by MIKE WHITNEY
President Barack Obama is determined to prevail in his battle with GOP congressional leaders on the debt ceiling issue, but not for the reasons stated in the media. Obama is less concerned with the prospect of higher interest rates and frustrated bondholders than he is with the big Wall Street banks who would be thrust back into crisis if there is no resolution before October 17. Absent a debt ceiling deal, the repurchase market–known as repo–would undergo another deep-freeze as it did in 2008 when Lehman Brothers defaulted triggering a run on the Reserve Primary Fundrepurchase market which had been exposed to Lehman’s short-term debt. The frenzied selloff sparked a widespread panic across global financial markets pushing the system to the brink of collapse and forcing the Federal Reserve to backstop regulated and unregulated financial institutions with more than $11 trillion in loans and other obligations. The same tragedy will play out again, if congress fails lift the ceiling and reinforce the present value of US debt.
Repo is at the heart of the shadow banking system, that opaque off-balance sheet underworld where maturity transformation and other risky banking activities take place beyond the watchful eye of government regulators. It is where banks exchange collateralized securities for short-term loans from investors, mainly large financial institutions. The banks use these loans to fund their other investments boosting their leverage many times over to maximize their profits. The so called congressional reforms, like Dodd Frank, which were ratified after the crisis, have done nothing to change the basic structure of the market or to reign in excessive risk-taking by undercapitalized speculators. The system is as wobbly and crisis-prone ever, as the debt ceiling fiasco suggests. The situation speaks to the impressive power of the bank cartel and their army of lawyers and lobbyists. They own Capital Hill, the White House, and most of the judges in the country. The system remains the same, because that’s the way the like it.
US Treasuries provide the bulk of collateral the banks use in acquiring their short-term funding. If the US defaults on its debt, the value that collateral would fall precipitously leaving much of the banking system either underwater or dangerously undercapitalized. The wholesale funding market would grind to a halt, and interbank lending would slow to a crawl. The financial system would suffer its second major heart attack in less than a decade. This is from American Banker:
As banking policy analyst Karen Shaw Petrou describes it, Treasury obligations are the “water” in the financial system’s plumbing.
“They’re the global reserve currency and they are perceived to be the most secure thing you can own,” said Petrou, managing partner of Federal Financial Analytics. “That is why it is pledged as collateral. … The very biggest banks fear that a debt ceiling breach breaks the pipes.”….
Rob Toomey, managing director and associate general counsel at the Securities Industry and Financial Markets Association, said institutions are concerned about whether Treasury bonds that default are no longer transferable between market participants.
“Essentially, whatever the size is of the obligation that Treasury is unable to pay, that kind of liquidity would just disappear from the market for whatever time the payment is not made,” Toomey said.”
By some estimates, the amount of liquidity that would be drained from the system immediately following a default would be roughly $600 billion, enough to require emergency action by either the Fed or the US Treasury. Despite post-crisis legislation that forbids future bailouts, the government would surely ride to rescue committing taxpayer revenues once again to save Wall Street.
Keep in mind, the US government does not have to default on its debt to trigger a panic in the credit markets. Changing expectations can easily produce the same result. If the holders of US Treasuries (USTs) begin to doubt that the debt ceiling issue will be resolved, then they’ll sell their bonds prematurely to avoid greater losses. That, in turn, will push up interest rates which will strangle the recovery, slow growth, and throw a wrench in the repo market credit engine. We saw an example of how this works in late May when the Fed announced its decision to scale-back its asset purchase. The fact that the Fed continued to buy the same amount of USTs and mortgage-backed securities (MBS) didn’t stem the selloff. Long-term rates went up anyway. Why? Because expectations changed and the market reset prices. That same phenom could happen now, in fact, it is happening now. The Financial Times reported on Wednesday that “Fidelity Investments, the largest manager of money market funds… had sold all of its holdings of US Treasury bills due to mature towards the end of October as a “precautionary measure.”
This is what happens when people start to doubt that US Treasuries will be liquid cash equivalents in the future. They ditch them. And when they ditch them, rates go up and the economy slips into low gear. (Note: “China and Japan together hold more than $2.4 trillion in U.S. Treasuries” Bloomberg)
Now the media has been trying to soft-peddle the implications of the debt ceiling standoff by saying, “No one thinks that holders of USTs won’t get repaid.”
While this is true, it’s also irrelevant. The reason that USTs are the gold standard of financial assets, is because they are considered risk-free and liquid. That’s it. If you have to wait to get your money, then the asset you purchased is not completely liquid, right?
And if there is some doubt, however small, that you will not be repaid in full, then the asset is not really risk free, right?
This is what the Fidelity flap is all about. It’s about the erosion of confidence in US debt. It’s about that sliver of doubt that has entered the minds of investors and changed their behavior. This is a significant development because it means that people in positions of power are now questioning the stewardship of the present system. And that trend is going to intensify when the Fed begins to reduce its asset purchases later in the year, because winding down QE will precipitate more capital flight, more currency volatility and more emerging market runaway inflation. That’s going to lead to more chin scratching, more grousing and more resistance to US stewardship of the system. None of this bodes well for Washington’s imperial aspirations or for the world’s reserve currency, both of which appear to be living on borrowed time.
The media has done a poor job of explaining what’s really at stake. While, it’s true that higher interest rates would make consumer loans more expensive and put the kibosh on the housing recovery, that’s not what the media cares about. Not really. What they care about is the looming massacre in shadow banking where USTs are used as collateral to secure short-term loans by the banks so they can increase their leverage by many orders of magnitude. In other words, the banks are using USTs to borrow gobs of money from money markets and financial institutions so they can finance their other dodgy investments, derivatives contracts and ancillary casino-type operations. If there’s a default, the banks will have to come up with more capital for their scams that are leveraged at 40 or 50 to 1. This systemwide margin call would trigger a deflationary spiral that would domino through the entire system unless the Fed stepped in and, once again, provided a giant backstop in the form of blank check support. Here’s how Tim Fernholz sums it up over at Daily Finance:
“…Many informed people are worried” (about) “A freeze in the tri-party repo market, akin to the cascade of troubles that followed the Lehman Brothers bankruptcy in 2008.”….
In 2008, more than a third of that collateral was mortgage-backed securities. When Lehman went bankrupt, its lenders began a “fire sale” of the securities it used as collateral, which drove down the value of other mortgage-backed securities, which led to more fire sales. This dynamic would eventually lead to a freeze in the repo markets, which, at the time, provided $2.6 trillion in funding to the banks each day…..
Today, most of the collateral in use is U.S. Treasuries and “agency securities” — mortgage-backed securities guaranteed by the U.S. government:
… if the ugly day of a default comes, lenders may simply stop accepting U.S. debt as collateral. That will have the effect of sucking some $600 billion in liquidity out of the banking system. Unable to get funding for Treasurys, securities dealers would be pressured to sell them-or other assets-to find new funding, creating a fire sale dynamic…..
And, of course, this scenario is only about how the Treasurys work in the repo markets. U.S. debt is used as collateral for derivatives swaps and numerous other transactions; if they are suddenly worth less than expected, lenders can be expected to demand more collateral up front, putting even more pressure on the financial system. That’s why pressure is building to raise the ceiling before the world’s largest economy enters a scenario with so much uncertainty.”
Repeat: “That’s why pressure is building to raise the ceiling before the world’s largest economy enters a scenario with so much uncertainty”.
So the Obama team isn’t worried that Joe Homeowner won’t be able to refi his mortgage or that the economy might slip back into recession. They just don’t want to see Wall Street take it in the shorts again. That’s what this is all about, the banks. Because the banks are still up-to-their-eyeballs in red ink. Because they still don’t have enough capital to stay solvent if the wind shifts. Because all the Dodd Frank reforms are pure, unalloyed bullsh** that haven’t fixed a bloody thing. Because the risks of another panic are as great as ever because the system is the same teetering, unregulated cesspit it was before. Because the banks are still financing their sketchy Ponzi operations with OPM (other people’s money), only now, the Fed’s over-bloated balance sheet is being used to prop up this broken, crooked system instead of the trillions of dollars that was extracted from credulous investors on subprime mortgages, liars loans and other, equally-fraudulent debt instruments.
Can you see that?
This is why the media is pushing so hard to end the debt ceiling standoff; to preserve this mountainous stinkpile of larceny, greed and corruption run by a criminal bank Mafia and their political lackeys on Capital Hill. That’s what this is all about.
Posted on 06 October 2013 Arabian Financial News
With the US Government shutdown last week weakening the US dollar across the board in global currency markets it is only too easy to read the relatively lacklustre performance of gold wrongly. For in a major US dollar devaluation crisis, like the one that would follow a failure to raise the debt ceiling on October 17th, gold would be king.
It’s a scenario played out perfectly in the penultimate chapter of hedge fund manager Jim Rickards book, ‘Currency Wars: The Making of the Next Global Crisis’. He envisages a series of ‘black swan’ events that trigger a loss of confidence in the US dollar precipitating a rush to get out of the greenback.
The last issue of our sister ArabianMoney investment newsletter has the full story. It ends with a ‘tsunami’ of dollar selling by traders in a mass panic and a switch to safe haven assets. Then the Fed responds with massive bond buying to force back the wave of selling.
However, the crucial difference between this crash and others is that the market then questions the Fed’s staying power and the dollar collapse continues. It is at this point that gold doubles in price overnight.
The US President is then left with no alternative but to take charge under the 1977 International Emergency Economic Powers Act. He nationalizes all gold held on US soil and suspends bond trading to halt the dollar’s fall. A bipartisan commission is appointed with 30 days to sort out what to do next.
Basically the US dollar has to be reissued and reset to a new value based on a much higher price of gold. If this all sounds far-fetched then it is. But so was the subprime mortgage crisis before it actually struck and yet it happened.
This correspondent can recall how HSBC chairman Sir John Bond saw the US economy as ‘fundamentally sound’ when I interviewed him just two years before this iceberg hit the Titanic .
The unsinkable can sink, and so could the US dollar, just as HSBC was the biggest loser in the subprime crisis (although the bank did not sink because its compartments held and it managed to right itself without a government bailout).
Other currencies in over-indebted economies have suffered this fate in the past. However, as Jim Rickards points out in his book the US still has a final card to play in the global currency wars as it has 57 per cent of the world’s gold reserves within its boundaries and so would command any new global monetary system as it did the old. To that extent it would not be different this time around.
But the gold price would be reset permanently higher, and $7,500-10,000 an ounce in old dollars is Mr. Rickards best estimate.
by Tyler Durden
Whenever the annual change in core capex, also known as Non-Defense Capital Goods excluding Aircraft shipments goes negative, the US has traditionally entered a recession. Where is this number now: +0.8%, and declining fast. Feeling lucky?
Of course, in no other previous recession, was the US Fed holding $3.5 trillion in securities and increasing at a pace of $85 billion per month.
Source: Dept of Commerce
April 24, 2013
By Paul Craig Roberts
For Americans, financial and economic Armageddon might be close at hand. The evidence for this conclusion is the concerted effort by the Federal Reserve and its dependent financial institutions to scare people away from gold and silver by driving down their prices.
When gold prices hit $1,917.50 an ounce on August 23, 2011, a gain of more than $500 an ounce in less than eight months, capping a rise over a decade from $272 at the end of December 2000, the Federal Reserve panicked. With the United States dollar losing value so rapidly compared to the world standard for money, the Federal Reserve’s policy of printing $1T annually in order to support the impaired balance sheets of banks and to finance the federal deficit was placed in danger. Who could believe the dollar’s exchange rate in relation to other currencies when the dollar was collapsing in value in relation to gold and silver?
The Federal Reserve realized that its massive purchase of bonds in order to keep their prices high (and thus interest rates low) was threatened by the dollar’s rapid loss of value in terms of gold and silver. The Fed was concerned that large holders of U.S. dollars, such as the central banks of China and Japan and the OPEC sovereign investment funds, might join the flight of individual investors away from the dollar, thus ending in the fall of the dollar’s foreign exchange value and thus decline in U.S. bond and stock prices.
Intelligent people could see that the U.S. government could not afford the long and numerous wars that the neoconservatives were engineering or the loss of tax base and consumer income from off-shoring millions of U.S. middle-class jobs for the sake of executive bonuses and shareholder capital gains. They could see what was in the cards, and began exiting the dollar for gold and silver.
Central banks are slower to act. Saudi Arabia and the oil emirates are dependent on U.S. protection and do not want to anger their protector. Japan is a puppet state that is careful in its relationship with its master. China wanted to hold on to the American consumer market for as long as that market existed. It was individuals who began the exit from the U.S. dollar.
When gold topped $1,900, Washington put out the story that gold was a bubble. The presstitute media fell in line with Washington’s propaganda. “Gold looking a bit bubbly” declared CNN Money on August 23, 2011.
The Federal Reserve used its dependent “banks too big to fail” to short the precious metals markets. By selling naked shorts in the paper bullion market against the rising demand for physical possession, the Fed was able to drive the price of gold down to $1,750 and keep it more or less capped there until recently, when a concerted effort on April 2-3 drove gold down to $1,557 and silver, which had approached $50 per ounce in 2011, down to $27.
The Federal Reserve began its April Fool’s assault on gold by sending the word to brokerage houses, which quickly went out to clients, that hedge funds and other large investors were going to unload their gold positions and that clients should get out of the precious metal market prior to these sales. As this inside information was the government’s own strategy, individuals cannot be prosecuted for acting on it. By this operation, the Federal Reserve, a totally corrupt entity, was able to combine individual flight with institutional flight. Bullion prices took a big hit, and bullishness departed from the gold and silver markets. The flow of dollars into bullion, which threatened to become a torrent, was stopped.
For now it seems that the Fed has succeeded in creating wariness among Americans about the virtues of gold and silver, and thus it has extended the time that it can print money to keep the house of cards standing. This time could be short or it could last a couple of years.
For the Russians and Chinese, whose central banks have more dollars than they want, and for the 1.3B Indians in India, the low dollar price for gold that the Federal Reserve has engineered is an opportunity. They see the opportunity that the Fed has given them to purchase gold at $350-$400 an ounce less than two years ago as a gift.
The Fed’s attack on bullion is an act of desperation that, when widely recognized, will doom its policy.
The Fed is creating 1T new dollars per year, but the world is moving away from the use of the dollar for international payments and, thus, as reserve currency. The result is an increase in supply and a decrease in demand. This means a falling exchange value of the dollar, domestic inflation from rising import prices and a rising interest rate and collapsing bond, stock and real estate markets.
The Federal Reserve’s orchestration against bullion cannot ultimately succeed. It is designed to gain time for it to be able to continue financing the federal budget deficit by printing money and also to keep interest rates low and debt prices high in order to support the banks’ balance sheets.
When the Fed can no longer print due to dollar decline which printing would make worse, U.S. bank deposits and pensions could be grabbed in order to finance the federal budget deficit for a couple of more years. Anything to stave off the final catastrophe.
By its obvious and concerted attack on gold and silver, the U.S. government could not give any clearer warning that trouble is approaching. The values of the dollar and of financial assets denominated in dollars are in doubt.
How the Fed Tanked Gold & Silver
By Paul Craig Roberts
I was the first to point out that the Federal Reserve was rigging all markets, not merely bond prices and interest rates, and that the Fed is rigging the bullion market in order to protect the U.S. dollar’s exchange value, which is threatened by the Fed’s quantitative easing. With the Fed adding to the supply of dollars faster than the demand for dollars is increasing, the price or exchange value of the dollar is set up to fall.
A fall in the dollar’s exchange rate would push up import prices and, thereby, domestic inflation, and the Fed would lose control over interest rates. The bond market would collapse and with it the values of debt-related derivatives on the “banks too big to fail” balance sheets. The financial system would be in turmoil and panic would reign.
Rapidly rising bullion prices were an indication of loss of confidence in the dollar and were signaling a drop in the dollar’s exchange rate. The Fed used naked shorts in the paper gold market to offset the price effect of a rising demand for bullion possession. Short sales that drive down the price, trigger stop-loss orders that automatically lead to individual sales of bullion holdings once their loss limits are reached.
According to bullion trader and whistle-blower Andrew Maguire, on Friday, April 12, the Fed’s agents hit the market with 500 tons of naked shorts. Normally, a short is when an investor thinks the price of a stock or commodity is going to fall. He wants to sell the item in advance of the fall, pocket the money, and then buy the item back after it falls in price, thus making money on the short sale. If he doesn’t have the item, he borrows it from someone who does, putting up cash collateral equal to the current market price. Then he sells the item, waits for it to fall in price, buys it back at the lower price and returns it to the owner who returns his collateral. If enough shorts are sold, the result can significantly drive down the market price.
A naked short is when the short seller does not have or borrow the item that he shorts, but sells shorts regardless. In the paper gold market, the participants are betting on gold prices and are content with the monetary payment. Therefore, generally, as participants are not interested in taking delivery of the gold, naked shorts do not need to be covered with the physical metal. In other words, with naked shorts, no physical metal is actually sold.
Consider the 500 tons of paper gold sold on April 12. At the beginning gold price that day of about $1,550, that 500 tons comes to $24.8B. Who has that kind of money?
What happens when 500 tons of gold sales are dumped on the market at one time or on one day? It drives the price down. Investors who want to get out of large positions would spread sales out over time so as not to lower their sales proceeds. The sale took gold down by about $73 per ounce. That means the seller or sellers lost up to $73 dollars 16 million times, or $1.2B. [Over the next two days it dropped $200 per ounce. That equals a $3.2B fall.—Ed.]
Who can afford to lose that kind of money? Only a central bank that can print it.
Paul Craig Roberts is a former assistant undersecretary of the U.S. Treasury and former associate editor of The Wall Street Journal. He is the author of many books including The Tyranny of Good Intentions, Alienation and the Soviet Economy, How the Economy Was Lost and others.
- The Assault On Gold – Paul Craig Roberts (paulcraigroberts.org)