Monday, May 21, 2012

On Planet GATA: Precious Metals Are A No Brainer

'Anybody selling physical gold here is either broke (and needs the money) or is just not paying attention."

John Embry and James Turk on why the Gold Bull Market isn't Over [Video]

This conversation between James Turk and John Embry was recorded on Friday 18 May.

They discuss recent volatility and panic in the gold and silver markets. According to John Embry markets are now highly oversold. He mentions the “leap day slaughter” and the counterintuitive situation in which gold and silver prices went down on the backdrop of negative economic news and money printing. Natural selling followed forced selling.

Embry thinks the bottom is being tested right now and that there’s a lot of upward potential with limited risk. He notes that if you’re negative on gold, you must be bullish on currencies, which doesn’t make sense in the current environment.

James notes the media’s negative sentiment towards gold lately, which has scared people away from the metals. He also notes that the banking system is falling apart in Europe, which should boost gold’s status as a safe haven asset.

John thinks that the “risk on/risk off” concept is wrong and dislikes how pundits sell you the idea that gold is in the “risk on” category. Who wants to own US treasuries considering the US deficit and inflation?

People should accumulate and buy gold considering the bull market gold is still in.

The performance of gold shares has been even more counter-intuitive.

John sees the gold price surging to new heights in the not-too-distant future, which could even lead to a dramatic rise in gold stocks. The shares began a bear market in 1997 when the mining company Bre-X collapsed.

John sees a massive stampede out of paper currencies into gold before the bull market ends. In particular the flight from paper gold to physical gold could have an enormous impact on the market.

Both men agree that hyperinflation is inevitable. John agrees with Jim Sinclair’s contention that we’ll face QE to infinity notwithstanding current low velocity in money.

Mario Draghi or Ben Bernanke; who will be the world champion of money printing?

James notes that Keynesianism doesn’t work in US, Europe or China and all governments are overleveraged as a result. Also the banking system is in the same dire straits around the globe.

When people tell John to sell gold and silver he asks them what he can buy. He doesn’t see viable alternatives.

James stresses the importance of buying gold and silver and the concept of dollar cost averaging. We have a long way to go before the gold bull market reaches its end. By that time you won’t sell gold, but rather exchange it for other productive assets.

John is amazed at how people are influenced psychologically and sell when prices go down while they should buy.

They discuss how Greece is in a great depression. The fear of contagion with risk is still huge. Spain is just a bigger Greece.

Gold will return to the forefront of the monetary system, which will be difficult for politicians to accept.

Outstanding derivatives amount to 10-20 times of GDP.

It’s 2008 all over again and John doesn’t expect that big institutions will be allowed to fail. If John were Emperor he would follow Von Mises’s advice and let the debt collapse because hyperinflation would just make the problem worse.

With regards to Greece, John notes that creditor nations shouldn’t have extended so much debt to debtor nations in the first place and as a result he expects revolutions.

Gold functions as the metaphorical canary in the coalmine, therefore positive price action is unpalatable to many special interest groups. In spite of recent volatility gold is still in a robust bull market.

If the gold price were to rise 100-150 dollars in one day then John would take that as a sign that interference in the market has stopped.

Both men firmly believe that gold shares have reached the end of their bear market. A good sign this was seen on Thursday 17 May when solid price action in mining shares accompanied a general decline in global stock indices.

Alasdair Macleod details the mechanics of gold price suppression
By: Chris Powell
Dear Friend of GATA and Gold (and Silver):

This week our friend the British economist Alasdair Macleod presented what he modestly called two "lectures" about gold at the Hard Assets Investment Conference in New York. The "lectures" are actually the equivalents of state papers -- the latter one a masterful and detailed description of the mechanics of the gold price suppression scheme. A few excerpts from that lecture:

It is the leasing activities and other unannounced interventions that are not reflected in central bank gold accounts, the former because in a leasing agreement ownership remains with the lessor so it is not reported, and the latter because they are hidden by the sight account system. The logical conclusion is that 30 years of supplying gold to the market to keep gold well below its free-market value has depleted official gold reserves to a significant degree. And since central banks refuse to discuss the matter, we have no idea how much of the officially declared gold actually exists. The International Monetary Fund's gold is likely to be held on a sight basis in its entirety. When the IMF disposed of 400 tonnes between 2009 and 2010, they turned down bids from the private sector, selling only to other central banks. I believe this gold was in sight accounts (that is, did not actually exist), so a condition of sale was that it could be transferred and held only between central banks and supra-national government organisations. This certainly seems likely, but the sale terms were never actually made public.

So, to summarise: The central banks at the heart of price manipulation have had the means to sell substantial amounts of bullion without having to account for it. ...

* * *

London Bullion Market Association members strongly encourage clients to hold unallocated accounts by charging little or no fees for the privilege. They discourage clients from holding allocated accounts by charging high storage and custody fees. There are very good reasons why this is so. They are unable to make use of allocated gold, whereas every ounce of unallocated gold is used to back the LBMA members' dealings in the market. The disadvantage to the client is that he is exposed to counter-party risk.

Now if you have looked recently at the balance sheets of some of the European banks, you may not wish to take that risk. So while there has never been a bankruptcy in the market (though there have been some covert rescues -- for example, the one I mentioned earlier which [former Bank of England Governor] Eddie George talked about), implying that unallocated accounts are safe, for many clients this is not an assumption they are prepared to accept anymore.

* * *

The money in the [gold] market is always unbalanced in favour of the commercial bullion banks. They have lots of money, even your money as a taxpayer if they are too big to fail, and can always bluff anyone not prepared to put up funds for delivery. This is because the non-commercials and speculators have geared positions, which will magnify their losses.

We see this happening time and time again. The big commercial bullies wait for the punters to build up their long positions and then they whack it hard. They know that by doing so they will trigger all those stop-losses. In an afternoon they can make $100 an ounce this way. They make lots more money trading this way than they lose from being continually short in a bull market. You have been warned!

* * *

In the chart above I have derived from disaggregated data the net positions of the swap dealers. Two years ago they were short a net 120,000 contracts, which is the equivalent of 373 tonnes of gold. Since March 2011 they have reduced their net shorts from -110 thousand to zero give or take at the peak of the gold market last September. At the same time open interest fell from a peak 650,000 in November 2010 to the 420,000 level.

Why were the swaps short? The only logical reason has to be that the central banks were supplying the market with physical. It is that extra physical that was being hedged two years ago. And what is interesting is that at that time Portugal was rumoured to have given its gold up as collateral to the Bank for International Settlements. The amount that actually showed up in the BIS accounts was 349 tonnes, and the date was late 2009. Fits perfectly! Put another way, Portugal's entire gold stock appears to have been sold and absorbed into the market.

* * *

The balance of power has shifted to Asia, particularly China, and central to that power is control of real money, the money that society chooses for itself, not that enforced by government as a monopoly upon us. Untold amounts of gold have disappeared from the advanced economies' central banks, and the London Bullion Market is exposed to a sharp rise in the gold price. With this knowledge, anyone who does not take steps to protect him or herself from the increasingly certain event, a collapse in paper money, a fundamental change in our whole economic paradigm, is nuts.

* * *

The first part of Macleod's lecture, explaining gold's central position in economic theory, is posted at his Internet site, Finance and Economics, here:

The second part, quoted above, about the mechanisms of gold market rigging, likely to be of more immediate interest, is here:

Because of their supreme importance Macleod's two papers will be posted in the "Documentation" section of GATA's Internet site and should be distributed by gold's advocates as widely as possible.

CHRIS POWELL, Secretary/Treasurer
Gold Anti-Trust Action Committee Inc.

JPM, Facebook, Gold … And The Potential of A Titanic Financial Market Event

By: Bill Murphy, 

May 20 - Gold $1595.10 Silver $29.14 down 6 cents

"The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain." … Dolly Parton


The reason for this rare, extra commentary over a weekend is to focus on a couple of points which really stand out in their particular significance and are worth pondering in terms of what is coming down the road for financial markets.

The first is what we jumped all over on PLANET GATA from the get-go about the JP Morgan hedge trade flap gone wrong. It made NO sense from the very beginning to any of us that such a commotion was made over a $2 billion loss on a trade, for whatever reason, when they had just reported yearly gains of $18 billion. Clearly, Mr. Dimon’s public pronouncement, that caught the attention of the entire investment world, was only paving the way for future announcements that will be much more dramatic. All he was doing when he inferred the losses MIGHT get worse was protecting himself, as best he could, by going on the record.

The latest news on JPM…

14:31 JPM JP Morgan Chase struggling to unwind ill-placed bets - WSJ

While breaking no real news, this story notes that the bank's losses could eventually prove to be even bigger than the $5B some people familiar with the matter have been predicting (see linked comment). The losses could potentially deepen if the company sells its positions into a market that has turned against said positions.
The article notes that while the bank has said that it will take its time unwinding the positions, this does not necessarily guarantee smaller final losses than trying to close out the trades sooner, as the market could turn sharply against the bank in the near term.
Reference Link: Wall Street Journal

* * * *

14:50 JPM CFTC latest federal agency to begin investigating JPMorgan Chase - NYT DealBook

NYT Dealbook reports, citing people briefed on the matter, that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission opened an enforcement case on Friday examining the bank's trading loss. The CFTC joins the SEC and FBI in investigating possible wrongdoing at the bank. Gary Gensler, the agency's chairman, is expected to disclose the investigation when he testifies on Tuesday before the Senate Banking Committee.
Dealbook says that the CFTC will potentially examine whether the bank’s trading affected the market for credit derivatives, for which it has jurisdiction.
Reference Link: NY Times -
* * * * *

This latest investigation into JP Morgan might be a big deal for the GATA camp. This is actually quite complicated, but very intriguing. The CFTC has been investigating JPM’s role in the silver market manipulation scheme for what will be four years soon. FOUR YEARS! Good friends, like Dave from Denver, have nothing but loathsome talk about the CFTC, for good reason. GATA’s rationale (speaking for myself) about this ridiculous investigation is that the CFTC really has uncovered the scam, but because it is backed by the US Government, they are flabbergasted about what to do, so they do nothing.

The reason they have not closed the case is because they are petrified the silver market might blow up down the road. Think about if you were them. They want this to go away, but if the silver market does blow up, and there is some kind of "Force Majeure" declared in silver by JPM, the CFTC would not only look like fools, but, perhaps it might be said they were more than negligent. Thus, they have done nothing.

Well, all of a sudden, Lo and Behold a new factor enters the silver scam investigation, which directly affects Morgan’s constant claims to the CFTC that their huge silver short position is hedged. Ya mean like hedged in an economic sense as per their claims re the latest credit derivatives market trade was a hedge? This just might force the CFTC to demand JP Morgan prove their claims their silver short position is really a hedged one. This is what I suspect might occur due to the growing scrutiny over Morgan’s trading activities. The CFTC people, except for Bart "Elliot Ness" Chilton, are sycophants and have toed the company line … but there is a point when FEAR makes that no longer viable. They are not going to go to jail for taking one for the team. My guess is we are getting close to that Tipping Point.

As the JP Morgan hedged losses mount and become "official," the heat on them is going to mount. They will be scrutinized every way imaginable. How can all the class action lawsuits against them, and blatant evidence against them via just what Andrew Maquire has sent to the CFTC via their role in the silver scam, be ignored?

We have already been informed, as of a week ago, that the Morgan losses on their "hedge trade" fiasco could be as high as $15 billion, or more. Already, even the WSJ is alluding that their losses are higher than $5 billion. This is MEGA! As we have discussed on PLANET GATA, this is not just about Morgan, but confidence in the entire financial system. If the $70 trillion derivatives book at Morgan goes NUCLEAR, we could have a financial market TITANIC event which might be right around the corner.


Now, for the weekend edition, number two re the understandable, but nauseating, commotion over the Facebook IPO on Friday, which was heralded by CNBC all week.

First, the background…

*The Dow is going down day after day, not with any fanfare, but all rallies are sold. In very quiet and subdued selling, general investors inherently know something is wrong and are acting upon that instinct.

*Europe is falling apart we know, but little is being said about how the US financial system is in parallel with Europe. How bad is this? Just the state of California budget deficit goes from something like $8 billion to a staggering $16 billion and it creates almost no commotion. Huh?

Getting back into the GATA aspect of this is that the US financial markets are all about market manipulation. You need to go nowhere further on what the real deal about US financial markets than this headline…

Banks spend big to prop up Facebook shares on first day of trading


Last Updated: 8:15 AM, May 19, 2012

Posted: 11:34 PM, May 18, 2012

It was another Wall Street bailout — but this time the banks had to cough up the cash. Facebook’s underwriters propped up the social-network’s trading debut yesterday, as the shares threatened to crash through the initial public offering price of $38. The banks working on the massive $16 billion IPO, including Morgan Stanley, JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs, did their duty by buying up large blocks of Facebook stock toward the end of the day to support the price.

Facebook shares opened up 11 percent at $42.05, and traded as high as $45, before running out of steam, disappointing investors hoping for a big first-day pop. The shares closed up just 0.6 percent at $38.23.

Without the bank bailout, Facebook’s IPO would have been a loser on the day, Wall Street insiders said.

The heavy buying, however, cut into the banks’ already meager fees on the deal. The underwriters agreed to accept a smaller cut — just 1.1 percent of the $16 billion Facebook raised in the IPO — in order to land the high-profile assignment.

After splitting $176 million in fees, the firms likely spent more than they made in fees by buying the swooning stock. Sam Hamadeh, CEO of research firm Privco, believes the banks spent around $380 million on Facebook stock.

"On the heels of JPMorgan’s $2 billion ‘hedging’ trading loss, tThe underwriters have used up all the fees they made on the Facebook deal just to buy and prop up the stock to prevent a busted IPO," said Hamadeh.

Another source said that the banks took a substantial hit yesterday, which started strong despite glitches that delayed Nasdaq trading in Facebook shares by 30 minutes past their 11 a.m. scheduled debut.

While there was plenty of finger-pointing yesterday, many blamed the bankers for setting the price too high to allow for upside. The IPO share priced at the high end of the $34 to $38 range, which had been raised from an initial range of $28 to $35.

The bankers were wary of pricing the shares too low, leaving money on the table and leading to an outrageous first-day pop. They were shooting for a modest first-day gain in the range of 5 percent to 10 percent.

Still, some observers heaped scorn on Facebook insiders who dumped their shares, saying it was a red flag that weighed on the stock.

Facebook had increased the number of shares being sold in the IPO by 25 percent, to 425 million, with most of the additional float coming from early investors looking to cash out.

The company’s sky-high valuation also made some investors queasy. At $38 a share, Facebook is valued at $104 billion — even though it only made $3.7 billion last year.

Facebook’s big day was a drag on other tech stocks. Trading in shares of Zynga was halted yesterday after a sharp drop, and the stock closed down 13.4 percent at $7.16. China’s social network RenRen was also down more than 20 percent, to $4.93.


My take on this, from my Behavioral Finance background on how our financial system really operates, is the effort to hold up the Facebook IPO was an effort to hold up the stock market as a whole. For the BF folks, perception is everything. That is why they do what they do. The Counterparty Risk Management Policy Group (do a Google if new to you), led by the same firms that held up the Facebook share price, does not exist for no reason. One of their mandates is to promote market stability and that is what they just did. That Group works closed with the Plunge Protection Team (Working Group on Capital Markets) to support the US stock market at various times.

What we saw in the price rises of gold and silver at the end of the week was stunning and totally out of the natural order of the gold/silver price manipulation scheme. It was a wowser! My smeller tells me, because the dramatic rally was so pronounced, that we are headed for some serious fireworks in the financial arena.

The Gold Cartel could be in deep trouble now because their honcho, JP Morgan, is in deepening trouble. This is no minor event in terms of the gold/silver market manipulation scandal.

All hands on deck to prepare for the financial market commotion that seems to be right around the corner!

Bill Murphy

Well, my hat is off to the global central planners for averting the next stage of the unfolding financial crisis for as long as they have. I guess there’s some solace in having had a nice break between the events of 2008/09 and today, which afforded us all the opportunity to attend to our various preparations and enjoy our lives.

Alas, all good things come to an end, and a crisis rooted in ‘too much debt’ with a nice undercurrent of ‘persistently high and rising energy costs’ was never going to be solved by providing cheap liquidity to the largest and most reckless financial institutions. And it has not.
Forestalled is Not Foregone

The same sorts of signals that we had in 2008 are once again traipsing across my market monitors. Not precisely the same, of course, but with enough similarities that they rhyme loudly. Whereas in 2008 we saw breakdowns in the credit spreads of major financial institutions, this time we are seeing the same dynamic in the sovereign debt of the weaker European nation states.

Greece, as expected and predicted here, is a right proper mess and will have to leave the euro monetary system if it is to have any chance at recovery going forward. Yes, all those endless meetings and rumors and final agreements painfully hammered out by eurocrats over the past year are almost certainly going to be tossed, and additional losses are going to be foisted upon the hapless holders of Greek debt. My prediction is that within a year Greece will be back on the drachma, perhaps by the end of this year (2012).

Greek default spectre turns material

The weekend Greek revolt against the austerity measures imposed on its economy in return for eurozone funding has elevated the prospect of a Greek default on its debts or a chaotic exit from the eurozone.

The collapse in support for the mainstream parties that had reluctantly accepted the austerity program and the vehement opposition to the measures by the radical left party that finished the runner up in the weekend’s elections has made it almost impossible for a coalition to be formed that would persevere with the program.

It is likely new elections will have to be held next month but given the degree to which Greeks have protested against the harsh eurozone prescriptions – and the 20 per cent shrinkage in GDP and 20 per cent-plus unemployment that has accompanied them – it is improbable that Greece will continue with the reforms it agreed in return for the next $300 billion tranche of eurozone funding.

If it does walk away from that commitment there will be chaos in Greece and, to a lesser extent, elsewhere. Greece would inevitably default on its debts and could be forced to quit the eurozone.


There really is no choice for Greece but to leave the euro, and the sooner, the better. Even then, there is a lot of hardship coming their way. But in my estimation, that’s better than the imposed austerity that is a guaranteed torture chamber. The institutions that avoided taking losses on their Greek debt on the first pass through, due to their preferred status in the process (the ECB among them), are almost certainly going to eat big losses this time, perhaps a full 100% of them.

Leaving the euro is going to be quite a process, and the ripple effects are going to be large and somewhat unpredictable. I found this description of what will happen within Greece and its banking system to be well on the mark:

The instant before Greece exits it (somehow) introduces a new currency (the New Drachma or ND, say). Assume for simplicity that at the moment of its introduction the exchange rate between the ND and the euro is 1 for 1. This currency then immediately depreciates sharply vis-à-vis the euro (by 40 percent seems a reasonable point estimate). All pre-existing financial instruments and contracts under Greek law are redenominated into ND at the 1 for 1 exchange rate.

What this means is that, as soon as the possibility of a Greek exit becomes known, there will be a bank run in Greece and denial of further funding to any and all entities, private or public, through instruments and contracts under Greek law. Holders of existing euro-denominated contracts under Greek law want to avoid their conversion into ND and the subsequent sharp depreciation of the ND. The Greek banking system would be destroyed even before Greece had left the euro area.

There would remain many contracts and financial instruments involving Greek private and public entities denominated in euro (or other currencies, like the US dollar) that are not under Greek law. […] Widespread defaults seem certain.

Euro area membership is a two-sided commitment. If Greece fails to keep that commitment and exits, the remaining members also and equally fail to keep their commitment. This is not just a morality tale. It has highly practical implications. When Greece can exit, any country can exit.

As soon as Greece has exited, we expect the markets will focus on the country or countries most likely to exit next from the euro area. Any non-captive/financially sophisticated owner of a deposit account in that country (or in those countries) will withdraw his deposits from banks in countries deemed at risk - even a small risk - of exit.

Any non-captive depositor who fears a non-zero risk of the future introduction of a New Escudo, a New Punt, a New Peseta or a New Lira (to name but the most obvious candidates) would withdraw his deposits from the countries involved at the drop of a hat and deposit them in the handful of countries likely to remain in the euro area no matter what - Germany, Luxembourg, the Netherlands, Austria and Finland.

The ‘broad periphery’ and ‘soft core’ countries deemed at any risk of exit could of course start issuing deposits under English or New York law in an attempt to stop a deposit run, but even that might not be sufficient. Who wants to have their deposit tied up in litigation for months or years?


The Greek banking system will be destroyed immediately upon Greece’s exit from the euro, but the banking system there is already all but dead anyway. Best just to sweep the floor clean and start over. The idea is easy enough to understand; if your bank is about to go under, it is best to get your money out before that happens.

The only mystery to me is why so many people have left their money in the Greek banks this long. I suppose they were waiting for a clearer signal? Well, it would seem that the signal has now been sent and received:

Greek Depositors Withdrew $898 Million From Banks Monday

Greek depositors withdrew €700 million ($898 million) from the country's banks on Monday, fueling fears of a bank run amid the growing political disarray.

With deposits falling, Greek banks become even more dependent on the European Central Bank to meet their funding needs, exposing the central bank to potentially huge losses if Greece leaves the euro area.

Monday's deposit withdrawal far outpaced Greek banks' steady decline in deposits since the start of the country's debt crisis in 2009, as depositors withdraw cash and transfer funds overseas. In the past two years, deposit outflows have generally averaged between €2 billion and €3 billion a month, though in January they topped €5 billion.

The latest data from the Greece's central bank show that total deposits held by domestic residents and companies stood at €165.36 billion in March.


Again, the real mystery to me is who still has 165 billion euros in Greek banks at this stage of the game? Also a mystery is why Greece has not yet imposed a withdrawal moratorium and capital controls? It is only a matter of time, perhaps days, before they do.

Of course, it is the contagion effect that most worries the market, because the same dynamic of utter insolvency leading to the intractable nature of Greece’s dilemma applies to Spain, Portugal, and Italy.

Indeed, the market is already adjusting to this possibility, as evidenced by the spikes in the yields of those country’s bonds:

Contagion Fears Hit Markets

LONDON - Investors battered European stocks, dumped the bonds of Spain and Italy, and bid the euro down against the dollar Monday after the collapse of weekend coalition talks in Greece edged that country closer to an exit from the euro zone.

The sweeping market action dealt a blow to hopes that the damage of a Greek exit, should it occur, could be comfortably contained.

In the market carnage, Greek stocks fell to two-decade lows, and Spanish bond yields leapt to levels not seen since the panic of last November. Shares of a big Spanish lender dropped 8.9% on the Madrid bourse, pulling the benchmark index down 2.7%. The Italian market also fell 2.7%, and the euro slid to $1.2845 late Monday in London, its lowest level in four months.


The worry and the carnage are both running deep. And they should. Everything is now interlinked to such a degree that there is no possible way for a run on Greek banks or continued declines in the value of sovereign debt to be anything other than exceptionally destructive.

Everybody owes everybody, and there’s not enough productive economy to mask the insolvency of the system any longer.

We saw this as Spain’s sovereign yields vaulted, Spanish bank shares plunged, a not-so-happy linkage courtesy of the LTRO funding which enabled (and encouraged) Spanish banks to load up on Spanish debt. A virtuous circle morphed into a vicious spiral, each element weakening the other all the way down.

That the US stock market is only down less than 5% from recent highs is a testament to the power of the liquidity that the Fed and US banking system have directed at keeping things elevated. However, this cannot last, at least not without another big quantitative-easing (QE) injection from the Fed. Without such an infusion, I am calling for another 2008-2009-style market rout of at least -30% but possibly as much as -50%.
QE, stat!

The reason we need another QE injection is that the same dynamic of debt destruction is again stalking the markets. As expected, the Fed has been waiting for a clear signal that it is time for more thin-air money, and again they are going to wait too long to prevent more damage from occurring.

This time I am expecting a coordinated central bank action that will involve most or all of the major central banks of the OECD: Japan, UK, US, and Europe.

One day, we will wake up to find some global message about the need for a coordinated response to a major crisis, and each of the central banks will be issuing some massive new amount of thin-air money. Of course the programs will be called something fancy that will require shortening to an acronym and will involve buying some form of debt (sovereign debt, but maybe also bank debt), and we’ll track this via central-bank balance-sheet expansion.

Perhaps we’ll see this line go up a little steeper, or perhaps the same trajectory will be maintained a little longer:

Regardless, more printing is on the way, because the alternative is the utter collapse of the entire Western banking system. And quite probably a few governments, too.

To me, that is an unthinkable outcome, and one that I have every faith will be avoided at any every cost. It is the main reason that I am quite content to hold onto all of my gold at this juncture. Anybody selling physical gold here is either broke (and needs the money) or is just not paying attention.

To drive the point home, consider this picture posted on Zerohedge taken from a German television production purported taken of the Ministry of Finance in Athens. A picture is worth a thousand words:


By the time the Ministry of Finance is storing records in garbage bags and shopping carts, perhaps, just maybe, one might become a little concerned about loaning money to the Greek government. One hopes.
If You Think Greece is Bad

Greece, of course, is tiny compared to Spain or Italy. The situation in Spain -- which is big enough to matter -- is truly dire, very large, and getting worse.

Spain has been playing fast and loose with the numbers, and that fact has now been revealed to the world. It’s not a pretty picture.

Spain Underplaying Bank Losses Faces Ireland Fate

May 10, 2012

Spain is underestimating potential losses by its banks, ignoring the cost of souring residential mortgages, as it seeks to avoid an international rescue like the one Ireland needed to shore up its financial system.

The government has asked lenders to increase provisions for bad debt by 54 billion euros ($70 billion) to 166 billion euros. That’s enough to cover losses of about 50 percent on loans to property developers and construction firms, according to the Bank of Spain. There wouldn’t be anything left for defaults on more than 1.4 trillion euros of home loans and corporate debt.

Taking those into account, banks would need to increase provisions by as much as five times what the government says, or 270 billion euros, according to estimates by the Centre for European Policy Studies, a Brussels-based research group. Plugging that hole would increase Spain’s public debt by almost 50 percent or force it to seek a bailout, following in the footsteps of Ireland, Greece and Portugal.

“How can you only talk about one type of real estate lending when more and more loans are going bad everywhere in the economy?” said Patrick Lee, a London-based analyst covering Spanish banks for Royal Bank of Canada. “Ireland managed to turn its situation around after recognizing losses much more aggressively and thus needed a bailout. I don’t see how Spain can do it without outside support.”


And this is just the losses that Spanish banks face on their real-estate portfolios. They are also now facing losses on all the Spanish sovereign debt that they bought with their LTRO funding as well. Very simply, Spain now needs a massive rescue, and soon.

Meanwhile German citizens are all done with helping their southern neighbors. Merkel has used up all of her political capital on the rescues performed to date, and it is far from clear that any more help is politically doable here. The only way that I can see such help coming is under some terms other than drawing upon the savings of Germany’s citizens. Printing, perhaps, but even that is a dicey political proposition here.

If Spain drops here, then you can just set an egg timer for when Italy will go. And then France. The dominoes will rapidly fall from there.
Why I Am Nervous These Days

In describing JPMorgan’s recent $2 billion (or is it $20 billion…or more?) trading losses and Jamie Dimon’s (the CEO of JPM) awkward explanation of how certain hedging operations went wrong, the author of this next piece asks the obvious question:

Does Jamie Dimon Even Know What Hedging Risk Is?

But wait a minute? If you’re hedging risk then the bets you make will be cancelled against your existing balance sheet. In other words, if your hedges turn out to be worthless then your initial portfolio should have gained, and if your initial portfolio falls, then your hedges will activate, limiting your losses. That is how hedging risk works. If the loss on your hedges is not being cancelled-out by gains in your initial portfolio then by definition you are not hedging risk. You are speculating.


We still don’t know the exact dimensions of JPM’s losses here (my expectation is that more bad news will follow soon enough), but we can be sure that the big banks have not learned from the mistakes of the past and are still engaged in risky practices involving derivatives.

Whatever JPM was up to (and I am still not entirely clear on what that was), it was not classic hedging, which serves to minimize losses, but something far more speculative.

The reason this gives me such cause for concern is that it once again exposes a small portion of the derivative monster that will certainly be awakened when the European situation goes into full meltdown over the Greek, then Spanish, the Portuguese, then Italian situations.

While derivatives are, in theory, a zero-sum game, and therefore could, in theory, be forgiven and forgotten in a pinch, the reality is that they’ve been used to pretend that risk did not exist and therefore losses don’t exist.

The ugly truth here is that we are at the tail end of a most unfortunate credit bubble -- four decades of global excess by the OECD countries -- and there are massive losses to account for. Just as the offsetting counterparties involved in the subprime CDO and CDS mortgage crisis did not zero out because the losses they were allegedly papering over were all too real, the same will prove true of the derivative paper allegedly covering sovereign and corporate debts.

Remember, the biggest holder of derivatives is the company that just demonstrated that it doesn’t really understand the concept of hedging.


Overall derivatives, especially interest-rate-linked derivatives, have increased by over $100 trillion since the crisis began. As JPM just evidenced, and as hinted at by the interminable hand-wringing over allowing Greece’s paltry $78 billion in credit-default swaps to be triggered, real dangers lurk here.

I wish I could analyze the situation better than the rest of the crowd that either screams catastrophe looms or coos that everything is safe, but I cannot. The situation is too opaque, too convoluted, and too complex to tease apart. I simply don’t know what the true nature of the risk really is -- and the truth is, nobody really does. You might as well ask these analysts to tell you the exact size and shape of the first ten waves that will hit Laguna Beach exactly one year from now beginning at 12:05 p.m.

Instead, what I can offer to you is the idea that instead of reducing (let alone eliminating) risk, all that derivatives have done is mask risk. This means that whatever losses are resident in a system with four decades of debt-fueled malinvestment and overconsumption are still there just waiting to be realized.

It is this certainty that the losses remain, the risk is masked, and the bets have only grown larger that makes me very nervous these days as I contemplate the possible implications and repercussions of a Greek exit from the euro.
To Sum Up Part I

Given this environment of massive, rapidly-accelerating, and obfuscated risks, the prudent among us are undoubtedly wondering, How the heck is this going to play out? And how do I prepare for it?

In Part II: What To Do When the Central Banks Blink, I lay out my forecast for how low asset prices will sink before the central banks once again attempt to ride to the rescue with gargantuan liquidity measures.

But this next time won't work as it did in 2008, in my estimation. I see central banks being near the end of their ability to influence developments at this point. More liquidity will affect different asset classes differently, and for the first time raise real (and valid) concerns about the widescale debasement we are witnessing across the world's major fiat currencies.

Putting your capital into those resources best positioned to appreciate most as the result of money printing and hold or increase their purchasing power in such an environment should be a top priority for every concerned investor.

Click here to access Part II (free executive summary; paid enrollment required for full access).____________________________

Currency collapse dynamics


The reason we accept paper money as a store of value is habit. This habit has its origins in history, when banks took our gold as deposit and issued paper receipts for it. The gold has gone, but the paper with its habitual value remains, and we accept it without question. The only backing is a vague government promise.

There is no sound theoretical basis for why unbacked government-issued money should retain a store of value: it depends for its value on a market-based acceptance of financial credibility. So it follows that if a government loses all financial credibility in markets, its paper becomes worthless. This is confirmed by experience in all paper money collapses.

The fact it can and has happened elsewhere confirms that all faith can theoretically disappear from the dollar, pound, euro or yen. This is a very different understanding about currency values compared with what is commonly accepted. Instead, we assume that any change in purchasing power is tied firmly to price inflation, and we factor out any reliance upon faith. But this is a cop-out, a way of not addressing the basic assumptions that uplift the value of government-issued money from zero to what it will actually purchase.

It is vital to understand that price inflation and maintenance of fiat currency premiums are only loosely related. In a sound money economy, an economy where the medium of exchange is backed by gold, changes in the available quantity of money will affect the prices of goods and services exchanged for it. This is because sound money is itself a commodity, whose function happens to be to act as a medium of exchange. However, you cannot say this of fiat money, where the link with value is based entirely on faith. It is a mistake to assume that supply and demand factors that give sound money its value as a means of exchange also apply to unbacked government money. The value of fiat currencies is purely subjective.

In the case of fiat money, additional quantities in circulation increases demand for goods, whose prices rise driven by this extra demand: the rise in prices comes from the goods themselves, and not a change in the value of the money. In stagflation, where there is no extra demand, price rises emanate from changing values in the paper money itself, usually tied to foreign exchange movements.

The implications are profound. To state that in hyperinflations fiat money loses purchasing power because of massive issuance of money is a misunderstanding. The collapse in purchasing power is due to loss of faith in fiat money, and not from its extra supply: if it was otherwise, you would have to establish it had an objective value in the first place.

It is entirely possible, even increasingly likely in these times of growing systemic risk, that a collapse of paper-money values will happen not as a result of rising consumer prices, but of its own subjective value. If this happens there will be little or no warning and it could be substantial if not total.

So the argument in favour of a flight into sound money, best exemplified by precious metals, is getting stronger by the day.

Got Gold You Can Hold?

Got Silver You Can Squeeze?



No comments:

Post a Comment