The Beginning Of The End
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Will Italy Be The Spark That Sets Off Financial Armageddon In Europe?

Will Italy Be The Spark That Sets Off Financial Armageddon In EuropeIs the financial collapse of Italy going to be the final blow that breaks the back of Europe financially?  Most people don’t realize this, but Italy is actually the third largest debtor in the entire world after the United States and Japan.  Italy currently has a debt to GDP ratio of more than 120 percent, and Italy has a bigger national debt than anyone else in Europe does.  That is why it is such a big deal that Italian voters have just overwhelmingly rejected austerity.  The political parties led by anti-austerity candidates Silvio Berlusconi and Beppe Grillo did far better than anticipated.  When you combine their totals, they got more than 50 percent of the vote.  Italian voters have seen what austerity has done to Greece and Spain and they want no part of it.  Unfortunately for Italian voters, it has been the promise of austerity that has kept the Italian financial system stable in recent months.  Now that Italian voters have clearly rejected austerity, investors are fearing that austerity programs all over Europe may start falling apart.  This is creating quite a bit of panic in European financial markets right now.  On Tuesday, Italian stocks had their worst day in 10 months, Italian bond yields rose by the most that we have seen in 19 months, and the stocks of the two largest banks in Italy both fell by more than 8 percent.  Italy is already experiencing its fourth recession since 2001, and unemployment has been steadily rising.  If Italy is now “ungovernable”, as many are saying, then what does that mean for the future of Italy?  Will Italy be the spark that sets off financial armageddon in Europe?

All of Europe was totally shocked by the election results in Italy.  As you can see from the following excerpt from a Bloomberg article, the vote was very divided and the anti-austerity parties did much better than had been projected…

The results showed pre-election favorite Pier Luigi Bersani won the lower house with 29.5 percent, less than a half a percentage point ahead of Silvio Berlusconi, the ex-premier fighting a tax-fraud conviction. Beppe Grillo, a former comedian, got 25.6 percent, while Monti scored 10.6 percent. Bersani and his allies got 31.6 percent of votes in the Senate, compared with 30.7 percent for Berlusconi and 23.79 percent for Grillo, according to final figures from the Interior Ministry.

So what do those election results mean for Italy and for the rest of Europe?

Right now, there is a lot of panic about those results.  There is fear that what just happened in Italy could result in a rejection of austerity all over Europe

“I think the election results (or lack thereof) are a negative for the euro, which will likely keep the currency pressured for some time,” Omer Esiner, chief market analyst for Commonwealth Foreign Exchange, told me. But it’s not just the political uncertainty in Italy, he adds. “The shocking gains made by anti-establishment parties in Italy signal a broad-based frustration with austerity among voters and a decisive rejection of the policies pushed by Germany in nations across the euro zone’s periphery. That theme revives unresolved debt crisis issues and could threaten the continuity of reforms across other countries in the euro zone.”

And the financial markets have clearly interpreted the election results in Europe as a very bad sign.  Zero Hedge summarized some of the bad news out of Europe that we saw on Tuesday…

Swiss 2Y rates turned negative once again for the first time in a month; EURUSD relatively flatlined around 1.3050 (250 pips lower than pre-Italy); Europe’s VIX exploded to almost 26% (from under 19% yesterday); and 3-month EUR-USD basis swaps plunged to their most liquidity-demanding level since 12/28. Spain and Italy (and Portugal) were the most hurt in bonds today as 2Y Italian spreads broke back above 200bps (surging over 50bps casting doubt on OMT support) and 3Y Spain yields broke above 3% once again. The Italian equity market suffered its equal biggest drop in 6 months falling back to 10 week lows (and down 14% from its end-Jan highs). Italian bond yields (and spreads) smashed higher – the biggest jump in 19 months as BTP futures volume exploded in the last two days.

Not that things in Europe were going well before all this.

In fact, the UK was just stripped of its prized AAA credit rating.  That was huge news.

And check out some of the other things that have been going on in the rest of Europe

In Spain, a major real estate company, Reyal Urbis, collapsed last week, leaving already battered banks on the hook for millions of euros in losses. Meanwhile, the government faces a corruption scandal and a steady stream of anti-austerity demonstrations. Thousands of people took to the streets again on Saturday, protesting deep cuts to health and other services, as well as hefty bank bailouts.

Life is no better in a large swath of the broader EU. In Britain, Moody’s cited the continuing economic weakness and the resulting risks to the government’s tight fiscal policy for its rating cut. In Bulgaria, where the government fell last week and the economy is in a shambles, rightists who joined mass demonstrations across the country burned a European Union flag and waved anti-EU banners. Other austerity-minded governments in the EU face similar murky political futures.

At this point, Europe is a complete and total economic mess and things are rapidly getting worse.

And that is really bad news because Europe is already in the midst of a recession.  In fact, according to the BBC, the recession in the eurozone got even deeper during the fourth quarter of 2012…

The eurozone recession deepened in the final three months of 2012, official figures show.

The economy of the 17 nations in the euro shrank by 0.6% in the fourth quarter, which was worse than forecast.

It is the sharpest contraction since the beginning of 2009 and marks the first time the region failed to grow in any quarter during a calendar year.

But this is just the beginning.

The truth is that government debt is not even the greatest danger that Europe is facing.  In reality, a collapse of the European banking system is of much greater concern.

Why is that?

Well, how would you feel if you woke up someday and every penny that you had in the bank was gone?

In the U.S. we don’t have to worry about that so much because all deposits are insured by the FDIC, but in many European countries things work much differently.

For example, just check out what Graham Summers recently had to say about the banking system in Spain…

It’s a little known fact about the Spanish crisis is that when the Spanish Government merges troubled banks, it typically swaps out depositors’ savings for shares in the new bank.

So… when the newly formed bank goes bust, “poof” your savings are GONE. Not gone as in some Spanish version of the FDIC will eventually get you your money, but gone as in gone forever (see the above article for proof).

This is why Bankia’s collapse is so significant: in one move, former depositors at seven banks just lost virtually everything.

And this in a nutshell is Europe’s financial system today: a totally insolvent sewer of garbage debt, run by corrupt career politicians who have no clue how to fix it or their economies… and which results in a big fat ZERO for those who are nuts enough to invest in it.

Be warned. There are many many more Bankias coming to light in the coming months. So if you have not already taken steps to prepare for systemic failure, you NEED to do so NOW. We’re literally at most a few months, and very likely just a few weeks from Europe’s banks imploding, potentially taking down the financial system with them. Think I’m joking? The Fed is pumping hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars into EU banks right now trying to stop this from happening.

Like Graham Summers, I am extremely concerned about the European banking system.  Europe actually has a much larger banking system than the U.S. does, and if the European banking system implodes that is going to send huge shockwaves to the farthest corners of the globe.

But if you want to believe that the “experts” in Europe and in the United States have “everything under control”, then you might as well stop reading now.

After all, they are very highly educated and they know what they are doing, right?

But if you want to listen to some common sense, you might want to check out this very ominous warning from Karl Denninger

I hope you’re ready.

Congress has wasted the time it was given by the Europeans getting things “temporarily” under control.  But they didn’t actually get anything under control, as the Italian elections just showed.

Now, with the budget over there at risk of being abandoned, and fiscal restraint being abandoned (note: exactly what the US has been doing) the markets are recognizing exactly the risk that never in fact went away over the last couple of years.

It was hidden by lies, just as it has been hidden by lies here.

Bernanke’s machinations and other games “gave” the Congress four years to do the right thing.  They didn’t, because that same “gift” also destroyed all market signals of urgency.

As such you have people like Krugman and others claiming that it’s all ok and that we can spend with wild abandon, taking our fiscal medicine never.

They were wrong.  Congress was wrong.  The Republicans were wrong, the Democrats were wrong, and the Administration was wrong.

Congress is out of time; as I noted the deficit spending must stop now, irrespective of the fact that it will cause significant economic damage.

For the past couple of years, authorities in the U.S. and in Europe have been trying to delay the coming crisis by kicking the can down the road.

By doing so, they have been making the eventual collapse even worse.

And now time is running out.

I hope that you are ready.

Armageddon

Forsaken And Forgotten

America is becoming a very cold place.  If you don’t have money, you don’t really matter much in our society.  The ads on television aren’t for you – they are directed at people that actually have good jobs and that can afford to buy the nice little “extras” in life.  The politicians aren’t really interested in you either – they figure that they can buy your vote with all of the money that they are getting from the wealthy people.  When you don’t have money, even friends and relatives start to distance themselves from you.  Perhaps they are afraid that you will ask them for money or perhaps they are afraid that your “failure” will start to rub off on them.  When people know that you are struggling for money, the barriers immediately go up.  In the United States today, there are tens of millions of people that have been forsaken and forgotten.  They mostly stay at home (if they still have a home), and for most of them quiet desperation has become a way of life.  You won’t ever read much about them or see them appear much on television because nobody really cares too much about them.  As far as society is concerned, there are just way too many of them and they are a problem that “the government” should be able to handle anyway.  Sadly, the truth is that many communities all across America want absolutely nothing to do with those that can’t take care of themselves.  All over the country cities are passing laws making it illegal to feed the homeless, and in other instances cities are actually making it illegal to be homeless.  Unfortunately, this problem is not going away.  In fact, the number of Americans living in poverty increases with each passing day.  So where do we go from here?

These days, a lot of formerly middle class Americans are down on their luck and can’t even afford to buy enough food.  The following is from a recent Yahoo article….

Cheryl Preston knows that others are worse off. But she’s still hungry.

As grocery prices creep higher and her income sags, rationing her family’s food is a daily task. The 54-year-old mother of three and grandmother of three in Roanoke, Va., says there are days she skips meals so her husband and son can eat. If they notice, she says, she’ll let them think she’s fasting. She waters down the milk and juice to make it last longer. She visits food pantries, but it’s not enough.

Have you ever had to skip meals because you simply could not afford to buy enough food?

Have you ever wondered how you were going to make it to the next paycheck?

When you look into the eyes of your hungry children and you realize that your best efforts have not been good enough to provide what they need it can be absolutely soul crushing.

And when you have lost everything it quickly becomes apparent that most people in society simply do not care about you.

About a third of the country is already on some form of welfare.  Another family falling out of the middle class and into poverty is not going to cause anyone to sit up and take notice.

The middle class in America is being absolutely shredded.  In a recent article I wrote entitled “84 Statistics That Prove That The Decline Of The Middle Class Is Real And That It Is Getting Worse” I detailed this very clearly.  But most Americans don’t think about this very much because they are just focused on what is going on in their own little worlds.  If they still have their jobs and if their family and friends are still doing okay then they are likely to believe that everything is just fine.

But everything is not fine.

According to the Pew Research Center, 61 percent of all Americans were “middle income” back in 1971.

Today, only 51 percent of all Americans are “middle income”.

There aren’t enough good jobs in this country and there never will be enough good jobs ever again.

Those that are just entering the job market understand very clearly that there are not enough good jobs.

Of the recent college graduates that have been fortunate enough to actually get a job, about half of them have taken jobs that do not even require a college degree.

But at least if you have a job, even if it is really crappy, you still matter in this economy.

Many of those that are not working at all have been completely forsaken and forgotten.

Over the past year, approximately 1.3 million Americans have seen their extended unemployment benefits end.  Most of them are considered to have “dropped out of the labor force” even though they aren’t working, they don’t have any income coming in and they are very desperate.  They are told to go “get a job” in an economy that does not produce enough jobs for everyone.  The music stopped playing and they were left without a seat and nobody really cares too much.

But if you live in the good areas of New York City, Boston, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, San Francisco or Seattle this article might seem like complete nonsense to you.  After all, corporate profits are at an all-time high and the stores and malls where you live are packed with people.  Everyone around you is driving new cars, wearing designer clothes and using the latest tech gadgets.

But it is not like that everywhere in America.

There are two Americas today.  One is swimming in money and is seemingly more prosperous than ever.

The other America is a complete and total economic nightmare.

Just check out the percentage of blighted properties in some of America’s most run down cities….

Baltimore: 14 percent

Cleveland: 19 percent

Youngstown, Ohio: 21 percent

New Orleans: 21 percent

Detroit: 24 percent

Flint, Michigan: 27 percent

But those that are paying millions of dollars for dinky little apartments in New York City may be wondering what all the fuss is about.

Well, in the forgotten areas of America “despair” is what people experience on a good day.  Unemployment and government dependence are a way of life, and alcohol and drugs are used to dull the pain.  The following is from a recent article by Chris Hedges.  It describes what life is like in the little town of Gary, West Virginia….

Joe and I are sitting in the Tug River Health Clinic in Gary with a registered nurse who does not want her name used. The clinic handles federal and state black lung applications. It runs a program for those addicted to prescription pills. It also handles what in the local vernacular is known as “the crazy check” — payments obtained for mental illness from Medicaid or SSI — a vital source of income for those whose five years of welfare payments have run out. Doctors willing to diagnose a patient as mentally ill are important to economic survival.

“They come in and want to be diagnosed as soon as they can for the crazy check,” the nurse says. “They will insist to us they are crazy. They will tell us, ‘I know I’m not right.’ People here are very resigned. They will avoid working by being diagnosed as crazy.”

The reliance on government checks, and a vast array of painkillers and opiates, has turned towns like Gary into modern opium dens. The painkillers OxyContin, fentanyl — 80 times stronger than morphine — Lortab, as well as a wide variety of anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, are widely abused. Many top off their daily cocktail of painkillers at night with sleeping pills and muscle relaxants. And for fun, addicts, especially the young, hold “pharm parties,” in which they combine their pills in a bowl, scoop out handfuls of medication, swallow them, and wait to feel the result.

There are hundreds of small towns all over America today just like Gary that have been forsaken by society.  Most people in those towns are just “existing” and gave up all hope of a better life long ago.

Some of these stories are being told in a new documentary film called “American Winter”.  You can view the trailer for the film right here.  It is a very powerful 5 minutes and 41 seconds.

Sadly, the truth is that there really does not need to be so much suffering in America.

Did you know that Americans waste 165 billion dollars worth of food each year?

That could sure feed a lot of hungry people.

And the overwhelming greed that we see in society today is absolutely astounding.

For example, Yahoo recently profiled a hoarder who packed her home with $500,000 worth of “stuff” that she could not resist buying….

There are shoe closets, and then there are shoe rooms. Monte, a retired teacher in her fifties, had scattered $20,000 worth of footwear throughout six rooms in her home. Some were organized by color, but most lay in mountainous piles of clutter in her 4,000 square foot home outside Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Over a period of 10 years, she’d spent over $500,000 on clothing, accessories and home furnishings, all of which lay strewn across her kitchen, entryway and bedrooms, tags intact.

But far worse are the “Rich Kids of Instagram“.  It has apparently become trendy for wealthy kids to take pictures of themselves enjoying their outrageous wealth.  It truly is disgusting.

Meanwhile, most American families are really struggling to get by.  In fact, 77 percent of all Americans live paycheck to paycheck at least some of the time.

And jobless claims are rising again.  We are on the verge of another major economic crisis and that means that millions more Americans are going to lose their jobs and their homes.

If you think that things are bad now, just wait, because things are about to get a whole lot worse.

Don’t be afraid to reach out and help those that are hurting.  When things are the darkest, that is when heroes are needed the most.

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