The Beginning Of The End
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They Actually Expect Us To Have Faith In These Financial Markets After This Week?

NASDAQ MarketSite TV studio - Photo by Luis Villa del CampoWhat in the world is happening to our financial markets?  Trading on the Nasdaq was halted on Thursday for more than 3 hours, and the only formal explanation that we got was that it was a “technical issue”.  On Tuesday, Goldman Sachs made thousands of “erroneous trades” that are now being canceled.  If those trades had not been canceled, it could have cost Goldman “hundreds of millions of dollars” according to the Wall Street Journal.  How nice for them that they get a “do over”.  When Knight Capital made a similar “trading error”, they were not so fortunate.  Our financial system has become completely and totally dependent on computers, and that means that it is extremely vulnerable.  After what we have witnessed this week, how can they actually expect us to have faith in these financial markets?  And what happens if these “technical issues” get even worse?

The stoppage on the Nasdaq on Thursday was unprecedented.  Trading in literally thousands of stocks and options was halted.  Big names like Apple, Netflix, Intel and Facebook were affected.

As of right now, officials are not telling us what caused the “technical issue”, but there are rumblings that hacking was involved.

And the Nasdaq would hardly be the first exchange to be hacked.  In fact, according to NBC News, about half of all the security exchanges around the world were hacked last year.

USA Today is suggesting that a group of Iranian hackers known as “Cyber Fighters of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam” may be responsible for what happened to the Nasdaq.  Apparently they have been quite active since last September…

The first wave of denial-of-service attacks attributed to the Cyber Fighters of Izz ad-Din al-Qassam began last September and lasted about six weeks. Knocked offline for various periods of time were Wells Fargo, U.S. Bank, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase & Co. and PNC Bank.

The second wave commenced in December and lasted seven weeks, knocking out mid-tier banks and credit unions.

And a third wave of high-powered denial-of-service attacks commenced in March targeting credit card companies and financial brokerages.

But of course the Iranians have not been the only ones hacking financial institutions.  According to Gartner banking security analyst Avivah Litan, some “profit-minded hackers” have had quite a bit of success attacking U.S. banks…

More recently, a copycat group of profit-minded hackers has conducted denial-of-service attacks against certain U.S. banks as a smoke screen to divert attention while they execute an Ocean’s 11-style wire transfer fraud.

Litan earlier this month blogged about that caper. These bad guys, she says, set into motion sophisticated denial-of-service attacks that overwhelmed pretty sturdy bank network security. While tech staff labored manually to get the banks’ websites back into service, the crooks scrambled behind the scenes to extract funds from a bank employee’s privileged account, which they had gained access to.

Instead of getting into one customer account at a time, the criminals used the employee’s account to control the master payment switch for wire transfers, and moved as much money as they could from as many accounts as possible for as long as possible, Litan reports.

“Considerable financial damage has resulted from these attacks,” says Litan.

However, let’s certainly not blame all of the “technical issues” in the financial markets on hackers.  What happened to Goldman Sachs on Tuesday appears to be very much their own fault

A programming error at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. caused unintended stock-option orders to flood American exchanges this morning, roiling markets and shaking confidence in electronic trading infrastructure.

An internal system that Goldman Sachs uses to help prepare to meet market demand for equity options inadvertently produced orders with inaccurate price limits and sent them to exchanges, said a person familiar with the situation, who asked not to be named because the information is private. The size of the losses depends on which trades are canceled, the person said. Some have already been voided, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Of course if those trades had made hundreds of millions of dollars for Goldman they would have been allowed to stand.

But because Goldman was about to lose hundreds of millions of dollars authorities worked very rapidly to start “breaking” those trades.

This is just another example that shows how much of a joke our financial system has become.

Wall Street has become a massive computerized casino, and at some point this fraudulent house of cards is going to come crashing down hard.

The seeds for all of this were planted back in the late 1990s.  The Glass-Steagall Act was repealed and the big banks started to go hog wild.

And according to an absolutely shocking memo uncovered by investigative reporter Greg Palast, a certain U.S. Treasury official was at the heart of the plot to make this possible…

When a little birdie dropped the End Game memo through my window, its content was so explosive, so sick and plain evil, I just couldn’t believe it.

The Memo confirmed every conspiracy freak’s fantasy: that in the late 1990s, the top US Treasury officials secretly conspired with a small cabal of banker big-shots to rip apart financial regulation across the planet. When you see 26.3 percent unemployment in Spain, desperation and hunger in Greece, riots in Indonesia and Detroit in bankruptcy, go back to this End Game memo, the genesis of the blood and tears.

The Treasury official playing the bankers’ secret End Game was Larry Summers. Today, Summers is Barack Obama’s leading choice for Chairman of the US Federal Reserve, the world’s central bank.

If Summers and U.S. Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin had not been working so hard for the benefit of the big banks, we might not be facing a quadrillion dollar derivatives bubble today…

The year was 1997. US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin was pushing hard to de-regulate banks. That required, first, repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act to dismantle the barrier between commercial banks and investment banks. It was like replacing bank vaults with roulette wheels.

Second, the banks wanted the right to play a new high-risk game: “derivatives trading”. JP Morgan alone would soon carry $88 trillion of these pseudo-securities on its books as “assets”.

Deputy Treasury Secretary Summers (soon to replace Rubin as Secretary) body-blocked any attempt to control derivatives.

But what was the use of turning US banks into derivatives casinos if money would flee to nations with safer banking laws?

The answer conceived by the Big Bank Five: eliminate controls on banks in every nation on the planet — in one single move. It was as brilliant as it was insanely dangerous.

To learn more about how they used the WTO to transform the global financial system into a gigantic casino, head on over and read the rest of Palast’s outstanding article right here.

And you know what is truly frightening?

Larry Summers appears to be Barack Obama’s top choice to become the next chairman of the Federal Reserve.

That statement should send chills up your spine.

The truth is that Larry Summers should not even be running a Dairy Queen, much less the most powerful financial institution on the planet.

If Larry Summers becomes the next head of the Federal Reserve, it will be an unmitigated disaster.

But it looks like that is exactly what we are going to get.

We are rapidly heading toward the next major global financial crisis, and on top of everything else we will probably have Larry Summers running things soon.

What a nightmare.

The Coming Derivatives Panic That Will Destroy Global Financial Markets

When financial markets in the United States crash, so does the U.S. economy.  Just remember what happened back in 2008.  The financial markets crashed, the credit markets froze up, and suddenly the economy went into cardiac arrest.  Well, there are very few things that could cause the financial markets to crash harder or farther than a derivatives panic.  Sadly, most Americans don’t even understand what derivatives are.  Unlike stocks and bonds, a derivative is not an investment in anything real.  Rather, a derivative is a legal bet on the future value or performance of something else.  Just like you can go to Las Vegas and bet on who will win the football games this weekend, bankers on Wall Street make trillions of dollars of bets about how interest rates will perform in the future and about what credit instruments are likely to default.  Wall Street has been transformed into a gigantic casino where people are betting on just about anything that you can imagine.  This works fine as long as there are not any wild swings in the economy and risk is managed with strict discipline, but as we have seen, there have been times when derivatives have caused massive problems in recent years.  For example, do you know why the largest insurance company in the world, AIG, crashed back in 2008 and required a government bailout?  It was because of derivatives.  Bad derivatives trades also caused the failure of MF Global, and the 6 billion dollar loss that JPMorgan Chase recently suffered because of derivatives made headlines all over the globe.  But all of those incidents were just warm up acts for the coming derivatives panic that will destroy global financial markets.  The largest casino in the history of the world is going to go “bust” and the economic fallout from the financial crash that will happen as a result will be absolutely horrific.

There is a reason why Warren Buffett once referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  Nobody really knows the total value of all the derivatives that are floating around out there, but estimates place the notional value of the global derivatives market anywhere from 600 trillion dollars all the way up to 1.5 quadrillion dollars.

Keep in mind that global GDP is somewhere around 70 trillion dollars for an entire year.  So we are talking about an amount of money that is absolutely mind blowing.

So who is buying and selling all of these derivatives?

Well, would it surprise you to learn that it is mostly the biggest banks?

According to the federal government, four very large U.S. banks “represent 93% of the total banking industry notional amounts and 81% of industry net current credit exposure.”

These four banks have an overwhelming share of the derivatives market in the United States.  You might not be very fond of “the too big to fail banks“, but keep in mind that if a derivatives crisis were to cause them to crash and burn it would almost certainly cause the entire U.S. economy to crash and burn.  Just remember what we saw back in 2008.  What is coming is going to be even worse.

It would have been really nice if we had not allowed these banks to get so large and if we had not allowed them to make trillions of dollars of reckless bets.  But we stood aside and let it happen.  Now these banks are so important to our economic system that their destruction would also destroy the U.S. economy.  It is kind of like when cancer becomes so advanced that killing the cancer would also kill the patient.  That is essentially the situation that we are facing with these banks.

It would be hard to overstate the recklessness of these banks.  The numbers that you are about to see are absolutely jaw-dropping.  According to the Comptroller of the Currency, four of the largest U.S. banks are walking a tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to derivatives.  Just check out how exposed they are…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)

That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.

To get a better idea of the massive amounts of money that we are talking about, just check out this excellent infographic.

How in the world could we let this happen?

And what is our financial system going to look like when this pyramid of risk comes falling down?

Our politicians put in a few new rules for derivatives, but as usual they only made things even worse.

According to Nasdaq.com, beginning next year new regulations will require derivatives traders to put up trillions of dollars to satisfy new margin requirements.

Swaps that will be allowed to remain outside clearinghouses when new rules take effect in 2013 will require traders to post $1.7 trillion to $10.2 trillion in margin, according to a report by an industry group.

The analysis from the International Swaps and Derivatives Association, using data sent in anonymously by banks, says the trillions of dollars in cash or securities will be needed in the form of so-called “initial margin.” Margin is the collateral that traders need to put up to back their positions, and initial margin is money backing trades on day one, as opposed to variation margin posted over the life of a trade as it fluctuates in value.

So where in the world will all of this money come from?

Total U.S. GDP was just a shade over 15 trillion dollars last year.

Could these rules cause a sudden mass exodus that would destabilize the marketplace?

Let’s hope not.

But things are definitely changing.  According to Reuters, some of the big banks are actually urging their clients to avoid new U.S. rules by funneling trades through the overseas divisions of their banks…

Wall Street banks are looking to help offshore clients sidestep new U.S. rules designed to safeguard the world’s $640 trillion over-the-counter derivatives market, taking advantage of an exemption that risks undermining U.S. regulators’ efforts.

U.S. banks such as Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Goldman Sachs (GS.N) have been explaining to their foreign customers that they can for now avoid the new rules, due to take effect next month, by routing trades via the banks’ overseas units, according to industry sources and presentation materials obtained by Reuters.

Unfortunately, no matter how banks respond to the new rules, it isn’t going to prevent the coming derivatives panic.  At some point the music is going to stop and some big financial players are going to be completely and totally exposed.

When that happens, it might not be just the big banks that lose money.  Just take a look at what happened with MF Global.

MF Global has confessed that it “diverted money” from customer accounts that were supposed to be segregated.  A lot of customers may never get back any of the money that they invested with those crooks.  The following comes from a Huffington Post article about the MF Global debacle, and it might just be a preview of what other investors will go through in the future when a derivatives crash destroys the firms that they had their money parked with…

Last week when customers asked for excess cash from their accounts, MF Global stalled. According to a commodity fund manager I spoke with, MF Global’s first stall tactic was to claim it lost wire transfer instructions. Then instead of sending an overnight check, it sent the money snail mail, including checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars. The checks bounced. After the checks bounced, the amounts were still debited from customer accounts and no one at MF Global could or would reverse the check entries. The manager has had to intervene to get MF Global to correct this.

How would you respond if your investment account suddenly went to “zero” because the firm you were investing with “diverted” customer funds for company use and now you have no way of recovering your money?

Keep an eye on the large Wall Street banks.  In a previous article, I quoted a New York Times article entitled “A Secretive Banking Elite Rules Trading in Derivatives” which described how these banks dominate the trading of derivatives…

On the third Wednesday of every month, the nine members of an elite Wall Street society gather in Midtown Manhattan.

The men share a common goal: to protect the interests of big banks in the vast market for derivatives, one of the most profitable — and controversial — fields in finance. They also share a common secret: The details of their meetings, even their identities, have been strictly confidential.

According to the article, the following large banks are represented at these meetings: JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup.

When the casino finally goes “bust”, you will know who to blame.

Without a doubt, a derivatives panic is coming.

It will cause the financial markets to crash.

Several of the “too big to fail” banks will likely crash and burn and require bailouts.

As a result of all this, credit markets will become paralyzed by fear and freeze up.

Once again, we will see the U.S. economy go into cardiac arrest, only this time it will not be so easy to fix.

Do you agree with this analysis, or do you find it overly pessimistic?  Please feel free to post a comment with your thoughts below…

The 2 Billion Dollar Loss By JP Morgan Is Just A Preview Of The Coming Collapse Of The Derivatives Market

When news broke of a 2 billion dollar trading loss by JP Morgan, much of the financial world was absolutely stunned.  But the truth is that this is just the beginning.  This is just a very small preview of what is going to happen when we see the collapse of the worldwide derivatives market.  When most Americans think of Wall Street, they think of a bunch of stuffy bankers trading stocks and bonds.  But over the past couple of decades it has evolved into much more than that.  Today, Wall Street is the biggest casino in the entire world.  When the “too big to fail” banks make good bets, they can make a lot of money.  When they make bad bets, they can lose a lot of money, and that is exactly what just happened to JP Morgan.  Their Chief Investment Office made a series of trades which turned out horribly, and it resulted in a loss of over 2 billion dollars over the past 40 days.  But 2 billion dollars is small potatoes compared to the vast size of the global derivatives market.  It has been estimated that the the notional value of all the derivatives in the world is somewhere between 600 trillion dollars and 1.5 quadrillion dollars.  Nobody really knows the real amount, but when this derivatives bubble finally bursts there is not going to be nearly enough money on the entire planet to fix things.

Sadly, a lot of mainstream news reports are not even using the word “derivatives” when they discuss what just happened at JP Morgan.  This morning I listened carefully as one reporter described the 2 billion dollar loss as simply a “bad bet”.

And perhaps that is easier for the American people to understand.  JP Morgan made a series of really bad bets and during a conference call last night CEO Jamie Dimon admitted that the strategy was “flawed, complex, poorly reviewed, poorly executed and poorly monitored”.

The funny thing is that JP Morgan is considered to be much more “risk averse” than most other major Wall Street financial institutions are.

So if this kind of stuff is happening at JP Morgan, then what in the world is going on at some of these other places?

That is a really good question.

For those interested in the technical details of the 2 billion dollar loss, an article posted on CNBC described exactly how this loss happened….

The failed hedge likely involved a bet on the flattening of a credit derivative curve, part of the CDX family of investment grade credit indices, said two sources with knowledge of the industry, but not directly involved in the matter. JPMorgan was then caught by sharp moves at the long end of the bet, they said. The CDX index gives traders exposure to credit risk across a range of assets, and gets its value from a basket of individual credit derivatives.

In essence, JP Morgan made a series of bets which turned out very, very badly.  This loss was so huge that it even caused members of Congress to take note.  The following is from a statement that U.S. Senator Carl Levin issued a few hours after this news first broke….

“The enormous loss JPMorgan announced today is just the latest evidence that what banks call ‘hedges’ are often risky bets that so-called ‘too big to fail’ banks have no business making.”

Unfortunately, the losses from this trade may not be over yet.  In fact, if things go very, very badly the losses could end up being much larger as a recent Zero Hedge article detailed….

Simple: because it knew with 100% certainty that if things turn out very, very badly, that the taxpayer, via the Fed, would come to its rescue. Luckily, things turned out only 80% bad. Although it is not over yet: if credit spreads soar, assuming at $200 million DV01, and a 100 bps move, JPM could suffer a $20 billion loss when all is said and done. But hey: at least “net” is not “gross” and we know, just know, that the SEC will get involved and make sure something like this never happens again.

And yes, the SEC has announced an “investigation” into this 2 billion dollar loss.  But we all know that the SEC is basically useless.  In recent years SEC employees have become known more for watching pornography in their Washington D.C. offices than for regulating Wall Street.

But what has become abundantly clear is that Wall Street is completely incapable of policing itself.  This point was underscored in a recent commentary by Henry Blodget of Business Insider….

Wall Street can’t be trusted to manage—or even correctly assess—its own risks.

This is in part because, time and again, Wall Street has demonstrated that it doesn’t even KNOW what risks it is taking.

In short, Wall Street bankers are just a bunch of kids playing with dynamite.

There are two reasons for this, neither of which boil down to “stupidity.”

  • The first reason is that the gambling instruments the banks now use are mind-bogglingly complicated. Warren Buffett once described derivatives as “weapons of mass destruction.” And those weapons have gotten a lot more complex in the past few years.
  • The second reason is that Wall Street’s incentive structure is fundamentally flawed: Bankers get all of the upside for winning bets, and someone else—the government or shareholders—covers the downside.

The second reason is particularly insidious. The worst thing that can happen to a trader who blows a huge bet and demolishes his firm—literally the worst thing—is that he will get fired. Then he will immediately go get a job at a hedge fund and make more than he was making before he blew up the firm.

We never learned one of the basic lessons that we should have learned from the financial crisis of 2008.

Wall Street bankers take huge risks because the risk/reward ratio is all messed up.

If the bankers make huge bets and they win, then they win big.

If the bankers make huge bets and they lose, then the federal government uses taxpayer money to clean up the mess.

Under those kind of conditions, why not bet the farm?

Sadly, most Americans do not even know what derivatives are.

Most Americans have no idea that we are rapidly approaching a horrific derivatives crisis that is going to make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.

According to the Comptroller of the Currency, the “too big to fail” banks have exposure to derivatives that is absolutely mind blowing.  Just check out the following numbers from an official U.S. government report….

JPMorgan Chase – $70.1 Trillion

Citibank – $52.1 Trillion

Bank of America – $50.1 Trillion

Goldman Sachs – $44.2 Trillion

So a 2 billion dollar loss for JP Morgan is nothing compared to their total exposure of over 70 trillion dollars.

Overall, the 9 largest U.S. banks have a total of more than 200 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  That is approximately 3 times the size of the entire global economy.

It is hard for the average person on the street to begin to comprehend how immense this derivatives bubble is.

So let’s not make too much out of this 2 billion dollar loss by JP Morgan.

This is just chicken feed.

This is just a preview of coming attractions.

Soon enough the real problems with derivatives will begin, and when that happens it will shake the entire global financial system to the core.

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