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The Smog of Fraud | KUNSTLER

The Smog of Fraud | KUNSTLER.

Team Obama pulled a cute one last week nominating Blythe Masters, JP Morgan’s commodity chief, to an advisory committee of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) which supposedly regulates activities on the paper trades in corn, pork bellies, cocoa, coffee, wheat, corn — oh, and gold, too, by the way, in which JP Morgan has been suspected of massive gold (and silver) market manipulations and other misconduct lately. That would include the 2011 MF Global Fiasco in which nearly a billion dollars from “segregated” customer accounts somehow ended up parked over at JP Morgan as a result of bad derivative bets on tanking Eurozone bonds. MF Global, primarily a commodities trading brokerage, was liquidated in 2011. The CFTC never issued referrals for prosecution to the Department of Justice in the matter and, of course, MF Global’s notorious CEO, Jon Corzine remains at large, enjoying caramel flan lattes in the Hamptons to this day. Such are the Teflon transactions of the Obama years: nothing sticks.

There was such a Twitter storm over Blythe Masters that she withdrew from consideration for the committee before the day was out.

JP Morgan is one of the specially privileged “primary dealer” banks said to be systemically indispensible to world finance. Supposedly, if one of them is allowed to flop, the whole global matrix of global debt obligations — and, hence, global money — would dissolve in a misty cloud of broken promises. They are primary dealers to their shadow partner, the Federal Reserve, and their main job in that relationship is buying treasury bonds, bills, and notes from the US government and then “selling” them to the Fed (earning commissions on the sales, of course). The Fed, in turn, “lends” billions of dollars at zero interest back to the primary dealers who then park the “borrowed” money in accounts at the Fed at a higher interest rate. This is, of course, money for nothing, and even small interest rate differentials add up to tidy profits when the volumes on deposit are so massive.

This “carry trade” was started because the primary dealer banks were functionally insolvent after 2008 and needed to build “reserves” up to some level that would putatively render them sound. But that was a sketchy concept anyway since accounting standards had been officially abandoned in 2009 when the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) declared that banks could report the stuff on their books at any value they felt like. In short, the soundness of the biggest banks in the USA could no longer be determined, period. They were beyond accounting as they were beyond the law. At the same time, the banks began the operations of shifting all the janky debt paper, mostly mortgages and derivative instruments (i.e. made-up shit like “CDOs squared”), value unknown, from their vaults to the a vaults of the Federal Reserve, where it resides to this day, rotting away like so much forgotten ground round in the sub-basement of an abandoned warehouse of a bankrupt burger chain.

All of these nearly incomprehensible shenanigans have been going on because debt all over the world can’t be repaid. The world’s economy, as constructed emergently over the decades, can’t function without repayable debt, which is the essence of “credit” — the fundamental trust implicit in banking. You have “credit” because other persons or parties believe in your ability to repay. After a while, this becomes a mere convention in millions of transactions. What’s happened is that the conventions remain in place but the trust is gone. It’s gone in particular among the parties deemed too big to fail.

Everybody knows this now and everybody is trying desperately to work around it, led by the Federal Reserve. Trust is gone and credit is going and debt is sitting between a rock and a hard place with its grubby hands pressed together, praying that it will be forgiven, forgotten, or overlooked a little while longer. By the way, the reason trust and credit are gone is because oil is no longer cheap and world economies can’t grow anymore. They can’t afford to run the day-to-day operations of a techno-industrial society. They can only pretend to afford it. The stock markets are mere scorecards for players who can only lie and cheat now to keep the game going. Somewhere beyond all the legerdemain and fraud, however, there remains a real world that is not going away. We just don’t know what it will look like when the smog of fraud clears.

To This Day, No One Knows What Financial Firms Are Sitting on | Zero Hedge

To This Day, No One Knows What Financial Firms Are Sitting on | Zero Hedge.

As powerful as it may be, the Fed is not the market. And since the Fed failed to restore trust in the system by forcing all bad debts to light, the financial world has grown increasingly volatile and broken as investors grow increasingly distrustful of the system and begin to pull their money from it: see market volumes continuing to plunge.

 

Nowhere is the lack of trust more apparent than in the financial sector. Indeed, it was a lack of trust between banks (inter-bank lending) that caused the credit markets to jam up in 2008, which resulted in the Crash.

 

That lack of trust continues to this day. In the post-Lehman collapse, instead of forcing real derivative and credit risk out into the open, the Federal Reserve and regulators instead suspended accounting standards and allowed financial firms (and other corporate entities) to continue to lie about the true state of their balance sheets.

 

As a result of this, the financial sector remains rife with fraud and impossible to accurately value (how can you value a business that is lying about its balance sheet?).

 

Those times in which a company was forced to value its assets at market prices have always seen said values losing 80%+ value in short order: consider Washington Mutual, which sported a book value north of $70 billion right up until it was sold for… $2 billion.

 

This type of fraud is endemic in the system. Indeed, we got a taste of just how problematic a lack of transparency can be with MF Global’s bankruptcy, in which a firm with $42 billion in assets lost over 80% of its value since August only to reveal in bankruptcy that it had stolen over $700 million worth of clients’ money.

 

That MF Global engaged in fraud and stole clients’ money is noteworthy. However, the far more important issue is:  HOW did this company receive primary dealer status from the NY Fed nine months before imploding?

 

The Primary Dealers are the banks that actively engage in day to day activities with the New York Fed regarding the Fed’s monetary policies. Primary Dealers also participate in US Treasury auctions.

 

Put another way, Primary Dealers are the most elite, well-connected financial firms in the world.  They have unequal access to both the Fed and the US Treasury Dept. In order for MF Global to have attained this status it must have passed through a review by:

 

1)   The New York Fed

2)   The SEC

 

This is not a quick nor superficial process. According to the NY Fed’s own site:

 

Upon submission of a formal application, a prospective primary dealer can expect at least six months of formal consideration by the New York Fed. That consideration may include,among other things, on-site reviews of front, middle, and back office operations, review of compliance programs and discussions with compliance and credit risk management staff, discussions with senior management about business plans, financial condition, and the ability to meet FRBNY’s business needs, review of financial information, and consultation with primary supervisors and regulators.

 

MF Global passed through all of these reviews to became a primary dealer in February 2011. A mere nine months later, the firm is in Chapter 11 and has admitted to stealing clients’ funds to maintain liquidity.

 

These developments reveal, beyond any doubt, that financial oversight in the US is virtually non-existent. This returns to my primary point: that trust has been lost in the system. And until it is restored, the system will remain broken.

 

A final note on this: the NY Fed is the single most powerful entity in charge of the Fed’s daily operations. How can any investor believe that the Fed can manage the system and restore trust when the NY Fed granted MF Global primary dealer status a mere nine months before the latter went bankrupt?

 

If the NY Fed cannot accurately audit a financial firm’s risks during a six month review, then there is NO WAY an ordinary investor can do so.

 

This is one of the biggest risks in the system: that no one has a clue what financial entities are sitting on in terms of garbage derivatives and debts. As MF Global proved, this risk can result in a TOTAL loss of funds.

 

This type of fraud will continue until the system breaks. At that point hopefully the bad debts will finally clear from the system and we can actually lay a foundation for growth.

 

For a FREE Special Report outlining how to protect your portfolio from this, swing by: http://phoenixcapitalmarketing.com/special-reports.html

 

Best Regards

Phoenix Capital Research

Unfractional Repo Banking: When Leverage Is “Limited” By Infinity | Zero Hedge

Unfractional Repo Banking: When Leverage Is “Limited” By Infinity | Zero Hedge.

Today’s release of the 2013 edition of the Global Shadow Banking Monitoring Report by the Financial Stability Board doesn’t contain anything that frequent readers of this site don’t know already on a topic we have covered since 2009. It does however have a notable sidebar which explains the magic of “(un)fractional repo banking” – a topic made popular in late 2011 following the collapse of MF Global – when it was revealed that as part of the Primary Dealer’s operating model, a core part of the business was participating in UK-based repo chains in which the collateral could be recycled effectively without limit and without a haircut, affording Jon Corzine’s organization virtually unlimited leverage starting with a tiny initial margin.

Naturally, any product that can allow participants infinite leverage is something that all “sophisticated” market participants not only know about, but abuse on a regular basis. The fact that this “unfractional repo banking” is at the heart of the unregulated $71.2 trillion shadow banking system, the less the general public knows about it the better.

Which is why we were happy that the FSB was kind enough to explain in two short paragraphs and one even simpler chart,just how the aggregate leverage for the participants in even the simplest repo chain promptly becomes exponential, far above the “sum of the parts”, and approaches infinity in virtually no time.

From the FSB:

As a simple illustration of the way in which repo transactions can combine to produce adverse effects on the system that can be larger than the sum of their parts, suppose that investor A borrows cash for a short period of time from investor B and posts securities as collateral. Investor A could use some of that cash to purchase additional securities, post those as further collateral with investor B to receive more cash, and so on multiple times. The result of this series of ‘leveraging transactions’ is thatinvestor A ends up posting more collateral in total with investor B than they initially owned outright. Consequently, small changes in the value of those securities have a larger effect on the resilience of both counterparties. In turn, investor B could undertake a similar series of financing transactions with investor C, re-using the collateral it has taken from investor A, and so on.

 

Exhibit A2-5 mechanically traces out the aggregate leverage that can arise in this example.Even with relatively conservative assumptions, some configurations of repo transactions boost aggregate leverage alongside the stock of money-like liabilities and interconnectedness in ways that might materially increase systemic risk. For example, even with a relatively high collateral haircut of 10%, a three-investor chain can achieve a leverage multiplier of roughly 2-4, which is in the same ball park as the financial leverage of the hedge fund sector globally. It is therefore imperative from a risk assessment perspective that adequate data are available. Trade repositories, as proposed by FSB Workstream 5, could be very helpful in this regard.

 

So… three participants result in 4x leverage; four: in roughly 6x, and so on. Of course, these are conservative estimates: in the real, collateral-strapped world, the amount of collateral reuse, and thus the number of participants is orders of magnitude higher. Which means that after just a few turns of rehypothecation, leverage approaches infinity. Needless to say, with infinite leverage, even the tiniest decline in asset values would result in a full wipe out of one collateral chain member, which then spreads like contagion, and destroys everyone else who has reused that particular collateral.

All of this, incidentally, explains why down days are now prohibited. Because with every risk increase, there is an additional turn of collateral re-use, and even more participants for whom the Mutual Assured Destruction of complete obliteration should the weakest link implode, becomes all too real.

That, in a nutshell, are the mechanics. As to the common sense implications of having an unregulated funding market which explicitly allows infinite leverage, we doubt we have to explain those to the non-Econ PhD readers out there.

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Growth is Obsolete: James Howard Kunstler | Peak Prosperity

Growth is Obsolete: James Howard Kunstler | Peak Prosperity. (source)

The word that sticks in the craw of many who cogitate over economics is growth. The condition that the word refers to has proven disturbingly problematic in recent years, especially as world’s population continues to expand exponentially and the global ecology suffers in response. In fact, Thomas Carlyle (1795 – 1881) called economics “the dismal science” in direct reference to the work of the Rev. Thomas Malthus, because the Malthusian conclusions were so unappetizing — that sooner or later rising human populations would outstrip the world’s capacity to provide for them.

Now it happened that the Reverend Malthus’s notorious Essay on the Principle of Population was first published in 1798, which was about exactly the take-off moment for the industrial revolution. That extravagant melodrama was about marshaling mechanical invention with fossil fuel. The first act ran on coal and allowed populations to expand because it extended the extractive reach for resources by colonialist nations. The second act featured exploitation of oil, which was more powerful and versatile than coal. It also lent itself much more directly than coal to being converted into food for people. The use of oil powered farming machines, oil and gas (an oil byproduct) based herbicides, insecticides, and fertilizers, and oil based long distance food transport, has allowed us to convert oil into food pretty directly. This has led to the “hockey-stick” swerve of population growth that took human numbers worldwide from under 2 billion in the year 1900 to more than 7 billion today.

We are in the third act of the industrial melodrama now where the dire sub-plot of peak oil has taken stage. Despite the wishful thinking and happy-talk propaganda lighting up the media-space, we have arrived at the problematic point of the story: the end of cheap oil. This is poorly understood by the public and, apparently, by leaders in business, politics, and the media, too. They misunderstand because they insist on thinking that peak oil was simply about running out of oil. It’s not. It’s about running out of the ability to extract it from the earth in a way that makes economic sense — that is, at a price we can afford in terms of available capital and energy invested (and also ecological destruction). That dynamic is now exerting a powerful influence on modern civilizations. We ignore it — even at the highest levels of intellectual endeavor — because we have made no alternate plans for running the complex operations of everyday life, and because the early manifestations of the dynamic present themselves in the realm of finance, which is dominated by academic viziers and money-grubbing opportunists who benefit from obfuscating reality.

The sad, stark fact is that oil is now too expensive to permit further expansion of economies and populations. Expensive oil upsets the cost structure of virtually every system we need to run modern life: transportation, commerce, food production, governance, to name a few. In particular expensive oil destroys the cost structures of banking and finance because not enough new wealth can be generated to repay previously accumulated debt, and new credit cannot be extended without a reasonable expectation that more new wealth will be generated to repay it. Through the industrial age, our money has become an increasingly abstract and complex product of debt creation. As Chris Martenson has put it so succinctly in The Crash Course, money is loaned into existence. Thus, the growth of debt (allowing the growth of money) has played a crucial role at the heart of our banking operations, and the very word “growth” has become shorthand for this process in the lingo of current economic discourse.

It is quite clear that the banking system has been thrown into great disarray as the price of oil levitated from $11-a-barrel in 1999 to the great spike of $140 in 2008, and then settled into a range between $75 and $110 since 2010. Most of this disarray is a result of attempts to offset the failure to create new real wealth with fake wealth generated by accounting fraud, “innovative” swindling, insider chicanery, high frequency front-running, naked shorting of securities, and the construction of a vast untested network of derivative counterparty wagers that give every sign of being booby-trapped. All this private monkey business has been abetted by public mischief in central bank interventions and market manipulations, fiscal irresponsibility, political payoffs for favorable legislation, statistical misreporting, and the failure to apply the rule of law in cases of blatant misconduct (e.g., the MF Global confiscation of segregated client accounts; the Goldman Sachs “Timberwolf” CDO scam… the list is very long).

In short, a society with deeply impaired capital formation has turned to crime, corruption, fakery, and subterfuge in order to pretend that “growth” — i.e. expansion of capital — is still happening. The consequences are many and profound. The chief one is that the manufacture of fake wealth is such an alluring activity that some of the smartest people in society have devoted their waking hours to making a profit off it. It absorbs all their energies and they are simply not available for other work, such as figuring out a sane and practical way to run civilization in the absence of cheap energy. Added to this is the administrative effort and the work-arounds needed to support all this corruption and dishonesty, which occupy the hours of another class of smart people who work in government, academia, public relations, and the media. The sustenance of these parasitical cohorts more and more continues at the expense of everybody else in society, who cannot find work, or cannot make enough money to pay their living expenses, and who have become deeply discouraged, disappointed, demoralized, and disengaged in their losing struggle to thrive. Hence there is little public vigor to even mount a discussion of these vexing problems and the final result is the greater wholesale failure to construct a coherent consensus about what is happening to us and what we might do about it.

Another consequence to these disorders of capital is the massive malinvestment directed into things with no future in themselves or, much worse, things that actively undermine the future of everything needed to support any civilized future. For instance, the “innovation” in securitizing and repackaging mortgages — which continues to be a boon for the giant banks in concert with the thoroughly dishonest and technically bankrupt “government sponsored enterprises” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac — expresses itself in the activity we call “housing starts.” Economists overwhelmingly agree that a higher number of housing starts is a good thing for the economy and hence for society. But what do housing starts actually represent? These days they mostly take the form of new suburban housing subdivisions, which are inevitably joined by the kit of the strip mall, the big box store, and all the other furnishings of the highway strip. In short, all that glorious “innovation” by the banks produces more suburban sprawl and destruction of rural land, which is about the last thing this society needs when faced with the realities of peak cheap oil, since it is absolutely certain to make these things obsolete, and very soon. It is not any better, either, if the nominal capital — nominal because it is sure to someday represent a loss for some bond-holder or stockholder — gets invested in a 30-story high rise apartment because, contrary to a lot of current delusional thinking, skyscrapers also have no practical future for reasons I have explained in other essays here.

Similarly, the public investments going into “shovel-ready” highway projects, although the fiscal outlays are more transparently based on money that doesn’t really exist. The public, as well as leaders all across society, serenely believe that the Happy Motoring matrix will find a way to go on forever, and that therefore we must make provision for it, not to mention the beneficial side of effect of “job creation” for all the additional workers. Yet the dynamic at work must be obvious: oil will never be cheap again; it will impair future capital formation; there will be far fewer car loans; there will dwindling public funds to maintain the roads; and there is no practical substitute for gasoline that scales to the existing system, nor any prospect of one within a time frame that makes sense — not to mention the gigantic background problem of pouring evermore carbon into the sky.

If these things I mention — highways, tract houses, condo towers, strip malls — represent our current idea of “growth,” and if they are self-evidently bad investments, then we can infer that our current concept of “growth” no longer applies to a reality-based model of our economic prospects. We ought to junk the term and what it implies about the daily business of mankind, and come up with a new way of understanding the place we’re at.

 

5 Years After the Financial Crisis, The Big Banks Are Still Committing Massive Crimes | Washington’s Blog

5 Years After the Financial Crisis, The Big Banks Are Still Committing Massive Crimes | Washington’s Blog.

 

Corzine Seeks Dismissal Of CFTC Lawsuit, Recalls He Is Innocent After All | Zero Hedge

Corzine Seeks Dismissal Of CFTC Lawsuit, Recalls He Is Innocent After All | Zero Hedge.

 

The United Bases Of America And The Paradox Of Imperialism | Zero Hedge

The United Bases Of America And The Paradox Of Imperialism | Zero Hedge.

Central Banks’ Central Bank Warns About Rehypothecation Threats | Zero Hedge

Central Banks’ Central Bank Warns About Rehypothecation Threats | Zero Hedge.

 

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