Bernanke’s “stealth bailout” of RBC and other foreign banks.

To follow up on our earlier post about QE2 simply padding the excess reserves of precariously bankrupt financial institutions, I want to call attention to ZeroHedge’s excellent reporting about  QE2 amounting to nothing more than a foreign bank rescue operation.

ZeroHedge rightly identifies European banks on the NY Fed’s list of primary dealers as being main beneficiaries of QE2. Although it is interesting to draw attention to the lone Canadian bank, RBC, in this list, far more interesting are the implications of this “stealth bailout” (which provide ample support to my contention that there will definitely be QE3):

… here is Stone McCarthy’s explanation of what massive reserve sequestering by foreign banks means: “Foreign banks operating in the US often lend reserves to home offices or other banks operating outside the US. These loans do not change the volume of excess reserves in the system, but do support the funding of dollar denominated assets outside the US….Foreign banks operating in the US do not present a large source of C&I, Consumer, or Real Estate Loans. These banks represent about 16% of commercial bank assets, but only about 9% of bank credit. Thus, the concern that excess reserves will quickly fuel lending activities and money growth is probably diminished by the skewing of excess reserve balances towards foreign banks.

More points of interest:

Furthermore the data above proves beyond a reasonable doubt why there has been no excess lending by US banks to US borrowers: none of the cash ever even made it to US banks! This also resolves the mystery of the broken money multiplier and why the velocity of money has imploded.

Instead of repricing the EUR to a fair value, somewhere around parity with the USD, this stealthy fund flow from the US to Europe to the tune of $600 billion has likely resulted in an artificial boost in the european currency to the tune of 2000-3000 pips, keeping it far from its fair value of about 1.1 EURUSD.

But implication #4 is by far the most important. Recall that Bill Gross has long been asking where the cash to purchase bonds come the end of QE 2 would come from. Well, the punditry, in its parroting groupthink stupidity (validated by precisely zero actual research), immediately set forth the thesis that there is no problem: after all banks would simply reverse the process of reserve expansion and use the $750 billion in Cash that will be accumulated by the end of QE 2 on June 30 to purchase US Treasurys.


The above data destroys this thesis completely: since the bulk of the reserve induced bank cash has long since departed US shores and is now being used to ratably fill European bank balance sheet voids, and since US banks have benefited precisely not at all from any of the reserves generated by QE 2, there is exactly zero dry powder for the US Primary Dealers to purchase Treasurys starting July 1.

This observation may well be the missing link that justifies the Gross argument, as it puts to rest any speculation that there is any buyer remaining for Treasurys. Alas: the digital cash generated by the Fed’s computers has long since been spent… a few thousand miles east of the US.

Which leads us to implication #5. QE 3 is a certainty. The one thing people focus on during every episode of monetary easing is the change in Fed assets, which courtesy of LSAP means a jump in Treasurys, MBS, Agency paper, or (for the tin foil brigade) ES: the truth is all these are a distraction. The one thing people always forget is the change in Fed liabilities, all of them: currency in circulation, which has barely budged in the past 3 years, and far more importantly- excess reserves, which as this article demonstrates, is the electronic “cash” that goes to needy banks the world over in order to fund this need or that. In fact, it is the need to expand the Fed’s liabilities that is and has always been a driver of monetary stimulus, not the need to boost Fed assets. The latter is, counterintuitively, merely a mathematical aftereffect of matching an asset-for-liability expansion. This means that as banks are about to face yet another risk flaring episode in the next several months, the Fed will need to release another $500-$1000 billion in excess reserves. As to what asset will be used to match this balance sheet expansion, why take your picK; the Fed could buy MBS, Muni bonds, Treasurys, or go Japanese, and purchase ETFs, REITs, or just go ahead and outright buy up every underwater mortgage in the US. This side of the ledger is largely irrelevant, and will serve only two functions: to send the S&P surging, and to send the precious metal complex surging2 as it becomes clear that the dollar is now entirely worthless.

Financial Crises Don’t Happen by Accident

By Marc Faber

As a distant but interested observer of history and investment markets I am fascinated how major events that arose from longer-term trends are often explained by short-term causes. The First World War is explained as a consequence of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand, heir to the Austrian-Hungarian throne; the Depression in the 1930s as a result of the tight monetary policies of the Fed; the Second World War as having been caused by Hitler; and the Vietnam War as a result of the communist threat.

Similarly, the disinflation that followed after 1980 is attributed to Paul Volcker’s tight monetary policies. The 1987 stock market crash is blamed on portfolio insurance. And the Asian Crisis and the stock market crash of 1997 are attributed to foreigners attacking the Thai Baht (Thailand’s currency). A closer analysis of all these events, however, shows that their causes were far more complex and that there was always some “inevitability” at play.

Simply put, a financial crisis doesn’t happen accidentally, but follows after a prolonged period of excesses…

Take the 1987 stock market crash. By the summer of 1987, the stock market had become extremely overbought and a correction was due regardless of how bright the future looked. Between the August 1987 high and the October 1987 low, the Dow Jones declined by 41%. As we all know, the Dow rose for another 20 years, to reach a high of 14,198 in October of 2007.

These swings remind us that we can have huge corrections within longer term trends. The Asian Crisis of 1997-98 is also interesting because it occurred long after Asian macroeconomic fundamentals had begun to deteriorate. Not surprisingly, the eternally optimistic Asian analysts, fund managers , and strategists remained positive about the Asian markets right up until disaster struck in 1997.

But even to the most casual observer it should have been obvious that something wasn’t quite right. The Nikkei Index and the Taiwan stock market had peaked out in 1990 and thereafter trended down or sidewards, while most other stock markets in Asia topped out in 1994. In fact, the Thailand SET Index was already down by 60% from its 1994 high when the Asian financial crisis sent the Thai Baht tumbling by 50% within a few months. That waked the perpetually over-confident bullish analyst and media crowd from their slumber of complacency.

I agree with the late Charles Kindleberger, who commented that “financial crises are associated with the peaks of business cycles”, and that financial crisis “is the culmination of a period of expansion and leads to downturn”. However, I also side with J.R. Hicks, who maintained that “really catastrophic depression” is likely to occur “when there is profound monetary instability — when the rot in the monetary system goes very deep”.

Simply put, a financial crisis doesn’t happen accidentally, but follows after a prolonged period of excesses (expansionary monetary policies and/or fiscal policies leading to excessive credit growth and excessive speculation). The problem lies in timing the onset of the crisis. Usually, as was the case in Asia in the 1990s, macroeconomic conditions deteriorate long before the onset of the crisis. However, expansionary monetary policies and excessive debt growth can extend the life of the business expansion for a very long time.

In the case of Asia, macroeconomic conditions began to deteriorate in 1988 when Asian countries’ trade and current account surpluses turned down. They then went negative in 1990. The economic expansion, however, continued — financed largely by excessive foreign borrowings. As a result, by the late 1990s, dead ahead of the 1997-98 crisis, the Asian bears were being totally discredited by the bullish crowd and their views were largely ignored.

While Asians were not quite so gullible as to believe that “the overall level of debt makes no difference … one person’s liability is another person’s asset” (as Paul Krugman has said), they advanced numerous other arguments in favour of Asia’s continuous economic expansion and to explain why Asia would never experience the kind of “tequila crisis” Mexico had encountered at the end of 1994, when the Mexican Peso collapsed by more than 50% within a few months.

In 1994, the Fed increased the Fed Fund Rate from 3% to nearly 6%. This led to a rout in the bond market. Ten-Year Treasury Note yields rose from less than 5.5% at the end of 1993 to over 8% in November 1994. In turn, the emerging market bond and stock markets collapsed. In 1994, it became obvious that the emerging economies were cooling down and that the world was headed towards a major economic slowdown, or even a recession.

But when President Clinton decided to bail out Mexico, over Congress’s opposition but with the support of Republican leaders Newt Gingrich and Bob Dole, and tapped an obscure Treasury fund to lend Mexico more than$20 billion, the markets stabilized. Loans made by the US Treasury, the International Monetary Fund and the Bank for International Settlements totalled almost $50 billion.

However, the bailout attracted criticism. Former co-chairman of Goldman Sachs, US Treasury Secretary Robert Rubin used funds to bail out Mexican bonds of which Goldman Sachs was an underwriter and in which it owned positions valued at about $5 billion.

At this point I am not interested in discussing the merits or failures of the Mexican bailout of 1994. (Regular readers will know my critical stance on any form of bailout.) However, the consequences of the bailout were that bonds and equities soared. In particular, after 1994, emerging market bonds and loans performed superbly — that is, until the Asian Crisis in 1997. Clearly, the cost to the global economy was in the form of moral hazard because investors were emboldened by the bailout and piled into emerging market credits of even lower quality.

…because of the bailout of Mexico, Asia’s expansion was prolonged through the availability of foreign credits.

Above, I mentioned that, by 1994, it had become obvious that the emerging economies were cooling down and that the world was headed towards a meaningful economic slowdown or even a recession. But the bailout of Mexico prolonged the economic expansion in emerging economies by making available foreign capital with which to finance their trade and current account deficits. At the same time, it led to a far more serious crisis in Asia in 1997 and in Russia and the U.S. (LTCM) in 1998.

So, the lesson I learned from the Asian Crisis was that it was devastating because, given the natural business cycle, Asia should already have turned down in 1994. But because of the bailout of Mexico, Asia’s expansion was prolonged through the availability of foreign credits.

This debt financing in foreign currencies created a colossal mismatch of assets and liabilities. Assets that served as collateral for loans were in local currencies, whereas liabilities were denominated in foreign currencies. This mismatch exacerbated the Asian Crisis when the currencies began to weaken, because it induced local businesses to convert local currencies into dollars as fast as they could for the purpose of hedging their foreign exchange risks.

In turn, the weakening of the Asian currencies reduced the value of the collateral, because local assets fall in value not only in local currency terms but even more so in US dollar terms. This led locals and foreigners to liquidate their foreign loans, bonds and local equities. So, whereas the Indonesian stock market declined by “only” 65% between its 1997 high and 1998 low, it fell by 92% in US dollar terms because of the collapse of their currency, the Rupiah.

As an aside, the US enjoys a huge advantage by having the ability to borrow in US dollars against US dollar assets, which doesn’t lead to a mismatch of assets and liabilities. So, maybe Krugman’s economic painkillers, which provided only temporary relief of the symptoms of economic illness, worked for a while in the case of Mexico, but they created a huge problem for Asia in 1997.

Similarly, the housing bubble that Krugman advocated in 2001 relieved temporarily some of the symptoms of the economic malaise but then led to the vicious 2008 crisis. Therefore, it would appear that, more often than not, bailouts create larger problems down the road, and that the authorities should use them only very rarely and with great caution.

Carney vs. the British Pound

UK citizens are running out of time before Mark Carney takes over their central bank.

Carney got the Bank of England job because he was a friend of bank bailouts and has shown no reluctance when it comes to printing money.

Mike Amey, head of sterling bonds at PIMCO, believe that’s what Carney plans to do when he takes over the BoE. He predicts Carney will devalue the pound by as much as 15%. That’s because Britain is desperate, and central bankers don’t really have any solutions other than “MOAR PRINTING.”

I’m so glad Carney’s going to be gone, not that I expect Stephen Poloz to be any better. But we should feel bad for the citizens of the UK. The pound has already lost significant value in recent years.

— Read more at The Telegraph —



Trusting Bureaucrats and Politicians Will Cost You Money

Before the financial crisis in Cyprus, the Cypriot president assured voters that the government would never seize their bank deposits.

Then guess what happened?

On April 4, CMR asked if the Canadian government would have a Cyprus-like response to a banking crisis, as was implied by the language of pages 144-145 of the new budget.

The government is trying to assure us now that they won’t steal your deposits to prop up an insolvent bank. Yet Mark Carney himself wouldn’t rule out the possibility.

“Canadian institutions have substantial unsecured debt obligations in the wholesale market and as well as other classes of capital, and they have substantial capital as well, so once you stack all of that up, regardless of whether one would look to reach into it … it’s hard to fathom why it would be necessary,” the Bank of Canada governor said.

“Hard to fathom”? That is not exactly what I’d call “comforting language.” Especially because this is from a guy who is wrong nearly every time he opens his mouth.

He admitted the queue of capital buffers for banks would likely include some types of deposits, but did not elaborate.

Yet Carney also referred to a response from Flaherty’s office, which stated:

“The ‘bail-in’ scenario described in the budget has nothing to do with consumer deposits and they are not part of the ‘bail-in’ regime. Under a ‘bail-in’ arrangement, a failing financial institution has to tap into its own special reserves or assets (which it has been forced to put aside) to keep its operations going.”

“Nothing to do with consumer deposits.” Okay.

Remember Rockwell’s Law: always believe the opposite of what state-officials tell you. If they say you have nothing to worry about, then you should start worrying.

But let’s say for the sake of argument deposits are supposed to be excluded from any proposed “bail-in” scenario. What is the bank going to do? Canadian banks are capitalized about as well as Lehman Brothers before things went bad.

Consider TD. They have $818 billion in assets. They have $768 billion in liabilities. Very little equity is available to withstand losses in asset value or income. All the big Canadian banks are like this. A tremendous amount of special reserves need to be put aside to withstand even a 10% drop in the value of a Canadian bank’s assets.

There will be more crises. Canadian banks cannot survive a crisis without a government bailout. Don’t take any comfort in anything coming out of Ottawa and the BoC.

— Read more about this story at CBC — 

Is Now the Time to Get Out of the Stock Market?

Last week gold and silver got killed, especially after the rumor hit that Cyprus would sell gold to get a big fat bailout (honestly I doubt that will happen).

The slaughter continued today. I am writing this with gold at $1365. Margin calls are probably dropping left and right.

Other commodities have fallen, including oil. Bonds have rallied recently. The 30-year Treasury offers less than 3%, which is pretty much completely crazy. Meanwhile, Canada lost 54,000 jobs in March — the worst employment update in four years.

To me, these are pieces of data which imply an economic correction trying to work itself out, rather than a rippin’ recovery. If these developments justify concerns about a slowing economy, then you want to be careful about the mainstream coverage about this gold panic, and their general frenzy about  buying stocks.

US stocks, which are the hot ticket these days, seem to me dangerously high. Corporate earnings in the US are 70% above their historical average due to massive fiscal profligacy by government and citizenry, and aggressive cost-cutting post-2008. Periods of strong corporate profits are never permanent and eventually regress towards the mean. Therefore it should be expected that future earnings and dividends will disappoint.

The Fed is struggling to perpetuate the error cycle and keep the ‘recovery’ going.

Meanwhile, the TSX is not performing well this year, after being one of the world’s worst stock markets in 2012. And the TSX-V — which is where all the most exciting action is — is going to get smaller. The average level of cash held by TSX-V-listed stocks has fallen from $4.3 million in mid-2011 to about $2.8 million now. This might not sound too bad because it is still several times higher than pre-2008 levels, but on a per-share basis, it is terrible. TSX-V companies have only about 2.8 cents per share as of last quarter, a drop of more than 50% in two years. Remember, these companies don’t usually generate their own cash flows from any operations, and cash is frequently their only good asset. All the while, TSX-V companies have doubled their liabilities per share — so when the nearly 2.6 cents per share is paid off, they are basically broke. So while this says nothing about any individual companies, it suggests the junior resource sector is going to come up on some hard times.

I absolutely expect Canada and the US to join the other developed nations suffering from recession.

If you hold stocks at this time, you should seriously think about just selling most or all of them. Be ruthless about keeping only the absolute best ones. Keep the balance in cash and patiently await buying opportunities as prices fall.

If you are a long-term believer in gold, this is clearly a huge buying opportunity. Gold could still fall another 10-15% before hitting a bottom, and it could take a 6-12 months to recover. I would like to point out that during the previous gold market, there was a 20% price drop in late 1978.  We know how that turned out. Yet, if the fundamental argument for gold is still sound, then today’s prices are a godsend.

Cyprus: could something like that happen in Canada?

Marc Faber contends that at some point, everywhere will become like Cyprus.

It will happen everywhere in the world. In Western democracies, you have more people that vote for a living than work for a living. I think you have to be prepared to lose 20 to 30 percent. I think you’re lucky if you don’t lose your life … If you look at what happened in Cyprus, basically people with money will lose part of their wealth, either through expropriation or higher taxation.”

But in Canada? No way!

Well… maybe. Check out page 144 of the 2013 “Economic Action Plan” (I hate that term):

The Government proposes to implement a “bail-in” regime for systemically important banks. This regime will be designed to ensure that, in the unlikely event that a systemically important bank depletes its capital, the bank can be recapitalized and returned to viability through the very rapid conversion of certain bank liabilities into regulatory capital. This will reduce risks for taxpayers. The Government will consult stakeholders on how best to implement a bail-in regime in Canada. Implementation timelines will allow for a smooth transition for affected institutions, investors and other market participants.

The details are not made explicit in the budget document. But remember, your deposit is the bank’s liability. When the budget talks about “certain liabilities” being converted into “regulatory capital,” it kinda sounds like Canadian government might be willing to enact a Cyprus-esque solution to a banking crisis.

Apparently, this is not what they mean. Instead, Ottawa wants banks to issue “contingent capital bonds,” something Carney has advocated. These bonds would provide an above-average return. The catch is that if the bank gets into trouble, the bond is converted into shares. The bank would then have emergency capital without a taxpayer-funded bailout.

I think this is a stupid idea. Sure, I suppose banks should be able to issue whatever kind of bonds they want. However, Ottawa claims it wants to “limit the unfair advantage that could be gained by Canada’s systemically important banks through the mistaken belief by investors and other market participants that these institutions are “too big to fail.” The contingent capital bond doesn’t really do anything about that. The moral hazard still is there, because there remains an implicit assumption — which seems to permeate all Western nations at this time — that if anything bad happens to a bank that made bad investments, the entire world will explode. So the government or the central bank will have no choice but to intervene to “save the world (banks)”! We don’t even know that the government itself would not buy these bonds. Or, in a serious crisis, why they couldn’t just buy preferred bank stocks, like a Paulson plan style of bailout/bail-in.

If the implicit guarantee is still there (and why would it not be? Canada’s banks were bailed out in the financial crisis), then contingent capital bonds don’t address the moral hazard issue. Instead, they just let the moral hazard continue with a wink and a nudge, while someone gets a higher yield bond out of the deal. Meanwhile, the explicit generators of moral hazard, like the BoC, CDIC, and the CMHC, continue to exist without change.

Canada’s Big Five banks hold nearly $3 trillion in assets. Their capitalization is about 8%.  So their leverage is so great that they would not withstand even a moderate crisis on a “bail-in” of converted contingent capital bonds. A 20-30% hit on assets would crush them. The idea is a joke.

Yet, the Canadian government, for all its ineptitude, must reasonably fear that a critical Canadian bank failure is a plausible situation. Whatever their “bail-in” plan entails, you must remember that CDIC insurance covers only $100,000 of your chequing and savings deposits, and short-term GICs. It doesn’t cover your stock account or your RRSP accounts. Don’t count on the ‘geniuses’ in Ottawa to regulate the economy so effectively that all your money will be safe.

— Read more at CBC —

Carney is off to the Bank of England — Pray for England

Bank of Canada Governor and ex-Goldman bankster Mark Carney was selected to become the next Governor of the Bank of England. He will now be overseeing a central bank with nearly ten times the assets of the Bank of Canada. That is a big promotion in the world of central planners! Carney will now be able to create even larger disturbances in economic systems.

Truly, the worst rise to the top.

Good riddance, I say. Not that I expect him to be replaced with anyone much better. But there is always a chance.

I feel bad for England, though. They have no idea what they are getting themselves into (from Bloomberg):

Carney, who holds an economics degree from Harvard and a doctorate from Oxford University, swaps oversight of an economy which bounced back from the global recession without witnessing a single bank bailout for one which slipped back into recession in the second quarter and required multiple bank rescues.

Did you see what they did there?

Carney … swaps oversight of an economy which bounced back from the global recession without witnessing a single bank bailout for one which slipped back into recession in the second quarter and required multiple bank rescues.

Carney … swaps oversight of an economy which bounced back from the global recession without witnessing a single bank bailout … 

an economy which bounced back from the global recession without witnessing a single bank bailout …

without witnessing a single bank bailout

Excuse me? The banks that pushed for Carney to be their man in England have surely put the shucks on the rubes.

Of all the deleterious myths that persist about the Canadian financial system, none are more harmful or obnoxious than the bogus story that its banks never needed and/or never got a bailout.

Anyone who says this is simply lying or has no idea what they are talking about. Those are the only real possibilities. We have covered this at CMR previously, but let us quickly review.

The mainstream news doesn’t even try to deny it anymore. The Canadian banks got a bailout. Now they simply try to play down the significance of it. Even though it is was much bigger than anyone was led to believe.

So is this “no bailouts in Canada” proposition challenged by anyone in the UK? Carney is being sold on the pretense that there were no bailouts?   

(Side note: We could also mention that Canadian banks received assistance from emergency Federal Reserve lending facilities, which by itself is very interesting. We could also mention that rather material fact that Canadian banks are basically in a state of “perma-bailout” by virtue of the Canadian Deposit Insurance Corporation. The existence of the CDIC amplifies the level of risk banks are willing to engage in — it is classic “moral hazard.”)

So it would seem one is more likely to see bank bailouts with Carney, rather than less. That is precisely why the UK banking cartel wants Carney in this position.

Yet that is not the only reason citizens of the UK should worry.

Mark Carney is not only a believer in bailouts — he is a believer in Keynesianism and mercantilism. This means nothing more than this: he sees a connection between depreciating the currency and growing the economy. This he shares with nearly all central bankers (except, perhaps, those in Singapore): he regards a strong currency as harmful to “the nation”. Because when he talks about “the nation,” he is not talking about the consumers (i.e. everyone) who use their stronger currency to buy and invest in more goods. For men such as Carney, “the nation” instead refers to politically-connected export industries that are benefited by making it cheaper for foreigners to buy their stuff.

That being the case, Carney will tend to increase the money supply by adding assets to the central bank’s balance sheet whenever he thinks it’s a good idea. But this means prices must rise and debts will deepen. Britain already has big problems in these areas.

This should be the last thing someone in the UK should desire. The British pound has plummeted in value the last five years against stronger currencies like the yen. Here in Canada, it seems Carney’s manipulations have been obscured by strong demand for Canadian commodities, yet with the slowdown in Asia, Europe, and soon the US, I doubt this will persist. The Bank of Canada has been growing its balance sheet for nearly two years now, since offloading some of its emergency acquisitions during the financial crisis.

Also, it should be known that Carney likes to troll citizens whose currency he manages by blaming them for behavior that is strongly encouraged by his own central bank policies. What a jerk.

I am happy to see Carney go. While I am happy he no longer oversees the Canadian dollar, I am apprehensive about who his replacement will be. Most of all, I must also bemoan the lack of justice. Carney should be serving a prison sentence for counterfeiting, rather than getting $1 million a year to manipulate huge economies.

Nothing can save Europe.

There is no way that Europe can bail itself out. This guy makes the case with four facts:

FACT #1: Europe’s entire banking system is leveraged at 25 to 1.

This is nearly two times the US’s leverage levels. With this amount of leverage you only need a 4% drop in asset prices to wipe out ALL equity.These are literally borderline-Lehman levels of leverage (Lehman was 30 to 1).

Mind you, these leverage levels are based on asset values the banks claimare accurate. Real leverage levels are in fact likely much MUCH higher.


FACT #2: European Financial Corporations are collectively sitting on debt equal to 148% of TOTAL EU GDP.

Yes, financial firms’ debt levels in Europe exceed Europe’s ENTIRE GDP. These are just the financial firms. We’re not even bothering to mention non-financial corporate debt, household debt, sovereign debt, etc.

Also remember, collectively, the EU is the largest economy in the world (north of $16 trillion). So we’re talking about over $23 TRILLION in debt sitting on European financials’ balance sheets.

Oh, I almost forgot, this data point only includes “on balance sheet” debt. We’re totally ignoring off-balance sheet debt, derivatives, etc. So REAL financial corporate debt is much MUCH higher.


FACT #3: European banks need to roll over between 15% and 50% of their total debt by the end of 2012.

That’s correct, European banks will have to roll over HUGE quantities of their debt before the end of 2012. Mind you, we’re only talking aboutmaturing debt. We’re not even considering NEW debt or equity these banks will have to issue to raise capital.

Considering that even the “rock solid” German banks need to raise over $140 BILLION in new capital alone, we’re talking about a TON of debt issuance coming out of Europe’s banks in the next 14 months.

And this is happening in an environment prone to riots, bank runs, and failed bond auctions (Germany just had a failed bond auction yesterday).


FACT #4: In order to meet current unfunded liabilities (pensions, healthcare, etc) without defaulting or cutting benefits, the average EU nation would need to have OVER 400% of its current GDP sitting in a bank account collecting interest.

This last data point comes from Jagadeesh Gokhale, Senior Fellow at the Cato Institute, former consultant to the US Treasury, and former Senior Economic Advisor to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland.

This is a guy who’s worked at a very high level on the inside studying sovereign finance, which makes this fact all the more disturbing. And he knew this as far back as January 2009!!!

Folks, the EFSF, the bailouts, China coming to the rescue… all of that stuff is 100% pointless in the grand scheme of things. Europe’s ENTIRE banking system (with few exceptions) is insolvent. Numerous entire European COUNTRIES are insolvent. Even the more “rock solid” countries such as Germany (who is supposed to save Europe apparently) have REAL Debt to GDP ratios of over 200% and STILL HAVEN’T RECAPITALIZED THEIR BANKS.

If Europe is to get out of this disaster, the answer is not bailouts. The mammoth debt must be liquidated. Big banks who made bad loans to profligate governments need to take their losses and go bankrupt. Anyone who is holding out, expecting some kind of economic voodoo miracle, needs to take their head out of the sand and recognize that solving the European debt crisis with bailouts is impossible.

— Read more at Phoenix Capital Research — 

Bank of Canada — engine of too much debt — warns about too much debt.

The Bank of Canada is warning Canadians about too much debt.

Experience suggests a long period of very low interest rates may be associated with excessive credit creation and undue risk-taking as investors seek higher returns, leading to the underpricing of risk and unsustainable increases in asset prices.

This is a remarkable statement, really — it reveals that the Bank of Canada’s economists either don’t know economics, or they pretend not to know. The issue should not be about how low interest rates “may” be associated with excessive credit and excessive risk. Rather, there is a direct causal relationship here.

Mises wrote:

If there is credit expansion [by the central bank], it must necessarily lower the rate of interest. If the banks are to find borrowers for additional credit, they must lower the rate of interest or lower the credit qualifications of would-be borrowers. Because all those who wanted loans at the previous rate of interest had gotten them, the banks must either offer loans at a lower interest rate or include in the class of businesses to whom loans are granted at the previous rate less-promising businesses, people of lower credit quality.

This is not rocket science. It is not a complex relationship to understand at all — if interest rates rise, there will be fewer risky loans than there would be otherwise; if interest rates falls, there will be more risky loans than there would be otherwise.

But if you have a PhD in economics, like our ex-Goldman central planner at the BoC, Mark Carney, you probably are incapable of understanding this, and would say something inane like, “In light of the high level of indebtedness of Canadian households, some caution in banks’ lending to households is warranted.”

Carney does not realize that lending standards are directly related to the ease with which credit is made available. Talk is cheap. If Carney jacked up interest rates to 10% tomorrow, that would have a dramatic impact on lending standards, much more so than his oracular admonitions about risky lending.

On the other hand, what would happen if Carney decided the economy was too weak, and he cut interest rates down to zero? Then we can rightly expect that more loans would be made to those businesses and individuals would have been previously deemed unworthy of credit. 

A lot of Canadians like to think we breezed through the financial crisis without too much pain and suffering — “our banks didn’t need a bailout,” and that we are leading the way out of economic ruin.

All is not well, however. The mammoth growth of consumer debt in this country, the worst of all OECD countries at about 140% debt-to-asset levels, is a very serious problem . With our housing market still in bubble territory, unemployment relatively low, and implausibly low interest rates, Canadians have been piling on more and more debt.

It’s so bad, even the banks — you know, the ones making all these questionable loans to Canadians mired in debt — are raising concerns. You have to acknowledge this is a bit rich — but don’t worry big Canadian banks — I am sure you can keep making your risky loans and if (when) things turn ugly, someone will bail you out.

Canadian banks, bailed out by the Fed.

Documents released by the Federal Reserve show that Canadian banks used the Fed’s special loan programs to strengthen themselves when the economy started to go sour.

I find this very enlightening. First of all, there is stubborn myth that circulates our country, averring that Canadian institutions did not need a bailout. This is simply untrue. Canada’s bank bailout was a little more sophisticated, a little less blatant, than, say, the US bank bailouts, but it amounted to a bailout nonetheless. The Canadian government buffered its big financial institutions with a whopping $75 billion dollars used to buy bad assets.

Second, the Fed’s loan programs are bailouts too.

Canadian banks said the moves to seek loans from the Fed were dictated by strategy and not by necessity.

RBC accessed funding from the Fed “purely for business reasons – better pricing and collateral rules – and because they were the best deal for our shareholders at the time,” said Gillian McArdle, a bank spokesperson. “Our access to funding remained very strong through the entire crisis.”

This is an interesting thing to say. Let us think about this a bit.

Remember that the Federal Reserve has a monopoly on the creation of US dollars. It can buy any asset it wants with digital dollars created out of nothing. Other institutions cannot do anything like this.

If an institution like Royal Bank cannot raise capital on the market and turns to a central bank for help, this is a bailout. This allows it to strengthen its balance sheet in a way that would not be possible without the central bank’s intervention. Saying this does not amount to a bailout is incoherent.

Central banks exist to bail out big financial institutions and governments when markets go bad. In 2008, the Fed bought a trillion dollars or so in garbage assets that the market would not touch at face value. The Bank of Canada helped bailout banks too.

So in addition to getting bailed out by the the BoC and the Canadian government, Canadian banks were bailed out by the Federal Reserve as well!

Why is this important? In the business cycle, when the boom period reaches its apex and market forces begin initiating vengeful corrections, bad debts must be liquidated for the economy to become rebalanced. This is value of the recession — it restores soundness to the economic system by clearing out the malinvestments perpetuated by expansionary monetary policies that create the bubble. Of course, in 2008 governments and central bankers around the world stepped in to ensure that would not happen.

The fact that Canadian institutions availed themselves of the Fed’s interventionary loan programs (to say nothing of the $75 billion bailout from Canada) reveals that Canadian banks are not as strong as people claim. Like all commercial banks operating on fractional reserve banking systems, Canadian banks are inherently on the verge of bankruptcy at all times. Our system ought not be the envy of the world — instead, it is just another facet of the nightmarish system that Bank of England Governor Mervyn King candidly called “the worst banking system conceivable.”

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