Financial News, Politics, and other Skullduggery

Financial News, Politics, And Other Skulduggery

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

More cracks in the ice

Greece and Italian presidents step down while new governments are organized, the Eurozone looks to separate itself from other European countries, Germany positions itself as financial leader, today bank shutdowns are happening in Latvia and Lithuania. Are we seeing more cracks in an already thinning veneer of ice which separates the global economy from the inevitable: collapse? Meanwhile, as the MF Global scam reveals itself, JP Morgan is slapped with the biggest fine ever.

Hedge fund broker Ann Barnhardt, after shutting down her own firm BCM, says:

“I could no longer tell my clients that their monies and positions were safe in the futures and options markets – because they are not,” And this goes not just for my clients, but for every futures and options account in the United States. The entire system has been utterly destroyed by the MF Global collapse. Given this sad reality, I could not in good conscience take one more step as a commodity broker, soliciting trades that I knew were unsafe or holding funds that I knew to be in jeopardy."
"...I have learned over the last week that MF Global is almost certainly the mere tip of the iceberg. There is massive industry-wide exposure to European sovereign junk debt. While other firms may not be as heavily leveraged as Corzine had MFG leveraged, and it is now thought that MFG’s leverage may have been in excess of 100:1, they are still suicidally leveraged and will likely stand massive, unmeetable collateral calls in the coming days and weeks as Europe inevitably collapses."

The derivatives market is valued at 1.2 quadrillion dollars. Putting that number in perspective, betelgeuse, the red giant star that is unimaginably larger than our sun, is 4 quadrillion miles away and appears in the night sky barely as a speck of starlight. The GDP of the US is 14 trillion dollars, its entire money supply is 15 trillion dollars,, while entire world GDP is 50 trillion. Does that sound over-inflated? Do pigs with dollar signs have wings?

In other news...

Last week Lithuania’s fifth largest bank, Snoras, was nationalised as Lithuanian authorities shut down the bank after it observed irregularities in the bank’s operations. This morning the Latvian authorities suspended the Latvijas Krajbanka (Latvian Savings Bank). Krajbanka is Latvia’s ninth largest bank.

We think the systemic risk from these events should be relatively limited if handled properly by the authorities. That said, the collapse of especially Snoras is not good news for the Lithuanian economy as it creates uncertainty about the economic outlook. In our view it is especially important that the nationalisation of Snoras is handled in such a way as to put minimal pressure on Lithuanian public finances that are in a precarious state as it is. A full nationalisation of Snoras in the sense of taking over all liabilities would be unwarranted.

Yesterday Lithuanian Prime Minister Kubilis said that the problems at Snoras might involve “shady financial transactions” (according to the news agency Reuters) and the case was more “complicated” than initially thought. Lithuanian central bank governor Vasiliauskas at a news conference said that “we thought it was a flu, but now it seems to be a small cancer”. These comments obviously give some reason for concern.
So far the market reaction in the local markets has been limited. Not surprisingly the share price of some of the small locally-owned banks in Lithuania has been under pressure. This morning there is also a bit of pressure on the Latvian lat and local rates and yields are up a bit.

Furthermore, last week when the news of Snoras’ collapse broke we saw an initial minor negative reaction in the Swedish krona, but since then there has not been any visible spillover to the Scandinavian FX and fixed income markets, where the euro debt crisis continues to dominate.

According to Snoras, the bank is Lithuania’s fourth-largest by capital size and ranks fifth in terms of assets. The exact causes behind Snoras’s financial difficulties have not been made clear. The idea of a bank-run causes shivers in Latvia. In November 2008, it nationalized Parex, the Baltic state’s largest locally-owned bank, after depositors jittery about the country’s deepening economic crisis began withdrawing their cash. A month later, Latvia was forced to turn the EU and International Monetary Fund for a 7.5-billion-euro emergency loan package, which has been paid out in tranches amid one of the most draconian austerity drives in Europe. Latvia’s economy shrank by 18 percent in 2009, the deepest recession in the 27-nation EU, but has been recovering for a year. -Lativa Limits Bank Withdrawals On Lithuania Spillover Fears

Friday, November 4, 2011

Vultures take to the Squawk Box

John Kanas is Chairman and CEO with Bank United. Oliver Sarkozy, brother of Nicolas Sarkozy, is on the board of Bank United and Managing Director of the Carlyle Group, buying troubled financial institutions around the world. When financial players toss around figures, numbers seem to enter the realm of the imaginary. Indeed, we live in a world devised around many fictions where livelihoods become statistic rather than actual tangible reality.

While "urgent action is needed" in the global economy today, you'll not find any of the profiteers offering genuine solutions other than that of extended borrowing and further bail-outs. Those making such pleas are generally on the ground protesting while being ridiculed for expressing their opinions. And as long as the rich are still able to siphon off the lowest tiers (where wealth is created) it's business as usual, at least until the rigged game is finally revealed for what it is.

What's John Kanas up to? (May 2010)
By Steve Cocheo, executive editor,

The former CEO of North Fork Bank and his private equity partners is converting Florida’s BankUnited, a failed S&L, into “North Fork South,” using the same aggressive tactics he used in New York.

John Kanas and a group of private equity players—with help from FDIC—work to remake Florida’s failed BankUnited using the North Fork Bank playbook

John Kanas isn’t one for apologies. He brings a New Yorker’s direct attitude and action to the Florida banking market. His $11.1 billion-assets BankUnited, since its recapitalization after closure, has made a very public effort to snatch up bankers from other organizations who can help the reborn savings institution build and transform its business. When told that a Florida community banker accused BankUnited of “lack of decorum,” Kanas smiles, raises his hand, and says, “Guilty.”

“Look,” says Kanas. “Banking is changing. For many years the relations between bankers have been collegial, fraternal. Times are different today. Our job is go find the best possible employees we can, and put them to work managing our capital base, and turning their work into successful results. Unfortunately for some of our competitors, some of our people used to work for them. And we have been aggressive going after them.”

Kanas has never been shy in this regard. He built North Fork Bancorporation into a major New York-area player and the sixteenth-largest bank in the country from a community bank in rural Long Island. He accomplished that, in part, by courting commercial lending “rainmakers.”
BankUnited actually ran ads in 2009 urging Florida bankers who wanted to enjoy their work again to fill out a coupon in the ad to resign, and come to join Kanas.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

Politicians backlash at the thought of doing anything for a change

The Prime Minister of Greece, George Papandreou , was forced to retract a call for a referendum to deal with its massive looming debt crisis. It's not that the attempt would have amounted to very much, actually (aside from giving the people of Greece a chance to direct their own fate)--it's the simple thought of having to do anything at all that has troubled world leaders, and the possibility of Greece exiting the Euro Zone. The European leaders are clinging to notions of keeping the EU as one, just the same as American leaders wish to keep the "too big to fail" banks from failing. While the small local banks are allowed to fail, it is the large corporate banks at the center of the mess that are reaping the rewards and have received the lion's share of aid from the tax-payers, most of which will never be paid back.

Greece is at the front lines of the greater economic crisis, while the United States is not far behind (with riots, tire burning, and increased police crack-downs likely to come). But as long as the great illusion is perpetuated, things will be stretched out a little further, perhaps until sometime in 2012 or 2013. It's difficult to say for sure--it was actually a wonder the house of cards didn't fall back in 2008 (faith is obviously a very strong force). We've become complacent living in the present and recent past, confident that nothing will change despite our unsustainable lifestyles.

From the looks of it, we can expect the Occupy Movement to stick around a little while longer, and possibly even rebound more strongly after winter, if for no other reason than the dynamic must change but those at the top are in place to resist change.