Wednesday, November 5, 2014

American Financial Markets Have No Relationship To Reality

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As we have demonstrated in previous articles, the bullion banks (primarily JP Morgan, HSBC, ScotiaMocatta, Barclays, UBS, and Deutsche Bank), most likely acting as agents for the Federal Reserve, have been systematically forcing down the price of gold since September 2011. Suppression of the gold price protects the US dollar against the extraordinary explosion in the growth of dollars and dollar-denominated debt.

It is possible to suppress the price of gold despite rising demand, because the price is not determined in the physical market in which gold is actually purchased and carried away. Instead, the price of gold is determined in a speculative futures market in which bets are placed on the direction of the gold price. Practically all of the bets made in the futures market are settled in cash, not in gold. Cash settlement of the contracts serves to remove price determination from the physical market.

Cash settlement makes it possible for enormous amounts of uncovered or “naked” futures contracts — paper gold — to be printed and dumped all at once for sale in the futures market at times when trading is thin. By increasing the supply of paper gold, the enormous sales drive down the futures price, and it is the futures price that determines the price at which physical quantities of bullion can be purchased.

The fact that the price of gold is determined in a paper market, in which there is no limit to the supply of paper contracts that can be created, produces the strange result that the demand for physical bullion is at an all time high, outstripping world production, but the price continues to fall! Asian demand is heavy, especially from China, and silver and gold eagles are flying off the shelves of the US Mint in record quantities. Bullion stocks are being depleted; yet the prices of gold and silver fall day after day.

The only way that this makes sense is that the price of bullion is not determined in a real market, but in a rigged paper market in which there is no limit to the ability to print paper gold.
The Chinese, Russians, and Indians are delighted that the corrupt American authorities make it possible for them to purchase ever larger quantities of gold at ever lower prices. The rigged market is perfectly acceptable to purchasers of bullion, just as it is to US authorities who are committed to protecting the dollar from a rising price of gold.

Nevertheless, an honest person would think that the incompatibility of high demand with constrained supply and falling price would arouse the interest of economists, the financial media, financial authorities, and congressional committees.

Where are the class action suits from gold mining companies against the Federal Reserve, its bullion bank agents, and all who are harming the interest of the mining companies by short-selling gold with uncovered contracts? Rigged markets–especially on the basis of inside information–are illegal and highly unethical. The naked short-selling is causing damage to mining interests. Once the price of gold is driven below $1200 per ounce, many mines become uneconomical. They shut down. Miners are unemployed. Shareholders lose money. How can such an obviously rigged and manipulated price be permitted to continue? The answer is that the US political and financial system is engulfed with corruption and criminality. The Federal Reserve’s policy of rigging bond and gold prices and providing liquidity for stock market speculation has damaged the US economy and tens of millions of US citizens in order to protect four mega-banks from their mistakes and crimes. This private use of public policy is unprecedented in history. Those responsible should be arrested and put on trial and they should simultaneously be sued for damages.

US authorities use the Plunge Protection Team, the Exchange Stabilization Fund, currency swaps, Federal Reserve policy, and purchases of S&P futures to support an artificial exchange value of the dollar and to provide the liquidity needed to support stock and bond prices, with the latter so artificially high that savers receive negative real interest rates on their saving.
The authorities have created a financial system totally out of sync with reality. When the authorities can no longer keep the house of cards standing, the collapse will be extreme.

It is a testament to the complicity of economists, the incompetence of financial media, and the corruption of public authorities and private institutions that this house of cards was constructed. The executives of the handful of mega-banks that caused the problem are the people who are running the US Treasury, the New York Fed, and the US financial regulatory agencies. They are using their control over public policy to protect themselves and their institutions from their own reckless behavior. The price for this protection is being paid by the economy and ordinary Americans – and that price is rising.

The latest orchestrated takedown of the gold price is related to two events (see the graphs below). One is that the Federal Reserve decided to boost the upward spike in the dollar’s exchange rate from the Fed’s announcement of the end of Quantitative Easing (QE). The Fed’s announcement of the end of dollar creation in order to support bond prices lessened the rising anxiety in the world about the US dollar’s value when the supply of new dollars continued to increase faster than the US output of goods and services. The Fed reinforced the boost that its announcement gave to the dollar by having its bullion bank agents drive down the gold price with naked short-selling.

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Naked short selling was also used to offset the effect on the gold price by the Bank of Japan’s surprise announcement on October 31 of a massive new program of QE. Apparently, the Bank of Japan either has been pressured by Washington to inflate Japan’s currency in order to support the dollar’s value or is applying a policy based on the Keynesian Phillips Curve that 2-3% inflation stimulates economic growth. Japan has been in the economic doldrums for a long time and is now reduced to pre-Reagan “snake oil” prescriptions in a desperate attempt to revive its economy.

Japan’s announcement of infinite money creation should have caused the price of gold to rise. To prevent a rise, at 3:00 AM US Eastern Time, during one of the least active trading periods for gold futures, the electronic futures market (Globex) was hit with a sale of 25 tonnes of uncovered Comex paper gold contracts, which dropped the gold price $20 dollars. No legitimate seller would destroy his own capital by selling a position in this way.

The gold price stabilized and moved higher, but at 8 AM US Eastern Time, and 20 minutes prior to the opening of the New York futures market (Comex), another 38 tonnes of uncovered paper gold futures were sold. The only possible purpose of such a sale is to drive down the price of gold. Again, no legitimate investor would unload a huge amount of his holdings in this way, thereby wiping out his own wealth.

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Allegedly, the United States is the home of scientific economics with the predominance of winners of the Nobel Prize in economics. Despite these high qualifications, the price of gold, silver, equities, and bonds that are set in the US bear no relationship to economic reality, and American economists do not notice.

The divergence of markets from economic reality disturbs neither public policymakers nor economists, who promote the interests of the government and its allied interest groups. The result is an economy that is a house of cards.

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10 giant corporations that don’t pay taxes

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In recent years, giant corporations have started a trend when it comes to paying taxes: the greater the profit, the lower the taxes they pay.
Dissatisfaction has come from citizens, but also from public figures like senator Bernie Sanders and public advocacy group Citizens for Tax Justice.
The nonprofit group conducted a report and found out that between 2008 and 2012 no less than 288 American companies paid an average of 19.4 percent in taxes, while the statutory tax rate is 35 percent, RT reports.
In February 2014, Dave Camp, United States House Ways and Means Committee Chairman introduced a tax reform proposal which would reduce the maximum federal effective tax rate to 25 percent, the same source adds.
Citizens for Tax Justice (CTJ) concluded that 288 companies totaled $364 billion in tax subsidiaries, money which could have benefited the country. However, targeted companies accuse CTJ for not taking into consideration state and local taxes, RT states. CTJ also revealed that two thirds of the 288 analyzed companies “paid higher corporate tax rates” to governments outside the US where subsidiaries operate than the amount they paid to the American government.
The advocacy group completed its report by stating that one in 11 companies of the total of 288 paid a zero percent effective federal income tax rate and 93 of them paid a tax rate below ten percent, RTreports.
In a Senate speech, Senator Sanders stated that taxes should be paid not only by “working families, low-income people, the children, the sick, the elderly” but also by large oil companies like Exxon-Mobil and others, LiveScience stated. The same source offered examples like GE and Bank of America, enterprises which did not paid U.S. taxes in 2010, despite a profit worth billions of dollars. Tax breaks and loopholes allowed giant corporations to keep their profits intact.
1) Exxon Mobil made $19 billion in profits in 2009. Exxon not only paid no federal income taxes, it actually received a $156 million rebate from the IRS, according to its SEC filings. (Source: Exxon Mobil’s 2009 shareholder report filed with the SEC here.)
2) Bank of America received a $1.9 billion tax refund from the IRS last year, although it made $4.4 billion in profits and received a bailout from the Federal Reserve and the Treasury Department of nearly $1 trillion. (Source: here, ProPublica here and Treasury here.)
3) General Electric made $26 billion in profits in the United States over the past five years and, thanks to clever use of loopholes, paid no taxes.(Source: Citizens for Tax Justice here and The New York Times here. Note: despite rumors to the contrary, the Times has stood by its story.)
4) Chevron received a $19 million refund from the IRS last year after it made $10 billion in profits in 2009. (Source: See 2009 Chevron annual report here. Note 15 on page FS-46 of this report shows a U.S. federal income tax liability of $128 million, but that it was able to defer $147 million for a U.S. federal income tax liability of negative $19 million.)
5) Boeing, which received a $30 billion contract from the Pentagon to build 179 airborne tankers, got a $124 million refund from the IRS last year. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here and Citizens for Tax Justice here.)
6) Valero Energy, the 25th largest company in America with $68 billion in sales last year, received a $157 million tax refund check from the IRS and, over the past three years, received a $134 million tax break from the oil and gas manufacturing tax deduction. (Source: the company’s 2009 annual report, pg. 112,here.)
7) Goldman Sachs in 2008 only paid 1.1 percent of its income in taxes even though it earned a profit of $2.3 billion and received an almost $800 billion from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury Department. (Source: Bloomberg News here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
8) Citigroup last year made more than $4 billion in profits but paid no federal income taxes. It received a $2.5 trillion bailout from the Federal Reserve and U.S. Treasury. (Source: Paul Buchheit, professor, DePaul University, here, ProPublica here, Treasury Department here.)
9) ConocoPhillips, the fifth largest oil company in the United States, made $16 billion in profits from 2006 through 2009, but received $451 million in tax breaks through the oil and gas manufacturing deduction. (Sources: Profits can be found here. The deduction can be found on the company’s 2010 SEC 10-K report to shareholders on 2009 finances, pg. 127, here.)
10) Carnival Cruise Lines made more than $11 billion in profits over the past five years, but its federal income tax rate during those years was just 1.1 percent. (Source: The New York Times here.)

Why the Financial and Political System Failed

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The recent spike in global political-financial volatility that was temporarily soothed by European Central Bank (ECB) covered bond buying reveals another crack in the six-year-old throw-money-at-the-banks strategies of politicians and central bankers. The premise of using banks as credit portals to transport public funds from the government to citizens is as inefficient as it is not happening. The power elite may exude belabored moans about slow growth and rising inequality in speeches and press releases, but they continue to find ways to provide liquidity, sustenance and comfort to financial institutions, not to populations.
The very fact - that without excessive artificial stimulation or the promise of it - more hell breaks loose - is one that government heads neither admit, nor appear to discuss. But the truth is that the global financial system has already failed. Big banks have been propped up, and their capital bases rejuvenated, by various means of external intervention, not their own business models.
Last week, the Federal Reserve released its latest 2015 stress test scenarios. They don’t even exceed the parameters of what actually took place during the 2008-2009-crisis period. This makes them, though statistically viable, completely irrelevant in an inevitable full-scale meltdown of greater magnitude. This Sunday, the ECB announced that 25 banks failed their tests, none of which were the biggest banks (that received the most help). These tests are the equivalent of SAT exams for which students provide the questions and answers, and a few get thrown under the bus for cheating to make it all look legit. 
Regardless of the outcome of the next set of tests, it’s the very need for them that should be examined. If we had a more controllable, stable, accountable and transparent system (let alone one not in constant litigation and crime-committing mode) neither the pretense of well-thought-out stress tests making a difference in crisis preparation, nor the administering of them, would be necessary as a soothing tool. But we don’t. We have an unreformed (legally and morally) international banking system still laden with risk and losses, whose major players control more assets than ever before, with our help.  
The biggest banks, and the US and European markets, are now floating on more than $7 trillion of Fed and ECB intervention with little to show for it on the ground and more to come. To put that into perspective – consider that the top 100 global hedge funds manage about $1.5 trillion in assets. The Fed’s book has ballooned to $4.5 trillion and the ECB’s book stands at $2.7 trillion – a figure ECB President, Mario Draghi considers too low. Thus, to sustain the illusion of international systemic health, the Fed and the ECB are each, as well as collectively, larger than the top 100 global hedge funds combined.
Providing ‘liquidity crack’ to the financial system has required heightened international government and central bank coordination to maintain an illusion of stability, but not true stability. The definition of instability is this epic support network. It is more dangerous than in past financial crises precisely because of its size and level of political backing.
During the Panic of 1907, President Teddy Roosevelt’s Treasury Secretary, Cortelyou announced the first US bank bailout in the country’s history. Though not a member of the government, financier J.P. Morgan was chosen by Roosevelt to deploy $25 million from the Treasury. He and a team of associates decided which banks would live or die with this federal money and some private (or customers’) capital thrown in.
The Federal Reserve was established in 1913 to back the private banking system in advance from requiring future such government injections of capital. After World War I, a Laissez Faire policy toward finance and speculation, but not alcohol, marked the 1920s. before the financial system crumbled under the weight of its own recklessness again. So on October 24, 1929, the Big Six bankers convened at the Morgan Bank at noon (for 20 minutes) to form a plan to 'save' the ailing markets by injecting their own (well, their customer’s) capital.  It didn’t work. What transpired instead was the Great Depression.
After the Crash of 1929, markets rallied, and then lost 90% of their value. Liquidity froze. Credit for the masses was as unavailable, as was real money. The combined will of President FDR and the key bankers of the day worked to bolster people’s confidence in the system that had crushed them - by reforming it, by making the biggest banks smaller, by separating bet-taking arms from those in which people could store, and borrow money from, safely. Political and financial leaderships collaboratively ushered in the reform measures of the Glass-Steagall Act.  As I note in my most recent book, All the Presidents' Bankers, this Act was not merely a piece of legislation passed in spirited bi-partisan fashion, but it was also a means to stabilize a system for participants at the top, middle and bottom of it. Stability itself was the political and financial goal.
Through World War II, the Cold War, and Vietnam, and until the dissolution of the gold standard, the financial system remained fairly stable, with banks handling their own risks, which were separate from the funds of citizens. No capital injections or bailouts were required until the mid-1970s Penn Central debacle. But with the bailout floodgates reopened, big banks launched a frenzied drive for Middle East petro-dollar profits to use as capital for a hot new area of speculation, Third World loans.
By the 1980s, the Latin American Debt crisis resulted, and with it, the magnitude of federally backed bank bailouts based on Washington alliances, ballooned. When the 1994 Mexican Peso Crisis hit, bank losses were ‘handled’ by President Clinton’s Treasury Secretary (and former Goldman Sachs co-CEO) Robert Rubin and his Asst. Treasury Secretary, Larry Summers via congressionally approved aid.
Afterwards, the repeal of the Glass Steagall Act, the mega-merging of financial players, the explosion of the derivatives market, and the rise of global ‘competition’ amongst government supported gambling firms, lead to increase speculative complexity and instability, and the recent and ongoing 2008 financial crisis.  
By its actions, the US government (under both political parties) has chosen to embrace volatility rather than stability from a policy perspective, and has convinced governments in Europe to follow suit. Too big to fail has been replaced by bigger than ever.
Today, the Big Six US banks are mostly incarnations of the Big Six banks in 1929 with a few add-ons due to political relationships (notably that of Goldman Sachs, whose past partner, Sidney Weinberg struck up lasting relationships with FDR and other presidents.) 
We no longer have a private financial system responsible for its own risk, regardless of how it’s computed or supervised. We have a system whose risk is shouldered by the federal government and its central bank entities, and therefore, the people whose deposits seed that risk and whose taxes and futures sustain it.
We have a private financial system that routinely commits financial crimes against humanity with miniscule punishments, as approved by the government. We don’t even have a free market system based on the impossible notion of full transparency and opportunity, we have a publicly funded betting arena, where the largest players are the most politically connected and the most powerful politicians are enablers, contributors and supporters. We talk about wealth inequality but not this substantial power inequality that generates it. 
Today, neither the leadership in Washington, nor throughout Europe, has the foresight to consider what kind of real stress would happen when zero and negative interest rate and bond-buying policies truly run their course and wreak further havoc on their respective economies, because the very banks supported by them, will crush people, now in a weaker economic condition, more horrifically than before.
The political system that stumbles to sustain the illusion that economies can be built on rampant financial instability, has also failed us. Past presidents talked of a square deal, a new deal and a fair deal. It’s high time for a stability deal that prioritizes the real financial health of individuals over the false one of financial institutions.