"Mike was less than an hour from home in Minnesota after dropping his load off in Fargo but knew he needed to top his tank off this Sunday evening to insure his rig would make it home. He pulled into the Petro Truck Stop just outside of Fargo and hopped out of the cab into the bitter twenty below temperatures which he could not believe had already hit at ten o’clock at night. He slid his fuel card into the pump waiting for the next prompt when the “SEE ATTENDANT” message flashed in the screen. He blustered, figured it was another card problem and whipped out his Master Card and slid it in after the pump reset and again the “SEE ATTENDANT” message flashed up. “What the hell is going on?” he thought to himself as he wandered into the long line of drivers boisterously yelling at managers and clerks alike.
Tom finished up his shift on the docks at the Nestle warehouse in Hampton, Georgia at exactly 11 o’clock at night and decided that because of the scuttlebutt he had been reading on the message boards, it may not be a bad idea to pick up a few cans of food and some toilet paper at the local WalMart Super center. Even though it was a Sunday night, they were always stocked and it was just five minutes out of the way to his home. As he walked inside the store, his mouth dropped. It looked like the day after Thanksgiving sale with every register open and ten plus people deep at 11:30 p.m. “Oh my God!” he gasped as he walked in grabbing the last shopping cart with the wheel that was half locked up. As he walked as fast as he could to the aisle with the paper goods, he looked at all the shelves then noticed the clerk who looked stunned himself. “How in the SAM HELL does WalMart sell out of Toilet Paper son?” he screamed at the eighteen year old kid. “Sir, I don’t know what is going on. Is the world ending? I’m a little freaked out!” the clerk stammered. Tom realized that he was not to blame and as he calmed down said to the kid “Son, I don’t know what is going on either. It must be an ice storm on the way. Are you folks getting another truck soon?” The clerk said in a very low voice “Sir, I think there are two coming at 2 a.m. I would wait here if I were you.” With that information Tom slinked outside to his car and called his wife at home just before midnight to tell her he would be staying to wait on the WalMart trucks.
1730 ET…February 21, 2010
It was a typical Sunday night in my household, a tremendous dinner, nice weather in Florida and of course a chance to chat with my friends online about the events of the world. The big news was that on Friday, February 19, 2010 the US Dollar Index closed at 69.07 far below any level in history and of course shattering all known technical support. As I grabbed a glass of Port and settled in front of my computer at 5 p.m. Eastern to watch the Asian fireworks and watch Bloomberg and CNBC-Asia on my computer, I noticed the Middle Eastern markets closed in horrid shape. The Israeli market closed three hours after the open and down 22% for the session. The Saudi markets closed after one hour and down 41%. Other regional markets did not open or were shut down due to national emergency declarations. As I tuned in expecting the usual repeat on Bloomberg, it was live with a somewhat excited news babe reading information from a blog reporting “rumors” that the CEO’s of Citigroup and Bank of America were in meetings since 11 a.m. with the New York Fed. At that point, it was time to put the port up and break out the hard stuff.
Gold had closed at a record high again, up some $37 to finish Friday’s session up at $1289 and change so I figured it would be jumping again with all of this worldly instability on display. I searched the boards and feeds like mad, looking for anything on an Iranian attack or outbreak of war elsewhere in the world but nothing was found at all. As 6 p.m. Eastern flipped up on my watch, CNBC interrupted their programming with a live update from New York instead of Australia or Tokyo about the meeting at the NY Fed. Bloomberg also broke from their Asian coverage with a brief story but no details as to why there was a meeting today or who else was there. As the New Zealand markets opened, the prices went nuts but shockingly to the upside. Their markets shot up 11% on the open to break over the 3900 price level but that was not the story. As the futures opened in Chicago for the evening session, no matter where you were in the world that day or night, you printed that screen at 6:04 p.m. Eastern time as the prints were staggering:
Gold UP $212.15 to $1501.15
Silver UP $39.13 to $81.06
US DOLLAR INDEX DOWN 9.5869 or just over 14% to 59.4830
US S&P FUTURES DOWN 49.13
US DOW FUTURES DOWN 472
NASDAQ FUTURES DOWN 135
Holy Smokes! This was an absurd way to start the night and my phone started ringing along with text messages and emails out my wazoo. The sense of panic was evident on Bernie Lo’s face as he came on to the air discussing what was happening in the futures market and fortunately he announced that Jim Rogers would be joining him after the next break. As the commercial started at 6:09 p.m. Eastern the scroll at the bottom of the screen was bright red with the headline:
ALL U.S. EQUITY FUTURES ARE LOCK LIMIT DOWN…..TRADING SUSPENDED UNTIL 0900 ET MONDAY FEB 22….US DOLLAR BEING SOLD ACROSS THE BOARD
By 6:15 the Euro was trading at $1.92, the Kiwi (New Zealand Dollar) at $1.26, the Aussie Dollar well beyond par at $1.39 and the Canadian Loonie rocketing past par to $1.33. The U.S. Dollar was in a full fledged collapse and the world was putting money anywhere they could to escape the carnage. As the New Zealand equity markets struggled to handle the order flow an announcement emerged at 6:27 p.m. Eastern time that they would no longer accept U.S. dollars within their nation for the next 72 hours until the United States Federal Reserve Bank introduced stability measures. That instantly turned a huge move to the upside to down 17% in less than three minutes and soon thereafter, trading was suspended by 7 p.m. Eastern time. Instead of waiting to see what was next, I left at 6:51 p.m. to run down the street and take $500 from the local grocery store ATM, returning just in time for the top of the hour news.
The Australian markets attempted to open but due to order imbalances they were delayed twenty-seven minutes. It was a buying frenzy in Australia also as the Aussie Dollar was skyrocketing higher and gold continued to gain, now up $273.20 per ounce in less than two hours of trading. The Chicago board was going to make a statement at 8 p.m. ET and the world was holding its collective breath because something bad was happening again in the United States and everyone wanted to buy into foreign markets to escape the American disaster on the horizon. After a brief opening, the Australian government followed suit with the New Zealand announcement and suspended acceptance of the U.S. Dollar for commerce until further notice. The Japanese were very quiet in the mean time as they announced at 7 p.m. they would keep their markets closed but the huge move in the Yen caused massive concerns as noted by the central bank. The yen appreciated from a close of 79.8213 on Friday the 19th to an opening of 48.7326 in less than an hour of trading. Nobody wanted dollars and even fewer people it was discovered wanted the British Pound. The Pound for the first time in its history was worth less than 100 yen and it was well on its way to joining the US Dollar in a death spiral.
The internet is crawling. Message boards were lit up with record numbers of participants. Rumors swirled about declarations of martial law, bank holidays, secret wars and other crazy things. Yet my phone messages, conversations, texts and emails told me there was something very very wrong. Two of my friends called me to tell me the consequences of the failed 30 year bond auction last Thursday came home to roost over the weekend. Citi and BoA were rumored to have a huge CDS obligation due to the interest rates being blown outside of the norm and the 6.05% yield from the auction cost the banks an estimated $400 billion each if they were forced to settle open swap contracts and derivative issues by Monday or the end of the month. The swaps and derivatives which were to prevent the collapse may actually have finally started it but nobody could verify anything that was happening as the NY Fed looked like a war zone with hundreds of cameras around the building and reporters speculating endlessly on every cable channel.
I did not know who to believe but when Bloomberg played the excerpt from Jim Rogers’ interview just after the top of the hour where he said “this is what a currency collapse looks like and if you were not prepared, you were wiped out” really resonated with everyone on the Bloomberg set and throughout the news worldwide. The Chicago Futures were closed by order of the CFTC and SEC and that was the big announcement but it was assumed anyways because there was no way the COMEX or anyone else could possibly have kept up with the demand for precious metals as the last print had gold over $1579 per ounce and worse, the base metals closing at obscene prices like $6.79 per lb. for copper! The Shanghai markets were ordered open for domestic participants only and no overseas selling was allowed nor trading in US Dollars thus allowing the communists to manage their banking situation without outside influence. Unfortunately a rumor was confirmed on FNC later in the hour that Chinese troops were deployed to all U.S. and British bank branches inside their nation. That only permeated the panic already felt on the internet and in the air. The news at the top of the hour was even more shocking.
CNN led the hour off with coverage of the “FINANCIAL CRISIS OF 2010″ with breaking news about two hedge fund managers committing suicide in their offices in New York. That did not help the confidence level nor did the statement from Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner at 10:09 p.m. Eastern that the “government was in full control of the situation and that the panic world wide was unwarranted.” When he finished the statement assuring that the financial markets would probably open on time in the morning, the snicker from CNBC’s team of Gasparino and Griffith spoke volumes about what was really occurring.
Somehow a picture of Goldman Sachs CEO Blankfein and JP Morgan’s CEO Jamie Dimon entering the New York Federal Reserve building was leaked out and broadcast on cable news and financial news outlets causing more discussions and a genuine sense of panic to grip everyone. Reports about credit cards not working for the last two hours nationwide were swamping the newsrooms but no comments from VISA, Master Charge or anyone else was forthcoming.
0000 ET February 22, 2010
It was officially a panic. Reports on local news stations about grocery store shelves being cleaned out and ATM machines running out of money hours ago and not being refilled were broadcast nationwide. Even my local station had a story about accessing the reporter’s bank account online and all they got was a very scary message as they attempted to reach his bank’s web page:
WWOR and WCBS started reporting that gas stations in the New York City and northern New Jersey areas were running out of gas even though credit cards did not work. The cable news stations and financial news networks just recycled earlier news with updates at the top of the hour. The world markets were closed and everyone was holding their breath to see what happened the next morning.
As I struggled to stay awake, NY Federal Reserve President Denis Hughes came to the microphones with Dimon, Blankfein and shockingly Ben Bernanke. Hughes immediately deferred to Bernanke who said that the President would address the nation at 7 a.m. Eastern Time and that he felt the crisis was averted for the moment and that everyone should have faith in the United State’s policy of a strong currency and banking system. After that statement was concluded, Bloomberg switched to a banking analyst from Singapore who said that the U.S. was now a hulking smoking black hole in the ground and the only thing it was good for was to return those worthless dollars back to “THAT” nation so “THEY” could burn them to stay warm this winter.
Someone on the message board posted a story from WTOP that military police were seen setting up roadblocks throughout Washington, D.C. There was no video or other confirmation within that hour. I had to make double strength coffee at that point in time but instead set my alarm for 0500 to try to grab a nap. I was not about to miss what was going to be a day to remember in American history.
So sue me! I hit my snooze button then realized I fell asleep with the computer and television on and the news was flying. In big bold red at the top of CNBC’s screen was the announcement COUNTDOWN TO SPEECH and a counter moving towards 0700 Eastern. As I flipped the channels half awake, I noticed a BREAKING NEWS announcement on CNN and there was a feed from WSB in Atlanta, GA with their helicopter video of the Georgia State Patrol closing off all streets within three blocks of the Federal Reserve Bank in Atlanta and also around the Federal Home Loan Bank. That sent a chill down my spine as I flipped back on to the computer to see over two hundred unread emails and message upon message about shortages, internet outages, credit card problems and worst of all, gas stations running out of fuel. The other shocker was the suspension of international flights in many U.S. cities as the suppliers put every airline on C.O.D. effective immediately at 2:30 a.m. Eastern Time and that suspended a ton of flights inside the United States and worldwide. The cascading effects were stunning, even to those of us who were warning about it.
Several European markets attempted to open in coordination with Middle Eastern markets but the declines were so severe that within ten minutes of trading the authorities shut them all down within a half hour:
Saudi Arabia -43%
Germany’s DAX -41%
CAC 40 – 29%
FTSE 100 – 32%
The Euro was up another 10% against the dollar and the Swiss Franc was now worth over $1.40 U.S. As the discussions about the problems with the U.S. dollar accelerated, banks were being shut down in Europe in nation after nation to prevent runs. Sadly for the Brits, the Sterling was now trading so poorly in Europe that it was worth just 1/3 of a Euro at some trading desks. By the top of the hour, video of riots in front of banks in Frankfurt and Glasgow were broadcast nationwide. At 5:55 a.m. Eastern the news took a dark turn with this BREAKING NEWS headline:
OBAMA AND BERNANKE TO SPEAK TO THE NATION AT 6 A.M. EST
The speech was low key, solemn and to the point. Obama announced a one week bank holiday. All credit card transactions and all collection actions of any sort were hereby suspended for seven days. All financial markets were closed until further notice. All mortgage and bill payment due dates were suspended for thirty days and no past due notices nor penalties were to be allowed by Federal Law. All schools were closed for seventy-two hours be they public or private. The city of Washington, D.C. was hereby declared to be under a state of martial law and all citizens were ordered to observe a curfew from 8 p.m. to 8 a.m. daily. Just as that sunk in, Ben Bernanke stepped up to the microphone to announce that President Obama, Treasury Secretary Geithner and all of the Federal Reserve Presidents along with himself were going to depart for Geneva for an emergency meeting of the G-20, IMF, World Bank and United Nations Financial Stability Working Group. Bernanke also announced that Citigroup, N.A. and Bank of America were hereby nationalized and placed under control of the United States Treasury under the auspices of the FDIC and that Sheila Bair would have an announcement at 8 a.m. Eastern. As he finished the announcement, an obviously exhausted Federal Reserve Chairman concluded by assuring the citizens of the nation that a stable currency was their only goal from this meeting of world financial leaders. I noted he did not say what currency though he was referring to.
By now, CNBC, Fox Business and Bloomberg were knee deep in wall to wall coverage but so were the broadcast and cable networks. America was on the brink was the preaching and screaming and the “bulls” were being gored by the permabears every time they uttered any statements about “how we’ve been through worse” etc., etc.
The announcement of the seizure by the FDIC of two of the largest banks in the world was pretty standard and short. The follow up statement by Ms. Barr though is what caused every newsroom to take pause when she stated that “further consolidations will be announced in the next seventy-two hours.”
The Bubblemedia was stunned and even shocked when Canada announced that they would attempt to open their financial markets for two hours of trading and that their banks would be open for normal domestic customers and business from 10 a.m. until noon Eastern time. Everyone on television looked at each other and just asked “How?”
I had forgotten to call in sick to work but then again the phone call from the company owner was pretty much a “well now what” as we laughed in a gallows humor discussion. He understood why I was home and he had already told the employees that he was closing at noon and would reopen when we could actually collect real money on what we sold and leased out. I told him I would call him at home later or meet him with a bottle on the golf course in the morning, weather permitting.
The chilling video of the Federal Reserve heads, Geithner and Obama boarding Air Force One to leave for Geneva from Washington, D.C. really had an impact on me.
The Canadian markets opened up 10% in ten minutes then rolled over down 31% by 10:30. The scary part was that the Canadian dollar kept on rising even though commodity trading was suspended and everyone was wondering just what gold would be priced at if the markets were allowed to trade.
As the day wore on, it was a blur of shocking story after shocking story. The President and his entourage arrived in Switzerland along with other world leaders but little was discussed or disclosed. The reports of banks being fire bombed by nuts throughout parts of the U.S. made the international news and caused all of us to feel somewhat uncomfortable as to what was next. The 8 p.m. interruption of normal prime time programming with a FEMA NEWS ALERT which lasted ten minutes and was repeated at the top of every hour with little if any information caused even more panic in the masses. Today I watched our dollar die in a matter of hours even though I knew how it was killed months if not years ago. I just wondered how bad the announcement out of Geneva was going to be as our bankers and politicians sold our souls out to save their rear ends.
I also wondered if I would ever sleep again."
(To continue reading this fictional account see Part II and Part III.)