Too Big To Fail?: 10 Banks Own 77 Percent Of All U.S. Banking Assets

Back during the financial crisis of 2008, the American people were told that the largest banks in the United States were “too big to fail” and that was why it was necessary for the federal government to step in and bail them out.  The idea was that if several of our biggest banks collapsed at the same time the financial system would not be strong enough to keep things going and economic activity all across America would simply come to a standstill.  Congress was told that if the “too big to fail” banks did not receive bailouts that there would be chaos in the streets and this country would plunge into another Great Depression.  Since that time, however, essentially no efforts have been made to decentralize the U.S. banking system.  Instead, the “too big to fail” banks just keep getting larger and larger and larger.  Back in 2002, the top 10 banks controlled 55 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Today, the top 10 banks control 77 percent of all U.S. banking assets.  Unfortunately, these giant banks are also colossal mountains of risk, debt and leverage.  They are incredibly unstable and they could start coming apart again at any time.  None of the major problems that caused the crash of 2008 have been fixed.  In fact, the U.S. banking system is more centralized and more vulnerable today than it ever has been before.

It really is difficult for ordinary Americans to get a handle on just how large these financial institutions are.  For example, the “big six” U.S. banks (Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, and Wells Fargo) now possess assets equivalent to approximately 60 percent of America’s gross national product.

These huge banks are giant financial vacuum cleaners.  Over the past couple of decades we have witnessed a financial consolidation in this country that is absolutely unprecedented.

This trend accelerated during the recent financial crisis.  While the big boys were receiving massive bailouts, the hundreds of small banks that were failing were either allowed to collapse or they were told that they should find a big bank that was willing to buy them.

As a group, Citigroup, JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America and Wells Fargo held approximately 22 percent of all banking deposits in FDIC-insured institutions back in 2000.

By the middle of 2009 that figure was up to 39 percent.

That is not just a trend – that is a landslide.

Sadly, smaller banks continue to fail in large numbers and the big banks just keep growing and getting more power.

Today, there are more than 1,000 U.S. banks that are on the “unofficial list” of problem banking institutions.

In the absence of fundamental changes, the consolidation of the banking industry is going to continue.

Meanwhile, the “too big to fail” banks are flush with cash and they are getting serious about expanding.  The Federal Reserve has been extremely good to the big boys and they are eager to grow.

For example, Citigroup is becoming extremely aggressive about expanding….

Citigroup has been hiring dozens of investment bankers, dialing up advertising and drawing up plans to add several hundred branches worldwide, including more than 200 in major cities across the United States.

Hopefully the big banks will start lending again.  The whole idea behind the bailouts and all of the “quantitative easing” that the Federal Reserve did was to get money into the hands of the big banks so that they would lend it out to ordinary Americans and get the economy rolling again.

Well, a funny thing happened.  The big banks just sat on a lot of that money.

In particular, what they did was they deposited much of it at the Fed and drew interest on it.

Since 2008, excess reserves parked at the Fed have grown by nearly 1.7 trillion dollars.  Just check out the chart posted below….

The American people were promised that TARP and all of the other bailouts would enable the big banks to lend out lots of money which would help get the economy going for ordinary Americans again.

Well, it turns out that in 2009 (the first full year after Congress passed the bailout legislation) U.S. banks posted their sharpest decline in lending since 1942.

Lending has never fully recovered since the crash of 2008.  The big financial institutions like Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley and JPMorgan Chase have been able to get all the cash that they need, but they have not passed that generosity along to ordinary Americans.

In fact, the biggest U.S. banks have actually reduced small business lending by about 50 percent since the crash of 2008.

That doesn’t sound like what we were promised.

These “too big to fail” banks have been able to borrow gigantic amounts of money from the Fed for next to nothing and yet they still refuse to let credit flow to local communities.  Instead, the big banks have found other purposes for all of the super cheap money that they have been getting from the Fed as Ellen Brown recently explained….

It can be very profitable indeed for the big Wall Street banks, but the purpose of the near-zero interest rates was supposed to be to get banks to lend again. Instead, they are, indeed, paying “outrageous bonuses to their top executives;” using the money to engage in the same sort of unregulated speculation that nearly brought down the economy in 2008; buying up smaller banks; or investing this virtually interest-free money in risk-free government bonds, on which taxpayers are paying 2.5 percent interest (more for longer-term securities).

What makes things even worse is that these big banks often pay next to nothing in taxes.

For example, between 2008 and 2010, Wells Fargo made a total profit of 49.37 billion dollars.

Over that same time period, their tax bill was negative 681 million dollars.

Do you understand what that means?  Over that 3 year time period, Wells Fargo actually got 681 million dollars back from the U.S. government.

Isn’t that just peachy?

Meanwhile, the big financial giants have not learned their lessons and they continue to do business pretty much as they did it prior to 2008.

The big banks continue to roll up massive amounts of risk, debt and leverage.

Today, Wall Street has become one giant financial casino.  More money is made on Wall Street by making side bets (commonly referred to as “derivatives“) than on the investments themselves.

If the bets pay off for the big financial institutions, mind blowing profits can be made.  But if the bets go against the big financial institutions (as we saw in 2008), firms can collapse almost overnight.

In fact, it was derivatives that almost brought down AIG.  The biggest insurance company in the world almost folded in 2008 because of a whole bunch of really bad bets.

The danger from derivatives is so great that Warren Buffet once called them “financial weapons of mass destruction”.  It has been estimated that the notional value of the worldwide derivatives market is somewhere in the neighborhood of a quadrillion dollars.

The largest banks have tens of trillions of dollars of exposure to derivatives.  When the next great financial collapse happens, derivatives will almost certainly be at the center of it once again.  These side bets do not create anything real for the economy – they just make and lose huge amounts of money.  We never know when the next great derivatives crisis will strike.  Derivatives are essentially like a “sword of Damocles” that perpetually hangs over the U.S. financial system.

When I start talking about derivatives I get a lot of people in the financial community mad at me.  On Wall Street today you can bet on just about anything you can imagine.  Almost everyone in the financial world has gotten so used to making wild bets that they couldn’t even imagine a world without them.  If anyone even tried to put significant limits on futures, options and swaps it would cause Wall Street to throw a hissy fit.

But someday the dominoes are going to start to fall and the house of cards is going to come crashing down.  It is an open secret that our financial system is fundamentally unsound.  Even a lot of people working on Wall Street will admit that.  It is just that people are so busy making such big piles of money that nobody wants the party to stop.

It is only a matter of time until some of these big banks get into a huge amount of trouble again.  When that happens, we might really find out whether they are “too big to fail” or whether we could get along just fine without them.

Rampant Unemployment = The Death Of The Middle Class – 40 Facts That Prove The Working Class Is Being Systematically Wiped Out

Without an abundance of good jobs, the middle class in the United States is going to shrivel up and die.  Right now, rampant unemployment is absolutely killing communities all over America.  Hopelessness and poverty are exploding and many are now wondering if we are actually witnessing the slow death of the middle class.  There simply are not nearly enough “good jobs” to go around anymore, and even many in the mainstream media are referring to this as a “long-term structural problem” with the economy.  The only thing that most working class Americans have to offer in the marketplace is their labor.  If nobody will hire them they do not have any other ways to provide for their families.  Well, there is a problem.  Today wealth has become incredibly centralized.  The big corporations and the big banks dominate everything.  Thanks to incredible advances in technology and thanks to the globalization of our economic system, the people with all the money don’t have to hire as many ordinary Americans anymore.  They can hire all the labor they want on the other side of the globe for a fraction of the cost.  So the rich don’t really have that much use for the working class in America anymore.  The only thing of value that the working class had to offer has now been tremendously devalued.  The wealthy don’t have to pay a lot for physical labor anymore.  Thousands of our factories and millions of our jobs have been shipped overseas and they aren’t coming back.  The big corporations are thriving while tens of millions of ordinary Americans are deeply suffering.  Almost all of the wealth being produced by our economy is going to a very centralized group of people at the very top of the food chain.  The rich are getting richer and the working class is being systematically wiped out.

So the fact that we are facing rampant unemployment that never seems to go away should not be a surprise to anyone.  Today, the “official” unemployment rate went up to 9.2 percent even though a whopping 272,000 Americans “dropped out of the labor force” in June.  The government unemployment figure that includes “discouraged workers” went up from 15.8% to 16.2%.  The mainstream media is proclaiming that this was “a horrific report” because most economists were expecting much better news.

Well, guess what?

Things are going to get a whole lot worse.

More job cuts are coming.  One recently released report found that the number of job cuts being planned by U.S. employers increased by 11.6% in June.

It is also being projected that state and local governments across the U.S. will slash nearly half a million more jobs by the end of next year.

Needless to say, things don’t look good.

Most people that still have jobs are desperately trying to hold on to them.

Employers know that most workers are easily replaceable these days, so wages are not moving up even though the cost of living is.

We are right in the middle of the worst employment downturn since World War 2.  Jay-Z recently summed up the situation this way….

“Numbers don’t lie. Unemployment is pretty high.”

Jay-Z certainly has a way with words, eh?

If something is not done about the rampant unemployment in this nation, the death of the middle class will accelerate.

Most Americans just assume that the United States will always have a large middle class, but there is no guarantee that is going to happen.  In fact, there is a whole lot of evidence that the middle class in America is rapidly shrinking.

Take a few moments to read over the facts compiled below.  Taken together, they provide compelling evidence that the working class is being systematically wiped out….

#1 Right now, the U.S. government says that 14.1 million Americans are unemployed.

#2 There are fewer payroll jobs in the United States today than there were back in 2000 even though we have added 30 million people to the population since then.

#3 The number of Americans that are “not in the labor force” is at an all-time high.

#4 The United States has never had an employment downturn this deep and this prolonged since World War 2 ended.

#5 There are officially 6.3 million Americans that have been unemployed for more than 6 months.  That number has risen by more than 3.5 million in just the past two years.

#6 It now takes the average unemployed worker in America about 40 weeks to find a new job.  Just check out this chart….

#7 There are now about 7.25 million fewer jobs in America than when the recession began back in 2007.

#8 Back in 2000, the employment to population ratio was over 64 percent.  Today, it is sitting at just 58.2%.

#9 Only 66.8% of American men had a job last year.  That was the lowest level that has ever been recorded in all of U.S. history.

#10 During this economic downturn, employee compensation in the United States has been the lowest that it has been relative to gross domestic product in over 50 years.

#11 The number of “low income jobs” in the U.S. has risen steadily over the past 30 years and they now account for 41 percent of all jobs in the United States.

#12 Half of all American workers now earn $505 or less per week.

#13 According to a report released in February from the National Employment Law Project, higher wage industries are accounting for 40 percent of the job losses in America but only 14 percent of the job growth.  Lower wage industries are accounting for just 23 percent of the job losses but 49 percent of the job growth.

#14 The United States has lost a staggering 32 percent of its manufacturing jobs since the year 2000.

#15 Between December 2000 and December 2010, 38 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Ohio were lost, 42 percent of the manufacturing jobs in North Carolina were lost and 48 percent of the manufacturing jobs in Michigan were lost.

#16 Back in 1970, 25 percent of all jobs in the United States were manufacturing jobs. Today, only 9 percent of the jobs in the United States are manufacturing jobs.

#17 Do you remember when the United States was the dominant manufacturer of automobiles and trucks on the globe?  Well, in 2010 the U.S. ran a trade deficit in automobiles, trucks and parts of $110 billion.

#18 In 2010, South Korea exported 12 times as many automobiles, trucks and parts to us as we exported to them.

#19 The United States now spends more than 4 dollars on goods and services from China for every one dollar that China spends on goods and services from the United States.

#20 Since China entered the WTO in 2001, the U.S. trade deficit with China has grown by an average of 18% per year.

#21 The U.S. trade deficit with China in 2010 was 27 times larger than it was back in 1990.

#22 The United States has lost an average of 50,000 manufacturing jobs per month since China joined the World Trade Organization in 2001.

#23 In 2002, the United States had a trade deficit in “advanced technology products” of $16 billion with the rest of the world.  In 2010, that number skyrocketed to $82 billion.

#24 Manufacturing employment in the U.S. computer industry was actually lower in 2010 than it was in 1975.

#25 Since 2001, over 42,000 manufacturing facilities in the United States have been closed.

#26 There were more manufacturing jobs in the United States in 1950 than there are today.

#27 Since the year 2000, we have lost approximately 10% of our middle class jobs.  In the year 2000 there were about 72 million middle class jobs in the United States but today there are only about 65 million middle class jobs.  Meanwhile, our population has gotten significantly larger.

#28 When you adjust wages for inflation, middle class workers in the United States make less money today than they did back in 1971.

#29 One recent survey found that 9 out of 10 U.S. workers do not expect their wages to keep up with soaring food prices and soaring gas prices over the next 12 months.

#30 Only the top 5 percent of U.S. households have earned enough additional income to match the rise in housing costs since 1975.

#31 One out of every six elderly Americans now lives below the federal poverty line.

#32 According to one recent study, approximately 21 percent of all children in the United States were living below the poverty line in 2010.

#33 Back in 1965, only one out of every 50 Americans was on Medicaid.  Today, one out of every 6 Americans is on Medicaid.

#34 As 2007 began, there were 26 million Americans on food stamps.  Today, there are more than 44 million Americans on food stamps, which is an all-time record.

#35 Today, one out of every four American children is on food stamps.

#36 59 percent of all Americans now receive money from the federal government in one form or another.

#37 The number of Americans that are going to food pantries and soup kitchens has increased by 46% since 2006.

#38 In the United States today, the richest one percent of all Americans have a greater net worth than the bottom 90 percent combined.

#39 According to Moody’s Analytics, the wealthiest 5% of all households in the United States now account for approximately 37% of all consumer spending.

#40 The poorest 50% of all Americans collectively own just 2.5% of all the wealth in the United States.

The cold, hard reality of the matter is that the United States is experiencing a long-term economic decline.

Every single day, more American families fall out of the middle class and into poverty.  There are millions of American families out there tonight that are just barely hanging on by their fingernails.

More Americans than ever are constantly borrowing more money just to stay afloat.  Even as rampant unemployment plagues this nation and even as wages remain stagnant, middle class Americans are increasing their use of credit.

A CNBC article noted the increase in consumer borrowing that we have seen recently….

The Federal Reserve says consumer borrowing rose $5.1 billion following a revised gain of $5.7 billion in April. Borrowing in the category that covers credit cards increased, as did borrowing in the category for auto and student loans.

It is very hard to live “the American Dream” without going into huge amounts of debt these days.

But for an increasing number of Americans, “the American Dream” is just a distant memory.

Tonight, there are large numbers of people living in the tunnels under the city of Las Vegas.  As the wealthy live the high life in the casinos and hotels above them, an increasing number of desperate “tunnel people” are attempting to carve out an existence in the 200 mile long labyrinth of tunnels that stretches beneath Vegas.  It is a nightmarish environment, but it is all those people have left.

Don’t look down on them, because you never know who might be next.

If you lost your current job, how long would you be able to survive?

Unfortunately, as bad as things are now, the reality is that this is just the beginning.

You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.

Do what you can to make sure that you and your family are not totally wiped out by the next wave of the economic collapse.

Pissed Off!: 67 Percent Of Americans Are Dissatisfied With The Size And Influence Of Major Corporations

The American people are becoming increasingly angry about the extraordinary amount of power and influence that corporations have in the United States today.  A new Gallup poll found that 67 percent of Americans are dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations in the United States today.  Not only that, the most recent Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index found that only 26 percent of Americans trust our financial system at this point.  The mainstream media is acting as if this is a new phenomenon, but the truth is that a dislike of giant corporations goes all the way back to the founding of this nation.  Our founders held a deep distrust for all big concentrations of power, and they intended to set up a nation where no one person or no one institution could become too powerful.

Unfortunately, we have very much strayed from those principles.  In the United States today, the federal government completely dominates all other levels of government and mammoth international corporations completely dominate our economy.

If our founding fathers could see what is going on today they would probably roll over in their graves.

The history of the corporation can be traced back to the early part of the 17th century when Queen Elizabeth I established the East India Trading Company.

Our founders were not too fond of the East India Trading Company.  In fact, it was their tea that was dumped into the harbor during the original Boston Tea Party.

In his book entitled “Unequal Protection”, Thom Hartman described the great antipathy that our founders had for the East India Trading Company….

“Trade-dominance by the East India Company aroused the greatest passions of America’s Founders – every schoolboy knows how they dumped the Company’s tea into Boston harbour. At the time in Britain virtually all members of parliament were stockholders, a tenth had made their fortunes through the Company, and the Company funded parliamentary elections generously.”

So a disgust for great concentrations of financial power is built into our national DNA.

Many people today think of giant international corporations as being synonymous with “capitalism”, but that is just not the case.

Our founders envisioned a land where free enterprise could flourish in an environment where no institution held too much power.

So this false left/right debate about whether we should give more power to the government or more power to the corporations is largely a bunch of nonsense.

If the founders were around today they would say that we need to take a lot of power away from both of them.

Fortunately, it looks like the American people are starting to think the same thing.  Not only are the American people dissatisfied with government, they are also becoming increasingly dissatisfied with big corporations.

As mentioned above, according to Gallup two-thirds of Americans are now dissatisfied with the size and influence of major corporations in America today….

As you can see, the gap between those in favor of the size and influence of major corporations and those not in favor has been significantly widening over the past decade.

That is a good thing.

Not only that, but the latest Chicago Booth/Kellogg School Financial Trust Index shows that Americans have very little trust in the financial system at this point.

The following are some of the key findings from their most recent report….

*Only 26 percent of Americans trust the nation’s financial system.

*Only 13 percent of Americans trust big corporations.

*Only 16 percent of Americans trust the stock market.

*Only 43 percent of Americans trust the banks.

These numbers are staggering, but they should not be surprising.  The American people were not pleased at all when the major banks and big financial institutions were showered with bailouts during the recent financial crisis.  A lot of that anger is still simmering.

The recent housing collapse, which is still ongoing, was caused in great part by the behavior of the major banks and big financial institutions, but it is the American people which have suffered the most from it.  The following very brief animation from Taiwan demonstrates this very humorously….

The American people are still wondering where their “bailouts” are.  Most of the big banks and big corporations seem to be thriving even while the number of Americans slipping into poverty continues to grow.

According to Calculated Risk, approximately 15 million Americans are unemployed, about 9 million Americans are working part-time for “economic reasons” and approximately 4 million American workers have left the labor force since the beginning of the economic downturn.

When you total that all up, you get 28 million Americans that wish they had full-time jobs.

Ouch.

There are other numbers that are very disturbing as well.  In the month of November, the number of people on food stamps set another new all-time record: 43.6 million Americans.

So we have tens of millions of Americans that can’t get the jobs that they want and we have tens of millions of Americans that can’t feed themselves without government assistance.

No wonder so many people are angry at the big corporations!

The U.S. government has showered the big corporations and the big banks with bailouts, tax breaks and cheap loans and yet the big corporations and the big banks are not coming through for the American people.

Meanwhile, food prices continue to go up.  According to the United Nations food agency, global food prices set another new all-time record during the month of January, and they are expected to continue rising for months to come.

That certainly is not going to ease tensions in the Middle East and elsewhere around the world.  When people are not able to pay for the food that they need that tends to make them very, very angry.

For now we are not likely to see food riots in the United States, but as food prices rise all of those food stamp cards are not going to go as far as they used to.  Average American families are going to feel more strain at the supermarket.  There will be less money available for other things.

A key indicator to watch is the price of oil.  The price of oil is one of the key components of the price of food, and if we see the price of oil go up to $120 or $150 a barrel that could mean really bad things for both the U.S. economy and the overall global economy.

If we do see another financial crisis like we did in 2008, is the U.S. government going to rush to bail out the big corporations and the big banks like they did the last time?

As we have seen from the numbers above, that certainly would not sit well with the American people.

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

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

So how does this carry trade work?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is just getting ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

Buying U.S. government debt of course….

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

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

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

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

That is a good question.

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

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

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

The Economic Collapse