Why Is The Mainstream Media Suddenly Buzzing About “Another Global Financial Crisis”?

All of a sudden, the mainstream media is starting to sound a lot like The Economic Collapse Blog.  Throughout the Obama years, the mainstream media in the United States always seemed extremely hesitant to suggest that difficult economic times may be ahead, but now talk of “another global financial crisis” seems to be all over the place.  Is this because they truly believe that one is coming, or is it just another angle that they can use to attack Donald Trump?  In any event, it is undeniable that evidence is mounting that big trouble could be right around the corner.  European financial markets are already in meltdown mode, a major international trade war has just erupted, the worst “retail apocalypse” in modern U.S. history is accelerating, and our debt problems continue to grow with each passing day.  Normally the mainstream news is much more subdued than I am about all of this stuff, and so I was very surprised to see reporter James Pethokoukis come out with an article entitled “Here comes another global financial crisis”

Investors are increasingly worried that an escalating political crisis in Italy could lead to a populist, euroskeptic government taking power. As a result, there’s rising uncertainty about whether the country might eventually abandon the euro currency zone or default on its giant debt pile. To make things worse, the Trump administration continues to toy with the idea of a trade war with Europe and China. That would be the last thing the global economy would need if the Italian situation deteriorates further. Debt crises and trade wars are a toxic combination.

And remember, this comes just days after George Soros ominously declared that “we may be heading into another major financial crisis.”

So what has changed?

Certainly, what is happening in Italy is starting to get everyone’s attention.  Here is more from James Pethokoukis

Italy is the eurozone’s third-largest economy, 10 times the size of Greece’s. It also has the world’s third-largest sovereign debt market, some $2.7 trillion. Only Greece has a higher public debt-to-GDP ratio in the eurozone. My AEI colleague Desmond Lachman, a former International Monetary Fund official and Wall Street emerging market strategist, argues that Italy’s troubles have the potential to roil the global economy much like the 2008 Lehman bankruptcy. (The 10th anniversary of “Free Market Day” is coming!) America wouldn’t be spared.

And it isn’t just Italy.  Financial institutions all over Europe are deeply troubled, and that includes the largest bank in Germany.

On Thursday, Deutsche Bank’s stock price crashed to an all-time low.  This caused such a stir that the bank was actually forced to issue a statement about it.

I have been writing about the troubles at Deutsche Bank for a very long time.  When they finally go down for good, it is going to create a “Lehman Brothers moment” for the entire planet.  This week, there were two key revelations that led to the dramatic stock price decline.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

This came after leaked double-whammy revelations the morning: One reported by the Financial Times, that the FDIC had put Deutsche Bank’s US operations on its infamous “Problem Bank List”; and the other one, reported by the Wall Street Journal, that the Fed, as main bank regulator, had walloped the bank last year with a “troubled condition” designation, one of the lowest rankings on its five-level scoring system.

Meanwhile, the other major factor that has investors starting to panic is the beginning of an international trade war.

It takes a great deal to get the Canadians upset, but they have already retaliated against the tariffs that the Trump administration just imposed on them…

Canada will retaliate against new U.S. tariffs by imposing its own trade barriers on U.S. steel, aluminum and other products, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland said Thursday.

Freeland said Canada plans to slap dollar-for-dollar tariffs on the U.S. The Nafta partner’s proposed import taxes would also cover whiskey, orange juice and other food products alongside the steel and aluminum tariffs.

And it is expected that we will see retaliation from the Chinese, the Europeans and Mexico shortly.  All of this is causing a great deal of consternation on Capitol Hill, and it could mean big trouble for Republicans in November.

At the same time all of this is going on, this week we learned that 13 of Bank of America’s 19 “bear market indicators” have now been triggered.  The following summary comes from Zero Hedge

Specifically, the following indicators have now been triggered, with the latest 2 bolded:

  • Bear markets have always been preceded by the Fed hiking rates by at least 75bp from the cycle trough
  • Minimum returns in the last 12m of a bull market have been 11%
  • Minimum returns in the last 24m of a bull market have been 30%
  • 9m price return (top decile) vs. S&P 500 equalweight index
  • Consensus projected long-term growth (top decile) vs. S&P 500 equalweight index
  • We have yet to see a bear market when the 100 level had not been breached in the prior 24m
  • Similarly, we have yet to see a bear market when the 20 level had not been breached in the prior 6m
  • Companies beating on both EPS & Sales outperformed the S&P 500 by less than 1ppt within the last three quarters
  • While not always a major change, aggregate growth expectations tend to rise within the last 18m of bull markets
  • Trailing PE + CPI y/y% >20 in the prior 12m
  • Based on 1- and 3-month estimate revision trends; see footnote for more detail
  • Trailing PE + CPI (y/y%) >20 within the last 12m
  • In the preceding 12m of all but one (1961) bull market peak, the market has pulled back by 5%+ at least once

And here are the 6 indicators that have yet to ring the proverbial bell.

  • Each of the last three bear markets has started when a net positive % of banks were tightening C&I lending standards
  • Companies with S&P Quality ratings of B or lower outperform stocks rated B+ or higher
  • Forward 12m earnings yield (top decile) vs. S&P 500 equalweight index
  • A contrarian measure of sell side equity optimism; sell signal trigged in the prior 6m
  • A contrarian measure of buy side optimism
  • Does not always lead or catch every peak and all but one inversion (1970) has coincided with a bear market within 24m

Like so many others, I’ve got a bad feeling about all of this.

And so does best-selling author James Rickards.  He seems quite convinced that we are heading for the largest market collapse that anyone has ever seen

Each crisis is bigger than the one before. In complex dynamic systems such as capital markets, risk is an exponential function of system scale. Increasing market scale correlates with exponentially larger market collapses.

This means that the larger size of the system implies a future global liquidity crisis and market panic far larger than the Panic of 2008.

Today, systemic risk is more dangerous than ever. Too-big-to-fail banks are bigger than ever, have a larger percentage of the total assets of the banking system and have much larger derivatives books.

It has been 10 years since 2008, and conditions are definitely ripe for another great financial crisis.

Stay frosty my friends, because it looks like events are going to accelerate greatly in the months ahead.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

European Implosion Sends Panic Through Global Markets As George Soros Warns ‘We May Be Heading For Another Major Financial Crisis’

I told you to keep your eyes on Europe.  On Tuesday, widespread panic shot through European financial markets and this deeply affected U.S. markets as well.  The Dow Jones industrial average fell 391 points, and at this point the Dow and the S&P 500 have been down for three trading sessions in a row.  But the big news is what is happening over in Europe.  Tuesday’s crash represented the largest one day move for 2 year Italian bonds ever, and Italian bank stocks are now down a whopping 24 percent from their April highs.  Overall, European banks have fallen a total of 11 percent over the last four days, and it isn’t just banks in troubled countries such as Italy and Spain that are hurting.  The biggest bank in Europe, Deutsche Bank, just keeps on tumbling and is now just barely above all-time lows.  A few days ago when I wrote that the next global economic crisis “could be just around the corner”, there were some people that criticized me for making such a statement.  Well, as you will see below, now this fact has become so obvious that even George Soros is saying it.

Those that are ignoring what is going on in Italy are making a tragic mistake.  Italy is the third largest economy in the eurozone, and even the Wall Street Journal is admitting that its bond market is “in meltdown”…

Risk aversion is back. Italy is the focal point, with its bond market in meltdown, its politics in crisis after President Sergio Mattarella blocked the formation of an antiestablishment government, and its credit rating under threat.

That is all now making bigger waves: Europe’s deepening troubles and disappointing global growth signals are sparking a sudden rally in haven bonds like U.S. Treasurys.

The next financial crisis has already arrived in Europe, and the primary reason for this crisis has to do with the giant mess that Italy’s government has become.  The following summary of the current situation comes from CNBC

Italy has been without a government since an inconclusive vote in early March, with anti-establishment political groups abandoning their efforts to form a coalition over the weekend amid a dispute with the country’s head of state.

President Sergio Mattarella, who was installed by a previous pro-EU government, refused to accept the nomination of euroskeptic candidate Paolo Savona for economy minister on Sunday.

Instead, he set the country on a path to another snap vote by appointing former International Monetary Fund (IMF) official Carlo Cottarelli as interim prime minister.

Of course the Italian parliament will never accept Cottarelli, and it looks like we are heading for snap elections in either July or August.

What is at stake in these elections is of the utmost importance to all of Europe.  As Politico recently discussed, if the Italian people continue to move toward anti-establishment parties we could actually see Italy leave the euro or even leave the EU altogether…

Italy, the third-largest EU power once Britain leaves, may sooner or later be run by two parties who agree on little other than their apparent eagerness to break stuff. It could be Italy’s debt — a default in the trillions of euros. It could be the euro, if they follow through on past promises to hold a referendum on membership in the single currency. And what’s ultimately broken could be the EU as we know it, if any such referendum goes against Brussels, as most that have been held have done.

The EU survived Brexit, but there is a lot of doubt as to whether it could also survive a defection by Italy.

During a speech on Tuesday, George Soros soberly assessed the current state of affairs in Europe.  According to Bloomberg, at one point he stated that “we may be heading for another major financial crisis.”

It is unusual for Soros to have such a gloomy tone.  He really seemed to quite pessimistic about Europe’s future, and he even went as far to say that “everything that could go wrong has gone wrong”

The stark warning from the billionaire money manager comes as Italian bond yields have jumped to multi-year highs and major emerging economies including Turkey and Argentina are struggling to contain the fallout from runaway inflation. Soros, who has been the object of ire by the government of his native Hungary, saved his gloomiest outlook for the EU.

“Everything that could go wrong has gone wrong,” he said, citing the refugee crisis and austerity policies that catapulted populists into power, as well as “territorial disintegration” exemplified by Brexit. “It is no longer a figure of speech to say that Europe is in existential danger; it is the harsh reality,” he said.

I must admit that I agree with his assessment of the situation in Europe.  The EU most definitely is in “existential danger”, and I believe that we are in the beginning stages of the worst financial crisis in modern European history.

So what should be expect to see in the weeks ahead?

Well, here are three things to keep an eye on…

#1 The chaos is likely to continue for Italian financial markets.

#2 The euro is likely to continue to fall relative to the U.S. dollar.

#3 Trouble signs are likely to continue to erupt at European banking giants such as Deutsche Bank.

I have been warning about Italy, the euro and Deutsche Bank for a very long time, but because things didn’t fall apart right away a lot of people thought that the problems had been solved.

But just because something doesn’t happen in the short-term doesn’t mean that it isn’t going to happen.  The long-term trends that are destroying Europe’s financial system took a long time to mature, and we could all see what was happening, but now we have finally reached a major crisis point.

Of course the European elite could try to “extend and pretend” by pulling a few more tricks out of their sleeves, but at some point even they will lose control.  There is only so much that can be done, and those holding the reigns of power in Europe are almost out of ammunition.

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

12 Indications That The Next Major Global Economic Crisis Could Be Just Around The Corner

There have not been so many trouble signs for the global economy in a very long time.  Analysts are sounding the alarm about junk bond defaults, the smart money is getting out of stocks at an astounding rate, mortgage rates are absolutely skyrocketing, and Europe is already facing a full blown financial meltdown.  Of course expectations that another global economic crisis will happen among the general population are probably at an all-time low right now, but the reality of the matter is that we are probably closer to a new one erupting than at any point since the last one in 2008.  Since the last financial crisis our long-term debt problems have just continued to grow, and there are many that believe that the next crisis will actually be far worse than what we experienced ten years ago.

So how bad are things at this moment?

The following are 12 indications that the next major global economic crisis could be just around the corner…

#1 The “smart money” is getting out of stocks at a rate that we haven’t seen since just before the financial crisis of 2008.

#2 Moody’s is warning that a “particularly large wave” of junk bond defaults is coming.  And as I have written about so many times before, junk bonds are often an early warning indicator for a major financial crisis.

#3 According to the FDIC, a closely watched category known as “assets of problem banks” more than tripled during the first quarter of 2018.  What that means is that some really big banks are now officially in “problem” territory.

#4 U.S. Treasury bonds are having the worst start to a year since the Great Depression.

#5 Mortgage interest rates just hit a 7 year high, and they have been rising at the fastest pace in nearly 50 years.  This is going to be absolutely crippling for the real estate and housing industries.

#6 Retail industry debt defaults have hit a record high in 2018.

#7 We are on pace for the worst year for retail store closings ever.

#8 The two largest economies on the entire globe are on the verge of starting an international trade war.

#9 The 9th largest economy in the world, Italy, is in the midst of yet another financial meltdown.  In fact, this one appears to be the worst yet, and there are fears that it could spread to other areas of the eurozone.

#10 Italian banking stocks crashed really hard this week.

#11 Italian two year bond yields are the highest that they have been since the crisis of 2014.

#12 German banking giant Deutsche Bank just announced that it will be cutting another 7,000 jobs as it “seeks to turn the page on years of losses”.  Those of you that have followed my work for a long time know that I have written extensively about Deutsche Bank, and it really is amazing that it has survived for this long.  If Deutsche Bank fails in 2018, it will essentially be a “Lehman Brothers moment” for the entire planet.

The mainstream media in the United States almost entirely ignores Europe, but I believe that what is going on over there is the key right now.

Italy is a financial basket case, and Europe isn’t going to be able to handle a complete and total Italian financial collapse.  If you will remember, Europe could barely handle what happened in Greece, and the Italian economy is many times the size of Greece.

The can has been kicked down the road several times before on the Italian crisis, but now we are getting to the point where it simply won’t be able to be kicked down the road any further.

And once things start unraveling over in Europe, we will be deeply affected in the United States as well.  The global financial system is more interconnected than ever before, and at this point we are even more vulnerable than we were just prior to the crisis of 2008.

When this thing breaks loose, it won’t matter who is in the White House, who is in Congress or who is running the Federal Reserve.

When this bubble bursts there is nothing that anyone will be able to do to stop it.

Global central banks have been able to buy a few extra years of time by engaging in unprecedented levels of intervention, but now they are almost out of ammunition and events are beginning to escalate at a very frightening pace.

We shall see if they can pull another rabbit out of a hat in 2018, but I wouldn’t count on it…

Michael Snyder is a nationally syndicated writer, media personality and political activist.  He is the author of four books including The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters.

Guess What Happened The Last Time Junk Bonds Started Crashing Like This? Hint: Think 2008

Thumbs Down - Public Domain
The extreme carnage that we are witnessing in the junk bond market right now is one of the clearest signals yet that a major U.S. stock market crash is imminent.  For those that are not familiar with “junk bonds”, please don’t get put off by the name.  They aren’t really “junk”.  They simply have a higher risk and thus a higher return than other bonds of the same type.  And yesterday, I explained why I watch them so closely.  If stocks are going to crash, you would expect to see a junk bond crash first.  This happened in 2008, and it is happening again right now.  On Monday, a high yield bond ETF known as JNK crashed through the psychologically important 35.00 barrier for the very first time since the last financial crisis.  On Tuesday, high yield bonds had their worst day in three months, and JNK plummeted all the way down to 34.44.  When I saw this I was absolutely stunned.  This is precisely the kind of junk bond crash that I have been anticipating that we would soon witness.

Normally, stocks and junk bonds track one another very closely, but just like before the 2008 crash, they have become decoupled in recent months.  Anyone that even has an elementary understanding of the financial world knows that this cannot continue indefinitely.  And when they start converging once again, the movement could be quite violent.

When I chose to use the word “carnage” to open this article, I was not exaggerating what is going on in the junk bond market one bit.  On Tuesday evening, Jeffrey Gundlach used the exact same word to describe what is happening…

Jeffrey Gundlach, the widely followed investor who runs DoubleLine Capital, said on a webcast on Tuesday that the junk bond market has come under severe selling pressure ahead of the Federal Reserve’s policy meeting next week.

We are looking at real carnage in the junk bond market,” Gundlach said. Gundlach also said it was too early to buy high-yield junk bonds and energy debt securities. “I don’t like things when they go down every single day.”

Sometimes a chart can be extremely helpful in understanding what is going on.  The following chart was posted by Zero Hedge on Tuesday, and it shows that yields on the riskiest junk bonds are heading into the stratosphere…

High Yield Debt - from Zero Hedge

And for those that are not familiar, it is important to note that when yields go up, bond prices go down.  So the chart above is what a “crash” looks like.

Another “leading indicator” that I watch is the behavior of Dow Transports.

Dow Transports started crashing before the Dow Jones Industrial Average did back in August, and now it is happening again

Dow Transports are in reverse. Down over 3% today, the biggest drop since the Black Monday collapse, Trannies are now below the lows of the Bullard bounce from October 2014 and down a shocking 16% in 2015. This would be the first four-quarters-in-a-row drop in Transports since 1994 and the worst year since 2008…

In addition, we are also seeing trouble signs erupt at major financial institutions just like we did during the run up to the 2008 crash.  For example, I have been concerned about Morgan Stanley for quite a while, and on Tuesday we learned that they have just laid off more than a thousand workers

Struggling Morgan Stanley slashed 1,200 jobs around the world in recent days, a person familiar with the matter told CNNMoney.

The cuts were broad-based and eliminated 25% of the positions within the fixed income and commodities businesses, the person said. Those divisions are grappling with tumbling trading revenue and shrinking fees.

Morgan Stanley also eliminated about 730 back-office jobs like human-resources and IT positions.

Virtually all of the things that we would expect to see just prior to a 2008-style stock market crash are happening right now.

If just two or three leading indicators were flashing red, we could have a really good debate about what they might mean.

But the fact that virtually all of the numbers are screaming a warning at us should mean that the debate is over.  Anyone with an open mind should be able to very clearly see what is coming next.

Very quickly, let me give you just 10 signs that indicate that we are right on the precipice of a major recession and a very substantial financial downturn…

1. Global GDP growth has gone negative for the first time since 2009.

2. Corporate earnings growth has turned negative.

3. S&P 500 net profit margins are steeply declining.  According to Tony Sagami, “since 1973, there has been only one 60 bps decline in S&P 500 net profit margin that didn’t lead to a recession.”

4. In October, U.S. imports of goods declined by 6.6 percent on a year over year basis.

5. In October, U.S. exports of goods declined by 10.4 percent on a year over year basis.

6. U.S. manufacturing is contracting at the fastest pace that we have seen since the last recession.

7. Corporate debt defaults have risen to the highest level that we have seen since the last recession.

8. Credit card numbers that were recently released show that holiday sales have gone negative for the first time since the last recession.

9. The velocity of money in the United States has dropped to the lowest level ever recorded.

10. Of the 93 largest stock market indexes in the entire world, 47 of them (slightly more than half) have already plunged at least 10 percent year to date.

Just like in 2008, other global financial markets are imploding ahead of a U.S. collapse.

On Tuesday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average was down another 162 points, but we are still within 1000 points of the market peak that was set earlier this year.  We are still in far better shape than most of the rest of the world, but that will soon change.

I can’t think of a single leading indicator that is telling us that everything is going to be okay.  All of the numbers are pointing to major trouble ahead.  So I hope that you are being smart and doing what you can to get prepared while there is still time.

‘Near Perfect’ Indicator That Precedes Almost Every Stock Market Correction Is Flashing A Warning Signal

Exclamation Marks - Public DomainAre we about to see U.S. stocks take a significant tumble?  If you are looking for a “canary in the coal mine” for the U.S. stock market, just look at high yield bonds.  In recent years, almost every single time junk bonds have declined substantially there has been a notable stock market correction as well.  And right now high yield bonds are steadily moving lower.  The biggest reason for this is falling oil prices.  As I wrote about the other day, energy companies now account for about 20 percent of the high yield bond market.  As the price of oil falls, investors are understandably becoming concerned about the future prospects of those companies and are dumping their bonds.  What is happening cannot be described as a “crash” just yet, but there has been a pretty sizable decline for junk bonds over the past month.  And as I noted above, junk bonds and stocks usually move in tandem.  In fact, junk bonds usually start falling before stocks do.  So does the decline in high yield bonds that we are witnessing at the moment indicate that we are on the verge of a significant stock market correction?

That is a question that CNBC asked in a recent article entitled “Near perfect sell signal says stocks should drop“…

The S&P 500 and the iShares iBoxx High Yield Corporate Bond ETF are a mirror image since the start of the year, but since the end of October, high yield has diverged to the lower right, and yet the S&P 500 has continued to record highs. Since separating in October, the S&P 500 is up 3 percent, while the high-yield ETF is down 4 percent.

On 10 occasions since 2007, the high-yield ETF dropped 5 percent in 30 trading days. During nine of those instances, the S&P 500 fell as well, with an average return of negative 9 percent, according to CNBC analysis using Kensho.

Only once did high yield give a false sell signal. That was last year, when the market was already entranced by the Federal Reserve’s quantitative easing program, which has seemed to elevate stocks with an abnormal consistency. And even then, the S&P 500 managed just a 0.4 percent climb amid the junk debt rout.

Personally, I am convinced that this correlation between junk bonds and stocks is very significant.

Let’s just go back and look at what happened during the financial crash of 2008 for a moment.

In the chart posted below, you can see that high yield bonds began crashing in the middle of September that year…

High Yield Bonds 2008

But U.S. stocks did not crash at the same time.  In fact, the chart below shows that they did not really begin crashing until early October…

Dow Jones Industrial Average 2008

That is why analysts often refer to junk bonds as a “leading indicator”.  What happens to high yield debt is often a really good indicator of what is about to happen to stocks.

Now let’s take a look at what is happening today.

Since the beginning of November, junk bonds have been falling steadily…

High Yield Bonds November

Meanwhile, the Dow has continued to reach new heights…

Dow Jones Industrial Average November

This is not a state of affairs that can persist indefinitely.  Either junk bonds will rebound or U.S. stocks will start falling.

If the U.S. economy was on solid footing, you could perhaps argue that it could go either way.

Unfortunately, that is not the case.  At this point, the stock market has become completely divorced from economic fundamentals.  Price to earnings ratios are at absurd levels, margin debt is hovering near record highs, and the “real economy” continues to fall apart.  We are enjoying a massively inflated standard of living which is being propped up by the largest mountain of debt in world history, and it is only a matter of time before reality starts catching up with us.

And the signs of our long-term economic decline are all around us if you are willing to look at them.  For example, the lead headline on the Drudge Report today was about how China has now overtaken us and has become the largest economy on the planet

Hang on to your hats, America.

And throw away that big, fat styrofoam finger while you’re about it.

There’s no easy way to say this, so I’ll just say it: We’re no longer No. 1. Today, we’re No. 2. Yes, it’s official. The Chinese economy just overtook the United States economy to become the largest in the world. For the first time since Ulysses S. Grant was president, America is not the leading economic power on the planet.

It just happened — and almost nobody noticed.

The International Monetary Fund recently released the latest numbers for the world economy. And when you measure national economic output in “real” terms of goods and services, China will this year produce $17.6 trillion — compared with $17.4 trillion for the U.S.A.

Meanwhile, some of the most iconic companies in the United States continue to struggle deeply.  For instance, Sears has just announced that the number of store closings for this year is going to reach a total of 235 and that the company lost more than half a billion dollars during the third quarter of 2014 alone…

Sears Holdings Corp., posted a disappointing third quarter Thursday that saw revenue, earnings, and sales at stores open at least a year all fall as the retailer tries to salvage its business.

Sears, which owns Kmart, lost $548 million, or $5.15 a share, for the period ended Nov. 1. That’s up from a loss of $534 million, or $5.03 a share, in the year-ago period.

Even though Sears is losing more than 500 million dollars a quarter, banks and investors continue to inject new money into the corporation.  That is a crying shame, because Sears is a company that is going to zero.  Anyone that is investing in Sears at this point is just pouring their money into a black hole.  As Kevin O’Leary would say, they are guilty of murdering money.

And of course what is happening to Sears is just part of the broader “retail apocalypse” that I keep writing about.  In order for retailers to thrive they need healthy consumers, and consumers are not financially healthy because the real economy is a disaster zone.

But these days so many people are in denial.  The stock market has been soaring for so long that many skeptics are now proclaiming that another 2008-style crash will never happen.  Even though the fact that we are in the midst of an absolutely insane financial bubble should be glaringly obvious to anyone with half a brain, these skeptics have convinced themselves that the current state of affairs can persist indefinitely.

Sadly, it looks like what is about to hit us in 2015 is going to serve as a very rude wake up call for them and for the millions of other Americans that currently have their heads in the sand.

Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?…

Price Of Oil Causes A Junk Bond Crash - Public DomainThere has only been one other time in history when the price of oil has crashed by more than 40 dollars in less than 6 months.  The last time this happened was during the second half of 2008, and the beginning of that oil price crash preceded the great financial collapse that happened later that year by several months.  Well, now it is happening again, but this time the stakes are even higher.  When the price of oil falls dramatically, that is a sign that economic activity is slowing down.  It can also have a tremendously destabilizing affect on financial markets.  As you will read about below, energy companies now account for approximately 20 percent of the junk bond market.  And a junk bond implosion is usually a signal that a major stock market crash is on the way.  So if you are looking for a “canary in the coal mine”, keep your eye on the performance of energy junk bonds.  If they begin to collapse, that is a sign that all hell is about to break loose on Wall Street.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the shale oil boom to the U.S. economy.  Thanks to this boom, the United States has become the largest oil producer on the entire planet.

Yes, the U.S. now actually produces more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia.  This “revolution” has resulted in the creation of  millions of jobs since the last recession, and it has been one of the key factors that has kept the percentage of Americans that are employed fairly stable.

Unfortunately, the shale oil boom is coming to an abrupt end.  As a recent Vox article discussed, OPEC has essentially declared a price war on U.S. shale oil producers…

For all intents and purposes, OPEC is now engaged in a “price war” with the United States. What that means is that it’s very cheap to pump oil out of places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But it’s more expensive to extract oil from shale formations in places like Texas and North Dakota. So as the price of oil keeps falling, some US producers may become unprofitable and go out of business. The result? Oil prices will stabilize and OPEC maintains its market share.

If the price of oil stays at this level or continues falling, we will see a significant number of U.S. shale oil companies go out of business and large numbers of jobs will be lost.  The Saudis know how to play hardball, and they are absolutely ruthless.  In fact, we have seen this kind of scenario happen before

Robert McNally, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush and president of the Rapidan Group energy consultancy, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia “will accept a price decline necessary to sweat whatever supply cuts are needed to balance the market out of the US shale oil sector.” Even legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens believes Saudi Arabia is in a stand-off with US drillers and frackers to “see how the shale boys are going to stand up to a cheaper price.” This has happened once before. By the mid-1980’s, as oil output from Alaska’s North Slope and the North Sea came on line (combined production of around 5-6 million barrels a day), OPEC set off a price war to compete for market share. As a result, the price of oil sank from around $40 to just under $10 a barrel by 1986.

But the energy sector has been one of the only bright spots for the U.S. economy in recent years.  If this sector starts collapsing, it is going to have a dramatic negative impact on our economic outlook.  For example, just consider the following numbers from a recent Business Insider article

Specifically, if prices get too low, then energy companies won’t be able to cover the cost of production in the US. This spending by energy companies, also known as capital expenditures, is responsible for a lot of jobs.

“The Energy sector accounts for roughly one-third of S&P 500 capex and nearly 25% of combined capex and R&D spending,” Goldman Sachs’ Amanda Sneider writes.

Even more troubling is what this could mean for the financial markets.

As I mentioned above, energy companies now account for close to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market.  As those companies start to fail and those bonds start to go bad, that is going to hit our major banks really hard

Everyone could suffer if the collapse triggers a wave of defaults through the high-yield debt market, and in turn, hits stocks. The first to fall: the banks that were last hit by the housing crisis.

Why could that happen?

Well, energy companies make up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of all U.S. junk debt, according to various sources.

It would be hard to overstate the seriousness of what the markets could potentially be facing.

One analyst summed it up to CNBC this way

This is the one thing I’ve seen over and over again,” said Larry McDonald, head of U.S strategy at Newedge USA’s macro group. “When high yield underperforms equity, a major credit event occurs. It’s the canary in the coal mine.

The last time junk bonds collapsed, a major stock market crash followed fairly rapidly.

And those that were hardest hit were the big Wall Street banks

During the last high-yield collapse, which centered around debt tied to the housing sector, Citigroup lost 63 percent of its value in the following 60 days, Kensho shows. Bank of America was cut in half.

I understand that some of this information is too technical for a lot of people, but the bottom line is this…

Watch junk bonds.  When they start crashing it is a sign that a major stock market collapse is right at the door.

At this point, even the mainstream media is warning about this.  Just consider the following excerpt from a recent CNN article

That swing away from junk bonds often happens shortly before stock market downturns.

“High yield does provide useful sell signals to equity investors,” Barclays analysts concluded in a recent report.

Barclays combed through the past dozen years of data. The warning signal they found is a 30% or greater increase in the spread between Treasuries and junk bonds before a dip.

If you have been waiting for the next major financial collapse, what you have just read in this article indicates that it is now closer than it has ever been.

Over the coming weeks, keep your eye on the price of oil, keep your eye on the junk bond market and keep your eye on the big banks.

Trouble is brewing, and nobody is quite sure exactly what comes next.

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