Archive for October, 2011
BY JIM WILLIE
The feverish positive sentiment has left the Gold & Silver market in the last two months. Raised margin requirements during falling prices alongside naked short ambushes in the COMEX, coupled with permitted asset damage from debt monetization conducted more in secrecy will always help to dampen enthusiasm. But with the billboard message on the European subway walls and boulevards and news magazines stating the obvious, that the European debt crisis has no solution, that Germany has no more checks to write in funding the bailouts, that Greece is set to default, that leaders in political spheres are opposed by bank leaders where the final decisions are made, the GOLD & SILVER PRICES ARE SET TO ZOOM. Only the dummies sold in the last round of ambushes and interrupted recoveries. The precious metals have suddenly awakened. The old defended range for the two metals was easily overrun as a splash of reality hit the market faces. A mad scramble is likely from here onto the end of year, as people realize that hyper-inflation is the solution on any massive bailout with clearer gigantic needs, and as people realize that a broad string of bank failures will drive gigantic flows into safer places since sovereign bonds will go from sacred to toxic. The powerful decline in September, down $200 in gold and down $10 in silver suddenly have presented a ripe easy recovery without resistance. A powerful reversal is near and coming. Many investors will rush back in, paying higher prices than where they unwisely sold. Many investors will rush in, seeing banks and government bonds as ugly options.
FRAUD LACED IN THE SYSTEM
Before delving into the easy 15% upside opportunity in gold and easy 25% upside opportunity in silver, a topic begs to be covered. The topic is fraud. While discussion and analysis of fraud in US high finance can fill volumes, an entire set of encyclopedias, from just the last generation, direct attention to the fraud of investment funds and fraudulent bank accounting. My desire is to cite specifics on how investors have been duped into not participating in major moves up in commodity prices, like crude oil and precious metals gold & silver. My desire is to cite specifics on how the big banks avoid reporting 75% cuts in profits by fabricating the most absurd of accounting profits that even financial newscasters dispute as valid. The various funds to participate in the black gold and yellow gold asset plays have been congames. The defense by the big US banks against utter and complete insolvency have been congames. The public must avoid the ETFund investments. The public must avoid the perception that the big US banks are anything but dead.
PINPOINT FAILURE OF U.S. CAPITALISM
A opening argument against fraud and misrepresentation goes far beyond the Wall Street practice of pandering toxic bonds with AAA ratings. It goes far beyond promoting a fund that actually is critical in shorting oil and gold, rather than investing in them as investors intend. It goes far beyond deceiving about a price inflation between 7% and 11% since year 2005. It goes far beyond hiding an economic recession that started in 2007 and never ended. It goes far beyond news coverage of foreign wars like in Libya, when $90 billion in Qaddafi parked funds have been frozen, probably never to be released by Western banks. It goes far beyond $50 billion gone missing from the Iraq Reconstruction Fund with direct $2.3 billion payment handed to a fellow who received the highest medal of honor to a private citizen. The biggest problems that plague the United States Economy, its financial system, and its capitalist structure relate to ineffective usage of brainpower, co-opted assets & capital, and enormous investment in the corrupted system.
Clearly the United States has untapped resources, deep riches, broadly spread. The nation has significant land, including agriculture, timber, and water resources. The nation has significant untouched oil & gas deposits, and natural energy in wind, sun, and geothermal pockets. The nation has significant knowledge and technology, some of which has never been used that could dramatically reduce a wide range of expenses. The nation has 300 million people who have a great deal of their time and energy ready for productive usage. The nation has enormous untapped resources. However, the investment and capital devoted to support the fraudulent system is staggering. Just look for instance at the CNBC and Bloomberg financial news center facilities. They are not devoted to industry that produces jobs directed at value added enterprise. Just look at the entire Wall Street and hedge fund and asset management sector. It is not directed at value added enterprise, but rather to shuffling of securities certificates. A Chinese economist remarked a year or more ago that of the $14 trillion US Gross Domestic Product, perhaps half was not legitimate since merely related to transfers of debt securities and other debt paper products. What a great point! The USEconomy might be exaggerated by double in legitimate size, a fact underscored by the industrial base that has been moved to Asia since 1980, first with the Pacific Rim and finally with the Chinese buildup. Just look at the vast network of consumption centers, like Wal-Mart and Target and Best Buy, the retail chains that do not invest in value added enterprise. Recall that 70% of the USEconomy is devoted to consumption, as some sort of sick religious exercise that all too often has resulted in home equity converted to things bought. America has spent its capital tragically and now finds its many sectors insolvent. The conclusion is that a large part of American capital is devoted to the syndicate and beholden to the advertisers. Resources do not mean much when the capital and brainpower is co-opted and dedicated to fraudulent enterprise and even to self-destruction.
Let’s consider some specifics. Larry Ellison of Oracle, Steve Jobs of Apple, and Bill Gates of Microsoft never finished college. They were productive, as Gates is given a pass for innovation in monopoly development and marketing theft to build a stodgy empire that has stagnated in the last decade happily. When young minds attend college, they emerge hungry to make a mark, to put a stake in the ground, to create an organization, to build wealth and to make a legacy. All too often, the best & brightest are hired by the bad guys. An entire generation of brilliant young minds has been largely co-opted. Microsoft took genius minds, as the Jackass knew of several who applied there. They produced co-opted software technology, source code theft during partnership ventures, little or no innovation unless one considers bundling to smother Netscape and Norton. Also Goldman Sachs took genius minds, as the Jackass knew none, but a couple wannabees. They produced insider trading in finance technology, derivative devices that enabled concealed debt, exchange traded funds that enable control of a market, and so much more. A Forbes Magazine editor once sat next to Gates on an airline flight. During the conversation, Gates admitted that his chief rival in hiring the best minds that America had to offer came from Goldman Sachs. So the best graduates pursue permitted monopoly and fraudulent finance. Also the Defense Contractors took genius minds, as the Jackass knows of one in particular. They specialize in weapon systems and the attendant equipment. The trickle down benefits are an illusion, as the end product is a structure in smithereens. Benefits trickle down in seven to ten stages. Destruction trickles down in two or three stages, with Senate kickbacks and cost overruns the chief icing.
The biggest problems in the US are
- diverted intellect toward fraud, theft, and monopoly enterprise
- war and destruction, in pursuit of dominance over rubble landscape
- absent industry after 30 years of off-shoring factories to Asia
- really dumb kids, whose perspective is both shallow and limited.
When the Jackass was in Digital Equipment Corp from 1980 to 1993, many of us shook our heads when Intel, then many others, including DEC, opened manufacturing plants in the Pacific Rim. Ours were Taiwan, Hong Kong, and Singapore. One of my little accomplishments was to streamline online testing of factory output in quality control procedures. We had one major success with clients on their manufacturing sites that produced monitors and memory among others. The initial strategy on the national movement to off-shore was “just manufacturing” but many of us kept shaking our heads, thinking “no way, next comes Research & Development.” Within only two years, the DEC site in Taiwan had a leading R&D center that ultimately developed a world class computer monitor, a smart monitor with loads of options. Patents were filed, and the business segments upstream were set to flourish. Capital was attracted to Asia by the boatload. The United States has huge resources. But as we have see in the last two decades, they have been tapped, and they will be tapped, but by foreign nations and foreign firms. For a disgusting sign of the times, look to the California high speed rail project. The California Legislature eventually had to install new laws to limit the contract funds and contract jobs going to China. Most stimulus aid foreign jobs. Even stimulus toward the infrastructure in a key project aided China more than the US. Sadly, most new jobs in the USEconomy are devoted to health care and retail. So we are becoming a nation of hospital orderlies and cash register clerks, whose products tend to be bedpans and checkout lines. No need for college on those fronts.
FUND GROWTH DESPITE INEFFECTIVENESS
Exchange Traded Funds are generally a profound fraud laced with deception and extremely slippery prospectus language. Many lazy investors are being duped. The flagship GLD fund is the worst perpetrator in my view. Many analysts and industry experts have offered details on all manner of problems, irregularities, and anomalies, like unstable bar lists, like shorted shares by management, like bullion metal inventory shipped to the COMEX, like vault fees without stored metal. Turn to the flagship crude oil fund. The popular crude oil ETFund has lost over half its value relative to tracking the commodity price. Funds might be regularly abused by managers to short the commodity and keep the price down, an old game with an easy fingerprints. Such practice would fly in the face of investors, who sometimes feel betrayed, when they discover what is happening under their desks. The investors think they are investing in gold or crude oil in a fund, but those in charge of management and fiduciary responsibility are working hard toward the opposite objective. Investors are duped into shorting the same assets they invested in, indirectly. The total volume of Exchange Traded Funds is fast approaching $2 trillion, but not well invested. The invested funds all too often support the system that wishes to keep down the commodity prices, so that paper financial products are encouraged. The GLD fund managed by HSBC receives the most attention on widespread illicit activity, from fraudulent drainage of its gold inventory toward the COMEX to meet delivery demands through massive shorting. The fund has never been subjected to the scrutiny of a full audit by an independent agency.
EXCHANGE TRADED FUNDS DO NOT TRACK
Another big fraud is the crude oil investment tracker. The United States Oil Fund (USO) was introduced as a vehicle for investors to track the crude oil price. When it began, the ETF had a 1:1 price relationship with the New York crude oil from the futures exchange, a close match. Its expense ratio was a mere 0.45% in overhead. What a huge change since inception! The active month crude oil contract trades between $85 and $95, but the USO fund has been bobbing around recently in a lowly ratio to crude oil below 40%, with a plunge below 30% in October. The penalty for investing in the oil ETF has come to 60% to the dopey lazy investor. The investors did not invest in crude oil at all. They benefited not at all from any rise in crude oil over the last three years.
Analysts defend the fund, claiming that rollover from current nearby contracts has eaten up value, along with administrative costs. That seems a lie. The successive monthly contracts do ramp down, but by the month’s end, the difference should be very small. In all likelihood, just like GLD but to the extreme, the USO fund is being brutally abused to short the crude oil price on the West Texas contract. Recall that the WTIC oil price has consistently been $15 to $25 below the North Sea Brent oil price for months. Blame is placed for the gross differential on surplus storage at the Cushing Oklahoma facilities, but that too seems a lie. Look instead for a fishy finger on extreme Wall Street activity with futures contract shorts, perhaps even backed by the official Strategic Petroleum Reserve storage supply on oil slick cover. Notice in the ratio of USO/WTIC, the quantum decline in early 2009 corresponded to the extreme drop from $135 to $40 per barrel. Conclude that the USO fund might have been instrumental in generating some extreme profits on the downside when they drove down the crude oil price. Even more leverage is deployed with futures options.
One can see the other smaller quantum declines circled on the graph. Even they are outsized, since 6% is not the cost to roll into the current nearby month. The spread from successive months is typically only 30 to 60 cents, well under 1%. See for yourself from the INO website on the CL crude oil futures contract (CLICK HERE). However, between those sudden drops one can notice a steady ramp in decline. That is where the fraud and abuse lies, since they should be flat horizontal, acting like a true tracking fund. There is no tracking. Funds are in high likelihood removed regularly in illicit shorting programs, to sell the crude oil contract with investor funds. Just speculating, but this is an old game.
A final comment on the lavish expense ratios. For the SPDR Gold Shares (GLD) it is 0.40%, which does not seem like much. However, the size of the fund is about $55 billion, making 0.40% a hefty $220 million. That is a big fee to charge for mismanagement. At best it is badinvestment decisions, but at worst it is fraud such as from shorting the shares, the money drawn out to sell into the gold market. The metal inventory from short programs would go straight to the COMEX, as some intrepid reporters have revealed from insider sources. Conclude that investors are violated coming and going. Only total idiots and morons invest in such funds, of course along with lazy folks, cheered on by intellectual clowns like Adam Hamilton of Zeal Intelligence, who seems never to have identified a fraud in his entire career.
BIG BANK FRAUDULENT ACCOUNTING
Let me introduce you to my little friend, said the infamous Scarface. The little friend for the giant US banks is the Debt Value Adjustment, which fabricates profits from bond decay. The success is in placating really stupid investors, who rush in, only to see the bank stock fall by the afternoon sesssion. The accounting fraud committed by JPMorgan is typical. Instead of taking a loss on their own declining corporate bonds, or doing nothing, they posted a queer profit in a Debt Value Adjustment of $1.9 billion, equal to 29 cents per share. The JPM bond yield spread has widened by 200 basis points versus the USTreasury Bond. The bank colossus paid out $1 billion in legal expenses for bond investor lawsuits. They raided $96 million from Loan Loss Reserves, which will be needed later, like in bond fraud investor settlements. They cut 1100 in bank staff. They posted a $700 million decline in investment banking profit. Their biggest line item of profit was the fiction of a $1.9 billion profit from their decaying corporate bonds. It is not a profit & loss event at all. If they default on the corporate bond, imagine the accounting profit could be maximized. Only in American bank accounting!! Blessed as good by the FASB and USCongress!! JPMorgan is a wreck, as their businesses are tanking. Their tight grip on the Silver market could be loosened in time.
Profits announced by the big US banks are phony. A laundry list of tainted supposed profits came in the last two weeks for the entire crew of giant insolvent us banks. The Debt Value Adjustment (DVA) deception is the main common thread of deception. Citigroup posted $1.9 billion in Debt Value Adjustments, the same amount JPMorgan posted for DVA in a parade. This item is so corrupt as to be indefensible by any rational person. They take the fallen value of their own corporate debt, cite how they could buy it back at a lower cost, and book the difference as profit. But the debt is not bought back, only pretended. Similar games are played with bond spreads widening, but keep the argument simple. Imagine a corporate bond rising in principal, but not as fast as USTBonds, booked as a profit since the spread has worsened. So if the corporate bond fails altogether and goes to zero, the DVA would maximize the profit for the dead firm. In my book, dead firms do not buy back their debt. As a statistical analyst, the Jackass always prefers to carry an argument or method to the extreme to reveal its legitimacy or flaw.
Bank of America also posted a $1.7 billion DVA profit, but the winner was Morgan Stanley, which has the highest risk of death. They posted a hefty $3.4 billion fictional profit from a non-event adjustment to their corporate debt, the same Debt Value Adjustment. Without such tainted profits, the big US banks would have shown their dead decaying matter more clearly. Worse, during a time when mortgage assets and lawsuits are all the rage, they raided their Loan Loss Reserves, more phony profits. Bank of America even listed litigation losses while raiding LLReserves in the amount of $1.6 billion. Citigroup snatched back $1.4 billion in LLR, while Wells Fargo snatched back $0.8 billion in LLR. The big US bank quarterly reports were worse than dreadful, as they were corrupted and phony, the rot visible. Amazingly, the Bloomberg financial news identified the practice as questionable but legal, calling them poor quality profits!! Poor quality indeed. They are too kind. In March they called outgoing Egyptian leader (emperor) Mubarek a prolific saver, for having accumulated $60 billion. Maybe they will call the pilfered Libyan funds sticky, when not returned.
DERIVATIVES DUMPED ON DEPOSITORS WITH USFED BLESSING
Bank of America dumped its derivative book, possibly preparing for a restructure. The dumping ground is likely a pitstop en route to the USGovt toxic vats. The USFed applauds while the FDIC complains. Raids of assets preceded the Lehman Brothers failure, alert students of history note. This event might be no different. Bank of America engaged in devious accounting. Not only did they call their own corporate bond decay a phony profit, butthe firm shifted much of its mountain of derivatives held on its balance sheet as of June 30th. They moved it to their retail bank. Just last week, Moodys downgraded the bank holding company from A2 to Baa1. The retail bank was downgraded more gently to A2 from Aa3. The collateral backstopping will next be done fully and effectively by the bank’s $1.041 trillion in deposits. A bank run has been rumored at the big lumbering insolvent bank. Its website was down for several consecutive days, inhibiting usage of funds. Furthermore, the insurance agency to the depository base is very angry, namely the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. The FDIC is another dead entity, devoid of funds, posing as a Wall Street harlot, this time betrayed by its brethren. The USFed favored the shift on the books, so as to give relief to the bank holding company (in their words). Conclude that depositors are forced to backstop its $53 trillion derivative book, as clients continue to depart. Savings accounts and certificate holders might be wiped out on a liquidation.
Bank of America already had the threat of failure looming due to deep insolvency from mortgage and litigation losses. Until now, the operations like the retail banks would not be affected and could be spun out to a new entity, even sold. Shareholders would be wiped out and holding company creditors like the bondholders would take losses. The derivative shift changed everything. Bank analyst Chris Whalen calls it either criminal incompetence or abject corruption by the USFed. Dumping derivatives into the depository business segment goes in diametric opposition to Dodd Frank resolutions. So much for Financial Regulatory Reform if not enforced. The US Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp are in deep disagreement over the transfers. The USFed favors moving the derivatives to benefit the bank holding company, while the FDIC objects since it must pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure made more likely. The FDIC will attempt to reject this brazen move. The corrupted USFed will argue not to disrupt the financial markets further. Witness the justification for a Dodd Frank resolution and ruling.
The 2005 bankruptcy law was revised to permit derivatives counter-parties to be given the first in line position. They grab assets first in a little known feature of the bankruptcy reform that favored the banks. This truly devious bold move amounts to a direct transfer from Merrill Lynch derivatives risk to the USGovt via the FDIC. It means depositors will be made whole only after derivatives counter-parties have seized collateral. Depositors are lined up for a legalized raid, better yet a theft. Recall back in September 2008, that Lehman Brothers failed over a weekend after JPMorgan grabbed its collateral in a basic daylight raid. Expect another TARP type of bank bailout, as the Wall Street firms jockey to slide their derivative exposure under carefully crafted shells. The bad news for them is that they have over $200 trillion left, even after this ugly maneuver to shift the Merrill Lynch exposure.
GOLD & SILVER READY TO REBOUND
The Gold market is on the verge of a powerful move. The reversal base has been created. The $1620 level was tested successfully a few times. The uptrend has been defended and should continue in a powerful surge upward. The Chinese have been buying with both hands on the physical market, as the London traders report. They took full advantage of the horrendous display of market interference, as the gold contract margins were hiked in repeated fashion during the price declines. It was engineered. The nasty ambush appears over. A bullish divergence is clear, as the daily stochastix showed positive signals while the price was forming a flat bottom near the $1600 level. A powerful reversal is in progress, one that echoes the reversal in the Euro currency from 132 up to 140. Gold had fallen on the back of the Euro decline. Now the Gold price is rising from lack of resolution witnessed and confirmed in Europe. The gap to fill should be swift, easy, and loud. The gap from $1670 to $1770 is a full hundred points. As it is filled, the naysayers on Gold will have to defend why they advised clients to abandon the only true safe haven in the financial universe, Gold, along with its little brother Silver.
The growing economic recession will reveal many dead objects in the flotsam & jetsam, much like a tide going out to sea. That is a primary function of recessions, to clear the deck of bad debt and start anew, to plow the soil and permit nutrients to work again. Gold will shine. Gold is not loaded with the fraudulent traps and snares built by Wall Street from the devious risky paper realm. Gold has no fraud from counter-party risk. Gold is legitimate money. The United States will be forced back to the Gold Standard, but it will be the currency used over a landscape that features rubble, ruin, and discontent. Be sure that every measure will be taken to save the current system, to debase the major currencies in every way possible, at the greatest allowable volume. The USDollar and other majors will be wrecked in the process, and Gold will be lifted in value in corresponding opposite fashion. The Western leaders have no desire to reform, to yield power, and to install a viable sound monetary system. Banks should become utilities, not casinos and helms of market control. A grand disruption cometh!
The Europeans provided the trigger on Tuesday for the big $50 move up in the Gold price, and the $1.50 move up in the Silver price. Their bankers, politicians, and commissioners are in deep discord. No solution exists. Big bond losses are coming. Big banks that are already insolvent will topple. The Greek Govt debt will default. They are trying to make the default orderly. The gang in crisis resolution talks could not be more in discord. The Germans want out of the obligation of being the savings account of last resort to use. The Germans are actually working toward a new alliance with Russia and China, with Persian Gulf support. They look East as they see the West in shambles. If the Euro banks benefit from a big bailout from a $2 trillion filled fund, at minimum, then the monetary debasement will be great for Gold. Tremendous leverage would be the only means of supplying that volume of funding. The Europeans dislike the Geithner concept of heavy leverage usage. If the Euro banks do not fail to secure funding, and cannot recapitalize, a string of bank failures will rock the continent. The contagion will slam London and New York like a tsunami. The crisis would intensify to a new dangerous level that brings talk finally of systemic failure from banking system collapse, which will be great for Gold. Those who jumped or were pushed off the Gold locomotive in September are the real losers. If they relied upon the leverage inherent to the rigged futures contract game, shame on them. Let them climb aboard on the legitimate rail cars that feature physical Gold bullion benches, not the paper fake asset.
Finally, attention has grown on the gathering storm of Italy. Their debt is being downgraded steadily, just like Spain. The Italian prime minister seems like a clown in a suit, calling the crisis a fiction written by the press. They reject austerity measures, as their debt runs out of control. The nation of Italy must fund over EUR 200 billion of debt before the end of 2012, from rollover. Their bond yield has surpassed the 6.0% level known to serve as the alarm bell. Then tack on fresh debt. The Greek domino could easily push over the Italian domino, which lies next to the fragile Spanish domino. The European Monetary Union will break. Germany announced the return of the Deustche Mark, the date unclear for re-launch. It will be priced for conversion at one Euro to 1.95 DMarks, the same as the 1999 exchange rate when the ill-fated Euro was born. Regard this vehicle as a transitional currency to a new gold-backed currency, the USDollar Killer, the ticket to the Third World. Details are in the October Gold & Currency Hat Trick Letter report. These are exciting times, but dangerous times, full of risk, but full of opportunities.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Bernie Sanders
U.S. Senator of Vermont
October 19, 2011
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 – A new audit of the Federal Reserve released today detailed widespread conflicts of interest involving directors of its regional banks.
“The most powerful entity in the United States is riddled with conflicts of interest,” Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said after reviewing the Government Accountability Office report. The study required by a Sanders Amendment to last year’s Wall Street reform law examined Fed practices never before subjected to such independent, expert scrutiny.
The GAO detailed instance after instance of top executives of corporations and financial institutions using their influence as Federal Reserve directors to financially benefit their firms, and, in at least one instance, themselves. “Clearly it is unacceptable for so few people to wield so much unchecked power,” Sanders said. “Not only do they run the banks, they run the institutions that regulate the banks.”
Sanders said he will work with leading economists to develop legislation to restructure the Fed and bar the banking industry from picking Fed directors. ”This is exactly the kind of outrageous behavior by the big banks and Wall Street that is infuriating so many Americans,” Sanders said.
The corporate affiliations of Fed directors from such banking and industry giants as General Electric, JP Morgan Chase, and Lehman Brothers pose “reputational risks” to the Federal Reserve System, the report said. Giving the banking industry the power to both elect and serve as Fed directors creates “an appearance of a conflict of interest,” the report added.
The 108-page report found that at least 18 specific current and former Fed board members were affiliated with banks and companies that received emergency loans from the Federal Reserve during the financial crisis.
In the dry and understated language of auditors, the report noted that there are no restrictions in Fed rules on directors communicating concerns about their respective banks to the staff of the Federal Reserve. It also said many directors own stock or work directly for banks that are supervised and regulated by the Federal Reserve. The rules, which the Fed has kept secret, let directors tied to banks participate in decisions involving how much interest to charge financial institutions and how much credit to provide healthy banks and institutions in “hazardous” condition. Even when situations arise that run afoul of Fed’s conflict rules and waivers are granted, the GAO said the waivers are kept hidden from the public.
The report by the non-partisan research arm of Congress did not name but unambiguously described several individual cases involving Fed directors that created the appearance of a conflict of interest, including:
- Stephen Friedman In 2008, the New York Fed approved an application from Goldman Sachs to become a bank holding company giving it access to cheap Fed loans. During the same period, Friedman, chairman of the New York Fed, sat on the Goldman Sachs board of directors and owned Goldman stock, something the Fed’s rules prohibited. He received a waiver in late 2008 that was not made public. After Friedman received the waiver, he continued to purchase stock in Goldman from November 2008 through January of 2009 unbeknownst to the Fed, according to the GAO.
- Jeffrey Immelt The Federal Reserve Bank of New York consulted with General Electric on the creation of the Commercial Paper Funding Facility. The Fed later provided $16 billion in financing for GE under the emergency lending program while Immelt, GE’s CEO, served as a director on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
- Jamie Dimon The CEO of JP Morgan Chase served on the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York at the same time that his bank received emergency loans from the Fed and was used by the Fed as a clearing bank for the Fed’s emergency lending programs. In 2008, the Fed provided JP Morgan Chase with $29 billion in financing to acquire Bear Stearns.At the time, Dimon persuaded the Fed to provide JP Morgan Chase with an 18-month exemption from risk-based leverage and capital requirements. He also convinced the Fed to take risky mortgage-related assets off of Bear Stearns balance sheet before JP Morgan Chase acquired this troubled investment bank.
To read a more detailed analysis of the GAO report prepared for Sen. Sanders, click here.
To read the full GAO report, click here.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Phoenix Capital Research
While the world is awash in liquidity, no one seems to notice that it’s actually in the form of leverage or cheap debt, NOT real capital or equity.
The US banking system as a whole is leveraged at 13-to-1. While this is not horrible relative to Europe’s banking system (more on this in a moment), these levels still mean that an 8% drop in asset values wipes out ALL equity.
Then you have Europe’s banking system, which is leveraged at 26-to-1. Anecdotally, this is borderline Lehman Brothers (30 to 1). At these levels, even a 4% drop in asset prices wipes out ALL equity.
Japan’s banks are leveraged at 23 to 1. France’s are 26 to 1. Germany is 32 to 1.
You get the idea.
However, worse than any of these the US Federal Reserve. With $2.8 trillion in assets and only $52 billion in capital, the Fed is leveraged at 53 to 1. Yes, 53 to 1.
My question is: if the Fed prints money for itself… is it “raising capital?” More to the point… if that was true why doesn’t the Fed do it? Why maintain these leverage levels?
Only Bernanke can know… but the rest of us should feel a very serious shudder when we consider that THE bank that’s supposed to bailout the world/ fix the problems plaguing the financial system, is in fact even more leveraged that most of the institutions it’s helping.
Yes, stocks are rallying now based on the view that more QE 3 or monetary easing is on the way… but they’re missing the BIG picture here.
The BIG picture is that there is far too much debt in the financial system. Europe’s getting taken to the cleaners today… but these very same issues are going to spread to Japan and the US in short order. Even China, which is considered THE creditor nation of the world, is estimated to post a REAL Debt to GDP ratio of 200%.
Yes, 200%. China.
So the idea that somehow the world’s going to pass through this current chapter in its history without some MAJOR fireworks/ systemic failure, seems a little too optimistic.
Folks, something VERY bad is brewing behind the scenes. The Sarkozy- Merkel talks, the short-selling bans, the halted stocks, the leveraged EFSF, the hints of QE 3, all of this is telling us that the financial system is on DEFCON 1 Red Alert.
Ignore stocks, they’re ALWAYS the last to “get it.” The credit markets are jamming up just like they did in 2008. The banking system is flashing all the same signals as well.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Mark Hanson
October, 23 2011
Banks Not Wanting to Lend is a myth. It’s a trendy thing to blame the banks for not wanting to lend, but it’s not reality. Don’t get me wrong…most everything else might be able to be blamed on them, but not this. This is what makes the problem in mortgage and housing so fundamentally grave. It’s just not as easy as lowering rates, doing a mass refi event, or pulling Foreclosures off the market.
After nearly 5 years, if there was an easy fix (such as printing trillions of dollars in order to try to create inflation) housing would be experiencing a v-shaped recovery, plain and simple. Housing and mortgage are in a generational downturn for which the only cure is time. Anything done to prevent the market from clearing extends the duration and severity.
Below is a list of headline misperceptions and recently proposed intrusions — and my greatest pet peeves — aimed at mitigating the damage from a disaster lying directly ahead. Like everything else to date, they are quick fixes pundits think will patch the gaping hole in the side of the ship via kicking the can, protect the banks from resi whole loan and MBS price discovery, give something to millions of delinquent borrowers for nothing, and get votes. None of these things will promote a sustanable recovery in housing. The only true fix for this housing market is time. And this reality always leads to disappointment.
1) Mortgage rates are officially under 4%. Mortgage liquidity is abundant. Underwriting standards — while not easier than 2003 to 2007 (which is against what everybody benchmarks them in the most recent “movement” for further stimulus in the sectors) – are certainly the least volatile and most consistent today than at any time since 2007. If you have a job, income to meet credit obligations, and a credit score that shows you repay debt on time, you can easily get a loan. One of the primary differences between the bubble years and now is not the loan parameters; rather now you have to prove what you put on the loan application.
In fact, even with an LTV to 125% you can get a loan through the HARP program. That was unheard of during the bubble years. Right now a good borrower can do a debt-to-income ratio over 60% through Fannie Mae…it’s pretty damn aggressive when Fannie will issue a loan approval to a borrower paying in excess of 60% of their gross income out to total debt.
2) Because 95% of all loans are sold Fannie and Freddie or insured by FHA, “banks not wanting to lend” is a myth, at least in the residential sector. It’s not even the bank’s decision by and large. They just provide armies of loan officers and underwriters and servicing for the GSE’s. Banks input the loan data, press a button and the GSE’s say yes or no. Portfolio lending — such as super jumbos — is a different story but that makes up such a small portion of overall lending those complaining about not being able to get a $2mm loan according to their personal terms probably shouldn’t be getting one in the first place. And if you are a credit worthy affluent borrower, there is no problem getting aggressive super jumbo financing. Again, not compared to 2003 to 2007 but certainly better than in 1990 or 2000.
3) The lack of refi activity is a demand problem, not supply. In short, without being able to lie about income, assets and house values like in 2003 – 2007 — lending to anybody with a heartbeat — half the eligible borrowers in the US suddenly disappeared. Those that can easily refi do it each time rates drop. But on this recent drop to 4% the benefit is too thin – relative to the Q410 QE2 drop to 4% — to make sense.
Moreover, a large percentage of Main Street is still in recession, critically over-levered, or have become poor credit risks for one organic reason or another over the past four years. We will never do the lending volume we did in 2003 to 2007. Benchmarking mortgage and housing activity to the bubble years is idiotic.
Trying to artificially create another 2003 to 2007 housing and lending environment through government intervention will lead to severe disappointment and push out the true bottom in mortgage and housing from a decade to several. Giving weak credits something for nothing — the same rates and terms through an insta-refi program as borrowers who really qualify for them — will do the same.
4) Preventing Foreclosures, another cry getting much louder as we go into election season, is another short sighted mistake that will set the ultimate housing recovery back years. It will stagnate housing related capital flows and make it so supply actually increases. This is because in the hardest hit states — also states that matter significantly to national GDP such as CA, FL, AZ and NV — Foreclosures and short sales (both are liquidations that remove borrowers from their houses) make up 50% to over 70% of all transactions. THEY ARE THE MARKET. Organic repeat buyers now make up a minority due to epidemic effective negative equity.
We use the term “effective” to mean those without enough equity to pay off the first (and 2nd) lien, pay a Realtor 6% to sell their existing property and put 10% to 20% down on the new property. For example, when you lower the negative equity threshold to 80% in order to quantify the pool of able repeat buyers, over half of all homeowners with mortgages are underwater.
Bottom line, sales volume precedes price. With rates at historic lows and first timers and investors still active in the market, anything done to prevent the flow of their desired target properties — Foreclosures and short sales — further prevents an ultimate clearing of the market. In fact, it is forcing first-timers into new home communities in recent months meaning even more supply.
5) Another call for the GSE’s to rent 250k Foreclosures will also cause much more harm than good. First, it cannabalizes the first timer buyer cohort and second it competes directly with investors, many of which are buying to rent…who wants to buy a Foreclosure as a rental property investment knowing the government is going to pound your market with 10s of thousands of rental units.
Be careful what you wish for…over history, first timers and investors have been known to disappear from the market literally overnight. If that happened now, housing would spiral lower in an uncontrollable fashion.
6) If borrowers don’t have good income, credit or equity then they could just default and get a loan modification. The rates are better than 4% anyway. Mortgage modifications are nothing more than the post-bubble years, exotic, high-leverage refi’s. This is what is such a joke about the benefits of an insta-refi program. Right now millions and millions are not making any payments at all or are in 2% loan mods. There is your refi boom. There is your stimulus. But now that the 2009 – 2011 mod bubble has deflated, pressure is building again and the market needs more juice. So, all of a sudden the old ideas come back out with different names.
7) Finally, it is extremely important to remember that ever since the mortgage and housing crisis began every last time a “movement” to artificially stimulate mortgage and housing gains momentum with the media, sell side, banks, NAR, builders and government it is only aimed at one thing…that is preventing a disaster lying directly ahead with a quick fix to patch the gaping hole in the side of the ship via kicking the can, protecting the banks from resi whole loan and MBS price discovery, giving something to millions of delinquent borrowers for nothing, and getting votes. None of these things will promote a sustanable recovery in housing. The only true fix for this housing market is time. And it always leads to disappointment.
The most recent ‘movement’ to legislate easier bank lending standards; giving everybody in America with a mortgage something for nothing in the form of an insta-refi; principal balance reduction modifications in hopes of avoiding foreclosures and freeing up homeowners to re-buy (won’t help); and continued foreclosure prevention through things such as bulk REO sales with usage provisions and the GSE’s renting REO (crushing the independent investor and cannibalizing the all important first time buyer cohort) — will end in disappointment as well. Heck, without distressed sales over a third of activity would disappear making macro housing even weaker.
This confluence of panic-bred stimulus lunacy is a perfect recipe for a disaster in the mortgage and housing sectors that will push out an ultimate bottom longer than anybody, include us, is forecasting.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Dave Brown, Gold Senior Reporter
Thu, Oct 20, 2011
Gold Investing News
Even as spot market gold prices have traded at historical highs over the past few months, central banks are increasing positions and demonstrating support for the precious metal.
Earlier this week, the World Gold Council released an update on its official gold holdings indicating the Bank of Thailand reported an increase for its gold reserves of 9.3 tonnes in August following the net purchases of 28 tonnes during the first half of the year. These purchases combine to represent 4.2 percent of the total foreign reserves and an increase of gold holdings to 136.9 tonnes. This might seem of interest for gold investors as the Bank of Thailand may continue to add to the position during short term fluctuations in gold prices to the downside, given the still relatively modest percentage of foreign reserves in gold that it has. In terms of a monetary policy, Thailand has maintained its interest rate level for the first time this year, terminating the longest consecutive period of increases since 2006. A weakening global economy and the worst floods in five decades are seen as impediments for growth in the South East Asian nation.
Regional peer, Vietnam has recently re-authorized gold trading on foreign accounts in order to narrow the difference between domestic and international gold prices following a recent increase in demand for gold in Vietnam. The State Bank of Vietnam changed its policy following a careful collaboration with its domestic gold jewellery industry and commercial banks.
South American demand
The central bank of Bolivia reported an increase of 7.0 tonnes in gold reserves bringing its total to 42.3 tonnes of gold. The country is holding approximately 21.3 percent of its foreign reserves in gold with its last reported gold acquisition dating to last December when it also reported a 7.0 tonne increase. Bolivia has recently been in the news as a result of strong environmental protests and declining political support for the leader Evo Morales. Mr. Morales’ socialist agenda appears committed to reducing the country’s poverty; however, requisite infrastructural progress, mining activity and gas development which are critical for economic growth are generating protest movements. Although the administration’s second term in office is due to end in early 2015, some observers are uncertain that stability in the South American nation will be maintained until a new election.
Russia adding gold to its reserves
Russia has also increased its gold position to 841.1 tonnes, adding 8.0 tonnes of gold to its reserves during the summer months of July and August. Russia has been consistently adding to its gold reserves for 52 consecutive months.
The central bank of the Philippines recorded a decrease in gold reserves of 10.3 tonnes, bringing its total to 147.8 tonnes of gold. Recently the central bank of the Philippines decided to protect growth by maintaining the benchmark interest rate at 4.5 percent, keeping with the monetary policy demonstrated by South Korea and Indonesia.
Sri Lanka has reduced its gold reserves to 8.1 tonnes as the result of selling 9.3 tonnes of gold. The country has followed other Asian examples in maintaining a cautious monetary policy; however, Mr. Anoop Singh, Director of Asia Pacific Department from the IMF indicates in a press briefing last month, “Sri Lanka has introduced new fiscal reforms to broaden the tax base, to remove exemptions, to bring these in line with international standards, and I think we can be quite confident the government and the central bank remain confident to carry forward these reforms.” Facing such uncertainty in the global economic context, the country is also modestly holding 4.6 percent of its foreign reserves in gold.
Read the entire article HERE.
BY CRIS SHERIDAN
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released its findings from their second audit of the Federal Reserve revealing a well-established revolving door and numerous conflicts of interest between the Fed and top banking executives, most of whom sit on its board.
As revealed in The Sanders Report, which should probably be mandatory reading for the Occupy Wall Street movement, specific board members directly profited from removing restrictions or giving certain banks access to cheaper Fed loans while simultaneously holding stock in that company. Although such actions would’ve normally been restricted by the Fed’s own internal regulations to prohibit such obvious conflicts of interest, waivers were issued instead to certain individuals allowing them to maintain their financial relationships with companies like the most-beloved Goldman Sachs.
What is most troubling, however, aside from the numerous incidents cited in the report, is how completely non-transparent the Fed is when compared to other central banks around the globe. Here’s an astonishing list of examples from The Sanders Report mentioned above (emphasis mine):
The central bank in Australia prohibits its directors from working for or having a material financial interest in private financial companies located in its country. If such regulations were in place at the Fed, the CEO of JP Morgan Chase and many other bank executives would be prohibited from serving on the Fed’s board of directors. (See page 65 of GAO report)
The central bank in Canada requires its directors to disclose any potential conflicts of interest as soon as they are discovered; avoid or withdraw from participation in any real, potential, or apparent conflicts of interest; and cannot vote on any matters in which there is a conflict of interest. If these regulations existed at the Fed, Stephen Friedman would have been required to immediately resign from Goldman’s board, sell his Goldman stock, or resign from the Fed’s board of directors. Instead, Mr. Friedman was allowed to financially benefit from the increase in Goldman’s stock while it received approval from the Fed to become a bank holding company and received billions in emergency Fed loans. (See page 46 of GAO report)
The central bank in Canada also prohibits its directors from having affiliations with entities that perform clearing and settlement responsibilities in the financial services industry or serve as dealers in government securities. The Fed does not. These regulations would have prevented both Friedman and Dimon from serving on the Fed’s board of directors. (See page 46 of GAO report)
The directors of central banks in Australia, Canada, England and the European Union all have to disclose potential conflicts of interest and must disclose its conflict of interest policies on the internet. The Federal Reserve does not. (See page 47 and 49 of GAO report)
Unless you have time to read all 127 pages of the GAO release, I highly encourage you to read the 5 page Sanders Report instead. Given how ugly and incriminating this information is, the Fed should start thinking about some high-profile firings or, at least, putting together a top-notch public relations team…if they haven’t already.
If they don’t do something, expect to see protesters showing up at the Federal Reserve Bank in New York pretty soon (conveniently located down the street from Zuccotti Park at 33 Liberty Street).
By the way, for those of you who believe our banking institutions are the root of our financial problems, I pose to you the following questions:
Q: Which is the largest bank in the nation?
A: Our central bank, the Federal Reserve
Q: Who is primarily responsible for supervising and regulating the banking industry?
A: The Federal Reserve
Q: Who is reponsible for maintaining financial stability?
A: The Federal Reserve
Q: Who lowered interest rates to artificially low levels and helped foster a speculative housing bubble?
A: The Federal Reserve
Q: Who said on live television in 2005 that we weren’t in a housing bubble and that we wouldn’t see a recession? (click here for video)
A: Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke
(BTW, if you think that a housing bubble and market crash weren’t seen by others years earlier, click here)
Q: Who now bails out the banks with money printed out of thin air and raises the cost of living for everyday Americans?
A: The Federal Reserve
Of course, it wouldn’t be fair to blame the Federal Reserve for all our problems, but holding their feet to the fire to implement far greater transparency and a comprehensive elimination of various conflicts of interest with member banks is a good place to start.
Read the entire article HERE.
HOLY BAILOUT – Federal Reserve Now Backstopping $75 Trillion Of Bank Of America’s Derivatives Trades
OCTOBER 18, 2011
The Daily Bail
This story from Bloomberg just hit the wires this morning. Bank of America is shifting derivatives in its Merrill investment banking unit to its depository arm, which has access to the Fed discount window and is protected by the FDIC.
This means that the investment bank’s European derivatives exposure is now backstopped by U.S. taxpayers. Bank of America didn’t get regulatory approval to do this, they just did it at the request of frightened counterparties. Now the Fed and the FDIC are fighting as to whether this was sound. The Fed wants to “give relief” to the bank holding company, which is under heavy pressure.
This is a direct transfer of risk to the taxpayer done by the bank without approval by regulators and without public input. You will also read below that JP Morgan is apparently doing the same thing with $79 trillion of notional derivatives guaranteed by the FDIC and Federal Reserve.
What this means for you is that when Europe finally implodes and banks fail, U.S. taxpayers will hold the bag for trillions in CDS insurance contracts sold by Bank of America and JP Morgan. Even worse, The Total Exposure Is Unknownbecause Wall Street successfully lobbied during Dodd-Frank passage so that no central exchange would exist keeping track of net derivative exposure.
This is a recipe for Armageddon. Bernanke is absolutely insane. No wonder Geithner has been hopping all over Europe begging and cajoling leaders to put together a massive bailout of troubled banks. His worst nightmare is Eurozone bank defaults leading to the collapse of the large U.S. banks who have been happily selling default insurance on European banks since the crisis began.
Original Article HERE.
*****Bloomberg By Bob Ivry, Hugh Son and Christine Harper – Oct 18, 2011*****
Bank of America Corp. (BAC), hit by a credit downgrade last month, has moved derivatives from its Merrill Lynch unit to a subsidiary flush with insured deposits, according to people with direct knowledge of the situation.
The Federal Reserve and Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. disagree over the transfers, which are being requested by counterparties, said the people, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren’t authorized to speak publicly. The Fed has signaled that it favors moving the derivatives to give relief to the bank holding company, while the FDIC, which would have to pay off depositors in the event of a bank failure, is objecting, said the people. The bank doesn’t believe regulatory approval is needed, said people with knowledge of its position.
Three years after taxpayers rescued some of the biggest U.S. lenders, regulators are grappling with how to protect FDIC- insured bank accounts from risks generated by investment-banking operations. Bank of America, which got a $45 billion bailout during the financial crisis, had $1.04 trillion in deposits as of midyear, ranking it second among U.S. firms.
“The concern is that there is always an enormous temptation to dump the losers on the insured institution,” said William Black, professor of economics and law at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and a former bank regulator. “We should have fairly tight restrictions on that.”
Jerry Dubrowski, a spokesman for Charlotte, North Carolina- based Bank of America, declined to comment on the transfers or the firm’s discussions with regulators. The company “continues to accommodate the needs of our clients through each of our multiple trading entities, including Bank of America NA,” he said in an e-mailed statement, referring to the company’s deposit-taking unit.
Barbara Hagenbaugh, a Fed spokeswoman, said she couldn’t discuss supervision of specific institutions. Greg Hernandez, an FDIC spokesman, declined to comment.
Bank of America posted a $6.2 billion third-quarter profit today, compared with a loss of $7.3 billion a year earlier, as credit quality improved and the firm booked one-time accounting gains. The lender rose 7.3 percent to $6.47 at 1:54 p.m. in New York trading, making it the day’s best performer in the Dow Jones Industrial Average. Credit-default swaps on Bank of America eased 10 basis points to a mid-price of 380 as of 11:49 a.m. in New York, according to broker Phoenix Partners Group.
Moody’s Investors Service downgraded Bank of America’s long-term credit ratings Sept. 21, cutting both the holding company and the retail bank two notches apiece. The holding company fell to Baa1, the third-lowest investment-grade rank, from A2, while the retail bank declined to A2 from Aa3.
The Moody’s downgrade spurred some of Merrill’s partners to ask that contracts be moved to the retail unit, which has a higher credit rating, according to people familiar with the transactions. Transferring derivatives also can help the parent company minimize the collateral it must post on contracts and the potential costs to terminate trades after Moody’s decision, said a person familiar with the matter.
Bank of America estimated in an August regulatory filing that a two-level downgrade by all ratings companies would have required that it post $3.3 billion in additional collateral and termination payments, based on over-the-counter derivatives and other trading agreements as of June 30. The figure doesn’t include possible collateral payments due to “variable interest entities,” which the firm is evaluating, it said in the filing.
Dubrowski declined to comment on collateral or termination payments after the downgrade.
Bank of America’s rating is now four grades below the one Moody’s assigned to JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM), the biggest U.S. bank by deposits at midyear, and a level below the rating given to Citigroup Inc. (C), the third-biggest. Bank of America is the only U.S. lender that lacks a rating of A3 or higher among the five firms listed by the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency as having the biggest derivatives books.
“We had worked very hard over the course of the last nine months to be prepared to the extent that we did receive a downgrade, and feel very good about the way that we’ve minimized the potential impact” Bank of America Chief Financial Officer Bruce Thompson said in a conference call today with analysts. “Since the downgrade, we have not seen any change in our global excess liquidity sources.”
Derivatives are financial instruments used to hedge risks or for speculation. They’re derived from stocks, bonds, loans, currencies and commodities, or linked to specific events such as changes in the weather or interest rates.
Keeping such deals separate from FDIC-insured savings has been a cornerstone of U.S. regulation for decades, including last year’s Dodd-Frank overhaul of Wall Street regulation.
The legislation gave the FDIC, which liquidates failing banks, expanded powers to dismantle large financial institutions in danger of failing. The agency can borrow from the Treasury Department to finance the biggest lenders’ operations to stem bank runs. It’s required to recoup taxpayer money used during the resolution process through fees on the largest firms.
Bank of America benefited from two injections of U.S. bailout funds during the financial crisis. The first, in 2008, included $15 billion for the bank and $10 billion for Merrill, which the bank had agreed to buy. The second round of $20 billion came in January 2009 after Merrill’s losses in its final quarter as an independent firm surpassed $15 billion, raising doubts about the bank’s stability if the takeover proceeded. The U.S. also offered to guarantee $118 billion of assets held by the combined company, mostly at Merrill. The company repaid federal bailout funds in 2009 with interest.
‘The Normal Course’
Bank of America’s holding company — the parent of both the retail bank and the Merrill Lynch securities unit — held almost $75 trillion of derivatives at the end of June, according to data compiled by the OCC. About $53 trillion, or 71 percent, were within Bank of America NA, according to the data, which represent the notional values of the trades.
That compares with JPMorgan’s deposit-taking entity, JPMorgan Chase Bank NA, which contained 99 percent of the New York-based firm’s $79 trillion of notional derivatives, the OCC data show.
The moves by Bank of America are part of “the normal course of dealings that we’ve had with counterparties since Merrill Lynch and BofA came together,” Thompson said today.
‘Created a Firewall’
Moving derivatives contracts between units of a bank holding company is limited under Section 23A of the Federal Reserve Act, which is designed to prevent a lender’s affiliates from benefiting from its federal subsidy and to protect the bank from excessive risk originating at the non-bank affiliate, said Saule T. Omarova, a law professor at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Law.
“Congress doesn’t want a bank’s FDIC insurance and access to the Fed discount window to somehow benefit an affiliate, so they created a firewall,” Omarova said. The discount window has been open to banks as the lender of last resort since 1914.
As a general rule, as long as transactions involve high- quality assets and don’t exceed certain quantitative limitations, they should be allowed under the Federal Reserve Act, Omarova said.
In 2009, the Fed granted Section 23A exemptions to the banking arms of Ally Financial Inc., HSBC Holdings Plc, Fifth Third Bancorp, ING Groep NV, General Electric Co., Northern Trust Corp., CIT Group Inc., Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs Group Inc., among others, according to letters posted on the Fed’s website.
The central bank terminated exemptions last year for retail-banking units of JPMorgan, Citigroup, Barclays Plc, Royal Bank of Scotland Plc and Deutsche Bank AG. The Fed also ended an exemption for Bank of America in March 2010 and in September of that year approved a new one.
Section 23A “is among the most important tools that U.S. bank regulators have to protect the safety and soundness of U.S. banks,” Scott Alvarez, the Fed’s general counsel, told Congress in March 2008.
Read the entire article HERE.
by Bud Conrad
October 17, 2011
Foreign central banks buy US Treasury and Agency debt through accounts at the Federal Reserve, where it is held in custody. Without these central banks buying our debt, the US federal government would have to find a new source of funds or the result could be higher interest rates. Looking at the data on a monthly basis (and then multiplied by 12 to give the annual rate), here is the dramatic picture of how foreign central-bank purchases of our debt have shifted, from buying $500 billion to selling off $1 trillion. At this rate of selling over several months, interest rates would go higher – if other things were equal. Of course, things are not equal because the Fed has been forcing rates lower with its massive QE2 and other programs. QE 2 was $600 billion over nine months, or an annualized rate of $800 billion per year. Since foreigners are selling off our government debt, Fed purchases of government debt are even more necessary.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Here are the data on the amount of Treasuries purchased in the last quarter of the year at an annualized rate: Foreigners have decreased their holdings for the first time since 2007.
(Click on image to enlarge)
Here’s another chart worth considering. This is a comparison to the ten-year Treasury, with the purchases of Treasuries inverted.
(Click on image to enlarge)
In my latest article in The Casey Report on interest rates, I discuss the above chart and cover the broader issues driving interest rates.
What could be the cause of all this? The Senate passed a controversial bill that threatens to punish China for “currency manipulation” which will bring mandatory tariffs. China’s opposition to the Senate action could be the power behind the big shift in direction of these custody holdings. In an election year, government action against Chinese imports may be seen as supportive for US jobs, thus garnering votes. But unintended consequences of decreasing liquidity in the credit markets will put pressure on financial markets. The movement shown in these charts could be the result of China’s reaction to some of those anticipated policies. We can’t tell what country is doing the selling until two months have gone by and the TIC data are published. In some senses, it doesn’t matter which country is behind the shift. If rates begin to rise rapidly, even in the face of continued Fed manipulation, it could call into question confidence in the Fed’s ability to keep supporting the economy. The rate on the ten-year Treasuries jumped from 1.8% to 2.2% in the last week. Foreign selling of this magnitude is dangerous for the dollar, and it could be very bad for US interest rates.
[Whether this shift is temporary or a long-term reversal remains to be seen – but the end of the US dollar as the world’s reserve currency is all but certain. How can one prepare for such a life-changing move? Listen to the audio recordings of the recently held Casey Research/Sprott Summit, When Money Dies, to gain insights and actionable advice from experts including Adam Fergusson and Doug Casey on how you can not just survive what’s coming, but thrive. Order your set today.]
Additional Links and Reads
Banking Corporatism in 1912 (Ludwig von Mises Institute)
The Mises Institute dug up a great cartoon from 1912, representing what would happen to the US with the creation of a central bank. The picture says it all. That’s essentially what did happen.
Kinder Morgan to Buy El Paso for $21.1 Billion (Bloomberg)
In the biggest energy transaction of the year thus far, Kinder Morgan purchased El Paso Corp. to form the country’s largest national gas pipeline network. The natural gas market is an interesting beast. On the one hand, natural gas prices are dirt cheap. On the other, they can’t say low forever, but as Doug Casey says just because something is inevitable doesn’t mean that it’s imminent. There are some who have given up on investing in natural gas, while others are willing to put big bucks into it.
What I find interesting about the whole field is that involves so much hard science. Whether the general economy will go up or down is the realm of economics – not exactly a science. And of course, the economy will affect oil and gas prices, but natural gas requires making estimates of scientific facts. How much gas is left in the ground? What are the well decline rates? How damaging are fracking chemicals? While in economics we can argue back and forth without getting anywhere, these questions will have clear answers in the future. Someone will be right, and someone will be wrong.
The second table of results from this poll, copied below, showed some particularly noteworthy findings which I’ve discussed before. This table represents only workers and the unemployed who are searching for a job. At the top of the unemployment pile are workers aged 18 to 29 with 14% unemployment and 30% underemployment. That’s pretty crazy – only 56% are working full time. And of those 56%, how many do you think actually have a good, career-track job versus something like flipping burgers?
This relates to today’s intro. If one graduated college in 1998, one could get a job at Goldman Sachs. Graduate ten years later, and one will be lucky to find a position as an assistant accounting clerk with the exact same qualifications.
Read the entire article HERE.
BY MICHAEL PETTIS
October 17, 2011
My friend Mark Williams sent me last week a reference to a very interesting paper written by Malhar Nabar, an economist at the IMF. The paper is called “Targets, Interest Rates, and Household Saving in Urban China” and in it Nabar tries to measure the impact of changes in the real deposit rate on changes in Chinese consumptions levels.
How do interest rates normally affect the savings and consumption rate? The consensus view, of course, is that there should be a negative correlation between interest rates and consumption. In other words when interest rates rise, households should save more and so consume less out of current income.
Why? One reason may be that savings are simply postponed consumption, and we are willing to postpone consumption if we are paid enough to do so. The more you pay me to save in the form of a high interest rate, in other words, the more I save out of current income, and so the less I consume. The same thing happens, by the way, when rising interest rates cause the cost of consumer financing to rise, and so discourage the use of credit cards.
There is another reason why this may be the case. Typically we associate rising interest rates with falling stock, real estate and bond prices. If most of our wealth consists of those three kinds of assets, then higher interest rates should be associated with a decline in our wealth, and because we feel poorer, we reduce our consumption rate.
In both cases rising interest rates are assumed to bring declining consumption and higher savings. This relationship seems to be supported by the data in many countries.
I am nonetheless a little uncomfortable with the first explanation – that as you increase the reward for postponing consumption, households save more. I find it hard to believe that people really think this way about savings, and if they did, it seems to me that unless there were an enormous preference for liquidity, in any country in which deposit rates were negative in real terms (i.e. households are paying, not getting paid, to postpone consumption) consumption rates should rise to 100% or more.
This certainly isn’t the case. In China, for example, deposit rates are seriously negative and have been negative for many years, and yet the household savings rate is nonetheless very high. In fact it seems that, as a rule, countries with repressed interest rates have higher, not lower savings rates.
What’s more, I have seen US historical data that suggests that when interest-rate declines have coincided with falling, not rising, stock and real estate markets (as they have recently), the savings rate usually rises rather than declines. In other words households care mainly about their wealth, not about the reward for postponing consumption.
Which explanation is more correct matters a lot for Chinese monetary policy. We tend to be so US-centric when we think about economics – including, unfortunately, most Chinese economists – that we automatically assume that because raising interest rates in the US will reduce consumption and so limit inflation, it must also be the case in China.
Even very prestigious newspapers, citing prominent economists and research analysts, assure us that in order to fight inflation the PBoC raises interest rates. Here for example, is what the Financial Times said three months ago:
China has raised interest rates for the fifth time in eight months, indicating the country’s leaders are still focused on taming politically sensitive inflation, despite evidence that the world’s second-biggest economy is slowing. Benchmark one-year lending rates will be raised 25 basis points to 6.56 per cent from Thursday, while one-year deposit rates will go up 25 basis points to 3.5 per cent, the central bank said on Wednesday.
The rise suggests that inflation is likely to have accelerated to a three-year high of more than 6 per cent in June, well beyond Beijing’s comfort zone. The government is scheduled to announce the inflation figure next week.
Here is Xinhua, on the same day:
The interest-rate hike will help check high inflation and the June CPI data will be 6.2 percent, Lu Zhengwei, chief economist for the Industrial Bank, predicted.
…Guo Tianyong, a professor with the Central China Finance University, said the move is necessary as it can help correct the negative interest rates and manage inflation, but it can also slow economic growth and precipitate inflows of speculative hot money.
A quick Google search uncovers thousands of articles and OpEd pieces that make the same point.
The Empirical Evidence
But for many years I have strongly disagreed with this claim that raising rates is a way of combating inflation. If it is the wealth effect, and not the consumption-postponement effect, that really drives changes in savings and consumption rates, then raising rates would only reduce consumption if there were a negative correlation between interest rates and wealth, as there clearly is in the US.
Is there a negative correlation between the two in China? Probably not. Most Chinese savings, at least until recently, have been in the form of bank deposits. In a financial system in which deposit rates are set by the central bank, the value of bank deposits is positively, not negatively, correlated with the deposit rate.
Chinese households, in other words, should feel richer when the deposit rate rises and poorer when it declines. In that case, rising rates should be associated with rising, not declining, consumption and with higher, not lower, inflationary pressure.
I want to repeat this because I think it is a very important source of confusion. In the past few years the consensus on China has dramatically changed, and as a result many of the things I used to discuss which once sounded so strange and “contrarian” (I hate that word) – discussions for example about the unsustainable increase in Chinese debt, the role of financial repression in undermining household income growth, the nature of the Chinese growth model – are now pretty widely held.
But it is still very rare to hear anyone acknowledge that while raising interest rates in China may be a very good thing – because it reduces the capital misallocation on which Chinese growth is highly dependent – it does not reduce inflationary pressure. It increases it.
Needless to say that is why I found the Nabar paper so interesting. My argument had always been a conceptual argument based on balance sheet principles, but Nabar has tested the correlation. He went out and measured changes in consumption as a function of changes in the real deposit rate.
And he finds in fact, in line with my conceptual argument, that higher real rates really are associated with lower savings and higher consumption. Here is what he says:
Although a large body of research has examined the determinants of household saving in China, little attention has been directed to interest rates and their impact on saving decisions. Bank deposits are currently the primary saving vehicle available to Chinese households.
The return households earn on these bank deposits could therefore potentially influence household saving behavior in a tangible way. This research assesses how interest rates affect household saving decisions using a panel dataset that covers China’s 31 provincial-level administrative units over the period 1996–2009.
The main findings are as follows.
- Panel estimates suggest that household savings respond strongly to a change in the real interest rate. A one percentage point increase in the real rate of return on bank deposits lowers the urban household saving rate by 0.6 percentage points.
- A comparison of the relationship across sub-periods shows that the association is stronger in the later period, 2003–09, relative to the earlier period, 1996–2002. The relationship is robust to the inclusion of variables that proxy for other influences on saving such as life cycle considerations and self-insurance against income volatility.
- The evidence also indicates that when the return on alternative investment is high (for example when real property price growth is relatively strong), a decline in the real return on bank deposits does not have as negative an impact on household portfolios.
The results suggest that China’s households save to meet a multiplicity of needs – retirement consumption, purchase of durables, self-insurance against income volatility and health shocks – and act as though they have a target level of saving in mind. An increase in financial rates of return, which raises the return on saving, makes it easier for them to meet their target saving. Financial reform that boosts interest rates could therefore have a strong effect on current tendencies to save.
The Consumption Share of GDP
I think this is a very important point. For one thing it confirms the claim that financial repression also represses consumption growth, and so is one of the factors at the heart of China’s economic imbalances – in fact I would say it is the main factor.
It also says that monetary policy may have very different consequences from our hidden assumption that it works the same way in China as it works in the US. In the US if the Fed wants to lower inflationary pressures, it raises interest rates to reduce household wealth, to raise the cost of consumer financing, and otherwise to put downward pressure on demand by reducing consumption.
In China however when the PBoC raises the interest rate it has limited effect through the cost of consumer financing (consumer finance is negligible in China) and it actually increases household wealth. This means that raising rates is more likely to encourage inflation than to reduce it.
And since real interest rates have actually declined in the past year, lower real rates help explain why inflation may have already peaked, and why it is coming down. In fact this may be why financially repressed countries can have both rapid monetary expansion and limited inflation, as they typically do. Inflation itself, by lowering real rates, can reduce inflationary pressure. It is self-correcting – at least until households begin withdrawing deposits and spending the money simply because the cost of holding money is too great.
Not surprisingly, as inflation has risen and deposits rates lagged during the past year, much of the evidence suggested that contrary to Beijing’s announced plans, consumption was likely to be declining as a share of GDP. I have said many times that when they finally published the 2010 data in the China Yearbook 2011, I would expect to see consumption drop from 35.0% in 2009 to 34% in 2010 and perhaps another point lower in 2011.
On Friday my associate Chen Long told me the yearbook had in fact just been published, and he sent me the data. Our expectation turns out to have been right. Household consumption for 2010 is reported to be 33.8% of GDP.
Here is the full data:
Aside from the extraordinary decline in the consumption rate, it is interesting to see what happened to the trade surplus. At 6.4% of GDP in 2010, it is extremely high, but well off its record levels in 2007 and 2008, when as a share of global GDP China’s trade surplus may well have been the highest in modern history. Notice that as it declined from its peak, investment surged.
This is just what we would have expected. The negative growth impact of the sharp drop in China’s trade surplus may have forced GDP growth rates to nearly zero, and the sudden and violent expansion in investment was necessary as the counterbalance to keep growth rates high. Changes in the declining consumption share of GDP have had very little impact on changes in GDP growth. And it continues to decline.
PS: I often mention my central bank seminar as a fascinating class in which some of the brightest students at Peking University debate and analyze monetary and credit conditions in China in a way that impresses even real central bankers. The Soros-funded Institute for New Economics Thinking has asked them to provide a blog outlining their deliberations, and you can find here their first few reports examining debt levels in China. Its in early stages, but keep an eye on it. These guys are very smart.
Read the entire article HERE.
BY KEITH FITZ-GERALD
Chief Investment Strategist
October 12, 2011
Do you want to know the real reason banks aren’t lending and the PIIGS have control of the barnyard in Europe?
It’s because risk in the $600 trillion derivatives market isn’t evening out. To the contrary, it’s growing increasingly concentrated among a select few banks, especially here in the United States.
In 2009, five banks held 80% of derivatives in America. Now, just four banks hold a staggering 95.9% of U.S. derivatives, according to a recent report from the Office of the Currency Comptroller.
The four banks in question: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS).
Derivatives played a crucial role in bringing down the global economy, so you would think that the world’s top policymakers would have reined these things in by now – but they haven’t.
Instead of attacking the problem, regulators have let it spiral out of control, and the result is a $600 trillion time bomb called the derivatives market.
Think I’m exaggerating?
The notional value of the world’s derivatives actually is estimated at more than $600 trillion. Notional value, of course, is the total value of a leveraged position’s assets. This distinction is necessary because when you’re talking about leveraged assets like options and derivatives, a little bit of money can control a disproportionately large position that may be as much as 5, 10, 30, or, in extreme cases, 100 times greater than investments that could be funded only in cash instruments.
The world’s gross domestic product (GDP) is only about $65 trillion, or roughly 10.83% of the worldwide value of the global derivatives market, according to The Economist. So there is literally not enough money on the planet to backstop the banks trading these things if they run into trouble.
Compounding the problem is the fact that nobody even knows if the $600 trillion figure is accurate, because specialized derivatives vehicles like the credit default swaps that are now roiling Europe remain largely unregulated and unaccounted for.
To be fair, the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) estimated the net notional value of uncollateralized derivatives risks is between $2 trillion and $8 trillion, which is still a staggering amount of money and well beyond the billions being talked about in Europe.
Imagine the fallout from a $600 trillion explosion if several banks went down at once. It would eclipse the collapse of Lehman Brothers in no uncertain terms.
A governmental default would panic already anxious investors, causing a run on several major European banks in an effort to recover their deposits. That would, in turn, cause several banks to literally run out of money and declare bankruptcy.
Short-term borrowing costs would skyrocket and liquidity would evaporate. That would cause a ricochet across the Atlantic as the institutions themselves then panic and try to recover their own capital by withdrawing liquidity by any means possible.
And that’s why banks are hoarding cash instead of lending it.
The major banks know there is no way they can collateralize the potential daisy chain failure that Greece represents. So they’re doing everything they can to stockpile cash and keep their trading under wraps and away from public scrutiny.
What really scares me, though, is that the banks
think this is an acceptable risk because the odds of a default are allegedly smaller than one in 10,000.
But haven’t we heard that before?
Although American banks have limited their exposure to Greece, they have loaned hundreds of billions of dollars to European banks and European governments that may not be capable of paying them back.
According to the Bank of International Settlements, U.S. banks have loaned only $60.5 billion to banks in Greece, Ireland, Portugal, Spain and Italy – the countries most at risk of default. But they’ve lent $275.8 billion to French and German banks.
And undoubtedly bet trillions on the same debt.
There are three key takeaways here:
There is not enough capital on hand to cover the possible losses associated with the default of a single counterparty – JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), BNP Paribas SA (PINK: BNPQY) or the National Bank of Greece (NYSE ADR: NBG) for example – let alone multiple failures.
That means banks with large derivatives exposure have to risk even more money to generate the incremental returns needed to cover the bets they’ve already made.
And the fact that Wall Street believes it has the risks under control practically guarantees that it doesn’t.
Seems to me that the world’s central bankers and politicians should be less concerned about stimulating “demand” and more concerned about fixing derivatives before this $600 trillion time bomb goes off.
Read the entire article HERE.