Farewell Bernanke – Thanks For Inflating The Biggest Bond Bubble The World Has Ever Seen

Barack Obama And Ben BernankeFederal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke is on the way out the door, but the consequences of the bond bubble that he has helped to create will stay with us for a very, very long time.  During Bernanke’s tenure, interest rates on U.S. Treasuries have fallen to record lows.  This has enabled the U.S. government to pile up an extraordinary amount of debt.  During his tenure we have also seen mortgage rates fall to record lows.  All of this has helped to spur economic activity in the short-term, but what happens when interest rates start going back to normal?  If the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt rises to just 6 percent, the U.S. government will suddenly be paying out a trillion dollars a year just in interest on the national debt.  And remember, there have been times in the past when the average rate of interest on U.S. government debt has been much higher than that.  In addition, when the U.S. government starts having to pay more to borrow money so will everyone else.  What will that do to home sales and car sales?  And of course we all remember what happened to adjustable rate mortgages when interest rates started to rise just prior to the last recession.  We have gotten ourselves into a position where the U.S. economy simply cannot afford for interest rates to go up.  We have become addicted to the cheap money made available by a grossly distorted financial system, and we have Ben Bernanke to thank for that.  The Federal Reserve is at the very heart of the economic problems that we are facing in America, and this time is certainly no exception.

This week Barack Obama publicly praised Ben Bernanke and stated that Bernanke has “already stayed a lot longer than he wanted” as Chairman of the Federal Reserve.  Bernanke’s term ends on January 31st, but many observers believe that he could leave even sooner than that.  Bernanke appears to be tired of the job and eager to move on.

So who would replace him?  Well, the mainstream media is making it sound like the appointment of Janet Yellen is already a forgone conclusion.  She would be the first woman ever to chair the Federal Reserve, and her philosophy is that a little bit of inflation is good for an economy.  It seems likely that she would continue to take us down the path that Bernanke has taken us.

But is it a fundamentally sound path?  Keeping interest rates pressed to the floor and wildly printing money may be producing some positive results in the short-term, but the crazy bubble that this is creating will burst at some point.  In fact, the director of financial stability for the Bank of England, Andy Haldane, recently admitted that the central bankers have “intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history” and he warned about what might happen once it ends…

“If I were to single out what for me would be biggest risk to global financial stability right now it would be a disorderly reversion in the yields of government bonds globally.” he said. There had been “shades of that” in recent weeks as government bond yields have edged higher amid talk that central banks, particularly the US Federal Reserve, will start to reduce its stimulus.

“Let’s be clear. We’ve intentionally blown the biggest government bond bubble in history,” Haldane said. “We need to be vigilant to the consequences of that bubble deflating more quickly than [we] might otherwise have wanted.”

Posted below is a chart that demonstrates how interest rates on 10-year U.S. Treasury bonds have fallen over the last several decades.  This has helped to fuel the false prosperity that we have been enjoying, but there is no way that the U.S. government should have been able to borrow money so cheaply.  This bubble that we are living in now is setting the stage for a very, very painful adjustment…

Interest Rate On 10 Year U.S. Treasuries

So what will that “adjustment” look like?

The following analysis is from a recent article by Wolf Richter

Ten-year Treasury notes have been kicked down from their historic pedestal last July when some poor souls, blinded by the Fed’s halo of omnipotence and benevolence, bought them at a minuscule yield of 1.3%. For them, it’s been an ice-cold shower ever since. As Treasuries dropped, yields meandered upward in fits and starts. After a five-week jump from 1.88% in early May, they hit 2.29% on Tuesday last week – they’ve retreated to 2.19% since then. Now investors are wondering out loud what would happen if ten-year Treasury yields were to return to more normal levels of 4% or even 5%, dragging other long-term interest rates with them. They know what would happen: carnage!

And according to Richter, there are already signs that the bond bubble is beginning to burst…

Wholesale dumping of Treasuries by exasperated foreigners has already commenced. Private foreigners dumped $30.8 billion in Treasuries in April, an all-time record. Official holders got rid of $23.7 billion in long-term Treasury debt, the highest since November 2008, and $30.1 billion in short-term debt. Sell, sell, sell!

Bond fund redemptions spoke of fear and loathing: in the week ended June 12, investors yanked $14.5 billion out of Treasury bond funds, the second highest ever, beating the prior second-highest-ever outflow of $12.5 billion of the week before. They were inferior only to the October 2008 massacre as chaos descended upon financial markets. $27 billion in two weeks!

In lockstep, average 30-year fixed-rate mortgage rates jumped from 3.59% in early May to 4.15% last week. The mortgage refinancing bubble, by which banks have creamed off billions in fees, is imploding – the index has plunged 36% since early May.

If interest rates start to climb significantly, that will have a dramatic affect on economic activity in the United States.

And we have seen this pattern before.

As Robert Wenzel noted in a recent article on the Economic Policy Journal, we saw interest rates rise suddenly just prior to the October 1987 stock market crash, and we also saw them rise substantially prior to the financial crisis of 2008…

As Federal Reserve chairman Paul Volcker left the Fed chairmanship in August 1987, the interest rate on the 10 year note climbed from 8.2% to 9.2% between June 1987 and September 1987. This was followed, of course by the October 1987 stock market crash.

As Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan left the Fed chairmanship at the end of January 2006, the interest rate on the 10 year note climbed from 4.35% to 4.65%. It then climbed above 5%.

So keep a close eye on interest rates in the months ahead.  If they start to rise significantly, that will be a red flag.

And it makes perfect sense why Bernanke is looking to hand over the reins of the Fed at this point.  He can probably sense the carnage that is coming and he wants to get out of Dodge while he still can.

Should We Be Alarmed That The Biggest Bond Fund In The World Has Dumped All Of Their U.S. Treasury Bonds?

Bill Gross, the manager of the biggest bond fund in the world, has forgotten more about bonds than most of us will ever learn. That is why the big move that PIMCO has just made is so unsettling.  At one time PIMCO held more U.S. government debt than any other bond fund on the globe, but now news has come out that they have gotten rid of all their U.S. government-related securities.  So should we be alarmed?  For months Gross has been warning that the bull market in bonds is coming to an end, and now it looks like he is putting his words into action.s  Gross has often publicly decried the rampant government spending that has been going on over the last several years, and apparently he has seen enough.  He is taking his ball and he is going home.  This really is a stunning move by PIMCO.  Gross must really believe that something fundamental has shifted.    Gross didn’t get to where he is today by being stupid.  But so far world financial markets are taking this news in stride.  Nobody seems all that alarmed that the largest bond fund in the world has dumped all of their U.S. Treasuries.  But with world financial markets in such a state of chaos right now, shouldn’t we all take note when one of the biggest players in the game makes such a bold move?

Gross believes that interest rates on U.S. Treasuries are way too low right now and that they will start going up when the Federal Reserve ends the current round of quantitative easing in June.  Gross has indicated that if interest rates on U.S. Treasuries go up high enough, PIMCO might get back in.

But if interest rates do start going up that is going to make servicing the monolithic U.S. national debt much more expensive, and that would not be good news for U.S. government finances.

But would the Federal Reserve really allow interest rates on U.S. Treasuries to go up substantially?  Wouldn’t they just step in at some point and start buying U.S. government debt again?

Probably.

But the truth is that the Ponzi Scheme of the U.S. Treasury issuing bonds and the Federal Reserve buying them up cannot last forever as Gross noted in his March newsletter….

“Basically, the recent game plan is as simple as the Ohio State Buckeyes’ “three yards and a cloud of dust” in the 1960s. When applied to the Treasury market it translates to this: The Treasury issues bonds and the Fed buys them. What could be simpler, and who’s to worry? This Sammy Scheme as I’ve described it in recent Outlooks is as foolproof as Ponzi and Madoff until… until… well, until it isn’t.”

Gross also noted in his newsletter that the Federal Reserve is currently buying up about 70 percent of all new U.S. government debt.

So what is going to happen when that stops?

Nobody knows for certain, but it sure is going to be interesting to watch.

The market for U.S. Treasuries has not been working “normally” for quite some time now, and there is some legitimate doubt as to whether it will ever fully get back to “normal” again.

Meanwhile, the sovereign debt crisis in Europe continues to get even worse.

The yield on 10-year Portuguese bonds is now above 7 percent, the yield on 10-year Irish bonds is now above 9 percent and the yield on 10-year Greek bonds is now above 12 percent.

Most people expect European leaders to soon come to an agreement to add billions more to existing bailout funds, but there is no guarantee that is actually going to happen.

In fact, the Germans are making waves by insisting that the financially troubled nations in the EU must be willing to agree to limits on their future budget deficits.  A recent article on CNBC described the situation this way….

Before the Germans will agree to pump in extra cash from their taxpayers, backed by the French, they want each leader to agree to legislation at home that will limit the size of their future national deficits. The Greeks are already refusing point blank. Things may boil to the surface at an extraordinary summit on Friday.

So what if an agreement can’t be reached?

Could the dominoes in Europe start to fall?

Very few people actually want to see a wave of sovereign defaults in Europe, but the current situation cannot go on forever.  At some point the Germans are going to get sick and tired of bailing out other members of the EU.

The global addiction to debt is about to start having some very serious consequences.

For decades, most of the governments of the industrialized world have been running up debt as if it would never come back to haunt them.  Now the world is absolutely covered in red ink and everyone is looking for a way to solve the problem.

But there is not going to be a debt jubilee to come along and save everyone.  This debt bubble is either going to keep expanding or it is going to burst.

At one point, at least some of the debt-ridden nations will try to inflate their way out of debt by recklessly printing money.  To a certain extent that has already been going on.  But it will not work.  It will only cause a whole lot of inflation.

This is just more evidence that any economic system based on debt is destined to fall.  When we allowed a private central bank to start issuing debt-based currency in this country back in 1913 we set ourselves up to fail.  As I have written about previously, the Federal Reserve should never have been allowed to come into existence, and it should have been shut down by Congress long before now.

But now the United States is caught in the same debt trap that most of the other nations around the world are caught in.  The global addiction to debt is going to have some very, very serious consequences.  Instead of moving into a great time of peace and prosperity, everything is about to come falling apart.

Things could have been different.  Things did not have to turn out this way.  But here we are on the edge of one of the biggest financial disasters in human history and most Americans still don’t understand what is happening.

So what do you all think about all of this?  Please feel free to leave a comment with your opinion below….

10 Signs That Confidence In U.S. Treasuries Is Dying And That Financial Armageddon May Be Approaching

Selling government debt is a gigantic confidence game.  For decades, investors all over the globe have gobbled up massive amounts of U.S. debt at incredibly low interest rates because they believed that it was a certainly that they would be paid back and be able to make a little bit of profit on top of it.  Unfortunately, things have changed.  Confidence is U.S. Treasuries is dying, and if confidence in U.S. government debt completely collapses at some point we could literally be looking at financial Armageddon.  Why is that so?  Well, when the world totally loses faith in U.S. Treasuries, interest rates on U.S. Treasuries will have to keep going up until enough investors are found to buy them.  But much higher interest rates will mean much higher interest on the national debt and thus much higher federal budget deficits.  That will erode confidence in U.S. Treasuries even further.  In the end, a vicious cycle of eroding confidence and higher interest rates could ultimately lead to hyperinflation as the U.S. government and the Federal Reserve flood the system with endless amounts of paper money to try to keep the system solvent.

Faith in U.S. Treasury bonds is absolutely critical if the world financial system is going to continue to operate in a stable manner.  In the post-World War 2 era, U.S. Treasuries have been largely viewed as the absolutely safest investment out there.  So if there comes a point when the market for U.S. Treasuries completely collapses, it is going to cause unprecedented financial chaos.  The worldwide derivatives market, which is already highly unstable, would almost certainly implode.  Credit markets all over the globe would seize up.  Global trade would quickly grind to a standstill.

This isn’t going to happen overnight (hopefully).  Rather, the loss of confidence in U.S. Treasuries is something that is likely to take months or even years to play out.  But once that confidence is gone, it is not something that will be able to be rebuilt easily.

Think of it this way – once you drive a car off a cliff, is it easy to reconstruct it?

Of course not.

Well, that is where we are headed with U.S. Treasuries.

The Federal Reserve is flooding the system with new dollars, Barack Obama and the U.S. Congress seem poised to pass a new tax deal which does not include corresponding spending cuts which will cause U.S. government budget deficits to become even more bloated, and there is a tremendous lack of faith both in U.S. political leaders and in the Federal Reserve at this point.

The rest of the world is losing faith that the U.S. government is going to be able to handle all of the debt that it has accumulated.  We may be approaching a “tipping point” soon.

The following are 10 signs that confidence in U.S. Treasuries is dying….

#1 The financial community is extremely concerned that the tax deal that Barack Obama is pushing is going to dramatically increase U.S. government budget deficits over the next two years.  On Monday, Moody’s warned that if Barack Obama’s tax deal with the Republicans becomes law, it will increase the likelihood that Moody’s could soon be forced to slash the rating of U.S. government debt.

#2 Already there are signs that some bond investors are looking for the exits.  Last week, U.S. Treasuries suffered their largest  two day sell-off since the collapse of Lehman Brothers back in September 2008.

#3 The yield on 10-year Treasury bonds set a six-month high on Monday before pulling back a bit.  Most analysts believe that Treasury yields are going to push significantly higher in coming weeks.

#4 This trend of rising yields has been going on for a while.  In fact, yields on 10-year Treasury bonds have been steadily rising since October 7th.

#5 Even before the recent tax deal was announced there were already troubling signs regarding the growth of U.S. government debt.  The U.S. government budget deficit rose to $150.4 billion in November, which was the largest November budget deficit ever recorded.

#6 It is not just the new tax deal that has investors around the globe spooked.  The truth is that the rest of the globe reacted very negatively to the new round of quantitative easing that the Federal Reserve announced back in November.  The Federal Reserve is flooding the system with liquidity and the rest of the world is not amused.

#7 The American people have less faith in the Federal Reserve and in the financial system than at any other point in recent memory.  For example, a new Bloomberg National Poll has found that a majority of Americans now want the Federal Reserve to either be held more accountable or to be abolished entirely.

#8 Investors all over the globe are starting to wake up and realize that America’s debt problem is unsolvable.  David Bloom, the currency chief at HSBC, raised eyebrows when he recently stated that “if yields are rising because people think America’s fiscal situation is unsustainable, then its Armaggedon.”

#9 There is also a growing feeling among investors that the Federal Reserve simply does not care about the danger of inflation, and this is making bondholders very nervous.  Stephen Lewis of Monument Securities recently put it this way….

“There is a feeling that the Fed doesn’t care about inflation – in fact, wants more of it – and that is certainly not in the interest of bondholders.

#10 Over the next 12 months, the U.S. government is going to be rolling over trillions of dollars in debt along with all of the new borrowing that it is going to be doing. In fact, the U.S. government is somehow going to have to find a way to finance debt that is equivalent to 27.8 percent of GDP in 2011.

For years our politicians have told us that “deficits don’t matter”, but the truth is that they do matter.  The national debt of the United States is now the biggest debt in the history of the world by far, and yet most Americans do not seem to grasp the absolute financial horror that we are facing as a nation.

In the end, debt is always painful.  It can be a lot of fun to run out and buy a beautiful new house, a couple of brand new cars and to run your credit cards up to the max, but eventually it catches up with you.  Well, the same thing is now happening to us on a national level.

We are getting to the point where eventually we are not even going to be able to service the debt that we have already piled up.  Once that happens we can either declare national bankruptcy or we can try to hyperinflate our way out of trouble.

Meanwhile, the once great U.S. economic machine is dying as well.  The only reason we have been able to survive with all of this debt as long as we have is because of how powerful our economy has been.

But over the past couple of decades, the big global corporations that now dominate our economy have shipped thousands of factories and millions of jobs overseas.

The mighty economic machine which is supposed to provide funds to pay off all of this debt is being dismantled right in front of our eyes.

There was no way in the world that U.S. government debt was going to be sustainable even if our economy remained vibrant and healthy.  The sad truth is that U.S. government debt is approximately 13 times larger than it was just 30 years ago.

But now that the “real economy” is dying a savage death there is simply no hope that this thing is ever going to turn around.  The only thing left to do is to take bets on when the implosion is going to happen.

All of this “great tax cut debate” nonsense going on in Washington D.C. right now is just a bunch of incompetent politicians running around rearranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.  Perhaps these tax cuts will provide enough of a short-term economic boost to get many of them re-elected in 2012.  Meanwhile, our long-term economic problems continue to get a lot worse.

It has become quite obvious that Barack Obama is completely clueless about the economy, and what is even sadder is that the “highly educated” Chairman of the Federal Reserve, Ben Bernanke, seems almost equally as clueless.

Unfortunately, Americans have become so dumbed-down that they don’t even realize that their leaders are incompetent.  In fact, as sad as it is to say, most Americans you will meet on the street probably cannot even tell you what U.S. Treasuries are.

Let us hope and pray that investors around the globe continue to have at least some confidence in U.S. Treasuries for at least a little while longer.  When “financial Armageddon” finally does happen, it isn’t going to be pleasant for any of us.

So enjoy these happy economic times while you still have them, because at some point things are going to get a whole lot worse.

Another Way That The Federal Reserve Makes Massive Gobs Of Money For The Big Banks

When most people discuss how the Federal Reserve benefits the big banks, they usually only focus on the ways that the Federal Reserve directly brings in income.  But there is so much more to it than that.  The truth is that the Federal Reserve is used in a whole variety of ways to indirectly assist the big banks in making huge gobs of money.  One of the ways this is currently being accomplished is through the U.S. Treasury carry trade.

So how does this carry trade work?

Well, it basically has three steps and it works something like this….

#1) Mr. Big Bank goes over to the Federal Reserve and says, “Hey Mr. Federal Reserve – please loan me a big bag of cash for next to nothing.”  Of course, the Federal Reserve is more than happy to loan it to him.

#2) Mr. Big Bank then invests the same big bag of cash into U.S. Tresuries which have a much higher interest rate than what Mr. Big Bank just borrowed at.  To give  you an idea, 10-year U.S. Treasuries are earning around 3 and a half percent right now.

#3) Mr. Big Bank sits back and enjoys the huge amount of risk-free cash which comes pouring in.

This little three step procedure helped enable four of the biggest U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Citigroup) to have a “perfect quarter” during the first quarter of 2010.  What that means is that these four banks had zero days of trading losses in the first quarter.

Wouldn’t you like to have a perfect batting average?

Don’t you wish you could pitch a perfect game every time?

Well, it certainly helps when you are being subsidized by the Federal Reserve as Bloomberg recently explained….

The trading results, which helped the banks report higher quarterly profit than analysts estimated even as unemployment stagnated at a 27-year high, came with a big assist from the Federal Reserve. The U.S. central bank helped lenders by holding short-term borrowing costs near zero, giving them a chance to profit by carrying even 10-year government notes that yielded an average of 3.70 percent last quarter.

Doesn’t it just seem like whenever we turn around the Federal Reserve is doing something new to “help out” the big banks?

This is just getting ridiculous.

Remember all of that talk about how the U.S. government had to help out Wall Street so that they could help out Main Street?

Well, a ton of money did get injected into the banking system.

In fact, the Federal Reserve pumped hundreds upon hundreds of billions of dollars into the banking system since the beginning of the financial crisis.  This has caused the U.S. monetary base to explode….

So did the big banks use all of that money to help out Main Street?

No.

In fact, business lending by the big banks has been falling precipitously.

So what have the big banks been doing with all of that money?

Buying U.S. government debt of course….

So instead of making loans to American businesses who desperately needed it, most of this new money has gone to pump up yet another bubble.  This time the bubble is in U.S. Treasuries.  Asia Times recently described how this trillion-dollar carry trade in U.S. government securities is setting up a very dangerous situation….

Remarkably, the most aggressive buyers of US government debt during the past several months have been global banks domiciled in London and the Cayman Islands. They borrow at 20 basis points (a fifth of a percentage point) and buy Treasury securities paying 1% to 3%, depending on maturity.

This is the famous “carry trade”, by which banks or hedge funds borrow short-term at a very low rate and lend medium- or long-term at a higher rate. This works as long as short-term rates remain extremely low. The moment that borrowing costs begin to rise, the trillion-dollar carry trade in US government securities will collapse.

But as long as the gravy train of the U.S. Treasury carry trade continues, why should the big banks make risky loans to American businesses and consumers when increasing numbers of them are turning out to be deadbeats anyway?

That is a good question.

Meanwhile, we have this sick situation where the Federal Reserve subsidizes the big banks and enables them to buy up a big chunk of the debt the U.S. government is constantly churning out.

Our national banking resources are increasingly being turned away from building up our once great system of free enterprise, and instead are being devoted to servicing the never ending spiral of government debt and funny money that we have created.

But a bunch of folks down on Wall Street are getting exceedingly rich from this little game, so they certainly aren’t going to complain about it.  And as long as the vast majority of Americans continue to stay in the dark about all of this, the bouncing ball will just continue to keep rolling.

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