Wall Street opposes increased taxes on securities transactions.
- This Is the One Place Where We Actually Need More Taxes
- [Chart] Speculative Trading on U.S. Markets Is at a Dangerous High
- Here's What Makes the Derivatives "Monster" So Dangerous (for You)
- The JPMorgan (NYSE: JPM) Stock Price Faces This $33.8 Trillion Problem
- Why a Greek Default Is a Global $360 Billion Problem That Affects Us All
- How the Masters of the Financial Universe Use Derivatives for Fun and Profit
- Here's What $1.2 Quadrillion Looks Like
- Don't Expect the Obamacare Ruling to Calm the Markets
- Bankers Committed Fraud to Get Bigger Bonuses
- Derivatives: The $600 Trillion Time Bomb That's Set to Explode
- Don't Get Duped by Derivatives
- Heavy-Handed Politics Could Boost Bank Reform, Stock Prices and the Economy
- Open Letter to Timothy Geithner: Is Your Nose Getting Longer?
- Could Goldman Sachs Share GM's Fate?
Speculative trading for long positions on the Dow and S&P 500's rise are at record highs for this year.
The $650 trillion derivatives market is a nightmare scenario waiting to happen.
First problem: the size. It's 36 times the size of the U.S. GDP and over eight times larger than the world GDP, that is, the entire global output of the entire world in a year.
While credit default swaps (the type of derivative that played a huge role in the financial crisis) have shrunk significantly in size since the financial crisis, they remain large enough to constitute a potential time bomb inside the financial system that could blow up any time.
Second problem: the interconnectedness. Every derivative contract involves two parties. In a crisis, one of these counterparties may be unable and/or unwilling to meet his obligations, leaving a volume of broken contracts that will overwhelm these institutions and render them instantly insolvent.
That's why it's crucial we understand the ramifications of these instruments - because while the derivatives monster is ugly, there are things individual investors can do now.
The JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM) stock price seems to be breaking out.
Last week, the JPM stock price hit an all-time closing high of $67.01. It's up about 380% since the end of the Great Recession.
A Greek default is inevitable. Years of piling up bailout loans without a reprieve in the Greek debt crisis prove that.
But it's not just the 300 billion or so euros in Greek debt are the problem. It's the complicated spider web of cross-collateralizations and derivative trades tied to Greek debt that are the real terror.
You would think that after the 2008 financial crisis that regulators would have driven a stake through the heart of credit default swaps. A CDS lets big financial players bet on the demise of another financial entity, and can be very destabilizing - as we all found out five years ago. And yet nothing has changed.
The global derivatives market is big. Really big. So big - and so unregulated - in fact that no one really knows exactly how big it is, but the very best estimates put the notional value at $1.2 quadrillion dollars. That handily beats the entire world's "GDP" of $71.8 trillion. The number is so big that it really defies anything on a human scale. Humans don't do quadrillions of anything - at least not usually.
Or think of it this way: There are about 2 quadrillion stars in the "El Gordo" cluster, the largest cluster of galaxies we've observed so far. The derivatives market is galactic in scope.
They were tanking on news that the latest European summit was unlikely to be a game-changer, that U.S. gross domestic product was a paltry 1.9% in the first quarter, and a New York Times story that JPMorgan Chase's derivatives loss could top $9 billion.
Then came the long-awaited decision from the country's highest court on the divisive healthcare law, the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which unhinged markets further.
The Court's historic decision shook the markets for several reasons.
But the single overriding effect of the mixed-bag decision will be its impact on markets going forward.
That's because the divided decision further fuels partisan politics going into the November elections and sets the stage for an all-or-nothing battle between Republicans and Democrats.
The chances of there being any compromise anywhere on any divisive issues before the elections is now mathematically zero, where before it was somewhere between slim and none.
The Bigger Issues Behind the Obamacare RulingWhat the markets now face aren't just healthcare, tax and spending issues.
As a result of the Court's stunning decision, we face something much bigger -- Constitutional issues of the highest and deepest order.
The High Court, with Chief Justice John Roberts unexpectedly siding with the Court's four liberal justices, rendered a 5-4 victory for President Barack Obama's prized legislation.
The ruling upholds the "individual mandate" that requires citizens to either pay for "minimum essential" health insurance or pay a "penalty" through the IRS as a "tax" towards offsetting the shared costs of national healthcare.
But the Court also struck down the Act's provision allowing the Federal Government to effectively "hold a gun to the head" of states if they failed to increase Medicaid benefits, largely expanded under the new law.
In its original form, states could lose all Federal funding of Medicaid for non-compliance with Federal demands.
By its decision the Court effectively admitted that the Commerce Clause argument underpinning the individual mandate's Constitutionality was null and void.
But while they said that the individual mandate that "forced" citizens to buy health insurance wasn't intended as a "command" that fell under the Commerce Clause, they incongruously flipped the argument on its head and agreed (by a one-vote majority) that the mandate was legal under Congress' authority to "tax" citizens for the benefit of the nation.
This is too good.
Three former employees of Credit Suisse Group AG (NYSE: CS) were charged with conspiracy to falsify books and records and wire fraud. They were accused of mismarking prices on bonds in their trading books by soliciting trumped-up prices for their withering securities from friends in the business.
By posting higher "marks" for their bonds in late 2007, they earned big year-end bonuses.
What a shock!
What's not a shock is that, after a bang-up 2007, Credit Suisse had to take a $2.85 billion write-down in the first quarter of 2008. No one knows how much of that loss was attributable to the three co-conspirators who were fired over their "wrongdoing."
Two of the three accused pled guilty. Also not shocking is the reason David Higgs - one who pled guilty - gave for his actions. He said he did it "to remain in good favor" with bosses, who determined his bonus and who profited handsomely themselves from his profitable trading and inventory marks.
As for Salmaan Siddiqui, the other trader who pleaded guilty? His attorney Ira Sorkin, the former Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) enforcement chief, said of his client: "What he did was the result of his boss and his boss' boss directing him to do it."
You know what else is shocking?
It's because risk in the $600 trillion derivatives market isn't evening out. To the contrary, it's growing increasingly concentrated among a select few banks, especially here in the United States.
In 2009, five banks held 80% of derivatives in America. Now, just four banks hold a staggering 95.9% of U.S. derivatives, according to a recent report from the Office of the Currency Comptroller.
The four banks in question: JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS).
Derivatives played a crucial role in bringing down the global economy, so you would think that the world's top policymakers would have reined these things in by now - but they haven't.
Instead of attacking the problem, regulators have let it spiral out of control, and the result is a $600 trillion time bomb called the derivatives market.
Think I'm exaggerating?
The notional value of the world's derivatives actually is estimated at more than $600 trillion. Notional value, of course, is the total value of a leveraged position's assets. This distinction is necessary because when you're talking about leveraged assets like options and derivatives, a little bit of money can control a disproportionately large position that may be as much as 5, 10, 30, or, in extreme cases, 100 times greater than investments that could be funded only in cash instruments.
The world's gross domestic product (GDP) is only about $65 trillion, or roughly 10.83% of the worldwide value of the global derivatives market, according to The Economist. So there is literally not enough money on the planet to backstop the banks trading these things if they run into trouble.
If a firm like Goldman will sit idly by while a client eats about $1 billion on a single investment, where do you think you and your portfolio land on Wall Street's list of priorities?
The message here is simple: You can't trust Wall Street - not with a $10,000 investment, a $100,000 investment, a $1 million investment, and especially not with $1 billion investment.
Goldman Sachs claims that the Libyans were picking the derivatives trades themselves. But that's exactly what they would say.
After all, if it got around that Goldman's ace traders were capable of losing virtually all of their clients' money, bonuses would fly out of the window along with most of the business. I'm sure the Libyan government would have offered a rebuttal if it weren't being toppled in a civil war.
The Libyans no doubt did much of the investment decision-making themselves, but the real problem is that there was no basis of comparison for the prices of the derivatives products they were being given.
And that's where there's a lesson to be learned. As a retail investor, you have to be able to determine a two-way price quote for whatever investment you buy.
The investment landscape is littered with the wreckage of failed structured investments.
Between 2008 and 2010 already-strapped cities and states had to pay Wall Street $4 billion in termination fees to get out of various interest rate products that had gone wrong.
For example, there's the exciting 2007 "Abacus" deal by Goldman Sachs trader "Fabulous Fab" Tourre, which lost European banks a total of $1 billion.
The investors in Fabulous Fab's Abacus deal had no independent means of assessing the value of the subprime mortgages in the pool. These were large, "sophisticated" banks, but they deluded themselves with the risk/reward tradeoff they were taking on.
Losses are not confined to the notoriously murky derivatives investments, either. I would bet that the special Goldman clients who earlier this year bought privately offered shares of Facebook Inc. at a $60 billion valuation will end up losing big on their investment as well.
As investors, most of us are not rich enough to get Wall Street's attention, but we should stay informed about how these firms are luring their clients into spectacularly bad deals.
That way we'll all know what to avoid.
In his Cooper Union speech to Wall Street and the American public yesterday (Thursday), President Obama took pointed aim at opponents of his bank-reform agenda by stating: "Unless your products depend on bilking people, there's little to fear from these reforms."
Whether or not the timing of the Goldman Sachs fraud case was politically motivated, or whether or not President Obama was referring to Goldman with his "bilking" comment, one thing is for sure: The president and his administration are taking the reform fight to the Street.
At stake in this fight is the future of our capital markets, the health of the U.S. economy and the direction of the U.S. stock market.
To see how the Obama bank-reform push could perpetuate the bull market, please read on...
I noticed you recently told the Japanese press that you intended to maintain a strong dollar, and that the Obama administration would bring the U.S. fiscal deficit back to a "sustainable balance."
Tell me, don't you feel your nose extending like Pinocchio's when you tell these fibs to innocent Asians?
The dollar is not strong. In fact, it's sinking to record levels of weakness, and it's going to stay that way, for three reasons: