The Next Crisis Is The Mother Of All Counter-Party Risks (Part 2)

[This is a long article – part valuable information and part rant. -Bob]

By Gijsbert Groenewegen – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

In Part I I explained the counter-party risk that is all around us – and will come to the fore in the next financial crisis. In this second part I reflect on the rescue operations of the Fed following the 2008/2009 recession and the following QEs and ZIRP policies that have led to diminishing returns and that will ultimately weaken the US dollar: the biggest counter-party risk of all counter-party risks.

Addendum 8 – CDS, Credit Default Swaps. Ultimately it should be considered that when we encounter these systemic events that it will impact the underlying currency.  For example when the pension underfunding gets so problematic that the Government has to print more money to meet and rescue the obligations the counter-party risk will be reflected in the devaluation of the currency or the loss of purchasing power, the goods that you can buy with the same amount of nominal money will tumble.

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A Bankruptcy of Nuclear Proportions

Re-Blogged From Stratfor

In any given year, a handful of companies file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the United States. Rarely, however, does one of these filings reverberate beyond the boardroom and into the realm of geopolitics. Those that do — Lehman Brothers in 2008, or the “Big Three” U.S. automakers in 2008-10 — usually involve hundreds of billions of dollars. But the next big geopolitically relevant bankruptcy may be on the horizon, and the amount of money involved is tiny next to the collapses of the past decade.

Analysis

On March 29, Westinghouse Electric Co., a subsidiary of Japanese conglomerate Toshiba, filed for bankruptcy. The U.S.-based nuclear power company has been building two state-of-the-art nuclear power plants in Georgia and South Carolina, but it has been plagued by delays and cost overruns. The filing sent Toshiba scrambling to cut its losses by March 31, the end of Japan’s fiscal year. The Japanese conglomerate ended up writing down over $6 billion on its nuclear reactor business. But Toshiba’s troubles don’t end there; the firm is also working to sell off a portion of its chip manufacturing holdings.

The U.S. government is worried about what the sale of Westinghouse could mean for the future of traditional nuclear power in the United States and for nuclear power in China, which is keen to learn the secrets of a Western firm such as Westinghouse. The Japanese government, meanwhile, is wary of how Beijing could benefit in the long term, should a Chinese firm acquire Toshiba’s semiconductor unit.

A Setback for the Nuclear Renaissance

Even though the current and previous U.S. administrations have supported nuclear energy — and the first new reactor in the United States in two decades started last October — the future of traditional American nuclear power is not bright. High capital costs, climbing operating costs, sustained low natural gas prices and unfavorable electricity markets all limit its expansion. And with the failure of Westinghouse — one of the two major nuclear power firms in the country (the other, GE, is also scaling back its plans) — the picture looks even bleaker.

Westinghouse’s plants in Georgia and South Carolina are supposed to feature its new AP1000 pressurized water reactors, which were designed to be both safer and easier to build. The projects, however, have been hamstrung by setbacks and cost overruns totaling some $3 billion for each project. Westinghouse’s bankruptcy filing now puts them in limbo. Though there’s still a chance the projects will be completed, it’s hard to envision Westinghouse, even if it is sold, fulfilling its one-time plan of building perhaps dozens of plants in the United States.

But all hope is not lost for growth in the U.S. nuclear sector. The difference is that growth, if it is to occur, may come not from traditional nuclear powerhouses, which are expensive and inflexible, but from a new technology: small modular reactors (SMRs). SMRs are reactors smaller than 300 megawatts that are, as the name suggests, built in a modular fashion. In theory, they can be manufactured offsite and then assembled where needed, significantly lowering initial capital costs, one of nuclear power’s biggest constraints. Installation can also be done as needed, avoiding potential underutilization of capacity and, again, large capital costs, enabling nuclear energy to serve markets that would otherwise be unreachable.

The U.S. Department of Energy has supported the development of SMRs in the past. Two companies, Babcock & Wilcox and NuScale Power, have received federal funding to develop SMRs in recent years. Babcock & Wilcox has since scaled back its operations, but NuScale is forging ahead. The company recently filed plans with the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to deploy SMRs at the Idaho National Laboratory.

SMRs are promising, but the first pilot plants won’t be operational until at least the mid-2020s. And as with any unproven technology, the costs and benefits aren’t yet known and won’t be for some time. Supporters have proposed public-private partnerships to aid in the commercialization of SMR technology. But given the uncertainty surrounding the U.S. federal budget and the administration’s specific plans for infrastructure, it remains to be seen whether SMR technology will be able to get off the ground. Traditional nuclear power plants would be helpful to bridge the gap, and that is where Westinghouse’s bankruptcy will be felt the most in the United States. SMRs may provide the clearest path to a future of nuclear power in the country, but it won’t be an easy one.

A Motivated Buyer

The shedding of Westinghouse is not the only part of Toshiba’s financial restructuring that has been causing waves. As Toshiba’s board approved Westinghouse’s filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, U.S. officials raised concerns about national security. Chinese corporate espionage has targeted Westinghouse in the past, and U.S. officials are worried that a Chinese firm could simply buy access to the secrets it has tried before to steal.

Japan has concerns as well, though they are centered not on Westinghouse but on the sale of Toshiba’s semiconductor unit. On March 30, Toshiba’s shareholders voted to split off its NAND flash memory unit. Apple, Amazon, Google and several other U.S. firms expressed interest in acquiring it, as did Asian bidders from South Korea. Toshiba said April 7 that it had narrowed the list of bidders down to 10. But the group still includes Taiwan’s Hon Hai Precision (otherwise known as Foxconn), with a bid of $27 billion, which could set the stage for a dispute down the road. Should a Chinese company — or even a Taiwanese company with extensive operations on the mainland — acquire the semiconductor business, it would undermine the competitiveness of Japan’s tech sector relative to China’s in the long run.

The timing couldn’t be much better for Beijing, which is making semiconductor mergers and acquisitions the focal point of its overseas mergers and acquisitions strategy in much the same way it focused on oil and natural gas in the mid-2000s. On March 28, Tsinghua Unigroup, China’s largest chipmaker, finalized $22 billion in funding from the China Development Bank and the National Integrated Circuit Industry Investment Fund to build up the country’s semiconductor sector and push for global mergers and acquisitions. Tsinghua Unigroup is serious about growth; in January, it announced plans to build a $30 billion fabrication plant in Nanjing. Such growth would pose an existential threat to the semiconductor industries of Japan and South Korea, and the sale of Toshiba’s semiconductor business to a Chinese company would only make such a scenario more likely.

None of these potential concerns about the fallout from Toshiba’s corruption, mismanagement and financial problems is surprising. The United States has always had an interest in the sale of nuclear-related technology, and Japan’s tech sector has long been one of its most important and most competitive industries. But the struggles of Toshiba and the demise of Westinghouse are a rare instance in which a corporate breakdown has important geopolitical consequences.

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Pension Crisis In US And Globally Is Unavoidable

By Lance Roberts – Re-Blogged From http://www.Silver-Phoenix500.com

There is a really big crisis coming.

Think about it this way. After 8 years and a 230% stock market advance the pension funds of Dallas, Chicago, and Houston are in severe trouble.

But it isn’t just these municipalities that are in trouble, but also most of the public and private pensions that still operate in the country today.

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EU Crisis Becoming Existential…Dutch Vote Tomorrow And Why It Matters

By Mark O’Byrne – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

The leader of the National Front in France, Marine Le Pen, has hailed Britain’s decision to leave the EU – and has called for France to hold a similar referendum

The EU is facing an existential crisis and does not look like it will survive the massive political and financial challenges it is faced with. This has ramifications for investors in the EU itself and globally as the collapse of one of the world’s largest trading blocs will badly impact already fragile global economic growth and increasingly “frothy” looking financial markets – particularly stock and bond markets.

The existential crisis facing the EU, the Dutch elections tomorrow and the coming elections in France and Germany and the risks increasingly likely EU contagion poses to Asian economies and the global economy is considered by True Wealth’s Kim Iskyan today:

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Central Banks And Gold

By Alasdair Macleod – Re-Blogged From http://www.Gold-Eagle.com

The very near future is likely to see a sea-change in central bankers’ attitude to the gold allocation in their reserves. The failure of G20 monetary policy since the financial crisis is causing a general rethink, which may eventually lead to a new policy direction. For now, that is undecided, beyond a growing acceptance that today’s monetary policy does not work and the assumptions of recent decades, that gold as money should be phased out, might have been a mistake.

The idea, that Western central banks could banish gold from the monetary scene over time, has been disrupted by the persistence of Asian demand, fuelled by the remarkable economic progress of ex-communist states embracing capitalist methods. Western financial markets have hardly begun to grasp the wider implications of the shift in economic power from the heavily-indebted welfare economies, to China, Russia and other members of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, and their consequences for gold.

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How We Got Here In One Sentence

By John Rubino – Re-Blogged From Dollar Collapse

In every annual budget debate since the 1980s, one side figures out that the way to get what it wants – which is higher spending – is to frame the request in a particular, ingenious way: We have to borrow and spend way more now if we want to borrow and spend way less later. History has of course proven this argument to be idiotic, but because it moves the pain of living within our means into the indefinite future, it always manages to attract enough votes to win the day.

The following article, published today by a major news outlet, spells it out in one sentence, in the title no less:

Why federal debt may have to explode before it shrinks

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