What you are about to see is major confirmation that a new economic downturn has already begun. Last Friday, the government released the worst jobs report in six years, and that has a lot of people really freaked out. But when you really start digging into those numbers, you quickly find that things are even worse than most analysts are suggesting. In particular, the number of temporary jobs in the United States has started to decline significantly after peaking last December. Why this is so important is because the number of temporary jobs started to decline precipitously right before the last two recessions as well.
You see, when economic conditions start to change, temporary workers are often affected before anyone else is. Temporary workers are easier to hire than other types of workers, and they are also easier to fire.
In this chart, you can see that the number of temporary workers peaked and started to decline rapidly before we even got to the recession of 2001. And you will notice that the number of temporary workers also peaked and started to decline rapidly before we even got to the recession of 2008. This shows why the temporary workforce is considered to be a “leading indicator” for the U.S. economy as a whole. When the number of temporary workers peaks and then starts to fall steadily, that is a major red flag. And that is why it is so incredibly alarming that the number of temporary workers peaked in December 2015 and has fallen quite a bit since then…
In May, the U.S. economy lost another 21,000 temporary jobs, and overall we have lost almost 64,000 since December.
If a new economic downturn had already started, this is precisely what we would expect to see. The following is some commentary from Wolf Richter…
Staffing agencies are cutting back because companies no longer need that many workers. Total business sales in the US have been declining since mid-2014. Productivity has been crummy and getting worse. Earnings are down for the fourth quarter in a row. Companies see that demand for their products is faltering, so the expense-cutting has started. The first to go are the hapless temporary workers.
Another indicator which is pointing to big trouble for American workers is the Fed Labor Market Conditions Index. Just check out this chart from Zero Hedge, which shows that this index has now been falling on a month over month basis for five months in a row. Not since the last recession have we seen that happen…
Of course I have been warning about this new economic downturn since the middle of last year. U.S. factory orders have now been falling for 18 months in a row, job cut announcements at major companies are running 24 percent higher up to this point in 2016 than they were during the same time period in 2015, and just recently Microsoft said that they were going to be cutting 1,850 jobs as the market for smartphones continues to slow down.
As I have been warning for months, the exact same patterns that we witnessed just prior to the last major economic crisis are playing out once again right in front of our eyes.
Perhaps you have blind faith in Barack Obama, the Federal Reserve and our other “leaders”, and perhaps you are convinced that everything will turn out okay somehow, but there are others that are doing what they can to get prepared in advance.
It may surprise you to learn that George Soros is one of them.
According to recent media reports, George Soros has been selling off investments like crazy and has poured tremendous amounts of money into gold and gold stocks…
Maybe the best argument in favor of gold is that American legendary investor and billionaire George Soros has recently sold 37% of his stock and bought a lot more gold and gold stocks.
“George Soros, who once called gold ‘the ultimate bubble,’ has resumed buying the precious metal after a three-year hiatus. On Monday, the billionaire investor disclosed that in the first quarter he bought 1.05 million shares in SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s biggest gold exchanged-traded fund, valued at about $123.5 million,” Fortune and Reuters reported Tuesday.
George Soros didn’t make his fortune by being a dummy.
Obviously he can see that something big is coming, and so he is making the moves that he feels are appropriate.
If you are waiting for some type of big announcement from the government that a recession has started, you are likely going to be waiting for quite a while.
How it usually works is that we are not told that we are in a recession until one has already been happening for an extended period of time.
For instance, back in mid-2008 Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke insisted that the U.S. economy was not heading into a recession even though we found out later that we were already in one at the moment Bernanke made that now infamous statement.
On my website, I have been documenting all of the red flags that are screaming that a new recession is here for months.
You can be like Ben Bernanke in 2008 and stick your head in the sand and pretend that nothing is happening, or you can honestly assess the situation at hand and adjust your strategies accordingly like George Soros is doing.
Of course I am not a fan of George Soros at all. The shady things that he has done to promote the radical left around the globe are well documented. But they don’t call people like him “the smart money” for no reason.
Down in Venezuela, the economic collapse has already gotten so bad that people are hunting dogs and cats for food. For most of the rest of the world, things are not nearly that bad, and they won’t be that bad for a while yet. But without a doubt, the global economy is moving in a very negative direction, and the pace of change is accelerating.
Those that are wise have already been getting prepared, and those that are convinced that everything is going to be just fine somehow have not been getting prepared.
In the end, most people end up believing exactly what they want to believe, and we are not too far away from the time when those choices are going to have very severe consequences.
*About the author: Michael Snyder is the founder and publisher of The Economic Collapse Blog. Michael’s controversial new book about Bible prophecy entitled “The Rapture Verdict” is available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.com.*
When panic and fear dominate financial markets, gold and silver both tend to rapidly rise in price. We witnessed this during the last financial crisis, and it is starting to happen again. Because I am the publisher of a website called The Economic Collapse Blog, I am often asked about gold and silver when I do interviews. In fact, just a few days ago I was sitting right next to Jim Rickards during the taping of a television show when this topic came up. Jim expressed his belief that investing in gold is superior to investing in silver, but I had the exact opposite viewpoint. In this article, I would like to elaborate on why I believe that silver represents a historic investment opportunity right now.
I should start out by disclosing that my wife and I have been able to put away a little bit of silver over the years. I wish that it could have been a lot more, but so often there are other priorities that need to be addressed. For example, I have always said that people need to take care of their emergency food storage first before even thinking about any kind of investments.
But if you have money left over after taking care of the basics, I am fully convinced that silver is a wonderful investment for the mid to long term. In this article, I am going to explain why this is the case. However, I have always warned that you have got to be ready for a rollercoaster ride if you get into precious metals. So if you can’t handle the ups and downs, you should probably avoid them altogether.
As I write this article, the price of gold is sitting at $1254.30 an ounce.
Meanwhile, the price of silver is sitting at just $15.81 an ounce.
That means that the price of gold is currently more than 79 times higher than the price of silver. For the ratio between gold and silver to be this high is truly unusual.
You see, the truth is that there is only about 17 times as much silver as there is gold in the Earth’s crust. And currently silver is being mined at about an 11 to 1 ratio to gold.
So it makes sense that throughout history gold has typically sold at about a 15 to 1 ratio to silver.
During the years to come, I do believe that gold will multiply in price.
But I am also convinced that the price of silver will go up much, much faster.
As they both skyrocket in price, the price ratio between gold and silver will shift very quickly from 79 to 1 in the direction of 15 to 1.
Perhaps we may never even get all the way back to 15 to 1, but if we even got to 40 to 1 or 30 to 1, what that would mean for silver would be history making.
Let us also keep in mind that unlike gold, silver is constantly being used up in thousands of different industrial applications. The following comes from Jeff Nielson…
Over the past quarter century, more silver-based patents have been created than with any other metal on the planet. But not only does silver have unparalleled versatility, it is an extremely potent metal, meaning that in many of its commercial applications it is used in only trace amounts.
Why is this of significance? Because in such tiny quantities it is economically impractical to ever recycle any of this silver, at prices anywhere near the (absurd) levels of recent decades. Thus this silver is being consumed in tiny amounts, but in billions and billions of consumer products, over a span of decades.
Unlike gold, our stockpiles of silver are disappearing. As previously mentioned, for at least the last thirty years, the only way that our strong demand for silver could be satisfied has been through consuming portions of these stockpiles.
It has been estimated that approximately one billion ounces of silver have been used in consumer products over the past ten years alone.
Even if the world could somehow avoid the great financial turmoil that has already begun, the truth is that eventually a great demand crunch for silver would come just based on how much of it we are steadily consuming.
At less than 16 dollars an ounce right now, silver is ridiculously undervalued.
Those that are wise see this, and they are stocking up on silver coins at an unprecedented level. Just check out these numbers…
Silver Eagle sales will likely jump by 25% in the first quarter due to deteriorating market conditions. During the first three months last year the U.S. Mint sold 12 million Silver Eagles. Already, sales of Silver Eagles have reached 13 million. There are two weeks remaining in March and the U.S. Mint will likely sell another two million. This will put total Silver Eagle sales for the first quarter at 15 million….. the highest ever.
I have always said that I believe that the price of silver will eventually go over $100 an ounce.
When that happens, those that got in today will be exceedingly happy with their returns.
Others are projecting even greater gains. For instance, investing legend Egon von Greyerz believes that the price of silver could ultimately go as high as $660 an ounce, and Jeff Nielson believes that $1,000 an ounce for silver would be a fair price.
But once again, don’t even think about getting into precious metals until you have the basics squared away. It is often said that you can’t eat gold or silver, and that is very true.
In our new television show, my wife and I are always going to tell it to you straight. A lot of people out there are relaxing right now because they think that the recent stock market rally means that the crisis is over. What they don’t understand is that this new financial crisis is just in the very early chapters. There are going to be more ups and more downs, and the shaking that we have seen so far is just the beginning.
Many of you may not want to believe me at this moment, but by the end of 2016 life in America is going to look dramatically different than it does right now. So please get prepared while you are still able to do so.
Stock 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.
It’s official – 2015 was a horrible year for stocks. On the last day of the year, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down another 178 points, and overall it was the worst year for the Dow since 2008. But of course the Dow was far from alone. The S&P 500, the Russell 2000 and Dow Transports also all had their worst years since 2008. Isn’t it funny how these things seem to happen every seven years? But compared to other investments, stocks had a relatively “good” year. In 2015, junk bonds, oil and industrial commodities all crashed hard – just like they all did just prior to the great stock market crash of 2008. According to CNN, almost 70 percent of all investors lost money in 2015, and things are unfolding in textbook fashion for much more financial chaos in 2016.
Globally, over the past 12 months we have seen financial shaking unlike anything that we have experienced since the last great financial crisis. During the month of August markets all over the world started to go haywire, and at one point approximately 11 trillion dollars of financial wealth had been wiped out globally according to author Jonathan Cahn.
Since that time, U.S. stocks rebounded quite a bit, but they still ended red for the year. Other global markets were not nearly as fortunate. Some major indexes finished 2015 down 20 percent or more, and European stocks just had their second worst December ever.
I honestly don’t understand the “nothing is happening” crowd. The numbers clearly tell us that a global financial crisis began in 2015, and it threatens to accelerate greatly as we head into 2016.
Actually, there are a whole lot of people out there that would be truly thankful if “nothing” had happened over the past 12 months. For example, there are five very unfortunate corporate CEOs that collectively lost 20 billion dollars in 2015…
Five CEOs of companies in the Russell 1000 index, including Nicholas Woodman of camera maker GoPro (GPRO), Sheldon Adelson of casino operator Las Vegas Sands (LVS) and even the famed investor Warren Buffett of Berkshire Hathaway (BRKA), lost more money on their companies’ shares than any other CEOs this year, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from S&P Capital IQ.
These five CEOs were handed a whopping collective $20 billion loss on their company stock in 2015. Each and every one of these CEOs lost $1 billion or more – based on the average number of shares they’ve owned this year.
The biggest loser of the group was Warren Buffett.
He lost an astounding 7.8 billion dollars in 2015.
Do you think that he believes that “nothing happened” this past year?
And if “nothing happened”, then why are hedge funds “dropping like flies” right now? The following comes from Zero Hedge…
Two days, ago we noted that hedge funds are now dropping like flies in a year in which generating alpha has become virtually impossible for the majority of the vastly overpaid 2 and 20 “smart money” out there (and where levered beta is no longer the “sure thing” it used to be when the Fed was pumping trillions into stocks) when we reported that Seneca Capital, the $500 million multi-strat hedge fund belonging to Doug Hirsh (of Sohn Investment Conference fame), is shutting down.
And just within the last 24 hours, another very prominent hedge fund has collapsed. SAB Capital, which once managed more than a billion dollars, is shutting down after huge losses this year. Here is more from Zero Hedge…
It turns out that despite our intention, the question was not rhetorical because just a few hours later Bloomberg answered when it reported that the latest hedge fund shutdown casualty was another iconic, long-term investor: Scott Bommer’s SAB Capital, which as of a year ago managed $1.1 billion, and which after 17 years of managing money and after dropping roughly 11% in the first eight month of 2015, has decided to return all outside client money, and converting the hedge fund into a family office (after all one has to preserve one’s offshore tax benefits).
Overall, 674 hedge funds shut down during the first nine months of this year, and the final number for 2015 will actually be far higher because the rate of closings has accelerated as we have approached the end of this calendar year. When the final numbers come in, I would not be surprised to hear that 1,000 hedge funds had closed up shop in 2015.
Meanwhile, underlying economic conditions continue to deteriorate.
Corporate profits are steadily falling, the bond distress ratio just hit the highest level that we have seen since September 2009, and corporate debt defaults have risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.
And this week we got a couple of new numbers that indicate that the U.S. economy is slowing down much faster than anticipated.
The first big surprise was the Dallas Fed’s general business activity index…
The Dallas Fed’s general business activity index plunged to -20.1 in December from -4.9 in November. This was much worse than the -7.0 expected by economists.
Any reading below 0 signals contraction, and this index has been below 0 all year.
The next big surprise was the Chicago purchasing manager index…
The Chicago purchasing manager index unexpectedly plunged to 42.9 in December, its lowest reading since July 2009.
Any reading below 50 signals a contraction in business activity.
This was down from 48.7 in November and much worse than the 50.0 expected by economists.
When the final numbers for the fourth quarter are in a few months from now, I believe that they will show that the U.S. economy officially entered recession territory at this time.
And the truth is that deep recessions have already started for some of the other biggest economies on the planet. For example, I recently wrote about the deep troubles that Canada is now experiencing, and things have already gotten so bad in Brazil that Goldman Sachs is referring to that crisis as “an outright depression“.
Many people seem to assume that since I have a website called “The Economic Collapse Blog” that I must want everything to fall apart. But that is not true at all. I love my country, I enjoy my life, and I would be perfectly content to spend 2016 peacefully passing the time here in the mountains with my wonderful wife. The longer things can stay somewhat “normal”, the better it is for all of us.
Unfortunately, for decades we have been making incredibly foolish decisions as a society, and the consequences of those decisions are now catching up with us in a major way.
Jonathan Cahn likes to say that “a great shaking is coming”, and I very much agree with him.
In fact, I think that it is going to be here a lot sooner than most people think.
So buckle up, because I believe that 2016 is going to be quite a wild ride.
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.
When is the U.S. banking system going to crash? I can sum it up in three words. Watch the derivatives. It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives. Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about 17.7 trillion dollars, so when we are talking about 40 trillion dollars we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable. And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything. They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future. The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games. Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet. When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe.
If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it?
The answer to that question comes down to just one thing.
The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading. According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…
American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them. But the 2008 crisis revealed how flaws in the market had allowed for dangerous buildups of risk at large Wall Street firms and worsened the run on the banking system.
The big banks have sophisticated computer models which are supposed to keep the system stable and help them manage these risks.
But all computer models are based on assumptions.
And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.
When a “black swan event” comes along such as a war, a major pandemic, an apocalyptic natural disaster or a collapse of a very large financial institution, these models can often break down very rapidly.
For example, the following is a brief excerpt from a Forbes article that describes what happened to the derivatives market when Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008…
Fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2008 and what do we see? America again was celebrating. The economy was booming. Everyone seemed to be getting wealthier, even though the warning signs were everywhere: too much borrowing, foolish investments, greedy banks, regulators asleep at the wheel, politicians eager to promote home-ownership for those who couldn’t afford it, and distinguished analysts openly predicting this could only end badly. And then, when Lehman Bros fell, the financial system froze and world economy almost collapsed. Why?
The root cause wasn’t just the reckless lending and the excessive risk taking. The problem at the core was a lack of transparency. After Lehman’s collapse, no one could understand any particular bank’s risks from derivative trading and so no bank wanted to lend to or trade with any other bank. Because all the big banks’ had been involved to an unknown degree in risky derivative trading, no one could tell whether any particular financial institution might suddenly implode.
After the last financial crisis, we were promised that this would be fixed.
But instead the problem has become much larger.
When the housing bubble burst back in 2007, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world had risen to about 500 trillion dollars.
According to the Bank for International Settlements, today the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to a staggering 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).
And of course the heart of this derivatives bubble can be found on Wall Street.
What I am about to share with you is very troubling information.
I have shared similar numbers in the past, but for this article I went and got the very latest numbers from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report. As I mentioned above, there are now five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives…
Total Assets: $2,476,986,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $67,951,190,000,000 (more than 67 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,894,736,000,000 (almost 1.9 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,944,502,000,000 (nearly 60 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $915,705,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,564,516,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $2,152,533,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,457,605,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $831,381,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,946,153,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
And it isn’t just U.S. banks that are engaged in this type of behavior.
As Zero Hedge recently detailed, German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more exposure to derivatives than any of the American banks listed above…
Deutsche has a total derivative exposure that amounts to €55 trillion or just about $75 trillion. That’s a trillion with a T, and is about 100 times greater than the €522 billion in deposits the bank has. It is also 5x greater than the GDP of Europe and more or less the same as the GDP of… the world.
For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.
At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.
It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.
Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.
The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks. If they fail, so do the rest of us.
We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.
In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.
At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.
If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.
But as you have just read about in this article, they are being more reckless than ever before.
We are steamrolling toward the greatest financial disaster in world history, and nobody is doing much of anything to stop it.
Things could have turned out very differently, but now we will reap the consequences for the very foolish decisions that we have made.
The way that we tax people in the United States is fundamentally broken and should be completely discarded. The U.S. tax code is absolutely riddled with loopholes that allow the super rich to legally avoid taxes while many of the rest of us are being taxed into oblivion. In our system of taxation, middle class families that work hard and try to play by the rules are deeply penalized while those that are willing to abuse the system make out like bandits. There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that enables wealthy politicians such as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to pay a smaller percentage of their incomes in taxes than millions of middle class families. Mitt Romney has millions of dollars parked down in the Cayman Islands and in other tax havens. He does this to avoid taxes. Unfortunately, most Americans do not have the resources to funnel money through offshore tax havens. Most Americans just automatically have their paychecks shredded by taxes and then try to live on whatever is left over. Most Americans are just trying to survive financially from one month to the next. But the super rich have options. Thanks to technology, they can live almost anywhere they want and they can run their companies and manage their investments from anywhere in the world. The truth is that the wealthier you are the easier it is to avoid taxes. But even as the ultra-wealthy do their best to avoid taxes, many of them still feel free to demand that the rest of us be taxed more.
So what are some of the ways that the super rich avoid taxes?
Well, let’s start with those that are just “somewhat wealthy”. Many millionaires still want or need to be U.S. citizens, so they are subject to the U.S. tax code. Fortunately for them, their tax lawyers know of thousands of loopholes that have been designed to help the rich avoid taxes.
The following is from a recent article by Jen Talley….
Some of the richest people in the country pay the least, relatively speaking, in taxes. How is this possible? Answer: Through the clever manipulation of the U.S. tax code’s loopholes. And it works: as income rises, effective tax rates rise as well, but only up to a point. IRS data shows that the effective income tax rate flattens out at just over 24 percent for those making over a million dollars. As income exceeds $1.5 million, the rate begins to decline; those with incomes above $10 million pay an average income tax rate of around 19 percent. So, how do they do it?
You could write an entire series of books on the technical details of how this gets done. Trust me, I studied tax law when I was in law school.
If you are interested in digging into some of the technical details of tax avoidance, a recent Businessweek article detailed 10 ways that the wealthy use our current tax code to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes. It is an article worth reading if you have the time.
Sadly, tax avoidance by the wealthy is not just something that happens in the United States. The truth is that the exact same kind of thing happens in the UK as well.
There is not an easy fix to this problem. Our politicians have had decades to try to come up with a fair tax system and they have completely failed. The wealthy are always several steps ahead of them.
But federal taxes are not the only taxes that can be avoided. The vast difference in state tax rates creates another opportunity.
One advantage that wealthy Americans have is that they are far more mobile than most other Americans are. So if they don’t like the tax system in one state they can simply pick up and move to another state.
According to the Tax Foundation, 3.4 million Americans left New York state between 2000 and 2010.
So where did they go?
The following is from a recent CNS News article….
Where are they escaping to? The Tax Foundation found that more than 600,000 New York residents moved to Florida over the decade – opting perhaps for the Sunshine State’s more lenient tax system – taking nearly $20 billion in adjusted growth income with them.
There is no state income tax in Florida. So moving from New York to Florida can end up saving you a bundle.
The same kind of migration is happening out west as well. According to that same CNS article, hundreds of thousands of people have been moving from California (a high tax state) to Texas (no state income tax)….
Between 2000 and 2010, the most recent data available, 551,914 people left California for Texas, taking $14.3 billion in income. Texas has no state income tax or estate tax.
A total of 48,877 people moved to Texas from California between 2009 and 2010 alone, totaling $1.2 billion in income. Another 28,088 from California relocated to Nevada and 30,663 to Arizona, a loss of $699.1 million and $707.8 million in income respectively.
Not that anyone really needs much of an excuse to move away from California. It is rapidly decaying right in front of our eyes.
But a lot of families do not have the same options that wealthy people do. Unfortunately, most average Americans are tied to their jobs and it would be much more difficult for them to pick up and move across the country. In this economy it can be economic suicide to give up a good job.
The reality is that most of us simply do not have the resources to play the same kinds of games that the wealthy play.
Sadly, even our most prominent politicians avoid taxes.
Just look at Massachusetts Senator John Kerry. He has avoided approximately $500,000 in taxes by docking his yacht in Rhode Island rather than in Massachusetts.
Yet Kerry sure does love to call for more taxes on the rest of us, doesn’t he?
Now let’s talk about the “super rich” and the “ultra-wealthy”. For many people that are worth billions of dollars, tax avoidance has become an art from.
Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin made national headlines recently when he gave up his U.S. citizenship, but the truth is that his case is small potatoes compared to the global elite and the shadow banking system that supports them.
According to the IMF, the global elite are holding a total of 18 trillion dollars in offshore banks.
That amount is more than the GDP of the United States for an entire year.
So what do I mean by “offshore banks”? I defined the term in a previous article….
Well, the term originally developed because the banks on the Channel Islands were “offshore” from the United Kingdom. Most “offshore banks” are still located on islands today. The Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Isle of Man are examples of this. Other “offshore banking centers” such as Monaco are actually not “offshore” at all, but the term applies to them anyway.
Traditionally, these offshore banking centers have been very attractive to both criminals and to the global elite because they would not tell anyone (including governments) about the money that anyone had parked there.
It has been reported that 80 percent of all international banking transactions involve offshore banks. A whopping 1.4 trillion dollars is being held in offshore banks in the Cayman Islands alone.
An article that appeared in the Guardian estimated that a third of all the wealth on the entire planet is being kept in offshore banks. One of the primary reasons for this is tax avoidance.
A lot of wealthy individuals never even visit these tax havens and yet reap the benefits anyway. The truth is that tax avoidance has become way too easy. The following example is from a recent Politico article….
A plausible scenario plays out like this: I hire an accountant. Doing her job, my accountant tells me that if I sign a few legal documents and route my money through a small Caribbean island, I could keep more of my paycheck and pay a lower tax rate. I may have earned my money in the United States, but legally I can claim that it was, in fact, earned in a tax haven.
Are you disgusted yet?
You should be.
But even though they avoid taxes like the plague, many of these elitists have the gall to call for higher taxes on all the rest of us.
For example, let’s review what the managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said in a recent interview….
“Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.”
Even more than she thinks about all those now struggling to survive without jobs or public services? “I think of them equally. And I think they should also help themselves collectively.” How? “By all paying their tax. Yeah.”
It sounds as if she’s essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe, you’ve had a nice time and now it’s payback time.
“That’s right.” She nods calmly. “Yeah.”
And what about their children, who can’t conceivably be held responsible? “Well, hey, parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their tax.”
Well, it turns out that she doesn’t pay any income taxes at all on her own income….
The IMF chief Christine Lagarde was accused of hypocrisy yesterday after it emerged that she pays no income tax – just days after blaming the Greeks for causing their financial peril by dodging their own bills.
The managing director of the International Monetary Fund is paid a salary of $467,940 (£298,675), automatically increased every year according to inflation. On top of that she receives an allowance of $83,760 – payable without “justification” – and additional expenses for entertainment, making her total package worth more than the amount received by US President Barack Obama according to reports last night.
Her “diplomatic status” allows her to escape all income taxes.
So perhaps she should pay her “fair share” before pointing the finger at anyone else.
But she is not the only one being hypocritical.
The super rich claim that they should pay lower taxes on investment income for the good of our “capitalist system”, but when their banks are about to go under they are more than happy to have those losses be socialized.
As I wrote about yesterday, the stage is already set for another massive round of bailouts when the next great financial crisis strikes. Once again our taxes will pay for the mistakes of the ultra-wealthy.
The truth is that our system is fundamentally broken.
We need to abolish the income tax and shut down the IRS.
Those two steps alone would do wonders for our economic system.
We also need to shut down the Federal Reserve and break up the too big to fail banks.
Unfortunately, the vast majority of our politicians are not even willing to consider any of those solutions.
So our fundamentally broken system will continue to chug along.
It really is sad.
The Democrats, the Republicans and especially Barack Obama promised that something would be done about the too big to fail banks so that they would never again be a threat to destroy our financial system. Well, those promises have not been kept and the too big to fail banks are now much bigger and much more powerful than ever. The assets of the five biggest U.S. banks were equivalent to about 43 percent of U.S. GDP before the financial crisis. Today, the assets of the five biggest U.S. banks are equivalent to about 56 percent of U.S. GDP. So if those banks were “too big to fail” before, then what are they now? They continue to gobble up smaller banks at a brisk pace, and they continue to pile up debt and risky investments as if a day of reckoning will never come. But of course a day of reckoning is coming, and when it arrives they will be expecting more bailouts just like they got the last time.
The size of these monolithic financial institutions is truly difficult to comprehend. They completely dominate our financial system and everywhere you look they are constantly absorbing more wealth and more power. The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article….
Five banks — JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve.
Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy
Despite all of the talk from the politicians, they just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.
So why isn’t anything ever done?
Well, one reason is because these gigantic financial entities funnel huge quantities of cash into political campaigns.
For example, Barack Obama gives nice speeches about the dangers of the too big to fail banks, but he is also more than happy to take their campaign contributions. Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup were all ranked among his top 10 donors during the 2008 campaign.
So do you really expect that Barack Obama is going to bite the hands that feed him?
Of course he is not going to do that.
The truth is that the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have done everything they can to make life very comfortable for the big Wall Street banks.
During the last financial crisis, the too big to fail banks were absolutely showered with bailouts.
Meanwhile, hundreds of small and mid-size banks were allowed to die.
When representatives from those small and mid-size banks contacted the federal government for help, often they were told to try to find a larger bank that would be willing to buy them.
Sadly, the last financial crisis simply accelerated the consolidation of the banking industry in the United States that has been going on for several decades.
Today, there are less than half as many banks in the United States as there were back in 1984.
So where did all of those banks go?
They were either purchased by bigger banks or they were allowed to go out of existence.
This banking consolidation trend has allowed the big Wall Street banks to absolutely explode in size.
Back in 1970, the 5 biggest U.S. banks held 17 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.
Today, the 5 biggest U.S. banks hold 52 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.
So where will this end?
That is a good question.
The funny thing is that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials keep giving speeches where they warn of the dangers of having banks that are “too big to fail”. For example, during a recent presentation to students at George Washington University, Bernanke made the following statement about the U.S. banking system….
“But clearly, it is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which some companies are ‘too big to fail.'”
So does that mean that Bernanke is against the too big to fail banks?
Of course not.
The truth is that he showered those banks with trillions of dollars in bailout money during the last financial crisis.
The amount of money in secret loans that some of the big Wall Street banks received from the Federal Reserve was absolutely staggering. The following figures come directly from a GAO report….
Citigroup – $2.513 trillion
Morgan Stanley – $2.041 trillion
Bank of America – $1.344 trillion
Goldman Sachs – $814 billion
JP Morgan Chase – $391 billion
Bernanke has shown that he is willing to move heaven and earth to protect those big banks.
So what did those banks do with all that money?
They certainly didn’t lend it to us. Lending to individuals and small businesses by those big banks actually went down immediately after those bailouts.
Instead, one thing that those banks did was they started putting massive amounts of money into commodities.
One of those commodities was food.
Over the past few years, big Wall Street banks have made huge amounts of money speculating on the price of food. This has caused food prices all over the globe to soar and it has caused tremendous hardship for hundreds of millions of families around the planet. The following is from a recent article in The Independent….
Speculation by large investment banks is driving up food prices for the world’s poorest people, tipping millions into hunger and poverty. Investment in food commodities by banks and hedge funds has risen from $65bn to $126bn (£41bn to £79bn) in the past five years, helping to push prices to 30-year highs and causing sharp price fluctuations that have little to do with the actual supply of food, says the United Nations’ leading expert on food.
Hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital now dominate the food commodities markets, dwarfing the amount traded by actual food producers and buyers.
Goldman Sachs alone has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from food speculation.
Can you imagine what kind of mindset it takes to do this?
Can you imagine taking food out of the mouths of hungry families on the other side of the world so that you and your fellow employees can pad your bonus checks?
It really is disgusting.
But that is the way the game is played.
It is set up so that the big guy will win and the little guy will lose.
The other day I wrote about how this is particularly true when it comes to our system of taxation.
Well, since that article I have discovered some new numbers that were just released by Citizens for Tax Justice. Some of the things that they have uncovered are absolutely amazing….
Between 2008 and 2011, Verizon made a total profit of $19.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -3.8%.
Between 2008 and 2011, General Electric made a total profit of $19.6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -18.9%.
Between 2008 and 2011, Boeing made a total profit of $14.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -5.5%.
Between 2008 and 2011, Pacific Gas & Electric made a total profit of $6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -8.4%.
So why should middle class families continue to be suffocated by outrageous tax rates when hugely profitable corporations such as General Electric are able to get away with paying nothing?
Our current tax system is an utter abomination and should be completely thrown out.
But as is the case with so many other things, our current system is going to persist because the “big guys” really enjoy the status quo and they are the ones that fund political campaigns.
It would be bad enough if the “big guys” were beating us on a level playing field.
But the truth is that the game has been dramatically tilted in their favor and they know that the politicians are going to take care of them whenever they need it.
So what is going to happen the next time the too big to fail banks get into trouble?
They will almost certainly get bailed out again.
Unfortunately, the big Wall Street banks continue to treat the financial system as if it was a gigantic casino. The derivatives bubble just continues to grow larger and larger, and it could burst and absolutely devastate the entire global financial system at any time.
According to the New York Times, the too big to fail banks have complete domination over derivatives trading. Every month a secret meeting that includes representatives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup is held in New York to coordinate their control over the derivatives marketplace. The following is how the New York Times describes those meetings….
On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.
The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.
When the derivatives market fully implodes, there will not be enough money in the world to bail everyone out. According to the Comptroller of the Currency, the too big to fail banks have exposure to derivatives that is absolutely outrageous. Just check out the following numbers….
JPMorgan Chase – $70.1 Trillion
Citibank – $52.1 Trillion
Bank of America – $50.1 Trillion
Goldman Sachs – $44.2 Trillion
So what happens when that house of cards comes crashing down?
Well, those big banks will come crying to the federal government again.
They will want more bailouts.
They will claim that if we don’t give them the money that they need that the entire financial system will collapse.
And yes, if several of the too big to fail banks were to collapse all at once the consequences would be almost unimaginable.
But of course all of this could have been avoided if we would have made much wiser decisions upstream.
Our financial system is more vulnerable than it ever has been before, and the too big to fail banks just continue to grow.
The lessons from the financial crisis of 2008 have gone unheeded, and we are steamrolling toward an even greater crash.
What a mess.
Global financial markets are in turmoil as the situation in Japan continues to deteriorate. Stock markets are plunging all over the world as investors flock to investments that are considered to be safer. The 9.0 earthquake and the unprecedented tsunami in Japan would have been more than enough to spook investors and unleash chaos on world financial markets, but now the unfolding nightmare at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility is really starting to cause panic. Right now there is a mass exodus out of the city of Tokyo. But not everyone can leave the city. There are over 30 million people living in and around Tokyo. So where in the world could you possibly put 30 million refugees? Sadly, the truth is that millions of Japanese are going to stay in Tokyo no matter how high the radiation gets. Let us hope that Japanese authorities can get the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility under control, but the fact that they have resorted to dropping water from helicopters and shooting water cannons at these nuclear reactors is not comforting.
World financial markets are certainly not expressing a lot of confidence right now. This week alone, $300 billion in U.S. stock values have been wiped out. The Dow Jones industrial average lost about 2 percent of its total value on Wednesday. The Nikkei 225 stock index has lost about 10 percent of its total value since the beginning of this crisis. At one point it was down more than 16 percent, but a gigantic monetary injection from the Bank of Japan has helped to stabilize things at least for now. There are also some that believe that the Japanese government is now directly buying up stocks to keep them from falling even further.
Stock markets across Europe have been plunging as well. An article posted on the USA Today website described some of the carnage on Wednesday….
In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 97.05 points, or 1.7% at 5,598.23 while France’s CAC-40 fell 84.29 points, or 2.2%, to 3,696.56. Germany’s DAX ended 133.82 points, or 2%, lower at 6,513.84.
The financial ripples from this crisis are going to be felt for a long, long time.
In order to rebuild Japan, the Japanese government is somehow going to have to borrow massive amounts of money. But the Japanese national debt was already projected to reach 228 percent of GDP this year.
The Japanese government has become an incredibly bad credit risk, but lowering their credit rating right now would seem to be in very bad taste. So far, all three major credit rating agencies are taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Japan.
Unfortunately, the crisis in Japan is far from over.
The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility just seems to grow more dire with each passing day. Right now, the primary concern is the 40 years of spent fuel rods that are stored throughout the complex.
Ed Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently explained why the pools that store the spent fuel rods are the biggest problem at this point….
“For the time being, the greatest concern is the spent fuel pools because there is a clear pathway for release of radioactivity from the pools into the environment.”
The phrase “spent fuel rods” may make it sound like they should no longer be a threat, but the truth is that these fuel rods remain extremely hot and extremely radioactive for years after they are done being used. For some reason, someone thought that it would be a good idea to store these spent fuel rods in huge pools of water near the top of each of the nuclear reactor buildings at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex.
These spent fuel rod pools are not housed in the same kind of containment vessels that the nuclear reactors are. Therefore there is a much greater danger that radiation from these spent fuel rods could be released into the surrounding environment.
A recent article by Paul Joseph Watson did a great job of explaining just how big of a problem these spent fuel rods represent….
The Fukushima Daiichi plant has seven pools dedicated to spent fuel rods. These are located at the top of six reactor buildings – or were until explosions and fires ravaged the plant. On the ground level there is a common pool in a separate building that was critically damaged by the tsunami. Each reactor building pool holds 3,450 fuel rod assemblies and the common pool holds 6,291 fuel rod assemblies. Each assembly holds sixty-three fuel rods. In short, the Fukushima Daiichi plant contains over 600,000 spent fuel rods – a massive amount of radiation that will soon be released into the atmosphere.
Each of these 600,000 spent fuel rods is a potential “dirty bomb”.
Are you starting to grasp just how serious this all is?
It is absolutely critical that all of these spent fuel rods remain submerged in water.
If the water drops in the spent fuel pools there will be nothing to keep the spent fuel rods cool and they will start to degrade very, very quickly.
Unfortunately, things don’t look good right now. U.S. authorities today expressed their belief that the spent fuel rods in unit 4 are now exposed and that a great deal of radiation is being released. In fact, Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, stated during Congressional testimony today that he believes that an extremely high level of radiation is being released by exposed spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility at this point….
We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.
It would be hard to understate the courage of those that are working inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility right now. They all likely realize that they are all going to die very quickly. They are laying down their lives in an effort to save their countrymen. According to a recent report from CBS News these workers say that they are not afraid to die….
Although communication with the workers inside the nuclear plant is nearly impossible, a CBS News consultant spoke to a Japanese official who made contact with one of the workers inside the control center.
The official said that his friend told him that he was not afraid to die, that that was his job.
Would all of us respond the same way?
Even the media that are reporting on this disaster in Japan are starting to be affected by this radiation. Lester Holt revealed this morning that his entire crew had tested positive for radiation after returning from an assignment.
Meanwhile, Barack Obama is acting as if all of this stuff going on in Japan is no big deal. In fact, as Keith Koffler recently observed, Obama seems to be really enjoying himself in the midst of this crisis….
This morning, as Japan’s nuclear crisis enters a potentially catastrophic phase, we are told that Obama is videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and that we’ll be able to tune into ESPN Wednesday to find out who he likes.
Saturday, he made his 61st outing to the golf course as president, and got back to the White House with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out to party with Washington’s elite journalists at the annual Gridiron Dinner.
If you are curious about Obama’s picks for the NCAA tourney, they are posted on the official White House website.
This weekend, the Obamas are headed down to Brazil. According to an article in Forbes, the Obama plan to do a good bit of sightseeing while they are there….
The Obama family will also take in the sights in Rio. A trip to Corcovado mountain, where the Christ the Redeemer statue stands (France gave us Lady Liberty, gave Brazil Jesus) is supposedly on the itinerary. What trip to Rio would be complete without it?
Isn’t it great to see Obama acting like a true leader in the midst of one of the greatest moments of crisis that the world has seen since World War 2?
What in the world is Obama possibly thinking?
One thing about a major crisis is that it reveals the true character of those affected by it. Many are responding to this crisis in Japan with great acts of courage and heroism.
Others are not rising to the occasion.
Let us just hope and pray that the Japanese figure out a way to get the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex under control. If a “worst case scenario” happens we could soon be facing an unprecedented nuclear nightmare.