Sympathy for the Devil? Trouble in Paradise for the Bankers

Editor's Note: The following is a guest post from PeakProsperity.com.

In our recent report, Banks Are Evil, we pulled no punches in making the accusation that the financial system is the root cause of injustice in today's society.

It's a good blood-boiler. You should read it if you haven't already.

Its main premise is this:

In my opinion, it's long past time we be brutally honest about the banks. Their influence and reach has metastasized to the point where we now live under a captive system. From our retirement accounts, to our homes, to the laws we live under --- the banks control it all. And they run the system for their benefit, not ours.

While the banks spent much of the past century consolidating their power, the repeal of the Glass-Steagall Act in 1999 emboldened them to accelerate their efforts. Since then, the key trends in the financial industry have been to dismantle regulation and defang those responsible for enforcing it, to manipulate market prices (an ambition tremendously helped by the rise of high-frequency trading algorithms), and to push downside risk onto "muppets" and taxpayers.

Oh, and of course, this hasn't hurt either: having the ability to print up trillions in thin-air money and then get first-at-the-trough access to it. Don't forget, the Federal Reserve is made up of and run by --- drum roll, please --- the banks.

With their first-in-line access to this money tsunami, as well as their stranglehold on the financial system that it all runs through, the banks are like a parasite feasting from a gusher on the mother-lode artery.

It should come as little surprise that, with all this advantage they've amassed, the banks have enriched themselves and their cronies spectacularly. They have made themselves too big to fail, and too big to jail. Remember that their reckless greed caused the 2008 financial crisis, and yet, in 2009, not only did bankers avoid criminal prosecutions, not only did the banks receive hundreds of billions in government bailouts, but they paid themselves record bonuses?

And the bonanza continues unabated today. By being able to borrow capital for essentially free today from the Fed, the banks simply lever that money up and buy Treasurys. Voila! Risk-free profits. That giveaway has been going on for years.

Couple that with the banks' ability to push market prices around using their wide arsenal of unfair tactics -- frontrunning, HFT spoofing and quote stuffing, stop-running, insider knowledge, collusion, etc -- the list is long. James Howard Kunstler is dead on: we don't have a free market anymore. Instead, we have rackets, run by racketeers. The rest of us are simply suckers to be fleeced.

But all is not roses if you're a banker these days. Even within the evil machine, there is great disparity in how the plunder is being divided.

Bad Times For Bankers?

A guy I've known since childhood works on the 'sell side' (investment/commercial banking, stock brokers, market makers) and has been telling me how cutthroat things have become over the past few years. The pay structure and job security have deteriorated notably. And he says the same is true for many of his colleagues on the 'buy side' (hedge funds, asset managers, institutional investors), too.

Really?

Even with enjoying the "unabated bonanza" described above, even with the markets back partying at all time highs, things are getting worse for many bankers?

Yes.

And while I personally can't conjure any sense of empathy for these poor devils, it looks like things are going to get even harder for them.

So what's going on here?

Well, it's mostly a story of the banking system's plundering ways coming back to bite it.

Capital Is Fleeing From Active To Passive Funds

First off, by flooding world markets with over $12 Trillion since the Great Recession, the central banks have pretty much destroyed "alpha".

Alpha is the "excess return" that fund managers' fees are based on -- i.e., "you're paying more for a smart guy like me to 'beat the market'". But when a tsunami of liquidity rises all boats at once, it's that money flood (i.e. the central bank money printing) that drives valuations. And its influence is so much larger than any other factor that it's really the only factor that matters. Great and crappy companies alike rise in price -- the "fundamentals" that fund managers use in their analysis become useless.

Which is why 66% of large-cap active managers failed to top the S&P 500 in 2016, and why 90% missed their benchmarks over the past 15-year period.

So it's no wonder that investment capital is fleeing from actively-managed funds to passively-managed ones. If the passive funds have much lower fees AND they perform better than the actively managed ones, why the heck shouldn't money flow into them?

Per CNBC:

A buoyant start to the stock market in 2017 couldn't stop investors from ditching actively managed funds.

The trickle away from stock pickers and toward indexes has turned into a flood, with more than half a trillion dollars heading into passive funds over the past 12 months, according to Morningstar.

Active management in total saw $13.6 billion in outflows for January, mitigated only by net inflows to bond funds, Morningstar said. U.S. equity saw $20.8 billion in outflows, bringing passive management closer to parity when it comes to domestic stock funds.

By contrast, passive management saw just shy of $77 billion in inflows. U.S. equity funds, which track broad indexes like the S&P 500 and its sectors and subsectors, pulled in $30.6 billion for the month.

Overall, actively managed U.S. equity funds now hold $3.6 trillion in assets while their passive counterparts hold nearly $3.1 trillion. All classes of passive funds have seen inflows of $563 billion over the past year, while active funds have suffered $325.6 billion in outflows.

"The massive exodus from actively managed U.S.-equity funds continued in January," Alina Lamy, Morningstar's senior analyst for quantitative research, said in a statement. "The tidal wave is showing no signs of stopping, threatening all but a select few and making active investing a dangerous ocean to swim in."

The result of this is tremendous mounting pressure for active managers to reduce their fees. Lower fees being charged on shrunken fund pools obviously affords fewer asset managers, who in many cases are now working for less compensation.

Keep in mind, between just the ECB and the DOJ, nearly $200 Billion of additional liquidity has been -- and continues to be -- injected into world markets each month(!). So, as the above article says, don't expect the tidal wave of capital fleeing actively-managed funds to stop while the central banks' liquidity spigots are still flowing.

The White-Collar Cost Of Automation

Finance was one of the first industries to embrace the automation boom, given the obscene profits that could be made. In his book Flash Boys, Michael Lewis described how the arms race of high frequency algorithms literally changed the game in terms of how financial instruments are traded -- and made $billions upon $billions of unfair profits for the big banks that invested in the technology.

Well, many of the bankers who cheered the boost the machines gave to their annual bonuses aren't cheering so much now. You know what algo-driven markets don't need? Human traders.

Below is photo of the UBS trading floor from 8 years ago, contrasted with one from this year (source: Zero Hedge):

8 Years Ago

Now

Per the Wall Street Journal:

Technology is replacing people on trading floors and in the middle and back offices where trades are checked, confirmed and settled. Some of this is to give investors an edge in markets with computer-driven tools such as algorithmic and high-frequency trading.

But technology also means more work can be moved offshore or to cheaper locations. More reliable internet links with India, for example, mean people can work together on the same documents or files in real time.

The total number of people employed by all kinds of banking in the U.K. has fallen 22% from its precrisis peak in 2008, or by about 120,000 jobs, according to data from Britain’s statistics office.

Here's another stark example:

Goldman Had 600 Cash Equity Traders In 2000; It Now Has 2

For the dramatic impact of technology, and specifically trade automation from algo, quant and robotic trading on today's capital markets, look no further than Goldman's cash equities trading floor at the firm's headquarters which, according to the MIT Tech Review, employed 600 traders its height back in 2000, buying and selling stocks for Goldman's institutional client clients. Today there are just two equity traders left.

As warned of in our earlier article Automating Ourselves To Unemployment, jobs lost to automation don't come back. More than that, the technology itself lowers the cost structure, ultimately lowering industry profits as other competitors invest in similar tech and the margins are competed down:

Structural changes to the equities business over the last several years, such as the rise of electronic trading, have knocked off around $15 billion from the equities fee pool, according to a report from Morgan Stanley and management consulting firm Oliver Wyman.

Electronic trading has dramatically increased trading volumes, while making the cost of trading much cheaper.

Oliver Wyman partner Christian Edelmann, who co-authored the report, does not see those revenues coming back. "Once the equities model has become technology driven, that's not going to change," he said.

A Cultural Shift To Cost-Cutting

And the jobs cuts aren't just related to technology. As profit margins are squeezed, players in the financial industry are looking for any and all reasons to cut costs.

A current victim of this trend is equity research. For decades, sell side firms like the investment banks offered their clients "expert analysis" from their research departments. Historically, that was bundled into the bank's overall fee it charged its clients.

But now, increasingly cost-conscious clients are demanding to know how much that research is costing them. Especially since almost all of that research doesn't even get read. A recent Reuters article showed that of the 40,000 research reports produced every week by the world's top 15 global investment banks, less than 1 percent are actually read by investors.

It's long been a poorly-kept secret that the research departments were a dependable vehicle for investment banks to bilk their clients for unnecessary profit. Now it looks like that ruse is over. And billions in revenue per year along with it:

Banks have already been trimming their research budgets. Spending on research at the top investment banks fell by just over half to $4 billion in 2016 from $8.2 billion in 2008, according to Frost Consulting.

An industry long known for its "Wolf of Wall Street" culture of excess is now counting its pennies. That's a very significant perception shift.

A Sign Of The End

What's important about all this is not sympathy for the poor bankers who have to accept lower wages or a pink slip. Consciously or unwittingly, they've been foot soldiers for a cabal that's done the greatest evil towards global human rights and prosperity over the past century. Personally, I'll happily take a front row seat, open up a bag of popcorn, and delight in the schadenfreude of watching that industry collapse on itself.

What is important is what all this tells us about where we are in this story. We are now getting close to the end.

For decades and decades, more and more sharks found their way into the financial industry. And for decades and decades, there was plenty of prey for them all to feast and fatten on.

But now we're at the point where there's much less to prey on. So the biggest sharks are now turning on the smaller ones. Those at the top of the industry are trying to preserve their share of the pie -- and if they have to do so by cannibalizing those below them on the org chart, so be it.

It has now become a shark vs shark world.

That's important.

This is happening, mind you, at a time when the banks are in their 8th straight year of enjoying practically-free money from the world's central banks, which is essentially a great wealth transfer from the public's coffers. And at a time when financial assets have been re-inflated to all-time highs.

If things have reached this cutthroat a state when Wall Street is booming, imagine how much more gruesome this "eating their young" dynamic can/will become during a market downturn.

We're at the point where those at the apex of power are becoming increasingly desperate to maintain their unfair advantage. And as the economic pie refuses to grow due to the twin overload of too much debt and declining net energy, these apex predators will turn on each other -- first to maintain their spoils, and then simply to survive.

Things will get nasty in a hurry during that stage, as we warned about in our recent report: Positioning Yourself For The Crash.

While you still can, you want to make sure the bulk of your investment capital is positioned for safety, and you want to make your lifestyle as resilient as possible so that, no matter what jarring developments the future may bring, you and the ones you love are least impacted by them.

Faced with an oppressive government that literally burned people at the stake for printing Bibles, America's original freedom fighters risked it all for the same rights our government is starting to trample now. That's not the Pilgrim story our woke schools and corporate media will tell you. It's the truth, and it sounds a lot more like today's heroes in Afghanistan than the 1619 Project's twisted portrait of America.

This Thanksgiving season, Glenn Beck and WallBuilders president Tim Barton tell the full story of who the Pilgrims really were and what we must learn from them, complete with a sneak peek at the largest privately owned collection of Pilgrim artifacts.

Watch the video below

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

Saule Omarova, President Joe Biden's nominee for comptroller of the currency, admitted she wants to fight climate change by bankrupting coal, oil, and gas companies. Alarmingly, Biden's U.S. special climate envoy, John Kerry, seemed to agree with Omarova when he said "by 2030 in the United States, we won't have coal" at the COP26 conference in Glasgow, Scotland, earlier this month. But that could end in massive electrical blackouts and brownouts across the nation, BlazeTV host Glenn Beck warned.

Carol Roth, author of "The War On Small Business," joined "The Glenn Beck Program" to explain what experts say you can do now to prepare your family for potential coming power outages.

"It's interesting. Usually when I go out and talk to experts in areas that are not 100% core to my area of expertise and I say, 'I would like to give you credit.' Usually I get, 'OK, here's how you credit me.' But everyone is like, 'No, no. Let me tell you what happened, just don't use my name.' And this is across the country," Roth said. "This isn't just a California issue, which obviously [California] is leading the nation. But even experts out of Texas, people who are monitoring the electric grid are incredibly concerned about brownouts or blackouts now, already. So forget about 2030."

"You want to have a backup source of power," she continued. "Either a propane, diesel, or combo generator is something that you're going to want to have. Because in a state, for example like Texas, I'm told that once the state loses power, it will take a minimum of two weeks to restore plants back to operations and customers able to use grid power again. So, this isn't something that we've got nine years or whatever to be thinking about. We should be planning and preparing now."

Watch the video clip below to catch more of this important conversation:

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.

This year marks the four hundredth anniversary of the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims and their Wampanoag allies in 1621. Tragically, nearly half of the Pilgrims had died by famine and disease during their first year. However, they had been met by native Americans such as Samoset and Squanto who miraculously spoke English and taught the Pilgrims how to survive in the New World. That fall the Pilgrims, despite all the hardships, found much to praise God for and they were joined by Chief Massasoit and his ninety braves came who feasted and celebrated for three days with the fifty or so surviving Pilgrims.

It is often forgotten, however, that after the first Thanksgiving everything was not smooth sailing for the Pilgrims. Indeed, shortly thereafter they endured a time of crop failure and extreme difficulties including starvation and general lack. But why did this happen? Well, at that time the Pilgrims operated under what is called the "common storehouse" system. In its essence it was basically socialism. People were assigned jobs and the fruits of their labor would be redistributed throughout the people not based on how much work you did but how much you supposedly needed.

The problem with this mode of economics is that it only fails every time. Even the Pilgrims, who were a small group with relatively homogeneous beliefs were unable to successfully operate under a socialistic system without starvation and death being only moments away. Governor William Bradford explained that under the common storehouse the people began to "allege weakness and inability" because no matter how much or how little work someone did they still were given the same amount of food. Unsurprisingly this, "was found to breed much confusion and discontent."[1]

The Pilgrims, however, were not the type of people to keep doing what does not work. And so, "they began to think how they might raise as much corn as they could, and obtain a better crop than they had done, that they might not still thus languish in misery."[2] And, "after much debate of things" the Pilgrims under the direction of William Bradford, decided that each family ought to "trust to themselves" and keep what they produced instead of putting it into a common storehouse.[3] In essence, the Pilgrims decided to abandon the socialism which had led them to starvation and instead adopt the tenants of the free market.

And what was the result of this change? Well, according to Bradford, this change of course, "had very good success; for it made all hands very industrious, so as much more corn was planted than otherwise would have been."[4] Eventually, the Pilgrims became a fiscally successful colony, paid off their enormous debt, and founded some of the earliest trading posts with the surrounding Indian tribes including the Aptucxet, Metteneque, and Cushnoc locations. In short, it represented one of the most significant economic revolutions which determined the early characteristics of the American nation.

The Pilgrims, of course, did not simply invent these ideas out of thin air but they instead grew out of the intimate familiarity the Pilgrims had with the Bible. The Scriptures provide clear principles for establishing a successful economic system which the Pilgrims looked to. For example, Proverbs 12:11 says, "He that tills his land shall be satisfied with bread." So the Pilgrims purchased land from the Indians and designated lots for every family to individually grow food for themselves. After all, 1 Timothy 5:8 declares, "If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for members of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than an unbeliever."

We often think that the battle against Socialism is a new fight sprouting out of the writings of Karl Marx which are so blindly and foolishly followed today by those deceived by leftist irrationality. However, America's fight against the evil of socialism goes back even to our very founding during the colonial period. Thankfully, our forefathers decided to reject the tenants of socialism and instead build their new colony upon the ideology of freedom, liberty, hard work, and individual responsibility.

So, this Thanksgiving, let's thank the Pilgrims for defeating socialism and let us look to their example today in our ongoing struggle for freedom.

[1] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1856), 135.

[2] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1856), 134.

[3] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1856), 134.

[4] William Bradford, History of Plymouth Plantation (Boston: Massachusetts Historical Society, 1856), 135.

Like most people, biologist and science journalist Matt Ridley just wants the truth. When it comes to the origin of COVID-19, that is a tall order. Was it human-made? Did it leak from a laboratory? What is the role of gain-of-function research? Why China, why now?

Ridley's latest book, "Viral: The Search for the Origin of COVID-19," is a scientific quest to answer these questions and more. A year ago, you would have been kicked off Facebook for suggesting COVID originated in a lab. For most of the pandemic, the left practically worshipped Dr. Anthony Fauci. But lately, people have been poking around. And one of the names that appears again and again is Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance and a longtime collaborator and funder of the virus-hunting work at Wuhan Institute of Virology.

If you watched Glenn Beck's special last week, "Crimes or Cover-Up? Exposing the World's Most Dangerous Lie," you learned some very disturbing things about what our government officials — like Dr. Fauci — were doing around the beginning of the pandemic. On the latest "Glenn Beck Podcast," Glenn sat down with Ridley to review what he and "Viral" co-author Alina Chan found while researching — including a "fascinating little wrinkle" from the Wuhan Institute of Virology called "7896."

Watch the video clip below or find the full interview with Matt Ridley here:

Want more from Glenn Beck?

To enjoy more of Glenn's masterful storytelling, thought-provoking analysis and uncanny ability to make sense of the chaos, subscribe to BlazeTV — the largest multi-platform network of voices who love America, defend the Constitution and live the American dream.