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from Der Spiegel:

As speculators attack the euro, Europe is facing a growing threat of national bankruptcies. The consequences would be dramatic for the whole of the continent, especially German banks, which are highly exposed to risky debt. EU politicians are willing to pay almost any price to help the beleaguered countries. By SPIEGEL staff.

On Wall Street, they call Bill Lipschutz the “Sultan of Currencies.” He once turned the legendary investment bank Salomon Brothers into the world’s largest foreign currency trading operation. Today Lipschutz runs his own hedge fund, which specializes in currencies.

“I still approach the market the same way. I still approach it as a 24/7 market,” says Lipschutz. He trades almost constantly, even at home in his apartment in New York’s trendy NoHo district, where there are monitors everywhere. Every night, Lipschutz gets up at two or three in the morning to see what is happening on the European markets.

Europe is indeed currently the hottest topic on the global financial markets. The value of the battered euro has been falling since the Greek government confessed to the actual scope of its debt — and since it became clear that things are not looking significantly better in the other PIIGS countries (the acronym refers to Portugal, Ireland, Italy, Greece and Spain).

There has never been this much uncertainty. No one knows whether the Greeks will manage to solve their problems, whether and how other countries will come to their aid, whether the crisis can be confined to Greece or whether it will spread like wildfire among the PIIGS — and end up tearing apart the European currency union. . . . . .

 read the full article here.

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from Kitco:

Thanks to the endless barrage of feel-good propaganda that daily assaults the American mind, best epitomized a few months ago by the “green shoots,” everything’s-coming-up-roses propaganda touted by Federal Reserve Chairman Bernanke, the citizens have no idea how disastrous the country’s fiscal, monetary and economic problems truly are. Nor do they perceive the rapidly increasing risk of a totalitarian nightmare descending upon the American Republic.

One stark and sobering way to frame the crisis is this: if the United States government were to nationalize (in other words, steal) every penny of private wealth accumulated by America’s citizens since the nation’s founding 235 years ago, the government would remain totally bankrupt.

According to the Federal Reserve’s most recent report on wealth, America’s private net worth was $53.4 trillion as of September, 2009. But at the same time, America’s debt and unfunded liabilities totaled at least $120,000,000,000,000.00 ($120 trillion), or 225% of the citizens’ net worth. Even if the government expropriated every dollar of private wealth in the nation, it would still have a deficit of $66,600,000,000,000.00 ($66.6 trillion), equal to $214,286.00 for every man, woman and child in America and roughly 500% of GDP. If the government does not directly seize the nation’s private wealth, then it will require $389,610 from each and every citizen to balance the country’s books. State, county and municipal debts and deficits are additional, already elephantine in many states (e.g., California, Illinois, New Jersey and New York) and growing at an alarming rate nationwide. In addition to the federal government, dozens of states are already bankrupt and sinking deeper into the morass every day.…

It is estimated that the top 1% of Americans control roughly 40% of the nation’s wealth. In other words, 3 million people own $21,400,000,000,000.00 ($21.4 trillion) in net private assets, while the other 305 million own the remaining $32,000,000,000,000.00 ($32 trillion). 77,000,000 (77 million) Americans (the lowest 25%) have mean net assets of minus $2,300 ($-2,300.00) per person; they live from paycheck to paycheck, or on public assistance. The lower 50% of Americans own mean net assets of $27,800 each, about enough to purchase a modest car. Obviously, it would be impossible to retire on such an amount without significant government or other assistance. Meanwhile, the richest 10% of Americans possess mean net assets of $3,976,000.00 each, or 143 times those of the bottom 50%; the top 2% control assets worth more than 1,500 times those in the bottom 50%. When you combine these facts with Wall Street’s typical multi-million dollar annual bonuses, you get an idea of wealth inequality in America. Historically, such extreme inequality has been a well-documented breeding ground for totalitarianism.

If the government decides to expropriate (steal) or commandeer (e.g., force into Treasuries) America’s private wealth in order to buy survival time, such a measure will be designed to destroy the common citizens, not the elite. Insiders will be given advance warning about any such plan, and will be able to transfer their money offshore or into financial vehicles immune from harm. Assuming that the elite moves its money to safety, there would then be $120,000,000,000,000.00 ($120 trillion) in American debt and liabilities supported by only $32,000,000,000,000.00 ($32 trillion) in private net worth, for a deficit of $88,000,000,000,000.00 ($88 trillion). In that case, each American would owe $285,714.29 to balance the country’s books. (Remember to multiply this amount by every person in your household, including any infant children.)

If the common people suspect that something diabolical was in the works, a portion of the $32 trillion in non-elite wealth could be evacuated as well prior to a government expropriation and/or currency devaluation, resulting in less money for the government to steal. What these statistics mean is that it is absolutely impossible for the government to fund its debt and deficits, even if it steals all of the nation’s private wealth. Therefore, the government’s only solutions are either formal bankruptcy (outright debt repudiation and the dismantling of bankrupt government programs) or unprecedented American monetary inflation and debt monetization. If the government chooses to inflate its way out of this fiscal catastrophe, the United States dollar will essentially become worthless. You can be absolutely certain that a PhD. in economics, such as Dr. Bernanke, is well aware of these realities, despite what he might say in speeches. For that matter, so are Chinese schoolchildren, who, when patronized by Treasury Secretary Geithner about America’s “strong dollar,” laughed in his face. One day, perhaps America’s school children will receive a real education so that they, too, will know when to laugh at absurd propaganda.…

These deficits and debts are now so gargantuan that they have become surreal abstractions impossible even for sophisticated financiers to begin to comprehend. The common citizen has absolutely no idea what these numbers mean, or imply for his or her future. The people have been deluded into thinking that America’s arrogant, egomaniacal, always-wrong-but-never-in-doubt fiscal witch doctors and charlatans, including Greenspan, Rubin, Summers, Geithner and Ponce de Bernanke, have discovered a Monetary Fountain of Youth that endlessly spits up free money from the center of earth, in a geyser of good will toward the United States. Unfortunately, this delusion is false: there is no Monetary Fountain of Youth, and contrary to the apparent beliefs of the self-deified man-gods in Washington, D.C., the debt and deficits are real, completely out of control, and 100% guaranteed to create catastrophic consequences for the nation and its people.

When government “representatives” deliberately sell into slavery the citizens of a so-called free Republic, they have committed treason against those people. This is exactly what has happened in the United States: the citizens have been sold into debt slavery that they and their descendants can never escape, because the debts piled onto their backs can never, ever be paid. Despite expensive and sophisticated brainwashing campaigns emanating from Washington, claiming that America can “grow” out of its deficits and debt, it is arithmetically impossible for the country to do so. The government’s statements that it can dig the nation out of its fiscal hole by digging an even deeper chasm have become parodies and perversions of even totally discredited and morally disgusting Keynesianism.

The people no longer have elected representatives; they have elected traitors.

The enslavement of the American people has been orchestrated by a pernicious Master Class that has taken the United States by the throat. This Master Class is now choking the nation to death as it accelerates its master plan to plunder the people’s dwindling remaining assets. The Master Class comprises politicians, the Wall Street money elite, the Federal Reserve, high-end government (including military) officials, government lobbyists and their paymasters, military suppliers and media oligarchs. The interests and mindset of the Master Class are so totally divorced from those of the average American citizen that it is utterly tone deaf and blind to the justifiable rage sweeping the nation. Its guiding ethics of greed, plunder, power, control and violence are so alien to mainstream American culture and thought that the Master Class might as well be an enemy invader from Mars. But the Master Class here, it is real and it is laying waste to America. To the members of the Master Class, the people are not fellow-citizens; they are instruments of labor, servitude and profit. At first, the Master Class viewed the citizens as serfs; now that they have raped and destroyed the national economy, while in the process amassing unprecedented wealth and power for themselves, they see the people as nothing more than slaves.

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from Forbes:

Not too long ago, a billion dollars in a governmental budget was a lot of money. Then we got into hundreds of billions. People understood that this was a lot, just because of all the zeros. Now, unfortunately, the number has become small: the world “trillion,” as in $1.2 trillion for health care reform, seems so tiny. But it has 12 zeroes behind it, which is so easy to forget.

If the government stays on the course it’s been on for the past forty years without a radical change, the federal government will soon have a $10 trillion budget.

In other words, the federal budget deficit will be $1.4 trillion. Just to make the size more visible, that’s $1,400 billion.

Our colleague Rob Arnott, who always does terrific research, wrote in his recent report that “at all levels, federal, state, local and GSEs, the total public debt is now at 141% of GDP. That puts the United States in some elite company–only Japan, Lebanon and Zimbabwe are higher. That’s only the start. Add household debt (highest in the world at 99% of GDP) and corporate debt (highest in the world at 317% of GDP, not even counting off-balance-sheet swaps and derivatives) and our total debt is 557% of GDP. Less than three years ago our total indebtedness crossed 500% of GDP for the first time.”

Add the unfunded portion of entitlement programs and we’re at 840% of GDP.

The world has not seen such debt levels in modern history. This debt is not serviceable. Imagine that total debt is 557% of GDP, without considering entitlements. The interest on the debt will consume all the tax revenues of the country in the not-too-distant future. Then there will be no way out but to create more debt in order to finance the old debt.

It assures a period of economic devastation. In a last, desperate attempt, politicians at the federal and local levels will raise taxes to astronomical heights to raise revenues. And that only assures destruction of the economy. Forget the fable of economic recovery. Unless there is a change in Washington by next year’s election, there will be no way to turn back.

Japan’s recession is now 19 years old. It has the highest debt-to-GDP level (227%) of any industrialized country. The Fitch rating agency is talking about a potential downgrade of Japan’s debt. Japan’s stock market is still down 75% from the high in 1990. We predict it will make new bear market lows next year. That will make it a 20-year-long bear market on the way to 25 years. The bulls in the U.S. should consider that possibility in the formerly great United States of America.

I do not believe the bullish theory that the U.S. situation is different than Japan’s. Ours is so much worse.

Is it any wonder that our biggest creditors, China, Russia and the Middle East, are diversifying out of the dollar and into gold?

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from The Daily Telegraph:

Britain and other countries with fast-rising government debts must steel themselves for a year in which “social and political cohesiveness” is tested, Moody’s warned.

In a sombre report on the outlook for next year, the credit rating agency raised the prospect that future tax rises and spending cuts could trigger social unrest in a range of countries from the developing to the developed world.

It said that in the coming years, evidence of social unrest and public tension may become just as important signs of whether a country will be able to adapt as traditional economic metrics. Signalling that a fiscal crisis remains a possibility for a leading economy, it said that 2010 would be a “tumultuous year for sovereign debt issuers”.

It added that the sheer quantity of debt to be raised by Britain and other leading nations would increase the risk of investor fright.

Strikingly, however, it added that even if countries reached agreement on the depth of the cuts necessary to their budgets, they could face difficulties in carrying out the cuts. The report, which comes amid growing worries about Britain’s credit rating, said: “In those countries whose debt has increased significantly, and especially those whose debt has become unaffordable, the need to rein in deficits will test social cohesiveness. The test will be starker as growth disappoints and interest rates rise.”

It said the main obstacle for fiscal consolidation plans would be signs not necessarily of economic strength but of “political and social tension”.

Greece, where the government has committed to drastic cuts in public expenditure, has suffered a series of riots over the past year which are thought to have been fuelled by economic pressures.

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from Layoff List:

The media and government officials often tout the unemployment rate using the official, or U3 rate, which stands at 10.2% for October. While 10.2% unemployment is certainly bad enough – it’s the highest rate nationally excluding 1983s 10.8% – it pales when compared to the U6 unemployment rate. First let’s discuss the differences between U3 and U6 measures.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) the U3 measure is described as “total unemployed, as a percent of the civilian labor force (official unemployment rate).” Now let’s take a look at the BLS U6 measure: Total unemployed, plus all marginally attached workers, plus total employed part time for economic reasons, as a percent of the civilian labor force plus all marginally attached workers.

When including marginally attached workers and those forced to work part-time instead of full-time we have a national unemployment rate of 17.5%, which is nearly 70% higher than the U3 rate of 10.2%. That’s a dramatic increase from the normally quoted U3 unemployment rate, but even U6 fails to provide the actual percentage of people who are, or may be considered unemployed.

John Williams discusses alternative unemployment data sets at his Shadow Government Statistics site. Their service, in part, “exposes and analyzes flaws in current U.S. government economic data and reporting.” Once those flaws are included in the unemployment calculation – called the SGS Alternate – the unemployment rate reaches 22%. Shadow Government Statistics gives the following reason for SGS Alternate measure: “The SGS Alternate Unemployment Rate reflects current unemployment reporting methodology adjusted for SGS-estimated “discouraged workers” defined away during the Clinton Administration added to the existing BLS estimates of level U-6 unemployment.”

To clarify why the discrepancy between U6 and the SGS Alternate rate of 22%, I contacted the BLS and received the following answer to my question about the change in discouraged worker designation during the Clinton Administration:

“(P)rior to 1994 persons were not asked whether they had searched for work recently. If they gave one of the five “discouraged worker” reasons for not looking for work in the past 4 weeks, they were assumed to have “given up” the search for work, although they weren’t asked when they had last looked. As a result of the greater specificity introduced in 1994, the number of discouraged workers was cut approximately in half, from about 1.1 million in 1993 to 500,000 in 1994.”

About 600,000 people were removed from the unemployment calculations in 1994, so if you merely add those 600,000 to the current U6 number, the rate of unemployment would be much higher than 17.5% and would more accurately be reflected in the SGS Alternate unemployment rate of 22%.

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from the Daily Telegraph:

Britain risks becoming the first country in the G10 bloc of major economies to risk capital flight and a full-blown debt crisis over coming months, according to a client note by Morgan Stanley.

The US investment bank said there is a danger Britain’s toxic mix of problems will come to a head as soon as next year, triggered by fears that Westminster may prove unable to restore fiscal credibility.

“Growing fears over a hung parliament would likely weigh on both the currency and gilt yields as it would represent something of a leap into the unknown, and would increase the probability that some of the rating agencies remove the UK’s AAA status,” said the report, written by the bank’s European investment team of Ronan Carr, Teun Draaisma, and Graham Secker.

“In an extreme situation a fiscal crisis could lead to some domestic capital flight, severe pound weakness and a sell-off in UK government bonds. The Bank of England may feel forced to hike rates to shore up confidence in monetary policy and stabilize the currency, threatening the fragile economic recovery,” they said.

Morgan Stanley said that such a chain of events could drive up yields on 10-year UK gilts by 150 basis points. This would raise borrowing costs to well over 5pc – the sort of level now confronting Greece, and far higher than costs for Italy, Mexico, or Brazil.

High-grade debt from companies such as BP, GSK, or Tesco might command a lower risk premium than UK sovereign debt, once an unthinkable state of affairs.

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from CNN:

Unless lawmakers make big changes, the interest Americans will have to pay to keep the country running over the next decade will reach unheard of levels.

Here’s a new way to think about the U.S. government’s epic borrowing: More than half of the $9 trillion in debt that Uncle Sam is expected to build up over the next decade will be interest.

More than half. In fact, $4.8 trillion.

If that’s hard to grasp, here’s another way to look at why that’s a problem.

In 2015 alone, the estimated interest due – $533 billion – is equal to a third of the federal income taxes expected to be paid that year, said Charles Konigsberg, chief budget counsel of the Concord Coalition, a deficit watchdog group.

On the bright side – such as it is – the record levels of debt issued lately have paid for stimulus and other rescue programs that prevented the economy from falling off a cliff. And the money was borrowed at very low rates.

But accumulating any more interest on what the United States owes at this point is like extreme sport: dangerous.

All the more so because interest rates will rise when private sector borrowers return to the debt market and compete with the government for capital. At that point, the country’s interest payments could jack up very fast.

“When interest rates rise even a small amount, the interest payments go up a lot because of the size of the debt,” Konigsberg said.

The Congressional Budget Office, which made the $4.8 trillion forecast, already baked some increase in rates into the cake. But there is always a chance those estimates may prove too conservative.

And then it’s Vicious Circle 101 – well known to anyone who has gotten too into hock with Visa and MasterCard.

The country depends heavily on borrowing to fund what it wants to do. But the more debt it racks up, the more likely it becomes that creditors could demand a higher interest rate for making new loans to the government.

Higher rates in turn make it harder to pay off the underlying debt because more and more money is going to pay off interest – money, by the way, which is also borrowed.

And as more money goes to interest, creditors may become concerned that the country can’t pay down its principal and lawmakers will have less to fund all the things government is supposed to do.

“[P]olicymakers would be less able to pay for other national spending priorities and would have less flexibility to deal with unexpected developments (such as a war or recession). Moreover, rising interest costs would make the economy more vulnerable to a meltdown in financial markets,” the CBO wrote in its most recent long-term budget outlook.

So far, that crisis of confidence hasn’t happened. And no one can predict with any certainty whether or when it could occur.

But should it occur, the change could be abrupt.

That’s because the government frequently rolls over – or refinances – the debt it has issued as it comes due.

In other words, when a Treasury bond or note matures, the government must pay the investor the face value on that debt. In order to do that, the Treasury borrows money to pay back the investor, which means the debt would be refinanced at whatever the going interest rates are at the time.

Just how much churn is there? Of late, a fair bit it seems. A Treasury borrowing advisory committee reported in early November that “approximately 40 percent of the debt will need to be refinanced in less than one year.”

Since rates may well stay low over the next year, it’s possible that debt could be refinanced at the same or even lower rates. But that situation won’t last forever. . . . .

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before reading this article read this: Drop in Foreclosures Called “Very Scary”

from Miller-McCune:

It’s been almost a year since Horatio Bernard effectively lost his Baltimore row house to foreclosure and roughly 15 months since he last made a payment on his primary mortgage.

And yet to his amazement and those following his story, Bernard continues living in the home with his ailing mother without any sign of an eviction notice or word from his lender, in this case JP Morgan Chase and then US Bank.

“I haven’t paid a dime,” Bernard told me, sounding gleeful over the phone.…

There’s even a chance Bernard could get to stay in his home a lot longer. That’s because like hundreds of thousands of other homeowners in America these days, Bernard falls into what real estate experts call a shadow market, the growing backlog of foreclosures and bank-owned properties yet to reach real estate markets.

For various reasons, banks have slowed down the foreclosure process causing a reprieve for homeowners like Bernard while at the same time building a swell of foreclosed homes delayed from hitting the market. If they were to flood real estate markets at once, banks would suffer under a glut of inventory drawing down overall prices. So the banks have held back, in effect drawing out the nation’s recovery.

The shadow market today – those in distress or in some stage of foreclosure — represents roughly 14 percent of existing mortgages, says Rick Sharga, senior vice president of RealtyTrac, which compiles nationwide data on foreclosures.

“Right now what we’re seeing is delays in the entire process,” Sharga said. “It started in the fourth quarter of last year where we saw a spike in delinquencies that didn’t match a corresponding spike in foreclosures. What that suggested to us is it was taking the banks longer, for whatever reason, to execute on the foreclosure process. So we’re getting a buildup of properties that normally would have been in foreclosure but weren’t. That has continued to escalate. We’re now at record levels of delinquencies. Probably 10 percent of active mortgages are delinquent, and another 4 percent are in foreclosure.”

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Many people do not understand that the lions share of investment capital in the world is from unseen and shadowy entitiies that look to exploit loopholes, lax regulations and secret transactions to maximize their profits, and when a government, especially in a time of financial meltdown decides to force banks and other countries to open up those secret transactions then the investment from those entities look elsewehere to hide their money.

from swissinfo:

Swiss private bank Wegelin announced on Tuesday that it is to stop doing business in the United States.

The St Gallen-based bank, Switzerland’s oldest, said the decision had been taken in response to stricter measures introduced in the US against tax dodgers and planned changes to estate tax, which would make some non-US citizens liable to tax if they inherited US securities.

In a letter to investors it said Swiss banks were likely to find themselves in an untenable position, as they would be expected to know which clients were liable to pay US tax – “an impossible undertaking”, given the lack of clear definitions in the matter.

The danger of inadvertently making false declarations to the US tax authorities will be too great, it explained.

It added that it believes the US overestimates its attraction as a financial centre, and is advising its clients to get out of all US securities.

The decision comes a week after US tax authorities reached a deal with the Swiss government which will see bank UBS hand over details of almost 4,500 suspected tax cheats.

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from Bloomberg:

More than 150 publicly traded U.S. lenders own nonperforming loans that equal 5 percent or more of their holdings, a level that former regulators say can wipe out a bank’s equity and threaten its survival.

The number of banks exceeding the threshold more than doubled in the year through June, according to data compiled by Bloomberg, as real estate and credit-card defaults surged. Almost 300 reported 3 percent or more of their loans were nonperforming, a term for commercial and consumer debt that has stopped collecting interest or will no longer be paid in full.

The biggest banks with nonperforming loans of at least 5 percent include Wisconsin’s Marshall & Ilsley Corp. and Georgia’s Synovus Financial Corp., according to Bloomberg data. Among those exceeding 10 percent, the biggest in the 50 U.S. states was Michigan’s Flagstar Bancorp. All said in second- quarter filings they’re “well-capitalized” by regulatory standards, which means they’re considered financially sound.

“At a 3 percent level, I’d be concerned that there’s some underlying issue, and if they’re at 5 percent, chances are regulators have them classified as being in unsafe and unsound condition,” said Walter Mix, former commissioner of the California Department of Financial Institutions, and now a managing director of consulting firm LECG in Los Angeles. He wasn’t commenting on any specific banks.

Missed payments by consumers, builders and small businesses pushed 72 lenders into failure this year, the most since 1992. More collapses may lie ahead as the recession causes increased defaults and swells the confidential U.S. list of “problem banks,” which stood at 305 in the first quarter.

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