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S&P downgrades US credit rating to AA+, and more

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Daily Bell Briefs
Posted August 08, 2011

S&P downgrades U.S. credit rating to AA+

The United States lost its top-notch triple-A credit rating from Standard & Poor’s Friday, in a dramatic reversal of fortune for the world’s largest economy. … This came after a confusing day of reports: Standard & Poor’s told the U.S. government early Friday afternoon that it was preparing to downgrade the U.S.’s triple-A credit rating but U.S. officials notified S&P that it had made a $2 trillion mathematical error. The error was in the calculation of the U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio over time and was based on a misreading of what the correct congressional baseline was, government sources indicated. They said that once informed of the error S&P revised its rate-cut rationale to emphasize the political aspects of the country’s debt situation. “A judgment flawed by a $2 trillion error speaks for itself,” a Treasury spokesperson said. – CNBC

Dominant Social Theme: You cannot trust the private sector with this sort of thing… the State knows better.

Free-Market Analysis: We have been suggesting for quite a long time now, perhaps ten years or more, in various books, editorials and publications, that the US monetary and political system was in serious trouble and would eventually face a severe “reality check.” Today, we see the headwinds of reality crashing into the structural edifices that have been erected as a means of population control and economic enslavement. The US dollar is a license to steal, one that has been granted via legal tender laws, and the heist has now been revealed to millions during this dawning era of what we call, the Internet Reformation. The US political establishment – in this case the Treasury Dept. – can criticize S&P’s downgrade all they like, but the truth of the matter is that the US is broke and soaked in a sea of unsustainable debt. To whine about a $2 trillion “error” – that isn’t really an error at all, considering the Treasury Dept. is disputing S&P’s misuse of “congressional baseline” numbers that somehow accurately forecasts the “U.S. debt-to-GDP ratio over time” – is nothing short of laughable. Suffice to say, why should anyone, including S&P base any of their numbers on congressional baseline numbers when all the government does is tell one lie after another? Does anyone with any semblance of understanding of the fiat-money system really believe that the “wise leaders” acting/running the US are going to master the great ship’s rudder and pull off a last minute “miracle-manouver,” thus avoiding the treacherous shoals it is destined to crash into? We think Hurricane Reality is about to teach the “Captains of Fantasy” and their believers a severe lesson. Now S&P cannot come out and say that, but we can.

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Asian Markets slip on U.S. credit downgrade

International markets trembled over the weekend following an unprecedented downgrade of the United States’ sovereign credit rating by the agency Standard & Poor’s. Analysts had feared that the downgrade, in combination with the spiraling European debt crisis, could send overseas investors into a panic and undermine the strength of the global economy. … As of 11 p.m. EST on Sunday, Japan’s Nikkei index had fallen 1.3 percent to 9,178.03, a drop of 121.85 points. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng was down 3.71 percent at 20,169.41, while the South Korean composite index KOSPI had fallen 3.01 percent to 1,885.27. Australia’s S&P/ASX 200 index slipped 1.2 percent to 4,055.80, while New Zealand’s NZX 50 declined 2.49 percent to 3,194.82. In the Middle East, Israel’s TA-25 market fell 7 percent to close at 1,074.27, its biggest decline since 2000. Egypt’s EGX30 fell 4.2 percent. Other markets showed more measured losses: the Abu Dhabi Securities Exchange General Index fell 2.5 percent, while Dubai’s exchange closed 3.7 percent down. … In spite of the S&P downgrade, few on Wall Street are expecting investors to pull out of Treasuries on a large scale, since the bonds are still seen as relatively safe. – Huffington Post

Dominant Social Theme: Don’t believe all the hoopla; US government debt is a safe and stable investment.

Free-Market Analysis: How anyone can suggest that there is anything safe about US government bonds, especially now, is beyond us. But we would expect nothing different of an article that appears in the Huffington Post, a mainstream media player to be sure. To think that people should act like the US Congress and try and solve the fiat-money debt problem by investing in the very problem itself – US debt – is foolish, in our opinion. The article, not surprisingly, mentions nothing about honest money as a safehaven option – despite that fact that gold, trading above $1,700 as of this writing, is up more than 50% in purchasing power over the last three-years alone against the US dollar. Does the US dollar, or dollar denominated debt, sound like an investment that is “relatively safe” to you?

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China blasts U.S. debt problems, urges new global reserve currency

China on Saturday condemned the “short-sighted” political wrangling in the United States over its debt problems and said the world needed a new global stable reserve currency. “China, the largest creditor of the world’s sole superpower, has every right now to demand the United States address its structural debt problems and ensure the safety of China’s dollar assets,” China’s official news agency said in a commentary. “International supervision over the issue of U.S. dollars should be introduced and a new, stable and secured global reserve currency may also be an option to avert a catastrophe caused by any single country,” it said. – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: It’s time to let Christine Lagarde and the other “wise leaders” at the IMF run the world’s money.

Free-Market Analysis: Well this certainly comes as no surprise. We have been ringing the bell on this one for while now. In fact, we ran a staff report back in March 2009, titled China Wants IMF to Manage New One-World Currency. The essence of what we said in that article, as well as many others dealing with Money Power’s insatiable desire to fasten a global currency yoke on the entire world’s population, is that out of the fiat-manufactured chaos we have today, it is likely that global order will be promoted as the cure to all our monetary ills. The IMF, a globalist organization to be sure, along with the World Bank, will be marketed by the establishment politicians, NGO think tanks and mainstream media outlets as the only logical way to alleviate the markets of their instability and overall confusion. The eurozone experiment alone should be enough of a wakeup call – for anyone that cares to see – that by stitching together a bunch of systemically bankrupt nation’s fiat currencies does nothing to aleviate the rot inherent in the design and nature of the money-stuff-system itself. We truly hope the world escapes from the grasp of the globalist’s fiat-fangs and that this plan of unification does not become a reality. What the world needs, in our opinion, are private currencies competing in a free-marketplace where governments have no involvement in either the issuance of currency or its management. Let the market decide what to use as money and keep the State and unelected global government agencies out of it.

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ECB says will “actively implement” bond-buying

The European Central Bank said on Sunday it would “actively implement” its controversial bond-buying programme to fight the euro zone’s debt crisis, signaling it will buy Spanish and Italian government bonds to halt financial market contagion. … “The Euro system will intervene very significantly on markets and respond in a significant and cohesive way,” a euro zone monetary source said, speaking shortly before the statement was released. … The ECB statement sought to justify the buying by saying it was “designed to help restoring a better transmission of our monetary policy decisions taking account of dysfunctional market segments and therefore to ensure price stability in the euro area.” – Reuters

Dominant Social Theme: The dysfunction of the invisible hand must be slapped with oversight and active intervention.

Free-Market Analysis: This is getting just silly. Think about it for a minute. Here comes the ECB to create a US-style Plunge Protection Team that can “intervene” whenever the “wise leaders” feel it is necessary – all for the purposes of shoring up confidence in a dying fiat-money central banking system. The arrogance of Money Power to think that people cannot see this for what it is – blatant manipulation – is simply flabergasting. The ‘Net dissects the obviousness of such planning and exposes the desperate attempts of those who believe they are smarter than the free market. The name of the game is global power via global governance. To achieve that end, the power elite‘s agents will do just about anything in the face of Hurricane Reality to try justify the means. Once again, the problem facing the world today is the fraudulent nature of the global central banking system and the monetary units they peddle. Creating another manipulation-arm to intervene and “fix” the illusion is no solution at all.

In this grave crisis, the world’s leaders are terrifyingly out of their depth

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by Peter Oborne
Posted August 6th, 2011

Ineffectual: an emergency telephone conference among the G7 finance ministers feels as relevant as a Bourbon family get-together in the summer of 1789

CERTAIN YEARS HAVE GONE DOWN IN HISTORY AS GREAT GLOBAL TURNING POINTS, after which nothing was remotely the same: 1914, 1929, 1939, 1989. Now it looks horribly plausible that 2011 will join their number. The very grave financial crisis that has hung over Europe ever since the banking collapse of three years ago has taken a sinister turn, with the most dreadful and sobering consequences for those of us who live in European democracies.

The events of the past few days have been momentous: the eurozone sovereign debt crisis has escaped from the peripheries and spread to Italy and Spain; parts of the European banking system have frozen up; US Treasuries have been stripped of their AAA rating, which may be the beginning of a process that leads to the loss of the dollar’s vital status as the world’s reserve currency.

There have been warnings that we may be in for a repeat of the calamitous events of 2008. The truth, however, is that the situation is potentially much bleaker even than in those desperate days after the closure of Lehman Brothers. Back then, policy-makers had at their disposal a whole range of powerful tools to remedy the situation which are simply not available today.

First of all, the 2008 crisis struck at the ideal stage of an economic cycle. Interest rates were comparatively high, both in Europe and the United States. This meant that central banks were in a position to avert disaster by slashing the cost of borrowing. Today, rates are still at rock bottom, so that option is no longer available.

Second, the global situation was far more advantageous three years ago. One key reason why Western economies appeared to recover so fast was that China responded with a substantial economic boost. Today, China, plagued by high inflation as a result of this timely intervention, is in no position to stretch out a helping hand.

But it is the final difference that is the most alarming. Back in 2008, national balance sheets were in reasonable shape. In Britain, for example, state debt (according to the official figures, which were, admittedly, highly suspect) stood at around 40 per cent of GDP. This meant that we had the balance sheet strength to step into the markets and bail out failed banks. Partly as a result, national debt has now surged past the 60 per cent mark, meaning that it is impossible for the British government to perform the same rescue operation without risking bankruptcy. Many other Western democracies face the same problem.

The consequence is terrifying. Policy-makers find themselves in the position of a driver heading down the outside lane of a motorway who suddenly finds that none of his controls are working: no accelerator, no brakes and a faulty steering wheel. Experience, skill and a prodigious amount of luck are required if a grave accident is to be averted. Unfortunately, it is painfully apparent that none of these qualities are available: Western leaders are out of their depth.

Barack Obama feels more and more like a president from the Jimmy Carter tradition: well meaning but ineffectual. And contemplate the sheer fatuity of the statement issued by Angela Merkel’s office on Friday night: “Markets caused the drama. Now they have to make sure to get things straight again.” This remark reveals in the German Chancellor a basic inability even to grasp the nature, let alone understand the scale, of the disaster facing Europe this weekend. Such a failure of comprehension is entirely typical of a certain type of leader throughout history, at times of grave international urgency.

An emergency telephone conference among the finance ministers of the G7 (membership: United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada) has been convened. There was a time when this organisation – with its sublime pretence that financial powerhouses such as India, China and Brazil do not exist – counted for a great deal. This latest discussion feels as relevant as a Bourbon family get-together in the summer of 1789.

Another symptom of the frivolity of the European political class is that the European Central Bank is being urged to intervene in the Italian bond market to restore stability. Standard & Poor’s and Moody’s do not produce ratings for the ECB, but if they did, it would be given junk bond status, or worse. The ECB is bankrupt, and this would be evident for all to see but for the fact that it has grossly overvalued the practically worthless Greek, Irish and Portuguese bonds in its portfolio. At some point, eurozone states will be asked to fill the massive holes in the ECB’s balance sheet, and matters will then get messy. Some may plead poverty; others will point out that the constitution of the ECB specifically prevents it from purchasing national bonds, and that its market operations must have been ultra vires.

Furthermore, it is unclear to whom the ECB – whose dodgy accounting, reckless investments and contemptuous disregard of banking standards make even the most irresponsible Mayfair hedge fund look like a model of propriety – is ultimately accountable. The idea that it can step effectively into the Italian bond market, whose total value of around 1.8 trillion euros makes it larger by far than Greece, Portugal and Ireland combined, is a joke.

Wake up: the eurozone is very close to collapse. It will come as no surprise if some Italian and Spanish banks are forced to close their doors in the course of the next few weeks. Indeed, British holidaymakers on the Continent should be advised to take care: hold only the minimum of the local currency, and treat with especial suspicion euro notes coded Y, S and M (signifying they were printed in Greece, Italy and Portugal respectively). Take plenty of dollars with you, which shopkeepers will certainly accept if there is a run on the banks, or if euros suddenly cease to be legal currency. The precautions may not prove necessary, but there is no point in taking risks.

Where does this leave Britain? First of all, there is no point intruding on private grief. Nothing we can do or say will solve the problems of the eurozone. George Osborne does, however, face one overriding imperative: he must maintain the British national credit. Fortunately, the Chancellor grasps this essential point very clearly. After last year’s general election, he took exactly the right steps to cut the deficit. He must not be driven off course, or the markets will refuse credit to Britain as well (a point that Ed Balls, Labour’s economic spokesman, appears not to understand). An economic firestorm is heading our way, and Britain will be doing very well just to survive.

A Financial Atom Bomb

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by Martin D. Weiss Ph.D
Posted originally April 25, 2011

NEARLY A YEAR AGO, I PUBLICLY CHALLENGED S&P, MOODY’S AND FITCH to downgrade the long-term debt of the United States government — to help protect investors and prod Washington to fix its finances. In a moment, I’ll show you why their failure to respond is ripping off investors, how it’s exposing millions to a financial atom bomb, and what you can do for immediate fallout protection.

But first, this question: Did S&P finally respond to my challenge last week when it “downgraded” U.S. debt to “negative”? To the casual observer, that might appear to be the case. But in reality, their action — much like recent steps by Washington to “fix” the deficit — was little more than smoke and mirrors. Here are the facts:

• S&P did NOT change, even by one tiny notch, its “AAA” rating for U.S. government debt. It merely changed its future “outlook” for the rating.

• S&P did NOT have the courage to do what’s right for investors and for the country today. It merely said it might do something a couple of years from now.

• Worst of all, S&P has done nothing to change its practices that have caused so much pain for investors in recent years. As before, it’s typically quick to upgrade its best-paying clients, but often delays meaningful downgrades until it’s far too late.

It’s the greatest financial scandal of our  time, and the U.S. Government’s Triple-A  rating is the most scandalous of all.

• In proportion to the size of its economy, the U.S. government has bigger deficits, more debt, plus bigger future liabilities to Medicare and Social Security than many countries receiving far lower ratings from S&P, Moody’s and Fitch.

• Compared to lower rated countries, the U.S. also has a greater reliance on foreign financing, a weaker currency, and far smaller international reserves.

• The U.S. government is exposed to trillions of dollars in contingent liabilities from its intervention on behalf of financial institutions during the 2008-2009 debt crisis.

• The U.S. Federal Reserve, as part of its response to the financial crisis, may be exposed to significant credit risk.

• The U.S. economy is heavily indebted at all levels, despite recent deleveraging.

• U.S. states and municipalities are experiencing severe economic distress and may require intervention from the federal government.

• The U.S government’s finances could be [will be!] adversely impacted by a rise in interest rates.

• The U.S. dollar may not continue to enjoy reserve currency status and may continue to decline.

• Improper payments by the federal government continue to increase despite the Improper Payments Information Act of 2002.

• The U.S. government had failed its official audit by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) for 14 years in a row, with 31 material weaknesses found in 24 government departments and agencies.

This is no secret. Nor am I citing original facts. They are the same facts that have been written about extensively by Jim Grant, editor of the Interest Rate Observer, brought to light by the U.S. Government Accountability Office and widely publicized by its former chief, David Walker. They are similar to the points made in recent warnings by the International Monetary Fund, the Congressional Budget Office, the European Central Bank, the president’s deficit commission, and even the Big Three Rating agencies themselves.

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Casting Blame, Part II

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by Barry Ritholtz
Posted Thursday, July 16, 2009

STRUCTURED FINANCIAL products, from residential mortgage-backed securities (RMBSs) to collateralized debt obligations (CDOs), lay at the heart of the global credit and financial meltdown. The process of creating, rating, and selling this paper is complex. As we have learned after the fact, the rating agencies were not (as they claim) passive participants who just happened to underestimate the likelihood of future defaults. Rather, when they placed precious triple-A ratings on all sorts of mortgage-backed and related securities, they were active participants—collaborators, according to The Wall Street Journal.

The subprime paper that eventually collapsed found its way onto the balance sheets of many banks, funds, and other firms. Had “the securities initially received the risky ratings” they deserved (and many now carry), the various pension funds, trusts, and mutual funds that now own them “would have been barred by their own rules from buying them.”

Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, economics professor at Columbia University, observed:”I view the ratings agencies as one of the key culprits. They were the party that performed that alchemy that converted the securities from F-rated to A-rated. The banks could not have done what they did without the complicity of the ratings agencies.”

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