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Citi Fails Fed Stress Test … The REAL Story Washington's Blog

Citi Fails Fed Stress Test … The REAL Story Washington’s Blog.

“Too Big To Fail” … Fails

Bloomberg reports that Citigroup has failed the Fed’s new round of stress tests:

Citigroup Inc.’s capital plan was among five that failed Federal Reserve stress tests, while Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Bank of America Corp. passed only after reducing their requests for buybacks and dividends.

Citigroup, as well as U.S. units of Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc, HSBC Holdings Plc and Banco Santander SA, failed because of qualitative concerns about their processes, the Fed said today in a statement. Zions Bancorporation was rejected as its capital fell below the minimum required. The central bank approved plans for 25 banks.

In reality, Citi flat lined” – went totally bust – in 2008.  It was insolvent.

And former FDIC chief Sheila Bair said that the whole bailout thing was really focused on bringing a very dead Citi back from the grave.

Indeed, the big banks – including Citi – have repeatedly gone bankrupt.

For example, the New York Times wrote in 2009:

Over the past 80 years, the United States government has engineered not one, not two, not three, but at least four rescues of the institution now known as Citigroup.

So why did the U.S. government give Citi a passing grade in previous stress tests?

Because they were rigged to give all of the students an “A”.

Time Magazine called then Secretary Treasury Tim Geithner a “con man” and the stress tests a “confidence game” because those tests were so inaccurate.

But the bigger story is that absolutely nothing was done to address the causes of the 2008 financial crisis, or to fix the system:

  • The faulty incentive system – huge bonuses that encourage reckless risk-taking by bankers – arestill here
  • Another big problem – shadow banking – has only gotten worse

Indeed, the only the government has done is to try to cover up the problems that created the 2008 crisis in the first place … and to throw huge amounts of money at the fattest of the fatcats.

Remember, Nobel prize winning economist George Akerlof has demonstrated that failure to punish white collar criminals – and instead bailing them out- creates incentives for more economic crimes and further destruction of the economy in the future.

Indeed, professor of law and economics (and chief S&L prosecutor) William Black notes that we’ve known of this dynamic for “hundreds of years”.  (Actually, the government has ignored severalthousand years of economic wisdom.)

Heck of a job, guys …

Ukraine Acting President Calls Emergncy Meeting Of Security Chiefs; Russia Threatens To Cut Off The Gas | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Acting President Calls Emergncy Meeting Of Security Chiefs; Russia Threatens To Cut Off The Gas | Zero Hedge.

All the dominoes are tumbling now. Moments after the Russian upper house of parliament approved the decision to use Russian troops in the Ukraine as expected, Ukraine’s acting president called an emergency meeting of security chiefs according to his spokeswoman. Oleksander Turchinov summoned his Security Council after Russian President Vladimir Putin sought parliamentary approval to deploy Russian forces in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. At this point the biggest and perhaps final wildcard is whether NATO does or does not get involved. If it does, and if Russia does not back off – which it has clearly telegraphed it won’t – futures may be looking at a limit down open on Sunday.

And while military escalation is now an official reality instead of merely YouTube clips of unidentified crap troops , Russia just sent another major warning shot across the bow when it issued several warnings on Saturday that Ukraine may lose a discount to the gas price it now pays to Gazprom due to Kiev’s outstanding gas debt. Russia’s state gas company Gazprom estimates Ukraine’s outstanding gas debt at $1.55 billion for 2013 and gas deliveries so far this year. This of course, was Russia’s trump card from the very beginning. Via Reuters:

“It seems that with such gas payments and fulfilment of its obligations Ukraine may not keep its current gas discount. The gas discount agreement assumed full and timely payment,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Reuters.

A price increase would deepen Ukraine’s already dire cash situation and could lead to a new “gas war” between Kiev and Moscow as well as interrupt gas shipments to Europe, which gets around third of its gas from Russia.

In December, Russia agreed to reduce gas prices for Kiev by about a third, to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres from around $400 which Ukraine had paid since 2009, after ousted President Viktor Yanukovich spurned an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties to Moscow.

The deal allowed for the price to be revised quarterly between the 5th and 10th day of the first month every quarter.

The news agency Interfax cited a representative of the Russian energy ministry as saying on Saturday that Moscow sees no reason to extend the discount to Ukraine for the second quarter – because of the outstanding debt.

If this continues to happen, is there any point in continuing the existing agreement on gas supplies at discount prices? No,” the agency cited an unnamed ministry representative as saying.

“It is important that the proposal for a reduced gas price is confirmed quarterly. It would be stupid and wrong to extend it to the second quarter.”

Ukraine’s newly appointed Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told reporters on Saturday that the price for Russian gas would stay unchanged in March but it could jump to around $400 per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter if the two sides fail to sign an agreement.

Ukraine, which has seen its currency spiralling down and cash and gold reserves falling significantly as a result of the political protests that led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich last weekend, is in dire need of cash.

It faces a further $6 billion in foreign debt payments this year and has asked the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance of at least $15 billion. Ukraine’s newly appointed leaders estimated Kiev’s needs at around $35 billion.

Prodan told journalists that the Ukrainian energy firm Naftogas is in “active talks” with Gazprom over pricing. Ukraine consumes about 55 billion cubic meters of gas each year, and more than half of this amount is imported from Russia.

But far more important than Ukraine, which is merely a sacrificial lamb in the latest proxy war between east and west, is the Russian hint that what is likely to happen to Ukraine’s gas may soon hit Europe too if it also gets involved.

Apart from through Ukraine, Russian gas flows to Europe via Belarus and two subsea pipelines – under the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Gazprom plans to build another subsea pipeline – the South Stream – to bypass Ukraine by 2016.

So check to you NATO: will you defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine even as NATO actively pushed for a split in Yugoslavia some 15 years ago, or will it do the “right” thing… in the dark?

Ukraine Acting President Calls Emergncy Meeting Of Security Chiefs; Russia Threatens To Cut Off The Gas | Zero Hedge

Ukraine Acting President Calls Emergncy Meeting Of Security Chiefs; Russia Threatens To Cut Off The Gas | Zero Hedge.

All the dominoes are tumbling now. Moments after the Russian upper house of parliament approved the decision to use Russian troops in the Ukraine as expected, Ukraine’s acting president called an emergency meeting of security chiefs according to his spokeswoman. Oleksander Turchinov summoned his Security Council after Russian President Vladimir Putin sought parliamentary approval to deploy Russian forces in the Ukrainian region of Crimea. At this point the biggest and perhaps final wildcard is whether NATO does or does not get involved. If it does, and if Russia does not back off – which it has clearly telegraphed it won’t – futures may be looking at a limit down open on Sunday.

And while military escalation is now an official reality instead of merely YouTube clips of unidentified crap troops , Russia just sent another major warning shot across the bow when it issued several warnings on Saturday that Ukraine may lose a discount to the gas price it now pays to Gazprom due to Kiev’s outstanding gas debt. Russia’s state gas company Gazprom estimates Ukraine’s outstanding gas debt at $1.55 billion for 2013 and gas deliveries so far this year. This of course, was Russia’s trump card from the very beginning. Via Reuters:

“It seems that with such gas payments and fulfilment of its obligations Ukraine may not keep its current gas discount. The gas discount agreement assumed full and timely payment,” Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov told Reuters.

A price increase would deepen Ukraine’s already dire cash situation and could lead to a new “gas war” between Kiev and Moscow as well as interrupt gas shipments to Europe, which gets around third of its gas from Russia.

In December, Russia agreed to reduce gas prices for Kiev by about a third, to $268.50 per 1,000 cubic metres from around $400 which Ukraine had paid since 2009, after ousted President Viktor Yanukovich spurned an EU trade deal in favour of closer ties to Moscow.

The deal allowed for the price to be revised quarterly between the 5th and 10th day of the first month every quarter.

The news agency Interfax cited a representative of the Russian energy ministry as saying on Saturday that Moscow sees no reason to extend the discount to Ukraine for the second quarter – because of the outstanding debt.

If this continues to happen, is there any point in continuing the existing agreement on gas supplies at discount prices? No,” the agency cited an unnamed ministry representative as saying.

“It is important that the proposal for a reduced gas price is confirmed quarterly. It would be stupid and wrong to extend it to the second quarter.”

Ukraine’s newly appointed Energy Minister Yuri Prodan told reporters on Saturday that the price for Russian gas would stay unchanged in March but it could jump to around $400 per 1,000 cubic metres in the second quarter if the two sides fail to sign an agreement.

Ukraine, which has seen its currency spiralling down and cash and gold reserves falling significantly as a result of the political protests that led to the ousting of President Viktor Yanukovich last weekend, is in dire need of cash.

It faces a further $6 billion in foreign debt payments this year and has asked the International Monetary Fund for financial assistance of at least $15 billion. Ukraine’s newly appointed leaders estimated Kiev’s needs at around $35 billion.

Prodan told journalists that the Ukrainian energy firm Naftogas is in “active talks” with Gazprom over pricing. Ukraine consumes about 55 billion cubic meters of gas each year, and more than half of this amount is imported from Russia.

But far more important than Ukraine, which is merely a sacrificial lamb in the latest proxy war between east and west, is the Russian hint that what is likely to happen to Ukraine’s gas may soon hit Europe too if it also gets involved.

Apart from through Ukraine, Russian gas flows to Europe via Belarus and two subsea pipelines – under the Black Sea and the Baltic Sea. Gazprom plans to build another subsea pipeline – the South Stream – to bypass Ukraine by 2016.

So check to you NATO: will you defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine even as NATO actively pushed for a split in Yugoslavia some 15 years ago, or will it do the “right” thing… in the dark?

Paul Singer’s “Vision” Of The Coming “Riot Point” And The Fed’s “Formula For Destruction” | Zero Hedge

Paul Singer’s “Vision” Of The Coming “Riot Point” And The Fed’s “Formula For Destruction” | Zero Hedge.

We sympathize with traditional stock and bond investors, who are faced with extremely poor choices today. QE has distorted the prices of all traditional asset classes to such an extent that none currently promises a fair return with modest risk…. Because the dominant force in securities-price movements today is government policy, particularly the governmental buying of bonds and stocks, there is a vulnerability to all trading and investing prospects that cannot be assessed or measured with confidence… Since there is no history of Americans losing confidence in the basic soundness of their currency and their government, and since monetary policy today is so manipulative and large, it will be hard to parse the reasons for any particular market moves in 2014.

      – Paul Singer, Elliott Management

As always, perhaps the best periodic commentary on the state of the “markets” (even if such a thing has not existed for the past 5 years) and global economy comes from the person whose opinion has not been swayed by fly-by-night screechers and book-peddling pundits who fit in CNBC’s octobox and who come fast and are forgotten even faster, and whose 37 year track record at Elliott Management, whose assets he has grown from $1.3 million to $23 billion, speaks for itself: Paul Singer.

 

 

Below are the key excerpts from his January letter.

VISION

Imagine how mainstream experts would have reacted to the following set of predictions in 2006: “In two years Lehman will be bankrupt; Merrill and Bear will be acquired in distressed takeunders; Citicorp, AIG, Chrysler, GM, Delphi, Fannie and Freddie will be taken over by the government facing possibly hundreds of billions of dollars of losses; and only 13 global megabanks will survive.”

The 2008 crisis had a lasting and profound impact on virtually the entire developed world. The financial system was brought to the brink of collapse; conditions were created for the radical monetary policy of the past five years and a severely distorted recovery; the plans and dreams of hundreds of millions of people were disrupted, in some cases catastrophically; and societal values were significantly twisted away from individual responsibility toward dependency. In fact, the consequences of the bubble, the bust and the policy aftermath are not yet in full historical view. Despite all the pain, policymakers
refuse to take responsibility for the bubble, the distortions of the bubble years, the ensuing failure to lay the groundwork for strong post-bust growth, the continued riskiness and fragility of the major financial institutions, the lack of appropriate policies to deal with the bust, or their total inability to deal with competitive and technological challenges in the labor market.

It is not that the path toward destruction was impossible to see. On the contrary, a number of people saw the disaster coming, even if they did not all see the timing or the shape of it. The strangest part of the whole series of events is that only a few large professional investors noticed the smoke and shouted “fire.” Policymakers, particularly at the Fed and including (importantly) Janet Yellen, paid some small lip service to the building risks, but they were wedded to their primitive “models” and had a completely inadequate grasp of modern financial instruments, leverage and the interconnectivity of financial institutions. Not only did policymakers fail to understand what was happening and how to deal with the crisis and its aftermath, but also many of those same policymakers, and ALL of the structures and assumptions that prevailed pre-crash, are still in place today. No apologies have been issued. There has been a great deal of partisan back-and-forth and successful lobbying, but sadly the financial system is still not sound. This may be impossible to prove until the next crisis, but you could have said the same about conditions leading up to the last one.

Policymakers were and remain asleep at the wheel. The lack of introspection at the Treasury, the Fed, Congress, the White House and other regulatory bodies is astounding. Instead of taking reasonable and conservative steps to strengthen the financial system and to reach consensus on what is necessary to generate growth, there has been a series of cronyist, ideological, punitive steps that have neither catalyzed the growth that this country needs nor made financial institutions safe. At the same time, the Administration has allowed (and encouraged) the Fed to carry the ball all by itself, heaping praise on it for saving the world at the very time that the White House is shirking its own responsibilities. The Fed’s “dual mandate” (to promote “maximum employment” as well as “price stability”) is bunk in today’s context. It seems as if the entire world is acting as if the Fed actually has a “total mandate” and the rest of the federal government gets to stand around and applaud its heroic efforts. In fact, what we have now is a lopsided recovery, gigantic price risk in financial markets because of QE, and unknown but potentially massive risks of inflation and the ultimate loss of confidence in the major paper currencies, all because the federal government is more interested in ideology than in getting the country back on track, and the Europeans are more interested in preserving the euro than promoting the prosperity of the sovereign nations of Europe.

* * *

For private investment firms like hedge funds, leverage in the modern world is a matter of semi-volition. True, it is much more readily available than in the past, but there are credit departments and initial margins limiting the size of positions. The big financial institutions, on the other hand, found themselves in an  environment starting a couple of dozen years ago in which leverage was entirely voluntary, subject to no real constraint because they were not required to post initial margins with each other. Since many of their positions were “hedges” in similar securities, they risk-underwrote those trades using models that projected very little possibility of generating losses. As a result, the entire system has become super-leveraged, super-interconnected and very brittle. Given the benefits of hindsight, we do not have to prove the proposition that the limits of leverage were exceeded in the recent past and that the system was improperly risk-managed by governments and by the managements of financial institutions. It is frustrating, therefore, that no meaningful de-risking of the financial system has occurred since the crisis. You will see a system primed for a rerun of 2008, perhaps even faster and more intense this time.

***

MONETARY POLICY GOING FORWARD

QE has created asset price booms, but historically high excess bank reserves are still generally not being lent, and monetary velocity remains relatively low. But last spring, we witnessed the first tangible sign that the Fed may be trapped in its current posture. The Fed cannot retreat due to excessive debt in the system, the fragility of major financial institutions (still opaque and overleveraged) and the prospect that a collapse of bond prices could lead to a quick, deep recession. This situation may be the early stages of a phase in which the Fed is afraid to act because it has the “tiger by the tail,” and perhaps is beginning to realize that the current situation carries significant risks. QE has not generated a sharp upsurge of sustaining and self-reinforcing growth thus far. What it has done is lift stock and asset prices and exacerbate inequality. If investors lose confidence in paper money, as evidenced by either a hard sell-off in one of the major currencies or a sharp fall in bond prices, the Fed and other major central bankers will be in a pickle. If they stop QE and/or raise short-term rates to deal with the loss of confidence, it could throw global markets into a tailspin and the worldwide economy into a severe new recession. However, if they try to deal with the loss of confidence by stepping up QE or keeping interest rates at zero, there could be an explosion in commodity and other asset prices and a sharp acceleration in inflation. What would be the “exit” from extraordinary Fed policy at that point? The current, benign-looking environment (low inflation and
stable economies) is by no means ordained to be the permanent state of things. At the moment, “tapering” is expected to get underway, but that prospect represents a tentative, slight diminution of bond-buying. It contains no real promise of normalizing monetary conditions. If the economy does not light up, the impact of another year of full-bore QE is impossible to predict. Five years and $4 trillion have created economic and moral distortions but very little sustainable value. Maybe the sixth year will produce the “riot point.” Nobody knows, including the Fed.

 

As we and others have said, the Fed is overly reliant upon models that do not account for real-world elements of instruments, markets and traders in the derivatives age. Models cannot possibly take into account unpredictable interactions among huge positions and traders in new and very complicated instruments. Thus, the Fed should be careful, humble and conservative. Instead, it is just blithely plowing ahead as if it knows exactly what is going on. Intelligent captains sail uncharted waters with extra caution and high alert; only fools think that each mile they sail without sinking the vessel further demonstrates that they are wise and the naysayers were fools. This is a formula for destruction. The crash of 2008 should have been smoking-gun evidence of the folly of this approach, but every mistake leading up to the crash, especially excessive and “invisible” leverage and interest rates that were too low, has been doubled down upon in the years since.

Terrifying Technicals: This Chartist Predicts An Anti-Fed Revulsion, And A Plunge In The S&P To 450 | Zero Hedge

Terrifying Technicals: This Chartist Predicts An Anti-Fed Revulsion, And A Plunge In The S&P To 450 | Zero Hedge.

Via Walter J. Zimmermann Jr. of United-ICAP,

Sooner or later everyone sits down to a banquet of consequences.”

– Robert Louis Stevenson

Main Points

1. History is written as much by the unforeseen consequences of key events as by the events themselves. We prefer not to think in these terms, but history clearly reveals that the adverse consequences of well intended efforts often have a much more dramatic and lasting impact than the original efforts themselves.

2. In fact history suggests a law of adverse consequences where the more insistent and forceful the well intended effort, the more dramatic, powerful and harmful the blowback. In simple terms,attempts to force the world to improve have always ended badly.

3. This law of adverse consequences is a very common phenomena in medicine and is known by the euphemism of ‘side effects’. Adverse drug reactions to prescribed medications are the fourth leading killer in America, right after heart disease, cancer, and stroke. However this expression of the law of unintended consequences gets even less press than its expressions in human history. Neither is a popular topic.

4. One could easily write several volumes of history focused exclusively on the unwelcome repercussions from otherwise well-intended efforts. However as this is a subject that we would all rather avoid I suspect it would be a very difficult book to market.

5. Instead of a book I have opted for two pages of examples. The present situation strongly suggests that the high risk of unexpected blowback from current economic policies are much more deserving of our full attention than the past history of unwelcome consequences.

6. QE has already created what is arguably the most bullish market sentiment in history. And that extreme bullish sentiment has already driven most stock indices to new all time highs. So now would be a good time for some sober reflections on what could go wrong.

7. One sector that seems dangerously poised to go badly wrong are the junk and emerging bond markets. What will happen when Treasuries start yielding the same rates as previously issued junk debt? A massive exodus will happen. Junk bonds and emerging market debt will become a disaster area.

8. We already know how wildly successful Fed stimulus has been at creating speculative bubbles. Fed inflated bubbles that have already burst include a Dot-Com bubble, a credit bubble, a real estate bubble, and a commodity market bubble. The biggest bubble of them all is still inflating. That would be this stock market bubble.

9. There are now fewer banks than ever before in modern history. And the biggest banks are larger than ever before in history. The war against ‘too big to fail’ was lost before it began. Fewer, bigger banks means a more fragile financial system.

10. The worst of the bullish sentiment extremes of previous major stock market peaks have all returned. Analysts are positively gushing with ebullience. There is a competition to see who can come up with the highest targets for the various stock indices. No one sees any downside risk. All are confident that the Fed can and will fix anything. This is a situation ripe for adverse consequences. This is a market where blowback will be synonymous with blind-sided. No one will prepare for what they cannot see coming.

Comparing Costs: Major US Wars versus Quantitative Easing

The chart above suggests that the magnitude of the Federal Reserve economic stimulus program is only comparable to previous major war efforts. The dollar costs plotted here bears that out.

War Costs

All of the war costs on the previous page were taken from one report dated 29 June 2010. That report was prepared by Stephen Dagget at the Congressional Research Service. I adjusted his numbers to 2013 dollars. You can find his report in PDF format on-line. However some further comments may be useful here.

Civil War

The Civil War number combines the Northern or Union costs and the Southern or Confederate costs. In 2011 dollars the price of waging the war for the Union was $59.6 billion dollars and $20.1 billion for the Confederacy. I simply added these two numbers and then converted to 2013 dollars.

Post 9/11 Wars

Here I combined the costs of the Persian Gulf war, and Iraq war, and the war in Afghanistan into one category and then adjusted to 2013 dollars.

Sending a Man to the Moon

I thought it would be interesting to compare the costs of sending a man to the moon to the costs of QE. Most references to the cost of putting a man on the Moon only cite the Apollo project. But of course that is very wrong. Apollo arose from Gemini which grew out of Mercury. So for the true cost of sending a man to the Moon I included all costs for the Mercury missions, the Gemini program, the Lunar probes, the Apollo capsules, the Saturn V rockets, and the Lunar Modules. I relied on numbers gathered from NASA by the Artemis Project. I then converted those costs to 2013 dollars.

World War II versus Quantitative Easing

WW II

World War II transformed the United States from a sleepy agricultural enterprise into the world’s dominant economic super-power, and defeated both Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan at the same time. It may seem entirely callous to calculate US Dollar costs for a war that claimed 15,000,000 battle deaths, 25,000,000 battle wounded, and civilian deaths that exceeded 45,000,000 but there is a point to this exercise.

The second world war defeated the strategy of geographical conquest through militarism as a national policy. Of course WW II had it’s own undesirable blowback as anything on this gigantic a scale would. However it seems pretty clear that replacing fascism and militarism with democracy was a step of progress for mankind.

WW II and QE

Since the 1950’s many have argued that it took World War II to pull the world out of the Great Depression. As a life-long student of the Great Depression Bernanke must be aware of this debate. In terms of the dollar amounts involved, World War Two is the only project comparable in size to QE. So it seems reasonable to assume that Bernanke’s goal here is to have QE fulfill the economic role of a World War Three; a war-free method of pulling the world out of the Great Recession. However human history suggests that the sheer magnitude and forced nature of the QE program all but ensures serious, unexpected and adverse consequences.

Learning from History

I am not bearish on the human race. When I read history I see things getting better. When I read history I find the slow replacement of brutality with compassion. When I read history I find the long term trend to be the replacement of centralized authority with local self-determination. And I find that every single effort to fight these long term trends has failed. And as history continues to unfold the efforts to fight these trends tends to fail more quickly, more dramatically, and more decisively.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb that states “Plan too far ahead and nature will seem to resist.” That aphorism definitely resonates with my experience and observations. If there is something inherent in the flow of time that unfolds an improvement in the human condition, then there is also something in the nature of things that resists the application of force, whether well intended or not.

If all of the above is an accurate accounting of things, then the key issue for policy makers is finding the fine line that separates supporting the natural flow of human evolution from attempting to force change. The former will help while the later will end badly. The question today has to do with Quantitative Easing. Is QE a gentle nurturing of economic evolution or is it the next doomed attempt to force things to get better? The QE program is so enormous, and relentless, and insistent, that I fear it is the later. And if QE is a huge attempt to force the economy to improve, than we had better start bracing for the blowback.

QE: the blowback to come

What kind of blowback should we prepare for? The lesson of history is that trying to force things to get better does not merely create unwelcome repercussions. It does not merely slow the pace of natural evolution. Attempts to enforce a certain outcome always appears to create the opposite effect. We do not find a law of adverse consequences. We find a law of opposite impacts.

Let us review the sample examples from the previous charts. Every effort to jam an ideology or a plan down the throat of the world only creates the opposite of the intended effect. I would maintain that this is one of the few lessons from history that can be relied on.

If the Federal Reserve is trying to force feed us prosperity then the inevitable blowback will be adversity. If the Fed is trying to compel the most dramatic economic recovery in history, then the blowback may well be the deepest depression in history. If the Fed is trying to enforce confidence and optimism then the blowback will be fear and despair. If the Fed is trying to force consumers to spend then the blowback will be a collapse in consumer confidence.

I sincerely hope that I am completely wrong here, that I am missing something, that there is a flaw in my logic. However until I can locate such a flaw I must trust the technical case for treating this Fed force-fed rally in the stock market as something that will end badly.

Here’s how it plays out…

 

 

China’s Peer-To-Peer Lending Bubble Bursts As Up To 90% Of Companies Expected To Default | Zero Hedge

China’s Peer-To-Peer Lending Bubble Bursts As Up To 90% Of Companies Expected To Default | Zero Hedge.

When it comes to the topic of China’s epic credit bubble (which continues to get worse as bad debt accumulates ever higher), we have beaten that particular dead horse again and again and again and, most notably, again. However, since in China the concept of independent bank is non-existent, and as all major financial institutions are implicitly government backed, by the time the “big” bubble bursts, it will be time to hunker down in bunkers and pray (why? Because while the Fed creates $1 trillion in reserves each year, and dropping post taper, China is responsible for $3.6 trillion in loan creation annually – yank that and it’s game over for a world in which “growth” is not more than debt creation). But just because the big banks can continue to ignore reality with the backing of the fastest marginally growing economy in the world (inasmuch as building empty cities can be considered growth), the same luxury is not afforded to China’s smaller lender, such as its peer-to-peer industry.

Granted, in the grand scheme of things P2P in China is small, although in recent years, as a key part of shadow banking, it has been growing at an unprecedented pace: according to research published last year by Celent consultancy, the country’s P2P lending market grew from $30m in 2009 to $940m in 2012 and is on track to reach $7.8bn by 2015. Here’s the problem: it won’t. In fact, China’s P2P lending boom just went bust because as the FT reports, “dozens of the P2P lending websites that sprang up in recent years have shut as borrowers default on loans. The biggest companies are unscathed so far, but the rapid collapse of smaller rivals highlights the mounting difficulties in the Chinese micro-lending industry as economic growth slows and monetary conditions tighten… Of the nearly 1,000 P2P companies operating in China, 58 went bankrupt in the final quarter of last year, according to Online Lending House, a web portal that tracks the industry. Several more had already run into trouble this year, it added.”

And it’s only going to get worse:

“The main reasons are the intense competition in the P2P industry, the liquidity squeeze at the end of the year and a loss of faith by investors,” said Xu Hongwei, chief executive of Online Lending House. He estimated that 80 or 90 per cent of the country’s P2P companies might go bust.

Oops. None of this is unexpected: after the Chinese banking system nearly collapsed in June, following an explosion in overnight lending rates on just the mere threat of tapering of liquidity by the PBOC (since repeated several times with comparable results), it was inevitable that there would be unexpected consequences somewhere.

That somewhere is manifesting itself in the one industry that was supposed to gradually alleviate the lending burden for the SOEs.

People in the industry had hoped that P2P lenders would fill a hole in China’s financial system by helping small businesses obtain funding and by giving investors higher returns than they can obtain from banks.

 

While proponents believe that will still eventually prove to be the case, many believe the industry has expanded too quickly and with insufficient oversight.

 

“A lot of P2Ps have blindly copied each other and they don’t have a business plan that is robust enough to react to market changes. They’ve just focused on sales, scale and bragging to each other,” said Roger Ying, founder of Pandai, one of the websites that is still active.

 

Wangying Tianxia, a Shenzhen-based lender, was one of the biggest P2Ps to fail, according to the Shanghai Securities News, an official newspaper. Between its founding in March last year to its failure in October, Rmb780m ($129m) of loans were disbursed via its platform.

 

A second China-wide cash crunch at the end of December heaped more pressure on P2P lenders. Fuhao Venture and Guangrong Loans posted notices on their websites in the first week of the new year warning investors that loan repayment might be delayed.

So, condolences to China’s P2P business model: if it is any consolation, you are merely the first of many debt-related dominoes to tumble in China.

But while the Chinese government has already thrown in the flag on P2P – after all at just over a $1 billion in notional how big can the damage be – it is desperately scrambling to give the impression that all is well in the other, much more prominent areas of its credit bubble. Which is why the WSJ reports that “China’s government is gearing up for a spike in nonperforming loans, endorsing a range of options to clean up the banks and experimenting with ways for lenders to squeeze value from debts gone bad.

Write-offs have multiplied in recent months. Over-the-counter asset exchanges have sprung up as a way for banks to find buyers for collateral seized from defaulting borrowers and for bad loans they want to spin off. Provinces have started setting up their own “bad banks,” state-owned institutions that can take over nonperforming loans that threaten banks’ ability to continue lending.

 

“In recent years, Chinese banks have been exploring new avenues to resolve their bad loans,” said Bank of Tianjin, which is based in northeastern China. The lender recently listed more than 150 loans for sale on a local exchange. “We will continue to recover, write off, spin off and use other avenues in order to resolve bad loans,” it said.

 

China’s banks reported 563.6 billion yuan ($93.15 billion) of nonperforming loans at the end of September. That is up 38% from 407.8 billion yuan, the low point in recent years, two years earlier.

Amusingly, just like in the US, where nobody dares to fight the Fed, in China the sentiment is that nothing can possibly go wrong at a level that impairs the entire nation: “Analysts think it is unlikely that Beijing would let major banks go bust. Still, investors suspect the cost of a cleanup could be a sizable economic burden and could become even greater if growth continues to slow.”

Good luck with that, here’s why:

“The last time Beijing confronted bad-loan problems, in 1999 and 2000, the sums involved had crippled the banking system. Banks became far less able to make new loans, forcing the government to take action. Some 1.3 trillion yuan of bad debt was spun off the books of the biggest state banks and swept into four purpose-built bad banks.

 

This time, to avoid a costly bailout in the future, the government is pushing the banks to clean up their mess early. It is giving them new tools to do so: the exchanges to sell bad assets, provincial-level bad banks and permission to raise fresh capital using hybrid securities, complex products that combine aspects of debt and equity.”

One small problem: sell them to who? After all China is a closed system, and the US hedge funds have their hands full will pretending Spain and Greece are recovering and sending their stock markets to the moon because of the endless stream of lies emanating from the government data aparatus, all of it made up.

A potential constraint on the bad-debt cleanup is the inexperience of buyers at pricing and dealing with distressed debt, never a significant asset class in China. Finding buyers for a failed factory or commercial property seized as collateral can be difficult, particularly in cities with weaker economies.

 

“There’s an immature market for collateral. So the banks’ capacity to resolve loans is more determined by the market than their own abilities,” said Simon Gleave, regional head of finance services at KPMG China.

Analysts see the bad-loan problem as a growing issue. Although figures as of the end of September indicate bad debt represents only about 1% of total loans in

 

China’s banking system, a range of major industries are plagued with overcapacity and local governments are struggling to repay money borrowed to fund a construction binge. Investors broadly believe the actual bad-loan figure is much higher. The share prices of Chinese banks listed in Hong Kong have fallen, to trade below their book value.

And while all of the above is accurate, here is the biggest constraint: it is shown as the blue line in the chart below:

Applying a realistic, not made up bad debt percentage, somewhere in the 10% ballpark, and one gets a total bad debt number for China of… $2.5 trillion, and rising at a pace of $400 billion per year.

No, really. Good luck.

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