Bitcoin has a lingering problem

Bitcoin has a lingering problem that few people are talking about amid the renewed exuberance of the recent price surge.

Hardly anyone is using the world’s largest cryptocurrency for anything beyond speculation. Data from New York-based blockchain researcher Chainalysis Inc. show that only 1.3% of economic transactions came from merchants in the first four months of 2019, little changed over the boom and bust cycles of the prior two years.

Even though marque companies such as AT&T Inc. now let customers pay with cryptocurrencies, the problem is that few speculators want to use the digital coins to pay for wireless services when the digital asset’s price might surge another 50% in a matter of weeks. That’s become the main dilemma with the cryptocurrency: Bitcoin needs the hype to attract mass appeal to be considered a viable electronic alternative to money but it has developed a culture of “hodlers” who advocate accumulation rather than spending. Full Article Bloomberg

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GOLD STANDARD AS THE FIRST FINANCIAL CENTER OF DIGITAL ECONOMY 

Gold Standard Bank has become the most significant global multinational holding company in financial sector that has been setting new trends in the blockchain sector development. Its rapid growth is based on the understanding that the world of the future will draw on technology and gold. Over the past few years, it has become the largest venture, which has implemented a numberof successful innovative blockchain projects related to introduction and development of gold exchange transactions.

Global Gold Payment System

With the uncertainty in the world economy it is never too late to make a safe investment in gold. How to invest in gold can be done easily and securely and it does not matter what the price of gold is currently trading at. When you purchase gold it is a good idea to dollar cost average your purchases. This means that you will be putting a certain amount of money towards whatever type of gold investment you prefer each and every month. You will do this regardless of the price.

There are 4 different ways that you can invest in gold. These include gold bullion, gold ETF’s, gold-mining stocks, and gold ETN’s. The two more common choices are gold bullion and gold mining stocks. With gold bullion you can purchase physical gold including gold jewelry, gold bars, and gold coins.

Gold bullion, coins, and jewelry can be stored in a floor or wall safe in your home or in a safety deposit box at your bank. You can also store your gold at certain companies such as Karatbars in Stuttgart.

Company To Link Gold Trade Payment Methods With Cryptocurrency Techniques

KaratBank is creating a new Blockchain-based cryptocurrency based on the ancient legacy of gold. Whilst not readily used in trading today, gold has traditionally been viewed as a safe and secure investment. Combining this historical method with the most modern, cryptocurrency, may not seem like a likely partnership. However, a new company is doing just that.

KaratBank claim that they take the advantages of gold trading and apply it to cryptocurrency. They highlight that gold is a trusted means of investment worldwide, is limited in quantity (which can push up value) and is also stable in price. By linking each of their KaratBank Coins (KBC) to a physical weight of deposited gold (in the form of CashGold – 24 carat gold embedded on a bank note), each token has a stable, trusted value. KaratBank Coins are based on the Ethereum Blockchain protocol allowing for use of smart contracts. The team describe the coins as ‘the foundation of a strategy to promote the development, infrastructure and distribution of a safer, more trustworthy payment means.’ KBC is linked to KaratPay, an online payment platform.

Their whitepaper describes KaratBank’s end goal as ‘The KaratBank Coin is designed to be used as a generally accepted electronic payment means for all who consider gold as a traditional, true, secure and value-stable medium.’ There are many advantages to KBC listed: its links to reliable 24 carat gold prices; the ability to exchange for CashGold at any time; real-time exchanges from any location at any time; the ability to use other popular crypto such as Bitcoin to purchase KBC; free and borderless transfers; and the low service charges for using KaratBank. These advantages have not gone unnoticed, as KBC payments steadily become more and more accepted around the world for transactions.

Reassuringly, KaratBank are in cooperation with Karatbars GmbH, (who already have an established community of nearly 500,000 users worldwide who have collectively invested $120 mln), meaning that the growing number of companies worldwide accepting Karatbars as payment will also do so with KaratBank Coin.

The pre-ICO has already begun and will continue until March 21, with the main ICO beginning March 22 (1 KBC = $0.05). By April 18, the team aim to have KaratBank Coin listed on one major exchange. By 2020, they hope to have 2 percent market penetration, and market capitalisation at $500 mln.

For a start, KaratBank CEO Harald Seiz has forty years of experience in financial consultancy. He is also founder and managing director of Karatbars International GmbH, bringing his extensive knowledge of the relationship between gold and cryptocurrencies to KaratBank. His expertise has been recognised by the Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade, who have awarded him a Senatorial Degree. The rest of the management team also have extensive management credentials from various financial companies across Germany, and the advisory staff boast experience from Karatbar operations in Dubai to the UK.

The knowledgeable team and proven success record with Karatbars indicates an exciting time for this company, and possibly a revolutionary new way of currency investment by marrying traditional investment methods with new innovations.

For more information click HERE

Source: CointelegraphKaratbanks

KaratBank

Harald Seiz, CEO and Founder of Karatbars International was appointed Senator by the German Federal Association for Economic Development and Foreign Trade (BWA).

The goal of Harald Seiz is to develop innovations on the subject of monetary policy, hand in hand with the domestic and foreign policies.

“I am convinced that we can make a difference” Harald Seiz says, “because a debt-free currency is within our reach, but we can only bring change if we take joint action.” Learn More, The Greatest Wealth Transfer

Karatbars International is already working on it; 24k Gold is the oldest currency in the world. “We want to set an example and show the world that it is possible to introduce debt-free means of payment.  Click Free Registration

With the help of politics and the general public we have a huge opportunity to provide a better life to people worldwide. ”

Conducted by Anja Schäfer-Oettinger

More about Karatbars International

Stock Market Crash Imminent Economic Collapse In 2017

Current stock market valuations are not sustainable. In 1929, 2000 and 2008, stock prices soared to absolutely absurd levels just before horrible stock market crashes with economic collapse.  What goes up must eventually come down, and the stock market bubble of today will be no exception and economic collapse 2017 is possible.

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In fact, virtually everyone in the financial community acknowledges that stock prices are irrationally high right now.  Some are suggesting that there is still time to jump in and make money before the financial crash comes, while others are recommending a much more cautious approach and preparing for the imminent economic collapse.  But what almost everyone agrees on is the fact that stocks cannot go up like this forever.

On Tuesday, the Dow, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq all set brand new record highs once again.  Overall, U.S. stocks are now up more than 10 percent since the election, and this is probably the greatest post-election stock market rally in our entire history.

But stocks were already tremendously overvalued before the election, and at this point stock prices have reached a level of ridiculousness only matched a couple of times before in the past 100 years. Only the most extreme optimists will try to tell you that stock prices can stay this disconnected from economic reality indefinitely.  We are in the midst of one of the most outrageous stock market bubbles of all time, and as MarketWatch has noted, all stock market bubbles eventually burst and global economic collapse imminent…

“The U.S. stock market at this level reflects a combination of great demand, great complacency, and great greed. Stocks are clearly in a bubble, and like all bubbles, this one is about to burst.”

Learn More THE GREATEST WEALTH TRANSFER

Source: The Economist

The 401k Future

Coming changes in the retirement industry represent a seismic shift decades in the making.

Simply put, a comfortable and secure retirement can no longer be taken for granted by the vast majority of the population. Unlike the past, no single institution or corporation will come to the rescue with guarantees. Today, employees are largely on their own when preparing for the future, yet the extent to which most people will reprioritize to fund their own retirement remains to be seen.

With the looming threat of a flat-lining retirement industry, defined contribution plans like the 401(k) arguably act as a defibrillator—and a good one at that—but they’re far from a sure bet.

Step Back: How Did We Get Here?

No matter how unfashionable it might be to acknowledge past actions or inactions that have led to a current conundrum, every now and then, it’s worth a pause to consider the course of events that have led to where we are and where we’re most likely headed.

Historical Context

Rather than rehashing 50 years of history, suffice to say that globalization is largely to blame for much of the strife facing the retirement industry today. Looking back to the late 1960s, after Vietnam and before low-cost labor from Asia impacted worldwide pay scales, baby boomers became a driving force, both politically and economically, exerting significant pressure on both wages and benefits in the United States. Those were the halcyon days of labor unions, when employees, both skilled and unskilled, were given not only high wages but also high quality medical benefits and pension plans that would ensure a flow of income all the way to the grave.

The risks and costs of guaranteeing lifetime benefits didn’t escape the attention of the companies offering them, but there were no easy solutions. Some defined benefit pension plans were negotiated but then not properly funded. And others got creative with their actuarial assumptions, in some cases applying a discount rate of 8 percent or more in an attempt to deny or forestall the reality of the future cost of the guaranteed retirement plan.

When China decided to become a member of the world community, things went from bad to worse. Product production shifted into high gear in Asia at a cost that was substantially less than goods produced in the United States. And this sent U.S. companies scrambling to remain competitive, which meant reducing costs and overhead as much as possible. As a way of reducing labor costs, benefit plans were among the first expense categories that came under pressure.

Industry Context

Over the past 20 years, corporate America has increasingly done away with defined benefit plans to instead offer profit sharing plans in conjunction with 401(k) plans. Today, DB plans have all but evaporated from the landscape, with the exception of plans offered by local, state and federal governments. These employers have not felt the pressure of foreign competition, however tremendous unfunded liabilities and significantly longer life expectancies are beginning to take their toll. The strain on governments to properly fund these plans leaves few other options than to raise taxes.

Thus, the whole concept of a guaranteed lifetime benefit has gone the way of other impossible dreams. The 401(k), 403(b), and other similar plans are now the primary source of future retirement income to go along with Social Security. And employees are now largely responsible for their own retirements. So, where do we go from here?

The Much Needed Wake Up Call

Right off the bat, employees must be made to understand exactly what’s at stake. And the most effective way to make that point clear is by providing a personalized retirement readiness assessment. For some, this can feel much like a virtual ice bucket challenge, which is just what you want. The report should delineate how much employees should save for retirement, based on their specific needs, versus how much they’re saving currently. And if they’re not going to make it, they need to be told—in no uncertain terms.

Employees are not the only ones that need a wake up call. The responsibility also lies with plan providers. The new DOL ruling is an admonition to the retirement industry—that plan providers and advisors must act in the best interests of plan participants, which should mean helping to alleviate some of the retirement planning burden by providing the best possible services at fair and reasonable prices.

A Pill Worth Swallowing

Breaking the news to plan participants that need to save around 18% of their earnings can be difficult.  But there is good news to deliver as well. The key points to illustrate are the exponential benefits of even small increases in 401(k) contributions, the power of compound interest over time, and the tax savings that can be realized.

Another vital part of this conversation should be a discussion of the optimal asset allocation and investment choices based on the employee’s specific needs. When the advisor can illustrate savings growth, based on realistic rate of return assumptions, financial goals begin to seem achievable.

The employee education process is crucial to the success of the 401(k) plan. But the time and effort it takes to really get through to people—including group educational forums and one-on-one planning session—is substantial.

Increasing the Odds

No matter how much plan participants can discipline themselves to save, if they’re invested in inferior investment products, it could be all for naught. To make a real difference in people’s lives, plan fiduciaries must be hawkish when it comes to the quality of the investments options and the legitimacy of the fees.

Advisors should recommend benchmarking the plan on a continual basis, to determine the latest industry standard for investments and to identify and eliminate any excessive and unnecessary fee. This is at the heart of what it means to be a plan fiduciary—to act solely in the best interests of the plan participants, act in a prudent manner, diversify the plan’s investments, and ensure that the plan expenses are reasonable.

Through a diversified fund lineup, that includes both active and low-cost passive investment options, and by ensuring that providers are free of inherent conflicts of interest, the odds of achieving a desired level of retirement readiness can be well within grasp.

Tracking Progress

Once the right products are in place, it’s imperative to remain vigilant in ensuring that performance remains on course and individual plans stay on track. To that end, a process for the selection, monitoring and replacement of investment choices is imperative.

As those in the retirement industry for any length of time have observed, if the current course is left unchecked, the prospects are bleak. We’re trending toward a scenario where many, many people will find themselves struggling to make ends meet during retirement. That’s why, now more than ever, plans sponsors and their advisors have a duty to help.

If being in this businesses is worth doing, how much more satisfying to know that you’ve helped steer as many people as possible toward a more promising future. It’s a great challenge and it will take a concerted effort on behalf of everyone to see to it that no one is left behind.

Source: 401k Solution Beirne Wealth

The European Banking Crisis

Fears of a European banking crisis have been on the rise in recent months, with the anxiety centering on two banks in particular: Germany’s Deutsche Bank AG (DB) and Italy’s Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siena S.p.A. (BMPS.Milan).

The European Central Bank (ECB) on Friday rejected Monte dei Paschi’s request for more time to raise private money in a €5 billion recapitalization plan. The central bank had given the struggling lender until the end of the year to raise the money and hive off €27.7 billion of non-performing loans; the refusal to grant a three-week extension sent Monte dei Paschi’s shares down 10.6% to €19.50 at close Friday. That price leaves the bank – which has less than a month to raise several billion euro – with a market capitalization of just €571.8 million.

Given the uncertainty caused by Italians’ rejection of Sunday’s referendum, the plan appears impossible to complete. In order to avoid the politically toxic measure of a bail-in, which would tap a large pool of retail bondholders to rescue the bank, the Italian Treasury is planning to take a stake of up to 40% in the bank, Reuters reported Wednesday.

Deutsche Bank, meanwhile, faces a potentially crushing fine from the U.S. Department of Justice, though few expect the bank to end up paying the government’s full initial ask of $14 billion

If Monte dei Paschi, Deutsche Bank or another vulnerable lender runs out of options, many fear that financial contagion reminiscent of the fallout from Lehman Brothers’ collapse could drag the world economy back into chaos. What ails European banks generally, and Deutsche Bank and Monte dei Paschi in particular? Can they be saved, and if not, can the financial system be saved from them?

Why Are European Banks in a Crisis?

Europe’s economy is mostly listless and in a few areas deeply distressed. Average unemployment in the 19-nation euro area is nearly 10%, and the rate is over 20% in Greece. The financial crisis in Europe that began when the U.S. mortgage bubble burst is still grinding across the continent in different guises, including the sovereign debt crisis that periodically threatens to pull Greece out of the eurozone.

Despite the lingering effects of the financial crisis in Europe, the continent’s banks are still profitable: average return on equity was 6.6% in 2015, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), compared to 15.2% in 2006 and 2007. But borrowing and fee-generating activities have decreased, and non-performing loans continue to weigh on the sector, particularly in the “PIIGS” countries: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain.

Source: IMF Global Financial Stability Report, October 2016. Legend edited for space and clarity.

If economic weakness has hurt banks, so have policymakers’ attempts to set the continent on a new course. New regulations have increased costs and cut into profits once achieved through risky trading strategies. Even more painful are negative interest rates, an unconventional monetary policy approach that first appeared in Sweden in July 2009 and has since spread to Norway, Switzerland, Denmark, Hungary and the 19 countries of the eurozone (as well as Japan).

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Six central banks have introduced negative interest rates to 24 countries since 2009 (note: not all rates shown are headline rates). Source: central banks. 

As a result, banks are finding their margins squeezed. Most are unwilling to pass negative interest on to savers, fearing an exodus of deposits. (Your mattress doesn’t charge a fee.) At least one lender has bowed to the pressure to pass on negative savings rates, however: in August, a community bank in southern Germany announced it would charge a 0.4% fee on deposits of more than €100,000 ($109,000). A spokeswoman for the National Association of German Cooperative Banks described the move, which affected perhaps 150 people, as a reaction to the ECB’s “disastrous policy of low interest rates.”

A look at Deutsche Bank and Monte dei Paschi’s stocks bolsters the idea that negative rates have been a nightmare for banks: the lenders’ shares lost 88.6% and 99.6% of their value in the nine years to June 30, respectively, as the ECB’s deposit rate fell from 2.75% to -0.4%. Monte dei Paschi’s stock closed at €18.90 on December 6; if it weren’t for a 100-to-1 reverse stock split on November 28, the price would be €0.19.

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This confluence of factors led Credit Suisse Group AG (CS) CEO Tidjane Thiam to call European banks “not really an investable sector” in September. But according to the IMF, blaming economic lethargy and hyper-accommodative monetary policy is not enough. The fund estimates that a rise in interest rates, an increase in fee generation and trading gains, and a fall in provision expenses on soured loans would, combined, boost European bank profitability by around 40% in terms of return on assets. And yet, $8.5 trillion, or around 30% of the system’s assets would “remain weak.”

For all the cyclical challenges facing Europe’s banks, their problems are not just cyclical. According to the IMF, the sector needs to cut costs and rethink business models. Consolidation is also necessary: the fund estimates that 46% of the continent’s banks hold just 5% of its deposits.

Still Too Big To Fail?

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If another sector fit the description above – bloated, with too many inefficient competitors scrapping over a highly-regulated, barely-profitable market – the solution might be to let competition do its bloody work. Unfortunately, as the world saw in 2008, some institutions are too big to fail.

When Lehman Brothers’s radioactive portfolio of mortgages began to threaten the bank’s future in mid-2008, CEO Richard Fuld hunted for any sort of rescue, be it fresh investment, a merger, a buy-out, a change to Federal Reserve rules or an outright bailout. The bank ran out of options and declared bankruptcy on September 15, 2008, an event that laid bare the fragility of the global financial system.

Over the following days, hedge funds that traded through Lehman’s London office found that their assets were frozen, sowing panic behind the scenes. The crisis erupted into plain view when major money market funds “broke the buck” – announced they would not be able to repay investors in full – sparking a flight from commercial paper that threatened to deprive large corporations in every sector of the cash they needed to pay workers and invoices.

Gargantuan, system-wide government bailouts stopped the bleeding, but the world still feels the effects of a crisis triggered by a single bank failure eight years ago.

Monte dei Paschi di Siena

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On Friday, December 9, the ECB rejected a request from Monte dei Paschi di Siena for additional time to continue with a private recapitalization plan that got underway in late November. The three-week extension would have pushed the deadline to January 20; the rebuff sent Monte dei Paschi’s shares plunging by over 14%, with circuit breakers halting trading more than once. The stock pared losses slightly to close down 10.6% at €19.50.

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Faced with a year-end deadline to raise €5 billion in new capital and rid its balance sheet of €27.7 billion in bad loans – the net value of which is estimated at €9.2 billion – it appears increasingly likely that the €571.8 million bank (at close Friday) will be forced to take public money. Reuters reported Wednesday that the Italian government is preparing to take a controlling stake of up to 40% in Monte dei Paschi, in what an unnamed source called a “de-facto nationalization.” The €2 billion injection, which could take place as soon as this weekend, will reportedly take the form of bond purchases by the Treasury: retail investors numbering around 40,000 will receive face value for their bonds, which the government will then convert to shares in the bank. Monte dei Paschi’s stock rose 10.8% Wednesday in response to the news.

The government has been forced to resort to a bailout because voters rejected a referendum on constitutional reforms on Sunday, December 4. Following the vote, which saw “No” triumph by nearly 20 percentage points, Prime Minister Matteo Renzi announced he would resign. His exit has the potential to set off a destructive chain reaction: the Five Star Movement, a euroskeptic party, could come to power as a result. Its leader, former comedian Beppe Grillo, has called for a referendum on Italy’s leaving the eurozone. A far-right party, the Northern League, also stands to gain from the anti-establishment rebuff.

Medium-term political uncertainty has led to acute short-term uncertainty for Monte dei Paschi. Citing unnamed Italian officials and bankers, the Financial Times (FT) reported on November 27 that perhaps eight of Italy’s ricketiest banks could fail in the event that a “No” vote set off market turbulence and endangered rescue plans designed to save them from a bail-in. The euro dropped to a 20-month low against the dollar following the vote; by Monday afternoon EST, the currency had more than recovered those losses, but Monte dei Paschi proved less resilient. Its shares closed down 4.2%.

The €5 billion recapitalization plan, which appears likely to be abandoned, was developed by JPMorgan and unveiled on October 25. It called for the Italian lender to raise €1.6 billion through junior bondholders’ agreeing to convert debt to equity. Atlante, a rescue fund for Italy’s banks, would stump up another €1.6 billion, and a new bond issue would cover the balance. A Qatari government fund was mulling an “anchor” investment of around €1 billion, depending on the outcome of the referendum.

To sweeten the deal for investors, Monte dei Paschi said it would target €1.1 billion in net profit by the end of 2019. The bank has already eliminated its dividend; to cut costs further, it announced in late October a plan to slash 2,600 jobs and shut 500 branches. Investors remained skeptical: shares fell by over 20% after the announcement, leading authorities to temporarily halt trading in the stock. Bank of America Merrill Lynch analysts were hesitant as well, asking in a research note if it is “even possible” to raise €5 billion in fresh capital for a €550 million company (at close on October 25).

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Monte dei Paschi began exchanging subordinated bonds for equity in late November in the first stage of the recapitalization plan. On December 2 it said it had raised around €1 billion in the swap. The same day, the Italian daily Corriere della Sera reported that the government was in discussions with the European Commission regarding the terms of a bailout for the bank, apparently anticipating the results of the referendum. When voters rejected Renzi’s reforms two days later, already wary private investors were unwilling to go forward with the rescue plan.

The hope is that, once the Italian Treasury has become the bank’s controlling shareholder (it is already the largest, with a 4% stake), private investors will be confident enough to fill in the €2 billion gap left by the €1 billion debt-for-equity swap and the government’s €2 billion investment.

If the bank is not recapitalized or bailed out by the end of the year, it may have to resort to a bail-in. EU rules that went into effect at the beginning of the year require that junior bondholders take a loss amounting to 8% of assets before taxpayers can be tapped for a traditional bailout. In countries where bank bonds are mostly held by institutions, that might not be a disaster, but Italy’s tax code and cultural norms encourage retail investors to hold bank bonds – around €200 billion nationwide. A much smaller bail-in caused an Italian saver to kill himself in December 2015.

Renzi tried for months to convince Brussels to allow for the use of public money, but Germany and others in Europe’s “core” were in no mood for taxpayer-funded bailouts. “We wrote the rules for the credit system,” German chancellor Angela Merkel, who is facing elections in 2017, told reporters in June. “We cannot change them every two years.” In the wake of the referendum, circumstances appear to have changed.

A Long-standing Problem

Stress tests conducted by the European Banking Authority in July found that, nearly eight years after the financial crisis began, the continent still harbored at least one bank liable to walk off a cliff in a downturn. Monte dei Paschi, Italy’s third-largest lender, saw its fully-loaded common equity Tier 1 (CET1) ratio, a risk-weighed measure of capital, fall to -2.4% in 2018 under the test’s adverse scenario. In other words, the bank would be insolvent, and its collapse could potentially lead to other bank failures. It was the only one among 51 banks surveyed to earn that distinction, though struggling Greek, Cypriot and Portuguese banks were excluded from the test.

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Monte dei Paschi’s struggles were well-known going into the stress tests. The lender had unveiled a restructuring plan just hours beforehand, showing it was not banking on a pleasant surprise. Founded in 1472, Monte dei Paschi is the world’s oldest surviving bank, but in this case antiquity does not imply stability. Prior to the first quarter of 2015, when it turned a modest profit, it had lost money for 11 straight quarters – over €10 billion in total. In the three months to September the bank swung to loss again, of €1.2 billion.

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Note: net revenue and net income figures are shown as restated; share prices are adjusted for splits up to September 30.

Shortly before Europe’s financial crisis struck, Monte dei Paschi bought Antonveneta from Banco Santander S.A. (SAN) for an inflated €9 billion. In 2013 that acquisition – funded by a complex hybrid instrument designed by JPMorgan Chase & Co. (JPM) – became the subject of an investigation that also uncovered complex derivative contracts with Deutsche Bank and Nomura Holdings Inc. (NMR), which Monte dei Paschi management had used to conceal losses in 2009. Three former executives received 3.5-year prison sentences in connection with the fraud in 2014.

Monte dei Paschi took a €1.9 billion bailout in 2009 in the form of Tremonti bonds, named for the finance minister at the time. These were hybrid securities designed for sale by struggling banks – four in all, three of which had repaid by mid-2013 – to the Italian government; the proceeds counted towards regulatory capital requirements. Monte dei Paschi ducked out of the European bailout of Spain’s banking system in 2012, but the following year it sold Italy €4.1 billion in rejiggered Tremonti bonds (known as Monti bonds after Tremonti’s successor). Of this sum, €2.1 would substitute for the first bailout, including interest. The bank has raised around €8 billion through additional rights issues since 2014, diluting previous shareholders’ stakes, yet its market capitalization as of December 7 is a mere €614 million.

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Deutsche Bank

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Ironically, given Merkel’s avowed reluctance to bail out banks, the other European institution that keeps markets up at night hails from Germany. In June, the IMF named Deutsche Bank “the most important net contributor to systemic risks” among the so-called global systemically important banks (G-SIBS).

Linkages among global systemically important banks. Size of bubbles indicates asset size; thickness of arrows indicates degree of linkage; direction of arrows indicates direction of “net spillover.” Source: IMF Financial System Stability Assessment, June 2016.

On September 15 the angst surrounding Deutsche Bank deepened when it confirmed reports that the Department of Justice (DOJ) was seeking a $14 billion settlement for alleged wrongdoing related to mortgage-backed securities from 2005 to 2007. The bank’s New York-listed shares plunged by over 9% the next day, as it had only €5.5 billion ($6.0 billion) set aside for the purpose – less than the €6.8 billion it had lost the previous year. (A couple of weeks later, Greece’s central bank chief relished the opportunity to announce that his country’s banking system was safe from German spillover.)

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Few expect Deutsche Bank to pay the full amount, which could push it over the brink. Citigroup Inc. (C) talked the DOJ down to $7 billion in 2014 from a $12 billion initial ask. Other fines for similar activity range from Morgan Stanley’s (MS) $3.2 billion to Bank of America Corp.’s (BAC) $16.7 billion.

Even with a diminished fine, though, Deutsche Bank is in a precarious position. As of September 30, it had €5.9 billion ($6.4 billion) set aside for litigation expenses, up from €5.5 billion at the end of the previous quarter. JPMorgan analysts wrote on September 15 that a final bill over $4 billion would raise questions about the bank’s capital position. They pointed out that the mortgage-backed security probe is not the last potentially costly legal issue Deutsche Bank could face in the near future: an investigation into money laundering for Russian clients is also underway.

Speculation began to swirl that Germany would flout the bail-in rules it had expended such political energy to defend, though Merkel has ruled out state assistance, according to government sources quoted in Munich-based Focus magazine.

Deutsche Bank’s CET1 capital ratio has fallen since the end of 2014, though it rose slightly in the third quarter of 2016 to 11.1%. At 10.8% in June, the ratio was around €7 billion shy of CEO John Cryan’s 12.5% end-2018 goal. Selling Postbank and its stake in Hua Xia Bank Co. Ltd. will likely bring Deutsche Bank closer to that target, but stricter rules could push its capital ratio even lower.

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While Deutsche Bank has taken a few heavy losses since the financial crisis in Europe began, it could conceivably have built up more capital through retained earnings and avoided looking so brittle when the DOJ came knocking. John Cryan, the bank’s CEO since July 2015, has set his sights on executive pay, telling a conference in Frankfurt that November, “many people in the sector still believe they should be paid entrepreneurial wages for turning up to work with a regular salary, a pension and probably a health-care scheme and playing with other people’s money.” Chief financial officer Marcus Schneck told investors on October 27 the bank would dispense with cash bonuses for the year and may tie executive compensation to the stock price. On November 17 Süddeutsche Zeitung reported that Deutsche bank may cancel six former executives’ unpaid bonuses, without specifying the amount.

In fairness, shareholders have taken a greater share of earnings than executives – though not per head – in the form of dividends, which were discontinued in 2015.

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Better-than-expected third-quarter earnings of €278 million, announced on October 27, have given Deutsche Bank a moment to catch its breath, but the firm remains vulnerable, and it does not have to be the European banking crisis’ zero cell to contribute to the carnage – it could serve as a conduit. Deutsche Bank reported net exposure to Italian financial institutions of €1.9 billion at the end of the third quarter, up €1.1 billion from year-end. Its net credit risk exposure to the PIIGS countries is €31.1 billion, up €4.9 billion.

Will There Be a European Banking Crisis?

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The ultimate question is whether, if one of these banks or another were to collapse, the world would see a repeat of the Lehman moment. Kevin Dowd, professor of finance and economics at the University of Durham, answered this question in stark terms in an August report for the Adam Smith Institute: “Once contagion spreads from Italy to Germany and then to the UK, we will have a new banking crisis but on a much grander scale” than in 2007 and 2008.

Not everyone agrees. “No, I don’t see them as the next Lehman,” Harvard Law School professor Hal Scott told Investopedia on October 31. “I think that there are problems that are idiosyncratic to some extent to each bank. I don’t see panic ensuing from how they’re dealt with.” In fact, he sees the European banking system as having “more capability to handle a contagion than in the United States,” due to Americans’ unwillingness to see a repeat of the 2008 bailouts.

Scott explained that European authorities have three “weapons” that would allow them to put a stop to financial contagion “pretty quickly.” First is the ability of national central banks to act as a lender of last resort, although the ECB can cap the amount these banks lend. “I’m pretty confident that the Italian central bank and [German] Bundesbank would lend,” he said, adding, “I think there would be a strong lender of last resort response in Europe.”

The second weapon is the Single Resolution Mechanism, what Scott called a form of “standing TARP,” which envisions the use of banking industry contributions, creditors’ money and public funds to resolve failing banks. Finally, while the EU lacks a system-wide deposit insurance scheme, there are rules governing national schemes, which guarantee up to €100,000 per depositor per bank.

While Scott does not see Deutsche Bank or Monte dei Paschi setting off another Lehman-like chain reaction, he identified flaws in the European banking system’s current design. It would be better, he said, if the ECB acted as the lender of last resort rather than national central banks. He is also doubtful of capital requirements’ ability to stem a panic: “in a run on a system, no amount of reasonable capital is going to be sufficient.” Such requirements are a good thing, he clarified, like enhancing a building’s ability to withstand fire – even so, “you don’t abolish the fire department.”

If and when something goes wrong in Europe’s fragile banking system, avoiding a full-blown financial crisis in Europe will likely depend on policymakers’ ability to quickly reassure markets and depositors. According to Scott, national and continental authorities’ capabilities are “more than adequate.” On the other hand, judging by the state of Europe’s banks nearly a decade after the initial crack-up, resolving crises quickly may not be the continent’s strong suit.

By David Floyd

U.S. economy and Brexit

The United Kingdom shocked the world when its citizens voted to leave the European Union Thursday.

The so-called Brexit has wide implications for the U.S. economy, which is already facing a slew of headwinds.

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The chief of the U.S. central bank and top monetary policy setting official, Janet Yellen, forewarned earlier this week that Brexit “would negatively affect financial conditions and the U.S. economy.”

Trade between the two nations only makes up 0.5% of U.S. economic activity. However, the connections go well beyond direct trade between the two global powers.

The effect on America can come through a number of chain reactions — a Brexit domino effect on the global economy. Here are four ways the wake of Brexit could hurt the U.S. economy.

 

1. Fears that the EU may be falling apart

One of the key global concerns rattling the markets is that Britain could be just the first of more EU countries to leave the union. On Friday, French right-wing leader Maine Le Pen called for France’s own referendum vote. Concerns have been raised about referendums from Italy and the Netherlands too.

The European Union is one of the world’s largest trading blocs and it’s a major trade partner with China and the United States. If it breaks, it could lead to a lot of global uncertainty and many trade deals would need to be restructured.

Some experts caution that fears of the EU falling apart are overblown. After all, the UK always used the pound as its currency. Other countries like France would have to ditch the euro and reintroduce their old currency. That’s a much more difficult transition than what the UK must navigate now.

Plus the high expectation of a looming recession in the UK may give other countries pause, especially if they see an economic storm that Britain may endure after Brexit.

Still, the fear of the EU’s opaque path ahead is real.

“We also need to acknowledge we are faced with lots of doubts about the direction of Europe … not just in the U.K. but in other countries as well,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel told reporters.

2. Volatile markets slow down the engine of U.S. growth

American consumers make up the majority of U.S. economic activity. If they don’t spend, the economy doesn’t grow. And how much they spend often depends on how they feel good about where the country is heading. Americans don’t buy homes and cars if things look bleak and a stock market downturn can really whittle down confidence.

Brexit is already causing severe volatility in global stock markets. If that volatility continues for weeks and months, it could cause American business owners and consumers to reconsider their spending plans.

“The keys to whether the U.S. economy is affected significantly will be whether equities tumble enough to have a major impact on business and consumer confidence,” says Jim O’Sullivan, chief U.S. economist at High Frequency Economics, a research firm.

A cutback by consumers would be particularly bad news at the moment.

U.S. job gains have slowed this spring and economic growth was sluggish in the winter. But a recent pickup in consumer spending has been one of the few bright spots. The added momentum in spending had raised hopes that growth would rise in spring and summer.

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3. Brexit triggers a strong dollar, which hurts U.S. trade

A strong dollar sounds good — and it is for American travelers — but it’s bad for U.S. businesses that sell products overseas.

On Friday morning, the U.S. dollar quickly rallied against the British pound, up 6.3% Friday, its biggest one-day gain since 1967, according to FactSet, a financial data firm.

A strong dollar makes company’s products more expensive — and less attractive — to buyers outside the U.S. That hurts sales for tech giants like Apple (AAPLTech30), equipment makers like Deere (DE) and Caterpillar (CAT) and global brands like Coca-Cola (KO) and Nike (NKE).

It’s one of the key reasons why Corporate America has been in an “earnings recession,” with profits declining for three straight quarter on an annual basis.

“The biggest impact economically is the dollar impact,” says Matt Lloyd, chief investment strategist at Advisors Asset Management. “If the dollar surges on [Brexit] for any period of time, then you’re going to see fears of the profits recession lasting longer.”

In short, a stronger dollar typically lowers U.S. exports — a theme we saw last year. The U.S. manufacturing sector, which relies heavily on trade, fell into a 5-month recession triggered by the strong dollar. Manufacturing lost a net 39,000 jobs in the past 12 months.

So if the dollar continues its post-Brexit gains, it would spell bad news for U.S. trade and manufacturing, which is just digging out of its hole from last year.

A stronger dollar could make imported items cheaper for U.S. consumers, which could offset consumer fears about volatile global markets. But at this point, fears of a stronger dollar appear to be outweighing positives of it.

4. Brexit forces the Fed to rewrite its rate hike playbook 

In December, the Federal Reserve projected that it would raise rates four times this year — a strong sign that the U.S. economy has recovered from the Great Recession. Higher interest rates benefit savers, who can make more money on deposits.

But by June, several Fed committee members were only calling for one rate hike in the wake of weak growth and slowing job gains.

If the volatility in markets from Brexit continues, and if U.S. consumers pare back spending, and employers slow down hiring even more, the Fed could be looking at zero rate hikes in 2016. In fact, markets are starting to increase their expectations for a rate cut this year.

It’s not how the Federal Reserve had planned the year to unfold. U.S. central bank officials had started the year with high expectations after raising rates in December for the first time in nearly a decade, also known as “liftoff.”

But instead, the Fed is coming back down to earth. Other central banks around the world have lowered rates into negative territory and the conversation has shifted to whether the Fed should consider that move too.

“For the Federal Reserve, a Brexit vote would make it more difficult to raise interest rates,” says PNC senior international economist Bill Adams.

More at Do You Need Insurance Against the U.S. Dollar? 

By Patrick Gillespie  and  Mark Thompson contributed to this story