Archive for January 15th, 2013
And what exactly gives Bank of America the right to tell you what you can purchase? Next will they decline your purchase of birth control? How about your purchase of meat? Or various medications? Tell this fascist organization what they can do with themselves.
Update: It now appears that Bank of America has no policy in place to refuse transactions for firearms and/or ammunition. Which is true? Read about it here, and decide for yourself.
You know how I’ve said that I believe that we’re in entitlement trouble as soon as 2019?
I just heard on Kudlow the statement that at present burn rates Medicare runs out of “special Treasuries” in 38 months.
That’s three years and two months from now — or mid-2016.
Or three years earlier than my computations.
Uh, you know how I’ve been hollering that we must break the medical monopolies now or we’re screwed? Some people have said that’s “unrealistic.”
It’s not unrealistic. It’s necessary. With the “death date” of 2019 it was utterly necessary to do it now.
If the real date for Medicare is 2016 then we simply cannot get through this administration without dealing with it, which means the only two outcomes are that we take care of this now or our Seniors and Medicaid recipients will get screwed within the next three years.
Not some seniors, not some Medicaid recipients, all of them.
To the Republicans:
REFUSE TO RAISE THE DEBT CEILING AND FORCE A BALANCED BUDGET NOW.
AT THE SAME TIME BREAK THE MEDICAL MONOPOLIES — IF THE DEMOCRATS WON’T GO ALONG WITH IT REFUSE TO BRING ANYTHING TO THE FLOOR UNTIL THEY DO.
This isn’t about choice any more.
Discussion (registration required to post)
Oh oh, now he went and did it.
Blinder on CNBC just pointed out the obvious – if you stop the deficit spending (because you refuse to raise the debt ceiling) GDP contracts on a dollar for dollar basis, which is about 6% — instantly.
This of course means that GDP is overstated by that very same 6% compared against actual private demand, and what’s worse is that it’s perpetually being overstated.
This is an exponential function which is why our debt is expanding at an ever-increasing rate.
We can’t keep doing that forever. Everyone admits that. But the longer we keep doing it the more it’s going to suck when we stop doing it.
And this means you must stop doing it now, because tomorrow it will be worse, and the day after that even more so, and on and on and on.
The payroll tax cut (now expired) moved the Social Security exhaustion date to 2033, supposedly. I called it as 2019 assuming the tax cut remained in place but now that’s gone I figured we might make it to 2025 or thereabouts. A pair of professors now believes it’s 2031.
To stop this we would have to either index the program’s retirement age, immediately cut benefits or increase the tax 2.7% additionally.
Yes, that’s on top of the 2% tax increase you already got on the 1st of January.
But again, when you get down to the bottom line nobody is yet facing down the real issue — the exponential expansion of medical costs. Until that is addressed nothing else matters because you will never, ever grow the economy at a constant and never-interrupted 5, 6, 7, 8, 9 or more percent a year — and the record from 1980 to today suggests that you need that number to be in excess of 9%.
Worse, for that growth rate to be real it must be in excess of debt increase in the system as a whole.
That has simply never happened in the history of America.
Either take on the medical monopolies or shut your pie holes gentlemen.
Discussion (registration required to post)
As stocks have risen in recent years, the big hedge funds and the “too big to fail” banks have used borrowed money to make absolutely enormous profits. But when you use debt to potentially multiply your profits, you also create the possibility that your losses will be multiplied if the markets turn against you. When the next stock market crash happens, and the gigantic pyramid of risk, debt and leverage on Wall Street comes tumbling down, will highly leveraged banks such as Goldman Sachs ask the federal government to bail them out? The use of leverage is one of the greatest threats to our financial system, and yet most Americans do not even really understand what it is. The following is a basic definition of leverage fromInvestopedia: “The use of various financial instruments or borrowed capital, such as margin, to increase the potential return of an investment.” Leverage allows firms to make much larger bets in the financial markets than they otherwise would be able to, and at this point Goldman Sachs and the big hedge funds are pushing leverage to ridiculous extremes. When the financial markets go up and they win on those bets, they can win very big. For example, revenues at Goldman Sachs increased by about 30 percent in 2012 and Goldman stock has soared by more than 40 percent over the past 12 months. Those are eye-popping numbers. But leverage is a double-edged sword. When the markets turn, Goldman Sachs and many of these large hedge funds could be facing astronomical losses.
Sadly, it appears that Wall Street did not learn any lessons from the financial crisis of 2008. Hedge funds have ramped up leverage to levels not seen since before the last stock market crash. The following comes from a recent Bloomberg article entitled “Hedge-Fund Leverage Rises to Most Since 2004 in New Year“…
Hedge funds are borrowing more to buy equities just as loans by New York Stock Exchange brokers reach the highest in four years, signs of increasing confidence after professional investors trailed the market since 2008.
Leverage among managers who speculate on rising and falling shares climbed to the highest level to start any year since at least 2004, according to data compiled by Morgan Stanley. Margin debt at NYSE firms rose in November to the most since February 2008, data from NYSE Euronext show.
So why is this so important?
Well, as a recent Zero Hedge article explained, even a relatively small drop in stock prices could potentially absolutely devastate many hedge funds…
What near record leverage means is that hedge funds have absolutely zero tolerance for even the smallest drop in prices, which are priced to absolute and endless central bank-intervention perfection - sorry, fundamentals in a time when global GDP growth is declining, when Europe and Japan are in a double dip recession, when the US is expected to report its first sub 1% GDP quarter in years, when corporate revenues and EPS are declining just don’t lead to soaring stock prices.
It also means that with virtually all hedge funds in such hedge fund hotel names as AAPL (the stock held by more hedge funds – over 230 – than any other), any major drop in the price would likely lead to a wipe out of the equity tranche at the bulk of AAPL “investors”, sending them scrambling to beg for either more LP generosity, or to have their prime broker repo desk offer them even more debt. And while the former is a non-starter, the latter has so far worked, which means that most hedge funds have been masking losses with more debt, which then suffers even more losses, and so on.
But hedge funds are not the only ones flirting with disaster. In a previous article about the derivatives bubble, I pointed out the ridiculous amount of derivatives exposure that some of these “too big to fail” banks have relative to their total assets…
According to the Comptroller of the Currency, four of the largest U.S. banks are walking a tightrope of risk, leverage and debt when it comes to derivatives. Just check out how exposed they are…
Total Assets: $1,812,837,000,000 (just over 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $69,238,349,000,000 (more than 69 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,347,841,000,000 (a bit more than 1.3 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $52,150,970,000,000 (more than 52 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $1,445,093,000,000 (a bit more than 1.4 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $44,405,372,000,000 (more than 44 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $114,693,000,000 (a bit more than 114 billion dollars – yes, you read that correctly)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,580,395,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
Take another look at those figures for Goldman Sachs. If you do the math, Goldman Sachs has total exposure to derivatives contracts that ismore than 362 times greater than their total assets.
That is utter insanity, but we haven’t had a derivatives crash yet so everyone just keeps pretending that the emperor actually has clothes on.
When the derivatives crisis happens, things in the financial markets are going to fall apart at lightning speed. A recent article posted on goldsilverworlds.com explained what a derivatives crash may look like…
When one big bank faces some kind of trouble and fails, the banks with the largest exposure to derivates (think JP Morgan, Citygroup, Goldman Sachs) will realize that the bank on the other side of the derivatives trade (the counterparty) is no longer good for their obligation. All of a sudden the hedged position becomes a naked position. The net position becomes a gross position. The risk explodes instantaneously. Markets realize that their hedged positions are in reality not hedged anymore, and all market participants start bailing almost simultaneously. The whole banking and financial system freezes up. It might start in Asia or Europe, in which case Americans will wake up in the morning to find out that their markets are not functioning anymore; stock markets remain closed, money at the banks become inaccessible, etc.
But for now, the party continues. Goldman Sachs and many of the big hedge funds are making enormous piles of money.
In fact, according to the Wall Street Journal, Goldman Sachs recently gave some of their top executives 65 million dollars worth of restricted stock…
Goldman Sachs Group Inc. GS -0.76% handed insiders including Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein and his top lieutenants a total of $65 million in restricted stock just hours before this year’s higher tax rates took effect.
The New York securities firm gave 10 of its directors and executives early vesting on 508,104 shares previously awarded as part of prior years’ compensation, according to a series of filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission late Monday.
And the bonuses that employees at Goldman receive are absolutely obscene. A recent Daily Mail article explained that Goldman employees in the UK are expected to receive record-setting bonuses this year…
Britain’s army of bankers will re-ignite public fury over lavish pay rewards as staff at Goldman Sachs are expected to reward themselves £8.3 billion in bonuses on Wednesday.
The American investment bank, which employs 5,500 staff in the UK, will be the first to unveil its telephone number-sized rewards – an average of £250,000 a person – as part of the latest round of bonus updates.
The increase, up from £230,000 last year, comes as British families are still struggling to make ends meet five years after banks brought the economy to the brink of meltdown.
Wouldn’t you like to get a “bonus” like that?
Life is good at these firms while the markets are going up.
But what happens when the party ends?
What happens if the markets crash in 2013?
When you bet big, you either win big or you lose big.
For now, the gigantic bets that Wall Street firms are making with borrowed money are paying off very nicely.
But a day of reckoning is coming. The next stock market crash is going to rip through Wall Street like a chainsaw and the carnage is going to be unprecedented.
Are you sure that the people holding your money will be able to make it through what is ahead? You might want to look into it while you still can.
The Expansionist State is on the path to insolvency and systemic political crisis.
The S-Curve usefully charts the gradual development, explosive rise and eventual stagnation and collapse of complex systems. Remarkably, natural phenomena such as the spread of bacteriological diseases and financial dynamics both follow S-Curves as they mature, stagnate and collapse. I have described the dominant dynamic of our era (1981-present), financialization, with the S-Curve: Financialization’s Self-Destruct Sequence (August 16, 2012)
The S-Curve also helps us understand why the Expansionist Central State is doomed to inevitable implosion/collapse. This chart displays the key dynamics:
In its initial “boost phase,” State investment in the low-hanging fruit of public infrastructure offers a high yield. Examples include rural electrification, the rapid expansion of the railroad system, the construction of the Interstate Highway system, and the publicly funded research and development of science and technology that enabled the basic protocols and software infrastructure of the world wide web.
These investments of public tax revenues acted as multipliers of private investment and leaps in productivity.
We can see in the chart that modest fiscal deficits when public monies are leveraging fast growth in the overall economy have little consequence, for tax revenues are climbing more or less alongside State expenditures as the economy rapidly expands.
The key dynamic in State spending is this: the allocation of public capital is intrinsically a political process, not a market or communal process. Thus politically powerful cartels and guilds will secure State funding for their vested interests, and potentially higher-value investments will go begging.
This is the opportunity cost of any financial decision: the opportunities left behind in the decision-making must be weighed along with the purported benefits of the chosen avenue of spending.
As the State expands its share and control of the economy, this political allocation of capital and national income also expands. As the State grabs an ever-larger share of the economy and extends its Central Planning to every layer of the economy, the “best game in town” inevitably becomes lobbying the State for funds and perquisites.
Private investment decisions start being made on the basis of State subsidies and tax loopholes rather than market-based metrics. This dynamic is especially pernicious: not only does the State increasing choose to fund projects with diminishing returns as a result of political allocation, the State’s expansion of command and control distorts private investment as well.
The Expansionist State thus distorts the investment decisions of the entire economy, public and private. Households don’t buy a home because it is a fruitful investment, they buy it to obtain the mortgage interest deduction. Corporations buy medical-supply companies because they see Medicare as low-risk cash-cow, and so on.
State expenditures cease to yield productive returns as spending increasingly goes to politically favored cartels. Did the billions of dollars spent on the B-1 Bomber in the 1980s yield a weapons system that provided leverage amd dominance? No, it was a horrendously costly and inefficient jobs project, with the defense cartel skimming millions of dollars off a program that had been terminated by those who realized the money would be better spent on other defense needs.
Has higher education improved dramatically as a result of the vast increase in spending on higher education? Has the health of American improved dramatically as a result of the vast increase in spending on healthcare? The answer in both cases is obviously no. Increasing spending simply increases systemic friction and unproductive skimming.
Central State spending has reached the point of negative returns: money is dumped into cartels but the yield on the investment is near-zero. This is the point of stagnation, where spending keeps rising but tax revenues are no longer keeping pace because the State has become an enormous drag on the economy.
Political allocation of the national income knows no bounds. Politically, there are never any limits. If tax revenues aren’t keeping pace, then the State must borrow increasing sums of money to fund its spending. Politicians and their State fiefdoms/private-sector masters, the cartels of finance, defense, healthcare, education, construction, etc. are screaming for more funding; where it comes from is secondary to easing the political pain.
So the political class raises taxes on all but the parasitic class (finance) and wealthy cartels and corporations buy loopholes and exclusions to the new taxes. The burden falls on higher income households, who then have less to invest in the private sector.
We are at the inflection point indicated on the chart where the lines cross, just before the crisis: tax revenues are lagging spending in an enormous structural deficit; the State dominates the economy and its spending cannot possibly be contained, due to the political promises made to entitlement constituencies, fiefdoms and cartels, and the drag of unproductive State spending has sent the economy into systemic decline.
Each constituency, cartel and fiefdom is convinced that they are acting in their own best interests in demanding more State funding and subsidies. As a result, they are blind to the consequence of everyone becoming dependent on the Expansionist State: the collapse of a system that is now yielding a highly negative return on State spending.
When State spending is expanding faster than tax revenues (which are a function not just of tax rates but of economic expansion) and the underlying productive (non-State, non-finance) economy, then the gap can only be filled by borrowing money. This works until the interest on the fast-rising debt begins to crowd out spending on entitlements and other politically protected programs.
Progressives assume all State spending is productive; this is clearly a false assumption. Some State spending may be productive, but when it is allocated by a corrupting political process, the inevitable outcome is most State spending devolves to unproductive transfers from the politically weak to the politically powerful.
Tweaking tax policy or raising the debt ceiling will not change any of these dynamics. The Expansionist State is on the path to implosion (insolvency) and collapse, i.e. a political crisis. If we understand the core dynamics of the Expansionist Central State–the political allocation of scarce national income to favored constituencies and cartels–we understand why this process is inevitable.
France offers an illuminating example of this path to implosion and collapse, but every Expansionist Central State from China to the U.S. is also on the same path. France, the Hidden Zombie in Europe (Mish).
I describe these dynamics in more detail in my book Resistance Revolution Liberation: A Model for Positive Change.
Charles Hugh Smith – Of Two Minds