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The anatomy of a financial crisis

In this blog, we present the anatomy of a financial crisis. A characteristic feature of a banking crisis is that it tends to follow, more-or-less, the same path regardless of the ‘shock’ or ‘trigger’ that initiates it.

The next phase of the crisis is likely to be a global financial crisis, as we have been anticipating for quite some time (see, e.g., Q-Review 4/2017). However, few understand what a financial crisis is, though it is probably among the most feared economic phenomena of mankind.

So, let’s dive in.

The initiation

If a banking system is sound and robust, it can usually withstand financial and economic shocks.

But a banking system may be fragile. Usually this is due to high leverage levels, where banks have either lent aggressively or carry risky financial investments on their balance sheets—usually both. Banks can also have a weak financial position, with chronically low profitability and insufficient reserves. As we have explained earlier, this is exactly the state the European banking sector finds itself in.

The onset of a financial crisis requires a trigger. The most common is a recession or the expectation of recession among consumers and investors.

Recession leads to diminished income and defaults by both corporations and households. This increases the share of non-performing loans in bank loan portfolios, reducing the value of loan collateral and increasing bank risks and capital needs. As write-downs and losses increase, mistrust among other banks and depositors and investors does as well. The bank’s share price will usually start to reflect this.

A ‘bank run’

If suspicion spreads, banks will be apprehensive about counterparty risk and will be unwilling to lend to one another even on an overnight basis.  If allowed to continue, this will have a calamitous impact on liquidity in money markets.

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When Will We Admit Covid-19 Is Unstoppable and Global Depression Is Inevitable?

When Will We Admit Covid-19 Is Unstoppable and Global Depression Is Inevitable?

Given the exquisite precariousness of the global financial system and economy, hopes for a brief and mild downturn are wildly unrealistic.

If we asked a panel of epidemiologists to imagine a virus optimized for rapid spread globally and high lethality, they’d likely include these characteristics:

1. Highly contagious, with an R0 of 3 or higher.

2. A novel virus, so there’s no immunity via previous exposure.

3. Those carrying the pathogen can infect others while asymptomatic, i.e. having no symptoms, for a prolonged period of time, i.e. 14 to 24 days.

4. Some carriers never become ill and so they have no idea they are infecting others.

5. The virus is extremely lethal to vulnerable subpopulations but not so lethal to the entire populace that it kills its hosts before they can transmit the virus to others.

6. The virus can be spread by multiple pathways, including aerosols (droplets from sneezing/coughing), brief contact (with hotel desk clerks, taxi drivers, etc.) and contact with surfaces (credit cards, faucets, door handles, etc.). Ideally, the virus remains active on surfaces for prolonged periods, i.e. 7+ days.

7. Those infected who recover may catch the virus again, as acquired immunity is not 100%.

8. As a result of this and other features, it’s difficult to manufacture a vaccine that will reliably protect against infection.

9. The tests designed to detect the virus are inherently limited, as the virus may be present in tissue that isn’t being swabbed.

10. The symptoms of the illness are essentially identical with less contagious and lethal flu types, so people who catch the virus may not know they have the novel pathogen.

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The scenarios of the collapse

The scenarios of the collapse

2019 has started more calmly after a very volatile year-end in the markets. Focus has been on the trade deal between China and the US and the words of the central bankers, most notably those of Jay Powell. However, this is all just a distraction, a side-show. The market volatility was only the first sign of an approaching global economic crisis, as we warned in December 2017.

As the recent PMI figures across the globe show, a global downturn has started and the world is utterly unprepared for it. The global imbalances that have been growing for years cannot lead to anything else than a global crisis . However, there are different paths the crisis could take.

Here, we present three scenarios that the global economy is likely to follow, when the global downturn morphs into something much more sinister. We’ll start with the most likely scenario: Global Depression.

Scenario I: Global Depression

In a depression, everything that has been driven the economic expansion goes into reverse. Asset markets experience severe contraction (in excess of 50 percent), credit becomes restricted, corporations and households de-lever fiercely, and global trade flows stall (for more details see Q-review 2/2018). GDP falls dramatically, between 10 to 25 percent. Unemployment skyrockets. The standard means of stimulus by central banks and governments are exhausted without any notable improvement in the economic environment.

The implosion of the current asset bubble will start a relentless unwinding of leverage and risk in the global financial system. Because major central banks are still “all-in” with rates pinned at or near historic lows, and balance sheets bloated to extreme levels, their ability to respond will be highly restricted. Governments are also highly-indebted, and when interest rates rise, some sovereigns are likely to default, aggravating the global banking crisis, which will probably be in motion already.

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The path to the Global Depression

The path to the Global Depression

The world economy has never faced a more perilous situation. While many have just started to debate whether a recession will start in 2019 or 2020, very few perceive the ’black hole’ the global economy is about to get sucked into.

The hole has two main “gravitational forces”: the wide-spread mispricing of risk and stagnating productivity growth. Central bank meddling with their bond buying programs (QE) have seriously distorted prices in the capital markets, which means that risk has also been mispriced in vast magnitude. The implications and repercussions of the six-year period of stagnating global productivity growth has also not been understood. These intertwined developments will lead the world economy into a serious economic downfall, a Global Depression.

See no risk, hear no risk

We devoted most of the March issue of our Q-review to explain how the asset purchase (QE) programs of the central banks have created an environment which encourages risk-taking, leverage and yield-hunting. At the heart of it is the suppression of yields on assets considered safe, most crucially government bonds, which have been the primary target of their QE-programs. QE created a stupendous, multi-year pulse of artificial central bank liquidity forced into the financial system. As the major central banks kept on pumping it eventually ended up increasing the price of almost every single asset class in the world with the possible exception of precious metals.

While leverage can be usually measured with some suitable metric (like debt-to-income or -equity), evaluating financial risk requires a reference point that is considered riskless. This creates a perplexing problem, because the QE -programs of the central banks have created a situation where we do not have any un-manipulated reference points telling us what the “riskless” rate of return actually is.

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As Economy Heads to Another Crash, BIS Acknowledges: We’re Failing

As Economy Heads to Another Crash, BIS Acknowledges: We’re Failing


World’s Most Powerful Bank Reverses Course, to Avoid a Global Depression

German Economic News, Translation (and closing Note) by Eric Zuesse  |  Published: 22:07:15 20:10 clock

The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) acknowledges in its annual report that the policy of cheap money has failed. All the trillions in monetary stimulus have produced no growth in the real economy. Central banks cannot salvage the economy. Governments — fiscal stimulus — must now resolve the economic crisis. Political leadership is required.

In November 2008, the Federal Reserve in the US began to purchase many billions in securities, to stabilize the markets after the collapse of Lehman Brothers. Later, the Fed bought also US Treasuries, and cut interest rates to a record low of zero to 0.25 percent. So, they set off a global devaluation race. As a result, between just January 1st and March 12th of 2015, one-fifth of all central banks lowered their key interest rates. China was last to join this currency war, but when they did, their easing of monetary policy helped spark a credit-driven bull market that now produces the biggest Chinese slump in 20 years.

The Basel-based Bank for International Settlements (BIS) is considered the “central bank of central banks.” It was originally founded in 1930 to handle German reparations after the First World War. Today the BIS networks together central banks around the world, and manages on their behalf nations’ gold reserves. Its 85th Annual report analyzes the global financial system, seven years after the 2008 crisis. An entire chapter is devoted to shortcomings of the international monetary and financial system. It says that instead of promoting sustainable and balanced growth of the global economy, this system actually undermines growth long-term.

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Richard Duncan: The Real Risk Of A Coming Multi-Decade Global Depression

Richard Duncan: The Real Risk Of A Coming Multi-Decade Global Depression

One that unwinds the past 50 years of globalization

Richard Duncan, author of The Dollar Crisis and The New Depression: The Breakdown Of The Paper Money Economy, isn’t mincing words about the risks he sees ahead for the world economy.

Essentially, he sees the past 50 years of economic prosperity fueled by globalization and easy credit in serious danger of being unwound, as the doomed monetary policies currently being pursued by the word’s central banks result in a massive multi-decade depression that spans the globe.

The first version of The Dollar Crisis, the hardback, came out in 2003, so I wrote it in 2002. And at that time, the dollar against gold was $300. So the dollar has lost more than 75% of its value since The Dollar Crisis was written, and I don’t think it’s going to stop here. I expect it to continue to lose value over the years and decades ahead.

But what we’re seeing is that the real theme of The Dollar Crisis was that the post-Bretton Woods international monetary system was fundamentally flawed because it couldn’t prevent trade imbalances between countries. And the US had developed an enormous trade deficit with the rest of the world and this blew the trade surplus countries like Japan and China into bubbles. And then, the dollars boomeranged back into the United States and blew it into a bubble, as well. I didn’t know when the housing bubble was going to pop in the US but I knew it would. And I wrote in The Dollar Crisis that when it did, we would have a severe global economic recession/depression that would involve a systemic banking sector crisis in the United States and necessitate trillion-dollar budget deficits and unorthodox monetary policy to prevent a Great Depression from occurring.


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Olduvai IV: Courage
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Olduvai II: Exodus
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