The higher financial markets rise, the harder they fall. By any objective measurement, the stock market is currently well into bubble territory. Anyone should be able to see this – all you have to do is look at the charts. Sadly, most of us never seem to learn from history. Most of us want to believe that somehow “things are different this time”. Well, about the only thing that is different this time is that our economy is in far worse shape than it was just prior to the last major financial crisis. That means that we are more vulnerable and will almost certainly endure even more damage this time around. It would be one thing if stocks were soaring because the U.S. economy as a whole was doing extremely well. But we all know that isn’t true. Instead, what we have been experiencing is clearly artificial market behavior that has nothing to do with economic reality. In other words, we are dealing with an irrational financial bubble, and all irrational financial bubbles eventually burst. And as I wrote about yesterday, the way that stocks have moved so far this year is eerily reminiscent of the way that stocks moved in early 2008. The warning signs are there – if you are willing to look at them.
The first chart that I want to share with you today comes from Doug Short. It is a chart that shows that the ratio of corporate equities (stocks) to GDP is the second highest that it has been since 1950. The only other time it has been higher was just before the dotcom bubble burst…
Does that look like a bubble to you?
It sure looks like a bubble to me.
In order for the corporate equities to GDP ratio to get back to the mean (average) level, stock prices would have to fall nearly 50 percent.
If that happens, people will be calling it a crash, but in truth it would just be a return to normalcy.
As I’ve noted before, the single best predictor of stock market performance is the cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings ratio or CAPE ratio.
Corporate earnings are heavily influenced by the business cycle. Typically the US experiences a boom and bust once every ten years or so. As such, companies will naturally have higher P/E’s at some points and lower P/E’s at other. This is based solely on the business cycle and nothing else.
CAPE adjusts for this by measuring the price of stocks against the average of ten years’ worth of earnings, adjusted for inflation. By doing this, it presents you with a clearer, more objective picture of a company’s ability to produce cash in any economic environment.
Based on a study completed Vanguard, CAPE was the single best metric for measuring future stock returns.
When the CAPE ratio is too high, that means that stocks are overpriced and are not a good value. And right now the CAPE ratio is the 3rd highest that it has been since 1890. That only times it has been higher than this were in 1929 (we all remember what happened then) and just before the dotcom bubble burst…
The funny thing is that stocks have continued to rise even as corporate revenues have begun to fall.
According to Wolf Richter, in the first quarter of 2015 corporate revenues are projected to decline at the fastest pace that we have seen since the depths of the last recession…
Week after week, corporations and analysts have been whittling down their estimates. By now, revenues of the S&P 500 companies are expected to decline 2.8% in Q1 from a year ago – the worst year-over-year decline since Q3 of crisis year 2009.
This next chart I want to share with you shows how the Nasdaq has performed over the past decade. Looking at this chart alone, you would think that the U.S. economy must have been absolutely roaring since the end of the last recession. But what is really going on is rampant speculation. Some of the tech companies that make up the Nasdaq are not making any profits at all and yet they are supposedly worth billions of dollars. If you cannot see a bubble in this chart, you need to get your vision checked…
And this kind of irrational euphoria is not just happening in the United States.
For example, Chinese stocks are up nearly 80 percent over the past nine months.
Meanwhile, the overall Chinese economy is growing at the slowest pace that we have seen in about 20 years.
Right now, we are in the calm before the storm. We are right at the door of the next great financial crisis, and most of the people that work in the industry know this.
And once in a while they let the cat out of the bag.
“Risk is no longer priced in,” he said. And these investors aren’t paid for the risks they’re taking. This applies to all asset classes, he said. The stock and the bond markets, he said, are now both seeing “the mother of all bubbles.”
This can’t go on forever. Or for very long. But he couldn’t see the future either and pin down a date, which is what everyone wants to know so that they can all get out in time. “I cannot tell you when it will rumble,” he said, “but eventually it will rumble again.”
By “again” he meant the sort of thing that had taken the bank down last time, the Financial Crisis. It had been triggered by horrendous risk-taking, where risks hadn’t been priced into all kinds of securities. When those securities – mortgage-backed securities, for example, that were hiding the inherent risks under a triple-A rating – blew up, banks toppled.
What Vetter is telling us is what I have been warning about for a long time.
The price of oil collapsed by more than 8 percent on Wednesday, and a decision by the European Central Bank has Greece at the precipice of a complete and total financial meltdown. What a difference 24 hours can make. On Tuesday, things really seemed like they were actually starting to get better. The price of oil had rallied by more than 20 percent since last Thursday, things in Europe seemed like they were settling down, and there appeared to be a good deal of optimism about how global financial markets would perform this month. But now fear is back in a big way. Of course nobody should get too caught up in how the markets behave on any single day. The key is to take a longer term point of view. And the fact that the markets have been on such a roller coaster ride over the past few months is a really, really bad sign. When things are calm, markets tend to steadily go up. But when the waters start really getting choppy, that is usually a sign that a big move down in on the horizon. So the huge ups and the huge downs that we have witnessed in recent days are likely an indicator that rough seas are ahead.
A stunning decision that the European Central Bank has just made has set the stage for a major showdown in Europe. The ECB has decided that it will no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral from Greek banks. This gives the European Union a tremendous amount of leverage in negotiations with the new Greek government. But in the short-term, this could mean some significant pain for the Greek financial system. The following is how a CNBC article described what just happened…
“The European Central Bank is telling the Greek banking system that it will no longer accept Greek bonds as collateral for any repurchase agreement the Greek banks want to conduct,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note.
“This is because the ECB only accepts investment grade paper and up until today gave Greece a waiver to this clause. That waiver has now been taken away and Greek banks now have to go to the Greek Central Bank and tap their Emergency Liquidity Assistance facility for funding,” he said.
And if the new Greek government will not submit to the demands of the EU, and Greece ultimately ends up leaving the common currency, it could potentially mean the end of the eurozone in the configuration that we see it today.
Meanwhile, the oil crash has taken a dangerous new turn.
This kind of erratic behavior is the exact opposite of what a healthy market would look like.
What we really need is a slow, steady climb which would take the price of oil back to at least the $80 level. In the current range in which it has been fluctuating, the price of oil is going to be absolutely catastrophic for the global economy, and the longer it stays in this current range the more damage that it is going to do.
But of course the problems that we are facing are not just limited to the oil price crash and the crisis in Greece. The truth is that there are birth pangs of the next great financial collapse all over the place. We just have to be honest with ourselves and realize what all of these signs are telling us.
And it isn’t just in the western world where people are sounding the alarm. All over the world, highly educated professionals are warning that a great storm is on the horizon. The other day, I had an economist in Germany write to me with his concerns. And in China, the head of the Dagong Rating Agency is declaring that we are going to have to face “a new world financial crisis in the next few years”…
The world economy may slip into a new global financial crisis in the next few years, China’s Dagong Rating Agency Head Guan Jianzhong said in an interview with TASS news agency on Wednesday.
“I believe we’ll have to face a new world financial crisis in the next few years. It is difficult to give the exact time but all the signs are present, such as the growing volume of debts and the unsteady development of the economies of the US, the EU, China and some other developing countries,” he said, adding the situation is even worse than ahead of 2008.
For a long time, I have been pointing at the year 2015. But this year is not going to be the end of anything. Rather, it is just going to be the beginning of the end.
During the past few years, we have experienced a temporary bubble of false stability fueled by reckless money printing and an unprecedented accumulation of debt. But instead of fixing anything, those measures have just made the eventual crash even worse.
Now a day of reckoning is fast approaching.
Life as we know it is about to change dramatically, and most people are completely and totally unprepared for it.
On Monday, the price of oil fell below $50 for the first time since April 2009, and the Dow dropped 331 points. Meanwhile, the stock market declines over in Europe were even larger on a percentage basis, and the euro sank to a fresh nine year low on concerns that the anti-austerity Syriza party will be victorious in the upcoming election in Greece. These are precisely the kinds of things that we would expect to see happen if a global financial crash was coming in 2015. Just prior to the financial crisis of 2008, the price of oil collapsed, prices for industrial commodities got crushed and the U.S. dollar soared relative to other currencies. All of those things are happening again. And yet somehow many analysts are still convinced that things will be different this time. And I agree that things will indeed be “different” this time. When this crisis fully erupts, it will make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
Another thing that usually happens when financial markets begin to unravel is that they get really choppy. There are big ups and big downs, and that is exactly what we have witnessed since October.
So don’t expect the markets just to go in one direction. In fact, it would not be a surprise if the Dow went up by 300 or 400 points tomorrow. During the initial stages of a financial crash, there are always certain days when the markets absolutely soar.
For example, did you know that the three largest single day stock market advances in history were right in the middle of the financial crash of 2008? Here are the dates and the amount the Dow rose each of those days…
October 13th, 2008: +936 points
October 28th, 2008: +889 points
November 13th, 2008: +552 points
Just looking at those three days, you would assume that the fall of 2008 was the greatest time ever for stocks. But instead, it was the worst financial crash that we have seen since the days of the Great Depression.
So don’t get fooled by the volatility. Choppy markets are almost always a sign of big trouble ahead. Calm waters usually mean that the markets are going up.
In order to avoid a major financial crisis in the near future, we desperately need the price of oil to rebound in a substantial way.
Unfortunately, it does not look like that is going to happen any time soon. There is just way too much oil being produced right now. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article…
The Morgan Stanley strategists say there are new reports of unsold West and North African cargoes, with much of the oil moving into storage. They also note that new supply has entered the global market with additional exports coming from Russia and Iraq, which is reportedly seeing production rising to new highs.
Since June, the price of oil has plummeted close to 55 percent. If the price of oil stays where it is right now, we are going to see large numbers of small producers go out of business, the U.S. economy will lose millions of jobs, billions of dollars of junk bonds will go bad and trillions of dollars of derivatives will be in jeopardy.
And the lower the price of oil goes, the worse our problems are going to get. That is why it is so alarming that some analysts are now predicting that the price of oil could hit $40 later this month…
Some traders appeared certain that U.S. crude will hit the $40 region later in the week if weekly oil inventory numbers for the United States on Wednesday show another supply build.
‘We’re headed for a four-handle,’ said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors in Laurel Hollow in New York. ‘Maybe not today, but I’m sure when you get the inventory numbers that come out this week, we definitely will.’
Open interest for $40-$50 strike puts in U.S. crude have risen several fold since the start of December, while $20-$30 puts for June 2015 have traded, said Stephen Schork, editor of Pennsylvania-based The Schork Report.
The only way that the price of oil has a chance to move back up significantly is if global production slows down. But instead, production just continues to increase in the short-term thanks to projects that were already in the works. As a result, analysts from Morgan Stanley say that the oil glut is only going to intensify…
Morgan Stanley analysts said new production will continue to ramp up at a number of fields in Brazil, West Africa, Canada and in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as U.S. shale production. Also, the potential framework agreement with Iran could mean more Iranian oil on the market.
Yes, lower oil prices mean that we get to pay less for gasoline when we fill up our vehicles.
But as I have written about previously, anyone that believes that lower oil prices are good for the U.S. economy or for the global economy as a whole is crazy. And these sentiments were echoed recently by Jeff Gundlach…
“Oil is incredibly important right now. If oil falls to around $40 a barrel then I think the yield on ten year treasury note is going to 1%. I hope it does not go to $40 because then something is very, very wrong with the world, not just the economy. The geopolitical consequences could be – to put it bluntly – terrifying.“
If the price of oil does not recover, we are going to see massive financial problems all over the planet and the geopolitical stress that this will create will be unbelievable.
To expand on this point, I want to share an excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article. As you can see, a rapid rise or fall in the price of oil almost always correlates with a major global crisis of some sort…
Large and rapid rises and falls in the price of crude oil have correlated oddly strongly with major geopolitical and economic crisis across the globe. Whether driven by problems for oil exporters or oil importers, the ‘difference this time’ is that, thanks to central bank largesse, money flows faster than ever and everything is more tightly coupled with that flow.
So is the 45% YoY drop in oil prices about to ’cause’ contagion risk concerns for the world?
And without a doubt, we are overdue for another stock market crisis.
Between December 31st, 1996 and March 24th, 2000 the S&P 500 rose 106 percent.
Then the dotcom bubble burst and it fell by 49 percent.
Between October 9th, 2002 and October 9th, 2007 the S&P 500 rose 101 percent.
But then that bubble burst and it fell by 57 percent.
Between March 9th, 2009 and December 31st, 2014 the S&P 500 rose an astounding 204 percent.
When this bubble bursts, how far will it fall this time?
Is the stock market about to crash? Hopefully not, and there definitely have been quite a few “false alarms” over the past few years. But without a doubt we have been living through one of the greatest financial bubbles in U.S. history, and the markets are absolutely primed for a full-blown crash. That doesn’t mean that one will happen now, but we are starting to see some ominous things happen in the financial world that we have not seen happen in a very long time. So many of the same patterns that we witnessed just prior to the bursting of the dotcom bubble and just prior to the 2008 financial crisis are repeating themselves again. Hopefully we still have at least a little bit more time before stocks completely crash, because when this market does implode it is going to be a doozy.
The following are 9 ominous signals coming from the financial markets that we have not seen in years…
#1 By the time the markets closed on Monday, we had witnessed the biggest three day decline for U.S. stocks since 2011.
#2 On Monday, the S&P 500 moved below its 200 day moving average for the first time in about two years. The last time this happened after such an extended streak of success, the S&P 500 ended up declining by a total of 22 percent.
#3 This week the put-call ratio actually moved higher than it was at any point during the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008. This is an indication that there is a tremendous amount of fear on Wall Street right now.
#4 Everybody is watching the VIX at the moment. According to the Economic Policy Journal, the VIX has now risen to the highest level that it has been since the heart of the European debt crisis. This is another indicator that there is extraordinary fear on Wall Street…
US stock market volatility has jumped to the highest since the eurozone debt crisis, according to a closely watched index, the the CBOE Vix index of implied US share price volatility.
It jumped to 24.6 late on Monday and is up again this morning. On Thursday, it was as low as 15.
That’s a very strong move, but things have been much worse. At height of the recent financial crisis – the Vix index peaked at 80.1 in November 2008.
#6 As Chris Kimble has pointed out, the chart for the Dow has formed a “Doji Star topping pattern”. We also saw this happen in 2007. Could this be an indication that we are on the verge of another stock market crash similar to what happened in 2008?
#7 Canadian stocks are actually doing even worse than U.S. stocks. At this point, Canadian stocks have already dropped more than 10 percent from the peak of the market.
#8 European stocks have also had a very rough month. For example, German stocks have already dropped about 10 percent since July, and there are growing concerns about the overall health of the German economy.
#9 The wealthy are hoarding cash and precious metals right now. In fact, one British news report stated that sales of gold bars to wealthy customers are up 243 percent so far this year.
Technical strategist Abigail Doolittle is holding tight to her prediction of market doom ahead, asserting that a recent move in Wall Street’s fear gauge is signaling the way.
Doolittle, founder of Peak Theories Research, has made headlines lately suggesting a market correction worse than anyone thinks is ahead. The long-term possibility, she has said, is a 60 percent collapse for the S&P 500.
In early August, Doolittle was warning both of a looming “super spike” in the CBOE Volatility Index as well as a “death cross” in the 10-year Treasury note. The former referenced a sharp move higher in the “VIX,” while the latter used Wall Street lingo for an event that already occurred in which the fixed income benchmark saw its 50-day moving average cross below its 200-day trend line.
Both, she said, served as indicators for trouble ahead.
So what do you think?
Are we about to witness a stock market crash and another major financial crisis?
Or is this just another “false alarm” that will soon fade?
Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…
How would you feel if you went to the store to buy something, and someone rushed ahead of you and purchased it first and then sold it to you at a higher price? Well, in the financial world this happens millions upon millions of times. In fact, this practice has become so popular that it has spawned an entire industry known as “high frequency trading”. At this point, high frequency trading makes up about half of all trading volume on Wall Street, and it is costing the rest of us billions of dollars a year. And the funny thing is that this is all perfectly legal. High frequency trading firms are exploiting a glitch in the system, and by allowing this to go on, the authorities have essentially given them a license to steal from the rest of us. Sadly, this is just another example that shows that the odds are never in our favor. The “little guy” never seems to be able to win, and those at the top of the food chain like it that way.
Making money in the stock market is supposed to be about making wise investment decisions. It isn’t supposed to be about finding a glitch in a video game and exploiting it. But that is essentially what these high frequency traders have done. They have spent an extraordinary amount of time and energy figuring out ways to make pennies (or sometimes just fractions of a penny) on the trades that the rest of us make.
Fortunately, this practice was exposed in front of the entire world by 60 Minutes the other night. Steve Kroft interviewed a former trader named Michael Lewis that just released a new book entitled “Flash Boys” that is all about the evils of high frequency trading. The following is an excerpt from that interview…
Steve Kroft: And this is all being done by computers?
Michael Lewis: All being done by computers. It’s too fast to be done by humans. Humans have been completely removed from the marketplace.
“Fast” is the operative word. Machines with secret programs are now trading stocks in tiny fractions of a second, way too fast to be seen or recorded on a stock ticker or computer screen. Faster than the market itself. High-frequency traders, big Wall Street firms and stock exchanges have spent billions to gain an advantage of a millisecond for themselves and their customers, just to get a peek at stock market prices and orders a flash before everyone else, along with the opportunity to act on it.
Michael Lewis: The insiders are able to move faster than you. They’re able to see your order and play it against other orders in ways that you don’t understand. They’re able to front run your order.
Steve Kroft: What do you mean front run?
Michael Lewis: Means they’re able to identify your desire to, to buy shares in Microsoft and buy ’em in front of you and sell ’em back to you at a higher price. It all happens in infinitesimally small periods of time. There’s speed advantage that the faster traders have is milliseconds, some of it is fractions of milliseconds. But it”s enough for them to identify what you’re gonna do and do it before you do it at your expense.
Steve Kroft: So it drives the price up.
Michael Lewis: So it drives the price up, and in turn you pay a higher price.
You can watch the entire interview right here. Unlike most mainstream media news reports, this one is actually worth your time. I have watched the entire thing, and I highly recommend it.
Of course there have been many that have been screaming about high frequency trading for many years. Zero Hedge is just one example. This practice has gone on year after year and the federal government has looked the other way.
These high frequency trading firms do not add anything to society. As Barry Ritholtz noted recently, one of these firms has an average holding period for stocks of just 11 seconds, and at one point it stated that it had “not had a losing day of trading in four years“…
The only surprising thing about Lewis’s assertion was that anyone could be even remotely surprised by it.
The math on trading is simple: It is a zero-sum game. One trader’s gain is another trader’s loss. Only in the case of HFT, the losers are the investors — by way of their pension funds, retirement accounts and institutional funds. The HFT’s take — the “skim” — comes out of these large institution’s trade executions.
The technology behind HFT may be complex, but the math is that simple. Once the Securities and Exchange Commission allowed stock exchanges to share with traders all of the unexecuted incoming orders, it was hard not to make money by skimming a few cents or fractions of a cent from each trade. Several years ago, the founder of Tradebot, one of the biggest high-frequency firms, had said that the firm had “not had a losing day of trading in four years.” The firm’s average holding period for stocks is 11 seconds.
How in the world does that kind of behavior add any value to society?
They are just skimming money that should be going to others. Billions of dollars is essentially being stolen from pension funds and retirement accounts, and it is time that people started getting outraged about this.
Unfortunately, even if this practice is outlawed, the truth is that the odds will still never be in our favor.
There are millions of Americans that dream of getting ahead, but they never seem to be able to get there. They work incredibly hard, but the more they earn, the more the government taxes them. If somehow you do manage to scrape together a little bit of money to invest in the financial markets, any profits that you make will be endlessly eroded by fees, commissions and even more taxes.
And it is important to remember that in the financial world, the “little guy” is regarded as easy prey by the hungry wolves that are all too eager to find a way to transfer your money into their own pockets. If you don’t know what you are doing, it is all too easy to get absolutely slaughtered.
On Wall Street, there are winners and there are losers.
Most of the time, “the little guys” end up losing.
But at least they could try to have a system that at least has the appearance of fairness. As long as high frequency trading exists, that will never be the case.
Are the central banks of the world starting to lose control of the financial markets? Could we be facing a situation where the bond bubble is going to inevitably implode no matter what the central bankers do? For the past several years, the central bankers of the planet have been able to get markets to do exactly what they want them to do. Stock markets have soared to record highs, bond yields have plunged to record lows and investors have literally hung on every word uttered by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other prominent central bankers. In the United States, it has been remarkable what Bernanke has been able to accomplish. The U.S. government has been indulging in an unprecedented debt binge, the Fed has been wildly printing money, and the real rate of inflation has been hovering around 8 to 10 percent, and yet Bernanke has somehow convinced investors to lend gigantic piles of money to the U.S. government for next to nothing. But this irrational state of affairs is not going to last indefinitely. At some point, investors are going to wake up and start demanding higher returns. And we are already starting to see this happen in Japan. Wild money printing has actually caused bond yields to go up. What a concept! And that is what should happen – when central banks recklessly print money it should cause investors to demand a higher return. But if bond investors all over the globe start acting rationally, that is going to cause the largest bond bubble in the history of the planet to burst, and that will create utter devastation in the financial markets.
Central banks can manipulate the financial system in the short-term, but there is usually a tremendous price to pay for the distortions that are caused in the long-term.
In Bernanke’s case, all of this quantitative easing seemed to work well for a while. The first round gave the financial system a nice boost, and so the Fed decided to do another. The second round had less effect, but it still boosted stocks and caused bond yields to go down. The third round was supposed to be the biggest of all, but it had even less of an effect than the second round. If you doubt this, just check out the charts in this article.
Our financial system has become addicted to this financial “smack”. But like any addict, the amount needed to get the same “buzz” just keeps increasing. Unfortunately, the more money that the Fed prints, the more distorted our financial system becomes.
The only way that this is going to end is with a tremendous amount of pain. There is no free lunch, and there are already signs that investors are starting to wake up to this fact.
As investors wake up, they are going to realize that this bond bubble is irrational and entirely unsustainable. Once the race to the exits begins, it is not going to be pretty. In fact, the are indications that the race to the exits has already begun…
During the month of June, fixed income allocations fell to a four-year low, according to the American Association of Individual Investors, as major bond fund managers like Pimco experienced record withdrawals for the second quarter. That pullback sent places like emerging markets and high-yield bonds reeling—just as the Federal Reserve signaled plans to taper its easy-money policies within the coming years. Benchmark bond yields ticked up on that news, and in an unexpected twist, the stock market nosedived as well.
A lot of people out there have been floating the theory that the Fed will decide not to taper at all and that quantitative easing will continue at the same pace and therefore the markets will settle back down.
But what if they don’t settle back down?
Could the bond bubble implode even if there is no tapering?
That is what some are now suggesting. For example, Detlev Schlichter is pointing to what has been happening in Japan as an indication that the paradigm has changed…
My conclusion is this: if market weakness is the result of concerns over an end to policy accommodation, then I don’t think markets have that much to fear. However, the largest sell-offs occurred in Japan, and in Japan there is not only no risk of policy tightening, there policy-makers are just at the beginning of the largest, most loudly advertised money-printing operation in history. Japanese government bonds and Japanese stocks are hardly nose-diving because they fear an end to QE. Have those who deal in these assets finally realized that they are sitting on gigantic bubbles and are they trying to exit before everybody else does? Have central bankers there lost control over markets?
After all, money printing must lead to higher inflation at some point. The combination in Japan of a gigantic pile of accumulated debt, high running budget deficits, an old and aging population, near-zero interest rates and the prospect of rising inflation (indeed, that is the official goal of Abenomics!) are a toxic mix for the bond market. It is absurd to assume that you can destroy your currency and dispossess your bond investors and at the same time expect them to reward you with low market yields. Rising yields, however, will derail Abenomics and the whole economy, for that matter.
The financial situation in Japan is actually very similar to the financial situation in the United States. We both have “a gigantic pile of accumulated debt, high running budget deficits, an old and aging population, near-zero interest rates and the prospect of rising inflation”. In both cases, rational investors should demand higher returns when the central bank fires up the printing presses.
And if interest rates on U.S. Treasury bonds start to rise to rational levels, the U.S. government is going to have to pay more to borrow money, state and local governments are going to have to pay more to borrow money, junk bonds will crash, the market for home mortgages will shrivel up and economic activity in this country will slow down substantially.
As stocks have risen in recent years, the big hedge funds and the “too big to fail” banks have used borrowed money to make absolutely enormous profits. But when you use debt to potentially multiply your profits, you also create the possibility that your losses will be multiplied if the markets turn against you. When the next stock market crash happens, and the gigantic pyramid of risk, debt and leverage on Wall Street comes tumbling down, will highly leveraged banks such as Goldman Sachs ask the federal government to bail them out? The use of leverage is one of the greatest threats to our financial system, and yet most Americans do not even really understand what it is. The following is a basic definition of leverage from Investopedia: “The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.” Leverage allows firms to make much larger bets in the financial markets than they otherwise would be able to, and at this point Goldman Sachs and the big hedge funds are pushing leverage to ridiculous extremes. When the financial markets go up and they win on those bets, they can win very big. For example, revenues at Goldman Sachs increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and Goldman stock has soared by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months. Those are eye-popping numbers. But leverage is a double-edged sword. When the markets turn, Goldman Sachs and many of these large hedge funds could be facing astronomical losses.
Sadly, it appears that Wall Street did not learn any lessons from the financial crisis of 2008. Hedge funds have ramped up leverage to levels not seen since before the last stock market crash. The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article entitled “Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year“…
Hedge funds are borrowing more to buy equities just as loans by New York Stock Exchange brokers reach the highest in four years, signs of increasing confidence after professional investors trailed the market since 2008.
Leverage among managers who speculate on rising and falling shares climbed to the highest level to start any year since at least 2004, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. Margin debt at NYSE firms rose in November to the most since February 2008, data from NYSE Euronext show.
So why is this so important?
Well, as a recent Zero Hedge article explained, even a relatively small drop in stock prices could potentially absolutely devastate many hedge funds…
What near record leverage means is that hedge funds have absolutely zero tolerance for even the smallest drop in prices, which are priced to absolute and endless central bank-intervention perfection – sorry, fundamentals in a time when global GDP growth is declining, when Europe and Japan are in a double dip recession, when the US is expected to report its first sub 1% GDP quarter in years, when corporate revenues and EPS are declining just don’t lead to soaring stock prices.
It also means that with virtually all hedge funds in such hedge fund hotel names as AAPL (the stock held by more hedge funds – over 230 – than any other), any major drop in the price would likely lead to a wipe out of the equity tranche at the bulk of AAPL “investors”, sending them scrambling to beg for either more LP generosity, or to have their prime broker repo desk offer them even more debt. And while the former is a non-starter, the latter has so far worked, which means that most hedge funds have been masking losses with more debt, which then suffers even more losses, and so on.
By the way, Apple (AAPL) just fell to an 11-month low. Apple stock has now declined by 26 percent since it hit a record high back in September. That is a very bad sign for hedge funds.
But hedge funds are not the only ones flirting with disaster. In a previous article about the derivatives bubble, I pointed out the ridiculous amount of derivatives exposure that some of these “too big to fail” banks have relative to their total assets…
According to the Comptroller of the Currency, four of the largest U.S. banks are walking a tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to derivatives. Just check out how exposed they are…
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
Take another look at those figures for Goldman Sachs. If you do the math, Goldman Sachs has total exposure to derivatives contracts that is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.
That is utter insanity, but we haven’t had a derivatives crash yet so everyone just keeps pretending that the emperor actually has clothes on.
When the derivatives crisis happens, things in the financial markets are going to fall apart at lightning speed. A recent article posted on goldsilverworlds.com explained what a derivatives crash may look like…
When one big bank faces some kind of trouble and fails, the banks with the largest exposure to derivates (think JP Morgan, Citygroup, Goldman Sachs) will realize that the bank on the other side of the derivatives trade (the counterparty) is no longer good for their obligation. All of a sudden the hedged position becomes a naked position. The net position becomes a gross position. The risk explodes instantaneously. Markets realize that their hedged positions are in reality not hedged anymore, and all market participants start bailing almost simultaneously. The whole banking and financial system freezes up. It might start in Asia or Europe, in which case Americans will wake up in the morning to find out that their markets are not functioning anymore; stock markets remain closed, money at the banks become inaccessible, etc.
But for now, the party continues. Goldman Sachs and many of the big hedge funds are making enormous piles of money.
In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Goldman Sachs recently gave some of their top executives 65 million dollars worth of restricted stock…
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -0.76% handed insiders including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock just hours before this year’s higher tax rates took effect.
The New York securities firm gave 10 of its directors and executives early vesting on 508,104 shares previously awarded as part of prior years’ compensation, according to a series of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Monday.
And the bonuses that employees at Goldman receive are absolutely obscene. A recent Daily Mail article explained that Goldman employees in the UK are expected to receive record-setting bonuses this year…
Britain’s army of bankers will re-ignite public fury over lavish pay rewards as staff at Goldman Sachs are expected to reward themselves £8.3 billion in bonuses on Wednesday.
The American investment bank, which employs 5,500 staff in the UK, will be the first to unveil its telephone number-sized rewards – an average of £250,000 a person – as part of the latest round of bonus updates.
The increase, up from £230,000 last year, comes as British families are still struggling to make ends meet five years after banks brought the economy to the brink of meltdown.
Wouldn’t you like to get a “bonus” like that?
Life is good at these firms while the markets are going up.
We always knew that the financial markets were rigged, but this is getting ridiculous. It is now being alleged that 20 major banks have been systematically fixing global interest rates for years. Barclays has already been fined hundreds of millions of dollars for manipulating Libor (the London Inter Bank Offered Rate). But Barclays says that a whole bunch of other banks were doing this too. This is shaping up to be the biggest financial scandal in history, and criminal investigations have been launched on both sides of the Atlantic. What those investigations are likely to uncover could shake the financial markets to their very core. In the end, this scandal could absolutely devastate confidence in the global financial system and it could potentially bring down a number of major global banks. We have never seen anything quite like this before.
What Is Libor?
As mentioned before, Libor is the London Inter Bank Offered Rate. A recent Washington Post article contained a pretty good explanation of what that means….
In the simplest terms, LIBOR is the average interest rate which banks in London are charging each other for borrowing. It’s calculated by Thomson Reuters — the parent company of the Reuters news agency — for the British Banking Association (BBA), a trade association of banks and financial services companies.
Why Does Libor Matter?
If you have a mortgage, a car loan or a credit card, then there is a very good chance that Libor has affected your personal finances. Libor has been a factor in the pricing of hundreds of trillions of dollars of loans, securities and assets. The following is from a recent article by Maureen Farrell….
These traders influenced the pricing of the London Interbank Offered Rate or Libor, a benchmark that dictates the pricing of up to $800 trillion of securities (yes trillion)
That is a number that is hard to even imagine.
Most American consumers do not even know what Libor is, but it actually plays a key role in the U.S. economy as the Washington Post recently explained….
In the United States, the two biggest indices for adjustable rate mortgages and other consumer debt are the prime rate (that is, the rate banks charge favored or “prime” consumers) and LIBOR, with the latter particularly popular for subprime loans. A study from Mark Schweitzer and Guhan Venkatu at the Cleveland Fed looked at survey data in Ohio and found that by 2008, almost 60 percent of prime adjustable rate mortgages, and nearly 100 percent of subprime ones, were indexed to LIBOR
Employees at Barclays (and apparently at about 20 other major banks) were brazenly manipulating interest rates. A recent Yahoo Finance article described how this worked…
To help the bank’s trading positions between 2005 and 2009, and most notably during the global financial crisis of 2007-09, the bank made false submissions to the Libor-setting committee, which agrees rates daily in London.
At the request of its own traders of interest-rate derivatives, Barclays made false submissions relating to Libor and Euribor (the eurozone benchmark rate). By doing this, Barclays personnel aimed to help their trading colleagues to profit by manipulating Libor.
Rigging the world’s leading benchmark for interest rates is pretty serious stuff. Indeed, in the words of the FSA, “Barclays’ behaviour threatened the integrity of the rates, with the risk of serious harm to other market participants”.
Many in the financial world have been absolutely horrified by the details of this scandal that have been emerging.
One recent CNN article declared that “the stench” coming from London is now “overwhelming”….
The Libor scandal has confirmed what many of us have known for some time: There is something smelly in the London financial world and the stench is now overwhelming.
But It is only when I read the Financial Services Authority report — all 44 pages of it — that is became clear just how widespread, how blatant was the fixing of the benchmark interest rate Libor and Euribor by Barclays. Brazen is the only word for it.
The emails and phone calls reveal that on dozens of occasions those who stood to gain by the decisions asked for favors (and got them) from those who helped set the interest rates.
You can read many examples of the kinds of emails that were exchanged between traders in New York and traders at Barclays in London right here.
What Does This Scandal Mean For The Future?
This scandal is making the global financial system look really, really bad. Confidence in global financial markets has already been declining, and these new revelations are not going to help at all. The following is how an article in the Huffington Post put it….
The ballooning interest rate manipulation scandal at Barclays, coupled with stock market instability, is likely to fuel fresh doubts about the integrity of the stock market, insiders said.
“Every time people begin to gain a little confidence, something else comes up,” said Randy Frederick, managing director of active trading and derivatives at Charles Schwab. “If it’s not Europe, it’s [troubled] IPOs, or JPMorgan or Barclays. Something new blows up and people say, ‘I knew it was rigged.’”
In addition, we are undoubtedly going to see a huge wave of lawsuits come out of this scandal. Those lawsuits alone will gum up the financial system for a decade or more.
So needless to say, this is a very big deal.
Sadly, the revelations that have come out about Barclays in recent days are probably just the very tip of the iceberg. Before this is all over, we are probably going to find out that most of the major global banks were involved.
At a time when the global financial system is already on the verge of a major implosion, this is not welcome news.
This financial scandal is just another reason to be deeply concerned about the second half of 2012. The house of cards is starting to look really shaky, and nobody knows exactly when it will fall, but anyone with half a brain can see that things are progressively getting worse.
A “perfect storm” is rapidly developing, and when it strikes it is going to be very, very painful.
Most Americans believe that we still live in a capitalist system and that free markets primarily determine the growth and development of our economy. But is that really the case? No, sadly it is not. The truth is that the U.S. Federal Reserve does a tremendous amount of central economic planning. So what makes the central economic planning that the Federal Reserve does different from the central economic planning that communist China does? Yes, in China it is the government that does the central planning and in the United States it is a private central bank that does the central planning, but other than that are there any huge differences? And if our economy is centrally planned, then how can we continue to claim that we still have a free market capitalist system?
Certainly China goes into greater detail in their economic planning, but that does not mean that the economic planning that the Federal Reserve and the U.S. government do is not similar.
After all, free markets do not set interest rates in this country – the Federal Reserve does.
The Federal Reserve also determines what the money supply will be.
The Federal Reserve is the one that decides if inflation is too high or too low.
The Federal Reserve is the one that decides if unemployment is too high or too low.
In addition, the Federal Reserve has a tremendous amount of regulatory power over U.S. banks and the entire financial system. Most Americans simply do not realize how much power the Federal Reserve has over our banks. Just last year Federal Reserve officials walked into one bank in Oklahoma and demanded that they take down all the Bible verses and the Christmas buttons that the bank had been displaying.
Like the communist Chinese, the Federal Reserve is not elected and it is essentially accountable to nobody.
Like the communist Chinese, the Federal Reserve also picks winners and losers. You see, not all financial institutions are treated equally by the Fed. For example, some have access to the Fed’s discount window and others do not.
How is that fair?
Certainly the Federal Reserve does not do all of the central economic planning in this country. The U.S. government loves to get involved in economic planning as well. For example, the U.S. government has decided that there are certain types of light bulbs that we are allowed to buy and certain types of light bulbs that we are no longer going to be allowed to buy. It doesn’t matter that the new light bulbs are far more dangerous to children or that most of us would still like to have the choice to buy the old light bulbs.
But getting back to the Federal Reserve, how “democratic” or how “capitalist” is it to have 12 unelected people sitting around a table deciding the economic direction of this country?
The truth is that we live in a system that simply does not trust free markets and that believes that our economy needs to be “managed”.
It is a fundamental tenant of American capitalism that central planning of economies doesn’t work in the long term, whether in Soviet Union historically or in China today. But I often wonder: How is the Fed’s Board of Governors – the proverbial 12 guys in a room – any different than the 24 guys in a room who make up the Chinese politburo?
Is Katsenelson not right about this?
How in the world is the Fed’s Board of Governors all that much different from the Chinese Politburo?
In both cases, a group of unelected elitists makes the major economic decisions for all the rest of us.
That certainly does not sound like “capitalism” to me.
Would the free markets really produce worse results for our economy than the Federal Reserve does?
Would America ever have gone through the Great Depression if the Federal Reserve had not been created in 1913?
Would we have experienced the financial crash of 2008 if the policies of Greenspan and Bernanke had not created tremendous bubbles in the financial system?
Would the U.S. dollar have lost over 95 percent of its value since 1913 if the Federal Reserve was not around to constantly inflate our currency?
Would the U.S. government have the largest debt in the history of the world if we were not using the debt-based monetary system imposed upon us by the elite international bankers?
Now that the total debt of the U.S. government is $14,228,193,126,138.72, it is getting really hard to deny that the federal government is drowning in debt.
But defenders of the Federal Reserve tell us that if not for the brilliant people over at the Fed, America would be an economic basket case by now.
In case anyone has not noticed, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke has a very long track record of incompetence. Nearly every major judgment that he has made since taking over that position has been wrong. If one of us could go down the street and appoint the manager of our local Dairy Queen as the Chairman of the Federal Reserve, it is very doubtful that person could do a worse job than Bernanke has done.
Unfortunately, most Americans do not understand this. Most Americans are still convinced that “the greatest economy on earth” will just keep roaring along forever. Most Americans are spending and partying as if everything is going to be just fine.
In fact, to use an analogy, the economy is like a group of overpaid people, milking the government for every dollar and benefit they can get, on a chartered airplane that has been certified as “unsafe,” where one minute everybody is having fun, drunk as skunks, laughing and telling dirty jokes, and the next minute the plane is plunging out of the sky, out of fuel, one wing is in flames, the engines are dead, the entire electrical system is kaput, and, worst of all, the beverage cart is completely empty of cold beer and those little bottles of different kinds of tasty liquors. Uh-oh!
Most Americans have become so “dumbed down” that they still won’t even understand what is happening even after the economy has collapsed. Newsweek recently found that 63 percent of Americans do not know how many justices are on the Supreme Court and 29 percent of Americans cannot even name the current Vice-President.
America today is rapidly degenerating in many of the same ways that the Roman Empire once did. Tens of millions of Americans are lazy, slothful and absolutely addicted to entertainment. It is frightening to see just how many Americans did not show any empathy during the recent crisis in Japan or when we started launching missiles on Libya. The following mini-documentary that was recently posted on YouTube does a beautiful job of making this point….
So is there any hope for America?
Let us hope that people wake up, because there are going to be even more economic disasters coming our way. Right now a large percentage of the American people don’t even know enough to realize what the real problems are, much less what the solutions may be.
When most Americans talk about economics, they instantly start blaming “Obama” or “Bush” and a lot of them never even bring up the Federal Reserve.
But it is the Federal Reserve that has the most power over our economy.
If Americans want to blame someone in Washington D.C. for the economic mess that we are in, the number one culprit is the Federal Reserve.
Yes, Obama, Bush and virtually every member of Congress has played a role in our economic nightmare as well. But it is the Federal Reserve that is actually “managing” our economy.
We would have been much better off if we had allowed free markets to “manage” our economy all this time, but very few Americans actually seem to still believe in free markets anymore.