Goldman Sachs And The Big Hedge Funds Are Pushing Leverage To Ridiculous Extremes

Goldman Sachs And The Big Hedge Funds Are Pushing Leverage To Ridiculous Extremes - Photo by bfishadow on FlickrAs stocks have risen in recent years, the big hedge funds and the “too big to fail” banks have used borrowed money to make absolutely enormous profits.  But when you use debt to potentially multiply your profits, you also create the possibility that your losses will be multiplied if the markets turn against you.  When the next stock market crash happens, and the gigantic pyramid of risk, debt and leverage on Wall Street comes tumbling down, will highly leveraged banks such as Goldman Sachs ask the federal government to bail them out?  The use of leverage is one of the greatest threats to our financial system, and yet most Americans do not even really understand what it is.  The following is a basic definition of leverage from Investopedia: “The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.”  Leverage allows firms to make much larger bets in the financial markets than they otherwise would be able to, and at this point Goldman Sachs and the big hedge funds are pushing leverage to ridiculous extremes.  When the financial markets go up and they win on those bets, they can win very big.  For example, revenues at Goldman Sachs increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and Goldman stock has soared by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months.  Those are eye-popping numbers.  But leverage is a double-edged sword.  When the markets turn, Goldman Sachs and many of these large hedge funds could be facing astronomical losses.

Sadly, it appears that Wall Street did not learn any lessons from the financial crisis of 2008.  Hedge funds have ramped up leverage to levels not seen since before the last stock market crash.  The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article entitled “Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year“…

Hedge funds are borrowing more to buy equities just as loans by New York Stock Exchange brokers reach the highest in four years, signs of increasing confidence after professional investors trailed the market since 2008.

Leverage among managers who speculate on rising and falling shares climbed to the highest level to start any year since at least 2004, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. Margin debt at NYSE firms rose in November to the most since February 2008, data from NYSE Euronext show.

So why is this so important?

Well, as a recent Zero Hedge article explained, even a relatively small drop in stock prices could potentially absolutely devastate many hedge funds…

What near record leverage means is that hedge funds have absolutely zero tolerance for even the smallest drop in prices, which are priced to absolute and endless central bank-intervention perfection – sorry, fundamentals in a time when global GDP growth is declining, when Europe and Japan are in a double dip recession, when the US is expected to report its first sub 1% GDP quarter in years, when corporate revenues and EPS are declining just don’t lead to soaring stock prices.

It also means that with virtually all hedge funds in such hedge fund hotel names as AAPL (the stock held by more hedge funds – over 230 – than any other), any major drop in the price would likely lead to a wipe out of the equity tranche at the bulk of AAPL “investors”, sending them scrambling to beg for either more LP generosity, or to have their prime broker repo desk offer them even more debt. And while the former is a non-starter, the latter has so far worked, which means that most hedge funds have been masking losses with more debt, which then suffers even more losses, and so on.

By the way, Apple (AAPL) just fell to an 11-month low.  Apple stock has now declined by 26 percent since it hit a record high back in September.  That is a very bad sign for hedge funds.

But hedge funds are not the only ones flirting with disaster.  In a previous article about the derivatives bubble, I pointed out the ridiculous amount of derivatives exposure that some of these “too big to fail” banks have relative to their total assets…

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)

Take another look at those figures for Goldman Sachs.  If you do the math, Goldman Sachs has total exposure to derivatives contracts that is more than 362 times greater than their total assets.

That is utter insanity, but we haven’t had a derivatives crash yet so everyone just keeps pretending that the emperor actually has clothes on.

When the derivatives crisis happens, things in the financial markets are going to fall apart at lightning speed.  A recent article posted on goldsilverworlds.com explained what a derivatives crash may look like…

When one big bank faces some kind of trouble and fails, the banks with the largest exposure to derivates (think JP Morgan, Citygroup, Goldman Sachs) will realize that the bank on the other side of the derivatives trade (the counterparty) is no longer good for their obligation. All of a sudden the hedged position becomes a naked position. The net position becomes a gross position. The risk explodes instantaneously. Markets realize that their hedged positions are in reality not hedged anymore, and all market participants start bailing almost simultaneously. The whole banking and financial system freezes up. It might start in Asia or Europe, in which case Americans will wake up in the morning to find out that their markets are  not functioning anymore; stock markets remain closed, money at the banks become inaccessible, etc.

But for now, the party continues.  Goldman Sachs and many of the big hedge funds are making enormous piles of money.

In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Goldman Sachs recently gave some of their top executives 65 million dollars worth of restricted stock…

Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -0.76% handed insiders including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock just hours before this year’s higher tax rates took effect.

The New York securities firm gave 10 of its directors and executives early vesting on 508,104 shares previously awarded as part of prior years’ compensation, according to a series of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Monday.

And the bonuses that employees at Goldman receive are absolutely obscene.  A recent Daily Mail article explained that Goldman employees in the UK are expected to receive record-setting bonuses this year…

Britain’s army of bankers will re-ignite public fury over lavish pay rewards as staff at Goldman Sachs are expected to reward themselves £8.3 billion in bonuses on Wednesday.

The American investment bank, which employs 5,500 staff in the UK, will be the first to unveil its telephone number-sized rewards – an average of £250,000 a person – as part of the latest round of bonus updates.

The increase, up from £230,000 last year, comes as British families are still struggling to make ends meet five years after banks brought the economy to the brink of meltdown.

Wouldn’t you like to get a “bonus” like that?

Life is good at these firms while the markets are going up.

But what happens when the party ends?

What happens if the markets crash in 2013?

When you bet big, you either win big or you lose big.

For now, the gigantic bets that Wall Street firms are making with borrowed money are paying off very nicely.

But a day of reckoning is coming.  The next stock market crash is going to rip through Wall Street like a chainsaw and the carnage is going to be unprecedented.

Are you sure that the people holding your money will be able to make it through what is ahead?  You might want to look into it while you still can.

Goldman Sachs New World Headquarters

Warnings That A Massive Stock Market Crash Is Imminent

In the financial world, the month of October is synonymous with stock market crashes.  So will a massive stock market crash happen this year?  You never know. The truth is that our financial system is even more vulnerable than it was back in 2008, and financial experts such as Doug Short, Peter Schiff, Robert Wiedemer and Harry Dent are all warning that the next crash is rapidly approaching.  We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world and Wall Street has been transformed into a giant casino that is based on a massive web of debt, risk and leverage.  When that web breaks we are going to see a stock market crash that is going to make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.  Yes, the Federal Reserve has tried to prevent any problems from erupting in the financial markets by initiating another round of quantitative easing, but 40 billion dollars a month will not be nearly enough to stop the massive collapse that is coming.  This will be explained in detail toward the end of the article.  Hopefully we will get through October (and the rest of this year) without seeing a stock market collapse, but without a doubt one is coming at some point.  Those on the wrong end of the coming crash are going to be absolutely wiped out.

A lot of people focus on the month of October because of the history of stock market crashes in this month.  This history was detailed in a recent USA Today article….

When it comes to wealth suddenly disappearing, October can be diabolically frightful. The stock market crash of 1929 that led to the Great Depression occurred in October. So did the 22.6% plunge suffered by the Dow Jones industrial average in 1987 on “Black Monday.”

The scariest 19-day span during the 2008 financial crisis also went down in October, when the Dow plunged 2,675 points after investors fearing a financial collapse went on a panic-driven stock-selling spree that resulted in five of the 10 biggest daily point drops in the iconic Dow’s 123-year history.

So what will we see this year?

Only time will tell.

If a stock market crash does not happen this month or by the end of this year, that does not mean that the experts that are predicting a stock market crash are wrong.

It just means that they were early.

As I have said so many times, there are thousands upon thousands of moving parts in the global financial system.  So that makes it nearly impossible to predict the timing of events with perfect precision.  Financial conditions are constantly shifting and changing.

But without a doubt another major financial collapse similar to what happened back in 2008 (or even worse) is on the way.  Let’s take a look at some of the financial experts that are predicting really bad things for our financial markets in the months ahead….

Doug Short

According to Doug Short, the vice president of research at Advisor Perspectives, the stock market is somewhere between 33% and 51% overvalued at this point.  In a recent article he offered the following evidence to support his position….

● The Crestmont Research P/E Ratio (more)

● The cyclical P/E ratio using the trailing 10-year earnings as the divisor (more)

● The Q Ratio, which is the total price of the market divided by its replacement cost (more)

● The relationship of the S&P Composite price to a regression trendline (more)

Peter Schiff

Peter Schiff, the CEO of Euro Pacific Capital, has been one of the leading voices in the financial community warning people about the crisis that is coming.

During a recent interview with Fox Business, Schiff stated that the massive financial collapse that we witnessed back in 2008 “wasn’t the real crash” and he boldly declared that the “real crash is coming”.

So is Schiff right?

We shall see.

Robert Wiedemer

Economist Robert Wiedemer warned people what was coming before the crash of 2008, and now he is warning that what is coming next is going to be even worse….

“The data is clear, 50% unemployment, a 90% stock market drop, and 100% annual inflation . . . starting in 2012.”

Harry Dent

Financial author Harry Dent believes that the stock market could fall by as much as 60 percent in the coming months.  He is convinced that stocks are hugely overvalued right now….

“We have the greatest debt bubble in history. We will see a worldwide downturn. And when you are in this type of recessionary environment stocks should be trading at five to seven times earnings.”

So are these guys right?

We shall see.

But I do find it interesting that some of the biggest names in the financial world are currently making moves as if they also believe that a massive financial crisis is coming.

For example, as I have written about previously, George Soros has dumped all of his holdings in banking giants JP Morgan, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

Infamous billionaire hedge fund manager John Paulson, the man who made somewhere around 20 billion dollars betting against the U.S. housing market during the last financial crisis, is making massive bets against the euro right now.

So where are these financial titans putting their money?

According to the Telegraph, both of these men are pouring enormous amounts of money into gold….

There was also news last week in an SEC filing that both George Soros and John Paulson had increased their investment in SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest publicly traded physical gold exchange traded fund (ETF).

Mr Soros upped his stake in the ETF to 884,400 shares from 319,550 and Mr Paulson bought 4.53m shares, bringing his stake to 21.3m.

At the current price of about $156 a share, these are new investments of about $88m of Mr Soros’ cash and more than $700m from Mr Paulson’s funds. These are significant positions.

So why would they do this?

Why would they pour millions upon millions of dollars into gold?

Well, it would make perfect sense to put so much money into gold if a massive financial crisis was coming.

So is the next financial crisis imminent?

We will see.

Most “financial analysts” that appear in the mainstream media would laugh at the notion that a stock market crash is imminent.

Most of them would insist that everything is going to be perfectly fine for the foreseeable future.

In fact, most of them are convinced that quantitative easing is going to cause stocks to go even higher.

After all, isn’t quantitative easing supposed to be good for stocks?

Didn’t I write an article just last month that detailed how quantitative easing drives up stock prices?

Yes I did.

So how can I be writing now about the possibility of a stock market crash?

Aren’t I contradicting myself?

Not at all.

Let me explain.

The first two rounds of quantitative easing did indeed drive up stock prices.  The same thing will happen under QE3, unless the effects of QE3 are overwhelmed by a major crisis.

For example, if we were to see a total collapse of the derivatives market it would render QE3 totally meaningless.

Estimates of the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market range from 600 trillion dollars all the way up to 1.5 quadrillion dollars.  Nobody knows for sure how large the market for derivatives is, but everyone agrees that it is absolutely massive.

When we are talking about amounts that large, the $40 billion being pumped into the financial system each month by the Federal Reserve during QE3 would essentially be the equivalent of spitting into Niagara Falls.  It would make no difference at all.

Most Americans do not understand what “derivatives” are, so they kind of tune out when people start talking about them.

But they are very important to understand.

Essentially, derivatives are “side bets”.  When you buy a derivative, you are not investing in anything.  You are just gambling that something will or will not happen.

I explained this more completely in a previous article entitled “The Coming Derivatives Crisis That Could Destroy The Entire Global Financial System“….

A derivative has no underlying value of its own.  A derivative is essentially a side bet.  Usually these side bets are highly leveraged.

At this point, making side bets has totally gotten out of control in the financial world.  Side bets are being made on just about anything you can possibly imagine, and the major Wall Street banks are making a ton of money from it.  This system is almost entirely unregulated and it is totally dominated by the big international banks.

Over the past couple of decades, the derivatives market has multiplied in size.  Everything is going to be fine as long as the system stays in balance.  But once it gets out of balance we could witness a string of financial crashes that no government on earth will be able to fix.

Five very large U.S. banks (including Goldman Sachs, JP Morgan and Bank of America) have combined exposure to derivatives in excess of 250 trillion dollars.

Keep in mind that U.S. GDP for 2011 was only about 15 trillion dollars.

So we are talking about an amount of money that is almost inconceivable.

That is why I cannot talk about derivatives enough.  In fact, I apologize to my readers for not writing about them more.

If you want to understand the coming financial collapse, one of the keys is to understand derivatives.  Our entire financial system has been transformed into a giant casino, and at some point all of this gambling is going to cause a horrible crash.

Do you remember the billions of dollars that JP Morgan announced that they lost a while back?  Well, that was caused by derivatives trades gone bad.  In fact, they are still not totally out of those trades and they are going to end up losing a whole lot more money than they originally anticipated.

Sadly, that was just the tip of the iceberg.  Much, much worse is coming.  When you hear of a major “derivatives crisis” in the news, you better run for cover because it is likely that the entire house of cards is about to start falling.

And don’t get too caught up in the exact timing of predictions.

If a stock market crash does not happen this month, don’t think that the storm has passed.

A major financial crisis is coming.  It might not happen this week, this month or even this year, but without a doubt it is approaching.

And when it arrives it is going to be immensely painful and it is going to change all of our lives.

I hope you are ready for that.

Is There Going To Be A Stock Market Crash In The Fall?

Is the stock market going to crash by the end of this year?  Are we on the verge of major financial chaos on a global scale? Well, this is the time of the year when investors start getting nervous.  We all remember what happened during the fall of 1929, the fall of 1987 and the fall of 2008.  However, it is important to keep in mind that we do not see a stock market crash in the fall of every year.  Some years the stock market cruises through the months of September, October, November and December without any problems whatsoever.  But this year conditions certainly seem to be right for a “perfect storm” to develop.  Technical indicators are screaming that a stock market decline is imminent and sources in the financial industry all over the world are warning that a massive crisis is on the way.  What you are about to read should alarm you.  But it is not a guarantee that anything will or will not happen.  When Ben Bernanke gives his speech at the Jackson Hole summit on Friday he could announce to the rest of the world that the Federal Reserve has decided to launch QE3 and that the Fed will be printing up trillions of new dollars.  If that happened global financial markets would leap for joy.  So it is always a dangerous thing when anyone out there tries to tell you that they can “guarantee” what is about to happen in the financial world.  There are just so many moving parts.  But if we do not see major intervention by the governments of the world or by global central banks a major financial crisis could rapidly develop this fall.  The conditions are certainly right for a stock market collapse, and we could easily see a repeat of what happened back in 2008.

The truth is that the second half of 2012 looks a little bit more like the second half of 2008 with each passing day.

Just check out what Bob Janjuah of Nomura Securities has been saying….

Based on the reasons set out earlier and also covered in my two prior notes, over the August to November period I am looking for the S&P500 to trade off down from around 1400 to 1100/1000 – in other words, I expect over the next four months to see global equity markets fall by 20% to 25% from current levels and to trade at or below the lows of 2011! US equity markets, along with parts of the EM spectrum, will I think underperform eurozone equity markets, where already very little hope resides.

Others are issuing similar warnings.  For example, the following is what a couple of Bank of America analysts said in a report the other day….

Our strategists see an unusually high number of macro catalysts over the next 3-6 months that could take markets lower. We expect economic growth to disappoint in the second half of the year in anticipation of the fiscal cliff. This would exacerbate any slowdown from the deepening recession in Europe and decelerating growth in emerging markets. There is also the ongoing tension in the Middle East, the potential for a US credit downgrade and accelerating downward analyst estimate revisions. To top it off, September is seasonally the weakest month of the year for stock price returns.

There has been an unusual amount of chatter in the financial world about the September to December time frame.

That could mean something or it could mean nothing.

But is is very interesting to watch what some top financial insiders are doing with their stocks right now.

Dennis Gartman, the publisher of the Gartman Leter, has dumped all of his stocks at this point.

As I have written about previously, George Soros has dumped all of his stock in banking giants JP Morgan, Citigroup and Goldman Sachs.

Are they just being paranoid?

Or do they know something that we do not?

If you are looking for the next “Lehman Brothers moment” in the United States, you might want to watch Morgan Stanley.  Morgan Stanley was heavily involved in the Facebook IPO disaster, earlier this year their credit rating was downgraded, and now there are persistent rumors that Morgan Stanley is in big trouble and that it will be allowed to fail.  You can check out some of these rumors for yourself here, here and here.

But of course as I have said all along the center of the coming crisis is going to be in Europe, and many analysts agree with me.  For example, the following is what the chairman of Casey Research, Doug Casey, had to say during a recent interview….

Europe is a full cycle ahead of the U.S. Its governments and its banks are both bankrupt. It’s a couple of drunks standing on the street corner holding each other up at this point. Europe is in much worse shape than the U.S. It’s highly regulated, highly taxed and much more socially unstable.

Europe is going to be the epicenter of the coming storm. Japan is waiting in the wings, as is China. This is going to be a worldwide phenomenon. Of course, the U.S. will be in it, too. We’re going to see this all over the world.

Much of southern Europe is already experiencing depression-like conditions.  Unemployment in both Greece and Spain is well above 20 percent and both economies are steadily shrinking.

Money is flowing out of Spanish banks at an unprecedented rate right now.  Just take a look at these charts.  The only thing that is going to keep the Spanish banking system from totally collapsing is outside intervention.

But the truth is that all of Europe is in big trouble.  Even German companies are slashing job right now. For example, check out what Siemens is up to….

German engineering conglomerate Siemens (SIEGn.DE) is in early internal talks to cut thousands of jobs in response to a weakening economy, particularly in Europe, a German newspaper reported.

Decisions could be made in October or November, according to daily Boersen-Zeitung, which did not specify its sources.

A Siemens spokesman declined to comment.

We are living in the greatest debt bubble in the history of the world, and at some point that bubble is going to burst in a very messy way.

It is vital that people understand that our system is not even close to sustainable.

Knowing exactly when it will collapse is not nearly as important as understanding that a collapse is absolutely inevitable.

I think what former World Bank economist Richard Duncan had to say recently is very helpful….

“The explosion in credit drove economic growth in the U.S. and around the world, and now that’s the only thing that’s keeping us from collapsing in a debt/deflation spiral,” he said. “[What] I think everybody needs to understand is that the kind of economy that we have now, it’s not capitalism. It has very little in common with capitalism. Capitalism was an economic system in which the government played very little role …. Under capitalism, gold was money and the government had nothing to do with it. Now the central bank creates the money and manipulates its value.”

And he is very right.

We aren’t seeing a failure of capitalism.

What we are witnessing is the failure of debt-based central banking.

And if you think that the global elite are not aware of what is happening then you have not been paying attention.

This summer the global elite have been preparing very hard.  Either they are getting very paranoid or they know things that we do not.

If you want to catch up on what the global elite have been up to recently, check out these three articles that I have published previously….

-“Are The Government And The Big Banks Quietly Preparing For An Imminent Financial Collapse?

-“Startling Evidence That Central Banks And Wall Street Insiders Are Rapidly Preparing For Something BIG

-“Jacob Rothschild, John Paulson And George Soros Are All Betting That Financial Disaster Is Coming

If you are waiting for the nightly news to tell you what to do, then you have not learned anything.

Did anyone in the mainstream media warn you about what was about to happen back in 2008?

Of course not.

The “authorities” insisted that everything was going to be just fine and many average Americans were absolutely wiped out.

So don’t expect someone to come along and nicely inform you that your retirement savings are about to be absolutely devastated.

In this day and age it is absolutely critical for people to learn to think for themselves.

Barack Obama is not going to save you.

Mitt Romney is not going to save you.

The U.S. Congress is not going to save you.  They are too busy living the high life at taxpayer expense.

The system is not looking out for you.  Nobody is really going to care if your financial planning gets turned upside down.  This is a cold, cruel world and you need to understand how the game is played.  The financial insiders are looking out for themselves and most of them usually are able to avoid financial disaster.

Average folks like you and I are normally not so fortunate.

There are lots of warning signs that indicate that this fall could be a very turbulent time for global financial markets.

Ignore them at your own peril.

8 Economic Threats That We Were Not Even Talking About At The Beginning Of The Summer

In the crazy times in which we live, it helps to expect the unexpected.  Sometimes you can think that you have it all figured out and then this world can throw a real curveball at you. Very few people anticipated that we would see a massive outbreak of the West Nile Virus in Texas this year or that the Mississippi River would be in danger of drying up after experiencing historic flooding last year.  Who would have thought that we would see the worst drought in more than 50 years or that horrific wildfires would burn nearly 7 million acres of land?  This is why economic conditions are always so hard to predict.  A single “black swan event” can come along and change everything almost overnight.  Our world has become incredibly unstable, and so who really knows what the rest of 2012 will bring?  Will we see a stock market crash?  Will the hurricane season be unusually bad?  Will war erupt in the Middle East?  Will we see a major earthquake on the west coast or even a volcanic eruption?  Will the upcoming election cause an eruption of anger and frustration in America?  We don’t know the answers to those questions yet, and the truth is that we will probably see some things happen that very few of us are anticipating at this point.

This is an exciting time to be a “news junkie”, but unfortunately the vast majority of the news these days is bad.

It is almost as if a “perfect storm” is developing.  Our weather is going crazy, our financial system is on the verge of collapse, our politicians seem more insane than ever, there is evidence of social decay all around us and the drumbeats of war in the Middle East grow louder with each passing day.

As strange as 2012 has been so far, I fear that things are about to get a whole lot stranger.

Not that we haven’t had some very unanticipated events happen this year up to this point.

The following are 8 economic threats that we were not even talking about at the beginning of the summer….

#1 West Nile Virus

What is up with all of the strange disease outbreaks that we have seen so far this year?

Flesh eating disease and the bird flu have both been making global headlines this summer, but in the U.S. right now it is the West Nile Virus that is getting the most attention.

So far more than 1,100 cases of the West Nile Virus have been diagnosed in the United States and more than 41 people have died from it.

More than half of the cases so far have been in Texas, but we have also seen people come down with West Nile Virus in Mississippi, Louisiana, South Dakota, and Oklahoma.

If you live in any of those areas, you might want to do your best to avoid mosquitos for the rest of the summer.

#2 Historic Drought

This summer, the United States has experienced the worst drought that it has seen in more than 50 years.

This weather has been absolutely crippling for farmers and ranchers all over the nation.  As I wrote about the other day, about half of all corn being grown in the U.S. is currently either in “poor” or “very poor” condition.

As the drought has dragged on, many farmers and ranchers have become increasingly desperate.  In fact, one farmer has even been feeding his cows candy in an attempt to deal with rising feed prices.

Needless to say, this drought has been causing commodity prices to soar.

On Tuesday, the price of corn closed at a record $8.38 a bushel, and the price of soybeans closed at $17.30 a bushel.

#3 The Mississippi River Is Drying Up

Thanks to this drought, rivers and lakes all over the United States are drying up.  In fact, there have been reports that millions of fish have been dying because water levels have gotten so low in many areas.

Even the mighty Mississippi River has dropped to dangerously low levels.

At this point, the Mississippi is lower than most people living along the river can ever remember.  If it drops much lower, it could potentially have an absolutely devastating impact on the U.S. economy.

A recent NBC News report described what is at stake….

About $180 billion worth of goods move up and down the river on barges, 500 million tons of the basic ingredients for much of the U.S. economy, according to the American Waterways Operators, a trade group. It carries 60 percent of the nation’s grain, 22 percent of the oil and gas and 20 percent of the coal, according to American Waterways Operators. It would take 60 trailer trucks to carry the cargo in just one barge, 144 18-wheeler tankers to carry the oil and gas in one petroleum barge.

If all traffic along the Mississippi was forced to stop, it is estimated that it would cost the U.S. economy about 300 million dollars a day.

And already there have been stoppages along one 11 mile stretch of the river….

Nearly 100 boats and barges were waiting for passage Monday along an 11-mile stretch of the Mississippi River that has been closed because of low water levels, the U.S. Coast Guard said. New Orleans-based Coast Guard spokesman Ryan Tippets said the stretch of river near Greenville, Miss., has been closed intermittently since Aug. 11, when a vessel ran aground.

So what happens if the Mississippi gets even lower?

#4 Wildfires

The extreme heat has also been responsible for the horrific outbreak of wildfires that we have seen in the western United States this year.

So far in 2012, nearly 7 million acres have been burned up.

That is an area about as big as the states of Maryland and Delaware combined.

#5 The Global Elite Hoarding Gold

In the past, the global elite and the mainstream media would mock those who are hoarding gold in anticipation of a major financial collapse.

But now it is the global elite who are hoarding gold.

In a previous article, I discussed how men such as George Soros and John Paulson are investing mind-boggling amounts of money in gold right now.  The amount of money that these two individuals are investing in gold is difficult to comprehend….

There was also news last week in an SEC filing that both George Soros and John Paulson had increased their investment in SPDR Gold Trust, the world’s largest publicly traded physical gold exchange traded fund (ETF).

Mr Soros upped his stake in the ETF to 884,400 shares from 319,550 and Mr Paulson bought 4.53m shares, bringing his stake to 21.3m.

At the current price of about $156 a share, these are new investments of about $88m of Mr Soros’ cash and more than $700m from Mr Paulson’s funds. These are significant positions.

Combined, Soros and Paulson dumped more than three quarters of a billion dollars into gold during the second quarter of 2012 alone.

So what are they anticipating?

The central banks of the world have been very busy hoarding gold as well.  According to the World Gold Council, global central banks were net buyers of 157.5 metric tons of gold during the second quarter of 2012.

Over the past 20 years there has never been a time when global central banks have accumulated that much gold during a single quarter.

So just what in the world is going on?

#6 Recession In The UK

Everyone knew that Greece was in deep trouble.

And everyone knew that Italy and Spain were in deep trouble.

But it was a surprise to see the UK economy plunge deep into recession.  During the second quarter of 2012 alone, the UK economy shrunk by 0.7 percent.

At this point the British economy has contracted for three quarters in a row.

Hopefully things will not get even worse over there.

#7 Major Economic Slowdown In The United States

Considering the fact that the U.S. economy never even came close to recovering from the last recession, it is a bit disheartening to see that it looks like we are headed for another major downturn.

According to Michael Panzer of Financial Armageddon, measurements of economic activity compiled by the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia indicate that the U.S. economy is rapidly heading into another recession.  If you doubt this, just check out this chart.

And for a lot more reasons why the U.S. economy is entering another recession, check out this article.

#8 Hauled Off To A Mental Institution For What You Believe

Do you ever worry that what you post on Facebook could get you involuntarily committed to a mental institution?

Well, that is exactly what happened to one military vet recently.

A former Marine named Brandon Raub was hauled off to a mental institution because of what he posted on his Facebook page.

This is how the Economic Policy Journal summarized what happened to Raub….

The muscle used to grab Brandon Raub was local Chesterfield County, VA police. Also present during the grab were agents of the FBI and of the Secret Service.

Both the FBI and the Secret Service claim that they were only observing and not participating in the grab. The Chesterfield County police initially stated that they were only carrying out a request from the federal agencies.

The police also claim Raub is not under arrest, even though he was led away in handcuffs and is not permitted to leave the psychiatric ward of a hospital—even though it appears that Raub is not in  any way in need of psychological care.

I note this happened in the United States of America, with local police, FBI agents and Secret Service taking part.

The claim that Raub is “not under arrest” is completely and totally ridiculous.  The authorities came to his door, slapped handcuffs on him and are holding him in a mental institution against his will.

And now he has been transferred to a facility that is 3 hours away from his family, his supporters and his legal team.

What in the world is America turning into?

The Rutherford Institute is defending Raub, and the following is an excerpt from a statement about this case on their website….

“This is not how justice in America is supposed to work—with Americans being arrested for doing nothing more than exercising their First Amendment rights, forced to undergo psychological evaluations, detained against their will and isolated from their family, friends and attorneys. This is a scary new chapter in our history,” said John W. Whitehead, president of The Rutherford Institute. “Brandon Raub is no different from the majority of Americans who use their private Facebook pages to post a variety of content, ranging from song lyrics and political hyperbole to trash talking their neighbors, friends and government leaders.”

This is the kind of thing that we have seen under brutal totalitarian regimes in the past.  Dissidents are grabbed by authorities and taken to mental institutions where they are conveniently “disappeared”.

This kind of thing is not supposed to happen in America.

But it is happening.

And you know what?  Before the authorities start attacking people for exercising free speech on Facebook perhaps they should clean up their own house.

It turns out that thousands of DHS employees have been convicted of crimes in recent years.  The following is from a recent CNS News article….

There have been 2,527 Department of Homeland Security (DHS) employees and co-conspirators convicted of corruption and other criminal misconduct since 2004, according to a federal auditor.

Our world is becoming a very crazy place.

One thing that most people did see coming this summer was the continuing economic decline in Greece.

At this point Greece is experiencing a full-blown economic depression and it gets worse by the day.

If you can believe it, 1,250 companies have shut down in the second largest city in Greece in 2012 alone.

Ouch.

And many in the financial world believe the the situation in Greece is going to go beyond the breaking point fairly soon.

In fact, analysts at Citibank believe that there is a 90 percent chance that Greece will leave the euro over the next 12 to 18 months.

90 percent?

They sound pretty sure of themselves.

Not that the rest of Europe is in such great shape either.

According to Bloomberg, it looks like Europe will soon be losing about half a million auto industry jobs….

Efforts by PSA Peugeot Citroen (UG) and Fiat SpA (F) to end losses in Europe could cost more than 500,000 people their jobs as automakers and parts suppliers grapple with the effects of the European sovereign debt crisis.

We live in very unusual times.

Things are falling apart all around us and we seem to be rapidly approaching another major economic crisis.

Central banks, governments and Wall Street insiders all seem to be preparing for the worst.

Are you?

17 Reasons To Be EXTREMELY Concerned About The Second Half Of 2012

What is the second half of 2012 going to bring?  Are things going to get even worse than they are right now?  Unfortunately, that appears more likely with each passing day.  I will admit that I am extremely concerned about the second half of 2012.  Historically, a financial crisis is much more likely to begin in the fall than during any other season of the year.  Just think about it.  The stock market crash of 1929 happened in the fall.  “Black Monday” happened on October 19th, 1987.  The financial crisis of 2008 started in the fall.  There just seems to be something about the fall that brings out the worst in the financial markets.  But of course there is not a stock market crash every year.  So are there specific reasons why we should be extremely concerned about what is coming this year?  Yes, there are.  The ingredients for a “perfect storm” are slowly coming together, and in the months ahead we could very well see the next wave of the economic collapse strike.  Sadly, we have never even come close to recovering from the last recession, and this next crisis might end up being even more painful than the last one.

The following are 17 reasons to be extremely concerned about the second half of 2012….

#1 Historical Trends

A recent IMF research paper by Luc Laeven and Fabián Valencia showed that a banking crisis is far more likely to start in September than in any other month.  The following chart is from their report….

So what will this September bring?

#2 JP Morgan

Do you remember back in May when JP Morgan announced that it would be taking a 2 billion dollar trading loss on some derivatives trades gone bad?  Well, the New York Times is now reporting that the real figure could reach 9 billion dollars, but nobody really knows for sure.  At some point is JP Morgan going to need a bailout?  If so, what is that going to do to the U.S. financial system?

#3 Derivatives

Last week, Moody’s downgraded the credit ratings of 15 major global banks.  As a result, a number of them have been required to post billions of dollars in additional collateral against derivatives exposures….

Citigroup’s two-notch long-term rating downgrade from A3 to Baa2 could have led to US$500m in additional liquidity and funding demands due to derivative triggers and exchange margin requirements, according to the bank’s 10Q regulatory filing at the end of the first quarter.

Morgan Stanley – which Moody’s downgraded from A2 to Baa1 – said a two-notch downgrade from both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s could spur an additional US$6.8bn of collateral requirements in its latest 10Q. The bank did not break down its potential collateral calls under a scenario where only Moody’s downgraded the bank below the Single A threshold.

Royal Bank of Scotland estimated it may have to post £9bn of collateral as a result of the one-notch Moody’s downgrade to Baa1 in a statement on June 21, but did not detail how much of this additional requirement was driven by margin for swaps exposures.

The worldwide derivatives market is starting to show some cracks, and at some point this is going to become a major disaster.

Remember, the 9 largest U.S. banks have a total of more than 200 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  When this bubble completely bursts it is going to be impossible to fix.

#4 LEAP/E2020 Warning

LEAP/E2020 has issued a red alert for the global financial system for this fall.  They are warning that the “second half of 2012” will represent a “major inflection point” for the global economic system….

The shock of the autumn 2008 will seem like a small summer storm compared to what will affect planet in several months.

In fact LEAP/E2020 has never seen the chronological convergence of such a series of explosive and so fundamental factors (economy, finances, geopolitical…) since 2006, the start of its work on the global systemic crisis. Logically, in our modest attempt to regularly publish a “crisis weather forecast”, we must therefore give our readers a “Red Alert” because the upcoming events which are readying themselves to shake the world system next September/ October belong to this category.

#5 Increasing Pessimism

One recent survey of corporate executives found that only 20 percent of them expect the global economy to improve over the next 12 months and 48 percent of them expect the global economy to get worse over the next 12 months.

#6 Spain

The Spanish financial system is basically a total nightmare at this point.  Moody’s recently downgraded Spanish debt to one level above junk status, and earlier this week Moody’s downgraded the credit ratings of 28 major Spanish banks.

According to CNBC, Spain’s short-term borrowing costs are now about three times higher than they were just one month ago….

Spain’s short-term borrowing costs nearly tripled at auction on Tuesday, underlining the country’s precarious finances as it struggles against recession and juggles with a debt crisis among its newly downgraded banks.

The yield paid on a 3-month bill was 2.362 percent, up from just 0.846 percent a month ago. For six-month paper, it leapt to 3.237 percent from 1.737 percent in May.

Needless to say, this is very, very bad news.

#7 Italy

The situation in Italy continues to deteriorate and many analysts believe that it could be one of the next dominoes to fall.  The following is from a recent Businessweek article….

The euro zone’s third-biggest economy is seen as the next domino at risk of toppling after the European Union’s June 9 deal to lend Spain $125 billion in bank bailout funds. Yields on Italy’s 10-year government bonds reached 6.2 percent on June 13, up from just 4.8 percent in March. By pushing up Italy’s borrowing costs out of fear of default, investors are making a default more likely. 

A recent Fortune article detailed some of the economic fundamentals that have so many economists deeply concerned about the Italian economy right now….

The main glaring risk threats that could propel Italy down the path to become Europe’s next domino is the size of country’s outstanding debt (at €1.9 trillion or 120% of GDP); the mountain of debt it has to roll over in the next 12 months (nearly €400 billion); and the market’s cracking credibility around Prime Minister Mario Monti’s ability to reduce the country’s fiscal footprint and spur growth.

Further, fear around Italy’s creditworthiness, which has recently been expressed by near cycle highs in sovereign CDS spreads and government yields on the 10-year bond, follow some rather glaring negative fundamentals over recent quarters and years:  declining GDP over the last three consecutive quarters; a rising unemployment rate (especially among its youth); deterioration in labor market competitiveness; and increased competition for export goods to its key trading partners.

#8 Greece

I have written extensively about the financial nightmare that is unfolding in Greece.  Unemployment has soared past the 20 percent mark, youth unemployment is above 50 percent, the Greek economy has contracted by close to 25 percent over the past four years and now Greek politicians are saying that a third bailout package may be necessary.

#9 Cyprus

The tiny island nation of Cyprus has become the fifth member of the eurozone to formally request a bailout.  This is yet another sign that the eurozone is rapidly falling apart.

#10 Germany

German Chancellor Angela Merkel continues to promote an austerity path for Europe and she continues to maintain her very firm position against any kind of eurozone debt sharing….

Merkel, speaking to a conference in Berlin today as Spain announced it would formally seek aid for its banks, dismissed “euro bonds, euro bills and European deposit insurance with joint liability and much more” as “economically wrong and counterproductive,” saying that they ran against the German constitution.

“It’s not a bold prediction to say that in Brussels most eyes — all eyes — will be on Germany yet again,” Merkel said. “I say quite openly: when I think of the summit on Thursday I’m concerned that once again the discussion will be far too much about all kinds of ideas for joint liability and far too little about improved oversight and structural measures.”

In fact, Merkel says that there will be no eurobonds “as long as I live“.  This means that there will be no “quick fix” for the problems that are unfolding in Europe.

#11 Bank Runs

Every single day, hundreds of millions of dollars is being pulled out of banks in southern Europe.  Much of that money is being transferred to banks in northern Europe.

In a previous article I included an extremely alarming quote from a CNBC article about the unfolding banking crisis in Europe….

Financial advisers and private bankers whose clients have accounts too large to be covered by a Europe-wide guarantee on deposits up to 100,000 euros ($125,000), are reporting a “bank run by wire transfer” that has picked up during May.

Much of this money has headed north to banks in London, Frankfurt and Geneva, financial advisers say.

“It’s been an ongoing process but it certainly picked up pace a couple of weeks ago We believe there is a continuous 2-3 year bank run by wire transfer,” said Lorne Baring, managing director at B Capital, a Geneva-based pan European wealth management firm.

How long can these bank runs continue before banking systems start to collapse?

#12 Preparations For The Collapse Of The Eurozone

As I have written about previously, the smart money has already written off southern Europe.  All over the continent major financial institutions are preparing for the worst.  For example, just check out what Visa Europe is doing….

Visa Europe is holding weekly meetings to discuss scenarios in the event the euro zone collapses, joining other companies that are preparing for a potential breakup of the currency bloc.

Chief Commercial Officer Steve Perry said Tuesday that management at the U.K.-based credit-card company meets weekly to explore various possible outcomes, including a total collapse of the euro zone.

#13 Global Lending Is Slowing Down

All over the globe the flow of credit is beginning to freeze up.  In fact, the Bank for International Settlements says that worldwide lending is contracting at the fastest pace since the financial crisis of 2008.

#14 Sophisticated Cyber Attacks On Banks

It is being reported that “very sophisticated” hackers have successfully raided dozens of banks in Europe.  So far, it is being estimated that they have stolen 60 million euros….

Sixty million euro has been stolen from bank accounts in a massive cyber bank raid after fraudsters raided dozens of financial institutions around the world.

According to a joint report by software security firm McAfee and Guardian Analytics, more than 60 firms have suffered from what it has called an “insider level of understanding”.

What happens someday if we wake up and all the money in the banks is gone?

#15 U.S. Municipal Bankruptcies

All over the United States there are cities and towns on the verge of financial disaster.  This week Stockton, California became the largest U.S. city to ever declare bankruptcy, but the reality is that this is only just the beginning of the municipal debt crisis….

Stockton, California, said it will file for bankruptcy after talks with bondholders and labor unions failed, making the agricultural center the biggest U.S. city to seek court protection from creditors.

“The city is fiscally insolvent and must seek Chapter 9 bankruptcy protection,” Stockton said in a statement released yesterday after its council voted 6-1 to adopt a spending plan for operating under bankruptcy protection.

#16 The Obamacare Decision

The U.S. economy is already a complete and total mess, and now the Obamacare decision is going to throw a huge wet blanket on it.  All over America, small business owners are saying that they are going to have to let some workers go because they cannot afford to keep them all under Obamacare.  It would be hard to imagine a more job killing law than Obamacare, and now that the Supreme Court decision has finally been announced we are going to see many businesses making some really hard decisions.

#17 The U.S. Election

It is being reported that Barack Obama is putting together an army of “thousands of lawyers” to deal with any disputes that arise over voting procedures or results.  It certainly looks like this upcoming election is going to be extremely close, and there is the potential that we could end up facing another Bush v. Gore scenario where the fate of the presidency is determined in court.  This campaign season is likely to be exceptionally nasty, and I fear what may happen if there is not a decisive winner on election day.  The possibility of significant civil unrest is certainly there.

We definitely live in “interesting” times.

Personally, I am deeply concerned about the September, October, November time frame.

The other day, Joe Biden delivered a speech in which he made the following statement….

“It’s A Depression For Millions And Millions Of Americans”

And what Biden said was right for once.  Millions of Americans are out of work right now and millions of Americans have fallen out of the middle class in recent years.  If you have lost everything, it does feel like you are living through a depression.

When people lose everything, they tend to get desperate.  And desperate people do desperate things – especially when they are angry.

A whole host of recent opinion polls have shown that anger and frustration in the United States are rising to unprecedented levels.  The ingredients are certainly there for an explosion.  Someone just needs to come along and light the fuse.  We truly do live in frightening times.

Let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst.

The Stock Market Crash Of 2011?

How far does the stock market have to go down before we officially call it a crash?  The Dow is now down more than 2,000 points in just the last 14 trading days.  So can we now call this “The Stock Market Crash of 2011”?  Today the Dow was down 519 points.  Yesterday, an announcement by the Federal Reserve indicating that the Fed would keep interest rates near zero until mid-2013 helped the Dow surge more than 400 points, but all of those gains were wiped out today.  It turns out that the Federal Reserve was only able to stabilize the financial markets for a single day.  Fears about the European sovereign debt crisis and the crumbling U.S. economy continue to dominate the marketplace.  With each passing day, things are looking more and more like 2008 all over again.  So what is going to happen if “The Stock Market Crash of 2011” pushes the U.S. economy into “The Recession of 2012”?

Just like in 2008, bank stocks are being hit the hardest.  That was true once again today.  Bank of America was down more than 10 percent, Citigroup was down more than 10 percent, Morgan Stanley was down more than 9 percent and JPMorgan Chase was down more than 5 percent.

Bank of America stock is down almost 50 percent so far this year.  Overall, the S&P financial sector is down more than 23 percent in 2011 so far.

How soon will it be before we start hearing of the need for more bailouts?  After all, the “too big to fail” banks are even bigger now than they were in 2008.

All of this panic is causing the price of gold to reach unprecedented heights.  Today, gold was over $1800 at one point.  If the current panic continues for an extended period of time, there is no telling how high the price of gold may go.

In the United States, much of the focus has been on the fact that the U.S. government has lost its AAA credit rating, but the truth is that the European sovereign debt crisis is probably the biggest cause of the instability in world financial markets right now.

The European Central Bank has decided to start purchasing Italian and Spanish debt, and there have been rumors that French debt could be hit with a downgrade.  Europe is a total financial basket case right now and unless dramatic action is taken things are going to get progressively worse.

Of course the U.S. is also certainly contributing greatly to this crisis.  The federal government is on track to have a budget deficit that is over a trillion dollars for the third year in a row.  The U.S national debt is a horrific nightmare, but our politicians keep putting off budget cuts.

The debt ceiling deal that was just reached basically does next to nothing to cut the budget before the next election.  Unless the “Super Congress” does something dramatic, the only “budget cuts” we will see before the 2012 election will be 25 billion dollars in “savings” from spending increases that will be cancelled.

The modest spending cuts scheduled to go into effect beginning in 2013 will probably never materialize.  Whenever the time comes to actually significantly cut the budget, our politicians always want to put it off for another time.

But in the end, debt is always going to have its day.  Our politicians can try to kick the can down the road all they want, but eventually a day of reckoning is going to come.

In fact, if the U.S. and Europe had not piled up so much debt, we would not be facing all of the problems we are dealing with now.

Things could have been so much different.

But here we are.

The truth is that this debt crisis is just beginning.  There is no magic potion that is going to make all of this debt suddenly disappear.

Most Americans have no idea how much financial pain is coming.  We have been living way beyond our means for decades, and now we are going to start paying for it.

Now that long-term U.S. government debt has been downgraded, huge numbers of other securities are also going to be affected.  In fact, according to a recent Bloomberg article, S&P has already been very busy slashing the ratings on hordes of municipal bonds….

Standard & Poor’s lowered the AAA ratings of thousands of municipal bonds tied to the federal government, including housing securities and debt backed by leases, following its Aug. 5 downgrade of the U.S.

That is the thing about financial markets – once the dominoes start to fall, the ripple effects can be felt for a long, long time.

So if this stock market crash gets even worse, will the Federal Reserve respond with even stronger measures?

They have already basically promised to keep interest rates near zero for the next two years.  So what else can the Fed do?

Well, many now believe that there is a very good chance that we could see another round of quantitative easing.

Not that more quantitative easing is going to help much of anything.  Rather than helping the economy, the last round of quantitative easing just pushed commodity prices through the roof.  But the Fed is unlikely to just sit there and do nothing while financial markets struggle.

But it is not just the financial markets that are having a difficult time right now.  Bad news is coming in from all over the economy.  The possibility that we could soon slip into another major recession is growing by the day.

Unfortunately, our economy is so weak already that a new recession would probably hurt even more than the last recession did.

Mark Zandi, the chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, says that if we have another recession it “won’t feel like a new recession. It would likely feel like a depression.

But the American people are in no mood for more economic pain.  Every recent poll shows that Americans are already fed up.

For example, a brand new Reuters/Ipsos poll found that 73 percent of the American people believe that the country is “on the wrong track”.

So let’s certainly hope that the current stock market crash does not set off another major global recession.  We certainly do not need things to get significantly worse than they are right now.

But whether it hits now or later, the truth is that a whole lot of economic pain is on the way.  The U.S. and Europe have been making really, really bad decisions for decades, and we are not going to be able to escape the consequences of those decisions.

The global financial system is one huge mountain of leverage, risk and debt.  A collapse is inevitable.

When you build a house of cards on a foundation of sand, you should not be surprised when it comes crashing down.

The next wave of the economic collapse is coming, and those that are wise will get prepared.