Another Zombie Bites the Dust
Another one bites the dust…
First Republic Bank closed yesterday, with the majority of its operations sold to JPMorgan Chase at fire-sale prices.
It was the second-largest bank failure in U.S. history. It was also the third bank failure in just six weeks, following Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) and Signature Bank.
First Republic’s failure isn’t surprising. First Republic has been a zombie for a while. As I warned last month when the bank closures began, the crisis was far from over.
Veterans of such crises (and I include myself in that category) know that once the dominoes start falling, they keep falling until some government intervention of a particularly draconian kind is imposed.
We’ve seen some significant regulatory actions from the Federal Reserve, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), the U.S. Treasury and the Swiss National Bank, but the fixes have been temporary and followed quickly by new failures.
This will continue.
What’s important to bear in mind is that crises of this type are not over in days or weeks.
A slow-motion rolling panic that takes a year or longer is more typical. The September 1998 financial crisis involving Long Term Capital Management actually began in Thailand with a currency devaluation in June 1997.
The September 2008 bankruptcy of Lehman Bros. was the culmination of a panic that started in the summer of 2007 with mortgage losses and a run on a French bank. That panic proceeded with the failure of Bear Stearns in March 2008 and the double failures of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac in June 2008.
In other words, panics can run for a year or longer before they are finally squashed by massive regulatory intervention. Using that measure, the current crisis began in March with the Silvergate collapse and could run until early 2024 before matters are resolved.
Unrealized losses on securities held by FDIC-insured banks exceed $620 billion. That’s the amount of bank capital that would be wiped out if the banks were forced to sell those securities to meet demands from depositors who want their money back.
That would cause additional bank failures and continue the panic that began in March indefinitely.
I’ve written a lot lately about what I call Biden Bucks. That’s my term for the central bank digital currency (CBDC) the government is currently preparing.
What does this banking crisis have to do with Biden Bucks? Well, plenty, as it turns out. Read on to see why…
Biden Bucks Puts You in Money Jail
Whether an account is in CBDC or a regular checking account doesn’t make that much difference. Bank runs today are no different than in the 1930s from a behavioral perspective.
It’s all about lost confidence, fear, not wanting to be the last person out of a burning building, rumors, word of mouth and a host of psychological factors that are part of human nature.
That part hasn’t changed since at least the 14th century with the failure of the Bardi and Peruzzi banks around 1345.
What has changed is technology. Marshall McLuhan said in the 1960s that in the global village, everyone knows everything at the same time. He was right. That means when a bank run begins, there’s an immediate reaction.
The difference with the 1930s is that you don’t line up around the corner and wait for the chance to demand cash from the teller. You take out your iPhone, make a few taps and, whether it’s Venmo or a wire transfer, the money is on its way out the door.
Whether you’re a retail depositor with $1,000 or a maven with $8 billion, everyone was online moving money all at once. In that sense, CBDCs don’t matter much.
Whether it’s CBDC, Venmo, wire transfer or cash from an ATM, everyone is cashing out at the same time via digital channels. But there is one huge impact of CBDCs that is entirely new and sets them apart from what’s described above…
CBDCs are programmable and controlled by the government.
This means when a run develops, the government can stop the run just by freezing CBDC account transfers. They can even claw back earlier transfers.
Since the government controls the CBDC ledger, they can see where the early withdrawals went and simply reinstate them on the account of the failing bank and debit them from the accounts of the transferees. The government can do this with a few keystrokes because they see everything.
This means that once Biden Bucks is implemented, you’re locked into a system controlled by the government. You’re in a money jail.
There’s no point even starting a bank run because the government can track your movements and put the money back where it started. It’s one of many ways that Biden Bucks gives the government total control of your money and can monitor your thoughts and movements.
Cash is likely to be eliminated sooner rather than later in order to pave the way for the dominance of central bank digital currencies. A U.S. dollar CBDC is coming soon. Cash will have to be eliminated to force individuals into the CBDC world. For better or worse, the only way citizens will be able to avoid the mandatory use of CBDCs will be to use gold, silver or cryptocurrencies.
I put comparisons of gold (and silver) and Bitcoin in the same category as comparing fish and bicycles. You can do it, but what’s the point? Gold is money and Bitcoin is a hallucinogen;(or more precisely an acoustic hypnotic spell).
The idea that the U.S. Treasury, Fed and other mainstream monetary institutions are hostile to crypto is absolutely correct. For 10 years they have taken the view that they don’t like it but don’t know what to do about it. Now they know.
The solution is to kill it.
Of course, Bitcoin and other cryptos have their own ecosystem of exchanges, derivatives, custodians, payment channels, tickers, etc., etc. But so what? Cryptos are like chips in a casino.
You can make money or lose money gambling with the chips. But if you walk outside with chips in your pocket, they’re worthless. You can change tables at the casino but you can’t leave the casino. Chips only have value inside. If you want to spend money outside, you have to visit the cashier first to cash in your chips. The cashier is the portal from the crypto world to the real world of money.
That’s why the FDIC took over Signature Bank on Sunday, March 12, when they shut down Silicon Valley Bank. Signature Bank was no worse off than a lot of other banks. If it had survived until Monday, March 13, it would have been rescued by the Federal Reserve’s Bank Term Funding Program (BTFP) along with the entire U.S. banking system. Why did Signature Bank get whacked under those circumstances?
Signature Bank got whacked because it was offering a portal to the crypto world called Signet. Once the FDIC announced a blanket deposit guarantee and the Fed offered an unlimited ability to swap bonds for cash at par, Signature would have been fine like any other bank.
Yellen just used a panicked weekend to wipe out the Signet portal. As Rahm Emanuel said, never let a crisis go to waste. This is one example of how crypto is getting strangled globally. CBDCs are being set up to replace cryptos as a digital currency.
As for gold, you can manipulate the price for short periods of time by dumping gold, painting the tape, acting in concert, etc. But those techniques are not sustainable (unless you want to sell all your gold, in which case you end up with no gold and the market still goes its way).
The London Gold Pool price rigging agreement collapsed in 1968. British Chancellor of the Exchequer Gordon Brown sold almost half of the U.K.’s gold in 1999 at a near 50-year low, a notorious effort at price manipulation known as Brown’s Bottom.
Both are good examples of how manipulation always fails in the end. The government could try a replay of FDR’s gold confiscation from 1933, but it won’t work this time because there’s no trust in the government’s promises.
There are many reasons for this. No one trusts the government today, whereas in 1933 there was a belief that FDR knew what he was doing and was trying to end the Great Depression. COVID is a good example of how people were lied to about vaccines, masks, etc.
The rule today is “Don’t get fooled again.’ No one will surrender their gold except perhaps Democrats still wearing masks. But they don’t have any gold to begin with.
The other reason gold confiscation won’t work is that gold is not fixed in price as it was in 1933. Very few saw the dollar devaluation from $20/oz to $35/oz of gold coming that FDR orchestrated in 1933.
That gold price increase (really a dollar devaluation) wasn’t announced until months after the confiscation. It was the ultimate in insider trading organized by FDR. Informed citizens won’t fall for that a second time.
In a non-pegged market as we have today, the crisis will come first and gold will go to $5,000 or $10,000 per ounce or higher before the government gets around to an attempted confiscation. By that point the damage is done and gold owners have their winnings.
How should everyday Americans evaluate the crisis choice between gold and cryptos as alternatives to the dollar? Ask the following questions:
Is crypto getting whacked by governments? Yes. Can gold be manipulated in the long-run? No.
Those questions and answers really answer the bigger question of how to survive the collapse of the dollar.
Gold works. Crypto doesn’t. ‘Nuff said.
James G. Rickards is the editor of Strategic Intelligence. He is an American lawyer, economist, and investment banker with 35 years of experience working in capital markets on Wall Street. He was the principal negotiator of the rescue of Long-Term Capital Management L.P. (LTCM) by the U.S Federal Reserve in 1998. His clients include institutional investors and government directorates. His work is regularly featured in the Financial Times, Evening Standard, New York Times, The Telegraph, and Washington Post, and he is frequently a guest on BBC, RTE Irish National Radio, CNN, NPR, CSPAN, CNBC, Bloomberg, Fox, and The Wall Street Journal. He has contributed as an advisor on capital markets to the U.S. intelligence community, and at the Office of the Secretary of Defense in the Pentagon. Rickards is the author of The New Case for Gold (April 2016), and three New York Times best sellers, The Death of Money (2014), Currency Wars (2011), The Road to Ruin (2016) from Penguin Random House.