The U.S. banks huge exposure to derivatives-222 trillion dollars
The recklessness of the “too big to fail” banks almost doomed them the last time around, but apparently they still haven’t learned from their past mistakes. Today, the top 25 U.S. banks have 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives. In other words, the exposure that these banks have to derivatives contracts is approximately equivalent to 12 times the gross domestic product of the United States. As long as stock prices continue to rise and the U.S. economy stays fairly stable, these extremely risky financial weapons of mass destruction will probably not take down our entire financial system. But someday another major crisis will inevitably happen, and when that day arrives the devastation that these financial instruments will cause will be absolutely unprecedented.
During the great financial crisis of 2008, derivatives played a starring role, and U.S. taxpayers were forced to step in and bail out companies such as AIG that were on the verge of collapse because the risks that they took were just too great.
But now it is happening again, and nobody is really talking very much about it. In a desperate search for higher profits, all of the “too big to fail” banks are gambling, and at some point a lot of these bets are going to go really bad. The following numbers regarding exposure to derivatives contracts come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report:
Total Assets: $1,792,077,000,000 (slightly less than 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,092,584,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $2,490,972,000,000 (just under 2.5 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $46,992,293,000,000 (nearly 47 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $860,185,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,227,878,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $2,189,266,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $33,132,582,000,000 (more than 33 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $814,949,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $28,569,553,000,000 (more than 28 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,930,115,000,000 (more than 1.9 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $7,098,952,000,000 (more than 7 trillion dollars)
Collectively, the top 25 banks have a total of 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives. (That is $222,000,000,000,000).
Curious what 1 trillion dollars look like? The following picture shows that, (it is one hundred rows x 100 pallets per row is 10,000 pallets of $100 bills. Notice those pallets are double stacked):
As a contrast, here is a “mere” 1Billion
And it is not only U.S. banks who have this huge exposure, all big EU banks have the same problem. As just one example Deutsche Bank (from last year):
14 times the gross domestic product of the Germany. And 3 times the gross domestic product of the whole of EU. And that’s just one bank.
Those that trade derivatives are essentially engaged in a form of legalized gambling, and some of the brightest names in the financial world have been warning about the potentially destructive nature of these financial instruments for a very long time.
In a letter that he wrote to shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway in 2003, Warren Buffett actually referred to derivatives as “financial weapons of mass destruction”:
“The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.”
Warren Buffett was right on the money when he made that statement, and of course the derivatives bubble is far larger today than it was back then.
In fact, the total notional value of derivatives contracts globally is in excess of 500 trillion dollars.
This is a disaster that is just waiting to happen.
And if you connect this gigantic exposure to derivatives by U.S. Banks with new figures of US Household Debt you get a very worrying picture.
Total debt held by US household reached $12.73 trillion in the first quarter of 2017, finally surpassing its $12.68 trillion peak reached during the recession in 2008 according to the NY Fed's latest quarterly report on household debt. This marked a $479 billion increase from a year ago, and up $149 billion from Q4 2016 after 11 consecutive quarters of growth since the deleveraging period immediately following the Great Recession.
◦Auto loan balances increased by $10 billion Q/Q and $96 billion Y/Y, continuing their 6-year trend. Auto loan delinquency rates were flat, with 3.8% of auto loan balances 90 or more days delinquent on March 31.
◦Credit card balances declined by $15 billion Q/Q but increased by $52 billion Y/Y to $764 billion, while 90+ day delinquency rates deteriorated, and now stand at 7.5%.
◦Outstanding student loan balances increased by $34 billion Q/Q and $83 billion Y/Y, and stood at $1.34 trillion as of March 31, 2017, marking an increase in every year throughout the 18-year history of this series.
For the moment, financial markets continue to remain completely disconnected from the hard economic data, but as we saw in 2008 the markets can plunge very rapidly once they start catching up with the real economy.
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