Tag Archives: debt

We Are In FAR Worse Shape Than We Were Just Prior To The Last Great Financial Crisis

 

Source: Michael Snyder, BLN Contributor

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None of the problems that caused the last financial crisis have been fixed.  In fact, they have all gotten worse.  The total amount of debt in the world has grown by more than 40 percent since 2007, the too big to fail banks have gotten 37 percent larger, and the colossal derivatives bubble has spiraled so far out of control that the only thing left to do is to watch the spectacular crash landing that is inevitably coming.  Unfortunately, most people do not know the information that I am about to share with you in this article.  Most people just assume that the politicians and the central banks have fixed the issues that caused the last great financial crisis.  But the truth is that we are in far worse shapethan we were back then.  When this financial bubble finally bursts, the devastation that we will witness is likely to be absolutely catastrophic.

Too Much Debt

One of the biggest financial problems that the world is facing is that there is simply way too much debt.  Never before in world history has there ever been a debt binge anything like this.

You would have thought that we would have learned our lesson from 2008 and would have started to reduce debt levels.

Instead, we pushed the accelerator to the floor.

It is hard to believe that this could possibly be true, but according to the Bank for International Settlements the total amount of debt in the world has increased by more than 40 percent since 2007…

The amount of debt globally has soared more than 40 percent to $100 trillion since the first signs of the financial crisis as governments borrowed to pull their economies out of recession and companies took advantage of record low interest rates, according to the Bank for International Settlements.

The $30 trillion increase from $70 trillion between mid-2007 and mid-2013 compares with a $3.86 trillion decline in the value of equities to $53.8 trillion in the same period, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The jump in debt as measured by the Basel, Switzerland-based BIS in its quarterly review is almost twice the U.S.’s gross domestic product.

That is a recipe for utter disaster, and yet we can’t seem to help ourselves.

And of course the U.S. government is the largest offender.

Back in September 2008, the U.S. national debt was sitting at a total of 10.02 trillion dollars.

As I write this, it is now sitting at a total of 17.49 trillion dollars.

Is there anyone out there that can possibly conceive of a way that this ends other than badly?

Too Big To Fail Is Now Bigger Than Ever

During the last great financial crisis we were also told that one of our biggest problems was the fact that we had banks that were “too big to fail”.

Well, guess what?

Those banks are now much larger than they were back then.  In fact, the six largest banks in the United States (JPMorgan Chase, Bank of America, Citigroup, Wells Fargo, Goldman Sachs and Morgan Stanley) have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last financial crisis.

Meanwhile, 1,400 smaller banks have gone out of business during that time frame, and only one new bank has been started in the United States in the last three years.

So the problem of “too big to fail” is now much worse than it was back in 2008.

The following are some more statistics about our “too big to fail” problem that come from a previous article

-The U.S. banking system has 14.4 trillion dollars in total assets.  The six largest banks now account for 67 percent of those assets and all of the other banks account for only 33 percent of those assets.

-Approximately 1,400 smaller banks have disappeared over the past five years.

-JPMorgan Chase is roughly the size of the entire British economy.

-The four largest banks have more than a million employees combined.

-The five largest banks account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States.

-Bank of America accounts for about a third of all business loans all by itself.

-Wells Fargo accounts for about one quarter of all mortgage loans all by itself.

-About 12 percent of all cash in the United States is held in the vaults of JPMorgan Chase.

The Derivatives Bubble

Most people simply do not understand that over the past couple of decades Wall Street has been transformed into the largest and wildest casino on the entire planet.

Nobody knows for sure how large the global derivatives bubble is at this point, because derivatives trading is lightly regulated compared to other types of trading.  But everyone agrees that it is absolutely massive.  Estimates range from $600 trillion to $1.5 quadrillion.

And what we do know is that four of the too big to fail banks each have total exposure to derivatives that is in excess of $40 trillion.

The numbers posted below may look similar to numbers that I have included in articles in the past, but for this article I have updated them with the very latest numbers from the U.S. government.  Since the last time that I wrote about this, these numbers have gotten even worse…

JPMorgan Chase

Total Assets: $1,989,875,000,000 (nearly 2 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $71,810,058,000,000 (more than 71 trillion dollars)

Citibank

Total Assets: $1,344,751,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $62,963,116,000,000 (more than 62 trillion dollars)

Bank Of America

Total Assets: $1,438,859,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,386,713,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)

Goldman Sachs

Total Assets: $111,117,000,000 (just a shade over 111 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)

Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,467,154,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)

During the coming derivatives crisis, several of those banks could fail simultaneously.

If that happened, it would be an understatement to say that we would be facing an “economic collapse”.

Credit would totally freeze up, nobody would be able to get loans, and economic activity would grind to a standstill.

It is absolutely inexcusable how reckless these big banks have been.

Just look at those numbers for Goldman Sachs again.

Goldman Sachs has total assets worth approximately 111 billion dollars (billion with a little “b”), but they have more than 47 trillion dollars of total exposure to derivatives.

That means that the total exposure that Goldman Sachs has to derivatives contracts is more than 427 times greater than their total assets.

I don’t know why more people aren’t writing about this.

This is utter insanity.

During the next great financial crisis, it is very likely that the rest of the planet is going to lose faith in the current global financial system that is based on the U.S. dollar and on U.S. debt.

When that day arrives, and the U.S. dollar loses reserve currency status, the shift in our standard of living is going to be dramatic.  Just consider what Marin Katusa of Casey Research had to say the other day

It will be shocking for the average American… if the petro dollar dies and the U.S. loses its reserve currency status in the world there will be no middle class.

The middle class and the low class… wow… what a game changer. Your cost of living will quadruple.

The debt-fueled prosperity that we are enjoying now will not last forever.  A day of reckoning is fast approaching, and most Americans will not be able to handle the very difficult adjustments that they will be forced to make.  Here is some more from Marin Katusa…

Imagine this… take a country like Croatia… the average worker with a university degree makes about 1200 Euros a month. He spends a third of that, after tax, on keeping his house warm and filling up his gas tank to get to work and get back from work.

In North America, we don’t make $1200 a month, and we don’t spend a third of our paycheck on keeping our house warm and driving to work… so, the cost of living… food will triple… heat, electricity, everything subsidized by the government will triple overnight… and it will only get worse even if you can get the services.

All of this could have been prevented if we had done things the right way.

Unfortunately, we didn’t learn any of the lessons that we should have learned from the last financial crisis, and our politicians and the central banks have just continued to do the same things that they have always done.

So now we all get to pay the price.

Let Banks Fail Is Iceland Mantra as 2% Joblessness in Sight

 

By Omar R. Valdimarsson Jan 27, 2014 7:51 AM ET

Iceland let its banks fail in 2008 because they proved too big to save.

Now, the island is finding crisis-management decisions made half a decade ago have put it on a trajectory that’s turned 2 percent unemployment into a realistic goal.

While the euro area grapples with record joblessness, led by more than 25 percent in Greece and Spain, only about 4 percent of Iceland’s labor force is without work. Prime MinisterSigmundur D. Gunnlaugsson says even that’s too high.

“Politicians always have something to worry about,” the 38-year-old said in an interview last week. “We’d like to see unemployment going from where it’s now — around 4 percent — to under 2 percent, which may sound strange to most other western countries, but Icelanders aren’t accustomed to unemployment.”

The island’s sudden economic meltdown in October 2008 made international headlines as a debt-fueled banking boom ended in a matter of weeks when funding markets froze. Policy makers overseeing the $14 billion economy refused to back the banks, which subsequently defaulted on $85 billion. The government’s decision to protect state finances left it with the means to continue social support programs that shielded Icelanders from penury during the worst financial crisis in six decades.

Debt Relief

Of creditor claims against the banks, Gunnlaugsson says “this is not public debt and never will be.” He says his main goal while in office is “to rebuild the Icelandic welfare state.”

Though bank creditors, many of them hedge funds, are still trying to recoup their money, Iceland’s approach has won praise from the International Monetary Fund and from numerous economists, including Nobel Laureate Paul Krugman.

Successive Icelandic governments have forced banks to write off mortgage debts to help households. In February 2010, 16 months after Kaupthing Bank hf, Glitnir Bank hf and Landsbanki Islands hf failed, unemployment peaked at 9.3 percent. The rate was 4.2 percent in December, according to Statistics Iceland. In the euro area, unemployment held at a record 12.1 percent in November, Eurostat estimates.

“Even though the situation is a lot better here than in many other countries, having over 4 percent unemployment is something we don’t want,” said Gunnlaugsson, whose government was elected in April.

Welfare Spending

The government’s 2014 budget sets aside about 43 percent of its spending for the Welfare Ministry, a level that is largely unchanged since before the crisis. According to Stefan Olafsson, a sociology professor at the University of Iceland, the nation’s focus on welfare has been key in restoring growth.

The economy will expand 2.7 percent this year, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. That’s better than the average for the OECD-area as a whole, which will grow 2.3 percent, the Paris-based group estimates.

Still, Iceland’s efforts to resurrect its economy have been far from smooth, Olafsson said. Inflation, which peaked at 19 percent in January 2009, has hurt Iceland more than most other countries because most mortgages are linked to the consumer price index. Though the set-up protects investors, households see their debt burdens grow as prices rise. Inflation was 4.2 percent in December.

Inflation Pain

“Although we’re spending more on welfare matters today than before, we have to keep in mind that purchasing power has gone down since 2008,” Olafsson said in an interview. “On top of increasing spending in the health care and education systems, the government should place emphasis on increasing people’s purchasing power. That’s the biggest single task.”

Most of Iceland’s inflation has come via the exchange rate, which has been protected by capital controls since plunging 80 percent offshore against the euro at the end of 2008. Gunnlaugsson says any efforts to scale back existing currency restrictions will only take place at a pace that safeguards krona stability.

“It is a problem that can be solved, and can be solved quite fast,” Gunnlaugsson said.

The krona has appreciated around 10 percent against the euro over the past 12 months. Still, today’s rate of about 157 per euro compares with an average of 88 in 2007, a year before the island’s financial collapse. It slid 0.04 percent to 157.02 as of 12:50 p.m. in Reykjavik.

To support households, Gunnlaugsson in November unveiled a plan to provide as much as 7 percent of gross domestic product in mortgage debt relief. The government intends to finance the plan, which the OECD has criticized as being too blunt, partly by raising taxes on banks.

Capital Controls

Iceland’s hard-line against banks and their creditors has prompted warnings that the nation may struggle to find an investor base once capital controls are lifted. That hasn’t stopped the government issuing two dollar bonds since 2008.

Gunnlaugsson’s welfare pledge comes as other Nordic governments reassess their commitment to state-funded programs. Denmark has scaled back its universal welfare program as more citizens are means tested. In Sweden, a government that has delivered multiple rounds of income tax cuts looks set to lose elections this year as voters pine for a return to more state spending. Krugman this month cautioned Scandinavian governments against pushing through further cuts. According to Gunnlaugsson, government support and economic growth go hand in hand.

“First and foremost we of course want to see stability,” Gunnlaugsson said. “Increased political stability will mean more investment, more jobs, more creation of wealth, so that we can continue to maintain the Icelandic welfare state.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Omar R. Valdimarsson in Reykjavik at valdimarsson@bloomberg.net

 

American Authoritarians Are Winning

 

Published : January 16th, 2014
915 words – Reading time : 2 – 3 minutes

“World economic freedom has reached record levels. But after seven years of straight decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.”

– Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2014

“Planned Economy or Planned Destruction” – Chicago Tribune, 1934 24hGold - American Authoritari...

Key lines in the cartoon are:

“Depleting The Resources Of The Soundest Government In The World” “Young Pinkies From Columbia And Harvard”

What appears to be Trotsky is outlining a radical agenda.

Since the early 1970s, the bitter academic Saul Alinsky has inspired legions of the politically ambitious. Including many in today’s White House.

The opening paragraph of his Rules For Radicals says it all:

“What follows is for those who want to change the world from what it is to what they believe it should be. The Prince was written by Machiavelli for the Haves on how to hold power. Rules for Radicals is written for the Have-Nots on how to take it away.”

– Rules for Radicals: A Pragmatic Primer for Realistic Radicals

Considering that political disaster has been the inevitable consequence of every great experiment in authoritarian government, what are today’s American authoritarians really winning?

Power, but not yet unlimited.

The full article follows:

Wall Street Journal, January 13, 2014 America’s Dwindling Economic Freedom

Regulation, taxes and debt knock the U.S. out of the world’s top 10. By Terry Miller Jan. 13, 2014 8:05 p.m. ET

World economic freedom has reached record levels, according to the 2014 Index of Economic Freedom, released Tuesday by the Heritage Foundation and The Wall Street Journal. But after seven straight years of decline, the U.S. has dropped out of the top 10 most economically free countries.

For 20 years, the index has measured a nation’s commitment to free enterprise on a scale of 0 to 100 by evaluating 10 categories, including fiscal soundness, government size and property rights. These commitments have powerful effects: Countries achieving higher levels of economic freedom consistently and measurably outperform others in economic growth, long-term prosperity and social progress. Botswana, for example, has made gains through low tax rates and political stability.

Getty Images

Those losing freedom, on the other hand, risk economic stagnation, high unemployment and deteriorating social conditions. For instance, heavy-handed government intervention in Brazil’s economy continues to limit mobility and fuel a sense of injustice.

It’s not hard to see why the U.S. is losing ground. Even marginal tax rates exceeding 43% cannot finance runaway government spending, which has caused the national debt to skyrocket. The Obama administration continues to shackle entire sectors of the economy with regulation, including health care, finance and energy. The intervention impedes both personal freedom and national prosperity.

But as the U.S. economy languishes, many countries are leaping ahead, thanks to policies that enhance economic freedom–the same ones that made the U.S. economy the most powerful in the world. Governments in 114 countries have taken steps in the past year to increase the economic freedom of their citizens. Forty-three countries, from every part of the world, have now reached their highest economic freedom ranking in the index’s history.

Hong Kong continues to dominate the list, followed by Singapore, Australia, Switzerland, New Zealand and Canada. These are the only countries to earn the index’s “economically free” designation. Mauritius earned top honors among African countries and Chile excelled in Latin

America. Despite the turmoil in the Middle East, several Gulf states, led by Bahrain, earned designation as “mostly free.”

A realignment is under way in Europe, according to the index’s findings. Eighteen European nations, including Germany, Sweden, Georgia and Poland, have reached new highs in economic freedom. By contrast, five others–Greece, Italy, France, Cyprus and the United Kingdom–registered scores lower than they received when the index started two decades ago.

The most improved players are in Eastern Europe, including Estonia, Lithuania and the Czech Republic. These countries have gained the most economic freedom over the past two decades. And it’s no surprise: Those who have lived under communism have no trouble recognizing the benefits of a free-market system. But countries that have experimented with milder forms of socialism, such as Sweden, Denmark and Canada, also have made impressive moves toward greater economic freedom, with gains near 10 points or higher on the index scale. Sweden, for instance, is now ranked 20th out of 178 countries, up from 34th out of 140 countries in 1996.

The U.S. and the U.K, historically champions of free enterprise, have suffered the most pronounced declines. Both countries now fall in the “mostly free” category. Some of the worst performers are in Latin America, particularly Venezuela, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia. All are governed by cronypopulist regimes pushing policies that have made property rights less secure, spending unsustainable and inflation evermore threatening.

Despite financial crises and recessions, the global economy has expanded by nearly 70% in 20 years, to $54 trillion in 2012 from $32 trillion in 1993. Hundreds of millions of people have left grinding poverty behind as their economies have become freer. But it is an appalling, avoidable human tragedy how many of the world’s peoples remain unfree–and poor.

The record of increasing economic freedom elsewhere makes it inexcusable that a country like the U.S. continues to pursue policies antithetical to its own growth, while wielding its influence to encourage other countries to chart the same disastrous course. The 2014 Index of Economic Freedom documents a world-wide race to enhance economic opportunity through greater freedom–and this year’s index demonstrates that the U.S. needs a drastic change in direction.

 

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