The big credit card companies don’t make much money off of those that pay their bills on time, and so they often specifically target less educated and less sophisticated consumers that don’t really understand the dangers of credit card debt. The goal is to find people that will carry credit card balances from month to month, because that is where the real money can be made. The average U.S. household that carries balances from month to month has approximately $15,310 in credit card debt right now. At an average interest rate of about 15 percent, the profits pile up very quickly for the big credit card companies. After all these years, so many of us still have not learned the truth about credit cards, and so credit card debt is absolutely crippling tens of millions of American families.
In 2015, the total amount of credit card debt in this country increased by a staggering 71 billion dollars. In a previous article, I explained to my readers that American consumers accumulated more new credit card debt during the fourth quarter of 2015 than they did during the entire years of 2009, 2010 and 2011 combined.
Many analysts are forecasting that the total amount of credit card debt will surpass a trillion dollars by the end of 2016. This is why there is such a crying need for financial education in this nation. Millions upon millions of us are being taken for a ride, and as I mentioned above, the big credit card companies often target those of us that are the least sophisticated about financial matters. The following comes from Bloomberg…
Credit-card companies need people to spend more than they can afford, but not so much that they default on their payments. So they could benefit from targeting individuals who are more likely to have cognitive failings. This is the dark side of behavioral finance.
Some new research by economists Antoinette Schoar of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Hong Ru of Nanyang Technological University claims to find exactly such a result. The authors use data from a private company that tracks credit-card offers. They find that less educated consumers — who are likely to be less financially sophisticated — are more frequently given offers that include back-loaded costs. Those are plans that start with low rates, but increase later, with extra-high over-limit and late-payment fees. In other words, those are likely to be the borrowers who make bad financial decisions — racking up debt and eventually paying much more in interest. Meanwhile, more educated households tend not to be offered these plans.
Do you understand what that is saying?
The large credit card companies want to find those of us that are the most vulnerable, because that is where their biggest profits can be made.
And of course most of us have gotten into trouble with credit card debt at some point. They don’t teach us how to manage our finances in high school or in college, and so most of us are very financially naive when we first get out into the real world. Card offers are being showered on our young people, and cash-strapped young adults can find it very easy to “buy now and pay later”…
Psychologically, it can be easier for people to pay using a credit card because no paper money is involved, Danford said. A Dun & Bradstreet study found that people spend an average of 12 to 18 percent more when using a credit card instead of cash.
“I think that’s one of the traps. It’s almost too easy to use a credit card,” Danford said. “You don’t have to think of the consequences.”
According to 2015 data from Experian, the average American had 2.24 credit cards, up from 2.18 in 2014.
Of all credit card users, what percentage do you think carries a balance from month to month?
Well, according to Time Magazine only 35 percent of those that use credit cards completely pay them off every single month. That means that 65 percent of those that use credit cards do carry a balance…
Only 35% of credit card users don’t carry a balance–they pay off their bill every month, like you’re supposed to. They use credit cards for convenience, and perhaps to generate bonus points and rewards, not because they need to borrow. If you’re a member of this group, you’re known as a “convenience user.” (Go ahead and pat yourself on the back for not being on the hook for high interest rates, but don’t gloat.) The other, more typical credit card users are known as “revolvers” because they don’t pay off their bills in full so the debt revolves. To them, credit limit increases are essentially invitations to spend more. It’s unsettling: “for revolvers, a 10% increase in credit is followed by a 1.3 percent increase in debt within one quarter and a 9.99% increase in debt over the long term,” the study found.
Unfortunately for the big credit card companies and the overall U.S. economy, it appears that U.S. consumers are starting to get tapped out.
Retail sales fell 2.9 percent in April, and then they dropped by 3.9 percent in May. As a result of these declining sales, corporate profits are suffering, and it is being projected that the final numbers for the second quarter of 2016 will show that corporate profits in the U.S. have now fallen for five quarters in a row.
That is not an “economic recovery”. Rather, that is what normally happens at the beginning of a major recession.
And don’t expect this to turn around any time soon, because Americans just don’t have the kind of discretionary income that they once did. The following comes from a New York Post article entitled “A staggering percentage of Americans are too poor to shop“…
Retailers have blamed the weather, slow job growth and millennials for their poor results this past year, but a new study claims that more than 20 percent of Americans are simply too poor to shop.
These 26 million Americans are juggling two to three jobs, earning just around $27,000 a year and supporting two to four children — and exist largely under the radar, according to America’s Research Group, which has been tracking consumer shopping trends since 1979.
So much of what is happening right now is very reminiscent of 2008. There was an explosion of credit card debt just before that crash as well.
We should have learned some very hard lessons the last time around, but we didn’t, and so now the pain for American families will be even greater this time.
If you are in credit card debt at this moment, it would be wise to try to eliminate it as soon as you can, because you definitely don’t want to be drowning in debt when times get really, really hard.
If the stock market crash of last Thursday and Friday had all happened on one day, it would have been the 7th largest single day decline in U.S. history. On Friday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 367 points after finishing down 253 points on Thursday. The overall decline of 620 points between the two days would have been the 7th largest single day stock market crash ever experienced in the United States if it had happened within just one trading day. If you will remember, this is precisely what I warned would happen if the Federal Reserve raised interest rates. But when news of the rate hike first came out on Wednesday, stocks initially jumped. This didn’t make any sense at all, and personally I was absolutely stunned that the markets had behaved so irrationally. But then we saw that on Thursday and Friday the markets did exactly what we thought they would do. The chief economist at Gluskin Sheff, David Rosenberg, is calling the brief rally on Wednesday “a head-fake of enormous proportions“, and analysts all over Wall Street are bracing for what could be another very challenging week ahead.
When the Federal Reserve decided to lift interest rates, they made a colossal error. You don’t raise interest rates when a global financial crisis has already started. That is absolutely suicidal. It is the kind of thing that you would do if you were trying to bring down the global financial system on purpose.
Surely the “experts” at the Federal Reserve can see what is happening. Junk bonds have already crashed, just like they did in 2008. The price of oil has crashed, just like it did in 2008. Commodity prices have crashed, just like they did in 2008. And more than half of all major global stock market indexes are already down at least 10 percent for the year so far.
You don’t raise interest rates in that kind of an environment.
You would have to be utterly insane to do so.
The Federal Reserve has thrown fuel onto a global financial inferno that is already raging, and things could spiral out of control very rapidly.
As far as this upcoming week is concerned, we have now entered “liquidation season”. Investors are going to be pulling their money out of poorly performing hedge funds before the end of the calendar year, and as CNBC has pointed out, more hedge funds have already failed in 2015 than at any point since the last financial crisis…
Liquidation season occurs when clients of poorly performing hedge funds ask for their money back. It tends to occur at the end of a quarter or year. In response, hedge funds must sell stocks in the open market to raise the money that needs to be returned to investors.
That means if a hedge fund performed poorly this year; it is probably flooded with liquidation requests right now. In fact, there have been more failed hedge funds this year than any time since 2008.
The dominoes are starting to fall. We have already seen funds run by Third Avenue Management, Stone Lion Capital Partners and Lucidus Capital Partners collapse. Amazingly, there are some people out there that are still attempting to claim that “nothing is happening” even in the midst of all of this chaos.
As they say, “denial” is not just a river in Egypt.
And this crisis is going to get even worse as we head into 2016. Egon von Greyerz, the founder of Matterhorn Asset Management, is convinced that we will soon see “one disaster after another”…
Greyerz predicts, “I think we will have one disaster after another, first in the junk bond market, then in emerging markets and, after that, the subprime markets. Subprime car loans and student loans I see as another massive problem area. It is going to be one thing after another that will unravel. Since 2008, when the world almost went under, we have printed or increased credit by 50% or by $70 trillion, and the world economy is still struggling to survive. I think the real change in confidence will come down when markets come down. . . . I think things will come down very quickly.”
And I think that he is right on target. The global financial system is more interconnected today than ever before, and when one financial institution fails, it inevitably affects dozens of others. And the failures that we have already seen are already spreading a wave of fear and panic that may be difficult to stop. The following comes from Business Insider, and I think that it is a pretty good explanation of what we could see next…
- Funds such as Third Avenue and Lucidus close, liquidating their portfolios.
- Investors, spooked by the closures and the risk that they might not be able to get their money out of these funds, make a rush for the exits while they still can.
- That creates even more selling pressure.
- Funds sell the assets that are easiest to sell as they look to reduce risk, which pushes the selling pressure from the risky parts of the market to the higher-quality part of the market.
- Things evolve from there.
If you have been waiting for the next financial crisis to arrive, you can stop, because it is already unfolding right in front of our eyes.
The only question is how bad it is going to become.
In the final analysis, I find myself agreeing quite a bit with Charles Hugh Smith, the author of “A Radically Beneficial World: Automation, Technology and Creating Jobs for All“. He believes that the ridiculous monetary policies of the Federal Reserve have played a primary role in setting the stage for this new crisis, and that now this giant financial “Death Star” that they have created “is about to blow up”…
By slashing rates to zero, the Fed ruthlessly eliminating safe returns for savers, pension funds, insurers and the millions of people with 401K retirement nesteggs. In effect, the Fed-Farce has pushed everyone into risk assets–and then played another Dark Side mind-trick by masking the true dangers of these risky assets.
As oil-sector debt blows up, as junk bonds blow up, and emerging markets blow up, we are finally starting to see the real costs of going over to the Dark Side of endless credit expansion and throwing the gasoline of near-zero interest rates on the speculative fires of financialization.
The Fed’s hubris has led it to the Dark Side, and now its Death Star of impaired debt, phantom collateral, speculative frenzy and bogus mind-tricks is about to blow up.
Personally, instead of saying that it “is about to blow up”, I would have said that it is already blowing up.
We have already seen trillions upon trillions of dollars of wealth wiped out around the world.
Energy companies are failing, giant hedge funds are going under, and the 7th largest economy on the entire planet has already plunged into “an outright depression“.
Everyone that warned of financial disaster in the second half of 2015 has been proven right, but this is just the beginning. Now that the Federal Reserve has thrown gasoline onto the fire, our problems are only going to accelerate as we head into 2016.
So for the upcoming year, let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.
Are we about to witness widespread panic in the global financial marketplace? This week is shaping up to be an absolutely critical week for global stocks. Coming into December, more than half of the 93 largest stock market indexes in the world were down more than 10 percent year to date, and last week stocks really started to slide all over the world. Here in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average is down about 600 points over the past week or so, and at this point it is down more than 1000 points from the peak of the market. That brings us to this week, during which the Federal Reserve is expected to raise interest rates for the very first time since the last financial crisis. If that happens, that could potentially be enough to accelerate this “slide” into a full-blown crash.
And just look at what is already happening. Trading for stocks in the Middle East has opened for the week, and we are already witnessing tremendous carnage…
Following Friday’s further freefall in crude oil prices, The Middle East is opening down notably. Abu Dhabi, Saudi, and Kuwait are lower; Israel is weak and UAE and Qatar are tumbling, but Dubai is worst for now. Dubai is down for the 6th day in a row (dropping over 3% – the most in a month) extending the opening losses to 2-year lows. The 11% drop in the last 6 days is the largest since the post-China-devaluation global stock collapse. Leading the losses are financial and property firms.
Things in Asia look very troubling as well. As I write this, the Japanese market has just opened, and the Nikkei is already down 508 points.
In recent days I have been explaining to my readers how everything is lining up in textbook fashion for another major market crash. In particular, the implosion of junk bonds is a major red flag. Late last week, Third Avenue Management shocked Wall Street by freezing withdrawals from a 788 million dollar credit mutual fund. The following comes from Bloomberg…
A day after a prominent Wall Street firm shocked investors by freezing withdrawals from a credit mutual fund, things only got nastier in the junk-bond market. Prices on the high-risk securities sank to levels not seen in six years and, to add to the growing sense of alarm, billionaire investor Carl Icahn said the selloff is only starting.
“The meltdown in High Yield is just beginning,” Icahn, who’s been betting against the high-yield market, wrote on his verified Twitter account Friday.
Icahn’s comments come as junk-bond investors, already stung by the worst losses since 2008, are the most nervous they’ve been in three years after Third Avenue Management took the rare step of freezing withdrawals from a $788 million credit mutual fund.
What Third Avenue Management just did was absolutely huge. Now investors that have money in any similar funds are going to be racing to get it out. We could be on the verge of a run on bond funds that is absolutely unprecedented. This is so obvious that even CNBC’s Jim Cramer is sounding the alarm…
Friday was a day where Cramer’s ears were burning with concern because of the troubles discovered with a high yield bond fund run by Third Avenue Management. It decided to bar investors from getting their money out of its Focused Credit Fund, because it could not meet demands to get cash back to them in an orderly way.
This was significant because when it tries to sell the bonds needed to satisfy these orders for redemptions, it could destroy the high yield bond market because there are no buyers anywhere near the amount that they want to sell.
“I cannot emphasize enough just how disconcerting this move is,” Cramer said.
I know that for the ordinary person on the street, all of this sounds very complicated.
But it basically comes down to this – anyone that has a lot of money invested in these bond funds is in danger of getting totally wiped out.
In a situation like this, it is those that are “first out the door” that come out as the winners. I like how Wolf Richter explained what we are currently facing…
It works like this: When an “open-end” bond fund starts losing money, investors begin to sell it. Fund managers first use all available cash to pay investors. When the cash is gone, they sell the most liquid securities that haven’t lost much money yet, such as Treasuries. When they’re gone, they sell the most liquid corporate paper. As they go down the line, they sell bonds that have already lost a lot of value. By now the smart money is betting against the fund, having figured out what’s happening. They’re shorting the very bonds these folks are trying to sell.
The longer this goes on, the more money investors lose and the more spooked they get. It turns into a run. And people who still have that fund in their retirement account are getting cleaned out.
Bond funds can be treacherous – especially if they hold dubious paper, which is never dubious until it suddenly is. And when they get in trouble, you want to be among the first out the door.
I would anticipate that we will see more junk bond carnage this week – especially if the Fed raises rates.
And as I have discussed previously, a stock crash almost always follows a junk bond crash. If the Fed does raise rates this week and stocks do start falling significantly, one key day to watch will be Friday. JPM’s head quant Marko Kolanovic has warned that “the largest option expiry in many years” will happen on that day…
This important event falls at a peculiar time—less than 48 hours before the largest option expiry in many years. There are $1.1 trillion of S&P 500 options expiring on Friday morning. $670Bn of these are puts, of which $215Bn are struck relatively close below the market level, between 1900 and 2050. Clients are net long these puts and will likely hold onto them through the event and until expiry. At the time of the Fed announcement, these put options will essentially look like a massive stop loss order under the market.
A perfect storm for stocks is brewing, and this week could potentially be one of the most chaotic that we have seen in a very long time.
But of course the Federal Reserve could decide to surprise us all by not raising rates, and that would change things substantially.
So what do you think will happen this week?
Please feel free to share your thoughts by posting a comment below…
All over the planet, large banks are massively overexposed to derivatives contracts. Interest rate derivatives account for the biggest chunk of these derivatives contracts. According to the Bank for International Settlements, the notional value of all interest rate derivatives contracts outstanding around the globe is a staggering 505 trillion dollars. Considering the fact that the U.S. national debt is only 18 trillion dollars, that is an amount of money that is almost incomprehensible. When this derivatives bubble finally bursts, there won’t be enough money in the entire world to bail everyone out. The key to making sure that all of these interest rate bets do not start going bad is for interest rates to remain stable. That is why what is going on in Greece right now is so important. The Greek government has announced that it will default on a loan payment that it owes to the IMF on June 5th. If that default does indeed happen, Greek bond yields will soar into the stratosphere as panicked investors flee for the exits. But it won’t just be Greece. If Greece defaults despite years of intervention by the EU and the IMF, that will be a clear signal to the financial world that no nation in Europe is truly safe. Bond yields will start spiking in Italy, Spain, Portugal, Ireland and all over the rest of the continent. By the end of it, we could be faced with the greatest interest rate derivatives crisis that any of us have ever seen.
The number one thing that bond investors want is to get their money back. If a nation like Greece is actually allowed to default after so much time and so much effort has been expended to prop them up, that is really going to spook those that invest in bonds.
At this point, Greece has not gotten any new cash from the EU or the IMF since last August. The Greek government is essentially flat broke at this point, and once again over the weekend a Greek government official warned that the loan payment that is scheduled to be made to the IMF on June 5th simply will not happen…
Greece cannot make debt repayments to the International Monetary Fund next month unless it achieves a deal with creditors, its Interior Minister said on Sunday, the most explicit remarks yet from Athens about the likelihood of default if talks fail.
Shut out of bond markets and with bailout aid locked, cash-strapped Athens has been scraping state coffers to meet debt obligations and to pay wages and pensions. With its future as a member of the 19-nation euro zone potentially at stake, a second government minister accused its international lenders of subjecting it to slow and calculated torture.
After four months of talks with its eurozone partners and the IMF, the leftist-led government is still scrambling for a deal that could release up to 7.2 billion euros ($7.9 billion) in aid to avert bankruptcy.
And it isn’t just the payment on June 5th that won’t happen. There are three other huge payments due later in June, and without a deal the Greek government will not be making any of those payments either.
It isn’t that Greece is holding back any money. As the Greek interior minister recently explained during a television interview, the money for the payments just isn’t there…
“The money won’t be given . . . It isn’t there to be given,” Nikos Voutsis, the interior minister, told the Greek television station Mega.
This crisis can still be avoided if a deal is reached. But after months of wrangling, things are not looking promising at the moment. The following comes from CNBC…
People who have spoken to Mr Tsipras say he is in dour mood and willing to acknowledge the serious risk of an accident in coming weeks.
“The negotiations are going badly,” said one official in contact with the prime minister. “Germany is playing hard. Even Merkel isn’t as open to helping as before.”
And even if a deal is reached, various national parliaments around Europe are going to have to give it their approval. According to Business Insider, that may also be difficult…
The finance ministers that make up the Eurogroup will have to get approval from their own national parliaments for any deal, and politicians in the rest of Europe seem less inclined than ever to be lenient.
So what happens if there is no deal by June 5th?
Well, Greece will default and the fun will begin.
In the end, Greece may be forced out of the eurozone entirely and would have to go back to using the drachma. At this point, even Greek government officials are warning that such a development would be “catastrophic” for Greece…
One possible alternative if talks do not progress is that Greece would leave the common currency and return to the drachma. This would be “catastrophic”, Mr Varoufakis warned, and not just for Greece itself.
“It would be a disaster for everyone involved, it would be a disaster primarily for the Greek social economy, but it would also be the beginning of the end for the common currency project in Europe,” he said.
“Whatever some analysts are saying about firewalls, these firewalls won’t last long once you put and infuse into people’s minds, into investors’ minds, that the eurozone is not indivisible,” he added.
But the bigger story is what it would mean for the rest of Europe.
If Greece is allowed to fail, it would tell bond investors that their money is not truly safe anywhere in Europe and bond yields would start spiking like crazy. The 505 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives scam is based on the assumption that interest rates will remain fairly stable, and so if interest rates begin flying around all over the place that could rapidly create some gigantic problems in the financial world.
In addition, a Greek default would send the value of the euro absolutely plummeting. As I have warned so many times before, the euro is headed for parity with the U.S. dollar, and then it is going to go below parity. And since there are 75 trillion dollars of derivatives that are directly tied to the value of the U.S. dollar, the euro and other major global currencies, that could also create a crisis of unprecedented proportions.
Over the past six years I have written more than 2,000 articles, I have authored two books and I have produced two DVDs. One of the things that I have really tried to get across to people is that our financial system has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world. Big banks all over the planet have become exceedingly reckless, and it is only a matter of time until all of this gambling backfires on them in a massive way.
It isn’t going to take much to topple the current financial order. It could be a Greek debt default in June or it may be something else. But when it does collapse, it is going to usher in the greatest economic crisis that any of us have ever seen.
So keep watching Europe.
Things are about to get extremely interesting, and if I am right, this is the start of something big.
Will rapidly rising interest rates rip through the U.S. financial system like a giant lawnmower blade? Yes, the U.S. economy survived much higher interest rates in the past, but at that time there were not hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives hanging over our financial system like a Sword of Damocles. This is something that I have been talking about for quite some time, and now a Mexican billionaire has come forward with a similar warning. Hugo Salinas Price was the founder of the Elektra retail chain down in Mexico, and he is extremely concerned that rising interest rates could burst the derivatives bubble and cause “massive bankruptcies around the globe”. Of course there are a whole lot of people out there that would be quite glad to see the “too big to fail” banks go bankrupt, but the truth is that if they go down our entire economy will go down with them. Our situation is similar to a patient with a very advanced stage of cancer. You can try to kill the cancer with drugs, but you will almost certainly kill the patient at the same time. Well, that is essentially what our relationship with the big banks is like. Our entire economic system is based on credit, and just like we saw back in 2008, if the big banks start failing credit freezes up and suddenly nobody can get any money for anything. When the next great credit crunch comes, every important number in our economy will rapidly start getting much worse.
The big banks are going to play a starring role in the next financial crash just like they did in the last one. Only this next crash may be quite a bit worse. Just check out what billionaire Hugo Salinas Price told King World News recently…
I think we are going to see a series of bankruptcies. I think the rise in interest rates is the fatal sign which is going to ignite a derivatives crisis. This is going to bring down the derivatives system (and the financial system).
There are (over) one quadrillion dollars of derivatives and most of them are related to interest rates. The spiking of interest rates in the United States may set that off. What is going to happen in the world is eventually we are going to come to a moment where there is going to be massive bankruptcies around the globe.
What is going to be left after the dust settles is gold, and some people are going to have it and some people are not. Then the problem is going to be to hold on to what you’ve got because it’s not going to be a very pleasant world.
Right now, there are about 441 trillion dollars of interest rate derivatives sitting out there. If interest rates stay about where they are right now and they don’t go much higher, we will be fine. But if they start going much higher, all bets will be off and we could see financial carnage on a scale that we have never seen before.
And at the moment the big banks have got to behave themselves because the government is investigating allegations that they have been cheating pension funds and other investors out of millions of dollars by manipulating the trading of interest rate derivatives. The following is from an article that the Telegraph posted on Friday…
The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is probing 15 banks over allegations that they instructed brokers to carry out trades that would move ISDAfix, the leading benchmark rate for interest rate swaps.
Pension funds and companies who invest in interest rate derivatives often deal with banks to insure against big movements in the ISDAfix rate or to speculate on changes to interest rate swaps
ISDAfix is published each morning after banks submit bids for swaps via Icap, the inter-dealer broker, in a number of currencies. The CFTC has been investigating suggestions that the banks deliberately moved the rate in order to profit on these deals.
Given the hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives trades that occur annually, even the slightest manipulation can have a substantial effect. The CFTC, which started to investigate ISDAfix after last summer’s Libor scandal has now been handed emails and phone call recordings that show the rate was deliberately moved, according to Bloomberg.
Essentially they got their hands caught in the cookie jar and so they have got to play it straight (at least for now).
Meanwhile, it looks like the Fed may not be able to keep long-term interest rates down for much longer.
The Federal Reserve has been using quantitative easing to try to keep long-term interest rates low, but now some officials over at the Fed are becoming extremely alarmed about how bloated the Fed balance sheet has become. For example, the following was recently written by the head of the Dallas Fed, Richard Fisher…
This later program is referred to as quantitative easing, or QE, by the public and as large-scale asset purchases, or LSAPs, internally at the Fed. As a result of LSAPs conducted over three stages of QE, the Fed’s System Open Market Account now holds $2 trillion of Treasury securities and $1.3 trillion of agency and mortgage-backed securities (MBS). Since last fall, when we initiated the third stage of QE, we have regularly been purchasing $45 billion a month of Treasuries and $40 billion a month in MBS, meanwhile reinvesting the proceeds from the paydowns of our mortgage-based investments. The result is that our balance sheet has ballooned to more than $3.5 trillion. That’s $3.5 trillion, or $11,300 for every man, woman and child residing in the United States.
Fisher has compared the current Fed balance sheet to a “Gordian Knot”, and he hopes that the Fed will be able to unwind this knot without creating “market havoc”…
The point is: We own a significant slice of these critical markets. This is, indeed, something of a Gordian Knot.
Those of you familiar with the Gordian legend know there were two versions to it: One holds that Alexander the Great simply dispatched with the problem by slicing the intractable knot in half with his sword; the other posits that Alexander pulled the knot out of its pole pin, exposed the two ends of the cord and proceeded to untie it. According to the myth, the oracles then divined that he would go on to conquer the world.
There is no Alexander to simply slice the complex knot that we have created with our rounds of QE. Instead, when the right time comes, we must carefully remove the program’s pole pin and gingerly unwind it so as not to prompt market havoc. For starters though, we need to stop building upon the knot. For this reason, I have advocated that we socialize the idea of the inevitability of our dialing back and eventually ending our LSAPs. In June, I argued for the Chairman to signal this possibility at his last press conference and at last week’s meeting suggested that we should gird our loins to make our first move this fall. We shall see if that recommendation obtains with the majority of the Committee.
But of course it should be obvious to everyone that the Fed is not going to be able to reduce the size of its balance sheet without causing huge distress in the financial markets. A few weeks ago, just the suggestion that the Fed may eventually begin to slow down the pace of quantitative easing caused the markets to throw an epic temper tantrum.
Unfortunately, the Fed may not be able to keep control of long-term interest rates even if they continue quantitative easing indefinitely. Over the past several weeks long-term interest rates have been rising steadily, and the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries crept a bit higher on Monday.
At this point, many on Wall Street are convinced that the bull market for bonds is over and that rates will eventually go much, much higher than they are right now no matter what the Fed does. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article…
The Federal Reserve will lose control of interest rates as the “great rotation” out of bonds into equities takes off in full force, according to one market watcher, who sees U.S. 10-year Treasury yields hitting 5-6 percent in the next 18-24 months.
“It is our opinion that interest rates have begun their assent, that the Fed will eventually lose control of interest rates. The yield curve will first steepen and then will shift, moving rates significantly higher,” said Mike Crofton, President and CEO, Philadelphia Trust Company told CNBC on Wednesday.
If the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries does hit 6 percent, we are going to have a major disaster on our hands.
Hugo Salinas Price is exactly right – the derivatives bubble is the number one threat that our financial system is facing, and it could potentially bring down a whole bunch of our big banks.
But for the moment, Wall Street is still in a euphoric mood. The Dow is near a record high and many investors are hoping that this rally will last for the rest of the year.
Unfortunately, I wouldn’t count on that happening. The truth is that the stock market has become completely divorced from economic reality.
Since March 2009, the size of the U.S. economy has grown by approximately $1.3 trillion, but stock market wealth has grown by an astounding $12 trillion.
And the stock market has just kept on rising even though GDP growth forecasts have been steadily falling.
It doesn’t make any sense.
But Obama, Bernanke and the wizards on Wall Street assure us that there is no end to the party in sight.
Believe them at your own peril.
The people at the controls are completely and totally clueless and we are rapidly careening toward disaster.
Perhaps we should do what one little town in Minnesota did and put a 4-year-old kid in charge.
That kid certainly could not be much worse than our current leadership, don’t you think?
There is one vitally important number that everyone needs to be watching right now, and it doesn’t have anything to do with unemployment, inflation or housing. If this number gets too high, it will collapse the entire U.S. financial system. The number that I am talking about is the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. When that number goes up, long-term interest rates all across the financial system start increasing. When long-term interest rates rise, it becomes more expensive for the federal government to borrow money, it becomes more expensive for state and local governments to borrow money, existing bonds lose value and bond investors lose a lot of money, mortgage rates go up and monthly payments on new mortgages rise, and interest rates throughout the entire economy go up and this causes economic activity to slow down. On top of everything else, there are more than 440 trillion dollars worth of interest rate derivatives sitting out there, and rapidly rising interest rates could cause that gigantic time bomb to go off and implode our entire financial system. We are living in the midst of the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and the only way that the game can continue is for interest rates to stay super low. Unfortunately, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has started to rise, and many experts are projecting that it is going to continue to rise.
On August 2nd of last year, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries was just 1.48%, and our entire debt-based economy was basking in the glow of ultra-low interest rates. But now things are rapidly changing. On Wednesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries hit 2.70% before falling back to 2.58% on “good news” from the Federal Reserve.
Historically speaking, rates are still super low, but what is alarming is that it looks like we hit a “bottom” last year and that interest rates are only going to go up from here. In fact, according to CNBC many experts believe that we will soon be pushing up toward the 3 percent mark…
Round numbers like 1,700 on the S&P 500 are well and good, but savvy traders have their minds on another integer: 2.75 percent
That was the high for the 10-year yield this year, and traders say yields are bound to go back to that level. The one overhanging question is how stocks will react when they see that number.
“If we start to push up to new highs on the 10-year yield so that’s the 2.75 level—I think you’d probably see a bit of anxiety creep back into the marketplace,” Bank of America Merrill Lynch’s head of global technical strategy, MacNeil Curry, told “Futures Now” on Tuesday.
And Curry sees yields getting back to that level in the short term, and then some. “In the next couple of weeks to two months or so I think we’ve got a push coming up to the 2.85, 2.95 zone,” he said.
This rise in interest rates has been expected for a very long time – it is just that nobody knew exactly when it would happen. Now that it has begun, nobody is quite sure how high interest rates will eventually go. For some very interesting technical analysis, I encourage everyone to check out an article by Peter Brandt that you can find right here.
And all of this is very bad news for stocks. The chart below was created by Chartist Friend from Pittsburgh, and it 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 go down, that spurs economic activity, and that is good for stock prices.
So when interest rates start going up rapidly, that is not a good thing for the stock market at all.
The Federal Reserve has tried to keep long-term interest rates down by wildly printing money and buying bonds, and even the suggestion that the Fed may eventually “taper” quantitative easing caused the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries to absolutely soar a few weeks ago.
So the Fed has backed off on the “taper” talk for now, but what happens if the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries continues to rise even with the wild money printing that the Fed has been doing?
At that point, the Fed would begin to totally lose control over the situation. And if that happens, Bill Fleckenstein told King World News the other day that he believes that we could see the stock market suddenly plunge by 25 percent…
Let’s say Ben (Bernanke) comes out tomorrow and says, ‘We are not going to taper.’ But let’s just say the bond market trades down anyway, and the next thing you know we go through the recent highs and a month from now the 10-Year is at 3%. And people start to realize they are not even tapering and the bond market is backed up….
They will say, ‘Why is this happening?’ Then they may realize the bond market is discounting the inflation we already have.
At some point the bond markets are going to say, ‘We are not comfortable with these policies.’ Obviously you can’t print money forever or no emerging country would ever have gone broke. So the bond market starts to back up and the economy gets worse than it is now because rates are rising. So the Fed says, ‘We can’t have this,’ and they decide to print more (money) and the bond market backs up (even more).
All of the sudden it becomes clear that money printing not only isn’t the solution, but it’s the problem. Well, with rates going from where they are to 3%+ on the 10-Year, one of these days the S&P futures are going to get destroyed. And if the computers ever get loose on the downside the market could break 25% in three days.
And as I have written about previously, we have seen a huge spike in margin debt in recent months, and this could make it even easier for a stock market collapse to happen. A recent note from Deutsche Bank explained precisely why margin debt is so dangerous…
Margin debt can be described as a tool used by stock speculators to borrow money from brokerages to buy more stock than they could otherwise afford on their own. These loans are collateralized by stock holdings, so when the market goes south, investors are either required to inject more cash/assets or become forced to sell immediately to pay off their loans – sometimes leading to mass pullouts or crashes.
But of much greater concern than a stock market crash is the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives bubble that could implode if interest rates continue to rise rapidly.
Deutsche Bank is the largest bank in Europe, and at this point they have 55.6 trillion euros of total exposure to derivatives.
But the GDP of the entire nation of Germany is only about 2.7 trillion euros for a whole year.
We are facing a similar situation in the United States. Our GDP for 2013 will be somewhere between 15 and 16 trillion dollars, but many of our big banks have exposure to derivatives that absolutely dwarfs our GDP. The following numbers come from one of my previous articles entitled “The Coming Derivatives Panic That Will Destroy Global Financial Markets“…
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.
And remember, the biggest chunk of those derivatives contracts is made up of interest rate derivatives.
Just imagine what would happen if a life insurance company wrote millions upon millions of life insurance contracts and then everyone suddenly died.
What would happen to that life insurance company?
It would go completely broke of course.
Well, that is what our major banks are facing today.
They have written trillions upon trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives contracts, and they are betting that interest rates will not go up rapidly.
But what if they do?
And the truth is that interest rates have a whole lot of room to go up. The chart below shows how the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has moved over the past couple of decades…
As you can see, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries was hovering around the 6 percent mark back in the year 2000.
Back in 1990, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries hovered between 8 and 9 percent.
If we return to “normal” levels, our financial system will implode. There is no way that our debt-addicted system would be able to handle it.
So watch the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries very carefully. It is the most important number in the entire U.S. economy.
If that number gets too high, the game is over.
Do you want to know the primary reason why rapidly rising interest rates could take down the entire global financial system? Most people might think that it would be because the U.S. government would have to pay much more interest on the national debt. And yes, if the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rose to just 6 percent (and it has actually been much higher in the past), the federal government would be paying out about a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt. But that isn’t it. Nor does the primary reason have to do with the fact that rapidly rising interest rates would impose massive losses on bond investors. At this point, it is being projected that if U.S. bond yields rise by an average of 3 percentage points, it will cause investors to lose a trillion dollars. Yes, that is a 1 with 12 zeroes after it ($1,000,000,000,000). But that is not the number one danger posed by rapidly rising interest rates either. Rather, the number one reason why rapidly rising interest rates could cause the entire global financial system to crash is because there are more than 441 TRILLION dollars worth of interest rate derivatives sitting out there. This number comes directly from the Bank for International Settlements – the central bank of central banks. In other words, more than $441,000,000,000,000 has been bet on the movement of interest rates. Normally these bets do not cause a major problem because rates tend to move very slowly and the system stays balanced. But now rates are starting to skyrocket, and the sophisticated financial models used by derivatives traders do not account for this kind of movement.
So what does all of this mean?
It means that the global financial system is potentially heading for massive amounts of trouble if interest rates continue to soar.
Today, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasury bonds rocketed up to 2.66% before settling back to 2.55%. The chart posted below shows how dramatically the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has moved in recent days…
Right now, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries is about 30 percent above its 50 day moving average. That is the most that it has been above its 50 day moving average in 50 years.
Like I mentioned above, we are moving into uncharted territory and this data doesn’t really fit into the models used by derivatives traders.
The yield on 5 year U.S. Treasuries has been moving even more dramatically…
Last week, the yield on 5 year U.S. Treasuries rose by an astounding 37 percent. That was the largest increase in 50 years.
Once again, this is uncharted territory.
If rates continue to shoot up, there are going to be some financial institutions out there that are going to start losing absolutely massive amounts of money on interest rate derivative contracts.
So exactly what is an interest rate derivative?
The following is how Investopedia defines interest rate derivatives…
A financial instrument based on an underlying financial security whose value is affected by changes in interest rates. Interest-rate derivatives are hedges used by institutional investors such as banks to combat the changes in market interest rates. Individual investors are more likely to use interest-rate derivatives as a speculative tool – they hope to profit from their guesses about which direction market interest rates will move.
They can be very complicated, but I prefer to think of them in very simple terms. Just imagine walking into a casino and placing a bet that the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries will hit 2.75% in July. If it does reach that level, you win. If it doesn’t, you lose. That is a very simplistic example, but I think that it is a helpful one. At the heart of it, the 441 TRILLION dollar derivatives market is just a bunch of people making bets about which way interest rates will go.
And normally the betting stays very balanced and our financial system is not threatened. The people that run this betting use models that are far more sophisticated than anything that Las Vegas uses. But all models are based on human assumptions, and wild swings in interest rates could break their models and potentially start causing financial losses on a scale that our financial system has never seen before.
We are potentially talking about a financial collapse far worse than anything that we saw back in 2008.
Remember, the U.S. national debt is just now approaching 17 trillion dollars. So when you are talking about 441 trillion dollars you are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable.
Meanwhile, China appears to be on the verge of another financial crisis as well. The following is from a recent article by Graham Summers…
China is on the verge of a “Lehman” moment as its shadow banking system implodes. China had pumped roughly $1.6 trillion in new credit (that’s 21% of GDP) into its economy in the last two quarters… and China GDP growth is in fact slowing.
This is what a credit bubble bursting looks like: the pumping becomes more and more frantic with less and less returns.
And Chinese stocks just experienced their largest decline since 2009. The second largest economy on earth is starting to have significant financial problems at the same time that our markets are starting to crumble.
And don’t forget about Europe. European stocks have had a very, very rough month so far…
The narrow EuroStoxx 50 index is now at its lowest in over seven months (-5.4% year-to-date and -12.5% from its highs in May) and the broader EuroStoxx 600 is also flailing lower. The European bank stocks pushed down to their lowest in almost 10 months and are now in bear market territory – down 22.5% from their highs. Spain and Italy are now testing their lowest level in 9 months.
So are the central banks of the world going to swoop in and rescue the financial markets from the brink of disaster?
At this point it does not appear likely.
As I have written about previously, the Bank for International Settlements is the central bank for central banks, and it has a tremendous amount of influence over central bank policy all over the planet.
The other day, the general manager of the Bank for International Settlements, Jaime Caruana, gave a speech entitled “Making the most of borrowed time“. In that speech, he made it clear that the era of extraordinary central bank intervention was coming to an end. The following is one short excerpt from that speech…
“Ours is a call for acting responsibly now to strengthen growth and avoid even costlier adjustment down the road. And it is a call for recognizing that returning to stability and prosperity is a shared responsibility. Monetary policy has done its part. Recovery now calls for a different policy mix – with more emphasis on strengthening economic flexibility and dynamism and stabilizing public finances.”
Monetary policy has done its part?
That sounds pretty firm.
And if you read the entire speech, you will see that Caruana makes it clear that he believes that it is time for the financial markets to stand on their own.
But will they be able to?
As I wrote about yesterday, the U.S. financial system is a massive Ponzi scheme that is on the verge of imploding. Unprecedented intervention by the Federal Reserve has helped to prop it up for the last couple of years, and there is a lot of fear in the financial world about what is going to happen once that unprecedented intervention is gone.
So what happens next?
Well, nobody knows for sure, but one thing seems certain. The last half of 2013 is shaping up to be very, very interesting.
If yields on U.S. Treasury bonds keep rising, things are going to get very messy. As I write this, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasures has risen to 2.51 percent. If that keeps going up, it is going to be like a mile wide lawnmower blade devastating everything in its path. Ben Bernanke’s super low interest rate policies have systematically pushed investors into stocks and real estate over the past several years because there were few other places where they could get decent returns. As this trade unwinds (and it will likely not be in an orderly fashion), we are going to see unprecedented carnage. Stocks, ETFs, home prices and municipal bonds will all be devastated. And of course that will only be the beginning. What we are ultimately looking at is a sell off very similar to 2008, only this time we will have to deal with rising interest rates at the same time. The conditions for a “perfect storm” are rapidly developing, and if something is not done we could eventually have a credit crunch unlike anything that we have ever seen before in modern times.
At the moment, perhaps the most important number in the financial world is the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries. A lot of investors are really concerned about how rapidly it has been rising. For example, Patrick Adams, a portfolio manager at PVG Asset Management, was quoted in USA Today as saying the following on Friday…
“I am watching the 10-year U.S. bond,” says Adams. “It has to stabilize. If the yield goes significantly higher the market is going to freak out.”
If interest rates keep rising, it is going to have a dramatic effect throughout the economy. In an article that he just posted, Charles Hugh Smith explained some of the things that we might soon see…
The wheels fall off the entire financialized debtocracy wagon once yields rise. There’s nothing mysterious about this:
1. As interest rates/yields rise, all the existing bonds paying next to nothing plummet in market value
2. As mortgage rates rise, there’s nobody left who can afford Housing Bubble 2.0 prices, so home prices fall off a cliff
3. Once you can get 5+% yield on cash again, few people are willing to risk capital in the equities markets in the hopes that they can earn more than 5% yield before the next crash wipes out 40% of their equity
4. As asset classes decline, lenders are wary of loaning money against these assets; if the collateral for the loan (real estate, bonds, stocks, etc.) are in a waterfall decline, no sane lender will risk capital on a bet that the collateral will be sufficient to cover losses should the borrower default.
In addition, rapidly rising interest rates would throw the municipal bond market into absolute chaos. In fact, according to Reuters, nearly 2 billion dollars worth of municipal bond sales were postponed on Thursday because of rising rates…
The possibility of rising interest rates rocked the U.S. municipal bond market on Thursday, with prices plunging in secondary trade, investors selling off the debt, money pouring out of mutual funds and issuers postponing nearly $2 billion in new sales.
“The market got crushed,” said Daniel Berger, an analyst at Municipal Market Data, a unit of Thomson Reuters, about the widespread sell-off.
We are rapidly moving into unprecedented territory. Nobody is quite sure what comes next. One financial professional says that municipal bond investors “are in for the shock of their lives”…
“Muni bond investors are in for the shock of their lives,” said financial advisor Ric Edelman. “For the past 30 years there hasn’t been interest rate risk.”
That risk can be extreme. A one-point rise in the interest rate could cut 10 percent of the value of a municipal bond with a longer duration, he said.
Many retail buyers, though, are not ready for the change and “when it starts, it will be too late for them to react,” he said, adding that he was encouraging investors to look at their portfolio allocation and make changes to protect themselves from interest rate risks now.
Rising interest rates are playing havoc with other financial instruments as well. For example, it appears that the ETF market may already be broken. Just check out the chaos that we witnessed on Thursday…
The selling also caused disruptions in the plumbing behind several ETFs. Citigroup stopped accepting orders to redeem underlying assets from ETF issuers, after one trading desk reached its allocated risk limits. One Citi trader emailed other market participants to say: “We are unable to take any more redemptions today . . . a very rare occurrence due to capital requirements we are maxed out on the amount of collateral we have out.”
State Street said it would stop accepting cash redemption orders for municipal bond products from dealers. Tim Coyne, global head of ETF capital markets at State Street, said his company had contacted participants “to say we were not going to do any cash redemptions today”. But he added that redemptions “in kind” were still taking place.
These are the kinds of things that you would expect to see at the beginning of a financial panic.
And when there is fear in the marketplace, credit can dry up really quickly.
So are we headed for a major liquidity crisis? Well, that is what Chris Martenson believes is happening…
The early stage of any liquidity crisis is a mad dash for cash, especially by all of the leveraged speculators. Anything that can be sold is sold. As I scan the various markets, all I can find is selling. Stocks, commodities, and equities are all being shed at a rapid pace, and that’s the first clue that we are not experiencing sector rotation or other artful portfolio-dodging designed to move out of one asset class into another (say, from equities into bonds).
The bursting of the bond bubble has the potential to plunge our financial system into a crisis that would be even worse than we experienced back in 2008. Unfortunately, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard recently noted, the bond market is dominated by just a few major players…
The Fed, the ECB, the Bank of England, the Bank of Japan, et al, own $10 trillion in bonds. China, the petro-powers, et al, own another $10 trillion. Between them they have locked up $20 trillion, equal to roughly 25pc of global GDP. They are the market. That is why Fed taper talk has become so neuralgic, and why we all watch Chinese regulators for every clue on policy.
This is one of the reasons why I write about China so much. China has a tremendous amount of leverage over the global financial system. If China starts selling bonds at about the same time that the Fed stops buying bonds we could see a shift of unprecedented proportions.
Sadly, most Americans have absolutely no idea how vulnerable the financial system is.
Most Americans have absolutely no idea that our system of finance is a house of cards built on a foundation of risk, debt and leverage.
Most Americans have complete and total faith that our leaders know what they are doing and are fully capable of keeping our financial system from collapsing.
In the end, most Americans are going to be bitterly, bitterly disappointed.