The recklessness of the “too big to fail” banks almost doomed them the last time around, but apparently they still haven’t learned from their past mistakes. Today, the top 25 U.S. banks have 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives. In other words, the exposure that these banks have to derivatives contracts is approximately equivalent to the gross domestic product of the United States times twelve. As long as stock prices continue to rise and the U.S. economy stays fairly stable, these extremely risky financial weapons of mass destruction will probably not take down our entire financial system. But someday another major crisis will inevitably happen, and when that day arrives the devastation that these financial instruments will cause will be absolutely unprecedented.
During the great financial crisis of 2008, derivatives played a starring role, and U.S. taxpayers were forced to step in and bail out companies such as AIG that were on the verge of collapse because the risks that they took were just too great.
But now it is happening again, and nobody is really talking very much about it. In a desperate search for higher profits, all of the “too big to fail” banks are gambling like crazy, and at some point a lot of these bets are going to go really bad. The following numbers regarding exposure to derivatives contracts come directly from the OCC’s most recent quarterly report (see Table 2), and as you can see the level of recklessness that we are currently witnessing is more than just a little bit alarming…
Total Assets: $1,792,077,000,000 (slightly less than 1.8 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $47,092,584,000,000 (more than 47 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $2,490,972,000,000 (just under 2.5 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $46,992,293,000,000 (nearly 47 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $860,185,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $41,227,878,000,000 (more than 41 trillion dollars)
Bank Of America
Total Assets: $2,189,266,000,000 (a little bit more than 2.1 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $33,132,582,000,000 (more than 33 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $814,949,000,000 (less than a trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $28,569,553,000,000 (more than 28 trillion dollars)
Total Assets: $1,930,115,000,000 (more than 1.9 trillion dollars)
Total Exposure To Derivatives: $7,098,952,000,000 (more than 7 trillion dollars)
Collectively, the top 25 banks have a total of 222 trillion dollars of exposure to derivatives.
If you are new to all of this, you might be wondering what a “derivative” actually is…