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BIS warns banks dangerously exposed to $10tn bond market crash, so buy gold!

Posted on 24 June 2013 with 3 comments from readers

Banks face another global financial crisis worse than 2007-8 warns the normally conservative Swiss-based Bank of International Settlements as a $10 trillion central bank bond mountain leaves them perilously exposed to higher interest rates.

The Federal Reserve recently triggered a global tightening of interest rates with hints it may start to wind down its money printing as soon as this September.

Bondholders

The problem is that higher interest rates mean lower bond prices, and the banks are stuffed full of this supposedly safe debt. HSBC has 42 per cent of its balance sheet in US bonds, for example, and that’s arguably the safest of the large bank balance sheets.

When interest rates go up the banks therefore make losses on their huge bond portfolios. Global central banks have accumulated $10 trillion in bonds that will also face massive losses.

‘Someone must ultimately hold the interest rate risk,’ concludes the BIS. ‘As foreign and domestic banks would be among those experiencing the losses, interest rate increases pose risks to the stability of the financial system if not executed with great care.’

The BIS has issued an urgent appeal for fiscal and monetary prudence but you can’t help reaching the conclusion that it is probably too late for action now.

‘Public debt in most advanced economies has reached unprecedented levels in peacetime,’ says the report. ‘Even worse, official debt statistics understate the true scale of fiscal problems. The belief that governments do not face a solvency constraint is a dangerous illusion. Bond investors can and do punish governments hard and fast.

‘Governments must redouble their efforts to ensure that their fiscal trajectories are sustainable. Growth will simply not be high enough on its own. Postponing the pain carries the risk of forcing consolidation under stress – which is the current situation in a number of countries in southern Europe.’

The BIS sees the global economy heading for a 1994-style bond market crash. However, the world has moved on since then and China is very much a part of the global economy, and its emerging debt crisis could be the biggest of all.

Shanghai surprise

A recent spike in short-term interest rates well above 30 per cent is a red light flashing in Shanghai. The overnight repurchase rate today is 6.5 per cent, more than double this year’s average. But what can the Chinese government really do now, having made its policy errors many years ago?

Where can you put your money if you cannot trust bonds or the global banking system? You end up back with precious metals as George Soros’ ‘ultimate financial bubble,’ and the only place for investors to hide when things go seriously wrong.

Old sages like Dr. Marc Faber are personally buying up precious metals while prices are temporarily depressed, knowing that the real crisis is around the corner. And you don’t have to believe him. The BIS report says it all very clearly. No wonder many bankers are themselves very nervous these days.

Posted on 24 June 2013 Categories: Banking & Finance, Bond Markets, Global Economics, Gold & Silver, Islamic Finance, Sovereign Wealth Funds, US Dollar, US Stocks

3 Comments posted by readers:

Comment by Bernard M.A.Doff - 24 June 2013

Isn’t managing risk what bankers are supposed to be good at? In the case of interest rate risk there are many hedging techniques and instruments, although of course there is no guarantee as to the banks’ competence in using them!

Comment by Doug - 24 June 2013

Bernard, yes but there are counterparty risks. Someone must be on the losing end of the hedge, and they are likely to also be thinly capitalized financial institutions. Could be a domino effect.

Comment by Bernard M.A.Doff - 25 June 2013

Doug, if the counterparty is himself hedging then the loss on the hedge is counterbalanced by the underlying asset being hedged. So everything is fine in theory (!).

Of course, everyone remembers Warren Buffet’s famous quip that “derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction”. Yet a large chunk of Berkshire Hathaway’s profit from last year arose from these weapons LOL.

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