5 U.S. Banks Each Have More Than 40 Trillion Dollars In Exposure To Derivatives

Roulette Wheel - Public DomainWhen is the U.S. banking system going to crash?  I can sum it up in three words.  Watch the derivatives.  It used to be only four, but now there are five “too big to fail” banks in the United States that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.  Today, the U.S. national debt is sitting at a grand total of about 17.7 trillion dollars, so when we are talking about 40 trillion dollars we are talking about an amount of money that is almost unimaginable.  And unlike stocks and bonds, these derivatives do not represent “investments” in anything.  They can be incredibly complex, but essentially they are just paper wagers about what will happen in the future.  The truth is that derivatives trading is not too different from betting on baseball or football games.  Trading in derivatives is basically just a form of legalized gambling, and the “too big to fail” banks have transformed Wall Street into the largest casino in the history of the planet.  When this derivatives bubble bursts (and as surely as I am writing this it will), the pain that it will cause the global economy will be greater than words can describe.

If derivatives trading is so risky, then why do our big banks do it?

The answer to that question comes down to just one thing.

Greed.

The “too big to fail” banks run up enormous profits from their derivatives trading.  According to the New York Times, U.S. banks “have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books” even though the financial crisis of 2008 demonstrated how dangerous they could be…

American banks have nearly $280 trillion of derivatives on their books, and they earn some of their biggest profits from trading in them. But the 2008 crisis revealed how flaws in the market had allowed for dangerous buildups of risk at large Wall Street firms and worsened the run on the banking system.

The big banks have sophisticated computer models which are supposed to keep the system stable and help them manage these risks.

But all computer models are based on assumptions.

And all of those assumptions were originally made by flesh and blood people.

When a “black swan event” comes along such as a war, a major pandemic, an apocalyptic natural disaster or a collapse of a very large financial institution, these models can often break down very rapidly.

For example, the following is a brief excerpt from a Forbes article that describes what happened to the derivatives market when Lehman Brothers collapsed back in 2008…

Fast forward to the financial meltdown of 2008 and what do we see? America again was celebrating. The economy was booming. Everyone seemed to be getting wealthier, even though the warning signs were everywhere: too much borrowing, foolish investments, greedy banks, regulators asleep at the wheel, politicians eager to promote home-ownership for those who couldn’t afford it, and distinguished analysts openly predicting this could only end badly. And then, when Lehman Bros fell, the financial system froze and world economy almost collapsed. Why?

The root cause wasn’t just the reckless lending and the excessive risk taking. The problem at the core was a lack of transparency. After Lehman’s collapse, no one could understand any particular bank’s risks from derivative trading and so no bank wanted to lend to or trade with any other bank. Because all the big banks’ had been involved to an unknown degree in risky derivative trading, no one could tell whether any particular financial institution might suddenly implode.

After the last financial crisis, we were promised that this would be fixed.

But instead the problem has become much larger.

When the housing bubble burst back in 2007, the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world had risen to about 500 trillion dollars.

According to the Bank for International Settlements, today the total notional value of derivatives contracts around the world has ballooned to a staggering 710 trillion dollars ($710,000,000,000,000).

And of course the heart of this derivatives bubble can be found on Wall Street.

What I am about to share with you is very troubling information.

I have shared similar numbers in the past, but for this article I went and got the very latest numbers from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report.  As I mentioned above, there are now five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $2,476,986,000,000 (about 2.5 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $67,951,190,000,000 (more than 67 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,894,736,000,000 (almost 1.9 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $59,944,502,000,000 (nearly 60 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $915,705,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,564,516,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $2,152,533,000,000 (a bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $54,457,605,000,000 (more than 54 trillion dollars)

Morgan Stanley

Total Assets: $831,381,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,946,153,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)

And it isn’t just U.S. banks that are engaged in this type of behavior.

As Zero Hedge recently detailed, German banking giant Deutsche Bank has more exposure to derivatives than any of the American banks listed above…

Deutsche has a total derivative exposure that amounts to €55 trillion or just about $75 trillion. That’s a trillion with a T, and is about 100 times greater than the €522 billion in deposits the bank has. It is also 5x greater than the GDP of Europe and more or less the same as the GDP of… the world.

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks.  If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

But as you have just read about in this article, they are being more reckless than ever before.

We are steamrolling toward the greatest financial disaster in world history, and nobody is doing much of anything to stop it.

Things could have turned out very differently, but now we will reap the consequences for the very foolish decisions that we have made.

How The Super Rich Avoid Taxes Even As They Demand That The Rest Of Us Pay More

The way that we tax people in the United States is fundamentally broken and should be completely discarded.  The U.S. tax code is absolutely riddled with loopholes that allow the super rich to legally avoid taxes while many of the rest of us are being taxed into oblivion.  In our system of taxation, middle class families that work hard and try to play by the rules are deeply penalized while those that are willing to abuse the system make out like bandits.  There is something fundamentally wrong with a system that enables wealthy politicians such as Barack Obama and Mitt Romney to pay a smaller percentage of their incomes in taxes than millions of middle class families.  Mitt Romney has millions of dollars parked down in the Cayman Islands and in other tax havens.  He does this to avoid taxes.  Unfortunately, most Americans do not have the resources to funnel money through offshore tax havens.  Most Americans just automatically have their paychecks shredded by taxes and then try to live on whatever is left over.  Most Americans are just trying to survive financially from one month to the next.  But the super rich have options.  Thanks to technology, they can live almost anywhere they want and they can run their companies and manage their investments from anywhere in the world.  The truth is that the wealthier you are the easier it is to avoid taxes.  But even as the ultra-wealthy do their best to avoid taxes, many of them still feel free to demand that the rest of us be taxed more.

So what are some of the ways that the super rich avoid taxes?

Well, let’s start with those that are just “somewhat wealthy”.  Many millionaires still want or need to be U.S. citizens, so they are subject to the U.S. tax code.  Fortunately for them, their tax lawyers know of thousands of loopholes that have been designed to help the rich avoid taxes.

The following is from a recent article by Jen Talley….

Some of the richest people in the country pay the least, relatively speaking, in taxes. How is this possible? Answer: Through the clever manipulation of the U.S. tax code’s loopholes. And it works: as income rises, effective tax rates rise as well, but only up to a point. IRS data shows that the effective income tax rate flattens out at just over 24 percent for those making over a million dollars. As income exceeds $1.5 million, the rate begins to decline; those with incomes above $10 million pay an average income tax rate of around 19 percent. So, how do they do it?

You could write an entire series of books on the technical details of how this gets done.  Trust me, I studied tax law when I was in law school.

If you are interested in digging into some of the technical details of tax avoidance, a recent Businessweek article detailed 10 ways that the wealthy use our current tax code to avoid paying billions of dollars in taxes.  It is an article worth reading if you have the time.

Sadly, tax avoidance by the wealthy is not just something that happens in the United States.  The truth is that the exact same kind of thing happens in the UK as well.

There is not an easy fix to this problem.  Our politicians have had decades to try to come up with a fair tax system and they have completely failed.  The wealthy are always several steps ahead of them.

But federal taxes are not the only taxes that can be avoided.  The vast difference in state tax rates creates another opportunity.

One advantage that wealthy Americans have is that they are far more mobile than most other Americans are.  So if they don’t like the tax system in one state they can simply pick up and move to another state.

According to the Tax Foundation, 3.4 million Americans left New York state between 2000 and 2010.

So where did they go?

The following is from a recent CNS News article….

Where are they escaping to?  The Tax Foundation found that more than 600,000 New York residents moved to Florida over the decade – opting perhaps for the Sunshine State’s more lenient tax system – taking nearly $20 billion in adjusted growth income with them.

There is no state income tax in Florida.  So moving from New York to Florida can end up saving you a bundle.

The same kind of migration is happening out west as well.  According to that same CNS article, hundreds of thousands of people have been moving from California (a high tax state) to Texas (no state income tax)….

Between 2000 and 2010, the most recent data available, 551,914 people left California for Texas, taking $14.3 billion in income.  Texas has no state income tax or estate tax.

A total of 48,877 people moved to Texas from California between 2009 and 2010 alone, totaling $1.2 billion in income.  Another 28,088 from California relocated to Nevada and 30,663 to Arizona, a loss of  $699.1 million and $707.8 million in income respectively.

Not that anyone really needs much of an excuse to move away from California.  It is rapidly decaying right in front of our eyes.

But a lot of families do not have the same options that wealthy people do. Unfortunately, most average Americans are tied to their jobs and it would be much more difficult for them to pick up and move across the country.  In this economy it can be economic suicide to give up a good job.

The reality is that most of us simply do not have the resources to play the same kinds of games that the wealthy play.

Sadly, even our most prominent politicians avoid taxes.

Just look at Massachusetts Senator John Kerry.  He has avoided approximately $500,000 in taxes by docking his yacht in Rhode Island rather than in Massachusetts.

Yet Kerry sure does love to call for more taxes on the rest of us, doesn’t he?

Now let’s talk about the “super rich” and the “ultra-wealthy”.  For many people that are worth billions of dollars, tax avoidance has become an art from.

Facebook co-founder Eduardo Saverin made national headlines recently when he gave up his U.S. citizenship, but the truth is that his case is small potatoes compared to the global elite and the shadow banking system that supports them.

According to the IMF, the global elite are holding a total of 18 trillion dollars in offshore banks.

That amount is more than the GDP of the United States for an entire year.

So what do I mean by “offshore banks”?  I defined the term in a previous article….

Well, the term originally developed because the banks on the Channel Islands were “offshore” from the United Kingdom.  Most “offshore banks” are still located on islands today.  The Cayman Islands, Bermuda, the Bahamas, and the Isle of Man are examples of this.  Other “offshore banking centers” such as Monaco are actually not “offshore” at all, but the term applies to them anyway.

Traditionally, these offshore banking centers have been very attractive to both criminals and to the global elite because they would not tell anyone (including governments) about the money that anyone had parked there.

It has been reported that 80 percent of all international banking transactions involve offshore banks.  A whopping 1.4 trillion dollars is being held in offshore banks in the Cayman Islands alone.

An article that appeared in the Guardian estimated that a third of all the wealth on the entire planet is being kept in offshore banks.  One of the primary reasons for this is tax avoidance.

A lot of wealthy individuals never even visit these tax havens and yet reap the benefits anyway.  The truth is that tax avoidance has become way too easy.  The following example is from a recent Politico article….

A plausible scenario plays out like this: I hire an accountant. Doing her job, my accountant tells me that if I sign a few legal documents and route my money through a small Caribbean island, I could keep more of my paycheck and pay a lower tax rate. I may have earned my money in the United States, but legally I can claim that it was, in fact, earned in a tax haven.

Are you disgusted yet?

You should be.

But even though they avoid taxes like the plague, many of these elitists have the gall to call for higher taxes on all the rest of us.

For example, let’s review what the managing director of the IMF, Christine Lagarde, said in a recent interview….

“Do you know what? As far as Athens is concerned, I also think about all those people who are trying to escape tax all the time. All these people in Greece who are trying to escape tax.”

Even more than she thinks about all those now struggling to survive without jobs or public services? “I think of them equally. And I think they should also help themselves collectively.” How? “By all paying their tax. Yeah.”

It sounds as if she’s essentially saying to the Greeks and others in Europe, you’ve had a nice time and now it’s payback time.

“That’s right.” She nods calmly. “Yeah.”

And what about their children, who can’t conceivably be held responsible? “Well, hey, parents are responsible, right? So parents have to pay their tax.”

Well, it turns out that she doesn’t pay any income taxes at all on her own income….

The IMF chief Christine Lagarde was accused of hypocrisy yesterday after it emerged that she pays no income tax – just days after blaming the Greeks for causing their financial peril by dodging their own bills.

The managing director of the International Monetary Fund is paid a salary of $467,940 (£298,675), automatically increased every year according to inflation. On top of that she receives an allowance of $83,760 – payable without “justification” – and additional expenses for entertainment, making her total package worth more than the amount received by US President Barack Obama according to reports last night.

Her “diplomatic status” allows her to escape all income taxes.

So perhaps she should pay her “fair share” before pointing the finger at anyone else.

But she is not the only one being hypocritical.

The super rich claim that they should pay lower taxes on investment income for the good of our “capitalist system”, but when their banks are about to go under they are more than happy to have those losses be socialized.

As I wrote about yesterday, the stage is already set for another massive round of bailouts when the next great financial crisis strikes.  Once again our taxes will pay for the mistakes of the ultra-wealthy.

The truth is that our system is fundamentally broken.

We need to abolish the income tax and shut down the IRS.

Those two steps alone would do wonders for our economic system.

We also need to shut down the Federal Reserve and break up the too big to fail banks.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of our politicians are not even willing to consider any of those solutions.

So our fundamentally broken system will continue to chug along.

It really is sad.

The Too Big To Fail Banks Are Now Much Bigger And Much More Powerful Than Ever

The Democrats, the Republicans and especially Barack Obama promised that something would be done about the too big to fail banks so that they would never again be a threat to destroy our financial system.  Well, those promises have not been kept and the too big to fail banks are now much bigger and much more powerful than ever.  The assets of the five biggest U.S. banks were equivalent to about 43 percent of U.S. GDP before the financial crisis.  Today, the assets of the five biggest U.S. banks are equivalent to about 56 percent of U.S. GDP.  So if those banks were “too big to fail” before, then what are they now?  They continue to gobble up smaller banks at a brisk pace, and they continue to pile up debt and risky investments as if a day of reckoning will never come.  But of course a day of reckoning is coming, and when it arrives they will be expecting more bailouts just like they got the last time.

The size of these monolithic financial institutions is truly difficult to comprehend.  They completely dominate our financial system and everywhere you look they are constantly absorbing more wealth and more power.  The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article….

Five banks — JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), Bank of America Corp. (BAC), Citigroup Inc., Wells Fargo & Co. (WFC), and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. — held $8.5 trillion in assets at the end of 2011, equal to 56 percent of the U.S. economy, according to central bankers at the Federal Reserve.

Five years earlier, before the financial crisis, the largest banks’ assets amounted to 43 percent of U.S. output. The Big Five today are about twice as large as they were a decade ago relative to the economy

Despite all of the talk from the politicians, they just keep getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

So why isn’t anything ever done?

Well, one reason is because these gigantic financial entities funnel huge quantities of cash into political campaigns.

For example, Barack Obama gives nice speeches about the dangers of the too big to fail banks, but he is also more than happy to take their campaign contributions.  Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase and Citigroup were all ranked among his top 10 donors during the 2008 campaign.

So do you really expect that Barack Obama is going to bite the hands that feed him?

Of course he is not going to do that.

The truth is that the Obama administration and the Federal Reserve have done everything they can to make life very comfortable for the big Wall Street banks.

During the last financial crisis, the too big to fail banks were absolutely showered with bailouts.

Meanwhile, hundreds of small and mid-size banks were allowed to die.

When representatives from those small and mid-size banks contacted the federal government for help, often they were told to try to find a larger bank that would be willing to buy them.

Sadly, the last financial crisis simply accelerated the consolidation of the banking industry in the United States that has been going on for several decades.

Today, there are less than half as many banks in the United States as there were back in 1984.

So where did all of those banks go?

They were either purchased by bigger banks or they were allowed to go out of existence.

This banking consolidation trend has allowed the big Wall Street banks to absolutely explode in size.

Back in 1970, the 5 biggest U.S. banks held 17 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.

Today, the 5 biggest U.S. banks hold 52 percent of all U.S. banking industry assets.

So where will this end?

That is a good question.

The funny thing is that Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke and other Fed officials keep giving speeches where they warn of the dangers of having banks that are “too big to fail”.  For example, during a recent presentation to students at George Washington University, Bernanke made the following statement about the U.S. banking system….

“But clearly, it is something fundamentally wrong with a system in which some companies are ‘too big to fail.'”

So does that mean that Bernanke is against the too big to fail banks?

Of course not.

The truth is that he showered those banks with trillions of dollars in bailout money during the last financial crisis.

The amount of money in secret loans that some of the big Wall Street banks received from the Federal Reserve was absolutely staggering.  The following figures come directly from a GAO report….

Citigroup – $2.513 trillion
Morgan Stanley – $2.041 trillion
Bank of America – $1.344 trillion
Goldman Sachs – $814 billion
JP Morgan Chase – $391 billion

Bernanke has shown that he is willing to move heaven and earth to protect those big banks.

So what did those banks do with all that money?

They certainly didn’t lend it to us.  Lending to individuals and small businesses by those big banks actually went down immediately after those bailouts.

Instead, one thing that those banks did was they started putting massive amounts of money into commodities.

One of those commodities was food.

Over the past few years, big Wall Street banks have made huge amounts of money speculating on the price of food.  This has caused food prices all over the globe to soar and it has caused tremendous hardship for hundreds of millions of families around the planet.  The following is from a recent article in The Independent….

Speculation by large investment banks is driving up food prices for the world’s poorest people, tipping millions into hunger and poverty. Investment in food commodities by banks and hedge funds has risen from $65bn to $126bn (£41bn to £79bn) in the past five years, helping to push prices to 30-year highs and causing sharp price fluctuations that have little to do with the actual supply of food, says the United Nations’ leading expert on food.

Hedge funds, pension funds and investment banks such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and Barclays Capital now dominate the food commodities markets, dwarfing the amount traded by actual food producers and buyers.

Goldman Sachs alone has earned hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from food speculation.

Can you imagine what kind of mindset it takes to do this?

Can you imagine taking food out of the mouths of hungry families on the other side of the world so that you and your fellow employees can pad your bonus checks?

It really is disgusting.

But that is the way the game is played.

It is set up so that the big guy will win and the little guy will lose.

The other day I wrote about how this is particularly true when it comes to our system of taxation.

Well, since that article I have discovered some new numbers that were just released by Citizens for Tax Justice.  Some of the things that they have uncovered are absolutely amazing….

Between 2008 and 2011, Verizon made a total profit of $19.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -3.8%.

Between 2008 and 2011, General Electric made a total profit of $19.6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -18.9%.

Between 2008 and 2011, Boeing made a total profit of $14.8 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -5.5%.

Between 2008 and 2011, Pacific Gas & Electric made a total profit of $6 billion and yet paid an effective tax rate of -8.4%.

So why should middle class families continue to be suffocated by outrageous tax rates when hugely profitable corporations such as General Electric are able to get away with paying nothing?

Our current tax system is an utter abomination and should be completely thrown out.

But as is the case with so many other things, our current system is going to persist because the “big guys” really enjoy the status quo and they are the ones that fund political campaigns.

It would be bad enough if the “big guys” were beating us on a level playing field.

But the truth is that the game has been dramatically tilted in their favor and they know that the politicians are going to take care of them whenever they need it.

So what is going to happen the next time the too big to fail banks get into trouble?

They will almost certainly get bailed out again.

Unfortunately, the big Wall Street banks continue to treat the financial system as if it was a gigantic casino.  The derivatives bubble just continues to grow larger and larger, and it could burst and absolutely devastate the entire global financial system at any time.

According to the New York Times, the too big to fail banks have complete domination over derivatives trading.  Every month a secret meeting that includes representatives from JPMorgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Bank of America and Citigroup is held in New York to coordinate their control over the derivatives marketplace.  The following is how the New York Times describes those meetings….

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

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

When the derivatives market fully implodes, there will not be enough money in the world to bail everyone out.  According to the Comptroller of the Currency, the too big to fail banks have exposure to derivatives that is absolutely outrageous.  Just check out the following numbers….

JPMorgan Chase – $70.1 Trillion

Citibank – $52.1 Trillion

Bank of America – $50.1 Trillion

Goldman Sachs – $44.2 Trillion

So what happens when that house of cards comes crashing down?

Well, those big banks will come crying to the federal government again.

They will want more bailouts.

They will claim that if we don’t give them the money that they need that the entire financial system will collapse.

And yes, if several of the too big to fail banks were to collapse all at once the consequences would be almost unimaginable.

But of course all of this could have been avoided if we would have made much wiser decisions upstream.

Our financial system is more vulnerable than it ever has been before, and the too big to fail banks just continue to grow.

The lessons from the financial crisis of 2008 have gone unheeded, and we are steamrolling toward an even greater crash.

What a mess.

Global Financial Markets Plunge As The World Watches Japan Descend Into A Nuclear Nightmare

Global financial markets are in turmoil as the situation in Japan continues to deteriorate.  Stock markets are plunging all over the world as investors flock to investments that are considered to be safer.  The 9.0 earthquake and the unprecedented tsunami in Japan would have been more than enough to spook investors and unleash chaos on world financial markets, but now the unfolding nightmare at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility is really starting to cause panic.  Right now there is a mass exodus out of the city of Tokyo.  But not everyone can leave the city.  There are over 30 million people living in and around Tokyo.  So where in the world could you possibly put 30 million refugees?  Sadly, the truth is that millions of Japanese are going to stay in Tokyo no matter how high the radiation gets.  Let us hope that Japanese authorities can get the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility under control, but the fact that they have resorted to dropping water from helicopters and shooting water cannons at these nuclear reactors is not comforting.

World financial markets are certainly not expressing a lot of confidence right now.  This week alone, $300 billion in U.S. stock values have been wiped out.  The Dow Jones industrial average lost about 2 percent of its total value on Wednesday.  The Nikkei 225 stock index has lost about 10 percent of its total value since the beginning of this crisis.  At one point it was down more than 16 percent, but a gigantic monetary injection from the Bank of Japan has helped to stabilize things at least for now.  There are also some that believe that the Japanese government is now directly buying up stocks to keep them from falling even further.

Stock markets across Europe have been plunging as well.  An article posted on the USA Today website described some of the carnage on Wednesday….

In Europe, the FTSE 100 index of leading British shares closed down 97.05 points, or 1.7% at 5,598.23 while France’s CAC-40 fell 84.29 points, or 2.2%, to 3,696.56. Germany’s DAX ended 133.82 points, or 2%, lower at 6,513.84.

The financial ripples from this crisis are going to be felt for a long, long time.

In order to rebuild Japan, the Japanese government is somehow going to have to borrow massive amounts of money.  But the Japanese national debt was already projected to reach 228 percent of GDP this year.

The Japanese government has become an incredibly bad credit risk, but lowering their credit rating right now would seem to be in very bad taste.  So far, all three major credit rating agencies are taking a “wait and see” approach when it comes to Japan.

Unfortunately, the crisis in Japan is far from over.

The situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility just seems to grow more dire with each passing day.  Right now, the primary concern is the 40 years of spent fuel rods that are stored throughout the complex.

Ed Lyman, a physicist at the Union of Concerned Scientists, recently explained why the pools that store the spent fuel rods are the biggest problem at this point….

“For the time being, the greatest concern is the spent fuel pools because there is a clear pathway for release of radioactivity from the pools into the environment.”

The phrase “spent fuel rods” may make it sound like they should no longer be a threat, but the truth is that these fuel rods remain extremely hot and extremely radioactive for years after they are done being used.  For some reason, someone thought that it would be a good idea to store these spent fuel rods in huge pools of water near the top of each of the nuclear reactor buildings at the Fukushima Dai-ichi complex.

These spent fuel rod pools are not housed in the same kind of containment vessels that the nuclear reactors are.  Therefore there is a much greater danger that radiation from these spent fuel rods could be released into the surrounding environment.

A recent article by Paul Joseph Watson did a great job of explaining just how big of a problem these spent fuel rods represent….

The Fukushima Daiichi plant has seven pools dedicated to spent fuel rods. These are located at the top of six reactor buildings – or were until explosions and fires ravaged the plant. On the ground level there is a common pool in a separate building that was critically damaged by the tsunami. Each reactor building pool holds 3,450 fuel rod assemblies and the common pool holds 6,291 fuel rod assemblies. Each assembly holds sixty-three fuel rods. In short, the Fukushima Daiichi plant contains over 600,000 spent fuel rods – a massive amount of radiation that will soon be released into the atmosphere.

Each of these 600,000 spent fuel rods is a potential “dirty bomb”.

Are you starting to grasp just how serious this all is?

It is absolutely critical that all of these spent fuel rods remain submerged in water.

If the water drops in the spent fuel pools there will be nothing to keep the spent fuel rods cool and they will start to degrade very, very quickly.

Unfortunately, things don’t look good right now.  U.S. authorities today expressed their belief that the spent fuel rods in unit 4 are now exposed and that a great deal of radiation is being released.  In fact, Gregory Jaczko, the chairman of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, stated during Congressional testimony today that he believes that an extremely high level of radiation is being released by exposed spent fuel rods at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility at this point….

We believe that radiation levels are extremely high, which could possibly impact the ability to take corrective measures.

It would be hard to understate the courage of those that are working inside the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear facility right now. They all likely realize that they are all going to die very quickly. They are laying down their lives in an effort to save their countrymen. According to a recent report from CBS News these workers say that they are not afraid to die….

Although communication with the workers inside the nuclear plant is nearly impossible, a CBS News consultant spoke to a Japanese official who made contact with one of the workers inside the control center.

The official said that his friend told him that he was not afraid to die, that that was his job.

Would all of us respond the same way?

Even the media that are reporting on this disaster in Japan are starting to be affected by this radiation.  Lester Holt revealed this morning that his entire crew had tested positive for radiation after returning from an assignment.

Meanwhile, Barack Obama is acting as if all of this stuff going on in Japan is no big deal. In fact, as Keith Koffler recently observed, Obama seems to be really enjoying himself in the midst of this crisis….

This morning, as Japan’s nuclear crisis enters a potentially catastrophic phase, we are told that Obama is videotaping his NCAA tournament picks and that we’ll be able to tune into ESPN Wednesday to find out who he likes.

Saturday, he made his 61st outing to the golf course as president, and got back to the White House with just enough time for a quick shower before heading out to party with Washington’s elite journalists at the annual Gridiron Dinner.

If you are curious about Obama’s picks for the NCAA tourney, they are posted on the official White House website.

This weekend, the Obamas are headed down to Brazil. According to an article in Forbes, the Obama plan to do a good bit of sightseeing while they are there….

The Obama family will also take in the sights in Rio. A trip to Corcovado mountain, where the Christ the Redeemer statue stands (France gave us Lady Liberty, gave Brazil Jesus) is supposedly on the itinerary. What trip to Rio would be complete without it?

Isn’t it great to see Obama acting like a true leader in the midst of one of the greatest moments of crisis that the world has seen since World War 2?

What in the world is Obama possibly thinking?

One thing about a major crisis is that it reveals the true character of those affected by it.  Many are responding to this crisis in Japan with great acts of courage and heroism.

Others are not rising to the occasion.

Let us just hope and pray that the Japanese figure out a way to get the situation at the Fukushima Dai-ichi nuclear complex under control.  If a “worst case scenario” happens we could soon be facing an unprecedented nuclear nightmare.

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

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

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

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

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

Of course not.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It Is A Race To The Bottom For Global Currencies And The Winner Will Be Gold

In 2010, any nation that has a weak currency has a very significant competitive advantage in global trade.  A weak currency means that the products and services produced by that nation will be less expensive for other nations.  Therefore other nations will buy more of those products and services.  When exports go up, employment goes up and more wealth flows into the country.  Alternatively, when the value of a national currency declines, exports do down, unemployment increases and less wealth flows into the country.  Therefore, dozens of exporting nations around the globe have become increasingly determined to keep their national currencies very weak in an attempt to maintain a competitive advantage in the global marketplace.  Essentially what we have is a race to the bottom among global currencies.  Whenever any nation wants to gain a little bit more of an edge in global trade they push the value of their currency down just a little bit more.  So who is the winner in all of this?  Well, that is easy.  Gold, silver and other precious metals will continue to be the winners as fiat currencies all over the globe continue to decline in value. 

Quite a few nations have been openly manipulating their national currencies for many years, but now currency issues are starting to make front page news.  Things are starting to get quite tense out there.  Major importing nations are starting to resent the fact that they have been burned by all of this currency manipulation and major exporting nations are absolutely determined not to lose the economic gains that they have achieved as a result of their currency manipulation.   

In recent months, nation after nation has been taking steps to weaken their national currencies.  Every time another currency gets devalued the hostility in the global marketplace just seems to grow.  In fact, Brazil’s finance minister recently was very honest about the fact that the nations of the world are now engaged in a very open “international currency war”….

“We’re in the midst of an international currency war, a general weakening of currency.”

So where does all of this end?

Well, to some the answer is to adopt a global currency.  But let us hope that never, ever happens because it would be the end of economic sovereignty for every nation on the face of the earth.

To others, the answer is for the nations that are being taken advantage of to stand up and to declare that they are not going to take it anymore.

Perhaps the most glaring example of one nation taking example of another is what China is doing to the United States.

In my recent article entitled “Currency War” I described the effect that currency manipulation by the Chinese government is having on trade between the U.S. and China….

For years, China has kept the value of their currency artificially low.  Even though China has made a few small moves toward a more free-floating currency policy, at this point China’s currency is still pretty much pegged to the U.S. dollar.  It is estimated that the Chinese government is keeping China’s currency at a value about 40 percent lower than what it should be.  This is essentially a de facto subsidy to China’s exporters.

By keeping their currency essentially pegged to the U.S. dollar at such a low value, China is able to flood the U.S. market with incredibly cheap goods and services.  But this has created an absolutely massive trade imbalance.  Today, the United States spends $3.90 on Chinese goods for every $1.00 that the Chinese spend on American goods.  Jobs and wealth are flowing out of the United States and into China at a pace that is almost unimaginable.

The Chinese know that if they let the value of their currency rise substantially it would have a devastating impact on their economy.  Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was recently quoted in The Telegraph as saying the following about what would happen if the value of Chinese currency was to rise substantially….

“I can’t imagine how many Chinese factories will go bankrupt, how many Chinese workers will lose their jobs.”

So instead American factories get to go bankrupt and millions of American workers get to lose their jobs.

Is that fair?

Meanwhile, other nations around the world are busy debasing their currencies.  For example, Japan recently made a 12 billion dollar move in world currency markets to debase the value of the yen.

Earlier this year, the Swiss National Bank experienced losses equivalent to about 15 billion dollars trying to stop the rapid rise of the Swiss franc.

It truly is a race to the bottom.

So who benefits?

Gold, silver and other precious metals of course.

Gold recently topped $1,300 an ounce. 

Silver has been absolutely soaring.

Exporting nations such as China and India have been gobbling up gold and other precious metals every time there is a little bit of a dip.  They are tired of piling up endless amounts of U.S. dollars and they are seeking to diversify into something more solid.

The trend toward gold and precious metals is so hot that one German firm that installs gold vending machines now has plans to introduce them into the United States later this year.

It seems like everyone wants gold right now.

Not that gold is any more valuable than it ever has been.

It is just that it is not going down in value like all of the fiat paper currencies around the world are.

This is not a good time to have faith in paper currencies – particularly the U.S. dollar.

Already the dollar has been slipping substantially and the Federal Reserve has not really even cranked up the next round of quantitative easing yet.

One of the easiest things to do when there are economic problems in a nation is to pump more paper money into the economy.  More paper money gives people something to spend, it spurs economic activity, it helps exports (as described above), and it helps put people back to work. 

Of course it also destroys the value of the currency, but we will get to that in a minute.

With millions upon millions of Americans out of work, and with millions of homes being foreclosed, and with poverty statistics soaring into uncharted territory, it is very tempting for our politicians in Washington to borrow even more paper money and to pump it into the economy in an attempt to get things going again.  But right now an election is coming up and the Tea Party has raised such a ruckus about government debt that there isn’t much appetite for more “stimulus packages” right now.

Of course the truth is that “stimulus packages” never solve any of our long-term problems anyway.  The reality is that they just give our economy a short-term “high” and make our long-term debt problems even worse.

Not that the U.S. government is not quietly up to some monkey business.  On Friday, federal regulators announced a 30 billion dollar bailout of the nation’s wholesale credit union system.

Another bailout?

Just what we need, eh?

But in general, the U.S. government is not doing a whole lot more reckless spending right now.

However, the Federal Reserve can inject more paper money into the economy without the help of Congress.  Under the guise of “quantitative easing”, the Federal Reserve makes up money out of thin air and pumps it into the economy by buying up U.S. Treasuries, mortgage-backed securities or anything else that they feel like buying.

So is this going to happen again any time soon?

There are all kinds of whispers on Wall Street that this is exactly what the Fed is going to do and that it is going to be massive.

And quantitative easing would probably stimulate the U.S. economy in the short-term.

However, it would also seriously damage the value of the U.S. dollar.

You see, the truth is that when more dollars are introduced into the system, the value of each existing dollar goes down.

It is called inflation, and it is a hidden tax on all of us. 

Think of it this way.  If you put five dollars away today and you anticipate that you will be able to buy two loaves of bread with it three years from now, you will be greatly disappointed if when that day arrives a loaf of bread now costs five dollars and you can only purchase one loaf.

When the purchasing power of the dollar declines, it is a tax on every single dollar in every single wallet and bank account in the United States.

Since 1913, the U.S. dollar has lost over 96 percent of its value.  Unfortunately, as ever increasing mountains of paper money continue to be required to keep our financial system solvent, the rate of decline of the value of the dollar is only going to increase in the years ahead.

So when you are watching the news and you hear that the Federal Reserve has announced some more “quantitative easing”, you might want to watch your wallet because you are about to be taxed.  Your dollars will still be there – they just won’t go as far as they used to.

But in the twisted global economic system that our politicians have created, if the U.S. does not devalue the dollar we will lose factories, jobs and wealth at an even faster pace. 

How sick is that?

So do not put your trust in the U.S. dollar.  In the end, it will fail.

So what do all of you think?  Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion (sane of otherwise) below….

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