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Is this how it starts?
The third great market crash of the 21st century?
At Ben Bernanke’s perhaps final public appearance at the Brookings Institution on January 16th, the beginnings of the 2008-2009 financial crisis were linked to the issues of a French bank in the summer of 2007, an incident little noticed at that point in time.
This time around will it be the currency problems of frontier and emerging markets? The default of a Chinese trust fund, discussed in some detail here atForbes? Or something else altogether, totally hidden at the moment? Or nothing at all?
With U.S. equity markets suffering their deepest losses since 2012, there were plenty of disparate concerns to go around this past week.
These included the fear of the Fed’s tapering ultimate timing and impact, weakening China growth, those currency devaluation jitters, a lackluster U.S. earnings season, perceived overheated equity market valuations, and that China trust fund, to mention a few. There was also the end of week concern that the selling could feed upon itself, as those market-makers selling puts on indices and calls on the VIX could get squeezed and have to hedge next week with more S&P futures selling.
On the week, the Dow gave up -3.5%, finishing below 16,000 for the first time since mid-December. The S&P 500 lost -2.6%, closing below the key 1800 level at 1790. And the NASDAQ fared the best, down “only” -1.7%, helped by the relative strength of some of its high-fliers. Notably, the VIX popped close to +46%, ending the week just above 18, although still far below panic levels.
It is a bit iffy to reconstruct the true narrative of the week, as things seemed to get rolling to the downside on Monday evening. Influential Fed watcher Jon Hilsenrath of the WSJ wrote of January FOMC tapering possibilities:
A reduction in the program to $65 billion a month from the current $75 billion could be announced at the end of the Jan. 28-29 meeting, which would be the last meeting for outgoing Chairman Ben Bernanke.
Coincidence or not, the next four trading days were all on the negative side of the ledger for the Dow, although the S&P hung in decently on Tuesday and Wednesday. But then China’s HSBC PMI numbers hit, indicating a drop in January to 49.6 from December’s final reading of 50.5, moving “below the 50 line which separates expansion of activity from contraction.” (Reuters).
This, combined with the currency devaluation news, with Venezuela, Argentina, and Turkey leading the headlines, seemed to fuel the overall“emerging market risk” theme which overwhelmed markets on Friday.
Not helping were some comments coming out of Davos. Larry Fink ofBlackRock BLK -3.95% said there was “too much optimism” in the markets. He added, according to Bloomberg , “The experience of the marketplace this past week is going to be indicative of this entire year. We’re going to be in a world of much greater volatility.”
This came on the heels of Goldman’s chief strategist, David Kostin, saying two weeks ago that market valuations are “lofty by almost any measure.”
But the real outlier came from Dr. Doom himself, NYU professor and head of Roubini Global Economics, Nouriel Roubini. Roubini seized on yet another global issue, tweeting:
@ Nouriel: “Japan-China war of words goes ballistic in Davos” and “A black swan in the form of a war between China & Japan?” along with various comments on the emerging market issues, saying, “Argentina currency crisis & contagion to other EM – on top of weak China PMI – suggests that some emerging markets are still fragile.”
The China/Japan “conflict” story was the shocker, and apparently goes back to some comments allegedly made by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abewhich compared China/Japan tensions to those found between Germany and Britain prior to World War I. (CNBC) In an interview with Business Insider, Roubini called the events of last week “a mini perfect storm,” alluding to“weak data in China, fresh currency market turmoil in Argentina, and a worsening chaotic situation in the Ukraine.”
It is a bit amusing to note that while Mr. Roubini was serving on several panels at Davos, giving press interviews, and tweeting non-stop, he also found time (or one of his associates did) to post a ranking of “top Tweeters” from the World Economic Forum, showing himself in 5th place. (See Twitter imagehere.)
Let’s take a very quick look at a few of the other notable quotes from newsmakers this week:
–“I don’t think it (marijuana) is more dangerous than alcohol.” –President Obama in a New Yorker interview published last Sunday. The remark created a firestorm of controversy, including reportedly negative feedback from DEA Administrator Michele M. Leonhart and many others. (Huffington Post)
–Apple is “one of the biggest ‘no-brainers’ we have seen in five decades of successful investing.” –Fund manager and legendary investor Carl Icahn, in continuing to tout AAPL’s undervaluation and push for stock buybacks by the company. Forbes also noted that Icahn grabbed headlines last week for now getting involved with eBay and urging a spinoff of its PayPal holding.
–“Gross: PIMCO’s fully engaged. Batteries 110% charged. I’m ready to go for another 40 years” –PIMCO’s Bill Gross tweeting after the highly visible and speculation-provoking departure of Mohamed El-Erian. Mr. El-Erian reportedly said in a letter to PIMCO employees, “The decision to step down from PIMCO was not an easy one.”
–“It’s a very juicy target.” –Andrew Kuchins, Russia Program Director for CSIS, in commenting on the terrorist threats at the Sochi Olympics and the need for extensive security and preparedness planning. (USA Today)
–“It’s so easy to enter, a caveman could do it.” –Warren Buffett, a bit jokingly, in announcing his company’s sponsorship of a $1 billion March Madness challenge along with Quicken. (Fox Sports) The simple idea is that an absolutely perfect bracket will produce the billion-dollar winner, but the offer includes also some twenty $100,000 winners for the best, if imperfect, brackets. There is also a charity angle, but at something like 1 in 9.2 quintillion odds (we have seen varying estimates all over the place) Berkshire is likely not facing too much risk here.
–“A lot of people got dead in that one.” –retired NYC detective and now security consultant/media celebrity Bo Dietl on the Don Imus program, commenting on the history of the Lufthansa “Goodfellas” robbery and this week’s arrests in the case.
–And in another high profile criminal case, famed lawyer Roy Black said of client Justin Bieber, “I’m not going to make any comments about the case except to say Mr. Bieber has been released on bond and we agreed that the standard bail would apply in this case.” (CBS Miami)
–“We’ve lost some of our consumer relevance.” –McDonald’s CEO Don Thompson in a call after client traffic comps greatly disappointed in the recent earnings release. This was the flipside of Netflix, which surged dramatically after their latest numbers and user figures, with NFLX stock up some 17% despite the terrible market week.
–“We believe POS malware will continue to grow.”–The FBI in a statement on the troubling hacking of Target and other retailers, which was revealed in far greater detail this week, including the hacking intrusion of Neiman Marcus. (Yahoo)
–“It was so awesome!” –ESPN reporter Erin Andrews, in a slightly hard to believe remark on the antics of Seattle defensive back Richard Sherman after last week’s NFC title game. Her initial real-time reaction to the interview seemed at odds with that statement, as she stood in utter disbelief in the post-game situation. (seattlepi.com)
Let’s close it out there, as all eyes will be on the opening of foreign equity markets tonight and the U.S. futures trading. Well, maybe not all eyes, as the Grammy Awards also kicks off this evening. But the really big event of the week will be President Obama’s State of the Union address Tuesday evening. Presidential senior adviser Dan Pfeiffer predicted in an email of the upcoming SOTU address, according to Bloomberg:
Pfeiffer: ‘Three words sum up the president’s message on Tuesday night: opportunity, action, and optimism. The core idea is as American as they come: If you work hard and play by the rules, you should have the opportunity to succeed.’ While Obama ‘will seek out as many opportunities as possible to work with Congress in a bipartisan way,’ Pfeiffer said he ‘will not wait for Congress’ to act on some of his goals.’
Have a good week!
This is part two of a Q&A with Willem Middelkoop about his new book The Big Reset. In his book a chapter on the ‘War on Gold’ takes a prominent position. Willem has been writing about the manipulation of the gold pricesince 2002 based on information collected by GATA since the late 1990’s. So part two of our interview will focus on this topic.
The War On Gold
Why does the US fight gold?
The US wants its dollar system to prevail for as long as possible. It therefore has every interest in preventing a ‘rush out of dollars into gold’. By selling (paper) gold, bankers have been trying in the last few decades to keep the price of gold under control. This war on gold has been going on for almost one hundred years, but it gained traction in the 1960’s with the forming of the London Gold Pool. Just like the London Gold Pool failed in 1969, the current manipulation scheme of gold (and silver prices) cannot be maintained for much longer.
What is the essence of the war on gold?
The survival of our current financial system depends on people preferring fiat money over gold. After the dollar was taken of the gold standard in 1971, bankers have tried to demonetize gold. One of the arguments they use to deter investors from buying gold and silver is that these metals do not deliver a direct return such as interest or dividends. But interest and dividend are payments to compensate for counterparty risk – the risk that your counterparty is unable to live up to its obligations. Gold doesn’t carry that risk. The war on gold is, in essence, an endeavor to support the dollar. But this is certainly not the only reason. According to a number of studies, the level of the gold price and the general public’s expectations of inflation are highly correlated. Central bankers work hard to influence inflation expectations. A 1988 study by Summers and Barsky confirmed that the price of gold and interest rates are highly correlated, as well with a lower gold price leading to lower interest rates.
When did the war on gold start?
The first evidence of US meddling in the gold market can be found as early as 1925 when the Fed falsified information regarding the Bank of England’s possession of gold in order to influence interest rate levels. However, the war on gold only really took off in the 1960’s when trust in the dollar started to fray. Geopolitical conflicts such as the building of the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis and the escalation of violence in Vietnam led to increasing military spending by the US, which in turn resulted in growing US budget deficits. A memorandum from 1961 entitled ‘US Foreign Exchange Operations: Needs and Methods’ described a detailed plan to manipulate the currency and gold markets via structural interventions in order to support the dollar and maintain the gold price at $ 35 per ounce. It was vital for the US to ‘manage’ the gold market; otherwise countries could exchange their surplus dollars for gold and then sell these ounces on the free gold market for a higher price
How was the gold price managed in the 1960’s?
During meetings of the central bank presidents at the BIS in 1961, it was agreed that a pool of $ 270 million in gold would be made available by the eight participating (western) countries. This so-called ‘London Gold Pool’ was focused on preventing the gold price from rising above $ 35 per ounce by selling official gold holdings from the central banks gold vaults. The idea was that if investors attempted to flee to the safe haven of gold, the London Gold Pool would dump gold onto the market in order to keep the gold price from rising. During the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, for instance, at least $ 60 million in gold was sold between 22 and 24 October. The IMF provided extra gold to be sold on the market when needed. In 2010, a number of previously secret US telex reports from 1968 were made public by Wikileaks. These messages describe what had to be done in order to keep the gold price under control. The aim was to convince investors that it was completely pointless to speculate on a rise in the price of gold. One of the reports mentions a propaganda campaign to convince the public that the central banks would remain ‘the masters of gold’. Despite these efforts, in March 1968, the London Gold Pool was disbanded because France would no longer cooperate. The London gold market remained closed for two weeks. In other gold markets around the world, gold immediately rose 25% in value. This can happen again when the COMEX will default.
More evidence about this manipulation?
From the transcript of a March 1978 Fed-meeting, we know that the manipulation of the gold price was a point of discussion at that time. During the meeting Fed Chairman Miller pointed out that it was not even necessary to sell gold in order to bring the price down. According to him, it was enough to bring out a statement that the Fed was intending to sell gold.
Because the US Treasury is not legally allowed to sell its gold reserves, the Fed decided in 1995 to examine whether it was possible to set up a special construction whereby so-called ‘gold swaps’ could bring in gold from the gold reserves of Western central banks. In this construction, the gold would be ‘swapped’ with the Fed, which would then be sold by Wall Street banks in order to keep prices down. Because of the ‘swap agreement’, the gold is officially only lent out, so Western central banks could keep it on their balance sheets as ‘gold receivables’. The Fed started to informing foreign central bankers that they expected that the gold price to decline further, and large quantities of central banks’ gold became be available to sell in the open market. Logistically this was an easy operation, since the New York Fed vaults had the largest collection of foreign gold holdings. Since the 1930’s, many Western countries had chosen to store their gold safely in the US out of fears of a German or Soviet invasion.
Didn’t the British help as well by unloading gold at the bottom of the market?
Between 1999 and 2002, the UK embarked on an aggressive selling of its gold reserves, when gold prices were at their lowest in 20 years. Prior to starting, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Gordon Brown, announced that the UK would be selling more than half of its gold reserves in a series of auctions in order to diversify the assets of the UK’s reserves. The markets’ reaction was one of shock, because sales of gold reserves by governments had until then always taken place without any advance warning to investors. Brown was following the Fed’s strategy of inducing a fall in the gold price via an announcement of possible sales. Brown’s move was therefore not intended to receive the best price for its gold but rather to bring down the price of gold as low as possible. The UK eventually sold almost 400 tons of gold over 17 auctions in just three years, just as the gold market was bottoming out. Gordon Brown’s sale of the UK’s gold reserves probably came about following a request from the US. The US supported Brown ever since.
How do they manipulate gold nowadays?
The transition from open outcry (where traders stand in a trading pit and shout out orders) to electronic trading gave new opportunities to control financial markets. Wall Street veteran lawyer Jim Rickards presented a paper in 2006 in which he explained how ‘derivatives could be used to manipulate underlying physical markets such as oil, copper and gold’. In his bestseller entitled Currency Wars, he explains how the prohibition of derivatives regulation in the Commodity Futures Modernization Act (2000) had ‘opened the door to exponentially greater size and variety in these instruments that are now hidden off the balance sheets of the major banks, making them almost impossible to monitor’. These changes made it much easier to manipulate financial markets, especially because prices for metals such as gold and silver are set by trading future contracts on the global markets. Because up to 99% of these transactions are conducted on behalf of speculators who do not aim for physical delivery and are content with paper profits, markets can be manipulated by selling large amounts of contracts in gold, silver or other commodities (on paper). The $200 crash of the gold price April 12 and 15, 2013 is a perfect example of this strategy. The crash after silver reached $50 on May 1, 2011 is another textbook example.
For how long can this paper-gold game continue?
As you have been reporting yourself we can witness several indications pointing towards great stress in the physical gold market. I would be very surprised when the current paper gold game can be continued for another two years. This system might even fall apart in 2014. A default in gold and/or silver futures on the COMEX is a real possibility. It happened to the potato market in 1976 when a potato-futures default happened on the NYMEX. An Idaho potato magnate went short potatoes in huge numbers, leaving a large amount of contracts unsettled at the expiration date, resulting in a large number of defaulted delivery contracts. So it has happened before. In such a scenario futures contracts holders will be cash settled. So I expect the Comex will have to move to cash settlement rather than gold delivery at a certain point in the not too distant future. After such an event the price of gold will be set in Asian markets, like the Shanghai Gold Exchange. I expect gold to jump $1000 in a short period of time and silver prices could easily double overnight. That’s one of the reasons our Commodity Discovery Fund invests in undervalued precious metal companies with large gold/silver reserves. They all have huge up-side potential in the next few years when this scenario will play out.
In Gold We Trust
Synopsis of The Big Reset: Now five years after the near fatal collapse of world’s financial system we have to conclude central bankers and politicians have merely been buying time by trying to solve a credit crisis by creating even more debt. As a result worldwide central bank’s balance sheets expanded by $10 trillion. With this newly created money central banks have been buying up national bonds so long term interest rates and bond yields have collapsed. But ‘parking’ debt at national banks is no structural solution. The idea we can grow our way back out of this mountain of debt is a little naïve. In a recent working paper by the IMF titled ‘Financial and Sovereign Debt Crises: Some Lessons Learned and Those Forgotten’ the economist Reinhart and Rogoff point to this ‘denial problem’. According to them future economic growth will ‘not be sufficient to cope with the sheer magnitude of public and private debt overhangs. Rogoff and Reinhart conclude the size of the debt problems suggests that debt restructurings will be needed ‘far beyond anything discussed in public to this point.’ The endgame to the global financial crisis is likely to require restructuring of debt on a broad scale.
About the author: Willem Middelkoop (1962) is founder of the Commodity Discovery Fund and a bestselling Dutch author, who has been writing about the world’s financial system since the early 2000s. Between 2001 and 2008 he was a market commentator for RTL Television in the Netherlands and also appeared on CNBC. He predicted the credit crisis in his first bestseller in 2007.
TORONTO — The Toronto stock market plunged over 200 points as emerging market worries persuaded investors to avoid riskier assets like equities and commodities.
The S&P/TSX composite index dropped 215.18 points to 13,717.79. The Canadian dollar was ahead 0.21 of a cent to 90.31 cents US.
The Dow Jones industrials fell 318.24 points to 15,879.11 after plunging 176 points on Thursday. The Nasdaq was 90.7 points lower to 4,128.17 while the S&P 500 index was down 38.17 points to 1,790.29.
Investors are worried about sharp drops in the values of currencies in several emerging markets, including Turkey, Russia, South Africa and Argentina.
These drops were sparked by moves by the U.S. Federal Reserve to cut back on its massive bond purchases, a key stimulus measure that kept long-term rates low.
But U.S. bond yields have risen as the Fed moves to taper its purchases, and investors have responded by taking their money out of emerging markets.
Nouriel Roubini, Davos Speakers, Kyle Bass, Larry Edelson, Charles Nenner, James Dines, Jim Rogers, Marc Faber, Jim Rickards and Martin Armstrong Warn of Wider War
Well-known economist Nouriel Roubini tweeted from the gathering of the rich and powerful at Davos:
Many speakers compare 2014 to 1914 when WWI broke out & no one expected it. A black swan in the form of a war between China & Japan?
Both Abe and an influential Chinese analyst don’t rule out a military confrontation between China and Japan. Memories of 1914?
Kyle Bass writes:
Trillions of dollars of debts will be restructured and millions of financially prudent savers will lose large percentages of their real purchasing power at exactly the wrong time in their lives. Again, the world will not end, but the social fabric of the profligate nations will be stretched and in some cases torn. Sadly, looking back through economic history, all too often war is the manifestation of simple economic entropy played to its logical conclusion. We believe that war is an inevitable consequence of the current global economic situation.
Larry Edelson wrote an email to subscribers entitled “What the “Cycles of War” are saying for 2013″, which states:
Since the 1980s, I’ve been studying the so-called “cycles of war” — the natural rhythms that predispose societies to descend into chaos, into hatred, into civil and even international war.
I’m certainly not the first person to examine these very distinctive patterns in history. There have been many before me, notably, Raymond Wheeler, who published the most authoritative chronicle of war ever, covering a period of 2,600 years of data.
However, there are very few people who are willing to even discuss the issue right now. And based on what I’m seeing, the implications could be absolutely huge in 2013.
Former Goldman Sachs technical analyst Charles Nenner – who has made some big accurate calls, and counts major hedge funds, banks, brokerage houses, and high net worth individuals as clients – saysthere will be “a major war starting at the end of 2012 to 2013”, which will drive the Dow to 5,000.
Veteran investor adviser James Dines forecast a war is epochal as World Wars I and II, starting in the Middle East.
Billionaire investor Jim Rogers notes:
A continuation of bailouts in Europe could ultimately spark another world war, says international investor Jim Rogers.
“Add debt, the situation gets worse, and eventually it just collapses. Then everybody is looking for scapegoats. Politicians blame foreigners, and we’re in World War II or World War whatever.”
Marc Faber says that the American government will start new wars in response to the economic crisis:
- “The next thing the government will do to distract the attention of the people on bad economic conditions is they’ll start a war somewhere.”
We’re in the middle of a global currency war – i.e. a situation where nations all compete to devalue their currencies the most in order to boost exports. And Brazilian president-elect Rousseff said in 2010:
The last time there was a series of competitive devaluations … it ended in world war two.
Jim Rickards agrees:
Currency wars lead to trade wars, which often lead to hot wars. In 2009, Rickards participated in the Pentagon’s first-ever “financial” war games. While expressing confidence in America’s ability to defeat any other nation-state in battle, Rickards says the U.S. could get dragged into “asymmetric warfare,” if currency wars lead to rising inflation and global economic uncertainty.
As does Jim Rogers:
Trade wars always lead to wars.
Martin Armstrong wrote in August:
Our greatest problem is the bureaucracy wants a war. This will distract everyone from the NSA and justify what they have been doing. They need a distraction for the economic decline that is coming.
Armstrong argued last month that war plans against Syria are really about debt and spending:
The Syrian mess seems to have people lining up on Capital Hill when sources there say the phone calls coming in are overwhelmingly against any action. The politicians are ignoring the people entirely. This suggests there is indeed a secret agenda to achieve a goal outside the discussion box. That is most like the debt problem and a war is necessary to relief the pressure to curtail spending.
In addition, historians say that the risk of world war is rising because the U.S. feels threatened by a rising China … and the U.S. government considers economic rivalry to be a basis for war
Moreover, former Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan said that the Iraq war was really about oil, and former Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill says that Bush planned the Iraq war before 9/11. And see this and this. If that war was for petroleum, other oil-rich countries might be invaded as well.
And the American policy of using the military to contain China’s growing economic influence – and of considering economic rivalry to be a basis for war – are creating a tinderbox.
Finally, multi-billionaire investor Hugo Salinas Price says:
What happened to [Libya’s] Mr. Gaddafi, many speculate the real reason he was ousted was that he was planning an all-African currency for conducting trade. The same thing happened to him that happened to Saddam because the US doesn’t want any solid competing currency out there vs the dollar. You know Gaddafi was talking about a golddinar.
Indeed, senior CNBC editor John Carney noted:
Is this the first time a revolutionary group has created a central bank while it is still in the midst of fighting the entrenched political power? It certainly seems to indicate how extraordinarily powerful central bankers have become in our era.
This suggests we have a bit more than a ragtag bunch of rebels running around and that there are some pretty sophisticated influences. “I have never before heard of a central bank being created in just a matter of weeks out of a popular uprising,” Wenzel writes.
UPDATE: The Argentine Trade Balance missed surplus expectations by the most in 3 years (and 2nd most on record).
As those who follow Zero Hedge on twitter know, we have recently shown a keen interest in the collapse of the Argentine currency reserves – most recently at $29.4 billion – which have been declining at a steady pace of $100 million per day over the past week, as the central bank desperately struggles to keep its currency stable. Actually, make that struggled. Here is what we said just yesterday:
The decline continues: ARGENTINA’S RESERVES FELL $80M TODAY TO $29.4B: CENTRAL BANK
— zerohedge (@zerohedge) January 22, 2014
As of today it is not just the collapse in the Latin American country’s reserves, but its entire currency, when this morning we woke to learn that the Argentina Peso (with the accurate identifier ARS), had its biggest one day collapse since the 2002 financial crisis, after the central bank stopped intervening in currency markets. The reason: precisely to offset the countdown we had started several days back, namely “an effort to preserve foreign exchange reserves that have fallen by almost a third over the last year” as FT reported.
As the chart below shows, the official exchange rate cratered by over 17% when the USDARS soared from 6.8 to somewhere north of 8.
But as most readers know, just like in Venezuela, where the official exchange rate is anywhere between 6.40 and 11, and the unofficial is 78.85, so in Argentina the real transactions occur on the black market, where they track the so-called Dolar Blue, which as of this writing just hit an all time high of 12.90 and rising fast.
What happens next? Nothing good. “The risk of capital flight is rising by the minute. This will be very hard to control,” wrote Dirk Willer, strategist at Citigroup, adding that liquidity had “largely disappeared” with a risk of Venezuela-style capital controls. Ah Venezuela – that socialist paradise with a soaring stock market… even if food or toilet paper are about to become a thing of the past.
Some other perspectives via the FT:
Siobhan Morden of Jeffries said: “This is not an administration that respects or understands market pressure. They have been in the early stages of currency crisis since December, and yet their main strategy has been to pay off arrears and try to attract foreign direct investment.”
Luis Secco, Buenos Aires economist, said “It is hard to figure out what is the logic behind the authourities decision to let the peso so abruptly, without any other accompanying macroeconomic policy. It’s possible that the authorities would rather see a strong rise in the dollar, than lose, again, a large quantity of reserves.”
“It is a potentially dangerous situation…not least because it could give the impression that the authorities don’t have a very clear idea of how to manage the situation.”
Ricardo Delgado, Buenos Aires economist, said on Wednesday: “The government faces a dilemma. It wants to stop reserves from falling. But that means less imports and thus lower growth, as the economy is very dependent on imports. So the question is: do you want more growth, or higher foreign reserves.“
However, with the “currency run” having once again begun, absent a wholesale bailout and/or backstop by “solvent” central banks of Argentina, a country which has hardly been on good speaking terms with the western central banks, there is little that the nation can do.
So for all those morbidly curious individuals who are curious what the slow-motion train wrecked death of yet another currency will look like, below is a link to the DolarBlue website, aka the front row seats where the true level of the Argentina currency can be seen in real time. If and when this number takes off parabolically, that’s when the panic really begins – first in Argentina, then elsewhere.
Of course, it’s not just Argentina – most of the world’s emerging market FX is getting hammered year-to-date…
Define “Market” Irony: When JPMorgan’s Chief Currency Dealer Is Head Of An FX Manipulation “Cartel” | Zero Hedge
Now that everyone is habituated to banks manipulating every single product and asset class, and for those who aren’t, see this explanatory infographic…
Regulators are looking into whether currency traders have conspired through instant messages to manipulate foreign exchange rates. The currency rates are used to calculate the value of stock and bond indexes.
Banks have been accused of manipulating energy markets in California and other states.
Since early 2008 banks have been caught up in investigations and litigation over alleged manipulations of Libor.
Banks have been accused of improper foreclosure practices, selling bonds backed by shoddy mortgages, and misleading investors about the quality of the loans.
…revelations that this market and that or the other are controlled by a select group of criminal bankers just don’t generate the kind of visceral loathing as 2012’s Libor fraud bombshell.
As much was revealed when the second round of exposes hit in the middle of 2013, mostly focusing on manipulation in the forex market, and the general population largely yawned, whether due to the knowledge that every market is now explicitly broken (explaining the abysmal trading volumes and retail participation in recent years) or because nobody ever gets their due punishment and this kind of activity so not even a perp-walk spectacle can be enjoyed, this is accepted as ordinary-course action.
Nonetheless, we are glad that the actions of the FX cartel continue to get regular exposure in the broader media, in this case Bloomberg who, among other things, reminds us that it was none other than JPM’s Dick Usher who was the moderator of the appropriately titled secret chat room titled “The Cartel” which we noted previously. It is this alleged criminal who “worked at RBS and represented the Edinburgh-based bank when he accepted a 2004 award from the publication FX Week. When he quit RBS in 2010, the chat room died, the people said. He revived the group with the same participants when he joined JPMorgan the same year as chief currency dealer in London.”
Yes, the chief currency dealer of JP Morgan, starting in 2010 until a few months ago when he quietly disappeared, was one of the biggest (allegedly) FX manipulators in the world. Define irony…
What are some of the other recent revelations?
Here is a reminder of the prehistory from Bloomberg. First came the chat rooms:
At the center of the inquiries are instant-message groups with names such as “The Cartel,” “The Bandits’ Club,” “One Team, One Dream” and “The Mafia,” in which dealers exchanged information on client orders and agreed how to trade at the fix, according to the people with knowledge of the investigations who asked not to be identified because the matter is pending. Some traders took part in multiple chat rooms, one of them said.
The allegations of collusion undermine one of society’s fundamental principles — how money is valued. The possibility that a handful of traders clustered in a closed electronic network could skew the worth of global currencies for their own gain without detection points to a lack of oversight by employers and regulators. Since funds buy and sell billions of dollars of currency each month at the 4 p.m. WM/Reuters rates, which are determined by calculating the median of all trades during a 60-second period, that means less money in the pension and savings accounts of investors around the world.
One focus of the investigation is the relationship of three senior dealers who participated in “The Cartel” — JPMorgan’s Richard Usher, Citigroup’s Rohan Ramchandani and Matt Gardiner, who worked at Barclays and UBS — according to the people with knowledge of the probe. Their banks controlled more than 40 percent of the world’s currency trading last year, according to a May survey by Euromoney Institutional Investor Plc.
Entry into the chat room was coveted by nonmembers interviewed by Bloomberg News, who said they saw it as a golden ticket because of the influence it exerted.
And after that came unprecedented hubris and a sense of invincibility:
The men communicated via Instant Bloomberg, a messaging system available on terminals that Bloomberg LP, the parent of Bloomberg News, leases to financial firms, people with knowledge of the conversations said.
The traders used jargon, cracked jokes and exchanged information in the chat rooms as if they didn’t imagine anyone outside their circle would read what they wrote, according to two people who have seen transcripts of the discussions.
Since nobody investigated, next naturally, come the profits and the crimes:
Unlike sales of stocks and bonds, which are regulated by government agencies, spot foreign exchange — the buying and selling for immediate delivery as opposed to some future date — isn’t considered an investment product and isn’t subject to specific rules.
While firms are required by the Dodd-Frank Act in the U.S. to report trading in foreign-exchange swaps and forwards, spot dealing is exempt. The U.S. Treasury exempted foreign-exchange swaps and forwards from Dodd-Frank’s requirement to back up trades with a clearinghouse. In the European Union, banks will have to report foreign-exchange derivatives transactions under the European Market Infrastructure Regulation.
A lack of regulation has left the foreign-exchange market vulnerable to abuse, said Rosa Abrantes-Metz, a professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business in Manhattan.
“If nobody is monitoring these benchmarks, and since the gains from moving the benchmark are possibly very large, it is very tempting to engage in such a behavior,” said Abrantes-Metz, whose 2008 paper “Libor Manipulation” helped spark a global probe of interbank borrowing rates. “Even a little bit of difference in price can add up to big profits.”
… along with a lot of banging the close:
Dealers can buy or sell the bulk of their client orders during the 60-second window to exert the most pressure on the published rate, a practice known as banging the close. Because the benchmark is based on the median value of transactions during the period, breaking up orders into a number of smaller trades could have a greater impact than executing one big deal.
… and much golf and “envelopes stuffed with cash”
On one excursion to a private golf club in the so-called stockbroker belt beyond London’s M25 motorway, a dozen currency dealers from the biggest banks and several day traders, who bet on currency moves for their personal accounts, drained beers in a bar after a warm September day on the fairway. One of the day traders handed a white envelope stuffed with cash to a bank dealer in recognition of the information he had received, according to a person who witnessed the exchange.
Such transactions were common and also took place in tavern parking lots in Essex, the person said.
Personal relationships often determine how well currency traders treat their customers, said a hedge-fund manager who asked not to be identified. That’s because there’s no exchange where trades take place and no legal requirement that traders ensure customers receive the best deals available, he said.
In short – so simple the underwear gnomes could do it:
- Create a cartel
- Corner and manipulate the market
And that’s why they (and especially Jamie Dimon) are richer than you.