credit in some way, and so the only way to have “economic growth” is to introduce even more debt into the system. When the system started to fail back in 2008, global authorities responded by pumping this debt spiral back up and getting it to spin even faster than ever. If you can believe it, the total amount of global debt has risen by $35 trillion since the last crisis. Unfortunately, any system based on debt is going to break down eventually, and there are signs that it is starting to happen once again. For example, just a few days ago the IMF warned regulators to prepare for a global “liquidity shock“. And on Friday, Chinese authorities announced a ban on certain types of financing for margin trades on over-the-counter stocks, and we learned that preparations are being made behind the scenes in Europe for a Greek debt default and a Greek exit from the eurozone. On top of everything else, we just witnessed the biggest spike in credit application rejections ever recorded in the United States. All of these are signs that credit conditions are tightening, and once a “liquidity squeeze” begins, it can create a lot of fear.
Over the past six months, the Chinese stock market has exploded upward even as the overall Chinese economy has started to slow down. Investors have been using something called “umbrella trusts” to finance a lot of these stock purchases, and these umbrella trusts have given them the ability to have much more leverage than normal brokerage financing would allow. This works great as long as stocks go up. Once they start going down, the losses can be absolutely staggering.
That is why Chinese authorities are stepping in before this bubble gets even worse. Here is more about what has been going on in China from Bloomberg…
China’s trusts boosted their investments in equities by 28 percent to 552 billion yuan ($89.1 billion) in the fourth quarter. The higher leverage allowed by the products exposes individuals to larger losses in the event of stock-market drops, which can be exaggerated as investors scramble to repay debt during a selloff.
In umbrella trusts, private investors take up the junior tranche, while cash from trusts and banks’ wealth-management products form the senior tranches. The latter receive fixed returns while the former take the rest, so private investors are effectively borrowing from trusts and banks.
Margin debt on the Shanghai Stock Exchange climbed to a record 1.16 trillion yuan on Thursday. In a margin trade, investors use their own money for just a portion of their stock purchase, borrowing the rest. The loans are backed by the investors’ equity holdings, meaning that they may be compelled to sell when prices fall to repay their debt.
Overall, China has seen more debt growth than any other major industrialized nation since the last recession. This debt growth has been so dramatic that it has gotten the attention of authorities all over the planet…
Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister says that “debt levels in the global economy continue to give cause for concern.”
Singling out China in particular, Schaeuble noted that “debt has nearly quadrupled since 2007″, adding that it’s “growth appears to be built on debt, driven by a real estate boom and shadow banks.”
According to McKinsey’s research, total outstanding debt in China increased from $US7.4 trillion in 2007 to $US28.2 trillion in 2014. That figure, expressed as a percentage of GDP, equates to 282% of total output, higher than the likes of other G20 nations such as the US, Canada, Germany, South Korea and Australia.
This credit boom in China has been one of the primary engines for “global growth” in recent years, but now conditions are changing. Eventually, the impact of what is going on in China right now is going to be felt all over the planet.
Over in Europe, the Greek debt crisis is finally coming to a breaking point. For years, authorities have continued to kick the can down the road and have continued to lend Greece even more money.
But now it appears that patience with Greece has run out.
For instance, the head of the IMF says that no delay will be allowed on the repayment of IMF loans that are due next month…
IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde roiled currency and bond markets on Thursday as reports came out of her opening press conference saying that she had denied any payment delay to Greece on IMF loans falling due next month.
Unless Greece concludes its negotiations for a further round of bailout money from the European Union, however, it is not likely to have the money to repay the IMF.
And we are getting reports that things are happening behind the scenes in Europe to prepare for the inevitable moment when Greece will finally leave the euro and go back to their own currency.
For example, consider what Art Cashin told CNBC on Friday…
First, “there were reports in the media [saying] that the ECB and/or banking authorities suggested to banks to get rid of any sovereign Greek debt they had, which suggests that maybe the next step will be Greece exiting,” Cashin told CNBC.
Also, one of Greece’s largest newspapers is reporting that neighboring countries are forcing subsidiaries of Greek banks that operate inside their borders to reduce their risk to a Greek debt default to zero…
According to a report from Kathimerini, one of Greece’s largest newspapers, central banks in Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have all forced the subsidiaries of Greek banks operating in those countries to bring their exposure to Greek risk — including bonds, treasury bills, deposits to Greek banks, and loans — down to zero.
Once Greece leaves the euro, that is going to create a tremendous credit crunch in Europe as fear begins to spread like wildfire. Everyone will be wondering which nation will be “the next Greece”, and investors will want to pull their money out of perceived danger zones before they get hammered.
In the past, other European nations have been willing to bend over backwards to accommodate Greece and avoid this kind of mess, but those days appear to be finished. In fact, the finance minister of France openly admits that the French “are not sympathetic to Greece”…
Greece isn’t winning much sympathy from its debt-wracked European counterparts as the country draws closer to default for failing to make bailout repayments.
“We are not sympathetic to Greece,” French Finance Minister Michael Sapin said in an interview at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank spring meetings here.
“We are demanding because Greece must comply with the European (rules) that apply to all countries,” Sapin said.
Yes, it is possible that another short-term deal could be reached which could kick the can down the road for a few more months.
But either way, things in Europe are going to continue to get worse.
Meanwhile, very disappointing earnings reports in the U.S. are starting to really rattle investors.
For example, we just learned that GE lost 13.6 billion dollars in the first quarter…
One week following the announcement that it would dismantle most of its GE Capital financing operations to instead focus on its industrial roots, General Electric reported a first quarter loss of $13.6 billion.
The results were impacted by charges relating to the conglomerate’s strategic shift. A year ago GE reported a first quarter profit of $3 billion.
That is a lot of money.
How in the world does a company lose 13.6 billion dollars in a single quarter during an “economic recovery”?
Other big firms are reporting disappointing earnings numbers too…
In earnings news, American Express Co. late Thursday said its results were hurt by the strong U.S. dollar, which reduced revenue booked in other countries. Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault reiterated the company’s forecast that 2015 earnings will be flat to modestly down year over year. Shares fell 4.6%.
Advanced Micro Devices Inc. said its first-quarter loss widened as revenue slumped. The company said it was exiting its dense server systems business, effective immediately. Revenue and the loss excluding items missed expectations, pushing shares down 13%.
And just like we saw just before the financial crisis of 2008, Americans are increasingly having difficulty meeting their financial obligations.
For instance, the delinquency rate on student loans has reached a very frightening level…
More borrowers are failing to make payments on their student loans five years after leaving college, painting a grim picture for borrowers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
Student debt continues to increase, especially for people who took out loans years ago. Those who left school in the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, had particular difficulty with repayment, with many defaulting, becoming seriously delinquent or not being able to reduce their balances, the New York Fed said today.
Only 37 percent of borrowers are current on their loans and are actively paying them down, and 17 percent are in default or in delinquency.
At this point, the American consumer is pretty well tapped out. If you can believe it, 56 percent of all Americans have subprime credit today, and as I mentioned above, we just witnessed the biggest spike in credit application rejections ever recorded.
We have reached a point of debt saturation, and the credit crunch that is going to follow is going to be extremely painful.
Of course the biggest provider of global liquidity in recent years has been the Federal Reserve. But with the Fed pulling back on QE, this is creating some tremendous challenges all over the globe. The following is an excerpt from a recent article in the Telegraph…
The big worry is what will happen to Russia, Brazil and developing economies in Asia that borrowed most heavily in dollars when the Fed was still flooding the world with cheap liquidity. Emerging markets account to roughly half of the $9 trillion of offshore dollar debt outside US jurisdiction.
The IMF warned that a big chunk of the debt owed by companies is in the non-tradeable sector. These firms lack “natural revenue hedges” that can shield them against a double blow from rising borrowing costs and a further surge in the dollar.
So what is the bottom line to all of this?
The bottom line is that we are starting to see the early phases of a liquidity squeeze.
The flow of credit is going to begin to get tighter, and that means that global economic activity is going to slow down.
This happened during the last financial crisis, and during this next financial crisis the credit crunch is going to be even worse.
This is why it is so important to have an emergency fund. During this type of crisis, you may have to be the source of your own liquidity. At a time when it seems like nobody has any cash, those that do have some will be way ahead of the game.
If you want to track how close we are to the next financial collapse, there is one number that you need to be watching above all others. The number that I am talking about is the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries, because it affects thousands of other interest rates in our financial system. When the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries goes up, that is bad for the U.S. economy because it pushes long-term interest rates up. When interest rates rise, it constricts the flow of credit, and a healthy flow of credit is absolutely essential to the debt-based system that we live in. Just imagine someone squeezing a tube that has water flowing through it. The higher interest rates go, the more economic activity will be squeezed. If interest rates continue to rise rapidly, it will be more expensive for the U.S. government to borrow money, it will be more expensive for state and local governments to borrow money, the housing market may crash again, consumer debt will become more expensive, junk bond investors will be in for a world of hurt, the stock market will experience a tremendous amount of pain and there is a good chance that we could see the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives bubble implode. And that is just for starters.
So yes, we all need to be carefully watching the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. On Friday, it opened at 2.76% and hit a high of 2.86% before closing at 2.83%. The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is up nearly 120 basis points since the beginning of May, and almost everyone on Wall Street seems convinced that it is going to go much higher.
We are truly moving into unprecedented territory, because we have been in a bull market for U.S. Treasuries for the last 30 years. Many investors don’t even know that it is possible to lose money on U.S. Treasuries. They have been described as “risk-free” investments, but that is far from the truth.
In fact, we could see bond investors of all types end up losing trillions of dollars before it is all said and done.
And those in the stock market will lose lots of money too. Low interest rates are good for economic activity which is good for the stock market. The chart posted below shows that stock prices have generally risen as the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has steadily declined over the past 30 years…
When interest rates rise, that is bad for economic activity and bad for stocks. That is why so many stock analysts are alarmed that interest rates are going up so rapidly right now.
And as I wrote about the other day, we have just witnessed the largest cluster of Hindenburg Omens that we have seen since before the last financial crisis. The stock market already seems ripe for a huge “adjustment”, and rising interest rates could give it a huge extra push in a negative direction.
By the time it is all said and done, stock market investors could end up losing trillions of dollars in the next stock market crash.
In addition, rising interest rates could easily precipitate another housing crash. As the Wall Street Journal discussed on Friday, as the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries goes up it will also cause mortgage rates to rise…
Higher yields will push up long-term borrowing cost for U.S. consumers and businesses. Mortgage rates will rise, and investors are keeping a close eye on whether this may derail the recovery of the housing market, which has shown signs of turning a corner this year.
In one of my previous articles, I included an example that shows just how powerful rising mortgage rates can be…
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.
If you own a $300,000 house today, do you think it will be easier to sell it or harder to sell it if mortgage rates skyrocket?
Yes, of course it will be much harder. In fact, there is a good chance that you will have to reduce your selling price significantly so that prospective buyers can afford the payments.
Let us hope that the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries levels off for a while. If it says at this current level, the damage will probably not be too bad.
But if it crosses the 3 percent mark and keeps soaring, things could get messy pretty quickly. In fact, according to a Bank of America Merrill Lynch investor survey, the 3.5 percent mark is when the collapse of the bond market is likely to become “disorderly”…
Our latest Credit Investor Survey, conducted July 8-11, showed that 3.5% on the 10-year is most commonly thought of as the trigger of a disorderly rotation – i.e. higher interest rates leading to outflows and wider credit spreads – among high grade investors.
Put differently, 3.0% on the 10-year will not lead to overall wider credit spreads if there is enough buying interest from institutional investors (though note that the 10s/30s spread curve would flatten further, as mutual fund/ETF holdings are concentrated in the belly of the curve, whereas institutional demand is disproportional in the long end of the curve). However, if the probability of a further move higher in interest rates to 3.5% is high – which will be the perception if interest rate volatility is high – certain institutional investors will choose to remain on the sidelines.
Thus there may not be enough institutional buying interest to mitigate retail fund outflows and contain overall high grade spread levels.
So what is causing this?
Well, there are a number of factors of course, but one very disturbing sign is that foreigners are selling off U.S. Treasuries at a pace that we have not seen since 2007…
One of the biggest fears in the financial markets is that foreign investors will stop buying U.S. Treasury securities, causing borrowing rates to surge.
Not that this is the beginning of a frightening trend, but new data from the Treasury Department shows that foreigners were net sellers in June. In fact, this is the largest net sale of U.S. securities since August 2007.
Do you remember all of the warnings that we have received over the years about what would take place when foreign countries started dumping U.S. debt?
Well, it looks like it may be starting to happen.
Unfortunately, there is no way that the party that the U.S. government has been throwing can continue without foreigners buying our debt. We have added more than 11 trillion dollars to the national debt since the year 2000, and according to Boston University economist Laurence Kotlikoff we are facing unfunded liabilities in future years that are in excess of 200 trillion dollars.
Even with foreigners continuing to loan us gigantic mountains of super cheap money, it would still take a doubling of our taxes to put us on a fiscally sustainable course…
Writing in the September issue of Finance and Development, a journal of the International Monetary Fund, Prof. Kotlikoff says the IMF itself has quietly confirmed that the U.S. is in terrible fiscal trouble – far worse than the Washington-based lender of last resort has previously acknowledged. “The U.S. fiscal gap is huge,” the IMF asserted in a June report. “Closing the fiscal gap requires a permanent annual fiscal adjustment equal to about 14 per cent of U.S. GDP.”
This sum is equal to all current U.S. federal taxes combined. The consequences of the IMF’s fiscal fix, a doubling of federal taxes in perpetuity, would be appalling – and possibly worse than appalling.
Prof. Kotlikoff says: “The IMF is saying that, to close this fiscal gap [by taxation] would require an immediate and permanent doubling of our personal income taxes, our corporate taxes and all other federal taxes.
“America’s fiscal gap is enormous – so massive that closing it appears impossible without immediate and radical reforms to its health care, tax and Social Security systems – as well as military and other discretionary spending cuts.”
Can you afford to pay twice as much in taxes to the federal government?
Very few Americans could.
But that is how serious the financial problems of the federal government are.
And all of the above assumes that interest payments on U.S. government debt will remain at current levels. If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rises to just 6 percent, the U.S. government will be paying out a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt.
Also, all of the above assumes that we will have a healthy financial system that does not need to be bailed out again.
But if rapidly rising interest rates cause the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives bubble to implode, the bailout that the “too big to fail” banks will need will likely be far, far larger than last time.
In fact, once that bubble bursts there probably will not be enough money in the entire world to fix it.
If the picture that I have painted above sounds bleak, that is because it is bleak.
Sometimes I get frustrated with myself because I don’t feel I am communicating the tremendous danger that we are facing accurately enough.
We are heading for the worst financial crisis in modern human history, and the debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying today is going to go away and it is never going to come back.
You can dismiss that as “doom and gloom” and stick your head in the sand if you want, but that isn’t going to help anything. Instead of ignoring reality you should be working hard to prepare your family for what is coming and warning others that they should be getting prepared too.
When a hurricane is approaching landfall, you don’t take your family out for a picnic at the beach. That would be foolish. Unfortunately, way too many Americans are acting as if nothing like the financial crisis of 2008 could ever possibly happen again.
If you deceive yourself into thinking that all of this is going to have a happy ending somehow, you are going to get blindsided by the coming storm.
But if you make preparations now, you might just be okay.
There is hope in understanding what is happening and there is hope in getting prepared.
So watch the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. The higher it goes, the later in the game we are.