Swiss Shocker Triggers Gigantic Losses For Banks, Hedge Funds And Currency Traders

Trading - Public DomainThe absolutely stunning decision by the Swiss National Bank to decouple from the euro has triggered billions of dollars worth of losses all over the globe.  Citigroup and Deutsche Bank both say that their losses were somewhere in the neighborhood of 150 million dollars, a major hedge fund that had 830 million dollars in assets at the end of December has been forced to shut down, and several major global currency trading firms have announced that they are now insolvent.   And these are just the losses that we know about so far.  It will be many months before the full scope of the financial devastation caused by the Swiss National Bank is fully revealed.  But of course the same thing could be said about the crash in the price of oil that we have witnessed in recent weeks.  These two “black swan events” have set financial dominoes in motion all over the globe.  At this point we can only guess how bad the financial devastation will ultimately be.

But everyone agrees that it will be bad.  For example, one financial expert at Boston University says that he believes the losses caused by the Swiss National Bank decision will be in the billions of dollars

The losses will be in the billions — they are still being tallied,” said Mark T. Williams, an executive-in-residence at Boston University specializing in risk management. “They will range from large banks, brokers, hedge funds, mutual funds to currency speculators. There will be ripple effects throughout the financial system.”

Citigroup, the world’s biggest currencies dealer, lost more than $150 million at its trading desks, a person with knowledge of the matter said last week. Deutsche Bank lost $150 million and Barclays less than $100 million, people familiar with the events said, after the Swiss National Bank scrapped a three-year-old policy of capping its currency against the euro and the franc soared as much as 41 percent that day versus the euro. Spokesmen for the three banks declined to comment.

And actually, if the total losses from this crisis are only limited to the “billions” I think that we will be extremely fortunate.

As I mentioned above, a hedge fund that had 830 million dollars in assets at the end of December just completely imploded.  Everest Capital’s Global Fund had heavily bet against the Swiss franc, and as a result it now has lost “virtually all its money”

Marko Dimitrijevic, the hedge fund manager who survived at least five emerging market debt crises, is closing his largest hedge fund after losing virtually all its money this week when the Swiss National Bank unexpectedly let the franc trade freely against the euro, according to a person familiar with the firm.

Everest Capital’s Global Fund had about $830 million in assets as of the end of December, according to a client report. The Miami-based firm, which specializes in emerging markets, still manages seven funds with about $2.2 billion in assets. The global fund, the firm’s oldest, was betting the Swiss franc would decline, said the person, who asked not to be named because the information is private.

This is how fast things can move in the financial marketplace when things start getting crazy.

It can seem like you are on top of the world one day, but just a short while later you can be filing for bankruptcy.

Consider what just happened to FXCM.  It is one of the largest retail currency trading firms on the entire planet, and the decision by the Swiss National Bank instantly created a 200 million dollar hole in the company that desperately needed to be filled…

The magnitude of the crisis for U.S. currency traders became clear Friday when New York-based FXCM, a publicly traded U.S. currency broker, and the largest so far to announce it was in financial trouble after suffering a 90-percent drop in the firm’s stock price, reported the firm would need a $200-$300 million bailout to prevent capital requirements from being breached. Highly leveraged currency traders, including retail customers, were unable to come up with sufficient capital to cover the losses suffered in their currency trading accounts when the Swiss franc surged.

Currency traders worldwide allowed to leverage their accounts 100:1, meaning the customer can bet $100 in the currency exchange markets for every $1.00 the customer has on deposit in its account, can result in huge gains from unexpected currency price fluctuations or massive and devastating losses, should the customer bet wrong.

Fortunately for FXCM, another company called Leucadia came riding to the rescue with a 300 million dollar loan.

But other currency trading firms were not so lucky.

For example, Alpari has already announced that it is going into insolvency

Retail broker Alpari UK filed for insolvency on Friday.

The move “caused by the SNB’s unexpected policy reversal of capping the Swiss franc against the euro has resulted in exceptional volatility and extreme lack of liquidity,” Alpari, the shirt sponsor of English Premier League soccer club West Ham, said in a statement.

“This has resulted in the majority of clients sustaining losses which exceeded their account equity. Where a client cannot cover this loss, it is passed on to us. This has forced Alpari (UK) Limited to confirm that it has entered into insolvency.”

And Alpari is far from alone.  Quite a few other smaller currency trading firms all over the world are in the exact same boat.

Unfortunately, this could potentially just be the beginning of the currency chaos.

All eyes are on the European Central Bank right now.  If a major round of quantitative easing is announced, that could unleash yet another wave of crippling losses for financial institutions.  The following is from a recent CNBC article

One of Europe’s most influential economists has warned that the quantitative easing measures seen being unveiled by the European Central Bank (ECB) this week could create deep market volatility, akin to what was seen after the Swiss National Bank abandoned its currency peg.

“There was so much capital flight in anticipation of the QE to Switzerland, that the Swiss central bank was unable to stem the tide, and there will be more effects of that sort,” the President of Germany’s Ifo Institute for Economic Research, Hans-Werner Sinn, told CNBC on Monday.

As I have written about previously, we are moving into a time of greatly increased financial volatility.  And when we start to see tremendous ups and downs in the financial world, that is a sign that a great crash is coming.  We witnessed this prior to the financial crisis of 2008, and now we are watching it happen again.

And this is not just happening in the United States.  Just check out what happened in China on Monday…

Chinese shares plunged about 8% Monday after the country’s securities regulator imposed margin trading curbs on several major brokerages, a sign that authorities are trying to rein in the market’s big gains. It was China’s largest drop in six years.

Sadly, most Americans have absolutely no idea what is coming.

They just trust that Barack Obama, Congress and the “experts” at the Federal Reserve have it all figured out.

So when the next great financial crisis does arrive, most people are going to be absolutely blindsided by it, even though anyone that is willing to look at the facts honestly should be able to see it steamrolling directly toward us.

Over the past couple of years, we have been blessed to experience a period of relative stability.

But that period of relative stability is now ending.

I hope that you are getting ready for what comes next.

What In The World Just Happened In Switzerland?

Swiss Francs - Public DomainCentral banks lie.  That is what they do.  Not too long ago, the Swiss National Bank promised that it would defend the euro/Swiss franc currency peg with the “utmost determination”.  But on Thursday, the central bank shocked the financial world by abruptly abandoning it.  More than three years ago, the Swiss National Bank announced that it would not allow the Swiss franc to fall below 1.20 to the euro, and it has spent a mountain of money defending that peg.  But now that it looks like the EU is going to launch a very robust quantitative easing program, the Swiss National Bank has thrown in the towel.  It was simply going to cost way too much to continue to defend the currency floor.  So now there is panic all over Europe.  On Thursday, the Swiss franc rose a staggering 30 percent against the euro, and the Swiss stock market plunged by 10 percent.  And all over the world, investors, hedge funds and central banks either lost or made gigantic piles of money as currency rates shifted at an unprecedented rate.  It is going to take months to really measure the damage that has been done.  Meanwhile, the euro is in greater danger than ever.  The euro has been declining for months, and now the number one buyer of euros (the Swiss National Bank) has been removed from the equation.  As things in Europe continue to get even worse, expect the euro to go to all-time record lows.  In addition, it is important to remember that the Asian financial crisis of the late 1990s began when Thailand abandoned its currency peg.  With this move by Switzerland set off a European financial crisis?

Of course this is hardly the first time that we have seen central banks lie.  In the United States, the Federal Reserve does it all the time.  The funny thing is that most people still seem to trust what central banks have to say.  But at some point they are going to start to lose all credibility.

Financial markets like predictability.  And gigantic amounts of money had been invested based on the repeated promises of the Swiss National Bank to use “unlimited amounts” of money to defend the currency floor.  Needless to say, there are a lot of people in the financial world that feel totally betrayed by the Swiss National Bank today.  The following comes from an analysis of the situation by Bruce Krasting

Thomas Jordan, the head of the SNB has repeated said that the Franc peg would last forever, and that he would be willing to intervene in “Unlimited Amounts” in support of the peg. Jordan has folded on his promise like a cheap suit in the rain. When push came to shove, Jordan failed to deliver.

The Swiss economy will rapidly fall into recession as a result of the SNB move. The Swiss stock market has been blasted, the currency is now nearly 20% higher than it was a day before. Someone will have to fall on the sword, the arrows are pointing at Jordan.

The dust has not settled on this development as of this morning. I will stick my neck out and say that the failure to hold the minimum rate will result in a one time loss for the SNB of close to $100B. That’s a huge amount of money. It comes to 20% of the Swiss GDP!

Most experts are calling this an extremely bad move by the Swiss National Bank.

But in the end, they may have had little choice.

The euro is falling apart, and the Swiss did not want to be married to it any longer.  Unfortunately, when any marriage ends the pain can be enormous.  The following comes from CNBC

How do you know you’re looking at a bad marriage?

Well if one or both of the spouses can’t wait to get out as soon as the smallest crack in the door opens, you have a pretty good clue.

Something like that just happened in Europe as we learned the real reason why so many traders were still invested in the euro: They had nowhere else to go.

As the Swiss National Bank unlocked the doors on its cap on trading euros for Swiss francs, the rush to exit the euro was faster than one of those French bullet trains.

But this move has not been bad for everyone.  In fact, for many of those that live in Switzerland but work in neighboring countries what happened on Thursday was very fortuitous

“I heard the news this morning. I’m so happy!” Vanessa, who refused to give her last name, told AFP outside of one of many mobbed exchange offices in Geneva.

She has reason to be extatic: she is one of some 280,000 people working in Switzerland but living and paying bills in eurozone countries France, Germany or Italy.

These so-called “frontaliers”, or border-crossers, are the biggest winners in Thursday’s Swiss franc surge, seeing their incomes jump 30 percent in the blink of an eye.

In normal times, things like this very rarely happen.

But in times of crisis, things can change very rapidly.  We are moving into a time of great volatility in global financial markets, and great volatility is often a sign that a great crash is coming.

This move by the Swiss National Bank is just the beginning.  Expect more desperate moves on the global economic chessboard in the days ahead.  But in the end, none of those moves is going to prevent what is coming.

And one of these days, another extremely important currency peg is going to end.  Right now, the Chinese have tied their currency very tightly to the U.S. dollar.  This has helped to artificially inflate the value of the dollar.  Unfortunately, as Robert Wenzel has noted, someday the Chinese could suddenly pull the rug out from under our currency, and that would be really bad news for us…

In other words, the SNB is no People’s Bank of China type patsy, where the PBOC has taken on massive amounts of dollar reserves to prop up the dollar.

Will the PBOC learn anything from SNB? If so, this will not be good for the US dollar.

So keep a close eye on what happens in Europe next.

It is going to be a preview of what is eventually coming to America.

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