The Global Liquidity Squeeze Has Begun

Squeeze Globe - Public DomainGet ready for another major worldwide credit crunch.  Today, the entire global financial system resembles a colossal spiral of debt.  Just about all economic activity involves the flow of credit in some way, and so the only way to have “economic growth” is to introduce even more debt into the system.  When the system started to fail back in 2008, global authorities responded by pumping this debt spiral back up and getting it to spin even faster than ever.  If you can believe it, the total amount of global debt has risen by $35 trillion since the last crisis.  Unfortunately, any system based on debt is going to break down eventually, and there are signs that it is starting to happen once again.  For example, just a few days ago the IMF warned regulators to prepare for a global “liquidity shock“.  And on Friday, Chinese authorities announced a ban on certain types of financing for margin trades on over-the-counter stocks, and we learned that preparations are being made behind the scenes in Europe for a Greek debt default and a Greek exit from the eurozone.  On top of everything else, we just witnessed the biggest spike in credit application rejections ever recorded in the United States.  All of these are signs that credit conditions are tightening, and once a “liquidity squeeze” begins, it can create a lot of fear.

Over the past six months, the Chinese stock market has exploded upward even as the overall Chinese economy has started to slow down.  Investors have been using something called “umbrella trusts” to finance a lot of these stock purchases, and these umbrella trusts have given them the ability to have much more leverage than normal brokerage financing would allow.  This works great as long as stocks go up.  Once they start going down, the losses can be absolutely staggering.

That is why Chinese authorities are stepping in before this bubble gets even worse.  Here is more about what has been going on in China from Bloomberg

China’s trusts boosted their investments in equities by 28 percent to 552 billion yuan ($89.1 billion) in the fourth quarter. The higher leverage allowed by the products exposes individuals to larger losses in the event of stock-market drops, which can be exaggerated as investors scramble to repay debt during a selloff.

In umbrella trusts, private investors take up the junior tranche, while cash from trusts and banks’ wealth-management products form the senior tranches. The latter receive fixed returns while the former take the rest, so private investors are effectively borrowing from trusts and banks.

Margin debt on the Shanghai Stock Exchange climbed to a record 1.16 trillion yuan on Thursday. In a margin trade, investors use their own money for just a portion of their stock purchase, borrowing the rest. The loans are backed by the investors’ equity holdings, meaning that they may be compelled to sell when prices fall to repay their debt.

Overall, China has seen more debt growth than any other major industrialized nation since the last recession.  This debt growth has been so dramatic that it has gotten the attention of authorities all over the planet

Wolfgang Schaeuble, Germany’s finance minister says that “debt levels in the global economy continue to give cause for concern.”

Singling out China in particular, Schaeuble noted that “debt has nearly quadrupled since 2007″, adding that it’s “growth appears to be built on debt, driven by a real estate boom and shadow banks.”

According to McKinsey’s research, total outstanding debt in China increased from $US7.4 trillion in 2007 to $US28.2 trillion in 2014. That figure, expressed as a percentage of GDP, equates to 282% of total output, higher than the likes of other G20 nations such as the US, Canada, Germany, South Korea and Australia.

This credit boom in China has been one of the primary engines for “global growth” in recent years, but now conditions are changing.  Eventually, the impact of what is going on in China right now is going to be felt all over the planet.

Over in Europe, the Greek debt crisis is finally coming to a breaking point.  For years, authorities have continued to kick the can down the road and have continued to lend Greece even more money.

But now it appears that patience with Greece has run out.

For instance, the head of the IMF says that no delay will be allowed on the repayment of IMF loans that are due next month…

IMF Managing Director Christine Lagarde roiled currency and bond markets on Thursday as reports came out of her opening press conference saying that she had denied any payment delay to Greece on IMF loans falling due next month.

Unless Greece concludes its negotiations for a further round of bailout money from the European Union, however, it is not likely to have the money to repay the IMF.

And we are getting reports that things are happening behind the scenes in Europe to prepare for the inevitable moment when Greece will finally leave the euro and go back to their own currency.

For example, consider what Art Cashin told CNBC on Friday

First, “there were reports in the media [saying] that the ECB and/or banking authorities suggested to banks to get rid of any sovereign Greek debt they had, which suggests that maybe the next step will be Greece exiting,” Cashin told CNBC.

Also, one of Greece’s largest newspapers is reporting that neighboring countries are forcing subsidiaries of Greek banks that operate inside their borders to reduce their risk to a Greek debt default to zero

According to a report from Kathimerini, one of Greece’s largest newspapers, central banks in Albania, Bulgaria, Cyprus, Romania, Serbia, Turkey and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia have all forced the subsidiaries of Greek banks operating in those countries to bring their exposure to Greek risk — including bonds, treasury bills, deposits to Greek banks, and loans — down to zero.

Once Greece leaves the euro, that is going to create a tremendous credit crunch in Europe as fear begins to spread like wildfire.  Everyone will be wondering which nation will be “the next Greece”, and investors will want to pull their money out of perceived danger zones before they get hammered.

In the past, other European nations have been willing to bend over backwards to accommodate Greece and avoid this kind of mess, but those days appear to be finished.  In fact, the finance minister of France openly admits that the French “are not sympathetic to Greece”

Greece isn’t winning much sympathy from its debt-wracked European counterparts as the country draws closer to default for failing to make bailout repayments.

“We are not sympathetic to Greece,” French Finance Minister Michael Sapin said in an interview at the International Monetary Fund-World Bank spring meetings here.

“We are demanding because Greece must comply with the European (rules) that apply to all countries,” Sapin said.

Yes, it is possible that another short-term deal could be reached which could kick the can down the road for a few more months.

But either way, things in Europe are going to continue to get worse.

Meanwhile, very disappointing earnings reports in the U.S. are starting to really rattle investors.

For example, we just learned that GE lost 13.6 billion dollars in the first quarter…

One week following the announcement that it would dismantle most of its GE Capital financing operations to instead focus on its industrial roots, General Electric reported a first quarter loss of $13.6 billion.

The results were impacted by charges relating to the conglomerate’s strategic shift. A year ago GE reported a first quarter profit of $3 billion.

That is a lot of money.

How in the world does a company lose 13.6 billion dollars in a single quarter during an “economic recovery”?

Other big firms are reporting disappointing earnings numbers too

In earnings news, American Express Co. late Thursday said its results were hurt by the strong U.S. dollar, which reduced revenue booked in other countries. Chief Executive Kenneth Chenault reiterated the company’s forecast that 2015 earnings will be flat to modestly down year over year. Shares fell 4.6%.

Advanced Micro Devices Inc. said its first-quarter loss widened as revenue slumped. The company said it was exiting its dense server systems business, effective immediately. Revenue and the loss excluding items missed expectations, pushing shares down 13%.

And just like we saw just before the financial crisis of 2008, Americans are increasingly having difficulty meeting their financial obligations.

For instance, the delinquency rate on student loans has reached a very frightening level

More borrowers are failing to make payments on their student loans five years after leaving college, painting a grim picture for borrowers, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

Student debt continues to increase, especially for people who took out loans years ago. Those who left school in the Great Recession, which ended in 2009, had particular difficulty with repayment, with many defaulting, becoming seriously delinquent or not being able to reduce their balances, the New York Fed said today.

Only 37 percent of borrowers are current on their loans and are actively paying them down, and 17 percent are in default or in delinquency.

At this point, the American consumer is pretty well tapped out.  If you can believe it, 56 percent of all Americans have subprime credit today, and as I mentioned above, we just witnessed the biggest spike in credit application rejections ever recorded.

We have reached a point of debt saturation, and the credit crunch that is going to follow is going to be extremely painful.

Of course the biggest provider of global liquidity in recent years has been the Federal Reserve.  But with the Fed pulling back on QE, this is creating some tremendous challenges all over the globe.  The following is an excerpt from a recent article in the Telegraph

The big worry is what will happen to Russia, Brazil and developing economies in Asia that borrowed most heavily in dollars when the Fed was still flooding the world with cheap liquidity. Emerging markets account to roughly half of the $9 trillion of offshore dollar debt outside US jurisdiction.

The IMF warned that a big chunk of the debt owed by companies is in the non-tradeable sector. These firms lack “natural revenue hedges” that can shield them against a double blow from rising borrowing costs and a further surge in the dollar.

So what is the bottom line to all of this?

The bottom line is that we are starting to see the early phases of a liquidity squeeze.

The flow of credit is going to begin to get tighter, and that means that global economic activity is going to slow down.

This happened during the last financial crisis, and during this next financial crisis the credit crunch is going to be even worse.

This is why it is so important to have an emergency fund.  During this type of crisis, you may have to be the source of your own liquidity.  At a time when it seems like nobody has any cash, those that do have some will be way ahead of the game.

Celebrating Independence Yet Enslaved To Debt

Every year when July 4th rolls around, Americans from coast to coast celebrate July 4th with cookouts, outdoor concerts and fireworks.  We love celebrating Independence Day and yet we are deeply enslaved to debt.  We like to think of ourselves as “free” and yet we have rolled up the biggest pile of debt the world has ever seen.  The people that we have borrowed all of this money from expect to be paid.  Sadly, instead of addressing the problem, we have been loading more debt on to the backs of future generations with each passing year.  What we are doing to our kids and our grandkids is so immoral that is almost defies description.  At the heart of this debt-based system stands the Federal Reserve.  It is a perpetual debt machine that was designed to trap the U.S. government in a spiral of debt permanently.  Today, the U.S. national debt is 4700 times larger than it was when the Federal Reserve was created back in 1913.  This year alone, we will add more to the national debt than we did from the presidency of George Washington to the beginning of the presidency of Ronald Reagan.  So yes, enjoy the hotdogs and the fireworks, but also remember that we will never be free as long as this constantly expanding debt problem is hanging over our heads.

If you know anyone that does not take our national debt problem seriously, please share with them the video posted below.  It is entitled “Economic Armageddon and You” and it is definitely worth the 5 minutes that it takes to watch it.  Someone out there did a really great job of explaining our debt problem in a way that almost anyone can understand….

So is there any solution to this problem?

Not under the current system.

The debt-based Federal Reserve system is designed to expand U.S. government debt indefinitely.  But of course all debt bubbles burst eventually and we are rapidly reaching that point.

It is being projected that the U.S. national debt will hit 344% of GDP by the year 2050 if we continue on our current course.  The truth is that it would never get even close to that high because the whole system would completely collapse long before then.

So what should we do?

We need to abandon our current debt-based financial system.  The way that our current system normally works, whenever more money is created more debt is also created.  Such a system is inevitably doomed to fail.

We need to transition to an entirely new system that has nothing to do with the Federal Reserve or Federal Reserve notes.  We need an entirely new system where the money is not based on debt.

But even though more Americans than ever are awake to the flaws in our monetary system, the truth is that neither major political party is remotely ready to even consider an end to the current financial system.

Many Republicans believe that if we can just cut government spending enough we can solve the problem.  Many Democrats believe that if we can just “raise enough revenue” we can solve the problem.

Neither of those solutions will work.

Many conservatives are so frustrated with the whole thing that they just want Congress to refuse to raise the debt ceiling.  I have taken a lot of heat over the past couple of days for suggesting that this is a bad idea.

If we refuse to raise the debt ceiling, our borrowing costs will absolutely explode.  Even if the U.S. government adopted a “balanced budget” by some miracle, the reality is that the federal government would still need to “roll over” very large amounts of debt every single year.  If interest rates on U.S. debt rise substantially it will be beyond catastrophic.

In 2010, the U.S. government paid $413 billion in interest on the national debt.

If interest rates were to start rising as a result of a debt default, interest on the national debt would likely double or even triple.

Look, if we want to come anywhere close to balancing the budget under our current system, it will be a whole lot easier to do if we are spending 400 billion dollars on interest on the national debt rather than 1.2 trillion dollars.

Today, the U.S. government only takes in about 2.2 trillion dollars in taxes.  How in the world are we going to have a chance if we have to pay out a trillion dollars just in interest on the national debt?

The yield on 10-year U.S. Treasuries rose from 2.86% to 3.18% just this past week.  Let us hope that this is not the beginning of a bad trend.

A refusal to raise the debt ceiling would also likely set off another recession (or worse).  The following is what a new article on CNBC says would happen if the U.S. does not raise the debt ceiling by August 2nd….

A U.S. default would not only be historic, it would also almost certainly lead to a new financial crisis. Interest rates would likely spike, equity markets would plunge along with the value of the dollar, and the country could fall back into a recession.

We have to raise the debt ceiling.

So does this mean that I am advocating “kicking the can down the road”?

No.

If you are a conservative, you can still get the same result that you want without destroying the credit rating of the United States.

All the Republicans in Congress have to do is to pledge that they will never pass anything but a balanced budget for 2012 or for any year beyond that.  Without the permission of the House of Representatives, Barack Obama and the Democrats cannot continue their deficit spending.  The sad truth is that the Republicans have been enabling and actively participating in this debt binge all along.

A balanced budget would definitely hurt the economy, but at least it would not wreck our credit rating and cause our borrowing costs to multiply.

But is that what the Republicans are shooting for?

No.

It is being reported that the Republicans and the Democrats have tentatively agreed to between $1 trillion and $2 trillion in budget cuts over the next 10 years.

So that comes to $200 billion in spending cuts a year at most.

Considering the fact that we are running budget deficits of about a trillion and a half dollars a year, that is not nearly enough.

So don’t accuse me of wanting to kick the can down the road.  I want to actually do something substantial about the national debt.  I just don’t think it is a good idea to trash our credit rating in the process.

It is the Republicans and the Democrats in Congress that are kicking the can down the road.

Trillion dollar deficits are not acceptable.  Our nation is on the road to financial ruin.

But it is not just the federal government that is in massive financial trouble.

The reality is that we have “government debt problems” from coast to coast.

Did you hear that the government of Minnesota shut down the other day?

As the financial health of almost every single state government continues to decline, this type of thing is going to become more common.

In the state of Illinois things are so bad that some income tax refunds have not been paid since 2009.  The following is a brief excerpt from an article on the Economic Policy Journal blog….

I repeat, this is no time to own state or municipal bonds. The desperation level at various states and municipalities is getting more and more intense.

With the start of a new budget year just two days away, thousands of Illinois businesses are still waiting for state income tax refunds dating back to 2009.

In a recent article entitled “Is The Economy Improving?“, I went into greater detail about the horrific financial crisis that Illinois is facing….

*****

Did you know that things have gotten so bad in Illinois at this point that the Illinois state government is letting bills go unpaid for long periods of time on a regular basis?

It’s true.

Right now they have billions in unpaid bills and they are facing a financial future that is so bleak that it is almost indescribable.

In one recent article, author Stephen Lendman described the horrific financial crisis that Illinois is facing right now….

With spending exceeding revenues, and obligations not postponed, unpaid bills are growing “at a frightening rate. For instance, IGPA’s Fiscal Futures Model indicates (they) could reach $40 billion by July 1, 2013, with an associated delay in paying those bills of more than five years.”

Besides its $13 billion deficit and $6 billion in unpaid bills, its pension fund is about $130 billion in the red – a red flag that state workers may lose out altogether, wiping out their promised retirement savings.

But it isn’t just the state government that is having problems.  According to Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas, the average household in Chicago would owe a whopping $63,525 if all local government debt was divided up equally among all of the households.

*****

How can we claim that our country is free when we are enslaved to such horrible debt burdens?

The borrower is always a servant of the lender.  As a nation, we are becoming a little bit less independent every single day.

So enjoy celebrating Independence Day while you still can.

If we continue on the path that we are currently on, nobody is going to be celebrating much of anything in the future.

Do NOT follow this link or you will be banned from the site!