(Article changed on April 19, 2013 at 20:54)
(Article changed on April 19, 2013 at 13:27)
The claim is that when financial markets in the United States next crash, so will the U.S. economy. Remember what happened back in 2008: The financial markets crashed, the credit markets froze up, and suddenly the economy went into cardiac arrest. And there are very few things that could cause the financial markets to crash harder or farther than a derivatives panic.
most Americans don't yet understand what derivatives are. Unlike stocks and bonds, a derivative is not
an investment in anything tangible.
Rather, a derivative is a bet on the future value or performance of
something else. Just like you can go to
Las Vegas and bet on who will win the football games this weekend, bankers on
Wall Street make trillions of dollars of bets about how interest rates will
perform in the future and about what credit instruments are likely to
default. And they do it in secret, in
that no public record is kept of their bets.
words, without most people even knowing it, Wall Street has been transformed into
a gigantic casino where people are betting on just about anything you can
imagine. This works fine as long as a) there are not any wild swings in the
economy, and b) risk is managed with
strict discipline. But as we have seen,
there have been times in recent years when derivatives have caused massive
problems. For example, recall why the
largest insurance company in the world, AIG, crashed back in 2008, requiring a huge
government bailout. It was because huge
numbers of their derivatives went bad.
To be specific, a great many banks and other institutions purchased,
from AIG, a kind of insurance policy called a credit default swap, which is essentially
an agreement or contract that guarantees that if a particular investment of these
banks went belly up -- in this case a mortgage backed security -- AIG would
compensate these banks for their loss. In
other words, AIG was betting that these
mortgaged backed securities (MBSs) would hold up just fine while they collected
thousands of payments each month, from these banks, while the banks that
purchased this insurance from AIG were betting
that the MBSs might very well not
hold their value, and they wanted to be covered just in case they actually did not. The problem that then arose was that the
housing bubble popped and housing values began to plummet nationwide. This meant that mortgage backed securities,
which (once again) were essentially packages of mortgages that people, institutions
and especially banks, had invested in, were rapidly losing value, with many of
them soon becoming worthless, assuming the status of junk bonds.
happened, all the banks that had purchased this special insurance from AIG,
wanted to collect on the "policies' they had purchased, i.e. they wanted to
collect on these (derivative) bets. But
AIG had nowhere near the funds necessary to pay off all these claims, and so
the US government, i.e. we taxpayers, had to bail them out.
Why not just
let AIG and the big banks fail? You know
the answer: They were "too big to fail." Which means that these banks, and AIG, were
so completely integrated, invested in, and otherwise mixed in, with the larger
economy, that if they failed, so
would the larger economy.
derivative trades (i.e. betting) also caused the failure of MF Global, as well
as the $6-billion loss that JPMorgan Chase recently suffered because of
derivatives betting that went bad, and it made headlines all over the world.
And now the
claim is that all of those incidents were just warm-up acts for the inevitable
derivatives panic that will destroy global financial markets. It is said that this largest casino in
history is going to go "bust" and that the economic fallout from the resulting
financial crash will be absolutely horrific.
This is the reason why Warren Buffett refers to derivatives as "financial
weapons of mass destruction."
really knows the total value of all the derivatives (bets) that are floating
around out there, but estimates place their total value at anywhere from 600
trillion dollars all the way up to several thousand trillion dollars. By comparison, the global GDP is somewhere
around 70 trillion dollars (for an entire year). So we are talking about an amount of money, invested in bets that might very well go bad,
that is absolutely mind blowing.
question, then, is: Can banks and other financial institutions
really survive such gambling and investment losses without severely damaging
the rest of the economy? And considering
that America's five biggest banks have almost $9
trillion in assets, which is more than
half the size of the U.S. economy, with much of it bet on (or invested in) derivatives,
one would have to guess that the answer is no, i.e. that the larger economy
could not survive such massive
gambling losses by the biggest banks.
For, according to the federal government, the four largest U.S. banks account
for 93% of the total
banking industry notional amounts of
derivatives, and 81% of the derivatives industry's net current credit exposure. ("Credit exposure" means, of course, that if
the bets go bad, the banks will take it in the shorts.) Therefore, if a widespread derivatives
crisis were to cause these top banks to crash and burn, it would almost
certainly cause the entire U.S. economy to crash and burn as well. So just remember what we saw back in
2008. What is coming could very well be far
have been really nice if we had not allowed these banks to get so large and if
we had not allowed them to use our depositor's money to make trillions of
dollars of reckless bets. But we essentially
stood by and let it happen. Our
legislators are virtually owned by the big banks and so they were afraid to
bite the hand that feeds them. Now these
banks have grown to be so important to, and integrated within, our overall economic
system, that their dissolution or insolvency would also destroy the U.S.
economy. It's kind of like when cancer
becomes so advanced that killing the cancer would also kill the patient. That is essentially the situation that we are
facing with these banks.
It would be
hard to overstate the recklessness of these banks, so let's present some
numbers that are absolutely jaw-dropping. According to the
Comptroller of the Currency, four of our largest U.S. banks are walking a
tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to their gambling with derivatives. Just check out how "exposed" they are. (One example is provided below. Click here to see more,
and read the rest of the article from which the above synopsis was taken.)
Total Exposure To Derivatives:
$69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69
professor and former Wall Street insider Michael Hudson says that banking since
World War I has been more and more focused on loading down the economy with
debt rather than what he thinks should be the business of banks, which is
financing economic growth and production.
Hudson says that banks should be public, government-run enterprises
lending money only on economic merit, and that derivatives betting should
remain private in separate institutions.
Watch the video at this site by
clicking on the second video link there, if the first one doesn't work.