Category: ECONOMIC COLLAPSE


Source: Bloomberg.com

South Korea’s Financial Services Commission suspended the business of four local savings banks for six months from today due to a liquidity crunch.

The four banks are Bohae Mutual Savings & Finance Co. and three subsidiaries of Busan Savings Bank — Jungang Busan Savings Bank, Busan II Savings Bank, and Jeonju Savings Bank, the financial watchdog said in a statement today.

“They have suffered a bank run” after the recent suspension of two other banks, the FSC said in a statement after a meeting at 7:30 a.m. today. “We concluded that they will not be able to meet demand for withdrawals, eventually hurting depositors’ interests and credit order.”

Busan Savings Bank and Daejeon Mutual Savings Bank were ordered to halt operations for six months from Feb. 17 due to soured construction project loans. The commission is tightening scrutiny of smaller mutual savings banks, with a plan to buy as much as 3.5 trillion won ($3.1 billion) worth of deteriorating loans made to builders and developers.

State-run Korea Finance Corp. and other big commercial lenders in the country are prepared to provide 2 trillion won in credit to the mutual banks to prevent a potential liquidity crunch, and the government may secure as much as 10 trillion won together with Korea Deposit Insurance Corp., the commission’s chairman, Kim Seok Dong, said on Feb. 17.

Combined assets at South Korea’s 105 savings banks totaled 86.5 trillion won as of September 2010, accounting for about 3 percent of total assets held by the country’s financial institutions, according to the FSC’s data.

State-run Korea Deposit Insurance guarantees clients’ deposits and interest up to 50 million won in case a financial institution becomes unable to repay clients.

Source: Natural News

Figures recently released by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) index of 55 food commodities indicates that worldwide food prices hit a record high in December. Though the costs of some food commodities like rice, corn and soy actually decreased, oil seeds and sugar jumped significantly due to various factors including erratic weather and droughts, according to reports.

In the past, such ups and downs on the commodity market did not immediately affect actual food costs for consumers, but some experts say that this is no longer the case, and that “food inflation” will occur right alongside the commodity price gains. And rapid food inflation has already taken place in India, for example, with recent reports indicating that the country experienced an overall food inflation rate of 18 percent in 2010.

Low food stocks, droughts and poor weather conditions have all contributed to the escalating food crisis, which has led many nations to cut off exports in order to save supplies for their own populations. And the resulting global shortages only exacerbate the problem further as importing nations scramble to source needed commodities for their own populations.

Abdolreza Abbassian, a senior economist at the FAO, explained in a Bloomberg report that since not all commodity prices are rising, the overall indicator can be deceiving. Even so, prices across the board may increase as a result of a domino effect from the commodities that are in short supply, or even from the same conditions like droughts and poor weather that have caused shortages and price increases in the other categories.

Rising global food prices and supply uncertainty are just another reason why self-sufficiency is vital to long-term survival. Individuals who grow their own food and live off their own land as much as possible will not be affected by volatile supply and demand issues that affect the global food market.

Source: Bloomberg

Cash is king in Italy, a lesson Massimiliano Romano learned when he tried to pay for a cab with a credit card at Rome’s main train station.

“I thought my cards would be enough,” said Romano, head of research at brokerage Concentric Italy in Milan. “But I had to let 10 people go in front of me in the line before I found a driver who would accept a credit card.”

The Italian Banking Association has declared “war on cash” in a country where credit-card usage is less than half the European Union average, according to the Bank of Italy. The association, known by its Italian acronym ABI, says it costs banks and companies as much as 10 billion euros ($13.3 billion) a year to process cash payments, mainly in increased security and labor. Rome-based ABI aims to cut those expenses by promoting electronic payments with credit and debit cards and wire transfers in both the public and private sectors.

“Italy urgently needs these changes to catch up with other countries like France, which has allowed non-cash payments for public services for more than two decades,” said Rita Camporeale, head of payment systems and services at ABI.

Italy’s culture of cash is deeply rooted. Italians are the euro-region’s least-indebted consumers and among its biggest savers, according to 2009 Eurostat data. Companies often pay salaries in cash to evade taxes, particularly in Italy’s southern region, where organized crime is prevalent.

Lost Revenue

Italy loses about 100 billion euros of revenue a year from untaxed transactions in the so-called underground economy, which amounts to about 22 percent of gross domestic product, according to government statistics. The Finance Ministry agrees with ABI proposals to make public offices accept electronic payments and install point-of-sale terminals, Camporeale said in a Dec. 21 interview. Banks also want a ban on cash salaries, she said.

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Source: CS Monitor

Hungary, Poland, and three other nations take over citizens’ pension money to make up government budget shortfalls.

People’s retirement savings are a convenient source of revenue for governments that don’t want to reduce spending or make privatizations. As most pension schemes in Europe are organised by the state, European ministers of finance have a facilitated access to the savings accumulated there, and it is only logical that they try to get a hold of this money for their own ends. In recent weeks I have noted five such attempts: Three situations concern private personal savings; two others refer to national funds.

The most striking example is Hungary, where last month the government made the citizens an offer they could not refuse. They could either remit their individual retirement savings to the state, or lose the right to the basic state pension (but still have an obligation to pay contributions for it). In this extortionate way, the government wants to gain control over $14bn of individual retirement savings.

The Bulgarian government has come up with a similar idea. $300m of private early retirement savings was supposed to be transferred to the state pension scheme. The government gave way after trade unions protested and finally only about 20% of the original plans were implemented.

A slightly less drastic situation is developing in Poland. The government wants to transfer of 1/3 of future contributions from individual retirement accounts to the state-run social security system. Since this system does not back its liabilities with stocks or even bonds, the money taken away from the savers will go directly to the state treasury and savers will lose about $2.3bn a year. The Polish government is more generous than the Hungarian one, but only because it wants to seize just 1/3 of the future savings and also allows the citizens to keep the money accumulated so far.

The fourth example is Ireland. In 2001, the National Pension Reserve Fund was brought into existence for the purpose of supporting pensions of the Irish people in the years 2025-2050. The scheme was also supposed to provide for the pensions of some public sector employees (mainly university staff). However, in March 2009, the Irish government earmarked €4bn from this fund for rescuing banks. In November 2010, the remaining savings of €2.5bn was seized to support the bailout of the rest of the country.

The final example is France. In November, the French parliament decided to earmark €33bn from the national reserve pension fund FRR to reduce the short-term pension scheme deficit. In this way, the retirement savings intended for the years 2020-2040 will be used earlier, that is in the years 2011-2024, and the government will spend the saved up resources on other purposes.

It looks like although the governments are able to enforce general participation in pension schemes, they do not seem to be the best guardians of the money accumulated there.

The table below is a summary of the discussed fiscal-retirement situations (source):

*These figures do not include the costs of higher taxes, price inflation and low interest rates, which additionally devaluate retirement savings.

Source: CBS/ 60 Minutes

By now, just about everyone in the country is aware of the federal deficit problem, but you should know that there is another financial crisis looming involving state and local governments.

It has gotten much less attention because each state has a slightly different story. But in the two years, since the “great recession” wrecked their economies and shriveled their income, the states have collectively spent nearly a half a trillion dollars more than they collected in taxes. There is also a trillion dollar hole iln their public pension funds.

The states have been getting by on billions of dollars in federal stimulus funds, but the day of reckoning is at hand. The debt crisis is already making Wall Street nervous, and some believe that it could derail the recovery, cost a million public employees their jobs and require another big bailout package that no one in Washington wants to talk about.

“The most alarming thing about the state issue is the level of complacency,” Meredith Whitney, one of the most respected financial analysts on Wall Street and one of the most influential women in American business, told correspondent Steve Kroft

Whitney made her reputation by warning that the big banks were in big trouble long before the 2008 collapse. Now, she’s warning about a financial meltdown in state and local governments.

“It has tentacles as wide as anything I’ve seen. I think next to housing this is the single most important issue in the United States, and certainly the largest threat to the U.S. economy,” she told Kroft.

Asked why people aren’t paying attention, Whitney said, “‘Cause they don’t pay attention until they have to.”

Whitney says it’s time to start.

California, which faces a $19 billion budget deficit next year, has a credit rating approaching junk status. It now spends more money on public employee pensions than it does on the state university system, which had to increase its tuition by 32 percent.

Arizona is so desperate it sold off the state capitol, Supreme Court building and legislative chambers to a group of investors and now leases the buildings from their new owner. The state also eliminated Medicaid funding for most organ transplants.

Then there’s New Jersey. It has the highest taxes in the country, a $10 billion deficit and a depressed economy when first-year Governor Chris Christie took office. But after looking at the books, he decided to walk away from a long-planned and much-needed project with New York and the federal government to build a rail tunnel into Manhattan. It would have helped the economy and given employment to 6,000 construction workers.

Gov. Christie acknowledged that’s a lot of jobs. “I canceled it. I mean, listen, the bottom line is I don’t have the money. And you know what? I can’t pay people for those jobs if I don’t have the money to pay them. Where am I getting the money? I don’t have it. I literally don’t have it.”

Asked if this is going on all over the country, Christie told Kroft, “Yes. Of course it is. It’s not like you can avoid it forever, ’cause it’s here now. And we all know it’s here. And the federal government doesn’t have the money to paper over it anymore, either, for the states. The day of reckoning has arrived. That’s it. And it’s gonna arrive everywhere. Timing will vary a little bit, depending upon which state you’re in, but it’s comin’.”

And nowhere has the reckoning been as bad as it is in Illinois, a state that spends twice much as it collects in taxes and is unable to pay its bills.

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Source: SFGate

For the first time since 2008, inflation is hitting consumers in the stomach.

Grocery prices grew by more than 1 1/2 times the overall rate of inflation this year, outpaced only by costs of transportation and medical care, according to numbers released Wednesday by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Economists predict that this is only the beginning. Fueled by the higher costs of wheat, sugar, corn, soybeans and energy, shoppers could see as much as a 4 percent increase at the supermarket checkout next year.

“I noticed just this month that my grocery bill for the same old stuff – cereal, eggs, milk, orange juice, peanut butter, bread – spiked $25,” said Sue Perry, deputy editor of ShopSmart magazine, a nonprofit publication from Consumer Reports. “It was a bit of sticker shock.”

But it makes sense. Since November 2009, meat, poultry, fish and eggs have surged 5.8 percent in price. Dairy and related products have gone up 3.8 percent; fats and oils, 3 percent; and sugar and sweets, 1.2 percent.

While overall inflation nationwide was 1.1 percent, grocery prices went up 1.7 percent nationally and 1.3 percent in the Bay Area, said Todd Johnson, an economist for the Bureau of Labor Statistics office in San Francisco. “The largest effects on grocery prices here over the last month were tomatoes, followed by eggs, fish and seafood.”

Produce steady

Across the country, the price of produce has remained fairly steady. But the U.S. Department of Agriculture predicts that next year the price of fruits and vegetables, like many other food commodities, could go up. The government agency is forecasting a 2 to 3 percent food inflation rate in 2011 – a pace that is not unusual in a rebounding economy.

“We usually err on the conservative side,” said Ephraim Leibtag, a senior economist with the USDA, adding that “2011 holds a bit of uncertainty, so I wouldn’t be surprised if it goes higher. If it goes to 6 percent, then we should be worried.”

Michael Swanson, an agricultural economist at Wells Fargo, said that as long as corn, soybean and energy prices continue to climb, food inflation could reach 4 percent in 2011.

“The USDA always plays it safe,” he said, adding that the nation is likely to see the biggest increases since 2008, when the food inflation rate was a record 5.5 percent.

The global demand for corn – used for food and ethanol – has swelled so much that feed costs for farmers and ranchers are being passed on to the consumer, Swanson said.

Gas, diesel play a role

Gas and diesel prices also are playing a role. Wheat costs went through the roof this year when 20 percent of Russia’s crop was destroyed by drought and wildfires, causing the country, the third-largest producer in the world, to ban exports of the grain. The price of sugar, also used for ethanol in parts of the world, is priced at a two-decade high.

Kraft Foods Inc., one of the world’s largest food producers, has already announced plans to increase its prices because of mounting ingredient costs and flagging sales. General Mills, maker of everything from flour and baking mixes to cereal and Yoplait yogurt, has said it, too, will raise some of its product prices in January. Experts said consumers can expect the same from Kellogg’s and Nestle.

The silver lining, Swanson said, is that retailers such as major supermarket chains and big-box stores are likely to push back at wholesalers to keep prices from jumping too much.

“Food is a high-frequency driver,” he said. “So if stores like Walmart and Kmart want to get shoppers in the door, it’s to their benefit to keep prices low.”

Source: The Guardian

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has warned for the first time that her country could abandon the euro if she fails in her contested campaign to establish a new regime for the single currency, the Guardian has learned.

At an EU summit in Brussels at the end of October that was dominated by the euro crisis and wrangling over whether to bail out Ireland, Merkel became embroiled in a row with the Greek prime minister, George Papandreou, according to participants at the event’s Thursday dinner.

Merkel’s central aim, which she achieved, was to win agreement on re-opening the Lisbon treaty so a permanent system of bailout funding and investor losses could be established to deal with debt crises that have laid Greece and Ireland low and are threatening Portugal and Spain. The Germans also called for bailed-out countries to lose voting rights in EU councils.

At the Brussels dinner on 28 October attended by 27 EU heads of government or state, the presidents of the European commission and council, and the head of the European Central Bank, witnesses said Papandreou accused Merkel of tabling proposals that were “undemocratic”.

“If this is the sort of club the euro is becoming, perhaps Germany should leave,” Merkel replied, according to non-German government figures at the dinner. It was the first time in the 10 months since the euro was plunged into a fight for its survival that Germany, the EU’s economic powerhouse and the lynchpin of the euro’s viability, had suggested that quitting the currency is an option, however unlikely.

Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert would not comment on her remarks today. But the threat, he said, was “not plausible. The chancellor sees the euro as the central European project, wants to secure and defend it and the government is not at all thinking of leaving it,” he said. “Germany is unconditionally and resolutely committed to the euro.”

Despite overwhelming opposition to her calls for depriving eurozone countries of their EU votes if they need to be bailed out, Merkel stuck to her guns on the issue at the summit, while conceding that the proposal would not feature at another summit in Brussels in two weeks’ time.

She argued that under the Lisbon treaty, which came into force a year ago, EU member states can have their voting rights suspended if deemed guilty of gross human rights violations. “If this is possible for human rights infringements, the same degree of seriousness needs to be awarded to the euro,” Merkel told the summit, according to the witnesses. She shelved the demand for suspension of voting, however, but won the argument on more limited change of the treaty to enable a “permanent crisis mechanism” to be established for the currency from mid-2013. This was rechristened the European stability Mechanism at last Sunday’s emergency meeting of EU finance ministers in Brussels which decided on an €85bn (£72bn) bailout for Ireland.

Insisting on the loss of votes would have outraged most other EU governments. The Lisbon treaty would have needed renegotiation, opening a pandora’s box of possible referendums in Ireland, the Czech Republic, and Britain, and placing immense strain on the EU’s survival.

EU finance ministers are to meet again early next week ahead of the summit on 16-17 December. The mood in Brussels is febrile and there have been rumours of another extraordinary summit or session of finance ministers this weekend.

Officials said today there were “no plans” for a weekend session. But it is virtually taken for granted that Portugal will need to be bailed out and the €750bn rescue fund agreed in May may need to be increased as insurance against a Spanish emergency. Two EU ambassadors told the Guardian Portugal would need to be rescued very soon, despite repeated public statements to the contrary.

The summit in two weeks’ time, said a senior European diplomat, would be preoccupied with the treaty change needed for a permanent bailout mechanism to be established when the €750bn fund expires in mid-2013. “The real question is, is there enough in the fund? If not, how much more do we need?” the diplomat added.

“Portugal will need to be saved. The big issue is Spain,” said another senior diplomat.

Since the euro crisis erupted this year with Greece heading for sovereign debt default until it was bailed out in May, Merkel has repeatedly insisted that the primacy of politics over the financial markets has to be restored. That has yet to happen as Europe’s leaders flail around in a mood of worsening “panic and despair”, according to diplomats and officials in Brussels.

The current phase in the crisis started when Merkel and the French president Nicolas Sarkozy met in mid-October and delivered an ultimatum to the other 25 EU leaders: the treaty would be reopened and a permanent rescue system created which would entail “haircuts” or losses for creditors and investors if eurozone countries need to be bailed out.

Although this is to take place only from 2013, the markets took fright at the scale of potential bond losses, pushed Ireland’s borrowing costs ruinously high, and forced last week’s bailout of the Irish.

Diplomats, analysts, and officials generally agree that Merkel is right to focus on “moral hazard”, insisting that the markets and not only governments and taxpayers have to share the losses if a eurozone country implodes. But her timing could not have been worse, they add.

Source: ZeroHedge

Is the Kriger/Keiser “Short Squeeze JPM to Oblivion” plan working? Judging by the wholesale availability of silver (or lack thereof) the answer is a resound yes. In Coin Updates News we read that “as of today, there are no longer any regular wholesale supplies of the 1 ounce through 100 ounce silver rounds and bars available for immediate delivery.  It may be possible to locate incidental quantities of some product, but most wholesalers are now promising two to four weeks delivery to allow time for the silver to be fabricated.” Over the weekend we noted that even at the smaller, retail level, Silver American Eagles sold by the US Mint, have surged to a 2010 high in just the first three weeks of November. Is America now fully intent on ending Jamie Dimon’s domination over the precious metal space?

More on the wholesale silver shortage:

As a result of the shortages, premiums have started to rise.  So far, the increases have been modest, on the order of 0.5-2%.  However, if the shortage grows, expect to see further and larger premium increases in the coming weeks.  We could see a repeat of the late 2008 gold and silver buying frenzy, where product availability got as slow as 1-4 months after payment.

At the COMEX close yesterday, registered (dealer) silver inventories fell below 50 million ounces.  Even if you include the eligible (investor) silver inventories in the COMEX bonded warehouses, which are not available to fulfill COMEX deliveries unless the investor specifically chooses to do so, there were barely 107 million ounces to fulfill around 725 million ounces of contractual obligations.  COMEX silver inventories are now down more than 10% from mid-June even while the amount of silver owed has soared!

On September 16, the COMEX further raised the silver contract margin requirement to $7,250—even though the price of silver had been dropping since November 9!  What is suspicious is that a lot of “insiders” were liquidating their silver positions starting the afternoon of November 15.  Is it possible that they may have received advance notice of the coming change in the minimum margin account requirement and sold in anticipation of lower prices the next day?

The next round of gold and silver options expiration occurs on Tuesday, November 23.  The attempt to suppress gold and silver prices upon the release of the US jobs and unemployment report on November 5 was almost a complete failure.  Unless something is done to knock down gold and silver prices before November 23, a lot of call options will be exercised, which would further increase the demand for physical precious metals.

I suspect, as do many others, that the two rounds of increasing gold and silver margin requirements were timed for no other reason other than to try to help hold down prices through November 23.

Most of this should not be news to Zero Hedge regulars who now realize that the last battle of endless fiat liability dilution is being fought not in the stock market, but in the precious metals arena, where the onslaught of physical purchases versus shorting in paper claims has never gotten as far as it has in the past month. Should JPM be forced to continue covering, not even instituting an infinite margin requirement on silver purchases by the Comex will do much if anything to prevent the “dreaded” end of a fiat system. Speaking of, if anyone has the recent performance of Blythe Masters, we would be overjoyed if it were shared with the Zero Hedge community.

Source: Bloomberg

The dollar may fall below 75 yen next year as it becomes the world’s “weakest currency” due to the Federal Reserve’s monetary-easing program, according to JPMorgan & Chase Co.

The U.S. central bank, along with those in Japan and Europe, will keep interest rates at record lows in 2011 as they seek to boost economic growth, said Tohru Sasaki, head of Japanese rates and foreign-exchange research at the second-largest U.S. bank by assets. U.S. policy makers may take additional easing steps following the $600 billion bond-purchase program announced this month depending on inflation and the labor market, he said.

“The U.S. has the world’s largest current-account deficit but keeps interest rates at virtually zero,” Sasaki said at a forum in Tokyo yesterday. “The dollar can’t avoid the status as the weakest currency.”

The Fed said on Nov. 3 it will buy $75 billion of Treasuries a month through June to cap borrowing costs. The central bank has kept its benchmark rate in a range of zero to 0.25 percent since December 2008. The Bank of Japan on Oct. 5 cut its key rate to a range of zero to 0.1 percent and set up a 5 trillion yen ($59.9 billion) asset-purchase fund.

The dollar traded at 83.38 yen as of 12:04 p.m. in Tokyo after falling to a 15-year low of 80.22 on Nov. 1. The greenback declined to post-World War II low of 79.75 yen in April 1995. The U.S. currency has declined against 12 of its 16 most-traded counterparts this year, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Tightening Unnecessary

There’s no need for any monetary tightening in the U.S. as even prolonged easing won’t heighten inflationary pressures with the balance sheets of banks and households still hurting from the fallout of the global financial crisis, Sasaki said.

Ten-year Treasury yields may decline to around 2.25 percent over the next year, and their premium over similar-maturity Japanese yields won’t widen, he said. The benchmark 10-year Treasury yielded 2.89 percent today.

The world economy is likely to expand 3 percent next year amid the extra liquidity provided by central banks, “repeating a pattern from early 2002 to the end of 2004” when improving risk appetite boosted stocks and commodities and the dollar fell 25 percent against the yen, Sasaki said.

With monetary easing in the U.S., Japan and Europe likely to bolster the global recovery and increase demand for yield, the yen is poised to weaken against other currencies beside the dollar to levels last seen in early 2007, Sasaki said.

Japan will refrain from selling the yen even if it strengthens against the dollar, following international criticism of foreign-exchange intervention, he said. The nation intervened in the currency markets for the first time in six years on Sept. 15 when the yen climbed to a 15-year high.

Source: WLNS

Governor Jennifer Granholm is predicting more cities may face bankruptcy in the year ahead, and part of the solution, she says, should be new revenue. This is just one more issue the new governor will face on January first. The issues are mounting up, the new governor must tackle the $1.6 billion dollar deficit, revamping the business tax and now a growing list of potential bankrupt cities.

Governor Granholm: “If you continue down this path, you will have more and more cities that are going to be asking for an emergency financial manager or bankruptcy.”

The governor says there are some 68 cities, including Jackson, that are on a financial watch or are under financial stress and she contends new revenue needs to be one of the solutions. Over at the Michigan Municipal League, officials have been saying that for years. Cities are losing property tax revenue because businesses are going out of business, plus state aid to the cities is also on the decline as lawmakers reduce revenue sharing, while at the same time the cost for services is on the rise. That means there’s a chance there will be more.

Andy Shore, MI Municipal League: “No community wants to say they were the first to go into bankruptcy and the governor says they can’t, but it’s possible if the situation gets more dire and there is a bad budget, there will be communities coming in saying, we need help.”

The question is where will the new governor and lawmakers find that help.

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