If you do not believe that we are heading directly toward another major financial crisis, you need to read this article. So many of the exact same patterns that preceded the great financial collapse of 2008 are happening again right before our very eyes. History literally appears to be repeating, but most Americans seem absolutely oblivious to what is going on. The mainstream media and our politicians are promising them that everything is going to be okay somehow, and that seems to be good enough for most people. But the signs that another massive financial crisis is on the horizon are everywhere. All you have to do is open up your eyes and look at them.
Bill Gross, considered by many to be the number one authority on government bonds on the entire planet, made headlines all over the world on Tuesday when he released his January Investment Outlook. I don’t know if we have ever seen Gross be more negative about a new year than he is about 2015. For example, just consider this statement…
“When the year is done, there will be minus signs in front of returns for many asset classes. The good times are over.”
And this is how he ended the letter…
And so that is why – at some future date – at some future Ides of March or May or November 2015, asset returns in many categories may turn negative. What to consider in such a strange new world? High-quality assets with stable cash flows. Those would include Treasury and high-quality corporate bonds, as well as equities of lightly levered corporations with attractive dividends and diversified revenues both operationally and geographically. With moments of liquidity having already been experienced in recent months, 2015 may see a continuing round of musical chairs as riskier asset categories become less and less desirable.
Debt supercycles in the process of reversal are not favorable events for future investment returns. Father Time in 2015 is not the babe with a top hat in our opening cartoon. He is the grumpy old codger looking forward to his almost inevitable “Ides” sometime during the next 12 months. Be cautious and content with low positive returns in 2015. The time for risk taking has passed.
So why are Gross and so many other financial experts being so “negative” right now?
It is because they can see what is happening.
They can see the same patterns that we saw in early 2008 unfolding again right in front of us. I wanted to put these patterns in a single article so that they will be easy to share with people. The following are 10 key events that preceded the last financial crisis that are happening again right now…
#1 A really bad start to the year for the stock market. During the first three trading days of 2015, the S&P 500 was down a total of 2.73 percent. There are only two times in history when it has declined by more than three percent during the first three trading days of a year. Those years were 2000 and 2008, and in both years we witnessed enormous stock market declines.
#2 Very choppy financial market behavior. This is something that I discussed yesterday. In general, calm markets tend to go up. When markets get choppy, they tend to go down. For example, the chart that I have posted below shows how the Dow Jones Industrial Average behaved from the beginning of 2006 to the end of 2008. As you can see, the Dow was very calm as it rose throughout 2006 and most of 2007, but it got very choppy as 2008 played out…
As I also mentioned yesterday, it is important not to get fooled if stocks soar on a particular day. The three largest single day stock market gains in history were right in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008. When you start to see big ups and big downs in the market, that is a sign of big trouble ahead. That is why it is so alarming that global financial markets have begun to become quite choppy in recent weeks.
#3 A substantial decline for 10 year bond yields. When investors get scared, there tends to be a “flight to safety” as investors move their money to safer investments. We saw this happen in 2008, and that is happening again right now.
In fact, according to Bloomberg, global 10 year bond yields have already dropped to low levels that are absolutely unprecedented…
Taken together, the average 10-year bond yield of the U.S., Japan and Germany has dropped below 1 percent for the first time ever, according to Steven Englander, global head of G-10 foreign-exchange strategy at Citigroup Inc.
That’s not good news. The rock-bottom rates, which fall below zero when inflation is taken into account, show “that investors think we are going nowhere for a long time,” Englander wrote in a report yesterday.
#4 The price of oil crashes. As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has dipped below $48 a barrel. But back in June, it was sitting at $106 at one point. As the chart below demonstrates, there is only one other time in history when the price of oil has declined by more than $50 in less than a year…
The only other time there has been an oil price collapse of this magnitude we experienced the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression shortly thereafter. Are we about to see history repeat? For much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?”
#5 A dramatic drop in the number of oil and gas rigs in operation. Right now, oil and gas rigs are going out of operation at a frightening pace. During the fourth quarter of 2014, 93 oil and gas rigs were idled, and it is being projected that another 200 will shut down this quarter. As this Business Insider article demonstrates, this is also something that happened during the financial crisis of 2008 and it continued well into 2009.
#6 The price of gasoline takes a huge tumble. Millions of Americans are celebrating that the price of gasoline has plummeted in recent weeks. But they were also celebrating when it happened back in 2008 as well. But of course it turned out that there was really nothing to celebrate in 2008. In short order, millions of Americans lost their jobs and their homes. So the chart that I have posted below is definitely not “good news”…
#7 A broad range of industrial commodities begin to decline in price. When industrial commodities go down in price, that is a sign that economic activity is slowing down. And just like in 2008, that is what we are watching unfold on the global stage right now. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article…
From nickel to soybean oil, plywood to sugar, global commodity prices have been on a steady decline as the world’s economy has lost momentum.
For an extended discussion on this, please see my recent article entitled “Not Just Oil: Guess What Happened The Last Time Commodity Prices Crashed Like This?”
#8 A junk bond crash. Just like in 2008, we are witnessing the beginnings of a junk bond collapse. High yield debt related to the energy industry is on the bleeding edge of this crash, but in recent weeks we have seen investors start to bail out of a broad range of junk bonds. Check out this chart and this chart in addition to the chart that I have posted below…
#9 Global inflation slows down significantly. When economic activity slows down, so does inflation. This is something that we witnessed in 2008, this is also something that is happening once again. In fact, it is being projected that global inflation is about to fall to the lowest level that we have seen since World War II…
Increases in the prices of goods and services in the world’s largest economies are slowing dramatically. Analysts are predicting that inflation will fall below 2pc in all of the countries that make up the G7 group of advanced nations this year – the first time that has happened since before the Second World War.
Indeed, Japan was the only G7 country whose inflation rate was above 2pc last year. And economists believe that was because its government increased sales tax which had the effect of artificially boosting prices.
#10 A crisis in investor confidence. Just prior to the last financial crisis, the confidence that investors had that we would be able to avoid a stock market collapse in the next six months began to decline significantly. And guess what? That is something else that is happening once again…
Investor confidence that the US will avoid a stock-market crash in the next six months has dropped dramatically since last spring.
The Yale School of Management publishes a monthly Crash Confidence Index. The index shows the proportion of investors who believe we will avoid a stock-market crash in the next six months.
Yale points out that “crash confidence reached its all-time low, both for individual and institutional investors, in early 2009, just months after the Lehman crisis, reflecting the turmoil in the credit markets and the strong depression fears generated by that event, and is plausibly related to the very low stock market valuations then.”
Are you starting to get the picture?
And of course I am not the only one warning about these things. As I wrote about earlier in the week, there are a whole host of prominent voices that are now warning of imminent financial danger.
Today, I would like to add one more name to the list. He is respected author James Howard Kunstler, and what he predicts is coming in 2015 is absolutely chilling…
Here are my financial forecast particulars for 2015:
- Early in 2015 the ECB proposes a lame QE program and is laughed out of the room. European markets tank.
- Greek elections in January produce a government that stands up to the EU and ECB and causes a fatal slippage of faith in the ability of that project to continue.
- Second half of 2015, the rest of the world gangs up and counter-attacks the US dollar.
- Bond markets in Europe implode in first half and the contagion spreads to the US as fear and distrust rises about viability of US safe haven status.
- Derivatives associated with currencies, interest rates, and junk bonds trigger a bloodbath in credit default swaps (CDS) and the appearance of countless black holes through which debt and “wealth” disappear forever.
- US stock markets continue to bid upward in the first half of 2015, crater in Q3 as faith in paper and pixels erodes. DJA and S & P fall 30 to 40 percent in the initial crash, then further into 2016.
- Gold and silver slide in the first half, then take off as debt and equity markets craters, faith in abstract instruments evaporates, faith in central bank omnipotence dissolves, and citizens all over the world desperately seek safety from currency war.
- Goldman Sachs, Citicorp, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America, DeutscheBank, SocGen, all succumb to insolvency. American government and Federal Reserve officials don’t dare attempt to rescue them again.
- By the end of 2015, central banks everywhere stand in general discredit. In the US, the Federal Reserve’s mandate is publically debated and revised back to its original mission as lender of last resort. It is forbidden to engage in further interventions and a new less-secretive mechanism is drawn up for regulating basic interest rates.
- Oil prices creep back into the $65 – $70 range by May 2015. It is not enough to halt the destruction in the shale, tar sand, and deepwater sectors. As contraction in the failing global economy accelerates, oil sinks back to the $40 range in October…
- …unless mischief in the Middle East (in particular, the Islamic State messing with Saudi Arabia) leads to gross and perhaps fatally permanent disruption in world oil markets — and then all bets are off for both the continuity of advanced economies and for peace between nations.
Personally, I don’t agree with Kunstler on all of the particulars and the timing of certain events, but overall I think that we are going to look back when the year is done and say that he was a lot more right than he was wrong.
We are moving into a time of extreme danger for the global economy. There has never been a time when I have been more concerned about a new year since I began The Economic Collapse Blog back in 2009.
Over the past couple of years, we have been very blessed to be able to enjoy a bubble of relative stability. But this period of stability also fooled many people into thinking that our economic problems had been fixed, when in reality they have only gotten worse.
We consume far more wealth than we produce, our debt levels are at record highs and we are at the tail end of the largest Wall Street financial bubble in all of history.
It is inevitable that we are heading for a tragic conclusion to all of this. It is just a matter of time.
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?
The parallels between the false prosperity of 2007 and the false prosperity of 2014 are rather striking. If we go back and look at the numbers in the fall of 2007, we find that the Dow set an all-time high in October, margin debt on Wall Street had spiked to record levels, the unemployment rate was below 5 percent and Americans were getting ready to spend a record amount of money that Christmas season. But then the very next year the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression shook the entire planet and everyone wondered why most people never saw it coming. Well, now a similar pattern is unfolding right before our eyes. The Dow and the S&P 500 both hit record highs on Monday, margin debt on Wall Street is hovering near record levels, the unemployment rate has ticked down a little bit and Americans are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season. The truth is that the economy seems pretty stable for the moment, and most people cannot even imagine that an economic collapse is coming. So why are so many really smart people forecasting economic disaster in the near future?
For example, just consider what the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center is saying. This is an organization with a tremendous economic forecasting record that goes all the way back to the Great Depression. In fact, it predicted ahead of time the financial trouble and the recession that would happen in 2008. Well, now this company is forecasting that there is a 65 percent chance that there will be a global recession by the end of next year…
In 1929, a businessman and economist by the name of Jerome Levy didn’t like what he saw in his analysis of corporate profits. He sold his stocks before the October crash.
Almost eight decades later, the consultancy company that bears his name declared “the next recession will be caused by the deflating housing bubble.” By February 2007, it predicted problems in the subprime-mortgage market would spread “to virtually all financial markets.” In October 2007, it saw imminent recession — the slump began two months later.
The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, based in Mount Kisco, New York, and run by Jerome’s grandson David, is again more worried than its peers. Its half-dozen analysts attach a 65 percent probability of a worldwide recession forcing a contraction in the U.S. by the end of next year.
Could they be wrong?
It’s certainly possible.
But I wouldn’t bet against them.
John Hussman is another expert that is warning of financial disaster on the horizon. He believes that we are experiencing a massive stock market bubble right now and that stocks are approximately double the value that they should be…
If you look at corporate profits and especially corporate profit margins, they’re one of the most cyclical and mean-reverting series in economics. Right now, we have corporate profits that are close to about 11% of GDP, but if you look at that series you will find that corporate profits as a share of GDP have always dropped back to about 5.5% or below in every single economic cycle including recent decades, including not only the financial crisis but 2002 and every other economic cycle we have been in.
Right now stocks as a multiple of last year’s expected earnings may look only modestly over valued or modestly richly valued. Really if you look at the measures of valuation that are most correlated to the returns that stocks deliver over time say over seven years or over the next 10 years the S&P 500 in our estimation is about double the level of valuation that would give investors a normal rate of return.
Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if stocks really did drop by 50 percent?
Well, Hussman says that this is precisely what must happen in order for stock prices to return to historical norms…
Right now, like I say, we are looking at stocks that have been pressed to long-term expected returns that are really dismal. But more important than that, in every market cycle that we’ve seen with the mild exception of 2002, we’ve seen stocks price revert back to normal rates of return. In order to get to that point from here, we would have to have equities drop by about half.
If that does happen, it will make the crisis of 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
Meanwhile, other very prominent thinkers are also warning that an economic nightmare is rapidly approaching.
Economic cycle theorist Martin Armstrong foresees major economic problems in 2015 which will ultimately lead to “civil unrest” in 2016…
It looks more and more like a serious political uprising will erupt by 2016 once the economy turns down. That is the magic ingredient. Turn the economy down and you get civil unrest and revolution.
And of course there are a whole lot of other economic cycle theorists that are forecasting that we are about to experience a massive economic downturn as well. For much more on this, please see this article and this article.
What is truly frightening is that we have never even come close to recovering from the last economic crisis. One poll that was taken just prior to the recent election found that only 28 percent of Americans said that their families were doing better financially. In addition, here are some more survey numbers about how Americans are feeling about the economy…
According to voter exit polls conducted by CNN, 78% said they are worried about the economy, with 69% saying that, in their view, economic conditions are not good. 65% responded that the country is on the wrong track vs. only 31% who believed that it is headed in the right direction.
Even though we are repeating so many of the same patterns that we experienced back in 2007, we are doing so with a fundamentally weaker economy. The last crisis did a tremendous amount of permanent damage to us. For an extensive look at this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Charts That Show The Permanent Damage That Has Been Done To The U.S. Economy“.
And there are lots of signs that much of the planet is already entering another major economic slowdown. In a recent article, Brandon Smith summarized some of these. He says that we are currently witnessing “the last gasp of the global economy“…
Global exports, and thus consumer demand, are plunging. Germany, the only pillar left to prop up the failing European Union, has experienced a severe decline in exports not seen since 2009.
China, the largest exporter and importer in the world, and Chinese companies, have been caught in a number of instances using fraudulent invoices to artificially inflate their own export numbers, in some cases reporting 50% more exported goods than had actually existed.
China’s manufacturing has also declined for the past five months, exposing the nature of its inflated export stats and indicating a global slowdown.
The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping rates for raw goods, and thus a measure of demand for shipping, continues to drag along near historic lows.
The U.S. consumer (the only economic asset the U.S. has besides the dollar’s world reserve status), has seen declines in spending as well as wages.
In the meantime, long term jobless Americans continue to fall off welfare rolls by the millions, making unemployment numbers look good, but the overall future picture look terrible as participation rates dissolve into the ether of government statistics.
How is such poverty being hidden? Foodstamps. Plain and simple. Nearly 50 million Americans now subsist on food stamp programs today, and this number shows no signs of dropping. In states like Illinois, two people sign up for food assistance for every citizen that happens to find a job.
From time to time, I get accused of “spreading fear” and of being obsessed with “doom and gloom”.
But that is not the case at all.
I actually want our economy to stay stable for as long as possible. Many Americans don’t realize this, but even the poorest of us live in luxury compared to much of the rest of the world. It would be wonderful if we could all live out our lives in peace and quiet and safety.
Unfortunately, it is simply not going to happen.
And it does not take an expert to see what is coming.
Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the economic disaster that is approaching.
There is hope in understanding what is happening and there is hope in getting prepared. Millions of Americans that are willingly blind to our problems are going to have their lives absolutely destroyed when they get blindsided by the coming crisis. So please use this brief period of relative stability to get prepared and to warn others.
Once this false bubble of hope runs out, all of our lives are going to dramatically change.
The idea that the United States is on the brink of a horrifying economic crash is absolutely inconceivable to most Americans. After all, the economy has been relatively stable for quite a few years and the stock market continues to surge to new heights. On Friday, the Dow and the S&P 500 both closed at brand new all-time record highs. For the year, the S&P 500 is now up 9 percent and the Nasdaq is now up close to 11 percent. And American consumers are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season. That is an amount of money that is larger than the entire economy of Sweden. So how in the world can anyone be talking about economic collapse? Yes, many will concede, we had a few bumps in the road back in 2008 but things have pretty much gotten back to normal since then. Why be concerned about economic collapse when there is so much stability all around us?
Unfortunately, this brief period of stability that we have been enjoying is just an illusion.
The fundamental problems that caused the financial crisis of 2008 have not been fixed. In fact, most of our long-term economic problems have gotten even worse.
But most Americans have such short attention spans these days. In a world where we are accustomed to getting everything instantly, news cycles only last for 48 hours and 2008 might as well be an eternity ago.
In the United States today, our entire economic system is based on debt.
Without debt, very little economic activity happens. We need mortgages to buy our homes, we need auto loans to buy our vehicles and we need our credit cards to do our shopping during the holiday season.
So where does all of that debt come from?
It comes from the banks.
In particular, the “too big to fail banks” are the heart of this debt-based system.
Do you have a mortgage, an auto loan or a credit card from one of these “too big to fail” institutions? A very large percentage of the people that will read this article do.
And a lot of people might not like to hear this, but without those banks we essentially do not have an economy.
When Lehman Brothers collapsed in 2008, it almost resulted in the meltdown of our entire system. The stock market collapsed and we experienced an absolutely wicked credit crunch.
Unfortunately, that was just a small preview of what is coming.
Even though a few prominent “experts” such as New York Times columnist Paul Krugman have declared that the “too big to fail” problem is “over”, the truth is that it is now a bigger crisis than ever before.
Compared to five years ago, the four largest banks in the country are now almost 40 percent larger. The following numbers come from a recent article in the Los Angeles Times…
Just before the financial crisis hit, Wells Fargo & Co. had $609 billion in assets. Now it has $1.4 trillion. Bank of America Corp. had $1.7 trillion in assets. That’s up to $2.1 trillion.
And the assets of JPMorgan Chase & Co., the nation’s biggest bank, have ballooned to $2.4 trillion from $1.8 trillion.
At the same time that those banks have been getting bigger, 1,400 smaller banks have completely disappeared from the banking industry.
That means that we are now more dependent on these gigantic banks than ever.
At this point, the five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks account for 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.
If someone came along and zapped those banks out of existence, our economy would totally collapse overnight.
So the health of this handful of immensely powerful banking institutions is absolutely critical to our economy.
Unfortunately, these banks have become deeply addicted to gambling.
Have you ever known people that allowed their lives to be destroyed by addictions that they could never shake?
Well, that is what is happening to these banks. They have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the world. Most of the time, their bets pay off and they make lots of money.
But as we saw back in 2008, when they miscalculate things can fall apart very rapidly.
The bets that I am most concerned about are known as “derivatives“. In essence, they are bets about what will or will not happen in the future. The big banks use very sophisticated algorithms that are supposed to help them be on the winning side of these bets the vast majority of the time, but these algorithms are not perfect. The reason these algorithms are not perfect is because they are based on assumptions, and those assumptions come from people. They might be really smart people, but they are still just people.
If things stay fairly stable like they have the past few years, the algorithms tend to work very well.
But if there is a “black swan event” such as a major stock market crash, a collapse of European or Asian banks, a historic shift in interest rates, an Ebola pandemic, a horrific natural disaster or a massive EMP blast is unleashed by the sun, everything can be suddenly thrown out of balance.
Acrobat Nik Wallenda has been making headlines all over the world for crossing vast distances on a high-wire without a safety net. Well, that is essentially what our “too big to fail” banks are doing every single day. With each passing year, these banks have become even more reckless, and so far there have not been any serious consequences.
But without a doubt, someday there will be.
What would you say about a bookie that took $200,000 in bets but that only had $10,000 to cover those bets?
You would certainly call that bookie a fool.
But that is what our big banks are doing.
Right now, JPMorgan Chase has more than 67 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.5 trillion dollars in assets.
Right now, Citibank has nearly 60 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 1.9 trillion dollars in assets.
Right now, Goldman Sachs has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.
Right now, Bank of America has more than 54 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it only has 2.2 trillion dollars in assets.
Right now, Morgan Stanley has more than 44 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives but it has less than a trillion dollars in assets.
Most people have absolutely no idea how incredibly vulnerable our financial system really is.
The truth is that these “too big to fail” banks could collapse at any time.
And when they fail, our economy will fail too.
So let us hope and pray that this brief period of false stability lasts for as long as possible.
Because when it ends, all hell is going to break loose.
It is widely expected that the Federal Reserve is going to announce the end of quantitative easing this week. Will this represent a major turning point for the stock market? As you will see below, since 2008 stocks have risen dramatically throughout every stage of quantitative easing. But when the various phases of quantitative easing have ended, stocks have always responded by declining substantially. The only thing that caused stocks to eventually start rising again was a new round of quantitative easing. So what will happen this time? That is a very good question. What we do know is that the the performance of the stock market has become completely divorced from economic reality, and in recent weeks there have been signs of market turmoil that we have not seen in years. Could the end of quantitative easing be the thing that finally pushes the financial markets over the edge?
After all this time, many Americans still don’t understand what quantitative easing actually is. Since the end of 2008, the Federal Reserve has injected approximately 3.5 trillion dollars into the financial system. Of course the Federal Reserve didn’t actually have 3.5 trillion dollars. The Fed created all of this money out of thin air and used it to buy government bonds and mortgage-backed securities.
If that sounds like “cheating” to you, that is because it is cheating. If you or I tried to print money, we would be put in prison. When the Federal Reserve does it, it is called “economic stimulus”.
But the overall economy has not been helped much at all. If you doubt this, just look at these charts.
Instead, what all of this “easy money” has done is fuel the greatest stock market bubble in history.
As you can see from the chart below, every round of quantitative easing has driven the S&P 500 much higher. And when each round of quantitative easing has finally ended, stocks have declined substantially…
And of course the chart above tells only part of the story. Since April 2013, the S&P 500 has gone much higher…
If someone from another planet looked at that chart, they would be tempted to think that the U.S. economy must be expanding like crazy.
But of course that is not happening.
This market binge has been solely fueled by reckless money printing by the Federal Reserve. It is not backed up by economic fundamentals in any way, shape or form.
And now that quantitative easing is ending, many are wondering if the party is over.
For example, just check out what CNN is saying about the matter…
Even in this bull market, all good things must come to an end.
The Federal Reserve is expected to close a chapter in history this week and announce the conclusion of its massive stimulus program. Known as quantitative easing, the program is widely credited with driving investors back into stocks in the aftermath of the financial crisis.
“I think to some extent quantitative easing has provided an assurance to investors that (has) kept them optimistic,” said Bruce McCain, Chief Investment Strategist of Key Private Bank in Cleveland, Ohio. “Now we’re going to have to see whether investors can ride without training wheels.”
Everyone knows that quantitative easing was a massive gift to those that own stocks.
So how will the stock market respond now that the monetary heroin is ending?
We shall see.
Meanwhile, deflationary pressures are already starting to take hold around the rest of the globe. The following is an excerpt from a recent Reuters report…
After months of focus on slack in U.S. labor markets, the Federal Reserve faces a new challenge: the possibility that weak inflation may be so firmly entrenched it upends the return to normal monetary policy.
The soft global inflation backdrop, from sliding oil prices to stagnant wages in advanced economies, has triggered debate over whether the Fed and its peers merely need to wait for a slow-motion business cycle to improve, or face a shift in the underlying nature of inflation after the global recession.
That uncertainty has become the Fed’s chief concern in recent weeks, likely to shape upcoming policy statements and delay even further the moment when interest rates, pinned near zero for nearly six years, will start rising again.
If the Federal Reserve and other global central banks were not printing money like mad, the global economy would have almost certainly entered a deflationary depression by now.
But all the Federal Reserve and other global central banks have done is put off the inevitable and make our long-term problems even worse.
Instead of fixing the fundamental problems that caused the great financial crash of 2008, the central bankers decided to try to paper over our problems instead. They flooded the global financial system with easy money, but today our financial system is shakier than ever.
In fact, we just learned that 10 percent of the biggest banks in Europe have failed their stress tests and must raise more capital…
The European Central Bank says 13 of Europe’s 130 biggest banks have flunked an in-depth review of their finances and must increase their capital buffers against losses by 10 billion euros ($12.5 billion).
The ECB said 25 banks in all were found to need stronger buffers — but that 12 have already made up their shortfall during the months in which the ECB was carrying out its review. The remaining 13 now have two weeks to tell the ECB how they plan to increase their capital buffers.
Most people do not realize how vulnerable our financial system truly is. It is essentially a pyramid of debt and credit that could fall apart at any time.
Right now, the “too big to fail” banks account for 42 percent of all loans and 67 percent of all banking assets in the United States.
Without those banks, we essentially do not have an economy.
But instead of being careful, those banks have taken recklessness to unprecedented heights.
At this moment, five of the “too big to fail” banks each have more than 40 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.
Most Americans don’t even understand what derivatives are, but when the next great financial crisis strikes we are going to be hearing a whole lot about them.
The big banks have transformed Wall Street into the biggest casino in the history of the planet, and there is no way that this is going to end well.
A great collapse is coming.
It is just a matter of time.
During the first three months of this year, the U.S. economy contracted at a 1 percent annual rate. Despite this, mainstream economists flooded the mainstream media with assurances that much better days are just around the corner on Thursday. In fact, many of them boldly predicted that U.S. GDP would grow at a 3 or 4 percent annual rate in the second quarter. None of them seem the least bit concerned that another major recession is rapidly approaching. Instead, they just blamed the bad number for the first quarter on a “severe winter“, and the financial markets responded to the GDP news quite cheerfully. In fact, the S&P 500 soared to another brand new record high. No matter how bad the numbers get, almost everyone in the financial world seems quite optimistic. But is there actually good reason to have such optimism?
As Zero Hedge has pointed out, if it wasn’t for dramatically increased healthcare spending due to the implementation of Obamacare, U.S. GDP would have actually dropped at a 2 percent annual rate during the first quarter of 2014.
That would have been an absolutely disastrous number.
But within a very short time of the revised U.S. GDP number being released, the mainstream media was inundated with positive stories about the news.
For example, CNN published a story entitled “U.S. economy shrinks, but it’s not a big deal” and CNBC released a survey of nine prominent economists that showed that their consensus forecast for the second quarter of 2014 is GDP growth at a 3.74 percent annual rate.
It just seems like almost everyone wants to forget about what happened during the first quarter and wants to look ahead to a great number for quarter two.
Joseph Lavorgna, the chief U.S. economist at Deutsche Bank, is boldly forecasting a 4 percent growth rate for the second quarter. So is Jim O’Sullivan. In fact, it is hard to find any “expert” in the mainstream media that does not expect rip-roaring economic growth this quarter.
For example, just check out these quotes…
-Stuart Hoffman, the chief economist for PNC Bank: “The first quarter was disappointing, but rather than view that as an omen of a recession or the first of a down leg in the economy, I see the seeds of a big bounce back in spring.”
-Paul Ashworth of Capital Economics: “For those worried about a recession, it’s worth remembering that employment increased by nearly 300,000 in April.”
-The Bank of Tokyo’s Chris Rupkey: “2Q growth seen at nearly 4%… Weak 1Q is stone cold dead as an indicator of where the economy is headed.”
-Jan Hatzius of Goldman Sachs: “Because of weaker inventory investment in Q1, we increased our Q2 GDP tracking estimate by two-tenths to 3.9%.”
-Dun & Bradstreet Credibility Corp. CEO Jeffrey Stibel: “Using an alternative model for projecting job growth, we see an entirely different scenario, one in which the U.S. unemployment rate will fall below 5 percent by no later than the middle of next year.”
Hopefully they are right.
Hopefully we are not heading into another recession.
But as I discussed in an article earlier this week, evidence continues to mount that another recession has already begun for much of the country.
And there was another number that was released today that seems to confirm this. According to CNBC, there was a 6 percent drop in exports in the first quarter of 2014 when compared to the first quarter of 2013…
The U.S. economic reversal was led by a 6 percent drop in exports year over year, until recently hailed as a key driver of the U.S. recovery, and which had risen 9.5 percent in the last three months of 2013.
The slackening of trade has spread to the developing world, where emerging economies are seeing less demand from the U.S., Europe and China for raw materials and other exports.
We saw a similar decline happen in mid-2008 as the U.S. economy plunged into recession.
And Bloomberg’s Consumer Comfort index has fallen to the lowest level that we have seen in six months. U.S. consumers are increasingly tapped out, and the ongoing “retail apocalypse” is evidence of that fact.
A declining middle class simply cannot support the massive retail infrastructure that America has developed. As the middle class has fallen to pieces, it was just a matter of time before big trouble started erupting for the retail industry. This is something that David Stockman recently wrote about…
It does not take much analysis to see that these bell ringers do not represent sustainable prosperity unfolding across the land. For example, around 1990 real median income was $56k per household and now, 25 years later, its just $51k—-meaning that main street living standards have plunged by about 9% during the last quarter century. But what has not dropped is the opportunity for Americans to drop shopping: square footage per capita during the same period more than doubled, rising from 19 square feet per capita at the earlier date to 47 at present.
This complete contradiction—declining real living standards and soaring investment in retail space—did not occur due to some embedded irrational impulse in America to speculate in real estate, or because capitalism has an inherent tendency to go off the deep-end. The fact that in equally “prosperous” Germany today there is only 12 square feet of retail space per capita is an obvious tip-off, and this is not a teutonic aberration. America’s prize-winning number of 47 square feet of retail space per capita is 3-8X higher than anywhere else in the developed world!
Without middle class jobs, you can’t have a middle class. That is why our employment crisis is at the very heart of our economic problems. Even using the government’s highly manipulated unemployment figures, there are still quite a few cities out there that have official unemployment rates in the double digits…
The unemployment rate in Yuma, Ariz., is 23.8%. In El Centro, Calif., it is 21.6%. El Centro sits in an area of California in which unemployment in many metro areas is double the national average. In Merced the figure is 14.3%, in Yuba City the figure is 14.5%, in Hanford it is 13.1% and in Visalia it is 13.4%. In several metros close to these, the figure is above 10%. Most of them are inland from San Francisco and the area just south of it, which also happens to be among the nation’s most drought-plagued regions. This means jobs recovery is highly unlikely.
But of course the truth is that if the government actually used honest numbers, the unemployment rate for the entire nation would be in double digits.
And as I like to remind people, according to the government’s own numbers approximately 20 percent of the families in the entire nation do not have a single member that is employed.
So how is it possible that the “unemployment rate” is just a little above 6 percent?
It is a giant sham.
But that is what they want.
They want us feeling good and thinking that everything is going to be okay.
Unfortunately, they used the same approach back in 2007 and 2008, and we all remember how that turned out.
When QE1 ended there was a substantial stock market correction, and when QE2 ended there was a substantial stock market correction. And if you will remember, the financial markets threw a massive hissy fit a few months ago when Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke suggested that the Fed may soon start tapering QE3. Clearly Wall Street does not like it when their supply of monetary heroin is interrupted. The Federal Reserve has tricked the American people into supporting quantitative easing by insisting that it is about “stimulating the economy”, but that has turned out to be a massive hoax. In fact, I just wrote an article that contained 37 statistics that prove that things just keep getting even worse for ordinary Americans. But quantitative easing has been exceptionally good for Wall Street. During QE1, the S&P 500 rose by about 300 points. During QE2, the S&P 500 rose by about 200 points. And during QE3, the S&P 500 has risen by about 400 points. The S&P 500 is now in unprecedented territory, and stock prices have become completely and totally divorced from reality. In essence, we are in the midst of the largest financial bubble this nation has ever seen. So what is going to happen when the Fed starts pulling back the monetary crack and the bubble bursts?
A lot of people out there are claiming that the Federal Reserve will never end this round of quantitative easing. They are suggesting that the Fed may hint at tapering from time to time, but that when push comes to shove they will just keep printing more money.
There is just one big problem with that theory.
The rest of the world is watching, and they are very troubled by quantitative easing. Therefore the Fed must end it at some point because they desperately need the rest of the world to keep playing our game.
Our current economic prosperity greatly depends upon the rest of the planet using our dollars as the reserve currency of the world and lending trillions of dollars to us at ultra-low interest rates. If the rest of the world decides to stop going along with the program, the system would come crashing down very rapidly.
That is why it was so alarming when China recently announced that they are going to quit stockpiling more U.S. dollars. For a long time China has been warning us to quit recklessly printing money, and now China is starting to make moves that will make them more independent of us financially.
If the Fed does not bring quantitative easing to an end soon, other nations may start doing the same thing.
So the Fed knows that they are on borrowed time. Faith in the U.S. financial system is declining very fast.
But the Fed also knows that ending QE3 is going to be very tricky for the financial markets. The other times that the Fed has ended quantitative easing, it has turned out to be very painful for Wall Street.
So this time, the Fed seems to be trying to do what it can to use the media to mentally prepare investors ahead of time. For example, the following is what Jon Hilsenrath of the Wall Street Journal wrote just a few days ago…
Markets are positioned more to the Fed’s liking today than they were in September, when it put off reducing, or “tapering,” the monthly bond purchases. Most notably, the Fed’s message is sinking in that a wind down of the program won’t mean it’s in a hurry to raise short-term interest rates. Futures markets place a very low probability on Fed rate increases before 2015, in contrast to September, when fed funds futures markets indicated rate increases were expected by the end of 2014. The Fed has been trying to drive home the idea that “tapering is not tightening” for months and is likely to feel comforted that investors believe it as a pullback gets serious consideration.
In case you missed the subtle messages contained in that paragraph, here is a rough translation…
“Don’t worry. The Federal Reserve is your friend and they say that everything is going to be okay. Investors believe what the Fed says and you should too. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain. Tapering is not tightening, and when the Federal Reserve does decide to taper the financial markets are going to take it very calmly.”
The Fed (and their messengers) very much want to avoid a repeat of what has happened before. As you can see from the chart posted below, every round of quantitative easing has driven the S&P 500 much higher. And when each round has ended, there has been a substantial stock market correction. The following chart was originally produced by DayOnBay.org…
And of course the chart above is incomplete. As you can see below, the S&P 500 is now sitting at about 1,800…
So let’s recap.
From the time that QE1 was announced to the time that it ended, the S&P 500 rose from about 900 to about 1,200.
When QE1 ended, the S&P 500 fell back below 1,100.
In a panic, the Federal Reserve first hinted at QE2 and then finally formally announced it. That round of QE drove the S&P 500 up to a bit above the 1,300 mark.
Once QE2 ended, there was another market correction. The S&P 500 fell all the way down to 1,123 at one point.
In another panic, the Federal Reserve first announced “Operation Twist” and then later added QE3. Since that time, the S&P 500 has been on an unprecedented tear. At this point, the S&P is sitting at about 1,800.
And of course those massively inflated stock prices have absolutely no relation to what is going on in the U.S. economy as a whole. In fact, the truth is that economic conditions for most of the country are steadily getting worse. Just today we found out that for the week ending November 30th, U.S. rail traffic was down 16.3 percent from the same week one year earlier. That is a hugely negative sign. It means that the flow of goods is slowing down substantially.
So the Federal Reserve has created this massive financial bubble that is totally disconnected from reality. The only way that the Federal Reserve can keep this bubble going is to keep printing lots more money, but they also know that they cannot do that indefinitely because the rest of the world is watching.
In essence, the Federal Reserve is caught between a rock and a hard place.
When the Fed does ultimately decide to taper (whether it be December, January, February, etc.), the consequences are likely to be quite dramatic for the financial markets. The following is a brief excerpt from a recent article by Howard Kunstler…
But even in a world of seemingly no consequence, things happen. One pretty sure thing is rising interest rates, especially when, at the same time as a head-fake taper, foreigners send a torrent of US Treasury paper back to the redemption window. This paper is what other nations, especially in Asia, have been trading to hose up hard assets, including gold and real estate, around the world, and the traders of last resort — the chumps who took US T bonds for boatloads of copper ore or cocoa pods — now have nowhere else to go. China alone announced very loudly last month that US Treasury debt paper was giving them a migraine and they were done buying anymore of it. Japan is in a financial psychotic delirium scarfing up its own debt paper to infinity. Who’s left out there? Burkina Faso and the Kyrgystan Cobblers’ Union Pension Fund?
The interest rate on the US 10-year bond is close to bumping up on the ominous 3.0 percent level again. Apart from the effect on car and house loans, readers have pointed out to dim-little-me that the real action will be around the interest rate swaps. Last time this happened, in late summer, the too-big-to-fail banks wobbled from their losses on these bets, providing a glimpse into the aperture of a black hole compressive deflation where cascading chains of unmet promises blow financial systems past the event horizon of universal default and paralysis where money stops moving anywhere and people must seriously reevaluate what money actually is.
What Kunstler is talking about is something that I have written about previously many times. When QE3 slows down (or ends), that is likely going to cause the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries to rise substantially, and that would have a whole host of negative consequences for the U.S. economy.
Most notably, it would threaten to blow up the quadrillion dollar derivatives casino that Wall Street usually manages to keep so delicately balanced.
The truth is that we are going to have massive problems no matter what the Federal Reserve does now.
If the Federal Reserve keeps wildly printing money, our financial system will become a massive joke to the rest of the planet and other nations will stop using our dollars and will stop lending us money.
That would be absolutely disastrous.
If the Federal Reserve stops wildly printing money, the massive financial bubble that Wall Street is enjoying right now will burst and we could have a financial crisis even greater than what we experienced back in 2008.
That would also be absolutely disastrous.
So does anyone out there see an easy way out of this under the current system? If you think that you have such a plan, please feel free to share it below…