Let’s take a walk down memory lane and think about our American Literature class during Junior or Senior year of High School. There’s a famous line from an equally famous book, Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises:
“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.
“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly.”
It’s an eerily similar situation we live in today. Economies (countries) go bankrupt in the same way. Banking collapses occur in the same way. Currency crises strike in the same way. They all happen gradually… and then suddenly. Sometimes overnight.
Go back in history and you will find many, many examples of this. Take the Soviet Union in 1991 or Argentina’s crisis in 2001.
We live under the banner that all is ok because “Hey! Look at the stock market! There’s nothing to worry about!” We all know by now that the stock market is hardly a solid measure of economic stability. Printing your way into higher and higher nominal values is not a solid growth strategy. It is like saying after cutting off your own arm “Look at all the weight I have lost!”. Yes it’s true but how many times can you pull that trick off before you run out of limbs.
I could talk about a number of scenarios that could provide this catalyst, but let’s go to an easy one and one that has largely been off the mainstream radar for awhile, China.
From The Telegraph’s Ambrose Evans-Pritchard:
“…A key gauge of credit vulnerability is now three times over the danger threshold and has continued to deteriorate, despite pledges by Chinese premier Li Keqiang to wean the economy off debt-driven growth before it is too late.
The Bank for International Settlements warned in its quarterly report that China’s “credit to GDP gap” has reached 30.1, the highest to date and in a different league altogether from any other major country tracked by the institution. It is also significantly higher than the scores in East Asia’s speculative boom on 1997 or in the US subprime bubble before the Lehman crisis.
…China’s total credit reached 255pc of GDP at the end of last year, a jump of 107 percentage points over eight years. This is an extremely high level for a developing economy and is still rising fast.
Outstanding loans have reached $28 trillion, as much as the commercial banking systems of the US and Japan combined. The scale is enough to threaten a worldwide shock if China ever loses control. Corporate debt alone has reached 171pc of GDP, and it is this that is keeping global regulators awake at night.
The Chinese banking system is an arm of the Communist Party so any denouement will probably take the form of perpetual roll-overs, sapping the vitality of economy gradually.
The country was able to weather a banking crisis in the late 1990s but the circumstances were different. China was still in the boom phase of catch-up industrialisation and enjoying a demographic dividend.
Today it is no longer hyper-competitive and its work-force is shrinking, and time the scale is vastly greater.”
I am not singling out China here, but I have limited time and space today and this risk factor sticks out like a sore thumb. It is by no means an isolated risk. Pick your reason, domestic and/or international terror, oil supply disruptions, escalation in Syria pulling the US and Russia deeper and deeper in, who knows. Given some unfortunate timing, it will not take much to really put some hurt on the markets.
Trade well and follow the trend, not the perma-bull OR perma-bear “experts.”
The United States made at least two separate payments to the Iranian government via wire transfer within the last 14 months, a Treasury Department spokesman confirmed Saturday, contradicting explanations from President Barack Obama that such payments were impossible.
Responding to questions at an Aug. 4 press conference about a $400 million payment delivered in cash to the Iranian government, Obama said, “[T]he reason that we had to give them cash is precisely because we are so strict in maintaining sanctions and we do not have a banking relationship with Iran that we couldn't send them a check and we could not wire the money.”
But a Treasury Department spokesman acknowledged on Saturday that on at least two occasions, the U.S. did make payments to the Iranian government via wire transfer.
In July 2015, the same month in which the U.S., Iran and other countries announced a landmark nuclear agreement, the U.S. government paid the Islamic republic approximately $848,000. That payment settled a claim over architectural drawings and fossils that are now housed in the Tehran Museum of Contemporary Art and Iran’s Ministry of Environment, respectively. Then, in April 2016, the U.S. wired Iran approximately $9 million to remove 32 metric tons of its heavy water, which is used to produce plutonium and can aid in the making of nuclear weapons.
While some sanctions relating to Iran’s nuclear program were lifted with the implementation of the nuclear agreement, others imposed over the Islamic Republic’s human rights policies and support for terrorist organizations remain in effect. The July 2015 wire transfer was made while the full weight of sanctions against Iran were intact, while the April 2016 payment for heavy water was made after the lifting of nuclear-related sanctions.
The Treasury Department spokesman explained that the lifting of those sanctions allowed Iran “to gain incremental access to the international financial system, which opened up more options for executing transactions, such as the heavy water transaction” that occurred in April 2016. The spokesman declined to offer an explanation as to why the July 2015 payment was possible despite the full array of sanctions in place at the time.
That $400 million cash payment that Obama said could not have been delivered any other way was part of a larger $1.7 billion settlement with Iran, the remainder of which was also delivered in cash. The $400 million, paid in January to settle a decades-old dispute over military equipment order by the late shah of Iran, was sent through intermediary central banks in Europe, who then delivered pallets of euros, Swiss francs and other currencies to Tehran.
The Treasury Department spokesman said that the January settlement specified that payment be made in cash because Iran had previously had difficulty accessing wire-transferred funds and was “very aware of the difficulties it would face in accessing and using the funds from the January 2016 settlement payment if they were in any other form than cash.”
A senior Obama administration official contested that the Treasury Department’s confirmation of the twin wire transfers contradicted what the president said at his press conference early last month. The official repeated what the president said at the time, that “we do not have a direct banking relationship with Iran, which means that we cannot wire money directly to Iran,” but did not directly address either the July 2015 or April 2016 wire transfers.
“Sanctions had effectively cut off Iran from the international financial system and after several years of trying to gain limited access to its own money held in accounts outside of Iran, Iran was very aware of the difficulties it would face in accessing and using these funds if they were in any form other than cash,” the official said of negotiations surrounding the $1.7 billion settlement. “Therefore, effectuating the payment in foreign currency banknotes was the most reliable way to ensure that they would receive the funds in a timely manner.”
Republicans in Congress and on the campaign trail have alleged that Iran requested a cash payment specifically because it would make the money difficult to trace. GOP presidential nominee Donald Trump made an issue of the cash payment over the summer, suggesting that the cash delivery likely wound up funding terrorism or found its way into "some of the mullahs' bank accounts."
Sen. James Lankford (R-Okla.), who discovered the two wire transfer payments in briefings with Obama administration officials, echoed those concerns in an interview with POLITICO on Thursday.
“Oh, I don’t have any question that Iran wants the money in cash because they wanted it faster than what a wire transfer would be and it’s fungible,” Lankford said. “They announced pretty quickly afterward that they were expanding their defense and their military budget by $1.7 billion dollars, an exact amount that we had just sent over to them. So I don’t think that was accidental.”
“But when you give cash, we can’t track,” he continued. “Did that go to Hezbollah? Did that go to the Russians? Did that go to the coup in Yemen? There’s no way to be able to track that.”
Republicans, including Lankford, have also suggested that the $1.7 billion delivery constituted a “ransom” payment because it was delivered on the same day that U.S. prisoners were released by Iran. The president dismissed such claims during his Aug. 4 press conference as “the manufacturing of outrage” and said unequivocally, "we don’t pay ransom for hostages.”
But State Department spokesman John Kirby acknowledged two weeks later that the U.S. had refused to deliver the cash to Iran until its prisoners were wheels up from Tehran, a decision Kirby said the U.S. made to “retain maximum leverage” over the Iranians. Despite that admission, he maintained that the arrangement did not in any way constitute a ransom payment.
More than $9 million of Department of State money has been funneled through the Peace Corps to a nonprofit foundation started and run by Secretary of State John Kerry’s daughter, documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation show.
The Department of State funded a Peace Corps program created by Dr. Vanessa Kerry and officials from both agencies, records show. The Peace Corps then awarded the money without competition to a nonprofit Kerry created for the program.
Initially, the Peace Corps awarded Kerry’s group — now called Seed Global Health — with a three-year contract worth $2 million of State Department money on Sept. 10, 2012, documents show. Her father was then the chairman of the Senate Committee on Foreign Relations, which oversees both the Department of State and the Peace Corps.
Seed secured a four-year extension in September 2015, again without competition. This time, the Peace Corps gave the nonprofit $6.4 million provided by the Department of State while John Kerry was secretary of state.