09/19/2007, 00.00
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Subprime lending to trigger world’s worst financial crisis since 1929

by Maurizio d'Orlando
According to some US experts, some US$ 20 trillion in worthless securities exist, putting US and European banks are at risk. Asia should avoid the worse. A new North American currency, the Amero, is making news.

Milan (AsiaNews) – Subprime lending in the US housing market is a storm on the verge of turning into a hurricane and quite a few banks are likely to take a direct hit, especially overexposed giants like Citigroup and Bank of America, which control many specialised finance companies. In Europe financial institutions like the Deutsche Bank, Barclays and BNP Paribas are also said to be in trouble and might go down; same for insurance companies like Axa and many pension funds. But that is only the tip of the iceberg.

According to US financial analyst Mike Whitney[1], a mountain of unfunded, unregulated paper worth more than US$ 20 trillion might be out there [2]. Apparently, no one, neither the general public nor professionals on Wall Street, has yet to realise the extent of the hole, a hole of 20 trillion dollars with no market, nor value.

Even if the Federal Reserve were to ease bank reserve and capital requirements, the existing financial system would still be moving towards its worst crisis in 80 years because the problem is not liquidity, but solvency. The situation is such that banks are even scared to lend to one another uncertain about each other’s solvency. Even the London interbank market is not going beyond day to day lending.

Greenspan and speculative financing

The problem arose in the United States where, starting in 1987, the bank lobby—by means of US$ 300 million in contributions—got Congress to do away with the Glass-Steagall Act (officially the Banking Act of 1933) that had been adopted in the wake of the 1929 Wall Street Crisis. President Bill Clinton signed into law the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, which repealed the Glass-Steagall Act.

The original law had been introduced to avoid conflicts of interests between banks and companies that sell stocks and bonds.

Former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan was the main proponent of financial liberalisation. Before his appointment to the post, he had served as a corporate director for J.P. Morgan, the first bank to take advantage of liberalisation.

Under his 18-year chairmanship he oversaw the greatest expansion of speculative financing in world history. But now the chicken are coming home to roost like a would-be train wreck that no one can stop, not even the Fed.

If Mike Whitney’s numbers are right, we are on the verge of a meltdown like that of 1929-1930, perhaps worse because of the world’s greater economic interconnectedness.

Lately, the big US financial and banking groups have tried to protect themselves by selling their junk bonds in Europe and Asia.

In Asia equity in most banking and financial institutions is in US securities and US dollar denominations. Most banks are ranked AA or even AAA by so-called independent agencies like Standard & Poors, Moody’s and Fitch.  Securities with such ratings are, or perhaps we should say, were considered virtually risk-free.

Theoretically, US pension funds, insurance companies and big foundations are exposed to the uncontrolled offer of atypical securities of the past decades; so should the US financial and banking institutions which created them.

Yet we should not be surprised if those who hold the keys to the corporate are not, nor will ever be, held accountable for their wrongdoing. 

Central banks, especially the Federal Reserve, are at the root of the problem because they have known about the overall situation for quite some time. But whomever is in charge of the Fed knows that a solution cannot be had from within.

Amero, North America’s new currency

With a bank crisis looming on the horizon, an odd piece of information is becoming news. As unlikely as it may seem, the United States along with Canada and Mexico, appears to be getting ready to launch a new single currency: the Amero.

With the monetary bubble on the verge of bursting, one solution would be getting rid of the dollar, replaced by a currency, the Amero, to serve a would-be North American Union.

In addition to the United States, Mexico should join such a union and in principle might be even in favour of it. Canada, too, might join, setting aside its aversion to losing its monetary sovereignty, out of concern that its equity in US dollars might simply lose its value.

When US President George W. Bush met then Mexican President Vicente Fox and then Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin in Waco, Texas, in March 2005, they discussed a North American union.

The idea resurfaced the same year in a report released by the powerful US Council on Foreign Relations, a group that has influenced most US presidents, both Democrat and Republican, and a tri-national task force involving ministerial-level officials.

Wikipedia already sports a page dedicated to the Amero with the photos of prototypes.

A news report on the Amero broadcast on CNBC is also available on Youtube [3].

Similarly, 20 Amero coins can be seen on the Hal Turner Show webpage, with a small D visible, D as in ‘minted in Denver.’ Curiously, the Denver Mint is currently closed to the public, ostensibly for restoration work, till September 28 [4].

Whilst AsiaNews is unable to determine whether there is any basis to such claims, it does seem certain that a plan for a North American union is being developed [5].

Such an entity would have a population almost the size of the European Union, and could adequately respond to the current bank crisis that is bound to end up in a monetary crisis.

However, far from being a simple monetary union, the operation is likely to mean a de facto US annexation of the rest of North America.

For Asia the real point of interest would be economic rather than political since the Americas have been the United States’ backyard for a long time.

Firstly, the Amero would be definitely weaker than the US dollar because it would include the Mexican pesos, which was insolvent not so long ago.

A weaker North American common currency would quickly push the value of the currencies of China and the whole of Asia, which have hitherto been reluctant to do so.

Secondly, converting dollars used outside the United States would raise problems since in Asia as well as in many countries around the world payments in dollars are more common than one might think. In this case the impact of a North American union would also be very significant.

[1] See Whitney’s article on the Online Journal.

[2] Based on information AsiaNews has gleaned from the Bank for International Settlements, unconventional financing, including derivatives and atypical contracts, represents almost 50 times the  world’s GDP.

[3] See the The Amero - North American Currency on youtube.

[4] See the US Mint.

[5] See the Independent Task Force on North America Wikipedia page.

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