Saturday, August 28, 2010

Financial Crunch! Economic Collapse! (Part 9)

Ruling on Behalf of Wall Street's "Super Rich": The Financial End Time has Arrived
By Prof. Michael Hudson
Global Research, November 16, 2010
Now that President Obama is almost celebrating his bipartisan willingness to renew the tax cuts for the super-rich enacted under George Bush ten years ago, it is time for Democrats to ask themselves how strongly they are willing to oppose an administration that looks like Bush-Cheney III. Is this what they expected by Mr. Obama’s promise to rise above partisan politics – by ruling on behalf of Wall Street, now that it is the major campaign backer of both parties?
It is a reflection of how one-sided today’s class war has become that Warren Buffet has quipped that “his” side is winning without a real fight being waged. No gauntlet has been thrown down over the trial balloon that the president and his advisor David Axelrod have sent up over the past two weeks to extend the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2% for “just” two more years. For all practical purposes the euphemism “two years” means forever – at least, long enough to let the super-rich siphon off enough more money to bankroll enough more Republicans to be elected to make the tax cuts permanent.
Mr. Obama seems to be campaigning for his own defeat! Thanks largely to the $13 trillion Wall Street bailout – while keeping the debt overhead in place for America’s “bottom 98%” – this happy 2% of the population now receives an estimated three quarters (~75%) of the returns to wealth (interest, dividends, rent and capital gains). This is nearly double what it received a generation ago. The rest of the population is being squeezed, and foreclosures are rising.
Charles Baudelaire quipped that the devil wins at the point where he manages to convince the world that he doesn’t exist. Today’s financial elites will win the class war at the point where voters believe it doesn’t exist – and believe that Mr. Obama is trying to help them rather than shepherd them into debt peonage as the economy settles into debt deflation.
We are dealing with shameless demagogy. The financial End Time has arrived, but Mr. Obama’s happy-talk pretends that “two years” will get us through the current debt-induced depression. The Republican plan is to make more Congressional and Senate gains in 2012 as Mr. Obama’s former supporters “vote with their backsides” and stay home, as they did earlier this month. So “two years” means forever in politician-talk. Why vote for a politician who promises “change” but is merely an exclamation mark for the Bush-Cheney policies from Afghanistan and Iraq to Wall Street’s Democratic Leadership Council on the party’s right wing? One of its leaders, after all, was Mr. Obama’s Senate mentor, Joe Lieberman.
The second pretense is that cutting taxes for the super-rich is necessary to win Republican support for including the middle class in the tax cuts. It is as if the Democrats never won a plurality in Congress. (One remembers George W. Bush with his mere 50+%, pushing forward his extremist policies on the logic that: “I’ve got capital, and I’m using it.” What he had, of course, was Democratic Leadership Committee support.) The pretense is “to create jobs,” evidently to be headed by employment of shipyard workers to
build yachts for the nouveau riches and sheriff’s deputies to foreclose on the ten million Americans whose mortgage payments have fallen into arrears. It sounds Keynesian, but is more reminiscent of Thomas Robert Malthus’s lugubrious claim (speaking for Britain’s landed aristocracy) that landlords would keep the economy going by using their rental income (to be protected by high agricultural tariffs) to hire footmen and butlers, tailors and carriage-makers.
It gets worse. Mr. Obama’s “Bush” tax cut is only Part I of a one-two punch to shift taxes onto wage earners. Congressional economists estimate that extending the tax cuts to the top 2% will cost $700 to $750 billion over the next decade or so. “How are we going to go out and borrow $700 billion?” Mr. Obama asked Steve Croft on his Sixty Minutes interview on CBS last week.
It was a rhetorical question. The President has appointed a bipartisan commission (right-wingers on both sides of the aisle) to “cure” the federal budget deficit by cutting back social spending – to pay yet more bailouts to the economy’s financial wreckers. The National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform might better be called the New Class War Commission to Scale Back Social Security and Medicare Payments to Labor in Order to Leave more Tax Revenue Available to Give Away to the Super-Rich. A longer title than the Deficit-Reduction Commission used by media friendlies, but sometimes it takes more words to get to the heart of matters.
The political axiom at work is “Big fish eat little fish.” There’s not enough tax money to continue swelling the fortunes of the super-rich pretending to save enough to pay the pensions and related social support that North American and European employees have been promised. Something must give – and the rich have shown themselves sufficiently foresighted to seize the initiative.
For a preview of what’s in line for the United States, watch neoliberal Europe’s fight against the middle and working class in Greece, Ireland and Latvia; or better yet, Pinochet’s Chile, whose privatized Social Security accounts were quickly wiped out in the late 1970s by the kleptocracy advised by the Chicago Boys, to whose monetarist double-think Mr. Obama’s appointee Ben Bernanke has just re-pledged his loyalty.
What is needed to put Mr. Obama’s sell-out in perspective is the pro-Wall Street advisors he has chosen –
not only Larry Summers, Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke (who last week reaffirmed his loyalty to Milton Friedman’s Chicago School monetarism), but by stacking his Deficit Reduction Commission with outspoken advocates of cutting back Social Security, Medicare and other social spending. Their ploy is to frighten the public with a nightmare of $1 trillion deficit to pay retirement income over the next half century – as if the Treasury and Fed have not just given Wall Street $13 trillion in bailouts without blinking an eye. President Obama’s $750 billion tax giveaway to the wealthiest 2% is mere icing on the cake that the rich will be eating when the bread lines get too long.
To put matters in perspective, bear in mind that interest on the public debt (that Reagan-Bush quadrupled and Bush-Obama redoubled) soon will amount to $1 trillion annually. This is tribute levied on labor – increasing the economy’s cost of living and doing business – paid for losing the fight for economic reform and replacing progressive taxation with regressive neoliberal tax policy. As for military spending in the Near East, Asia and other regions responsible for much of the U.S. balance-of-payments deficit, Congress will always rise to the occasion and defer to whatever foreign threat is conjured up requiring new armed force.
It’s all junk economics. Running a budget deficit is how modern governments inject the credit and purchasing power needed by economies to grow. When governments run surpluses, as they did under Bill Clinton (1993-2000), credit must be created by banks. And the problem with bank credit is that most is lent, at interest, against collateral already in place. The effect is to inflate real estate and stock market prices. This creates capital gains – which the “original” 1913 U.S. income tax treated as normal income, but which today are taxed at only 15% (when they are collected at all, which is rarely in the case of commercial real estate). So today’s tax system subsidizes the inflation of debt-leveraged financial and real estate bubbles.
The giveaway: the Commission’s position on tax deductibility for mortgage interest
The Obama “Regressive Tax” commission spills the beans with its proposal to remove the tax subsidy for high housing prices financed by mortgage debt. The proposal moves only against homeowners – “the middle class” – not absentee owners, commercial real estate investors, corporate raiders or other prime bank customers.
The IRS permits mortgage interest to be tax-deductible on the pretense that it is a necessary cost of doing business. In reality it is a subsidy for debt leveraging. This tax bias for debt rather than equity investment (using one’s own money) is largely responsible for loading down the U.S. economy with debt. It encourages corporate raiding with junk bonds, thereby adding interest to the cost of doing business. This subsidy for debt leveraging also is the government’s largest giveaway to the banks, while causing the debt deflation that is locking the economy into depression – violating every precept of the classical drive for “free markets” in the 19th-century. (A “free market” meant freedom from extractive rentier income, leading toward what Keynes gently called “euthanasia of the rentier.” The Obama Commission endows rentiers atop the economy with a tax system to bolster their power, not check it – while shrinking the economy below them.)
Table 7.11 of the National Income and Product Accounts (NIPA) reports that total monetary interest paid in the U.S. economy amounted to $3,240 billion in 2009. Homeowners paid just under a sixth of this amount ($572 billion) on the homes they occupied. Mr. Obama’s commission estimates that removing the tax credit on this interest would yield the Treasury $131 billion in 2012.
There is in fact a good logic for stopping this tax credit. The mortgage-interest tax deduction does not really
save homeowners money. It is a shortsighted illusion. What the government gives to “the homeowner” on one hand is passed on to the mortgage banker by “the market” process that leads bidders for property to pledge the net available rental value to the banks in order to obtain a loan to buy the home (or an office building, or an entire industrial company, for that matter.) “Equilibrium” is achieved at the point where whatever rental value the tax collector relinquishes becomes available to be capitalized into bank loans.
This means that what appears at first as “helping homeowner” afford to pay mortgages turns out merely to enable them to afford to pay more interest to their bankers. The tax giveaway uses homebuyers as “throughputs” to transfer tax favoritism to the banks.
It gets worse. By removing the traditional tax on real estate, state, local and federal governments need to tax labor and industry more, by transforming the property tax onto income and sales taxes. For banks, this is transmuting tax revenue into gold – into interest. And as for the home-owning middle class, it now has to pay the former property tax to the banker as interest, and also to pay the new taxes on income and sales that are levied to make up for the tax shift.
I support removing the tax favoritism for debt leveraging. The problem with the Deficit Commission is that it does not extend this reform to the rest of the economy – to the commercial real estate sector, and to the corporate sector.
The argument is made that “The rich create jobs.” After all, somebody has to build the yachts. What is missing is the more general principle: Wealth and income inequality destroy job creation. This is because beyond the wealthy soon reach a limit on how much they can consume. They spend their money buying financial securities – mainly bonds, which end up indebting the economy. And the debt overhead is what is pushing today’s economy into deepening depression.
Since the 1980s, corporate raiders have borrowed high-interest “junk bond” credit to take over companies and make money by stripping assets, cutting back long-term investment, research and development, and paying out depreciation credit to their financiers. Financially parasitized companies use corporate income to buy back their stock to support its price – and hence, the value of stock options that financial managers give themselves – and borrow yet more money for stock buybacks or simply to pay out as dividends.
When the process has run its course, they threaten their work force with bankruptcy that will wipe out its pension benefits if employees do not agree to “downsize” their claims and replace defined-benefit plans with defined-contribution plans (in which all that employees know is how much they pay in each month, not what they will get in the end).
By the time this point has been reached, the financial managers have paid themselves outsized salaries and bonuses, and cashed in their stock options – all subsidized by the government’s favorable tax treatment of debt leveraging.
The attempted raids on McDonalds and other companies in recent years provide object lessons in this destructive financial policy of “shareholder activists.” Yet Mr. Obama’s Deficit Reduction Commission is restricting its removal of tax favoritism for debt leveraging only for middle class homeowners, not for the financial sector across the board. What makes this particularly absurd is that two thirds of homeowners do not even itemize their deductions. The fiscal loss resulting from tax deductibility of interest stems mainly from commercial investors.
If the argument is correct (and I think it is) that permitting interest to be tax deductible merely “frees” more
revenue to pay interest to banks – to capitalize into yet higher loans – then why isn’t this principle even moreapplicable to the Donald Trumps and other absentee owners who seek always to use “other peoples’ money” rather than their own? In practice, the “money” turns out to be bank credit whose cost to the banks is now under 1%. The financial-fiscal system is siphoning off rental value from commercial real estate investment, increasing the price of rental properties, commercial real estate, and indeed, industry and agriculture.
Alas, the Obama administration has backed the Geithner-Bernanke policy that “the economy” cannot recover without saving the debt overhead. The reality is that it is the debt overhead that is destroying the economy. So we are dealing with the irreconcilable fact that the Obama position threatens to lower living standards from 10% to 20% over the coming few years – making the United States look more like Greece, Ireland and Latvia than what was promised in the last presidential election.
Something has to give politically if the economy is to change course. More to the point, what has to give is favoritism for Wall Street at the expense of the economy at large. What has made the U.S. economy uncompetitive is primarily the degree to which debt service has been built into the cost of living and doing business. Post-classical “junk economics” treats interest and fees as payment for the “service” for providing credit. But interest (like economic rent and monopoly price extraction) is a transfer payment to bankers with the privilege of credit creation. The beneficiaries of providing tax favoritism for debt are the super-rich at the top of the economic pyramid – the 2% whom Mr. Obama’s tax giveaway will benefit by over $700 billion.
If the present direction of tax “reform” is not reversed, Mr. Obama will shed crocodile tears for the middle class as he sponsors the Deficit Reduction Commission’s program of cutting back Social Security and revenue sharing to save states and cities from defaulting on their pensions. One third of U.S. real estate already is reported to have sunk into negative equity, squeezing state and local tax collection, forcing a choice to be made between bankruptcy, debt default, or shifting the losses onto the shoulders of labor, off those of the wealthy creditor layer of the economy responsible for loading it down with debt.
Critics of the Obama-Bush agenda recall how America’s Gilded Age of the late 19th century was an era of
economic polarization and class war. At that time the Democratic leader William Jennings Bryan accused Wall Street and Eastern creditors of crucifying the American economy on a cross of gold. Restoration of gold at its pre-Civil War price led to a financial war in the form of debt deflation as falling prices and incomes received by farmers and wage labor made the burden of paying their mortgage debts heavier. The Income Tax law of 1913 sought to rectify this by only falling on the wealthiest 1% of the population – the only ones obliged to file tax returns. Capital gains were taxed at normal rates. Most of the tax burden therefore fell on finance, insurance and real estate (FIRE) sector.
The vested interests have spent a century fighting back. They now see victory within reach, by perpetuating the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest 2%, phasing out of the estate tax on wealth, the tax shift off property onto labor income and consumer sales, and slashing public spending on anything except more bailouts and subsidies for the emerging financial oligarchy that has become Mr. Obama’s “bipartisan” constituency.
What we need is a Futures Commission to forecast just what will the rich do with the victory they have won. As administered by President Obama and his designated appointees Tim Geithner and Ben Bernanke, their policy is financially and fiscally unsustainable. Providing tax incentives for debt leveraging – for most of the population to go into debt to the rich, whose taxes are all but abolished – is shrinking the economy. This will lead to even deeper financial crises, employer defaults and fiscal insolvency at the state, local and federal levels. Future presidents will call for new bailouts, using a strategy much like going to military war. A financial war requires an emergency to rush through Congress, as occurred in 2008-09. Mr. Obama’s appointees are turning the U.S. economy into a Permanent Emergency, a Perpetual Ponzi Scheme requiring injections of more and more Quantitative Easing to to rescue “the economy” (Mr. Obama’s euphemism for creditors at the top of the economic pyramid) from being pushed into insolvency. Mr. Bernanke’s helicopter flies only over Wall Street. It does not drop monetary relief on the population at large.
“The Wurst of Obama: He’s Carving the Middle Class into Sausage Filler as a Super-Meal for the Rich.”
Ireland Goes Bust, Irish Bank Run
by Mike Whitney
Global Research, November 14, 2010
There was a bank run in Ireland on Wednesday. LCH Clearnet, a London based clearinghouse, surprised the markets by announcing it would increase margin requirements on Irish debt by 15 percent. That's all it took to send investors fleeing for the exits.
Yields on Irish bonds spiked sharply as banks tried to close positions or raise the capital needed to meet the new requirements. The Irish 10-year bond soared to 8.9 percent by day's end, more than 6 percentage points higher than "risk free" German sovereign debt. The ECB will have to intervene. Ireland is on its way to default. This is what a 21st century bank run looks like. Terms suddenly change in the repo market, where banks get their funding, and the whole system begins to teeter.
It's a structural problem in the so-called shadow banking system for which there's no remedy. Conventional banks exchange bonds with shadow banks for short-term loans agreeing to repurchase (repo) them at a later date. But when investors get nervous about the solvency of the bank, the collateral gets a haircut which makes it more expensive to fund operations. That sends bond yields skyrocketing increasing the liklihood of default. In this case, the debt-overhang from a burst development bubble is bearing down on the Irish government threatening to bankrupt the country. Ireland is in dire straights. Here's an excerpt from an article in this week's Irish Times which sums it up:
"Until September, Ireland had the legal option of terminating the bank guarantee on the grounds that three of the guaranteed banks had withheld material information about their solvency, in direct breach of the 1971 Central Bank Act. The way would then have been open to pass legislation along the lines of the UK’s Bank Resolution Regime, to turn the roughly €75 billion of outstanding bank debt into shares in those banks, and so end the banking crisis at a stroke.
With the €55 billion repaid, the possibility of resolving the bank crisis by sharing costs with the bondholders
is now water under the bridge. Instead of the unpleasant showdown with the European Central Bank that a bank resolution would have entailed, everyone is a winner. Or everyone who matters, at least." ("If you thought the bank bailout was bad, wait until the mortgage defaults hit home", Morgan Kelley, Irish Times)
So, the Irish government could have let the bankers and bondholders suffer the losses, but decided to bail them out and pass the debts along to the taxpayers instead. Sound familiar? Only, in this case, the obligations exceed the country's ability to pay. Austerity measures alone will not fix the problem. Eventually, the debt will have to be restructured and the losses written down. Here's another clip from Kelly's article:
"As a taxpayer, what does a bailout bill of €70 billion mean? It means that every cent of income tax that you pay for the next two to three years will go to repay Anglo’s (bank) losses, every cent for the following two years will go on AIB, and every cent for the next year and a half on the others. In other words, the Irish State is insolvent: its liabilities far exceed any realistic means of repaying them....
Two things have delayed Ireland’s funeral. First, in anticipation of being booted out of bond markets, the Government built up a large pile of cash a few months ago, so that it can keep going until the New Year before it runs out of money. Although insolvent, Ireland is still liquid, for now.
Secondly, not wanting another Greek-style mess, the ECB has intervened to fund the Irish banks. Not only have Irish banks had to repay their maturing bonds, but they have been hemorrhaging funds in the inter-bank market, and the ECB has quietly stepped in with emergency funding to keep them going until it can make up its mind what to do."
Ireland has enough cash to get through the middle of next year, but then what? The bad news has rekindled fears of contagion among the PIIGS. Greece is a basketcase and Portugal's bond yields have spiked in recent weeks. Portugal's 10-year bond hit 7.33% by Wednesday's close. The euro plunged to $1.37 even though the Fed is trying to weaken the dollar by pumping another $600 billion into the financial system. Troubles on the periphery are escalating quickly dragging the 16-nation union into another crisis. This is from the Wall Street Journal:
"For a decade, Ireland was the EU's superstar. A skilled work force, high productivity and low corporate taxes drew foreign investment. The Irish, once the poor of Europe, became richer than everyone but the Luxemburgers. Fatefully, they put their newfound wealth in property.
As the European Central Bank held interest rates low, Ireland saw easy credit for construction loans and mortgages. Developers turned docklands into office towers and sheep pastures into subdivisions. In 2006, builders put up 93,419 homes, three times the rate a decade earlier....
The party ended in 2008, when the property bubble popped and the global economy tipped into September, Irish banks were struggling to borrow quick cash for daily expenses. The government thought they faced a classic liquidity squeeze. Ireland—whose hands-off regulator had assigned just three examiners to two major banks—didn't recognize the deeper problem: Banks had made too many bad loans, whose defaults would leave the lenders insolvent." ("Ireland's Fate Tied to Doomed Banks", Charles Forelle and David Enrich, Wall Street Journal)
The Irish government hurriedly put together a new agency, the National Asset Management Agency (NAMA), to buy to toxic bank loans at steep discounts., but the banks books were in much worse condition than anyone realized, more than €70 billion in bad loans altogether. By absorbing the debts, the government is condemning its people to a decade of grinding poverty and a deficit that's 32% of GDP, a record for any country in the EU.
On Thursday, at the G-20 conference in Seoul, European Commission President José Manuel Barroso, said that he was following developments in Ireland closely and that he would be ready to act if necessary. The EU has set up a €440bn bail-out fund (The European Financial Stability Fund) that can be activated in the event of an emergency, although critics say that the fund is more aspirational than a reality. The crisis in Ireland will test whether the countries that made commitments to the fund will keep-up their end of the bargain or not. If they refuse, the EU project will begin to splinter and break apart.
Ireland will surely need a bailout, although not just yet. For a while the ECB can maintain the illusion of solvency by funneling liquidity to banks via its emergency facilities. That way, bondholders in Germany and France get their pound of flesh before the ship begins to take on water. All the risk-takers and speculators will be "made whole" again before the full-force before the debts are shifted onto Irish workers. Here's how Kelly sums it up:
"Ireland faced a painful choice between imposing a resolution on banks that were too big to save or becoming insolvent, and, for whatever reason, chose the latter. Sovereign nations get to make policy choices, and we are no longer a sovereign nation in any meaningful sense of that term."
Banks' $4 trillion debts are 'Achilles’ heel of the economic recovery', warns IMF
More taxpayer support is needed to ensure global financial stability despite the billions already pledged, the International Monetary Fund has warned, as banks remain the “achilles heel” of the economic recovery.
By Philip Aldrick, Economics Editor
05 Oct 2010
Lenders across Europe and the US are facing a $4 trillion refinancing hurdle in the coming 24 months and many still need to recapitalise, the Washington-based organisation said in its Global Financial Stability Report. Governments will have to inject fresh equity into banks – particularly in Spain, Germany and the US – as well as prop up their funding structures by extending emergency support.
“Progress toward global financial stability has experienced a setback since April ... [due to] the recent turmoil in sovereign debt markets,” the IMF said. “The global financial system is still in a period of significant uncertainty and remains the Achilles’ heel of the economic recovery.”
Although banks have recognised all but $550bn of the $2.2 trillion of bad debts the IMF estimates needed to be written off between 2007 and 2010, they are still facing a looming funding shock that will need state support. “Nearly $4 trillion of bank debt will need to be rolled over in the next 24 months,” the report says.
“Planned exit strategies from unconventional monetary and financial support may need to be delayed until the situation is more robust, especially in Europe... With the situation still fragile, some of the public support that has been given to banks in recent years will have to be continued.”
Although the IMF does not mention individual countries, it is clear it has concerns about the UK. According to the Bank of England, British banks need to refinance £750bn-£800bn of funding by the end of 2012, £285bn of which is emergency support that expires in the same period.
The IMF adds: “Without further bolstering of balance sheets, banking systems remain susceptible to funding shocks that could intensify deleveraging pressures and place a further drag on public finances and the recovery.”
The report welcomed banks efforts to recapitalise, noting that the average tier one ratio rose above 10pc in 2009, but cautioned that “despite these improvements, banking system risks are more elevated today”. Europe’s financial system, in particular, “remains vulnerable to downside risks and further funding strains if capital buffers are not strengthened”, the IMF said, naming the regional Cajas of Spain and Landesbanken in Germany.
Even US banks may need an extra $13bn of capital if “real estate prices fell significantly”. The research shows that the UK has been relatively prudent on bad debts and capital, having wirtten off all but $50bn of the bad debts identified by the IMF – just 10pc of the total.
The IMF also called for urgent global co-ordination of banking reforms, chiding regulators for having failed to agree on the details: “The sooner reforms can be clarified, the sooner financial institutions can formulate their strategic priorities and business models. In the absence of such progress, regulatory inadequacies will continue for some time, increasing the chances of renewed financial instability.
“Policymakers cannot relax their efforts to reduce refinancing risks, strengthen balance sheets, and reform regulatory frameworks.”
Governments must also address their budget deficits and public debts to help resurrect confidence in the banks and “reduce the risk that sovereign debt concerns compromise financial stability”.
“Fiscal risks remain high, particularly in advanced economies and significant structural weaknesses remain in sovereign balance sheets, which could spill over to the financial system, and have adverse consequences for growth over the medium-term,” the IMF said.
However, it added that governments now face a challenge in balancing “fiscal consolidation to reduce debt on the one hand while ensuring sufficient growth on the other”.
The IMF estimates in its “baseline” scenario that Britain’s debts will reach 86.4pc of GDP in 2015. But should the austerity measures result in “growth of 1pc less than the baseline”, debts will rise to 99.2pc of GDP in the same period.

Even Tony Robbins Is Warning That An Economic Collapse Is Coming
The Economic Collapse
25 August 2010
It seems like almost everyone is warning of a coming economic collapse these days. Do you remember Tony Robbins? He is probably the world's best known "motivational speaker" and his infomercials dominated late night television during the 80s and 90s. He was always urging all of us to "unleash the power within" and to take charge of our lives. Well guess what? Now Tony Robbins is warning that an economic collapse is coming. In fact, he has issued a special video warning about what he believes is about to happen. Considering the incredible connections that he has at the highest levels of the financial world, it makes a lot of sense to consider what he is trying to warn us about. Robbins says that a "major retracement" is coming to financial markets and that the coming collapse is going to be a "painful process" as we go through it. Those familiar with Tony Robbins know that he always goes out of his way to stress the positive, so if even he is openly warning the public about a coming economic nightmare than you know that things are starting to get really, really bad out there.
The video that Tony Robbins published where he gives his economic warning is posted in two parts below. This is unlike any Tony Robbins video that you have ever seen before and it is absolutely jaw dropping....
So is Tony Robbins right about what is coming?
An economic collapse is coming.
You need to get prepared.
For those not familiar with my previous articles, let's review just some of the reasons why America is headed towards an economic nightmare of unprecedented proportions....
The National Debt - The U.S. government has accumulated a national debt that is rapidly approaching the 14 trillion dollar mark. According to Democrat Erskine Bowles, one of the heads of Barack Obama's national debt commission, if we continue on the path we are on the U.S. government will be spending $2 trillion just for interest on the national debt by 2020.
State And Local Debt - Many of America's state and local governments may be in even worse financial shape than the federal government is. In fact, some state and local governments are in such a financial mess that they have starting cutting off even the most essential services.
Consumer Debt - The total amount of consumer debt that Americans have accumulated now stands at approximately 11.7 trillion dollars.
The Trade Deficit - The U.S. trade deficit has exploded to nightmarish proportions over the past two decades. Every single month tens of billions more dollars flows out of the country than flows into it. The rest of the world is literally bleeding us dry in slow motion.
No Jobs - Today it takes the average unemployed American over 8 months to find a job. The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen over 60 percent in just the past year.
The Credit Crunch - The U.S. is experiencing a credit crunch unlike anything it has seen since the Great Depression. Lending has really, really dried up, but without loans our economic system cannot function properly.
The Housing Crisis - Even with mortgage rates at historic lows, a shockingly low number of Americans are buying houses. There has been a total collapse in home sales since the home buyer tax credit expired. At the same time, mortgage defaults, foreclosures and home repossessions by banks continue to set new all-time records.
Rising Bankruptcies - Nationwide, bankruptcy filings rose 20 percent in the 12-month period ending June 30th.
Rising Poverty - One out of every eight Americans and one out of every four American children are now on food stamps. Approximately 50 million Americans couldn't even afford to buy enough food to stay healthy at some point last year.
The Coming Pension Crisis - America is facing a pension crisis that is so nightmarish that it is almost impossible to adequately describe it. State and local government pension plans are woefully underfunded, dozens of large corporate pension plans either have collapsed or are on the verge of collapsing, Social Security is a complete and total financial disaster and about half of all Americans essentially have nothing saved up for retirement.
The Derivatives Bubble - Our financial system has become a gigantic gambling parlor and we have allowed a horrific derivatives bubble to develop that could destroy the entire world economy if it ever bursts. Nobody knows exactly how big the derivatives bubble is, but low estimates place it at around 600 trillion dollars and high estimates put it at around 1.5 quadrillion dollars. Once that bubble pops there simply will not be enough money in the entire world to fix it.

The Federal Reserve - The Federal Reserve has devalued the U.S. dollar by over 95 percent since 1913 and it has been used to create the biggest mountain of government debt in the history of the world. There are many economists who would argue that the Federal Reserve is at the very core of our economic problems.
As we get even closer to the economic abyss that we are racing towards, even more big names such as Tony Robbins will come forward with warnings.
The truth is that these problems did not develop overnight, and they are not going to be solved overnight either.
Perhaps our economic future is best summed up by this one statement that economist Paul Krugman recently made....
"America is now on the unlit, unpaved road to nowhere."
It would be great if I could write about America's bright economic future and the unlimited prosperity that is ahead for all of us, but that would be a lie.
We are headed for an economic collapse.
It is going to be painful.
It is time to get prepared.
Video 1:
Video 2:
Home Sales Drop 27 Percent In July And Things Are Only Going To Get Worse For The U.S. Housing Industry
The Economic Collapse
25 August 2010
On Tuesday the National Association of Realtors announced that existing home sales in the United States dropped a whopping 27.2% in the month of July. The consensus among analysts was that we would see a drop of around 13 percent, so when the 27 percent figure was announced it sent a shock through world financial markets. To say that the real estate industry is alarmed by these numbers would be a tremendous understatement. What we are seeing unfold is essentially "Armageddon" for those involved in the housing and real estate industries. The real estate market is grinding to a standstill and a shockingly low number of people are actually in the market to buy a home right now. In the months ahead home sales may pick up a little bit, but only if housing prices start to fall. Why? Because right now there are tons of houses on the market and there are very few qualified buyers available to purchase them and potential buyers are starting to realize this. Buyers are beginning to understand that they have all the leverage now and they are waiting for prices to fall.
Anyone who has taken Economics 101 in college knows that when supply is high and demand is low prices will fall, and that is exactly the situation we have in the U.S. housing market right now.
At the moment, most home sellers in the United States are very hesitant to lower the prices on their homes too much. Many have no intention of selling their homes below what they originally paid for them, and many others truly believe that the housing market will eventually rebound.
But the truth is that housing prices are simply not going to rebound to 2006 levels. If anything, they are going to continue to fall.
The following are the three basic points that every American needs to understand about the U.S. housing market right now....
1) There Is A Gigantic Mountain Of Unsold Homes On The Market
There are a staggering number of unsold homes on the market right now. As you can see from the chart from the Calculated Risk blog below, there is now over a year's worth of unsold homes flooding the marketplace....
So who is going to buy all of those unsold homes with so few qualified purchasers in the marketplace?
That is a very good question.
Unfortunately, all the signs indicate that the glut of unsold homes is going to get even worse.
As of this March, U.S. banks had an inventory of 1.1 million foreclosed homes, which was a new all-time record and which was up 20 percent from one year ago.
And the tsunami of foreclosures and repossessions just keeps growing....
*One out of every seven mortgages were either delinquent or in foreclosure during the first quarter of 2010.
*According to RealtyTrac, a total of 1.65 million U.S. properties received foreclosure filings during the first half of 2010.
*U.S. Banks repossessed 269,962 U.S. homes during the second quarter of 2010, which was a new all-time record.
The supply of unsold homes is already incredibly massive and it is growing at a staggering rate.
With such a flood of homes on the market, why in the world would anyone in their right mind pay a premium price for a home in 2010?
2) There Are Not Nearly Enough Qualified Buyers Seeking To Buy Homes
The banks and lending institutions that survived the subprime mortgage crisis of 2007 and 2008 learned some very valuable lessons. The days when even the family dog could get approved for a home loan are long gone. Now the pendulum has swung to the other end of the spectrum. Fearful of making more bad loans, banks and lending institutions have really, really tightened up lending standards. So a lot fewer people are getting approved for home loans these days.
That makes a lot of business sense for banks and lending institutions, but it also means that there are a lot fewer qualified buyers out there looking for homes.
Not only that, but millions of Americans who could potentially buy homes are waiting for the market to go down even further.
When you add that all together, you get the kind of home sales numbers discussed at the beginning of the article.
The Mortgage Bankers Association recently announced that demand for loans to purchase U.S. homes has sunk to a 13-year low. Unless the number of Americans getting approved for home loans starts increasing, you simply are not going to see housing numbers recover much.
And the truth is that Americans are not even doing much browsing for homes right now. Even Internet searches for homes are way down. Internet searches on real estate websites are down about 20 percent compared to this same time period in 2009.
So with a massive flood of houses on the market and with very few qualified buyers to purchase them, how in the world are housing prices supposed to go up?
3) The Housing Industry Will Never Fully Recover Without A Jobs Recovery First
In order to get qualified for home loans, Americans have to have good jobs first. But in this economy that is a huge problem.
Robert Dye, a senior economist with PNC Financial Services Group, recently told USA Today what he believes the bottom line problem of this housing crisis is....
"Jobs, jobs, jobs"
Today, 14 million Americans are unemployed and millions more are underemployed. Unfortunately, there are not nearly enough good jobs for all of them.
Today it takes the average unemployed American over 8 months to find a job. The number of Americans receiving long-term unemployment benefits has risen a staggering 60 percent in the past year alone.
Things have gotten so bad that according to one recent survey 28% of all U.S. households have at least one person that is searching for a full-time job.
To get an understanding of how horrific the unemployment situation has become in the United States, take 38 seconds to watch the incredible video posted below....
The truth is that without jobs, Americans simply cannot buy homes.
So is there any hope that we will see a robust jobs recovery any time soon?
Well, as I have written about previously, unfortunately there is every indication that the employment market is going to get even worse.
So the bottom line is that the housing market is going to continue to suffer.
There is going to continue to be a massive glut of unsold homes on the market.
There are going to continue to be very few qualified buyers in the marketplace.
Large numbers of Americans are going to continue to be unemployed.
Yes, that is a lot of bad news, but you aren't reading this column to get the same kind of mindless optimism that you get from the mainstream media news.
5 Trillion More Dollars To Fix Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac???
The Economic Collapse
19 August 2010
Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac have become gigantic financial black holes that the U.S. government endlessly pours massive quantities of money into. Unfortunately, if the U.S. government did allow Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to totally implode, both the mortgage industry and the housing industry in the United States would completely collapse. So essentially the U.S. government finds itself between a rock and a hard place. Prior to the financial crisis of the last few years, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were profit-seeking private corporations that also had a government-chartered mission of expanding home ownership in America. But now that they have been officially taken over by the U.S. government, they have become gigantic bottomless money pits. It is hard to even describe just how much of a mess Fannie and Freddie are in. However, the unprecedented intervention by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in the mortgage market over the past couple of years has been about the only thing that has kept it from plunging into absolute chaos. So what does the future hold for Fannie Mae and for Freddie Mac? Well, according to one estimate, it could take another 5 trillion dollars to "fix" Fannie Mae And Freddie Mac.
Yes, you read the correctly. According to an article in the Christian Science Monitor, Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are facing $5 trillion dollars in liabilities that the federal government is going to have to deal with one way or another....
An exit strategy could involve adding Fannie and Freddie's roughly $5 trillion in obligations, in effect, to a federal balance sheet that already includes $13.3 trillion in federal government debts. The GSE obligations would be a different animal, because those liabilities would need to be covered by taxpayers only if things went bad in the housing market.
It is hard to even put into words how much money that is. If you were alive when Jesus was born, and you spent one million dollars every single day since then, you still would not have spent one trillion dollars by now.
But Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are not a one trillion dollar problem.
They are a five trillion dollar problem.
And if the housing market gets even worse (which it will), that figure could rise substantially.
Of course the U.S. government should have never gotten into the mortgage business in the first place, but these days the U.S. government is intervening in virtually every industry.
And don't expect U.S. government support for the mortgage industry to stop any time soon. In fact, U.S. Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner says that the U.S. government plans to continue to play a prominent role in back-stopping mortgages in order to keep the U.S. economy stabilized.
But if the only thing keeping the U.S. housing industry from plunging into the abyss is unprecedented intervention by the U.S. government, what does that say about the overall health of the U.S. economy?
Mortgage defaults and foreclosures continue to set new all-time records even with all of this government intervention. In fact, major U.S. banks wrote off about $8 billion on mortgages during the first 3 months of 2010, and if this pace continues it will even exceed 2009's staggering full-year total of $31 billion.
Not only that, but construction of new homes in the U.S. and applications to build new homes in the U.S. both declined to their lowest levels in more than a year during July.
And things are rapidly getting even worse for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac. Mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie are going delinquent at a very alarming pace as the Christian Science Monitor recently explained....
As of March 31 this year, 6.3 percent of mortgages held by Fannie and Freddie are either seriously delinquent or in foreclosure. Although that's down slightly from the figure three months earlier, it represents a big one-year rise (from 3.9 percent in early 2009).
An increase in delinquencies of over 50 percent in just one year?
That is not a promising trend.
If the U.S. housing market takes another big dive in the next few years, and things certainly look very ominous at the moment, what in the world is that going to do to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac?
So what is the solution?
Well, on Tuesday the Obama administration invited prominent banking executives to offer their thoughts on the mortgage market.
So what was the consensus?
It was something along the lines of this: "Please, oh please, oh please continue propping up the 11 trillion dollar mortgage market."
So much for capitalism, eh?
When even the banksters are begging for massive ongoing government intervention you know that the game has changed.
Adam Smith must be rolling over in his grave.
But this is where we are at.
We are on the verge of a horrific economic collapse, and it is only enormous intervention by the U.S. government that is holding things together.
Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac, the Federal Housing Administration and the Veterans Administration backed approximately 90 percent of all home loans made during the first half of 2010.
So where would we be without the government?
Of course we could let the whole thing collapse and allow housing prices to eventually settle at a level where people could actually afford them, but what fun would that be?
No, for now the U.S. government will continue to endlessly spend billions of dollars to prop up a system that is artificially inflated and that is destined to collapse one way or another.
The truth is that the American middle class is slowly being wiped out and they just can't afford to pay $300,000, $400,000 or $500,000 for their houses anymore.
Without good jobs, the American people are not going to be able to afford hefty mortgages. Unfortunately, millions upon millions of middle class jobs are being offshored and outsourced every single year and they are not coming back.
There simply will never be a recovery in the housing market without jobs. But in the new global economy, American workers have been put in direct competition with the cheapest labor in the world. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that jobs are going to be taken away from American workers and given to people who are willing to work for less than ten percent as much.
So, no, the housing market is never going to fully recover. Things got dramatically out of balance over the past couple of decades, and the housing market is going to try to restore that balance regardless of what the U.S. government does.
The U.S. government can continue to throw billions (or even trillions) of dollars at the problem, but in the end the underlying economic fundamentals are simply not going to be denied.
Bankruptcy could be good for America
By Gideon Rachman
Published: January 11 2010
In Winnie-the-Pooh, there is a significant moment when the bear is asked whether he wants honey or condensed milk with his bread. He replies “both”. You can get away with this sort of thing if you are a much loved character in children’s literature. But it is more problematic when great nations start behaving in a childish fashion. When Americans are asked what they want – lower taxes, more lavish social spending or the world’s best-funded military machine – their collective answer tends to be “all of the above”.
The result is that the US is piling up debt. A budget deficit of about 12 per cent of gross domestic product is understandable as a short-term reaction to a huge financial crisis. What should worry Americans is that, with entitlement spending set to surge, there is no credible plan to bring the budget deficit under control over the medium term.
The US has formidable strengths that will allow its government to be profligate for far longer than other nations could get away with. But if the US keeps running huge deficits, sooner or later the country will start flirting with bankruptcy. Oddly, it might be best if the crisis came sooner rather than later. For a surprising number of countries, running out of money has been the prelude to national renewal.
The two biggest and most beneficial geopolitical stories of the past 30 years – the spread of democracy and of globalisation – were driven by a succession of states finding their coffers empty.
The background to Deng Xiaoping’s liberalisation of the Chinese economy in 1978 was a fiscal and foreign exchange crisis. Finding itself desperately short of cash, the Chinese government was much more willing to embrace heterodox economic ideas that promised to deliver faster growth and higher revenues. The rest is history.
It was the same story when India embraced economic reform in 1991. The Indian government found itself with foreign reserves that were worth just two weeks’ worth of imports. The Indians had to send gold to London to secure an emergency loan from the International Monetary Fund. But Manmohan Singh – then finance minister, now prime minister – urged his colleagues to “turn this crisis into an opportunity to build a new India”. They succeeded triumphantly.
Or take Latin America in 1982. When Mexico defaulted on its debts in that year, it triggered an economic crisis across the whole continent. But the long-term consequences of that crisis were beneficial. As Michael Reid, author of a recent history, has pointed out, “dictatorships buckled under the opprobrium of economic failure”. The Argentine junta fell in 1983; Brazil moved to democracy in 1985.
Disastrous problems with government finances also played a huge role in provoking the reforms that eventually did for the Soviet Union. When Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in Moscow, he was faced with a national debt that almost doubled in his first three years in office. It was those financial pressures that helped to persuade him that economic reform – perestroika – was unavoidable.
By 1989, the whole of the Soviet bloc was struggling under the weight of rapidly increasing foreign debts. Why did the East German government not shoot demonstrators in the streets in October 1989? In large part, it was because it could not afford to. East Germany was on the verge of bankruptcy and desperately negotiating with West Germany for a loan.
These salutary brushes with national bankruptcy do not only happen to under-developed Asian nations, flaky Latin American dictatorships and crumbling communist regimes. The British still shudder at the memory of the UK government having to go “cap in hand” to the IMF in 1976. It was humiliating – but it served a useful purpose. Britain’s brush with bankruptcy helped to convince the voters that things really needed to change, and prepared the ground for Thatcherism. France had a similar experience in the early 1980s – when capital flight from the country and collapsing tax revenues forced the government of François Mitterrand to abandon its hard-left policies.
Sometimes, if a government is truly rotten – East Germany in 1989 or France in 1789 – it is a good thing if a fiscal crisis leads to political collapse. But for most normal countries, it is much better to get close to the edge of national bankruptcy than actually to go over the Niagara Falls of sovereign default. As Britain discovered in the 1970s and India found in 1991, looking over the edge can create the atmosphere of crisis that allows governments to win the arguments for economic reform. An actual sovereign default, however, can destroy confidence and trust among citizens and investors for years.
Perhaps the most memorable thing said so far by an official in Barack Obama’s administration was the remark by Rahm Emanuel, the White House chief of staff, that “you never want a serious crisis to go to waste”. Mr Emanuel was widely condemned for flippancy and cynicism. But an examination of world history over the last 30 years suggests he was definitely on to something. Those much discussed emerging powers, the Brics (Brazil, Russia, India and China) all needed a fiscal crisis to set them on the road to economic reform and national resurgence. America may one day be lucky enough to experience its very own national fiscal crisis. Let us hope it is not wasted.
The Largest Heist in History
Posted by Greg Pytel
Monday, 13 April 2009
October - December 2008
Building the Great Pyramid: The Global Financial Crisis Explained
This article was accepted as evidence and published by the British Parliament, House of Commons, Treasury Committee.
When the financial crisis erupted at the end of September 2008, there was an unusual sense of incredible panic among banking executives and government officials. These two establishment groups are known for their conservative, understated approach and, above all, their stiff upper lip. Yet at the time they appeared to the public running about like headless chickens. It was chaos. A state of complete chaos. Within a few weeks, however, decisions were made and everything seemed to returned to normal and back under control. The British Prime Minister Gordon Brown even famously remarked that the government “saved the world.”
But what really caused such an incredible panic in the establishment well known for its resilience? Maybe there are root causes that were not examined publicly and the government actions are nothing more than a temporary reprieve and a cover-up? Throwing good money after bad money, maybe?
Money Making Machine
In order to answer these questions we have to examine the basic principles on which the banking system operates and the mechanisms that caused the current crisis. Students at the A-level are taught about “multiple deposit creation,” It is the most rudimentary money creation mechanism for banks, which if administered properly serves the economy and public at-large very well. In the deposit creation process a bank accepts deposits and lends them out. But almost every lending returns soon to the bank as a deposit and is lent again. In essence, when people borrow money they do not keep it at home as cash, but spend it, so this money finds its way back to a bank quite quickly. It is not necessarily the same bank, but as the number of banks is limited (indeed very small) and there is — or was — a very active interbank lending. In terms of deposit creation the system works like one large bank.
Therefore, the same money is re-lent over and over again. If all depositors of all banks turned up at the same time there would not be enough cash to pay them out. However, such a situation is highly unlikely. Every borrower repays his loan and pays interest on it. In principle, the difference between a loan and a deposit interest rate is a source of the banks’ profit. Naturally, banks have to account for some creditors that will default and reflect it in the lending interest rate, or all the creditors who repay cover the costs of defaults. On top of it, the banks possess their own capital to provide security.
Fundamental to this deposit creation principle is the percentage of deposits that a bank lends out. The description above used a 100% loan-deposit ratio, meaning that all deposits are lent out. In traditional banking this ratio was always below 100%. For example, years ago, Westminster Bank (before it merged into National Westminster Bank), intended to lend out 86.5% of every deposit. For every £100 deposited, the bank lent out £86.5, while the remaining £13.50 was retained in the banks reserve with a small portion of it kept in the Bank of England. In practice, this ratio was the bank’s control tool on deposit creation process, ensuring that the amount of money supplied to the market was limited. According to this principle, for every £1 deposited, a bank lends out £0.865. After only 5 cycles the amount is reduced to below £0.50 and after 32 cycles it is below 1 penny. If this process continued forever the total amount of money lent out of a pound would be less than £6.41. With every cycle of deposit creation, a bank built up its reserves, ultimately collecting almost entire £1 for every £1 initial deposit. Added to capital repayments, interest payments on loans and the bank’s own capital base this system ensured that that there was always enough money in the bank for every depositor. For years banks worked as a confidence trick – the notional value of deposits and liabilities to be paid by the bank exceeded the value of money on the market. Since only a very small number of depositors demand cash withdrawals at the same time and almost all these paid-out deposits are deposited in a bank again quickly the banks ensured that every depositor got his money while circulating money in the economy and stimulating growth. The loan-deposit ratio was a self-regulating tool. As with every cycle it multiplies, the reduction of amounts created decreases exponentially and quickly. The faster the deposit creation cycles occur the faster the reduction progresses, thus accelerating with every cycle. The total “created” from the original £1 deposited in a bank is a finite, not more than £6.41 at the 86.5% loan-deposit ratio, backed by nearly £1 reserve. It is an inverted pyramid scheme starting from a fixed initial deposit base and quickly reducing through deposit creation cycle to zero.
Building a Pyramid
In a City bar back in 1998, an academic was discussing modern banking with his City colleagues from university. He was encouraged to invest in shares as their growth was well above inflation. He pointed out, however, that the inflation index does not take into account the growth of share price and as a consequence the market will run out of cash to pay for shares at some point. The only way would be down—a shares price crash. His City colleagues argued that there would be additional money coming in from different economies preventing a crash (a pretty thin argument in the world of global banking as foreign investors were already market players.) They also argued that the modern financial instruments allowed “securitisation”, “hedging” the risk and “leveraging” the original investment. Indeed it was a killer argument.
The deposit creation process is at the heart of the banking system servicing the public and stimulating economic growth. The modern banking instruments of securitisation, hedging, leveraging, derivatives and so on turned this process on its head. They enabled banks to lend more out than they took in deposits. According to Morgan Stanley Research, in 2007 UK banks loan-deposit ratio was 137%. In other words the banks were lending out on average £137.00 for every £100 paid in as a deposit. Another conservative estimate shows that this indicator for major UK banks was at least 174%. For others like Northern Rock it was a massive 322%. [For more details, refer to Table A.] Banks were “borrowing on the international markets” and lending money they did not have but assuming to have in the future. Likewise, “international markets” were doing exactly the same. At first sight it might not seem so much different than deposit creation. Deposit creation is lending money by the banks they do not have on the assumption that they will get enough back in sufficient time in the future from borrowers.
On closer examination there is a remarkable difference. With every cycle of the 86.5% loan-deposit ratio every £1 deposited is reduced becoming less than £0.50 after 5 cycles and less than 1 penny after 32. With a loan-deposit ratio of 137% — lending £137 for every £100 — not to mention 174% or indeed 322%, the story is drastically the opposite. Imagine a banker gets the first £1 deposit in the first week of a new year and lends it out. Imagine that twice every week in that year the amount lent out comes back to him as a deposit and he sustains such deposit creation process with a ratio of 137% twice every week for the year. This is a perfectly plausible scenario on the current electronic financial markets. By the following New Year’s Eve, the final amount he finally lends out from the original £1 is over £165 trillion (165 with 12 zeros, or over 16 times the amount governments have so far injected into economy). The total amount lent out in a year by a banker is over £447 trillion. Significantly with a loan-deposit ratio 100% or above no reserve is created.
It is an acknowledged monetary principle that the lending interest rate cannot be below 0%. This would allow borrowers to borrow money and banks would keep paying them for doing so. Indeed, there would be no incentive to lend and borrowing would have become a source of income for a borrower. Ultimately, lending would have stopped completely. It is a very similar principle that the loan-deposit ratio cannot be 100% or above, as in such circumstances, an amount of money coming from economic activities into deposit creation cycle would be multiplied very rapidly to infinity. Economic growth and inflation would not be able to catch up with it, which happens if loan-deposit ratio is below 100%.
The loan-deposit ratio below 100% that traditionally served as a very strict self-regulating mechanism of money supply stimulating the economy becomes a killer above 100%. The banking system becomes a classic example of a massive pyramid scheme. But as with every pyramid scheme, as long as people and institutions are happy not to demand cash withdrawals from the banks it is sustainable. Any bank can always print an impressive account statement or issue a new deposit certificate. The problem is whether the cash is there.
The qualitative and quantitative difference between loan-deposit ratio of 0% and 99% is infinitely smaller than between 99% and 100% or 101%. With ratios between 0% and 99%, we always end up with a money-making machine that creates a finite amount of money out of the initial deposit with a reserve nearly equal to the original deposit. If a ratio climbs to 100% or above the amount of money created spirals to infinity, if above 100% with exponential speed and no reserve is generated in this process. It is little wonder that Northern Rock which used the ratio of not less 322% collapsed first well ahead of others, HBOS with a ratio of around 175% ended up in a meltdown scenario later, while HSBC that used the ratio of not more than 91% was relatively safe (being a part of the global banking system, however, it has been at a risk stemming from the actions of other banks). [For more details, refer to Table A.]
Facing the Inevitable
For years the impressive-looking banks results brought a lot of confidence and the City was hailed as a beacon of the British economy. Bank executives, traders and financiers collected huge bonuses — not surprisingly, a lot of it in cash, rather than financial instruments. Influential economists and politicians alike justified stratospheric bonuses and hailed the City as the workhorse of the economy. Government strategic decisions were quite often subordinate to the objective of keeping the City strong. Irrational exuberance triumphed. Ultimately, City executives, traders and financiers proved to be pyramid purveyors not any more sophisticated (although perhaps better mannered) than their Albanian gangster counterparts who carried out a similar scheme 1996-97.
As with any pyramid scheme (and as long as there is still cash in the scheme) the beneficiaries are the operators of the scheme and “customers” who know when to get out of it. During the hectic dawn of the current financial crisis it is very likely that bank executives realised that it was the time that their pyramid started collapsing. This easily explains why banks stopped trusting one another and interbank lending collapsed. It was impossible to predict which node (financial institution) of a pyramid scheme would collapse next. There was a very distinct risk that if a bank lent money to another, the next day the bank-borrower may be bust and the money would be gone.
The collapse process, always an instant one, is accelerated by a dramatic loss of confidence amongst the pyramid customers. Once a single customer cannot withdraw his deposit, a great number of others start demanding payouts. City executives must have known this mechanism and explained to the government officials that unless the state shifts its weight injecting cash, guaranteeing deposits and lending, the system was bound to collapse. The Northern Rock case was a good dry run that pyramid purveyors gave government officials in September 2007. Facing a complete meltdown and an “Albanian scenario” the government acquiesced to the bankers’ demands by injecting cash on an unprecedented scale and giving wide guarantees.
The Route to Recovery
This is only the beginning of the story. According to some estimates there are around $2 quadrillion worth of financial instruments (like securities) that cannot be redeemed due to the lack of cash in the system — so-called toxic waste. These instruments are in the financial system and there are prospective beneficiaries of these instruments when they are redeemed, however. Furthermore they appreciate in value and attract interest so their notional value continues increasing over time. Governments around the world injected cash into the global banking system to a tune of around $10 trillion, or 200 times less than $2 quadrillion. At the same time they allowed bank executives and financiers who organised this pyramid scheme to remain at their posts to manage the injected money. Governments became the ultimate customers of pyramid purveyors with the hope that when they offer their custom it would somehow stop the giant pyramid scheme from collapsing. This is extremely naïve and very dangerous. The incredibly fast growth to infinity of pyramid schemes, which is only accelerating, will ensure that the government will not stand a chance to sustain it, unless this massive pyramid scheme is brought to a halt and liquidated. But there is no sign of governments contemplating doing that yet.
If governments do not liquidate the global pyramid scheme, the money they injected will be, in time, converted into toxic instruments (e.g. securities) and cashed in by organisers and privileged customers of these schemes (or in the case of Albania, gangsters and their customer friends). As the amount injected is around 200 times less than the notional value of toxic instruments, the economy will not even see a difference. It will be a step back to September 2008, only now with trillions of dollars of taxpayers’ money spent to sustain the pyramid scheme. It will be merely throwing good money after bad. But can governments afford to come up again with the same amount money and do it 200 times over or more? This is based on a very optimistic assumption that the notional value of toxic instruments is not increasing. If governments take the route of continuing to inject money, they will make taxpayers dependant on the financial system in the same way that criminal loan sharks control their customers — their debt is ever increasing and customers keep on paying forever as much as it is possible to extract from them.
In a normal free market economy a business that fails should be allowed to collapse. If a business is a giant pyramid scheme, like the current financial system, it must be allowed to collapse and its executives and operators should face prosecution. After all running pyramid schemes is illegal. Letting the banks collapse would have been a far more commercially sound solution than the current approach, provided the governments would have secured and guaranteed socially vital interests directly. For example, individual deposits would be guaranteed if a bank collapsed. Deposit accounts records, along with mortgage and genuine business accounts, would be moved to a specially created agency of the Bank of England which would honour them with government help. If a pension fund collapsed due to a bank collapse, individual pensioners would continue receiving their unchanged pensions from the social security system. This would guarantee social stability and a normal flow of cash into the economy.
The hard part would be to liquidate financial institutions while sifting through their toxic waste and to distinguish genuine non-toxic instruments and the results of pyramid scheme operation. Deposits, mortgages and business accounts are clearly non-toxic in principle. However, in the modern banking they were mixed with potentially toxic assets. This would be a gargantuan task.
The current “quantitative easing” (printing cash) is an attempt to convert more toxic instruments, like securities, into cash, albeit at some inflationary costs, and make them state-guaranteed, as cash is guaranteed by the state. It is just another trick of the financial pyramid purveyors to extract even more cash from taxpayers through the governments on the back of the scheme. Looking back to the 1990s, Albanian gangsters must feel really crossed considering that they were not offered such a “rescue” package first by Albanian government, and then by the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.
Unless and until the governments identify, isolate and write off toxic instruments held by financial institutions every pound put into “rescue” is very likely to end up being good money thrown after bad. (The governments, as ultimate customers of the global pyramid scheme, are supplying the pyramid purveyors and beneficiaries with tax payers’ cash and the largest heist in history continues.) Alongside the liquidation process, but after the toxic waste has been isolated and fenced off in failed financial institutions, governments must launch a fiscal stimulus package and go after the pyramid purveyors and beneficiaries to recover any cash and assets from them and bring them to justice. As the financial pyramid scheme is global, any action — including the recovery cash and assets — must be global, too. It is intriguing that banks in traditional offshore financial centres like Belize, US Virgin Islands, Bermuda, do not appear to suffer from liquidity problems. They do not require rescue packages even though a lot of them are subsidiaries of much larger banks which are affected by the current crisis.
Is it a sheer coincidence that, for example, the loan-deposit ratio at US Virgin Islands banks is at a very prudent 42%? Little doubt there is a lot of cash there not created in those little economies. Mr John McDonnell MP [Member of Parliament in the UK] wrote in The Guardian on 20 February 2008:
“One series of offshore trusts associated with Northern Rock were called Granite (presumably a witty pun on the Rock bank). Granite holds approximately 40% of Northern Rock's assets, around £40bn. Yesterday, the Treasury minister told the house that "Granite is and has always been a separate legal entity".
Let's look at that: Northern Rock does not own Granite, that's true. It is however, wholly responsible for it: it's officially "on" its balance sheet in its accounts. But it is legally "off" its balance sheet when it comes to getting hold of its assets as the basis for the security of the sums owed the Treasury.
Granite is based in Jersey, an offshore tax haven where Northern Rock's best assets sit outside the reach of taxpayers. So the bill to nationalise Northern Rock will, in fact, be nationalising only dodgy debt, which will increase the burden on the taxpayer and put at risk the jobs of Northern Rock workers. The sad truth is that by failing to regulate the financial sector adequately, the government has been hoist by its own neoliberal petard. The participants in this tax dodge will be allowed to walk away with millions, when workers may lose their jobs and the taxpayer risk billions."
Some economists see overvaluation of financial instruments as the root cause of the current financial crisis. Overvaluation was not a necessary factor, but only a contributory and accelerating factor that worsened the crisis. The crux of the matter is that financial institutions have considered financial instruments, like securities, as good as cash and added them as cash in the deposit creation cycles at a rate that brought the loan-deposit ratio to 100% or above. Without non-cash financial instruments considered as cash it is impossible to go above 100% in a deposit creation cycle. And it does not matter if these instruments were given proper risk characteristics individually discounting their notional, face value. As long as with any residual value, they have been added in deposit creation process to an extent that its ratio was 100% or above, the disaster was only a matter of time. Because of exponential character of the creation it was a matter of a short time.
Loan-deposit ratio above 100% is like (untreated) AIDS. As it progresses it weakens the immune system of economy that safeguards against adverse events: natural disasters, wars, etc or sometimes unpredictable mood swings of market players. The current crisis was triggered by the collapse of subprime mortgage market (effectively overvaluation of assets). This time the system, for years having had been weakened by loan-deposit ratio above 100%, also collapsed altogether. It was a giant pyramid and it was bound to crumble anyway (for whatever direct cause). It was like a human suffering from AIDS whose death was not caused by AIDS directly, but by pneumonia, flu, infection, etc. However it is AIDS that made the curable illnesses lethal.
Until recently the world enjoyed a sustained period of high growth and low inflation and the fact that it came to such an abrupt end does not come as a surprise. It was in the very nature of the pyramid scheme mechanism. The deposit creation process with a ratio above 100% guaranteed impressive-looking economic growth figures. At the same time there were no extra cash hitting Main Street, as there was no extra cash printed. In this context, the high growth of property prices is no surprise. In their huge majority and extent, these are, in practice, cashless interbank transactions. The world stayed oblivious in this economic miracle like customers of a pyramid scheme being happy with the figures on their statements until they wanted to withdraw money. But like with any pyramid scheme, the financial system ran out of cash, with the outcome of a lack of liquidity, not high inflation.
Also See:
Financial Crunch! Economic Collapse! (Part 8)
23 February 2010