Why Does The Federal Reserve Keep Slamming The Panic Button Over And Over If Everything Is Okay?

What in the world is the Federal Reserve doing?  For months the Fed has been trying to publicly convince us that the U.S. economy is “strong”, and Fed Chair Jerome Powell recently unequivocally stated that “the Federal Reserve is not currently forecasting a recession”, but the Fed’s actions tell a completely different story.  If the U.S. economy really is performing well, any economics textbook will tell you that the Fed should not be reducing interest rates.  Interest rate cuts should be saved for times when the economy is in serious trouble, and using up all of your ammunition before a downturn has begun is simply foolish.  And the Federal Reserve continues to insist that the financial system is functioning normally, but meanwhile things are spinning so wildly out of control that they felt forced to announce overnight repurchase agreement operations for Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday.  We haven’t seen this sort of emergency intervention since the last financial crisis, but the Fed’s message to the general public is that “all is well”.

Unfortunately, the truth is that all is not well, and we continue to get more troubling economic news with each passing day.

In a desperate attempt to inject some vigor back into the U.S. economy, the Fed cut interest rates for the second month in a row on Wednesday

For the second time in two months, the Federal Reserve on Wednesday agreed to press down on the economy’s accelerator to keep the 10-year-old expansion chugging along.

A divided Fed lowered its benchmark interest rate by another quarter percentage point to a range of 1.75% to 2% in an effort to stave off a possible recession triggered by a global economic slowdown and the U.S. trade war with China.

Of course this wasn’t enough to please President Trump, and shortly after the rate cut was announced he posted the following on Twitter

Jay Powell and the Federal Reserve Fail Again. No “guts,” no sense, no vision! A terrible communicator!

Apparently Trump wanted an even larger rate cut with the promise of more rate cuts in the future, but if the U.S. economy really is in good shape we shouldn’t be having any rate cuts at all.  This was a panic move by the Fed, and they are going to find themselves very short on ammunition when things really start to get crazy.

And conducting overnight repurchase agreement operations for three days in a row also reeks of desperation.  If you are not familiar with the repo market, the following is how Yahoo News described the key role it plays for our financial system…

Financial institutions use money markets to borrow for very short periods, from one day to a year, a crucial function to keep the gears of the economy running.

In so-called repurchase or “repo” agreements, banks borrow by putting up assets like Treasury notes as collateral and then repay the loans with interest the following day.

In a fit of panic, the Fed injected $53,000,000,000 into the system on Tuesday and another $75,000,000,000 on Wednesday.

But it turns out that Wednesday’s injection wasn’t nearly large enough.  The following comes from Zero Hedge

20 minutes after today’s repo operation began, it concluded and there was some bad news in it: as we feared, yesterday’s take up of the Fed’s repo operation which peaked at $53.2 billion has expanded substantially, and according to the Fed, today there was a whopping $80.05BN in bids submitted, an increase of $27 billion, or 50% more than yesterday.

It also meant that since the operation – which is capped at $75BN – was oversubscribed by over $5BN, that there was one or more participants who did not get up to €5 billion in the critical liquidity they needed, and that the Fed will see a chorus of demands by everyone (because like with the discount window, nobody will dare to be singled out) to either expand the size of its operations, implement a fixed operation and/or – most likely as per the ICAP note yesterday –  transition to permanent open market operations, i.e. QE

And then we learned that the Fed had announced that they were going to inject another $75,000,000,000 on Thursday.

This is utter insanity, and to many it is clear evidence that the Fed is losing control

“This just doesn’t look good. You set your target. You’re the all-powerful Fed. You’re supposed to control it and you can’t on Fed day. It looks bad. This has been a tough run for Powell,” said Michael Schumacher, director, rate strategy, at Wells Fargo.

We haven’t seen anything like this since the financial crisis of 2008, and many are deeply concerned about what will happen as liquidity demands reach a peak as we approach the end of the month.

As our financial system continues to become increasingly unstable, is this sort of Fed intervention going to become a regular thing?

Of course there are some analysts that are already projecting that a massive new round of quantitative easing is inevitable at this point, and there is a very good chance that they are right.

Meanwhile, the “real economy” continues to deteriorate as well, and one new survey has found that a majority of U.S. CFOs now expect our economy to tumble into a new recession by the end of next year

Chief financial officers in the United States have started to prepare themselves and their finances for a recession. For the first time in several years, economic uncertainty is now their lead concern, replacing worries about the difficulty of hiring and retaining talented workers.

According to CNN, 53 percent of chief financial officers expect the United States to enter a recession prior to the 2020 presidential election. That information was sourced from the Duke University/CFO Global Business Outlook survey released on Wednesday. And two-thirds predict a downturn by the end of next year.

Unfortunately, we may not have to wait that long, and according to John Williams of shadowstats.com if honest numbers were being used they would show that the U.S. economy is already in a recession right now.

For the moment, most Americans are still buying the narrative that everything is going to be just fine, but that will soon change.

The pace at which things are deteriorating is beginning to accelerate, and the Fed is going to have to hit the panic button many more times in the months ahead.

About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally-syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including Get Prepared Now, The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters. His articles are originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog, End Of The American Dream and The Most Important News. From there, his articles are republished on dozens of other prominent websites. If you would like to republish his articles, please feel free to do so. The more people that see this information the better, and we need to wake more people up while there is still time.

Major Red Flag: The Fed Shocks Everyone With An Emergency Intervention In The Repo Market For The First Time Since 2008

For the very first time since the last financial crisis, the Federal Reserve has been forced to conduct an emergency intervention in the repo market.  I know that a lot of people out there don’t know what the repo market is or how it works, and so let me start out with a very basic analogy that may help people understand what we are facing.  It doesn’t really matter how shiny your toilet is – if the pipes underneath don’t work, you are in a whole lot of trouble.  The repo market plays a critical role in our financial system, because it allows our banks to rapidly borrow money to fund their short-term needs.  But this week interest rates in the repo market started to shoot up to frightening levels, and the Federal Reserve was forced to intervene for the first time since the financial crisis of 2008.  The following comes from Yahoo News

The New York Federal Reserve Bank on Tuesday stepped into financial markets for the first time in more than a decade to keep interest rates in line with the Fed’s target.

Analysts say the operation appears to have been successful but it caused some jitters, coming as the Fed’s policy-setting Federal Open Market Committee opens a two-day meeting expected to produce a second cut in the benchmark lending rate.

This is essentially a form of “quantitative easing”, and many are concerned that this temporary intervention will not fix the larger problems that have resulted in this crisis.

And of course officials at the Fed probably never imagined that they would be intervening so soon, but they were compelled to make a move when interest rates started to spiral wildly out of control on Monday and Tuesday

The rate on overnight repurchase agreements hit 5% on Monday, according to Refinitiv data. That’s up from 2.29% late last week and well above the target range set in July by the Federal Reserve, which is 2% to 2.25%. The surge continued Tuesday, with the overnight rate hitting a high of 10% before the NY Fed stepped in.

An “overnight repo operation” was hastily put together as interest rates soared, and it ultimately resulted in 53 billion dollars being injected into our financial system…

On Tuesday morning, the NY Fed launched what’s called an “overnight repo operation,” during which the central bank attempts to ease pressure in markets by purchasing Treasurys and other securities. The goal is to pump money into the system to keep borrowing costs from creeping above the Fed’s target range .

The first attempt by the NY Fed was canceled because of “technical difficulties.” Minutes later, the NY Fed successfully injected $53 billion into the system.

And guess what?

The Fed has already announced that they are going to do it again on Wednesday, and this time the goal will be to inject approximately 75 billion dollars into the system.

If that sounds absurd to you, that is because it is absurd.

Sadly, the truth is that our financial system is starting to show signs of serious distress for the first time in more than a decade, and nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next.

But everyone agrees that the Fed being forced to intervene in the marketplace is not a good sign.  In fact, one industry veteran said that it “is without a doubt one of the worst things that can happen”…

If the plumbing doesn’t work, then it’s going to dramatically affect secondary trading of Treasuries. Which is the last thing they need when there’s massive issuance going on.

This is without a doubt one of the worst things that can happen. In many respects it overshadows the Fed moving tomorrow, because if the plumbing doesn’t work everything starts to break down. Everything is predicated upon your getting a reasonable funding rate. Otherwise why would you buy this paper to begin with. If you’re funding your overnight position at 6 why would you buy a 10-year at 2?

And now that the Fed has begun to intervene, when will they be able to stop?

Will they have to keep doing it for the rest of the week?

And what happens if interest rates begin to go wild again next week or next month?

In essence, Pandora’s Box has now been opened, and things could get really crazy moving forward.  According to Zero Hedge, if this currently repo operation is not sufficient to calm things down, the Fed could soon formally launch a new quantitative easing program…

While the Fed did not disclose how many banks participated in the operation, it is safe to say it was a sizable number. Worse, the result from today’s unexpected repo operation, we can now conclude that in addition to $1.3 trillion in ‘excess reserves’, a Fed which is now cutting rates and will cut rates by 25bps tomorrow, the US financial system somehow found itself with a liquidity shortfall of $53 billion that almost paralyzed the interbank funding market.

Oh, and for those wondering why the Fed did a repo, the answer is simple: it did not want to launch QE just yet. But make no mistake, once repo is insufficient, the Fed will have no choice but to escalate to the next step which is open market purchases.

Which brings us to the bigger question of how long such overnight repos will satisfy the market, and how long before the next repo rate spike prompts the Fed to do the inevitable, and restart QE.

Of course quantitative easing is something that should never be done unless we have a major crisis on our hands, and with each passing day it is becoming clearer that the global economy is headed for enormous trouble.  In fact, we just received some more alarming news about global manufacturing

The gloom of the world is centered around auto manufacturing, which is dragging on the global economy, fuelling fears that a worldwide trade recession has already begun.

The first domino to fall has been auto manufacturing, already hitting a near-record low in August, reported the Financial Times.

New data from IHS Markit global car industry purchasing managers’ index shows some of the sharpest declines across all sectors, not seen since 2009.

It is time to “batten down the hatches”, because rough weather is ahead.

Over and over again we keep seeing trouble signs that we haven’t seen since the last financial crisis, but most Americans still seem convinced that everything is going to be okay.

This move by the Fed is one of the biggest red flags yet, but I have a feeling that what we have seen so far is just the tip of the iceberg.

About the author: Michael Snyder is a nationally-syndicated writer, media personality and political activist. He is the author of four books including Get Prepared Now, The Beginning Of The End and Living A Life That Really Matters. His articles are originally published on The Economic Collapse Blog, End Of The American Dream and The Most Important News. From there, his articles are republished on dozens of other prominent websites. If you would like to republish his articles, please feel free to do so. The more people that see this information the better, and we need to wake more people up while there is still time.

Financial Weapons Of Mass Destruction: The Top 25 U.S. Banks Have 222 Trillion Dollars Of Exposure To Derivatives

The recklessness of the “too big to fail” banks almost doomed them the last time around, but apparently they still haven’t learned from their past mistakes.  Today, the top 25 U.S. banks have 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.  In other words, the exposure that these banks have to derivatives contracts is approximately equivalent to the gross domestic product of the United States times twelve.  As long as stock prices continue to rise and the U.S. economy stays fairly stable, these extremely risky financial weapons of mass destruction will probably not take down our entire financial system.  But someday another major crisis will inevitably happen, and when that day arrives the devastation that these financial instruments will cause will be absolutely unprecedented.

During the great financial crisis of 2008, derivatives played a starring role, and U.S. taxpayers were forced to step in and bail out companies such as AIG that were on the verge of collapse because the risks that they took were just too great.

But now it is happening again, and nobody is really talking very much about it.  In a desperate search for higher profits, all of the “too big to fail” banks are gambling like crazy, and at some point a lot of these bets are going to go really bad.  The following numbers regarding exposure to derivatives contracts come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2), and as you can see the level of recklessness that we are currently witnessing is more than just a little bit alarming…

Citigroup

Total Assets: $1,792,077,000,000 (slightly less than 1.8 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,092,584,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,490,972,000,000 (just under 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $46,992,293,000,000 (nearly 47 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $860,185,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,227,878,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,189,266,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $33,132,582,000,000 (more than 33 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $814,949,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $28,569,553,000,000 (more than 28 trillion dollars)

Wells Fargo

Total Assets: $1,930,115,000,000 (more than 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $7,098,952,000,000 (more than 7 trillion dollars)

Collectively, the top 25 banks have a total of 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.

If you are new to all of this, you might be wondering what a “derivative” actually is.

When you buy a stock you are purchasing an ownership interest in a company, and when you buy a bond you are purchasing the debt of a company.  But when you buy a derivative, you are not actually getting anything tangible.  Instead, you are simply making a side bet about whether something will or will not happen in the future.  These side bets can be extraordinarily complex, but at their core they are basically just wagers.  The following is a pretty good definition of derivatives that comes from Investopedia

A derivative is a security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is a contract between two or more parties based upon the asset or assets. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes.

Those that trade derivatives are essentially engaged in a form of legalized gambling, and some of the brightest names in the financial world have been warning about the potentially destructive nature of these financial instruments for a very long time.

In a letter that he wrote to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway in 2003, Warren Buffett actually referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”…

The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.

Warren Buffett was right on the money when he made that statement, and of course the derivatives bubble is far larger today than it was back then.

In fact, the total notional value of derivatives contracts globally is in excess of 500 trillion dollars.

This is a disaster that is just waiting to happen, and investors such as Buffett are quietly positioning themselves to take advantage of the giant crash that is inevitably coming.

According to financial expert Jim Rickards, Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is hoarding 86 billion dollars in cash because he is likely anticipating a major stock market downturn…

Far from a bullish sign, Buffett’s cash hoard could mean he’s preparing for a market crash. When the crash comes, Buffett can walk through the wreckage with his checkbook open and buy great companies for a fraction of their current value.

That’s the real Buffett style, but you won’t hear that from your broker or wealth manager. If Buffett has a huge cash allocation, shouldn’t you?

He knows what’s coming. Now you do too.

Warren Buffett didn’t become one of the wealthiest men in the entire world by being stupid.  He knows that stocks are ridiculously overvalued at this point, and he is poised to make his move after the pendulum swings in the other direction.

And he might not have too long to wait.  In recent weeks I have been writing about many of the signs that the U.S. economy is slowing down substantially, and today we received even more bad news

Despite high levels of economic confidence expressed by business owners and consumers, one key indicator shows that it has not translated into much action yet.

Loan issuance declined in the first quarter from the previous three-month period, the first time that has happened in four years, according to an SNL Financial analysis of bank earnings reports filed for the period. The total of recorded loans and leases fell to $9.297 trillion from $9.305 trillion in the fourth quarter of 2016.

This is precisely what we would expect to see if a new economic downturn was beginning.  Our economy is very highly dependent on the flow of credit, and when that flow begins to diminish that is a very bad sign.

For the moment, financial markets continue to remain completely disconnected from the hard economic data, but as we saw in 2008 the markets can plunge very rapidly once they start catching up with the real economy.

Warren Buffett is clearly getting prepared for the crisis that is ahead.

Are you?

Financial Armageddon Approaches: U.S. Banks Have 247 Trillion Dollars Of Exposure To Derivatives

Nuclear War - Public DomainDid you know that there are 5 “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have exposure to derivatives contracts that is in excess of 30 trillion dollars?  Overall, the biggest U.S. banks collectively have more than 247 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives contracts.  That is an amount of money that is more than 13 times the size of the U.S. national debt, and it is a ticking time bomb that could set off financial Armageddon at any moment.  Globally, the notional value of all outstanding derivatives contracts is a staggering 552.9 trillion dollars according to the Bank for International Settlements.  The bankers assure us that these financial instruments are far less risky than they sound, and that they have spread the risk around enough so that there is no way they could bring the entire system down.  But that is the thing about risk – you can try to spread it around as many ways as you can, but you can never eliminate it.  And when this derivatives bubble finally implodes, there won’t be enough money on the entire planet to fix it.

A lot of readers may be tempted to quit reading right now, because “derivatives” is a term that sounds quite complicated.  And yes, the details of these arrangements can be immensely complicated, but the concept is quite simple.  Here is a good definition of “derivatives” that comes from Investopedia

A derivative is a security with a price that is dependent upon or derived from one or more underlying assets. The derivative itself is a contract between two or more parties based upon the asset or assets. Its value is determined by fluctuations in the underlying asset. The most common underlying assets include stocks, bonds, commodities, currencies, interest rates and market indexes.

I like to refer to the derivatives marketplace as a form of “legalized gambling”.  Those that are engaged in derivatives trading are simply betting that something either will or will not happen in the future.  Derivatives played a critical role in the financial crisis of 2008, and I am fully convinced that they will take on a starring role in this new financial crisis.

And I am certainly not the only one that is concerned about the potentially destructive nature of these financial instruments.  In a letter that he once wrote to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway, Warren Buffett referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”…

The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.

Since the last financial crisis, the big banks in this country have become even more reckless.  And that is a huge problem, because our economy is even more dependent on them than we were the last time around.  At this point, the four largest banks in the U.S. are approximately 40 percent larger than they were back in 2008.  The five largest banks account for approximately 42 percent of all loans in this country, and the six largest banks account for approximately 67 percent of all assets in our financial system.

So the problem of “too big to fail” is now bigger than ever.

If those banks go under, we are all in for a world of hurt.

Yesterday, I wrote about how the Federal Reserve has implemented new rules that would limit the ability of the Fed to loan money to these big banks during the next crisis.  So if the survival of these big banks is threatened by a derivatives crisis, the money to bail them out would probably have to come from somewhere else.

In such a scenario, could we see European-style “bail-ins” in this country?

Ellen Brown, one of the most fierce critics of our current financial system and the author of Web of Debt, seems to think so…

Dodd-Frank states in its preamble that it will “protect the American taxpayer by ending bailouts.” But it does this under Title II by imposing the losses of insolvent financial companies on their common and preferred stockholders, debtholders, and other unsecured creditors. That includes depositors, the largest class of unsecured creditor of any bank.

Title II is aimed at “ensuring that payout to claimants is at least as much as the claimants would have received under bankruptcy liquidation.” But here’s the catch: under both the Dodd Frank Act and the 2005 Bankruptcy Act, derivative claims have super-priority over all other claimssecured and unsecured, insured and uninsured.

The over-the-counter (OTC) derivative market (the largest market for derivatives) is made up of banks and other highly sophisticated players such as hedge funds. OTC derivatives are the bets of these financial players against each other. Derivative claims are considered “secured” because collateral is posted by the parties.

For some inexplicable reason, the hard-earned money you deposit in the bank is not considered “security” or “collateral.” It is just a loan to the bank, and you must stand in line along with the other creditors in hopes of getting it back.

As I mentioned yesterday, the FDIC guarantees the safety of deposits in member banks up to a certain amount.  But as Brown has pointed out, the FDIC only has somewhere around 70 billion dollars sitting around to cover bank failures.

If hundreds of billions or even trillions of dollars are ultimately needed to bail out the banking system, where is that money going to come from?

It would be difficult to overstate the threat that derivatives pose to our “too big to fail” banks.  The following numbers come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2), and they reveal a recklessness that is on a level that is difficult to put into words…

Citigroup

Total Assets: $1,808,356,000,000 (more than 1.8 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $53,042,993,000,000 (more than 53 trillion dollars)

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,417,121,000,000 (about 2.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $51,352,846,000,000 (more than 51 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $880,607,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $51,148,095,000,000 (more than 51 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,154,342,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $45,243,755,000,000 (more than 45 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $834,113,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $31,054,323,000,000 (more than 31 trillion dollars)

Wells Fargo

Total Assets: $1,751,265,000,000 (more than 1.7 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $6,074,262,000,000 (more than 6 trillion dollars)

As the “real economy” crumbles, major hedge funds continue to drop like flies, and we head into a new recession, there seems to very little alarm among the general population about what is happening.

The mainstream media is assuring us that everything is under control, and they are running front page headlines such as this one during the holiday season: “Kylie Jenner shows off her red-hot, new tattoo“.

But underneath the surface, trouble is brewing.

A new financial crisis has already begun, and it is going to intensify as we head into 2016.

And as this new crisis unfolds, one word that you are going to want to listen for is “derivatives”, because they are going to play a major role in the “financial Armageddon” that is rapidly approaching.

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

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