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Are They About To Confiscate Money From Bank Accounts In Greece Just Like They Did In Cyprus?

Euros - Public DomainDo you remember what happened when Cyprus decided to defy the EU?  In the end, the entire banking system of the nation collapsed and money was confiscated from private bank accounts.  Well, the nation of Greece is now approaching a similar endgame.  At this point, the Greek government has not received any money from the EU or the IMF since August 2014.  As you can imagine, that means that Greek government accounts are just about bone dry.  The new Greek government continues to insist that it will never “violate its anti-austerity mandate”, but the screws are tightening.  Right now the unemployment rate in Greece is over 25 percent and the banking system is on the verge of collapse.  It isn’t going to take much to set off a panic, and when it does happen there are already rumors that the EU plans to confiscate money from private bank accounts just like they did in Cyprus.

Throughout this entire multi-year crisis, things have never been this dire for the Greek government.  In fact, Greece came thisclose to defaulting on a loan payment to the IMF back on May 12th.  And with essentially no money remaining at all, the Greek government is supposed to make several large payments in the weeks ahead

Athens barely made its latest payment (May 12) to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and it managed to do so only when the government discovered that it could use a reserve account it wasn’t aware of, according to the Greek media.

Kathimerini, a Greek daily newspaper, reports that Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras wrote to the IMF’s Christine Lagarde warning that Greece would not be able to make that May payment, worth €762 million ($871 million, £554.2 million).

Pension and civil-servant pay packets are due at the end of the month, and based on this news Athens may struggle to pay them. Even if it does manage that, on June 5 the country owes another €305 million to the IMF.

In the two weeks following June 5 there are another three payments, bringing the June total to the IMF to over €1.5 billion.

The Germans and the other financial hawks in the EU are counting on these looming payment deadlines to force Greece into a deal.

Meanwhile, Greek banks also find themselves in very hot water.  Many of them are almost totally out of collateral, and without outside intervention some of them could start collapsing within weeks.  The following comes from Bloomberg

Greek banks are running short on the collateral they need to stay alive, a crisis that could help force Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras’s hand after weeks of brinkmanship with creditors.

As deposits flee the financial system, lenders use collateral parked at the Greek central bank to tap more and more emergency liquidity every week. In a worst-case scenario, that lifeline will be maxed out within three weeks, pushing banks toward insolvency, some economists say.

“The point where collateral is exhausted is likely to be near,” JPMorgan Chase Bank analysts Malcolm Barr and David Mackie wrote in a note to clients May 15. “Pressures on central government cash flow, pressures on the banking system, and the political timetable are all converging on late May-early June.”

If no agreement is reached, by this time next month Greece could be plunging into a Cyprus-style crisis or worse.

And if that does happen, there are already rumblings that a “Cyprus-style solution” will be imposed.  Just consider what James Turk recently told King World News

The troika of the EU, ECB and IMF have not yet pulled the plug on the Greek banks, but the following quote in the Financial Times from this weekend should be a warning to anyone who still has money on deposit in that country: “The idea of a “Cyprus-like” presentation to Greek authorities has gained traction among some eurozone finance ministers, according to one official involved in the talks.”

The ECB is up to its eyeballs swimming in unpayable Greek debt that it holds. The ECB is not going to take a loss on this Greek paper on its books. Because Greece does not have the financial capacity to repay what is now about €112 billion of credit exposure to Greece on the ECB’s books, the ECB has only two alternatives.

It can push the €112 billion of Greek debt it holds to the national central banks of the Eurozone and on to the backs of the taxpayers in those countries, which it politically untenable. Or it can confiscate depositor money in Greek banks, like it did in Cyprus and as the FT has now reported.

Needless to say, such a move would be likely to set off financial panic all over Europe.

Could we actually see such a thing?

Well, let’s recall that back in April we already saw the Greek government forcibly grab “idle” cash from the bank accounts of regional governments and pension funds.  The following is from a Bloomberg report about that event…

Running out of other options, Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras ordered local governments and central government entities to move their cash balances to the central bank for investment in short-term state debt.

The decree to confiscate reserves held in commercial banks and transfer them to the Bank of Greece could raise as much as 2 billion euros ($2.15 billion), according to two people familiar with the decision. The money is needed to pay salaries and pensions at the end of the month, the people said.

“It is a politically and institutionally unacceptable decision,” Giorgos Patoulis, mayor of the city of Marousi and president of the Central Union of Municipalities and Communities of Greece, said in a statement on Monday.“No government to date has dared to touch the money of municipalities.”

Grabbing cash from the bank accounts of private citizens is just one step farther.

And what happened in Cyprus just a couple of years ago is still fresh in the minds of most Greeks.  That is why so many of them have been pulling money out of the banks in recent weeks.  The following comes from Wolf Richter

Greeks remember very well what happened in Cyprus in 2013, when local banks were given a big thumbs-up from Europe to help themselves to their depositors’ accounts. Cyprus and Greece are very closely tied, and many Greeks consider the island a “sister-nation.”

What little trust remained in banks in Greece died that day. People have been nervously looking for signs something similar may happen again in their home country. And they resolved to act at the first sign of danger: banks cannot confiscate money you have under your mattress. Cash can be hidden away.

Let’s certainly hope that what happened in Cyprus does not happen in Greece.

But right now, both sides are counting on the other side to fold.

The Germans believe that at some point the economic and financial pain will become so immense that it will force the new Greek government to give in to their demands.

The Greeks believe that the threat of a full blown European financial crisis will cause the Germans to back down at the last moment.

So what if they are both wrong?

What if both sides are fully prepared to stand their ground and take us over the cliff and into disaster?

For a long time I have been warning that a great financial crisis is coming to Europe.

This could be the spark that sets it off.

Guess What Happened The Last Time Bond Yields Crashed Like This?…

Question Cube - Public DomainIf a major financial crisis was approaching, we would expect to see the “smart money” getting out of stocks and pouring into government bonds that are traditionally considered to be “safe” during a crisis.  This is called a “flight to safety” or a “flight to quality“.  In the past, when there has been a “flight to quality” we have seen yields for German government bonds and U.S. government bonds go way down.  As you will see below, this is exactly what we witnessed during the financial crisis of 2008.  U.S. and German bond yields plummeted as money from the stock market was dumped into bonds at a staggering pace.  Well, it is starting to happen again.  In recent months we have seen U.S. and German bond yields begin to plummet as the “smart money” moves out of the stock market.  So is this another sign that we are on the precipice of a significant financial panic?

Back in 2008, German bonds actually began to plunge well before U.S. bonds did.  Does that mean that European money is “smarter” than U.S. money?  That would certainly be a very interesting theory to explore.  As you can see from the chart below, the yield on 10 year German bonds started to fall significantly during the summer of 2008 – several months before the stock market crash in the fall…

German Bond Yields 2007 And 2008

So what are German bonds doing today?

As you can see from this next chart, the yield on 10 year German bonds has been steadily falling since the beginning of last year.  At this point, the yield on 10 year German bonds is just barely above zero…

German Bond Yields 2013 To Today

And amazingly, most German bonds that have a maturity of less than 10 years actually have a negative yield right now.  That means that investors are going to get back less money than they invest.  This is how bizarre the financial markets have become.  The “smart money” is so concerned about the “safety” of their investments that they are actually willing to accept negative yields.  I don’t know why anyone would ever put their money into investments that have a negative yield, but it is actually happening.  The following comes from Yahoo

The world’s scarcest resource right now is safe yield, and the shortage is getting more extreme. Most German government bonds that mature in less than 10 years now have negative yields – part of some $2 trillion worth of paper with yields below zero.

This is what happens when the European Central Bank begins a trillion-euro bond-buying binge with rates already miniscule.

Yesterday, ECB boss Mario Draghi – unfazed by the protest stunt at his press conference – reaffirmed his plan to keep bidding for paper that yields more than -0.2% – that’s minus 0.2%.

Yes, the ECB is driving a lot of this, but it is still truly bizarre.

So what about the United States?

Well, first let’s take a look at what happened back in 2008.  In the chart below, you can see the “flight to safety” that took place in late 2008 as investors started to panic…

US Bond Yield 2007 And 2008

And we have started to witness a similar thing happen in recent months.  The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries has plummeted as investors have looked for safety.  This is exactly the kind of chart that we would expect to see if a financial crisis was brewing…

US 10 Year Yield 2014 And 2015

What makes all of this far more compelling is the fact that so many other patterns that we have witnessed just prior to past financial crashes are happening once again.

Yes, there are other potential explanations for why bond yields have been going down.  But when you add this to all of the other pieces of evidence that a new financial crisis is rapidly approaching, quite a compelling case emerges.

For those that do not follow my website regularly, I encourage you to check out the following articles to get an idea of what I am talking about…

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

-“Not Just Oil: Guess What Happened The Last Time Commodity Prices Crashed Like This?…

-“10 Key Events That Preceded The Last Financial Crisis That Are Happening Again RIGHT NOW

-“Guess What Happened The Last Time The U.S. Dollar Skyrocketed In Value Like This?…

-“7 Signs That A Stock Market Peak Is Happening Right Now

-“Guess What Happened The Last Two Times The S&P 500 Was Up More Than 200% In Six Years?

Of course no two financial crashes ever look exactly the same.

The crisis that we are moving toward is not going to be precisely like the crisis of 2008.

But there are similarities and patterns that we can look for.  When things start to get bad, investors act in predictable ways.  And so many of the things that we are watching right now are just what we would expect to see in the lead up to a major financial crisis.

Sadly, most people are not willing to learn from history.  Even though it is glaringly apparent that we are in a historic financial bubble, most investors on Wall Street cannot see it because they do not want to see it.  They want to believe that somehow “things are different this time” and that stocks will just continue to go up indefinitely so that they can keep making lots and lots of money.

And despite what you may think, I actually want this bubble to continue for as long as possible.  Despite all of our problems, life is still relatively good in America today – at least compared to what is coming.

I like to refer to this next crisis as our “third strike”.

Back in 2000 and 2001, the dotcom bubble burst and we experienced a painful recession, but we didn’t learn any lessons.  That was strike number one.

Then came the financial crash of 2008 and the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.  But we didn’t learn any lessons from that either.  Instead, we just reinflated the same old financial bubbles and kept on making the exact same mistakes as before.  That was strike number two.

This next financial crisis will be strike number three.  After this next crisis, I don’t believe that there will ever be a return to “normal” for the United States.  I believe that this is going to be the crisis that unleashes hell in our nation.

So no, I am not eager for that to come.  Even though there is no way that this bubble of debt-fueled false prosperity can last indefinitely, I would like for it to last at least a little while longer.

Because what comes after it is going to be truly terrible.

Junk Bonds Are Going To Tell Us Where The Stock Market Is Heading In 2015

Dominoes - Public DomainDo you want to know if the stock market is going to crash next year?  Just keep an eye on junk bonds.  Prior to the horrific collapse of stocks in 2008, high yield debt collapsed first.  And as you will see below, high yield debt is starting to crash again.  The primary reason for this is the price of oil.  The energy sector accounts for approximately 15 to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market, and those energy bonds are taking a tremendous beating right now.  This panic in energy bonds is infecting the broader high yield debt market, and investors have been pulling money out at a frightening pace.  And as I have written about previously, almost every single time junk bonds decline substantially, stocks end up following suit.  So don’t be fooled by the fact that some comforting words from Janet Yellen caused stock prices to jump over the past couple of days.  If you really want to know where the stock market is heading in 2015, keep a close eye on the market for high yield debt.

If you are not familiar with junk bonds, the concept is actually very simple.  Corporations that do not have high credit ratings typically have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money.  The following is how USA Today describes these bonds…

High-yield bonds are long-term IOUs issued by companies with shaky credit ratings. Just like credit card users, companies with poor credit must pay higher interest rates on loans than those with gold-plated credit histories.

But in recent years, interest rates on junk bonds have gone down to ridiculously low levels.  This is another bubble that was created by Federal Reserve policies, and it is a colossal disaster waiting to happen.  And unfortunately, there are already signs that this bubble is now beginning to burst

Back in June, the average junk bond yield was 3.90 percentage points higher than Treasury securities. The average energy junk bond yielded 3.91 percentage points higher than Treasuries, Lonski says.

That spread has widened to 5.08 percentage points for junk bonds vs. 7.86 percentage points for energy bonds — an indication of how worried investors are about default, particularly for small, highly indebted companies in the fracking business.

The reason why so many analysts are becoming extremely concerned about this shift in junk bonds is because we also saw this happen just before the great stock market crash of 2008.  In the chart below, you can see how yields on junk bonds started to absolutely skyrocket in September of that year…

High Yield Debt 2008

Of course we have not seen a move of that magnitude quite yet this year, but without a doubt yields have been spiking.  The next chart that I want to share is of this year.  As you can see, the movement over the past month or so has been quite substantial…

High Yield Debt 2014

And of course I am far from the only one that is watching this.  In fact, there are some sharks on Wall Street that plan to make an absolute boatload of cash as high yield bonds crash.

One of them is Josh Birnbaum.  He correctly made a giant bet against subprime mortgages in 2007, and now he is making a giant bet against junk bonds

When Josh Birnbaum was at Goldman Sachs in 2007, he made a huge bet against subprime mortgages.

Now he’s betting against something else: high-yield bonds.

From The Wall Street Journal:

Joshua Birnbaum, the ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader who made bets against subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, now has more than $2 billion in wagers against high-yield bonds at his Tilden Park Capital Management LP hedge-fund firm, according to investor documents.

Could you imagine betting 2 billion dollars on anything?

If he is right, he is going to make an incredible amount of money.

And I have a feeling that he will be.  As a recent New American article detailed, there is already panic in the air…

It’s a mania, said Tim Gramatovich of Peritus Asset Management who oversees a bond portfolio of $800 million: “Anything that becomes a mania — ends badly. And this is a mania.”

Bill Gross, who used to run PIMCO’s gigantic bond portfolio and now advises the Janus Capital Group, explained that “there’s very little liquidity” in junk bonds. This is the language a bond fund manager uses to tell people that no one is buying, everyone is selling. Gross added: “Everyone is trying to squeeze through a very small door.”

Bonds issued by individual energy developers have gotten hammered. For instance, Energy XXI, an oil and gas producer, issued more than $2 billion in bonds just in the last four years and, up until a couple of weeks ago, they were selling at 100 cents on the dollar. On Friday buyers were offering just 64 cents. Midstates Petroleum’s $700 million in bonds — rated “junk” by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s — are selling at 54 cents on the dollar, if buyers can be found.

So is there anything that could stop junk bonds from crashing?

Yes, if the price of oil goes back up to 80 dollars or more a barrel that would go a long way to settling things back down.

Unfortunately, many analysts are convinced that the price of oil is going to head even lower instead…

“We’re continuing to search for a bottom, and might even see another significant drop before the year-end,” said Gene McGillian, an analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.

As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has fallen $1.69 today to $54.78.

If the price of oil stays this low, junk bonds are going to keep crashing.

If junk bonds keep crashing, the stock market is almost certainly going to follow.

For additional reading on this, please see my previous article entitled “‘Near Perfect’ Indicator That Precedes Almost Every Stock Market Correction Is Flashing A Warning Signal“.

But just like in the years leading up to the crash of 2008, there are all kinds of naysayers proclaiming that a collapse will never happen.

Even though our financial problems and our underlying economic fundamentals have gotten much worse since the last crisis, they are absolutely convinced that things are somehow going to be different this time.

In the end, a lot of those skeptics are going to lose an enormous amount of money when the dominoes start falling.

What Will It Mean If The Potential Ebola Victim In New York City Actually Has The Virus?

Ebola In New York CityOn Monday, we learned that a “possible Ebola patient” was being treated at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York City.  We are being told that this individual recently returned from a country in Africa where there have been confirmed cases of Ebola.  So that would narrow it down to Sierra Leone, Guinea, Liberia and Nigeria.  The patient is being described as a male “with high fever and gastrointestinal symptoms“.  The hospital says that “necessary steps are being taken to ensure the safety of all patients, visitors and staff“.  But could you imagine the panic that is going to be created if there actually is a confirmed case of Ebola in the heart of New York City?  There is nothing in the post-World War II era that would even be comparable.  Certainly 9/11 created fear for a short period of time, but a full-blown Ebola outbreak would create a panic that could potentially last for months or even years.

And this comes on the heels of another Ebola scare in the United Kingdom.  According to a British news source, a seriously ill 72-year-old woman “collapsed and died” after getting off a plane from Sierra Leone at Gatwick Airport…

Airport staff tonight told of their fears of an Ebola outbreak after a passenger from Sierra Leone collapsed and died as she got off a plane at Gatwick.

Workers said they were terrified the virus could spread globally through the busy international hub from the West African country which is in the grip of the deadly epidemic.

The woman, said to be 72, became ill on the gangway after she left a Gambia Bird jet with 128 passengers on board. She died in hospital on Saturday.

Officials tell us that the plane was rapidly quarantined and that they were tracking down anyone that had been in contact with that woman.

I don’t know about you, but all of this is starting to remind me of some of the really bad Hollywood disaster movies that I have seen.

In my article yesterday, I included the following chart which shows how this Ebola outbreak is beginning to grow at an exponential pace…

Ebola Outbreak - Photo by Leopoldo Martin R

Well, today the World Health Organization says that the total number of cases has risen to 1,663 and the total number of deaths has risen to 887.  So just imagine what that chart would look like now.  Yes, it is definitely not an exaggeration to use the word “exponential” to describe what is happening.

If Ebola does start spreading inside the United States, it would be incredibly disruptive to our way of life.

In areas where there were confirmed cases of Ebola, it is inevitable that schools would be shut down and large gatherings of people such as concerts and sporting events would be cancelled.  In addition, due to fear of catching the virus, foot traffic at grocery stores and shopping malls would drop off dramatically.  If the panic lasted for multiple months, our economy would essentially grind to a halt.  Most economic activity still involves face to face interaction, and if people are afraid that if they go out in public they might catch a disease that will kill them, it would create an economic disaster of unprecedented proportions.

And what happens if strict travel restrictions (to prevent the spread of the disease) or plain old fear cause massive interruptions in our transportation system?  Almost all economic activity involves moving something from one location to another, and if we are not able to move stuff around because of an Ebola pandemic, that would create nightmarish problems almost immediately.  For example, the following is an excerpt from a report released by the American Trucker Associations that I discussed in a previous article

*****

A Timeline Showing the Deterioration of Major Industries Following a Truck Stoppage

The first 24 hours

• Delivery of medical supplies to the affected area will cease.
• Hospitals will run out of basic supplies such as syringes and catheters within hours. Radiopharmaceuticals will deteriorate and become unusable.
• Service stations will begin to run out of fuel.
• Manufacturers using just-in-time manufacturing will develop component shortages.
• U.S. mail and other package delivery will cease.

Within one day

• Food shortages will begin to develop.
• Automobile fuel availability and delivery will dwindle, leading to skyrocketing prices and long lines at the gas pumps.
• Without manufacturing components and trucks for product delivery,
assembly lines will shut down, putting thousands out of work.

Within two to three days

• Food shortages will escalate, especially in the face of hoarding and consumer panic.
• Supplies of essentials—such as bottled water, powdered milk, and
canned meat—at major retailers will disappear.
• ATMs will run out of cash and banks will be unable to process
transactions.
• Service stations will completely run out of fuel for autos and trucks.
• Garbage will start piling up in urban and suburban areas.
• Container ships will sit idle in ports and rail transport will be disrupted, eventually coming to a standstill.

Within a week

• Automobile travel will cease due to the lack of fuel. Without autos and busses, many people will not be able to get to work, shop for groceries, or access medical care.
• Hospitals will begin to exhaust oxygen supplies.

Within two weeks

• The nation’s clean water supply will begin to run dry.

Within four weeks

• The nation will exhaust its clean water supply and water will be safe for drinking only after boiling. As a result gastrointestinal illnesses will increase, further taxing an already weakened health care system.

This timeline presents only the primary effects of a freeze on truck travel. Secondary effects must be considered as well, such as inability to maintain telecommunications service, reduced law enforcement, increased crime, increased illness and injury, higher death rates, and likely, civil unrest.

*****

Are you starting to get the picture?

A major transportation disruption would not just result in an economic downturn.  Many Americans would start running out of food and basic supplies very rapidly.  Without the ability to constantly resupply at the grocery store, a lot of people would start giving in to panic in just a matter of days.

And needless to say, a full-blown Ebola outbreak would wreak havoc on our financial system.  The stock market would almost certainly collapse and we would witness a credit crunch that would be absolutely unprecedented.  Nobody would want to lend to anybody in the midst of an Ebola pandemic.  The flow of money through our system would come to a screeching halt, and we would be facing an economic nightmare that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

So let us hope and pray that this crisis goes away and that Ebola does not start spreading across the country.

Because if it does, it could potentially kill millions of people, destroy our economy and plunge this nation into utter madness.

19 Reasons To Be Deeply Concerned About The Global Economy As We Enter The 2nd Half Of 2013

EarthIs the global economic downturn going to accelerate as we roll into the second half of this year?  There is turmoil in the Middle East, we are seeing things happen in the bond markets that we have not seen happen in more than 30 years, and much of Europe has already plunged into a full-blown economic depression.  Sadly, most Americans will never understand what is happening until financial disaster strikes them personally.  As long as they can go to work during the day and eat frozen pizza and watch reality television at night, most of them will consider everything to be just fine.  Unfortunately, the truth is that everything is not fine.  The world is becoming increasingly unstable, we are living in the terminal phase of the greatest debt bubble in the history of the planet and the global financial system is even more vulnerable than it was back in 2008.  Unfortunately, most people seem to only have a 48 hour attention span at best these days.  They don’t have the patience to watch long-term trends develop.  And the coming economic collapse is not going to happen all at once.  Rather, it is like watching a very, very slow-motion train wreck happen.  The coming economic nightmare is going to unfold over a number of years.  Yes, there will be moments of great panic, but mostly it will be a steady decline into economic oblivion.  And there are a lot of indications that the second half of this year is not going to be as good as the first half was.  The following are 19 reasons to be deeply concerned about the global economy as we head into the second half of 2013…

#1 The velocity of money in the United States has plunged to an all-time low.  It is extremely difficult to have an “economic recovery” if banks are not lending money and people are not spending it…

Velocity Of Money

#2 The fall of the Egyptian government threatens to bring even more instability to the Middle East.  In response to the events in Egypt, the price of oil rose to more than 101 dollars a barrel on Wednesday.

#3 Every time the average price of a gallon of gasoline in the United States has risen over $3.80 in the past three years, a stock market decline has always followed.

#4 As the world becomes increasingly unstable, massive citizen protest movements have been rising all over the globe

The protests have many different origins. In Brazil people rose up against bus fares, in Turkey against a building project. Indonesians have rejected higher fuel prices, Bulgarians the government’s cronyism.

In the euro zone they march against austerity, and the Arab spring has become a perma-protest against pretty much everything. Each angry demonstration is angry in its own way.

#5 The European sovereign debt crisis is flaring up once again.  This time it is Portugal’s turn to take center stage…

From Greece to Cyprus, Slovenia to Spain and Italy, and now most pressingly Portugal, where the finance and foreign ministers resigned in the space of two days, a host of problems is stirring after 10 months of relative calm imposed by the European Central Bank.

Portuguese Prime Minister Pedro Passos Coelho told the nation in an address late on Tuesday that he did not accept the foreign minister’s resignation and would try to go on governing.

If his government does end up collapsing, as is now more likely, it will raise immediate questions about Lisbon’s ability to meet the terms of the 78-billion-euro bailout it agreed with the EU and International Monetary Fund in 2011.

#6 It is being projected that Italy will need a major EU bailout within six months.

#7 Bond investors are starting to panic.  In fact, even prominent firms such as Pimco are seeing investors pull massive amounts of money out right now…

In June, investors pulled $9.6bn from Bill Gross’s flagship fund at Pimco, the largest single month of outflows at the fund since Morningstar records began in 1993, the investment research firm said.

The outflows came after investors pulled $1.3bn from the fund in May, which marked the first outflows since December 2011.

Overall, a whopping 80 billion dollars was pulled out of bond funds during June.

#8 Central banks are selling off staggering amounts of U.S. Treasury bonds right now.

#9 U.S. mortgage bonds just suffered their largest quarterly decline in nearly 20 years.

#10 We continue to buy far more from the rest of the world than they buy from us.  The U.S. trade deficit for the month of May was 45.0 billion dollars.

#11 The severe drought that the western half of the United States is suffering never seems to end.  What will it do to food prices if ranchers and farmers out west have to go through another summer like they did last year?

#12 European car sales have fallen to a 20 year low.

#13 Unemployment in the eurozone is at an all-time high.

#14 Could the paper gold Ponzi scheme be on the verge of crumbling?  There are reports that there is now a 100 day delay for gold owners to take physical delivery of their gold from some warehouses owned by the London Metal Exchange…

We’re told that bullion-buyers in London must now wait more than 100 days to take delivery of the bullion for which they have already paid.

The comedic drones at Bloomberg, and officials of the London Metal Exchange itself would have us believe this is due to “warehouse queues.” While precious metals bulls undoubtedly appreciate the imagery implied of a 100-day line-up of armored cars waiting to load their bullion – in the middle of this “bear market” – the implication is fallacious.

In an era of just-in-time inventories; the notion that there can be a 100-day backlog to load bullion into armored cars with the metal already sitting in the warehouse is ludicrous. Clearly what the LME is really reporting here is a greater-than-three-month delay to refine the gold (or silver) being purchased here – and then ship it to their warehouse.

In other words, the “bullion” which traders believe they are purchasing today is in fact merely ore which hasn’t even been dug out of the ground yet.

#15 The number of mortgage applications in the United States is falling at the fastest rate in more than 3 years.

#16 Real disposable income in the United States is falling at the fastest rate in more than 4 years.

#17 The percentage of companies issuing negative earnings guidance for this quarter is at a level that we have never seen before.

#18 Is the dark side of derivatives trading about to be exposed?  EU officials claim that 13 major international banks have been colluding to control the trading of derivatives…

The European Commission says many of the world’s largest investment banks appear to have colluded to block attempts by exchanges to trade and offer more transparent prices for financial products known as credit derivatives.

The commission, the executive arm of the European Union, said Monday it has informed 13 banks — including Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan and Morgan Stanley — as well as the industry association for derivatives itself, the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, ISDA, of the preliminary conclusions of an investigation that began in March.

#19 There are 441 trillion dollars of interest rate derivatives sitting out there and interest rates have risen rapidly over the past few weeks.  What is going to happen to those derivatives if interest rates keep going higher?

So what do you think?

Are there any items that are missing that you would add to this list?

Please feel free to share what you think by posting a comment below…

The Trigger Has Been Pulled And The Slaughter Of The Bonds Has Begun

The Bears Are Unleashed On Wall StreetWhat does it look like when a 30 year bull market ends abruptly?  What happens when bond yields start doing things that they haven’t done in 50 years?  If your answer to those questions involves the word “slaughter”, you are probably on the right track.  Right now, bonds are being absolutely slaughtered, and this is only just the beginning.  Over the last several years, reckless bond buying by the Federal Reserve has forced yields down to absolutely ridiculous levels.  For example, it simply is not rational to lend the U.S. government money at less than 3 percent when the real rate of inflation is somewhere up around 8 to 10 percent.  But when he originally announced the quantitative easing program, Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke said that he intended to force interest rates to go down, and lots of bond investors made a lot of money riding the bubble that Bernanke created.  But now that Bernanke has indicated that the bond buying will be coming to an end, investors are going into panic mode and the bond bubble is starting to burst.  One hedge fund executive told CNBC that the “feeling you are getting out there is that people are selling first and asking questions later”.  And the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries just keeps going up.  Today it closed at 2.59 percent, and many believe that it is going to go much higher unless the Fed intervenes.  If the Fed does not intervene and allows the bubble that it has created to burst, we are going to see unprecedented carnage.

Markets tend to fall faster than they rise.  And now that Bernanke has triggered a sell-off in bonds, things are moving much faster than just about anyone anticipated

Wall Street never thought it would be this bad.

Over the last two months, and particularly over the last two weeks, investors have been exiting their bond investments with unexpected ferocity, moves that continued through Monday.

A bond sell-off has been anticipated for years, given the long run of popularity that corporate and government bonds have enjoyed. But most strategists expected that investors would slowly transfer out of bonds, allowing interest rates to slowly drift up.

Instead, since the Federal Reserve chairman, Ben S. Bernanke, recently suggested that the strength of the economic recovery might allow the Fed to slow down its bond-buying program, waves of selling have convulsed the markets.

In particular, junk bonds are getting absolutely hammered.  Money is flowing out of high risk corporate debt at an astounding pace

The SPDR Barclays High Yield Bond exchange-traded fund has declined 5 percent over the past month, though it rose in Tuesday trading. The fund has seen $2.7 billion in outflows year to date, according to IndexUniverse.

Another popular junk ETF, the iShares iBoxx $ High Yield Corporate Bond, has seen nearly $2 billion in outflows this year and is off 3.4 percent over the past five days alone.

Investors pulled $333 million from high-yield funds last week, according to Lipper.

While correlating to the general trend in fixed income, the slowdown in the junk bond business bodes especially troubling signs for investment banks, which have relied on the debt markets for fully one-third of their business this year, the highest percentage in 10 years.

The chart posted below comes from the Federal Reserve, and it “represents the effective yield of the BofA Merrill Lynch US High Yield Master II Index, which tracks the performance of US dollar denominated below investment grade rated corporate debt publically issued in the US domestic market.”  In other words, it is a measure of the yield on junk bonds.  As you can see, the yield on junk bonds sank to ridiculous lows in May, but since then it has been absolutely skyrocketing…

Junk Bonds

So why should the average American care about this?

Well, if the era of “cheap money” is over and businesses have to pay more to borrow, that is going to cause economic activity to slow down.

There won’t be as many jobs, part-time workers will get less hours, and raises will become more infrequent.

Those are just some of the reasons why you should care about this stuff.

Municipal bonds are being absolutely crushed right now too.  You see, when yields on U.S. government debt rise, they also rise on state and local government debt.

In fact, things have been so bad that hundreds of millions of dollars of municipal bond sales have been postponed in recent days…

With yields on the U.S. municipal bond market rising, local issuers on Monday postponed another six bond sales, totaling $331 million, that were originally scheduled to price later this week.

Since mid-June, on the prospect that the Federal Reserve could change course on its easy monetary policy as the economy improves, the municipal bond market has seen a total of $2.6 billion in sales either canceled or delayed.

If borrowing costs for state and local governments rise, they won’t be able to spend as much money, they won’t be able to hire as many workers, they will need to find more revenue (tax increases), and more of them will go bankrupt.

And what we are witnessing right now is just the beginning.  Things are going to get MUCH worse.  The following is what Robert Wenzel recently had to say about the municipal bond market…

Thus, there is only one direction for rates: UP, with muni bonds leading the decline, given that the financial structures of many municipalities are teetering. There is absolutely no good reason to be in municipal bonds now. And muni ETFs will be a worse place to be, given this is relatively HOT money that will try to get out of the exit door all at once.

But, as I wrote about yesterday, the worst part of the slaughter is going to be when the 441 trillion dollar interest rate derivatives time bomb starts exploding.  If bond yields continue to soar, eventually it will take down some very large financial institutions.  The following is from a recent article by Bill Holter

Please understand how many of these interest rate derivatives work.  When the rates go against you, “margin” must be posted.  By “margin” I mean collateral.  Collateral must be shifted from the losing institution to the one on the winning side.  When the loser “runs out” of collateral…that is when you get a situation similar to MF Global or Lehman Bros., they are forced to shut down and the vultures then come in and pick the bones clean…normally.  Now it is no longer “normal,” now a Lehman Bros will take the whole tent down.

Most people have no idea how vulnerable our financial system is.  It is a house of cards of risk, debt and leverage.  Wall Street has become the largest casino in the history of the planet, and the wheels could come off literally at any time.

And it certainly does not help that a whole host of cyclical trends appear to be working against us.  Posted below is an extended excerpt from a recent article by Taki Tsaklanos and GE Christenson

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Charles Nenner Research (source)

Stocks should peak in mid-2013 and fall until about 2020.  Similarly, bonds should peak in the summer of 2013 and fall thereafter for 20 years.  He bases his conclusions entirely on cycle research.  He expects the Dow to fall to around 5,000 by 2018 – 2020.

Kress Cycles by Clif Droke (source)

The major 120 year cycle plus all minor cycles trend down into late 2014.  The stock market should decline hard into late 2014.

Elliott Wave Cycles by Robert Prechter (source)

He believes that the stock market has peaked and has entered a generational bear-market.  He anticipates a crash low in the market around 2016 – 2017.

Market Energy Wave (source)

He sees a 36 year cycle in stock markets that is peaking in mid-2013 and down 2013 – 2016.  “… the controlling energy wave is scheduled to flip back to negative on July 19 of this year.”  Equity markets should drop 25 – 50%.

Armstrong Economics (source)

His economic confidence model projects a peak in confidence in August 2013, a bottom in September 2014, and another peak in October 2015.  The decline into January 2020 should be severe.  He expects a world-wide crash and contraction in economies from 2015 – 2020.

Cycles per Charles Hugh Smith (source)

He discusses four long-term cycles that bottom roughly in the 2010 – 2020 period.  They are:  Credit expansion/contraction cycle;  Price inflation/wage cycle; Generational cycle;  and Peak oil extraction cycle.

Harry Dent – Demographics (source)

Stock prices should drop, on average for the balance of this decade.  Demographic cycles in the United States (and elsewhere) indicate a contraction in real terms for most of this decade.

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I was stunned when I originally read through that list.

Is it just a coincidence that so many researchers have come to such a similar conclusion?

The central banks of the world could attempt to “kick the can down the road” by buying up lots and lots of bonds, but it does not appear that is going to happen.

The Federal Reserve may not listen to the American people, but there is one institution that the Fed listens to very carefully – the Bank for International Settlements.  It is the central bank of central banks, and today 58 global central banks belong to the BIS.  Every two months, the central bankers of the world (including Bernanke) gather in Basel, Switzerland for a “Global Economy Meeting”.  At those meetings, decisions are made which affect every man, woman and child on the planet.

And the BIS has just come out with its annual report.  In that annual report, the BIS says that central banks “cannot do more without compounding the risks they have already created”, and that central banks should “encourage needed adjustments” in the financial markets.  In other words, the BIS is saying that it is time to end the bond buying

The Basel-based BIS – known as the central bank of central banks – said in its annual report that using current monetary policy employed in the euro zone, the U.K., Japan and the U.S. will not bring about much-needed labor and product market reforms and is a recipe for failure.

“Central banks cannot do more without compounding the risks they have already created,” it said in its latest annual report released on Sunday. “[They must] encourage needed adjustments rather than retard them with near-zero interest rates and purchases of ever-larger quantities of government securities.”

So expect central banks to start scaling back their intervention in the marketplace.

Yes, this is probably going to cause interest rates to rise dramatically and cause all sorts of chaos as the bubble that they created implodes.

It could even potentially cause a worse financial crisis than we saw back in 2008.

If that happens, the central banks of the world can swoop in and try to save us with their bond buying once again.

Isn’t our system wonderful?

Mass Carnage: Stocks, Bonds, Gold, Silver, Europe And Japan All Get Pummeled

Car AccidentCan you smell that?  It is the smell of panic in the air.  As I have noted before, when financial markets catch up to economic reality they tend to do so very rapidly.  Normally we don’t see virtually all asset classes get slammed at the same time, but the bucket of cold water that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke threw on global financial markets on Wednesday has set off an epic temper tantrum.  On Thursday, U.S. stocks, European stocks, Asian stocks, gold, silver and government bonds all over the planet all got absolutely shredded.  This is not normal market activity.  Unfortunately, there is nothing “normal” about our financial markets anymore.  Over the past several years they have been grossly twisted and distorted by the Federal Reserve and by the other major central banks around the globe.  Did the central bankers really believe that there wouldn’t be a great price to pay for messing with the markets?  The behavior that we have been watching this week is the kind of behavior that one would expect at the beginning of a financial panic.  Dick Bove, the vice president of equity research at Rafferty Capital Markets, told CNBC that what we are witnessing right now “is not normal. It is not normal for all markets to move in the same direction at the same point in time due to the same development.”  The overriding emotion in the financial world right now is fear.  And fear can cause investors to do some crazy things.  So will global financial markets continue to drop, or will things stabilize for now?  That is a very good question.  But even if there is a respite for a while, it will only be temporary.  More carnage is coming at some point.

What we have witnessed this week very much has the feeling of a turning point.  The euphoria that drove the Dow well over the 15,000 mark is now gone, and investors all over the planet are going into crisis mode.  The following is a summary of the damage that was done on Thursday…

-U.S. stocks had their worst day of the year by a good margin.  The Dow fell 354 points, and that was the biggest one day drop that we have seen since November 2011.  Overall, the Dow has lost more than 550 points over the past two days.

-Thursday was the eighth trading day in a row that we have seen a triple digit move in the Dow either up or down.  That is the longest such streak since October 2011.

-The yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries went as high as 2.47% before settling back to 2.42%.  That was a level that we have not seen since August 2011, and the 10 year yield is now a full point above the all-time low of 1.4% that we saw back in July 2012.

– The yield on 30 year U.S. Treasuries hit 3.53 percent on Thursday.  That was the first time it had been that high since September 2011.

-The CBOE Volatility Index jumped 28 percent on Thursday.  It hit 20.49, and this was the first time in 2013 that it has risen above 20.  When volatility rises, that means that the markets are getting stressed.

-European stocks got slammed too.  The Bloomberg Europe 500 index fell more than 3 percent on Thursday.  It was the worst day for European stocks in 20 months.

-In London, the FTSE fell about 3 percent.  In Germany, the DAX fell 3.3 percent.  In France, the CAC-40 fell 3.7 percent.

-Things continue to get even worse in Japan.  The Nikkei has fallen close to 17 percent over the past month.

-Brazilian stocks have fallen by about 15 percent over the past month.

-On Thursday the price of gold got absolutely hammered.  Gold was down nearly $100 an ounce.  As I am writing this, it is trading at $1273.60.

-Silver got slammed even more than gold did.  It fell more than 8 percent.  At the moment it is trading at $19.57.  That is ridiculously low.  I have a feeling that anyone that gets into silver now is going to be extremely happy in the long-term if they are able to handle the wild fluctuations in the short-term.

-Manufacturing activity in China is contracting at a rate that we haven’t seen since the middle of the last recession.

-For the week ending June 15th, initial claims for unemployment benefits in the United States rose by about 18,000 from the previous week to 354,000.  This is a number that investors are going to be watching closely in the months ahead.

Needless to say, Thursday was the type of day that investors don’t see too often.  The following is what one stock trader told CNBC

“It’s freaking, crazy now,” said one stock trader during the 3 p.m. ET hour as the Dow sunk more than 350 points. “Even defensive sectors are getting smoked. The super broad-based sell off between commodities, bonds, equities – I wouldn’t say it’s panic, but we’ve seen aggressive selling on the lows.”

Unfortunately, this may just be the beginning.

In fact, Mark J. Grant has suggested that we may see even more panic in the short-term…

Yesterday was the first day of the reversal. There will be more days to come.

What you are seeing, in the first instance, is leverage coming off the table. With short term interest rates right off of Kelvin’s absolute Zero there was been massive leverage utilized in both the bond and equity markets. While it cannot be quantified I can tell you, dealing with so many institutional investors, that the amount of leverage on the books is giant and is now going to get covered. It will not be pretty and it will be a rush through the exit doors as the fire alarm has been pulled by the Fed and the alarms are ringing. There is also an additional problem here.

The Street is not what it was. There is not enough liquidity in the major Wall Street banks, any longer, to deal with the amount of securities that will be thrown at them and I expect the down cycle to get exacerbated by this very real issue. Bernanke is no longer at the gate and the Barbarians are going to be out in force.

If we see global interest rates start to shift in a major way, that is going to be huge.

Why?

Well, it is because there are literally hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of interest rate derivatives contracts sitting out there…

The interest rate derivatives market is the largest derivatives market in the world. The Bank for International Settlements estimates that the notional amount outstanding in June 2009 were US$437 trillion for OTC interest rate contracts, and US$342 trillion for OTC interest rate swaps. According to the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, 80% of the world’s top 500 companies as of April 2003 used interest rate derivatives to control their cashflows. This compares with 75% for foreign exchange options, 25% for commodity options and 10% for stock options.

If interest rates begin to swing wildly, that could burst the derivatives bubble that I keep talking about.

And when that house of cards starts falling, we are going to see panic that is going to absolutely dwarf anything that we have seen this week.

So keep watching interest rates, and keep listening for any mention of a problem with “derivatives” in the mainstream media.

When the next great financial crash comes, global credit markets are going to freeze up just like they did in 2008.  That will cause economic activity to grind to a standstill and a period of deflation will be upon us.  Yes, the way that the Federal Reserve and the federal government respond to such a crisis will ultimately cause tremendous inflation, but as I have written about before, deflation will come first.

It would be wise to build up your emergency fund while you still can.  When the next great financial crisis fully erupts a lot of people are going to lose their jobs and for a while it will seem like hardly anyone has any extra money.  If you have stashed some cash away, you will be in better shape than most people.

Crushed Car By UCFFool

Mass Panic In Cyprus: The Banks Are Collapsing And ATMs Are Running Out Of Money

Cyprus ATM - Photo Via @ImeldaflatteryEuropean officials are openly admitting that the two largest banks in Cyprus are “insolvent“, and it is now being reported that Cyprus Popular Bank only has “enough liquidity to cover the next few hours“.  Of course all banks in Cyprus are officially closed until Tuesday at the earliest, but there have been long lines at ATMs all over Cyprus as people scramble to get whatever money they can out of the banks.  Unfortunately, some ATMs appear to be “malfunctioning” and others appear to have already run out of cash.  You can see some photos of huge lines at one ATM in Cyprus right here.  Some businesses are now even refusing to take credit card payments.  This is creating an atmosphere of panic on the streets of Cyprus.  Meanwhile, the EU is holding a gun to the head of the Cyprus financial system.  Either Cyprus meets EU demands by Monday, or liquidity for the banks will be totally cut off and Cyprus will be forced out of the euro.  It is being reported that European officials believe that the “economy is going to tank in Cyprus no matter what“, and that it would be okay to let the financial system of Cyprus crash and burn if politicians in Cyprus are not willing to do what they have been ordered to do.  Apparently European officials are very confident that the situation in Cyprus can be contained and that it will not spread to other European nations.

Unfortunately, European officials are losing sight of the bigger picture.  If the largest banks in Cyprus are allowed to fail, it will be another “Lehman Brothers moment“.  The faith that people have in banks all over Europe will be called into question, and everyone will be wondering what major European banks will be allowed to fail next.

Meanwhile, European officials have already completely shattered confidence in deposit insurance at this point.  Everyone now knows that when there is a major bank failure that depositors will be expected to share in the pain.  Expect to see “bank jogs” all over southern Europe over the coming weeks.

The banks in Cyprus had been scheduled to reopen on Tuesday, but very few people expect that to actually happen at this point.  In fact, Bloomberg is reporting that EU officials are actually thinking about shutting down the two biggest banks in Cyprus and freezing their assets…

Finance ministers for the 17 euro countries are considering a plan to shutter the two biggest banks in Cyprus and freeze the assets of uninsured depositors, said the four officials, who asked not to be named because the talks are ongoing. The ministers are holding a teleconference tonight.

Cyprus Popular Bank Pcl (CPB) and the Bank of Cyprus Plc would be split to create a so-called bad bank, one of the officials said. Insured deposits — below the European Union ceiling of 100,000 euros ($129,000) — would go into a so-called good bank and not sustain any losses, while uninsured deposits would go into the bad bank and be frozen until assets could be sold, said the four officials.

Losses to unsecured creditors, including uninsured depositors, could reach 40 percent under the plan, which has support from the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. The proposal, a version of which was rejected last week, is considered a better option than taxing insured deposits or allowing Cypriot banks to collapse in a disorderly fashion if they lose access to ECB aid, the officials said.

Such a scenario would be an utter disaster.

How would you feel if you woke up someday and 40 percent of your life savings was suddenly gone?

According to Greek newspaper Kathimerini, European officials are also openly discussing the possibility of a Cyprus exit from the eurozone if a suitable bailout agreement is not worked out…

The possibility of Cyprus exiting the eurozone was discussed during teleconference involving technocrats from the Euro Working Group on Wednesday, Kathimerini understands.

A reliable source told Kathimerini that the technical implications of a euro exit, as well as the adoption of capital controls were debated by the Euro Working Group officials during the teleconference.

As I mentioned above, European officials seemed resigned to the fact that there will be an economic collapse in Cyprus “no matter what”, and so letting Cyprus leave the euro would not make that much of a difference.  Either way, the banks are going to have to be “reorganized” and capital controls will be imposed…

In detailed notes of the call seen by Reuters, the group’s chair Austria’s Thomas Wieser said: “The economy is going to tank in Cyprus no matter what. Restrictions on capital will probably be imposed.”

Never before have we seen European officials impose such a harsh ultimatum with such a short deadline.  It is almost as if they want to boot Cyprus out of the euro.  The following comes from a recent CNBC report…

In stark twin warnings on Thursday, the European Central Bank said it would cut off liquidity to Cypriot banks and a senior EU official made clear to Reuters that the bloc was ready to see the bankrupt island banished from the euro in the belief it could then contain damage to the wider European economy.

And European officials are even publicly talking about the possibility that Cyprus will soon need to start using “their own currency”…

In Brussels, a senior European Union official told Reuters that an ECB withdrawal would mean Cyprus’s biggest banks being wound up, wiping out the large deposits it has sought to protect, and probably forcing the country to abandon the euro.

“If the financial sector collapses, then they simply have to face a very significant devaluation and faced with that situation, they would have no other way but to start having their own currency,” the EU official said.

This is absolutely shocking.  Everyone always thought that Greece would be the first to leave the euro, but now it looks like it might be Cyprus.

However, there is still a chance that Cyprus may find a way to comply with EU demands.  Politicians in Cyprus are frantically searching for a way to raise the needed cash without raiding private bank accounts.  The following is what CNN is saying about the latest efforts…

Leaders of Cyprus’ political parties agreed Thursday to create an “investment solidarity fund,” which would issue bonds backed by state and church assets.

The plan was due to be discussed by the Cypriot government and parliament on Thursday evening, but few details were available and it was not clear how much the fund would be worth.

According to Reuters, other proposals have been under consideration as well…

The government said a “Plan B” was in the works.

Officials said it could include: an option to nationalize pension funds of semi-government corporations, which hold between 2 billion and 3 billion euros; issuing an emergency bond linked to future natural gas revenues; and possibly reviving the levy on bank deposits, though at a lower level than originally planned and maybe excluding savers with less than 100,000 euros.

At this point it is unclear whether any of those proposals will turn out to be acceptable to European officials.

In fact, the tone of European officials has noticeably changed from previous bailout efforts.  They now seem much more willing to play hardball.  For example, just check out what German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble is saying about the situation in Cyprus…

German finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble told the ZDF public broadcaster on Tuesday night (19 March) he “took note with regret” of the Cypriot parliament’s rejection of the bailout deal, but insisted that the terms will stay the same.

Asked if the eurozone was willing to let Cyprus go bust, he answered: “Well, we are much more stable in the eurozone – we took measures to protect ourselves from the risks of contagion … but I don’t want to have any of this.”

He added: “It is a serious situation, but this cannot lead to a decision that makes absolutely no sense, to rescue a business model that has failed. Cyprus has a banking sector that is totally oversized and this made Cyprus insolvent. And nobody outside Cyprus is to blame for it.”

Schaeuble knows that the EU is holding all of the cards and that Cyprus is doomed without their help…

“The Cypriot state cannot fund itself on the markets. Its two largest banks are insolvent and are being kept afloat with emergency funding from the ECB, but only on the condition that there will be a long-term rescue programme. If this condition is no longer met, Cyprus will no longer be solvent and this is something Cypriot decision makers must know”

But the truth is that the EU can’t really afford to allow major banks to fail or for a single member to leave the eurozone.  If either of those things happen, the confidence game that has been holding the European financial system together will begin to rapidly evaporate.

If the EU thinks that they can abandon Cyprus without the crisis spreading to the rest of southern Europe they are just being delusional.

At least there are a few politicians in Europe that understand what is happening.  Nigel Farage, a very outspoken member of the European Parliament, is telling people to get their money out of banks in southern Europe as quickly as they can.  He is warning that a great collapse of the European financial system is coming and that people need to get prepared for it…

So what do you think?

Do you believe that we are on the verge of a major financial collapse in Europe?

Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…

Cyprus Bank Run - Photo Via @jkozakou

Will Italy Be The Spark That Sets Off Financial Armageddon In Europe?

Will Italy Be The Spark That Sets Off Financial Armageddon In EuropeIs the financial collapse of Italy going to be the final blow that breaks the back of Europe financially?  Most people don’t realize this, but Italy is actually the third largest debtor in the entire world after the United States and Japan.  Italy currently has a debt to GDP ratio of more than 120 percent, and Italy has a bigger national debt than anyone else in Europe does.  That is why it is such a big deal that Italian voters have just overwhelmingly rejected austerity.  The political parties led by anti-austerity candidates Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo did far better than anticipated.  When you combine their totals, they got more than 50 percent of the vote.  Italian voters have seen what austerity has done to Greece and Spain and they want no part of it.  Unfortunately for Italian voters, it has been the promise of austerity that has kept the Italian financial system stable in recent months.  Now that Italian voters have clearly rejected austerity, investors are fearing that austerity programs all over Europe may start falling apart.  This is creating quite a bit of panic in European financial markets right now.  On Tuesday, Italian stocks had their worst day in 10 months, Italian bond yields rose by the most that we have seen in 19 months, and the stocks of the two largest banks in Italy both fell by more than 8 percent.  Italy is already experiencing its fourth recession since 2001, and unemployment has been steadily rising.  If Italy is now “ungovernable”, as many are saying, then what does that mean for the future of Italy?  Will Italy be the spark that sets off financial armageddon in Europe?

All of Europe was totally shocked by the election results in Italy.  As you can see from the following excerpt from a Bloomberg article, the vote was very divided and the anti-austerity parties did much better than had been projected…

The results showed pre-election favorite Pier Luigi Bersani won the lower house with 29.5 percent, less than a half a percentage point ahead of Silvio Berlusconi, the ex-premier fighting a tax-fraud conviction. Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, got 25.6 percent, while Monti scored 10.6 percent. Bersani and his allies got 31.6 percent of votes in the Senate, compared with 30.7 percent for Berlusconi and 23.79 percent for Grillo, according to final figures from the Interior Ministry.

So what do those election results mean for Italy and for the rest of Europe?

Right now, there is a lot of panic about those results.  There is fear that what just happened in Italy could result in a rejection of austerity all over Europe

“I think the election results (or lack thereof) are a negative for the euro, which will likely keep the currency pressured for some time,” Omer Esiner, chief market analyst for Commonwealth Foreign Exchange, told me. But it’s not just the political uncertainty in Italy, he adds. “The shocking gains made by anti-establishment parties in Italy signal a broad-based frustration with austerity among voters and a decisive rejection of the policies pushed by Germany in nations across the euro zone’s periphery. That theme revives unresolved debt crisis issues and could threaten the continuity of reforms across other countries in the euro zone.”

And the financial markets have clearly interpreted the election results in Europe as a very bad sign.  Zero Hedge summarized some of the bad news out of Europe that we saw on Tuesday…

Swiss 2Y rates turned negative once again for the first time in a month; EURUSD relatively flatlined around 1.3050 (250 pips lower than pre-Italy); Europe’s VIX exploded to almost 26% (from under 19% yesterday); and 3-month EUR-USD basis swaps plunged to their most liquidity-demanding level since 12/28. Spain and Italy (and Portugal) were the most hurt in bonds today as 2Y Italian spreads broke back above 200bps (surging over 50bps casting doubt on OMT support) and 3Y Spain yields broke above 3% once again. The Italian equity market suffered its equal biggest drop in 6 months falling back to 10 week lows (and down 14% from its end-Jan highs). Italian bond yields (and spreads) smashed higher – the biggest jump in 19 months as BTP futures volume exploded in the last two days.

Not that things in Europe were going well before all this.

In fact, the UK was just stripped of its prized AAA credit rating.  That was huge news.

And check out some of the other things that have been going on in the rest of Europe

In Spain, a major real estate company, Reyal Urbis, collapsed last week, leaving already battered banks on the hook for millions of euros in losses. Meanwhile, the government faces a corruption scandal and a steady stream of anti-austerity demonstrations. Thousands of people took to the streets again on Saturday, protesting deep cuts to health and other services, as well as hefty bank bailouts.

Life is no better in a large swath of the broader EU. In Britain, Moody’s cited the continuing economic weakness and the resulting risks to the government’s tight fiscal policy for its rating cut. In Bulgaria, where the government fell last week and the economy is in a shambles, rightists who joined mass demonstrations across the country burned a European Union flag and waved anti-EU banners. Other austerity-minded governments in the EU face similar murky political futures.

At this point, Europe is a complete and total economic mess and things are rapidly getting worse.

And that is really bad news because Europe is already in the midst of a recession.  In fact, according to the BBC, the recession in the eurozone got even deeper during the fourth quarter of 2012…

The eurozone recession deepened in the final three months of 2012, official figures show.

The economy of the 17 nations in the euro shrank by 0.6% in the fourth quarter, which was worse than forecast.

It is the sharpest contraction since the beginning of 2009 and marks the first time the region failed to grow in any quarter during a calendar year.

But this is just the beginning.

The truth is that government debt is not even the greatest danger that Europe is facing.  In reality, a collapse of the European banking system is of much greater concern.

Why is that?

Well, how would you feel if you woke up someday and every penny that you had in the bank was gone?

In the U.S. we don’t have to worry about that so much because all deposits are insured by the FDIC, but in many European countries things work much differently.

For example, just check out what Graham Summers recently had to say about the banking system in Spain…

It’s a little known fact about the Spanish crisis is that when the Spanish Government merges troubled banks, it typically swaps out depositors’ savings for shares in the new bank.

So… when the newly formed bank goes bust, “poof” your savings are GONE. Not gone as in some Spanish version of the FDIC will eventually get you your money, but gone as in gone forever (see the above article for proof).

This is why Bankia’s collapse is so significant: in one move, former depositors at seven banks just lost virtually everything.

And this in a nutshell is Europe’s financial system today: a totally insolvent sewer of garbage debt, run by corrupt career politicians who have no clue how to fix it or their economies… and which results in a big fat ZERO for those who are nuts enough to invest in it.

Be warned. There are many many more Bankias coming to light in the coming months. So if you have not already taken steps to prepare for systemic failure, you NEED to do so NOW. We’re literally at most a few months, and very likely just a few weeks from Europe’s banks imploding, potentially taking down the financial system with them. Think I’m joking? The Fed is pumping hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars into EU banks right now trying to stop this from happening.

Like Graham Summers, I am extremely concerned about the European banking system.  Europe actually has a much larger banking system than the U.S. does, and if the European banking system implodes that is going to send huge shockwaves to the farthest corners of the globe.

But if you want to believe that the “experts” in Europe and in the United States have “everything under control”, then you might as well stop reading now.

After all, they are very highly educated and they know what they are doing, right?

But if you want to listen to some common sense, you might want to check out this very ominous warning from Karl Denninger

I hope you’re ready.

Congress has wasted the time it was given by the Europeans getting things “temporarily” under control.  But they didn’t actually get anything under control, as the Italian elections just showed.

Now, with the budget over there at risk of being abandoned, and fiscal restraint being abandoned (note: exactly what the US has been doing) the markets are recognizing exactly the risk that never in fact went away over the last couple of years.

It was hidden by lies, just as it has been hidden by lies here.

Bernanke’s machinations and other games “gave” the Congress four years to do the right thing.  They didn’t, because that same “gift” also destroyed all market signals of urgency.

As such you have people like Krugman and others claiming that it’s all ok and that we can spend with wild abandon, taking our fiscal medicine never.

They were wrong.  Congress was wrong.  The Republicans were wrong, the Democrats were wrong, and the Administration was wrong.

Congress is out of time; as I noted the deficit spending must stop now, irrespective of the fact that it will cause significant economic damage.

For the past couple of years, authorities in the U.S. and in Europe have been trying to delay the coming crisis by kicking the can down the road.

By doing so, they have been making the eventual collapse even worse.

And now time is running out.

I hope that you are ready.

Armageddon

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