The Collapse Of Italy’s Banks Threatens To Plunge The European Financial System Into Chaos

Italy Flag Map - Public DomainThe Italian banking system is a “leaning tower” that truly could completely collapse at literally any moment.  And as Italy’s banks begin to go down like dominoes, it is going to set off financial panic all over Europe unlike anything we have ever seen before.  I wrote about the troubles in Italy back in January, but since that time the crisis has escalated.  At this point, Italian banking stocks have declined a whopping 28 percent since the beginning of 2016, and when you look at some of the biggest Italian banks the numbers become even more frightening.  On Monday, shares of Monte dei Paschi were down 4.7 percent, and they have now plummeted 56 percent since the start of the year.  Shares of Carige were down 8 percent, and they have now plunged a total of 58 percent since the start of the year.  This is what a financial crisis looks like, and just like we are seeing in South America, the problems in Italy appear to be significantly accelerating.

So what makes Italy so important?

Well, we all saw how difficult it was for the rest of Europe to come up with a plan to rescue Greece.  But Greece is relatively small – they only have the 44th largest economy in the world.

The Italian economy is far larger.  Italy has the 8th largest economy in the world, and their government debt to GDP ratio is currently sitting at about 132 percent.

There is no way that Europe has the resources or the ability to handle a full meltdown of the Italian financial system.  Unfortunately, that is precisely what is happening.  Italian banks are absolutely drowning in non-performing loans, and as Jeffrey Moore has noted, this potentially represents “the greatest threat to the world’s already burdened financial system”…

Shares of Italy’s largest financial institutions have plummeted in the opening months of 2016 as piles of bad debt on their balance sheets become too high to ignore.  Amid all of the risks facing EU members in 2016, the risk of contagion from Italy’s troubled banks poses the greatest threat to the world’s already burdened financial system.

At the core of the issue is the concerning level of Non-Performing Loans (NPL’s) on banks’ books, with estimates ranging from 17% to 21% of total lending.  This amounts to approximately €200 billion of NPL’s, or 12% of Italy’s GDP.  Moreover, in some cases, bad loans make up an alarming 30% of individual banks’ balance sheets.

Things have already gotten so bad that the European Central Bank is now monitoring liquidity levels at Monte dei Paschi and Carige on a daily basis.  The following comes from Reuters

The European Central Bank is checking liquidity levels at a number of Italian banks, including Banca Carige and Monte dei Paschi di Siena , on a daily basis, two sources close to the matter said on Monday.

Italian banking shares have fallen sharply since the start of the year amid market concerns about some 360 billion euros of bad loans on their books and weak capital levels.

The ECB has been putting pressure on several Italian banks to improve their capital position. The regulator can decide to monitor liquidity levels at any bank it supervises on a weekly or daily basis if it has any concern about deposits or funding.

 

A run on the big Italian banks has already begun.  Italians have already been quietly pulling billions of euros out of the banking system, and if these banks continue to crumble this “stealth run” could quickly become a stampede.

And of course panic in Italy would quickly spread to other financially troubled members of the eurozone such as Spain, Portugal, Greece and France.  Here is some additional analysis from Jeffrey Moore

A deteriorating financial crisis in Italy could risk repercussions across the EU exponentially greater than those spurred by Greece.  The ripple effects of market turmoil and the potential for dangerous precedents being set by EU authorities in panicked response to that turmoil, could ignite yet more latent financial vulnerabilities in fragile EU members such as Spain and Portugal.

Unfortunately, most Americans are completely blinded to what is going on in the rest of the world because stocks in the U.S. have had a really good run for the past couple of weeks.  Headlines are declaring that the risk of a new recession “has passed” and that the crisis “is over”.  Meanwhile, South America is plunging into a full-blown depression, the Italian banking system is melting down, global manufacturing numbers are the worst that we have seen since the last recession, and global trade is absolutely imploding.

Other than that, things are pretty good.

Seriously, it is absolutely critical that we don’t allow ourselves to be fooled by every little wave of momentum in the stock market.

It is a fact that sales and profits for U.S. corporations are declining.  This is a trend that began all the way back in mid-2014 and that has accelerated during the early stages of 2016.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Total US business sales – not just sales by S&P 500 companies but also sales by small caps and all other businesses, even those that are not publicly traded – peaked in July 2014 at $1.365 trillion, according to the Census Bureau. By December 2015, total business sales were down 4.6% from that peak. A bad 18 months for sales! They’re back where they’d first been in January 2013!

Sales by S&P 500 companies dropped 3.8% in 2015, according to FactSet, the worst year since the Financial Crisis.

I know that a lot of people have been eagerly anticipating a complete and total global economic collapse for a long time, and many of them just want to “get it over with”.

Well, the truth is that nobody should want to see what is coming.  Personally, I rejoice for every extra day, week or month we are given.  Every extra day is another day to prepare, and every extra day is another day to enjoy the extremely comfortable standard of living that our debt-fueled prosperity has produced for us.

Most Americans have absolutely no idea how spoiled we really are.  Even just fifty years ago, life was so much harder in this country.  If we had to go back and live the way that Americans did 100 or 150 years ago, there are very few of us that would be able to successfully do that.

So enjoy the remaining days of debt-fueled prosperity while you still can, because great change is coming, and it is going to be extremely bitter for most of the population.

Global Stocks Continue To Crash As Oil Plummets And Gold Skyrockets

Clock Image - Public DomainStock markets around the world continue to collapse as this new global financial crisis picks up more steam.  In the U.S., the Dow lost 254 more points on Thursday, and it has now fallen for five days in a row.  European stocks continued to get obliterated, and financial institutions are leading the way.  But this week what is happening in Japan has been the most sobering.  After falling 918 points the other day, the Nikkei plunged another 760 points early on Friday.  The Nikkei has now fallen for seven of the past eight days, and investors in Japan are in full panic mode.  Overall, global stocks are well into bear market territory, and nearly 17 trillion dollars of global stock market wealth has already been wiped out.

As panic rises, investors are seeking alternative investments.  On Thursday, the price of gold hit $1,260 an ounce at one point before settling back a bit.  But even with the fade at the end of the day, it was still the biggest daily gain in more than two years.  Overall, gold is having its best quarterly performance in 30 years.

Whenever a financial crisis happens, investors seek out safe havens such as gold that can help them weather the storm.  In particular, demand for physical gold is going through the roof all over the planet.  Just check out the following excerpt from a Telegraph article entitled “Investors ‘go bananas’ for gold bars as global stock markets tumble“…

BullionByPost, Britain’s biggest online gold dealer, said it has already taken record-day sales of £5.6m as traders pile into gold following fears the world is on the brink of another financial crisis.

Rob Halliday-Stein, founder and managing director of the Birmingham-based company, said takings today had already surpassed the firm’s previous one-day record of £4.4m in October 2014.

BullionByPost, which takes orders of up to £25,000 on the website but takes higher amounts over the phone, explained it had received a few hundred orders overnight and frantic numbers of phone calls this morning.

Meanwhile, the price of oil continues to drop to stunning new depths.  On Thursday U.S. oil dropped as low as $26.21, which was the lowest price in 13 years.  Not even during the worst parts of the last financial crisis did oil ever go this low.

And remember, the price of oil was sitting at about $108 a barrel back in June 2014.  Since that time it has fallen about 75 percent.

Needless to say, this crash is having some very serious consequences for the energy industry.  Previously, I have reported that 42 North American energy companies have gone into bankruptcy since the beginning of last year.

But I just found out that the true number is much worse than that.

According to CNN, “67 U.S. oil and natural gas companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015″…

Bankruptcy filings are flying in the American oil patch.

At least 67 U.S. oil and natural gas companies filed for bankruptcy in 2015, according to consulting firm Gavin/Solmonese.

That represents a 379% spike from the previous year when oil prices were substantially higher.

With oil prices crashing further in recent weeks, five more energy gas producers succumbed to bankruptcy in the first five weeks of this year, according to Houston law firm Haynes and Boone.

A lot of people tend to think that my writing is full of “doom and gloom”, but the truth is that I often understate how bad things really are.  I’ll often report one number and find out later that an updated number is even worse than the one that I originally reported.

What we desperately need is for the price of oil to go back up.

Unfortunately, the International Energy Agency says that isn’t likely to happen any time soon

The International Energy Agency said earlier this week that it expects the global oil glut to grow throughout the year.

With the market already awash in oil, it is very hard to see how oil prices can rise significantly in the short term,” the IEA said in its monthly report.

And of course all of this is incredibly bad news for financial institutions all over the world.

During the boom times, the big banks showered energy companies with loans.  Now those loans are going bad, and the big banks are feeling the pain.  The following comes from CNN

It’s never a good sign when the country’s financial lifelines are under stress. Large U.S. banks JPMorgan Chase (JPM) and Wells Fargo (WFC) that helped bankroll the energy boom are already setting aside billions to cover potential loan losses in the oil industry. Investors are worried about imploding energy loans for European banks like Deutsche Bank (DB). High yield bonds in your investing portfolio wont be looking good either — Standard & Poor’s warned that half of all energy junk bonds are at risk of defaulting.

Speaking of Deutsche Bank, their stock price continued to plummet on Thursday, as did the stock prices of most other European banks.

Things were particularly bad for France’s Societe Generale.  Their stock price plunged 12 percent on Thursday alone.

This is what a global financial crisis looks like.  It began during the second half of last year, and now it is making major headlines all over the planet.

At this point, things are already so bad that the elite are starting to freak out about what this could potentially mean for them.  I want you to carefully consider the following two paragraphs from an editorial that I came across in the Telegraph earlier today…

We are too fragile, fiscally as well as psychologically. Our economies, cultures and polities are still paying a heavy price for the Great Recession; another collapse, especially were it to be accompanied by a fresh banking bailout by the taxpayer, would trigger a cataclysmic, uncontrollable backlash.

The public, whose faith in elites and the private sector was rattled after 2007-09, would simply not wear it. Its anger would be so explosive, so-all encompassing that it would threaten the very survival of free trade, of globalisation and of the market-based economy. There would be calls for wage and price controls, punitive, ultra-progressive taxes, a war on the City and arbitrary jail sentences.

I think that the author of this editorial is correct.

I do believe that another financial crisis on the scale of 2008 would trigger “a cataclysmic, uncontrollable backlash”.

In fact, I believe that is what we are steamrolling toward right now.

We can already see the anger of the American people toward the establishment being expressed in their support of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump.

But if the financial system completely collapses and it becomes exceedingly apparent that none of our problems from the last time around were ever fixed, the frustration is going to be off the charts.

Many people believed that this day of reckoning would never come, but now it is here.

The “coming nightmare” is now upon us, and this is just the start.

The rest of 2016 promises to be even more chaotic, and ultimately this new crisis is going to turn out to be far worse than what we experienced back in 2008.

Stock Markets All Over The World Crash As We Begin 2016

Dominoes - Public DomainThe first trading day of 2016 was full of chaos and panic.  It started in Asia where the Nikkei was down 582 points, Hong Kong was down 587 points, and Chinese markets experienced an emergency shutdown after the CSI 300 tumbled 7 percent.  When European markets opened, the nightmare continued.  The DAX was down 459 points, and European stocks overall had their worst start to a year ever.  In the U.S., it looked like we were on course for a truly historic day as well.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 467 points at one stage, but some very mysterious late day buying activity helped trim the loss to just 276 points at the close of the market.  The sudden market turmoil caught many by surprise, but it shouldn’t have.  The truth is that a whole host of leading indicators have been telling us that this is exactly what should be happening.  The global financial crisis that began in 2015 is now accelerating, and my regular readers already know precisely what is coming next.

The financial turmoil of the last 24 hours is making headlines all over the globe.  It began last night in China.  Very bad manufacturing data and another troubling devaluation of the yuan sent Chinese stocks tumbling to a degree that we have not seen since last August.  In fact, the carnage would have probably been far, far worse if not for a new “circuit breaker” that China recently implemented.  Once the CSI 300 was down 7 percent, trading was completely shut down for the rest of the day.  The following comes from USA Today

Under a new market “circuit breaker” rule in China established last year, which is designed to slow down markets and halt panic in the event of moves of 5% or more, the CSI 300, a large-company stock index in mainland China was halted for 15 minutes in mid-afternoon trading after diving more than 5%. But when shares headed lower once again just minutes after the initial trading halt, and losses for the day swelled to more than 7%, the new circuit breaker rules kicked in, prompting a shutdown of mainland China’s stock market for the day, according to Bloomberg.

After the first 15 minute halt, panic set in as Chinese traders rushed to get out of their trades before the 7 percent circuit breaker kicked in.  This resulted in an absolutely chaotic seven minutes as investors made a mad dash for the exits…

The sell orders piled up fast on Monday at Shenwan Hongyuan Group, China’s fifth-biggest brokerage by market value.

China’s CSI 300 Index had just tumbled 5 percent, triggering a 15-minute trading halt, and stock investors were scrambling to exit before getting locked in by a full-day suspension set to take effect at 7 percent. When the first halt was lifted, the market reaction was swift: it took just seven minutes for losses to reach the limit as volumes surged to their highs of the day.

“Investors rushed to the door during the level-one stage of the circuit breaker as they fretted the market would go down further,” said William Wong, the head of sales trading at Shenwan Hongyuan in Hong Kong.

The financial carnage continued once the European markets opened.  Markets were red all across the continent, and things were particularly bad in Germany.  The DAX was down 459 points, and it is rapidly approaching the psychologically-important 10,000 barrier.  Overall, it was the worst start to a year that the European markets have ever experienced.

When U.S. markets opened, unexpectedly bad U.S. manufacturing data seemed to add fuel to the fire.  Monday morning we learned that our manufacturing sector is contracting at a pace that we haven’t seen since the last recession

America’s manufacturing sector shrank for the second straight month in December. The industry’s key index — ISM — hit 48.2% in December, the lowest mark since June 2009. Anything below 50% is a contraction and a month ago it hit 48.6%.

The index has fallen for six straight months.

The trend is certainly heading in a direction that would ring alarm bells,” says Sam Bullard, senior economist at Wells Fargo.

This is yet another sign that tells us that the U.S. economy has already entered the next recession.

And what happens to the markets during a recession?

They go down.

In addition to the bad data that we got from the U.S. and China, there was another number that was also extremely troubling.

South Korean exports have traditionally been considered a key leading indicator for the entire global economy, and on Monday we learned that they were down a whopping 13.8 percent in December from a year earlier…

One of the more reliable indicators of the global economy continues to confirm fears of a worldwide slowdown.

South Korean exports — also referred to as the world’s economic canary in the coal mine — fell 13.8% in December from a year earlier.

This was a deterioration from the 4.8% decline in November, and it was much worse than the 11.7% decline expected by economists.

The “nothing is happening” crowd may not be willing to admit it yet, but the truth is that a major global economic slowdown is already happening.

And what happened to global markets today is perfectly consistent with the longer term patterns that have been emerging over the past six months or so.

In the weeks and months to come, things are going to get even worse.  There will always be days when the markets are up, but don’t let those days fool you into thinking that the crisis is over.  In the western world we are so accustomed to 48 hour news cycles, and many of us seem to be incapable of focusing on trends that develop over longer periods of time.

If I was going to put together a scenario for a global financial crisis for a textbook, what we have seen over the past six months or so would be perfect.  Things are playing out exactly how they should be, and that means big trouble for the rest of 2016.

But that doesn’t mean that we have to live in fear.  In fact, I just wrote an entire article entitled “2016: A Year For Living With No Fear“.  It is when times are at their worst that our character is put to the test.  Some will respond to what happens in 2016 with courage and strength, and others will respond with fear and panic.

As things start falling apart all around us this year, how will you respond?

The Cashless Society Cometh: European Nations Such As Sweden And Denmark Are ‘Eradicating Cash’

Cashless Society - Public DomainDid you know that 95 percent of all retail sales in Sweden are cashless?  And did you know that the government of Denmark has a stated goal of “eradicating cash” by the year 2030?  All over the world, we are seeing a relentless march toward a cashless society, and nowhere is this more true than in northern Europe.  In Sweden, hundreds of bank branches no longer accept or dispense cash, and thousands of ATM machines have been permanently removed.  At this point, bills and coins only account for just 2 percent of the Swedish economy, and many stores no longer take cash at all.  The notion of a truly “cashless society” was once considered to be science fiction, but now we are being told that it is “inevitable”, and authorities insist that it will enable them to thwart criminals, terrorists, drug runners, money launderers and tax evaders.  But what will we give up in the process?

In Sweden, the transition to a cashless society is being enthusiastically embraced.  The following is an excerpt from a New York Times article that was published on Saturday…

Parishioners text tithes to their churches. Homeless street vendors carry mobile credit-card readers. Even the Abba Museum, despite being a shrine to the 1970s pop group that wrote “Money, Money, Money,” considers cash so last-century that it does not accept bills and coins.

Few places are tilting toward a cashless future as quickly as Sweden, which has become hooked on the convenience of paying by app and plastic.

To me, giving money in church electronically seems so bizarre.  But it is starting to happen here in the United States, and in Sweden some churches collect most of their tithes and offerings this way

During a recent Sunday service, the church’s bank account number was projected onto a large screen. Worshipers pulled out cellphones and tithed through an app called Swish, a payment system set up by Sweden’s biggest banks that is fast becoming a rival to cards.

Other congregants lined up at a special “Kollektomat” card machine, where they could transfer funds to various church operations. Last year, out of 20 million kronor in tithes collected, more than 85 percent came in by card or digital payment.

And of course it isn’t just Sweden that is rapidly transitioning to a cashless society.  Over in Denmark, government officials have a goal “to completely do away with paper money” by the year 2030

Sweden is not the only country interested in eradicating cash. Its neighbor, Denmark, is also making great strides to lessen the circulation of banknotes in the country.

Two decades ago, roughly 80 percent of Danish citizens relied on hard cash while shopping. Fast forward to today, that figure has dropped dramatically to 25 percent.

We’re interested in getting rid of cash,” said Matas IT Director Thomas Grane. “The handling, security and everything else is expensive; so, definitely we want to push digital payments, and that’s of course why we introduced mobile payments to help this process.”

Eventually, establishments may soon have the right to reject cash- a practice that is common in Sweden. Government officials have set a 2030 deadline to completely do away with paper money.

Could you imagine a world where you couldn’t use cash for anything?

This is the direction things are going – especially in Europe.

As I have written about previously, cash transactions of more than 2,500 euros have already been banned in Spain, and France and Italy have both banned all cash transactions of more than 1,000 euros.

Little by little, cash is being eradicated, and what we have seen so far is just the beginning.  417 billion cashless transactions were conducted in 2014, and the final number for 2015 is projected to be much higher.

Banks like this change, because it enables them to make more money due to the fees that they collect from credit cards and debit cards.  And governments like this change because electronic payments enable them to watch, track and monitor what we are all doing much more easily.

These days, very rarely does anyone object to what is happening.  Instead, most of us just seem to accept that this change is “inevitable”, and we are being assured that it will be for the better.  And no matter where in the world you go, the propaganda seems to be the same.  For example, the following comes from an Australian news source

AND so we prepare to turn the page to fresh year — 2016, a watershed year in which Australia will accelerate towards becoming a genuine cashless society.

The cashless society will be a new world free of $1 and $2 coins, or $5 or $10 bank notes. A new world in which all commercial transactions, from buying an i-pad or a hamburger to playing the poker machines, purchasing a newspaper, paying household bills or picking up the dry-cleaning, will be paid for electronically.

And in that same article the readers are told that Australia will likely be “a fully cashless society” by 2022…

Research by Westpac Bank predicts Australia will be a fully cashless society by 2022 — just six years away. Already half of all commercial payments are now made electronically.

Even in some of the poorest areas on the entire globe we are seeing a move toward a cashless society.  In 2015, banks in India made major progress on this front, and income tax rebates are being considered by the government as an incentive “to encourage people to move away from cash transactions“.

Would a truly cashless society reduce crime and make all of our lives much more efficient?

Maybe.

But what would we have to give up?

To me, America is supposed to be a place where we can go where we want and do what we want without the government constantly monitoring us.  If people choose to use cashless forms of payment that is one thing, but if we are all required to go to such a system I fear that it could result in the loss of tremendous amounts of freedom and liberty.

And it is all too easy to imagine a world where a government-sponsored form of “identification” would be required to use any form of electronic payment.  This would give the government complete control over who could use “the system” and who could not.  The potential for various forms of coercion and tyranny in such a scenario is obvious.

What would you do if you could not buy, sell, get a job or open a bank account without proper “identification” someday?  What you simply give in to whatever the government was demanding of you at the time even if it went against your fundamental beliefs?

That is certainly something to think about.

Many will cheer as the world makes a rapid transition to a cashless society, but I will not.  I believe that a truly cashless system would open the door for great evil, and I don’t want any part of it.

What about you?

Would you welcome a cashless society?

Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

European Leaders Promise The Greek Debt Crisis Will Be Resolved One Way Or Another On Sunday

The End - Public DomainThe wait will soon be over.  Greece submitted a final compromise plan to its eurozone creditors on Thursday, European finance ministers will meet on Saturday to discuss the proposal, and an emergency summit of all 28 EU nations on Sunday will make a final decision on what to do.  The summit on Sunday is being billed as a “final deadline” and a “last chance” by EU officials.  In essence, Greece is being given one more opportunity to embrace the austerity measures that are being demanded of them by their creditors.  So has Greece gone far enough with this new proposal?  We shall find out on Sunday.

For months, the entire planet has been following this seemingly endless Greek debt saga.  Global financial markets have gyrated with every twist and turn of this ongoing drama, and many people have wondered if it would ever come to an end.  But now European leaders are promising us that the uncertainty is finally going to be over this weekend

This time, the leaders’ summit called for Sunday is being billed by all concerned as the definitive moment that will determine Greece’s future in the euro. It’s “really and truly the final wake-up call for Greece, but also for us — our last chance,” EU President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday, the day after the most recent emergency session.

So what is the general mood of European leaders as they head into this summit?

Overall, it does not appear to be overly optimistic.

For example, just consider what the head of the Bundesbank is saying

Bundesbank Chief Jens Weidmann, meanwhile, said that central banks have no mandate to safeguard the solvency of banks or governments, and stressed that emergency liquidity to Greece should not be increased.

And even normally upbeat leaders such as ECB President Mario Draghi are sounding quite sullen

Just how uncertain the coming days are was highlighted when ECB President Mario Draghi voiced highly unusual doubts about the chances of rescuing Greece.

Italian daily Il Sole 24 Ore quoted the ECB chief, under growing fire in Germany for keeping Greek banks afloat, as saying he was not sure a solution would be found for Greece and he did not believe Russia would come to Athens’ rescue.

Asked if a deal to save Greece could be wrapped up, Draghi said: “I don’t know, this time it’s really difficult.

That certainly does not sound promising.

It isn’t as if the Greeks are not trying to find a compromise.  Their latest offer reportedly contains some very painful austerity measures

Greece is seeking another bailout totaling at least 50 billion euros ($55 billion) from its European creditors and offering to make painful spending cuts and tax increases as it races to avert a financial meltdown, according to government sources.

Under a 10-page blueprint completed late Thursday, the country said it would undertake austerity measures worth between 12 billion and 13 billion euros ($13 billion to $14 billion), including raising taxes on cafes, bars and restaurants.

But once again, it appears that pensions may be a major sticking point.  The following comes from a Zero Hedge report about the latest Greek proposal…

The biggest surprise is once again in the biggest hurdle: pensions. Recall that as we accurately predicted two weeks ago, it was the government’s unwillingness to directly cut pensions that led to the IMF refusing to even negotiate the Greek proposal.

As a further reminder, this is what IMF’s chief economist Olivier Blanchard said almost a month ago on the topic:

Why insist on pensions? Pensions and wages account for about 75% of primary spending; the other 25% have already been cut to the bone.  Pension expenditures account for over 16% of GDP, and transfers from the budget to the pension system are close to 10% of GDP.  We believe a reduction of pension expenditures of 1% of GDP (out of 16%) is needed, and that it can be done while protecting the poorest pensioners

Fast forward to today when MNI reports that “there are no pension cuts in the draft of the proposal.”

And if recent experience is indicative, this likely means that the Troika will once again refuse to move on with the draft.

We shall see what happens on Sunday.

I have a feeling that it is all going to come down to what Germany wants to do.  At this point, the Greeks owe the Germans approximately 86.7 billion euros.  The German people are overwhelmingly against pouring more money down a financial black hole, and German leaders have taken a very hard line with Greece in recent days.

If Germany does not like this new Greek proposal, it will almost certainly fail.  And if there is no deal, Greek government finances will totally freeze up, the Greek banking system will utterly collapse, and the Greeks will probably be forced to switch back to the drachma.

Speaking of the drachma, check out what Bloomberg is reporting

Between June 28 and July 4 at a Hilton hotel in Athens, transactions on a Bloomberg reporter’s Visa credit card issued by Citigroup Inc. were posted as being carried out in “Drachma EQ.”

The inexplicable notation — bear in mind, the euro remains Greece’s official currency — flummoxed two very polite customer service representatives and spokesmen for the companies involved. It depicts a currency changeover that the Greek government and European officials have been working for over six months to avoid.

Banks around the world are bracing for the increasingly real possibility that Greece may be forced to abandon the euro, a currency it shares with 18 other European countries.

Could plans to roll out the drachma already be in motion behind the scenes?

The next few days promise to be extremely interesting.

Meanwhile, there are all sorts of other indications that big economic trouble is ahead for the entire planet.  For instance, global commodity prices have been plunging big time

While market commentators worry whether an economic collapse in Greece could trigger turmoil in financial markets, a slump in commodity markets may be signaling the world is already in a deep recession.

The slump in the Chinese stock market and concern over the Greek debt crisis sent commodities towards multiyear lows. The S&P GSCI—an index which represents a diversified basket of commodities—has been down nearly 40% over the past year and had slumped by more than six percent as of Wednesday, July 8th.

We witnessed a similar pattern just prior to the financial crisis of 2008.

And in addition to the problems that have erupted in China, Greece and Puerto RicoCNN is reporting that every major economy in Latin America “is slowing down or shrinking”…

Every major Latin American economy is slowing down or shrinking. The World Bank predicts this will be Latin America’s worst year of growth since the financial crisis. As if that’s not dire enough, the world’s two worst performing stock markets are in the region as well.

Very few people are talking about Latin America right now, but the truth is that the region is in the midst of a slow-motion economic implosion.  Here is more from CNN

Venezuela is arguably the world’s worst economy with sky-high inflation. Next door, Colombia has the world’s worst stock market this year. Its index is down 13% so far this year. The second worst is Peru, down 12.5%.

Right now, trouble signs are emerging all over the planet.  That is why we shouldn’t just focus on Greece.  Yes, if Greece is kicked out of the euro that is going to greatly accelerate things.  But no matter what happens with Greece, the truth is that we are steamrolling toward another major worldwide financial crisis.  Perhaps you didn’t notice, but I purposely did not use the word “Greece” once in my recent article entitled “The Economic Collapse Blog Has Issued A RED ALERT For The Last Six Months Of 2015“.

Yes, I am taking what is happening over in Europe very seriously.  I believe that we are about to see some things happen over there that we have never seen before.

But the Greek crisis is only part of the picture.  Everywhere on the globe that you look, red flags are going up.

Sadly, just like in 2008, most people have chosen to be willingly blind to what is happening right in front of their eyes.

The German Siege Of Greece Begins (No, This Is Not A Repeat From 1941)

Siege - Public DomainDid you notice that Greece’s creditors are not rushing to offer the Greeks a new deal in the wake of the stunning referendum result on Sunday?  In fact, it is being reported that the initial reaction to the “no” vote from top European politicians was “a thunderous silence“.  Needless to say, the European elite were not pleased by how the Greek people voted, but they still have all of the leverage.  In particular, it is the Germans that are holding all of the cards.  If the Germans want to cave in and give the Greeks the kind of deal that they desire, everyone else would follow suit.  And if the Germans want to maintain a hard line with Greece, they can block any deal from happening all by themselves.  So in the final analysis, this is really an economic test of wills between Germany and Greece, and time is on Germany’s side.  Germany doesn’t have to offer anything new.  The Germans can just sit back and wait for the Greek government to default on their debts, for Greek banks to totally run out of cash and for civil unrest to erupt in Greek cities as the economy grinds to a standstill.

In ancient times, if a conquering army came up against a walled city that was quite formidable, often a decision would be made to conduct a siege.  Instead of attacking a heavily defended city directly and taking heavy casualties, it was often much more cost effective to simply surround the city from a safe distance and starve the inhabitants into submission.

In a sense, that is exactly what the Germans appear to want to do to the Greeks.  Without more cash, the Greek government cannot pay their bills.  Without more cash, Greek banks are going to start collapsing left and right.  Without more cash, the Greek economy is going to completely and utterly collapse.

So yes, the Greeks voted for change, but the Germans still hold the purse strings.

And right now the Germans do not sound like they are in any mood to compromise.  The following comes from a Reuters report that was published on Monday…

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s deputy said Athens had wrecked any hope of compromise with its euro zone partners by overwhelmingly rejecting further austerity.

Merkel and French President Francois Hollande conferred by telephone and will meet in Paris on Monday afternoon to seek a joint response. Responding to their call, European Council President Donald Tusk announced that euro zone leaders would meet in Brussels on Tuesday evening (1600 GMT).

German Vice-Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel, leader of Merkel’s centre-left Social Democratic junior coalition partner, said it was hard to conceive of fresh negotiations on lending more billions to Athens after Greeks voted against more austerity.

Leftist Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras had “torn down the last bridges on which Greece and Europe could have moved towards a compromise,” Gabriel told the Tagesspiegel daily.

In addition, Angela Merkel’s office released a statement on Monday that placed the onus on making a new proposal to end this crisis on the Greek government

It is up to Greece to make something of this. We are waiting to see which proposals the Greek government makes to its European partners,” the office of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Europe’s leading austerity advocate, said in a statement.

Just because the Greek people want the Germans to give them a very favorable deal does not mean that the Germans will be inclined to do so.  The Germans know that whatever they do with the Greeks will set a precedent for the rest of the financially-troubled nations all across Europe.  If Greece gets a free lunch, then Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and France will expect the same kind of treatment

Angelos Chryssogelos, an expert on Greek politics at the London-based think tank Chatham House, said the strength of Sunday’s mandate handed to Tsipras means it will be almost impossible for the prime minister’s leftist Syriza party to make a deal with European creditors.

“The Europeans made it pretty clear where they stand, and they have been consistent,” Chryssogelos said, adding that the creditors also are unlikely to back down. “Right now, voters across the eurozone largely support the tough stance taken by the eurozone.”

Chryssogelos said Greek voters may have underestimated the resolve of the creditors to reach an accord on their terms. “If someone is seen getting preferential treatment, then someone else will want that treatment,” he said, referring to other eurozone debtors such as Ireland and Portugal.

And remember, there is a very important Spanish election coming up in December.

If Syriza comes out as the big winner in this crisis, it will empower similar movements in Spain and all over the rest of the continent.

So look for Greece’s creditors to tighten the screws over the coming days.  In fact, we already saw a bit of screw tightening on Monday when the ECB announced that Greek banks would not be receiving additional emergency assistance

In a move sure to increase pressure on Greece’s flailing banks, the European Central Bank on Monday decided not to expand an emergency assistance program, raising fears that Greece could soon go completely bankrupt.

The move put a swift crimp on Greek leaders’ jubilation after winning a landslide endorsement from their citizens to reject Europe’s austerity demands and seek a new bailout bargain. Now they must seek a bargain before the money runs out within days, which would likely force them off the euro.

Basically we are watching a very high stakes game of chicken play out.  And as the cash dwindles, economic activity in Greece is slowly grinding to a halt.  The following comes from the Washington Post

The dwindling cash is sucking the life out of everything from coffee shops to taxis, as anxious Greeks economize amid fears for the future. Greek leaders also banned transfers of money abroad, meaning that very little can now be imported into the country.

Printing plants are warning that they may run out of paper to print newspapers by the end of the week. Butchers say that stocks of imported meat are dwindling.

Some are even projecting that we could see civil unrest erupt in Greece in about “48 hours” once the ATM machines  run out of cash

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras probably has 48 hours to resolve a standoff with creditors before civil unrest breaks out and ATMs run out of cash, hedge fund Balyasny Asset Management said.

Yes, the Greek people exhibited great resolve in voting against the demands of the creditors on Sunday.

But how long can they endure this economic siege?

It is inevitable that a breaking point will come.  Either the Greek government will give in, or the Greeks will leave the euro and start to transition back to the drachma.

If we do see a “Grexit”, and many analysts believe that one is coming, it could set off a chain of events that could cause immense financial pain all over the planet.  There are tens of trillions of dollars of derivatives that are tied to European bond yields, European interest rates, etc.  The following is an excerpt from a piece authored by Phoenix Capital Research that explains what kind of jeopardy we could potentially be facing…

The global derivatives market is roughly $700 trillion in size. That’s over TEN TIMES the world’s GDP. And sovereign bonds… including even bonds from bankrupt countries such as Greece… are one of, if not the primary collateral underlying all of these trades.

Greece is not the real issue for Europe. The entire Greek debt market is about €345 billion in size. So we’re not talking about a massive amount of collateral… though the turmoil this country has caused in the last three years gives a sense of the importance of the issue.

Spain, by comparison has over €1.0 trillion in debt outstanding… and Italy has €2.6 trillion. These bonds are backstopping tens of trillions of Euros’ worth of derivatives trades. A haircut on them would trigger systemic failure in Europe.

If Greece gets a “haircut” on their debt, other European nations would want the same and that would cause massive chaos in the derivatives markets.

But if Greece does not get a deal and ends up leaving the eurozone, that will cause bond yields to go crazy all over Europe and that would also cause tremendous chaos in the derivatives markets.

So much depends on keeping this system of legalized gambling that we call “derivatives trading” stable.  We have allowed the global derivatives bubble to become many times larger than the GDP of the entire planet, and in the end we will pay a great price for this foolishness.

Every pyramid scheme eventually collapses, and this one will too.

But the difference with this pyramid scheme is that it is going to take the entire global financial system down with it.

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