Do you remember when our politicians promised to do something about the “too big to fail” banks? Well, they didn’t, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. On Thursday, it was announced that one of those “too big to fail” banks, Wells Fargo, has been slapped with 185 million dollars in penalties. It turns out that for years their employees had been opening millions of bank and credit card accounts for customers without even telling them. The goal was to meet sales goals, and customers were hit by surprise fees that they never intended to pay. Some employees actually created false email addresses and false PIN numbers to sign customers up for accounts. It was fraud on a scale that is hard to imagine, and now Wells Fargo finds itself embroiled in a major crisis.
There are six banks in America that basically dwarf all of the other banks – JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Bank of America, Wells Fargo, Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs. If a single one of those banks were to fail, it would be a catastrophe of unprecedented proportions for our financial system. So we need these banks to be healthy and running well. That is why what we just learned about Wells Fargo is so concerning…
Employees of Wells Fargo (WFC) boosted sales figures by covertly opening the accounts and funding them by transferring money from customers’ authorized accounts without permission, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Office of the Comptroller of the Currency and Los Angeles city officials said.
An analysis by the San Francisco-headquartered bank found that its employees opened more than two million deposit and credit card accounts that may not have been authorized by consumers, the officials said. Many of the transfers ran up fees or other charges for the customers, even as they helped employees make incentive goals.
Wells Fargo says that 5,300 employees have been fired as a result of this conduct, and they are promising to clean things up.
Hopefully they will keep their word.
It is interesting to note that the largest shareholder in Wells Fargo is Berkshire Hathaway, and Berkshire Hathaway is run by Warren Buffett. There has been a lot of debate about whether or not this penalty on Wells Fargo was severe enough, and it will be very interesting to hear what he has to say about this in the coming days…
Wells Fargo is the most valuable bank in America, worth just north of $250 billion. Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA), the investment firm run legendary investor Warren Buffett, is the company’s biggest shareholder.
“One wonders whether a penalty of $100 million is enough,” said David Vladeck, a Georgetown University law professor and former director of the Federal Trade Commission’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “It sounds like a big number, but for a bank the size of Wells Fargo, it isn’t really.”
After the last crisis, we were told that we would never be put in a position again where the health of a single “too big to fail” institution could threaten to bring down our entire financial system.
But our politicians didn’t fix the “too big to fail” problem.
Instead it has gotten much, much worse.
Back in 2007, the five largest banks held 35 percent of all bank assets. Today, that number is up to 44 percent…
Since 1992, the total assets held by the five largest U.S. banks has increased by nearly fifteen times! Back then, the five largest banks held just 10 percent of the banking industry total. Today, JP Morgan alone holds over 12 percent of the industry total, a greater share than the five biggest banks put together in 1992.
Even in the midst of the global financial crisis, the largest U.S. banks managed to increase their hold on total bank industry assets. The assets held by the five largest banks in 2007 – $4.6 trillion – increased by more than 150 percent over the past 8 years. These five banks went from holding 35 percent of industry assets in 2007 to 44 percent today.
Meanwhile, nearly 2,000 smaller institutions have disappeared from our financial system since the beginning of the last crisis.
So the problem of “too big to fail” is now larger than ever.
Considering how reckless these big banks have been, it is inevitable that one or more of them will fail at some point. When that takes place, it will make the collapse of Lehman Brothers look like a Sunday picnic.
And with each passing day, the rumblings of a new financial crisis grow louder. For example, this week we learned that commercial bankruptcy filings in the United States in August were up a whopping 29 percent compared to the same period a year ago…
In August, US commercial bankruptcy filings jumped 29% from a year ago to 3,199, the 10th month in a row of year-over-year increases, the American Bankruptcy Institute, in partnership with Epiq Systems, reported today.
There’s money to be made. While stockholders and some creditors get raked over the coals, lawyers make a killing on fees. And some folks on the inside track, hedge funds, and private equity firms can make a killing picking up assets for cents on the dollar.
Companies are going bankrupt at a rate that we haven’t seen since the last financial crisis, but nobody seems concerned.
Back in 2007 and early 2008, Federal Reserve Chair Ben Bernanke, President Bush and a whole host of “experts” assured us that everything was going to be just fine and that a recession was not coming.
Today, Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen, Barack Obama and a whole host of “experts” are assuring us that everything is going to be just fine and that a recession is not coming.
I hope that they are right.
I really do.
But there is a reason why so many firms are filing for bankruptcy, and there is a reason why so many Americans are getting behind on their auto loans.
Our giant debt bubble is beginning to burst, and this is going to cause a tremendous amount of financial chaos.
Let us just hope that the “too big to fail” banks can handle the stress this time around.
One of the most important banks in the western world says that the 7th largest economy on the entire planet has entered a full-blown economic depression. Brazil’s economy has now contracted for three quarters in a row, and many analysts believe that things are going to get far worse before they have a chance to get any better. Earlier this year, I warned about “the South American financial crisis of 2015“, and now it is in full swing. The surging U.S. dollar is absolutely crushing emerging markets such as Brazil, and if the Fed raises interest rates this month that is going to make the pain even worse. The global financial system is more interconnected than ever before, and the decisions made by the Federal Reserve truly do have global consequences. So much of the “hot money” that was created by the Fed poured into emerging markets such as Brazil during the good times, but now the process is starting to reverse itself. At this point, it is hard to see how much of South America is going to avoid a complete and total economic disaster.
It is one thing for Michael Snyder from the Economic Collapse Blog to say that the Brazilian economy has entered a “depression”, but it is another thing entirely when Goldman Sachs comes out and publicly says it. The following comes from a Bloomberg article that was just posted entitled “Goldman Warns of Brazil Depression After GDP Plunges Again“…
Latin America’s largest economy shrank more than analysts forecast, as rising unemployment and higher inflation sapped domestic demand, pulling the nation deeper into what Goldman Sachs now calls “an outright depression.”
Gross domestic product in Brazil contracted 1.7 percent in the three months ended in September, after a revised 2.1 percent drop the previous quarter, the national statistics institute said in Rio de Janeiro. That’s worse than all but three estimates from 44 economists surveyed by Bloomberg, whose median forecast was for a 1.2 percent decline. It also marks the first three-quarter contraction since the institute’s series began in 1996, and a seasonally adjusted annual drop of 6.7 percent.
And when you look deeper into the numbers they become even more disturbing.
Unemployment is rising, consumer spending is way down, and investment spending is absolutely collapsing. Here is some of the data that Goldman Sachs just released that comes via Zero Hedge…
Private consumption has now declined for three consecutive quarters (at an average quarterly rate of -8.5% qoq sa, annualized), and investment spending for nine consecutive quarters (at an average rate of -10.0% qoq sa, annualized). Overall, gross fixed investment declined by a cumulative 21% from 2Q2013. The declining capital stock of the economy (declining capital-labor ratio) hurts productivity growth and limits even further potential GDP. The sharp contraction of real activity during 3Q was broad-based: both on the supply and final demand side. Final domestic demand weakened sharply during 3Q2015 (-1.7% qoq sa and -6.0% yoy) with private consumption down 1.5% qoq sa (-4.5% yoy) and gross fixed investment down 4.0% qoq sa (-15.0% yoy). Finally, on the supply side, we highlight that the large labor intensive services sector retrenched again at the margin (-1.0% qoq sa; -2.9% yoy).
The term “economic depression” is not something that should be used lightly, because it conjures up images of the Great Depression of the 1930s. And the Brazilian economy is very important to the global economic system. As I mentioned above, there are only six countries in the entire world that have a larger economy, and Brazil accounts for more than 242 billion dollars worth of exports every year.
So if Brazil is feeling pain, it is going to affect all of us.
Up to this point, everyone had been calling what has been going on in Brazil a “recession”, but now Goldman Sachs is the first major bank to label it “an outright economic depression”…
“What started as a recession driven by the adjustment needs of an economy that accumulated large macro imbalances is now mutating into an outright economic depression given the deep contraction of domestic demand,” Alberto Ramos, chief Latin America economist at Goldman Sachs Group Inc., wrote in a report Tuesday.
Of course Brazil is far from alone. The third largest economy on the globe, Japan, has also now slipped into recession territory. So has Russia. And just today we learned that Canadian GDP is plunging…
Who could have seen that coming? It appears, for America’s northern brethren, low oil prices are unequivocally terrible. Against expectations of a flat 0.0% unchanged September, Canadian GDP plunged 0.5% – its largest MoM drop since March 2009 and the biggest miss since Dec 2008.
It is just a matter of time before this global economic downturn catches up with us here in the U.S. too.
In fact, there is evidence that this is already happening.
According to brand new numbers that just came out, manufacturing activity in the U.S. is contracting at the fastest pace that we have seen since the last recession…
Manufacturing in the U.S. unexpectedly contracted in November at the fastest pace since the last recession as elevated inventories led to cutbacks in orders and production.
The Institute for Supply Management’s index dropped to 48.6, the lowest level since June 2009, from 50.1 in October, a report from the Tempe, Arizona-based group showed Tuesday. The November figure was weaker than the most pessimistic forecast in a Bloomberg survey. Readings less than 50 indicate contraction.
Another indicator that I am watching is the velocity of money.
When an economy is healthy, money tends to flow fairly freely. I buy something from you, and then you buy something from someone else, etc.
But when economic conditions start to get tough, people start to hold on to their money. That means that money doesn’t change hands as quickly and the velocity of money goes down. As you can see below, the velocity of money has declined during every single recession since 1960…
When a recession ends, the velocity of money normally starts going back up.
But a funny thing happened when the last recession ended. The velocity of money ticked up slightly, but then it started going down steadily. In fact, it has kept on declining ever since and it has now hit a brand new all-time record low.
This is not normal. Yes, Wall Street is temporarily flying high for the moment, but the underlying economic fundamentals are all screaming that something is horribly wrong.
A global crisis has begun, and the U.S. will not be immune from it. I truly believe that we are heading toward the worst economic downturn that any of us have ever experienced.
But there are many out there that insist that nothing is the matter and that happy times are ahead.
So who is right and who is wrong?
We will just have to wait and see…
The very same people that caused the last economic crisis have created a 278 TRILLION dollar derivatives time bomb that could go off at any moment. When this absolutely colossal bubble does implode, we are going to be faced with the worst economic crash in the history of the United States. During the last financial crisis, our politicians promised us that they would make sure that “too big to fail” would never be a problem again. Instead, as you will see below, those banks have actually gotten far larger since then. So now we really can’t afford for them to fail. The six banks that I am talking about are JPMorgan Chase, Citibank, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley and Wells Fargo. When you add up all of their exposure to derivatives, it comes to a grand total of more than 278 trillion dollars. But when you add up all of the assets of all six banks combined, it only comes to a grand total of about 9.8 trillion dollars. In other words, these “too big to fail” banks have exposure to derivatives that is more than 28 times greater than their total assets. This is complete and utter insanity, and yet nobody seems too alarmed about it. For the moment, those banks are still making lots of money and funding the campaigns of our most prominent politicians. Right now there is no incentive for them to stop their incredibly reckless gambling so they are just going to keep on doing it.
So precisely what are “derivatives”? Well, they can be immensely complicated, but I like to simplify things. On a very basic level, a “derivative” is not an investment in anything. When you buy a stock, you are purchasing an ownership interest in a company. When you buy a bond, you are purchasing the debt of a company. But a derivative is quite different. In essence, most derivatives are simply bets about what will or will not happen in the future. The big banks have transformed Wall Street into the biggest casino in the history of the planet, and when things are running smoothly they usually make a whole lot of money.
But there is a fundamental flaw in the system, and I described this in a previous article…
The big banks use very sophisticated algorithms that are supposed to help them be on the winning side of these bets the vast majority of the time, but these algorithms are not perfect. The reason these algorithms are not perfect is because they are based on assumptions, and those assumptions come from people. They might be really smart people, but they are still just people.
Today, the “too big to fail” banks are being even more reckless than they were just prior to the financial crash of 2008.
As long as they keep winning, everyone is going to be okay. But when the time comes that their bets start going against them, it is going to be a nightmare for all of us. Our entire economic system is based on the flow of credit, and those banks are at the very heart of that system.
In fact, the five largest banks account for approximately 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks account for approximately 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.
So that is why they are called “too big to fail”. We simply cannot afford for them to go out of business.
As I mentioned above, our politicians promised that something would be done about this. But instead, the four largest banks in the country have gotten nearly 40 percent larger since the last time around. The following numbers come from an article in the Los Angeles Times…
Just before the financial crisis hit, Wells Fargo & Co. had $609 billion in assets. Now it has $1.4 trillion. Bank of America Corp. had $1.7 trillion in assets. That’s up to $2.1 trillion.
And the assets of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank, have ballooned to $2.4 trillion from $1.8 trillion.
During this same time period, 1,400 smaller banks have completely disappeared from the banking industry.
So our economic system is now more dependent on the “too big to fail” banks than ever.
To illustrate how reckless the “too big to fail” banks have become, I want to share with you some brand new numbers which come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2)…
Total Assets: $2,573,126,000,000 (about 2.6 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $63,600,246,000,000 (more than 63 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,842,530,000,000 (more than 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,951,603,000,000 (more than 59 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $856,301,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $57,312,558,000,000 (more than 57 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $2,106,796,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,224,084,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $801,382,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $38,546,879,000,000 (more than 38 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,687,155,000,000 (about 1.7 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $5,302,422,000,000 (more than 5 trillion dollars)
Compared to the rest of them, Wells Fargo looks extremely prudent and rational.
But of course that is not true at all. Wells Fargo is being very reckless, but the others are being so reckless that it makes everyone else pale in comparison.
And these banks are not exactly in good shape for the next financial crisis that is rapidly approaching. The following is an excerpt from a recent Business Insider article…
The New York Times isn’t so sure about the results from the Federal Reserve’s latest round of stress tests.
In an editorial published over the weekend, The Times cites data from Thomas Hoenig, vice chairman of the FDIC, who, in contrast to the Federal Reserve, found that capital ratios at the eight largest banks in the US averaged 4.97% at the end of 2014, far lower than the 12.9% found by the Fed’s stress test.
That doesn’t sound good.
So what is up with the discrepancy in the numbers? The New York Times explains…
The discrepancy is due mainly to differing views of the risk posed by the banks’ vast holdings of derivative contracts used for hedging and speculation. The Fed, in keeping with American accounting rules and central bank accords, assumes that gains and losses on derivatives generally net out. As a result, most derivatives do not show up as assets on banks’ balance sheets, an omission that bolsters the ratio of capital to assets.
Mr. Hoenig uses stricter international accounting rules to value the derivatives. Those rules do not assume that gains and losses reliably net out. As a result, large derivative holdings are shown as assets on the balance sheet, an addition that reduces the ratio of capital to assets to the low levels reported in Mr. Hoenig’s analysis.
And you know what?
The guys running these big banks can see what is coming.
Just consider the words that JPMorgan Chase chairman and CEO Jamie Dimon wrote to his shareholders not too long ago…
Some things never change — there will be another crisis, and its impact will be felt by the financial market.
The trigger to the next crisis will not be the same as the trigger to the last one – but there will be another crisis. Triggering events could be geopolitical (the 1973 Middle East crisis), a recession where the Fed rapidly increases interest rates (the 1980-1982 recession), a commodities price collapse (oil in the late 1980s), the commercial real estate crisis (in the early 1990s), the Asian crisis (in 1997), so-called “bubbles” (the 2000 Internet bubble and the 2008 mortgage/housing bubble), etc. While the past crises had different roots (you could spend a lot of time arguing the degree to which geopolitical, economic or purely financial factors caused each crisis), they generally had a strong effect across the financial markets
In the same letter, Dimon mentioned “derivatives moved by enormous players and rapid computerized trades” as part of the reason why our system is so vulnerable to another crisis.
If this is what he truly believes, why is his firm being so incredibly reckless?
Perhaps someone should ask him that.
Interestingly, Dimon also discussed the possibility of a Greek exit from the eurozone…
“We must be prepared for a potential exit,” J. P. Morgan Chief Executive Officer Jamie Dimon said. in his annual letter to shareholders. “We continually stress test our company for possible repercussions resulting from such an event.”
This is something that I have been warning about for a long time.
And of course Dimon is not the only prominent banker warning of big problems ahead. German banking giant Deutsche Bank is also sounding the alarm…
With a U.S. profit recession expected in the first half of 2015 and investors unlikely to pay up for stocks, the risk of a stock market drop of 5% to 10% is rising, Deutsche Bank says.
That’s the warning Deutsche Bank market strategist David Bianco zapped out to clients today before the opening bell on Wall Street.
Bianco expects earnings for the broad Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index to contract in the first half of 2015 — the first time that’s happened since 2009 during the financial crisis. And the combination of soft earnings and his belief that investors won’t pay top dollar for stocks in a market that is already trading at above-average valuations is a recipe for a short-term pullback on Wall Street.
The truth is that we are in the midst of a historic stock market bubble, and we are witnessing all sorts of patterns in the financial markets which also emerged back in 2008 right before the financial crash in the fall of that year.
When some of the most prominent bankers at some of the biggest banks on the entire planet start issuing ominous warnings, that is a clear sign that time is running out. The period of relative stability that we have been enjoying has been fun, and hopefully it will last just a little while longer. But at some point it will end, and then the pain will begin.
Why has Goldman Sachs chosen this moment to publicly declare that stocks are overpriced? Why has Goldman Sachs suddenly decided to warn all of us that the stock market could decline by 10 percent or more in the coming months? Goldman Sachs has to know that when they release a report like this that it will move the market. And that is precisely what happened on Monday. U.S. stocks dropped precipitously. So is Goldman Sachs just honestly trying to warn their clients that stocks may have become overvalued at this point, or is another agenda at work here? To be fair, the truth is that all of the big banks should be warning their clients about the stock market bubble. Personally, I have stated that the stock market has officially entered “crazytown territory“. So it would be hard to blame Goldman Sachs for trying to tell the truth. But Goldman Sachs also had to know that a warning that the stock market could potentially fall by more than 10 percent would rattle nerves on Wall Street.
This report that has just been released by Goldman Sachs has gotten a lot of attention. In fact, an article about this report was featured at the top of the CNBC website for quite a while on Monday. Needless to say, news of this report spread on Wall Street like wildfire. The following is a short excerpt from the CNBC article…
A stock market correction is approaching the level of near certainty as Wall Street faces a major paradigm shift in how to achieve price gains, according to a Goldman Sachs analysis.
In a market outlook that garnered significant attention from traders Monday, the firm’s strategists called the S&P 500 valuation “lofty by almost any measure” and attached a 67 percent probability to the chance that the market would fall by 10 percent or more, which is the technical yardstick for a correction.
Of course Goldman Sachs is quite correct to be warning about an imminent stock market correction. Right now stocks are overvalued according to just about any measure that you could imagine…
The current valuation of the S&P 500 is lofty by almost any measure, both for the aggregate market as well as the median stock: (1) The P/E ratio; (2) the current P/E expansion cycle; (3) EV/Sales; (4) EV/EBITDA; (5) Free Cash Flow yield; (6) Price/Book as well as the ROE and P/B relationship; and compared with the levels of (6) inflation; (7) nominal 10-year Treasury yields; and (8) real interest rates. Furthermore, the cyclically-adjusted P/E ratio suggests the S&P 500 is currently 30% overvalued in terms of (9) Operating EPS and (10) about 45% overvalued using As Reported earnings.
There is a lot of technical jargon in the paragraph above, but essentially what it is saying is that stock prices are unusually high right now according to a whole host of key indicators.
And in case you were wondering, stocks did fall dramatically on Monday. The Dow fell by 179 points, which was the biggest decline of the year by far.
So is Goldman Sachs correct about what could be coming?
Well, the truth is that there are many other analysts that are far more pessimistic than Goldman Sachs is. For example, David Stockman, the Director of the Office of Management and Budget under President Reagan, believes that the U.S. stock market is heading for “a pretty rude day of awakening”…
“This (2014) is the year of the end game. The party is over. We are now just at the point where they are rounding up the Wall Street drunks who are swilling on the fifth consecutive seasonally maladjusted phony recovery. That will become evident in the weeks and months ahead. Then I think the markets are going to have a pretty rude day of awakening.”
For many more forecasts that are similar to this, please see my previous article entitled “Dent, Faber, Celente, Maloney, Rogers – What Do They Say Is Coming In 2014?”
There are also some other signs that we are rapidly heading toward a major “turning point” in the financial world in 2014. One of those signs is the continual decline of Comex gold inventories. Someone out there (China?) is voraciously gobbling up physical gold. The following is a short excerpt from a recent article by Steve St. Angelo…
After a brief pause in the decline of Comex Gold inventories, it looks like it has continued once again as there were several big withdrawals over the past few days. Not only was there a large removal of gold from the Comex today, the Registered (Dealer) inventories are now at a new record low.
And of course the overall economy continues to get even weaker. The Baltic Dry Index (a very important indicator of global economic activity) has fallen by more than 40 percent over the past couple of weeks…
We noted Friday that the much-heralded Baltic Dry Index has seen the worst start to the year in over 30 years. Today it got worse. At 1,395, the the Baltic Dry index, which reflects the daily charter rate for vessels carrying cargoes such as iron ore, coal and grain, is now down 18% in the last 2 days alone (biggest drop in 6 years), back at 4-month lows. The shipping index has utterly collapsed over 40% in the last 2 weeks.
So does this mean that tough times are just around the corner?
Or perhaps things will stabilize again and this little bubble of false prosperity that we have been enjoying will be extended for a little while longer.
The important thing is to not get too caught up in the short-term numbers.
If you look at our long-term national “balance sheet numbers” and the long-term trends that are systematically destroying our economy, it becomes abundantly clear that a massive economic collapse is on the way. Our national debt is on pace to more than double during the Obama years, our “too big to fail” banks are now much bigger and much more reckless than they were before the financial crash of 2008, and the middle class in America is steadily shrinking. In other words, our long-term national “balance sheet numbers” are worse than ever.
We consume far more wealth than we produce, and our entire nation is drowning in a massive ocean of red ink that stretches from sea to shining sea.
This is not sustainable, and it is inevitable that the stock market will catch up with economic reality at some point.
It is just a matter of time.