Category Archives: Economy

A Look Inside The Secret Swiss Bunker Where The Ultra Rich Hide Their Bitcoins

Somewhere in the mountains near Switzerland’s Lake Lucerne lies a hidden underground vault containing a vast fortune.

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Lake Lucerne, Switzerland

It’s no ordinary vault, according to Quartz. Built inside a decommissioned Swiss military bunker dug into a granite mountain, it’s precise location is a closely guarded secret, and access is limited by myriad security precautions.

But instead of gold bars, the bunker contains hard drives on which customers’ bitcoins are being kept in what’s call “cold storage” – i.e. the owners’ private keys are protected by an air-gapped hard drive. The vault is one of many operated by Xapo, an early bitcoin company known for its cold storage wallet products and a debit card that pays for transactions in digital currencies.

The company won’t disclose how much bitcoin is stored in the vault, but one employee who spoke with Quartz said he sometimes takes customers with millions of dollars in bitcoin on tours of the vaults where their fortune is stored. Xapo was founded by Argentinian entrepreneur and current CEO Wences Casares, whom Quartz describes as “patient zero” of bitcoin among Silicon Valley’s elite. Cesares reportedly gave Bill Gates and Reed Hoffman their first bitcoins.

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As Quartz explains, the bitcoin vault doesn’t store actual bitcoin units. Instead, what’s being stored are the owners’ private cryptographic keys that allow the owner to access and transfer his or her bitcoins by matching the key with a public key that’s used to identify the coin on the blockchain. Gaining unauthorized access to someone’s private keys is akin to making off with a gold bar.

The inexorable rise in bitcoin’s valuation has been marred by notable hacking incidents like the collapse of Mt. Gox, which ushered in the longest bear market in bitcoin’s history. Security fears appear to have subsided as bitcoin’s price has soared to all-time highs, but incidents like the collapse of the DAO have inspired investors with substantial bitcoin wealth to look into protecting it.

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To store the coins, Xapos contracts Deltalis, the company that technically operates the 10,000-square-foot data-center that now inhabits the decommissioned bunker.

Server racks for banks, and any client who needs secure data processing, fill a cavity dug over 320 meters deep in the granite mountain. The Swiss military built the facility in 1947, and it served as the army’s secret headquarters during the Cold War, Agence-France Presse has reported. Inside, walls covered with detailed maps and ancient radio electronics serve as vestiges of its military past.

To enter Xapo’s private vault in the Deltalis data center, visitors must endure an exhausting series of security procedures.

Streiff leads us to a concrete facade jutting out of the mountainside, the bunker’s entrance. We step through about a foot of concrete and enter the lobby. I sign in as I would at any office building, except I also have to present my fingerprints and be photographed. After that I step through a “man-trap”—a phone booth-sized cylinder made of bullet-proof glass that shuts me in until an operator opens the door on the opposite side.

Once through the man-trap, we touch our ID cards and pass through a set of steel revolving doors, then walk down a 100-meter long passageway through the granite. At the end of the passageway are two red steel doors that I’m told can survive a nuclear blast. Streiff invites me to try to close one—my 90 kg (198 pound) frame can’t budge it. “They’re closed every night,” he tells me, showing me how to hang off the handle and use his body’s momentum to gradually swing it shut.

Streiff and Kon are taking me to see Xapo’s “private suite,” an ultra-secure, customized, portion of the data center. We pass through a second man-trap and then end up in front of a nondescript white door. “This is further than anyone outside Xapo has been,” Streiff tells me, as he unlocks it. Inside is a space about the size of a walk-in closet containing a cooling unit, and yet another door. But that’s as far as they’ll let me go, and I’m not allowed to take photographs.

Security is similarly tight inside the vault. Nobody is allowed the enter the “cold room” where the bitcoins are stored on air-gapped hard drives. To protect against an electromagnetic pulse attack, the cold room is equipped with a Faraday cage, a type of barrier meant to block electromagnetic fields.

Beyond that door, I rely on what Carlos Rienzi, Xapo’s head of security, tells me later, when I’m back in London. Rienzi chose the vault for Xapo, and he designed the private suite and its security protocols. His “threat model,” as computer security jargon goes, is to protect against attacks from “well-funded terrorist groups or hackers.”

There are two more portals inside the suite: the first leads to an operators’ room, and the second to a “cold room.” The cold room is encircled with steel slabs to form a Faraday cage: a barrier that protects against a possible electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attack that could wipe out the data—and thus the keys to the bitcoin—stored in the room. For digital assets like bitcoin, thick walls and a secret location are not enough. A shield against invisible modes of attack like an EMP bomb must be provided for.

No one, not even the operator, enters the cold room. Its door is sealed with tape—like a crime scene—to ensure it’s not tampered with. The cold room contains hardware, which is never connected to the internet, used to sign bitcoin transactions. Signing a transaction can be performed offline. The operator accesses that hardware using “special cabling,” sending encrypted data to the hardware for signing. Finally, before a transaction can be approved, two more sign-offs, in two other vaults located on separate continents, must be performed.

I ask Rienzi if he feels pretty confident about the security measures he has in place in Switzerland. “We are under attack 24/7,” he tells me, referring to the terrorists and hackers he designed the vault to guard against. “This is not a race. It is a chess game. You have to think about the opponent’s next movement. You can never relax.”

Of course, all the security measures in the world can’t protect investors from a sudden plunge in the bitcoin price. However, the digital currency’s indomitable – for now – performance has silenced at least one of its most prominent critics. Then said, unlike precious metal specie, one carefully targeted EMP would be all it takes to sever the ownership chain for a long, long time.

Still, with the digital currency recently reaching yet another record high, despite relentless jawboning and rhetoric by everyone from Jamie Dimon to central bankers to China, we can only imagine the business of protecting bitcoin fortunes is set to boom.

Source: ZeroHedge

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Teachers Demand Extra $3,200 From Each Kentucky Household To Fund Busted Pension Ponzi For 2 Years

We have written frequently over the past couple of weeks about the disastrous public pension funds in Kentucky that are anywhere from $42 – $84 billion underfunded, depending on which discount rate you feel inclined to use. As we’ve argued before, these pensions, like the ones in Illinois and other states, are so hopelessly underfunded that they haven’t a prayer of ever again being made whole.

That said, logic and math have never before stopped pissed off teachers and/or clueless legislators from throwing good money after bad in an effort to ‘kick the can down the road’ on their pension crises. As such, it should come as no surprise at all that the Lexington Herald Leader reported today that Kentucky’s 365,000 teachers and other public employees are now demanding that taxpayers contribute a staggering $5.4 billion to their insolvent ponzi schemes over the next two years alone. To put that number in perspective, $5.4 billion is roughly $3,200 for each household in the state of Kentucky and 25% of the state’s entire budget over a two-year period. 

Kentucky’s General Assembly will need to find an estimated $5.4 billion to fund the pension systems for state workers and school teachers in the next two-year state budget, officials told the Public Pension Oversight Board on Monday.

That amount would be a hefty funding increase and a painful squeeze for a state General Fund that — at about $20 billion over two years — also is expected to pay for education, prisons, social services and other state programs.

“We realize this challenge is in front of us. That’s obviously part of the need for us to address pension reform,” said state Sen. Joe Bowen, R-Owensboro, co-chairman of the oversight board.

“In the short-term, yeah, we’re obligated to find this money,” Bowen said. “And everybody is committed to do that. We have revealed this great challenge. We have embraced this great challenge, as opposed to previous members of the legislature, perhaps.”

In presentations on Monday, the pension oversight board was told that total employer contributions for KRS in Fiscal Years 2019 and 2020 would be an estimated $2.47 billion each year, up from $1.52 billion in the current fiscal year. Nearly $995 million of that would be owed by local governments. The remaining $1.48 billion is what the state would owe.

The Teachers’ Retirement System estimated that it would need a total of $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2019 and $1.22 billion in Fiscal Year 2020. That would include not only an additional $1 billion to pay down the system’s unfunded liabilities but also $139 million to continue paying the debt service on a pension bond that won’t be paid off until the year 2024.

Of course, the $5.4 billion will do absolutely nothing to avoid an inevitable failure of Kentucky’s pension system but what the hell…

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As we’ve said before, the problem is that the aggregate underfunded liability of pensions in states like Kentucky have become so incredibly large that massive increases in annual contributions, courtesy of taxpayers, can’t possibly offset liability growth and annual payouts.  All the while, the funding for these ever increasing annual contributions comes out of budgets for things like public schools even though the incremental funding has no shot of fixing a system that is hopelessly “too big to bail.”

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So what can Kentucky do to solve their pension crisis?  Well, as it turns out they hired a pension consultant, PFM Group, in May of last year to answer that exact question.  Unfortunately, we suspect that PFM’s conclusions, which include freezing current pension plans, slashing benefit payments for current retirees and converting future employees to a 401(k), are somewhat less than palatable for both pensioners and elected officials who depend upon votes from public employee unions in order to keep their jobs…it’s a nice little circular ref that ensures that taxpayers will always lose in the fight to fix America’s broken pension system.

Be that as it may, here is a recap of PFM’s suggestions to Kentucky’s Public Pension Oversight Board courtesy of the Lexington Herald Leader:

An independent consultant recommended sweeping changes Monday to the pension systems that cover most of Kentucky’s public workers, creating the possibility that lawmakers will cut payments to existing retirees and force most current and future hires into 401(k)-style retirement plans.

If the legislature accepts the recommendations, it would effectively end the promise of a pension check for most of Kentucky’s future state and local government workers and freeze the pension benefits of most current state and local workers. All of those workers would then be shifted to a 401(k)-style investment plan that offers defined employer contributions rather than a defined retirement benefit.

PFM also recommended increasing the retirement age to 65 for most workers.

The 401 (k)-style plans would require a mandatory employee contribution of 3 percent of their salary and a guaranteed employer contribution of 2 percent of their salary. The state also would provide a 50 percent match on the next 6 percent of income contributed by the employee, bringing the state’s maximum contribution to 5 percent. The maximum total contribution from the employer and the employee would be 14 percent.

For those already retired, the consultant recommended taking away all cost of living benefits that state and local government retirees received between 1996 and 2012, a move that could significantly reduce the monthly checks that many retirees receive. For example, a government worker who retired in 2001 or before could see their benefit rolled back by 25 percent or more, PFM calculated.

The consultant also recommended eliminating the use of unused sick days and compensatory leave to increase pension benefits.

Meanwhile, PFM warned that the typical “kick the can down the road approach” would not work in Kentucky and that current retiree benefits would have to be cut.

“This is the time to act,” said Michael Nadol of PFM. “This is not the time to craft a solution that kicks the can down the road.”

“All of the unfunded liability that the commonwealth now faces is associated with folks that are already on board or already retired,” he said. “Modifying benefits for future hires only helps you stop the hole from getting deeper, it doesn’t help you climb up and out on to more solid footing going forward.”

Of course, no amount of math and logic will ever be sufficient to convince a bunch of retired public employees that they have been sold a lie that will inevitably fail now or fail later (take your pick) if drastic measures aren’t taken in the very near future. 

Source: ZeroHedge

 

Trump Wants To Add More Water To The Swamp

If you’re wondering what’s dragging the dollar down to 32-month lows, perhaps you should add this to the calculus…

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Politico reports that President Donald Trump suggested to congressional leaders on Wednesday morning that votes to raise the debt ceiling could be done away with altogether, according to three people familiar with the conversation.

In a meeting with GOP and Democratic leaders, in which Trump sided with the Democrats on a fiscal deal to raise the debt ceiling, the president said he believes the votes are unproductive, those people said.

With Congress set to lift the debt ceiling into December as part of the deal, Trump floated the idea that the next time Congress votes to raise the debt ceiling, it could be the last.

He said conversations should happen over the next three months, according to people in the room.

President Trump has now added his thoughts, telling reporters “we have great respect for the sanctity of the debt ceiling,” as he meets with Emir of Kuwait. “There are a lot of good reasons” to get rid of debt ceiling altogether, Trump says, adding that he discussed it with congressional leaders yesterday, and adding that “there will never be a problem” on the debt ceiling.

The Dems, are of course, delighted by Trump’s shocking U-turn:

Schumer said such a move could not be accomplished now, but indicated he would talk to his caucus about considering structural changes to the debt limit in December, a conversation Trump supported.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also appeared interested in the deal but was noncommittal. The debt ceiling is a key leverage point for members of the minority, particularly because it can be filibustered in the Senate and require 60 votes.

As WaPo confirms, President Trump and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer have agreed to pursue a deal that would permanently remove the requirement that Congress repeatedly raise the debt ceiling, three people familiar with the decision said.

Trump and Schumer discussed the idea Wednesday during an Oval Office meeting. Schumer, Trump, and House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D.–Calif.) agreed to work together over the next several months to see if they can finalize a plan, which would need to be approved by Congress.

One of the people familiar described it as a “gentlemen’s agreement.”

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We suspect Reps won’t be so happy…

Freedom Caucus legislators, angry about Wednesday’s deal, promised a spirited fight in December over the debt ceiling.

Conservatives are unhappy that the White House and congressional leaders have agreed to raise the debt ceiling without spending cuts.

However, Orrin Hatch – Republican Senator for Utah and Chair of Senate Finance Committee – says he wants to abolish debt ceiling votes.

Translated: Trump suggests that there should be no constraint at all, not even the fiscally conservative pretense of the debt ceiling law, over how much debt the government can pile on the backs of future generations of Americans. If Obama can add $10 trillion, we are sure Trump can do “better.”

Source: ZeroHedge

A Major Shift From West To East Is Occurring As The Dollar Dies. Are You Prepared?

Americans need to shake off their FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) and start taking real steps to protect their wealth before the $USD is no longer the world’s dominant reserve currency. This involves converting USD denominated paper assets into physical Gold, Silver and a little Cryptocurrency to preserve your purchasing power … before the multi-polar world of tomorrow arrives.  

A big part of life on the other side of this event will involve dealing with wide spread shortages (including food) that accompany the high cost of imported goods that follow a credit and currency collapse, until America’s domestic manufacturing base can be brought back up. Think decades, not months or years to fully recover. This means you should be accumulating resources necessary to more easily stretch through this period while they are relatively cheap and plentiful in today’s dollars. Otherwise, you might find yourself living like the 99% are in Venezuela today.  

Enjoy the show …

 

The Elites Are Privately Warning About a Crash

Many everyday citizens assume powerful global financial elites operate behind closed doors in secret conclaves, like the scene of a Spectre board meeting in the recent James Bond film.

Actually, the opposite is true. Most of what the power elite does is hidden in plain sight in speeches, seminars, webcasts and technical papers. These are readily available from institutional websites and media channels.

It’s true that private meetings occur on the sidelines of Davos, the IMF annual meeting and G-20 summits of the kind just concluded. But the results of even those secret meetings are typically announced or leaked or can be reasonably inferred based on subsequent policy coordination.

What the elites rely on is not secrecy but lack of proficiency by the media.

The elites communicate in an intentionally boring style with lots of technical jargon and publish in channels non-experts have never heard of and are unlikely to find. In effect, the elites are communicating with each other in their own language and hoping that no one else notices.

Still, there are some exceptions. Mohamed A. El-Erian is a bona fide member of the global power elite (a former deputy director of the IMF and president of the Harvard Management Co.). Yet he writes in a fairly accessible style on the popular Bloomberg website. When El-Erian talks, we should all listen.

In a recent article he raises serious doubts about the sustainability of the bull market in stocks because of reduced liquidity resulting from simultaneous policy tightening by the Fed, European Central Bank (ECB) and the Bank of England.

He says stocks rose on a sea of liquidity and they may crash when that liquidity is removed. This is a warning to other elites, but it’s also a warning to you.

But it’s not just El-Erian who’s sounding the alarm…

You’ve heard the expression “the big money.” This is a reference to the largest and most plugged-in investors on Earth. Some are mega-rich individuals and some are large banks and institutional investors with a dense network of contacts and inside information.

At the top of the food chain when it comes to big money are the sovereign wealth funds. These are funds sponsored by mostly wealthy nations to invest a country’s reserves from trade or natural resources in stocks, bonds, private equity and hedge funds.

As a result, sovereign wealth fund managers have the best information networks of any investors. The chief investment officer of a sovereign wealth fund can pick up the phone and speak to the CEO of any major corporation, private equity fund or hedge fund in the world.

Among sovereign wealth funds, the Government of Singapore Investment Corp. (GIC) is one of the largest, with over $354 billion in assets. So what does the head of GIC say about markets today?

Lim Chow Kiat, CEO of GIC, warns that “valuations are stretched, policy uncertainty is high” and investors are being too complacent.

GIC allocates 40% of its assets to cash or highly liquid bonds and only 27% of its assets to developed economy equities.

Meanwhile, the typical American small retail investor probably has 60% or more of her 401(k) in developed economy equities, mostly U.S.

But it may be time for everyday investors to listen to the big money. They are the ones who see financial crashes coming first.

The bottom line is, a financial crisis is certainly coming. In my latest book “The Road to Ruin,” I use 2018 as a target date primarily because the two prior systemic crises, 1998 and 2008, were 10 years apart. I extended the timeline 10 years into the future from the 2008 crisis to maintain the 10-year tempo, and this is how I arrived at 2018.

Yet I make the point in the book that the exact date is unimportant. What is most important is that the crisis is coming and the time to prepare is now. It could happen in 2018, 2019, or it could happen tomorrow. The conditions for collapse are all in place.

It’s simply a matter of the right catalyst and array of factors in the critical state. Likely triggers could include a major bank failure, a failure to deliver physical gold, a war, a natural disaster, a cyber–financial attack and many other events.

The trigger itself does not really matter. The exact timing does not matter. What matters is that the crisis is inevitable and coming sooner rather than later in my view. That’s why investors need to prepare ahead of time.

The new crisis will be of unprecedented scale. This is because the system itself is of unprecedented scale and interconnectedness. Capital markets and economies are complex systems. Collapse in complex systems is an exponential function of systemic scale.

In complex dynamic systems that reach the critical state, the most catastrophic event that can occur is an exponential function of scale.

This means that if you double the system, you do not double the risk; you increase it by a factor of five or 10.

Since we have vastly increased the scale of the financial system since 2008, with larger banks, greater concentration of banking assets in fewer institutions, larger derivatives positions, and over $70 trillion of new debt, we should expect the next crisis to be much worse than the last.

For these reasons the next crisis will be of unprecedented scale and damage.

The only clean balance sheet and source of liquidity left in the world will be the International Monetary Fund, which can make an emergency issuance of Special Drawing Rights, which you can think of as world money.

Countries around the world are acquiring gold at an accelerated rate in order to diversify their reserve positions. This trend, combined with the huge reserves held by the U.S., Eurozone and the IMF amount to a shadow gold standard.

On the level of the individual investor, losers will fall into two groups when the next crisis strikes…

The first are those who hold wealth in digital form, such as stocks, bonds, money-market funds and bank accounts. This type of wealth is the easiest to freeze in a panic. You will not be able to access this wealth, except perhaps in very small amounts for gas and groceries, in the next panic. The solution is to have hard assets outside the digital system such as gold, silver, fine art, land and private equity where you rely on written contracts and not digital records.

The second group are those who rely on fixed-income returns such as life insurance, annuities, retirement accounts, social security and bank interest. These income streams are likely to lose value, since governments will have to resort to inflation to deal with the overwhelming mountain of debt collapsing upon them.

The solution to this is to allocate 10% of your investable assets to physical gold or silver. That will be your insurance when the time comes.

Meanwhile, demand for secure vaulting space in major financial centers like London and Frankfurt is soaring. There are plenty of bank safe deposit boxes in those cities, but investors are insisting on non-bank vaults because investors understand that the banks cannot be trusted in a panic. As a result, proprietors of non-bank vaults can’t build them fast enough.

This is one indicator that reveals three important facts. The first is that investors feel a panic may be near and the time to act is now. The second is that investors don’t trust banks. And the third is that investors are buying gold to protect themselves since that’s the main tangible that people put in their private vaults. Don’t wait until the panic hits to secure your gold and make arrangements for safe storage.

The time to act is now.

Source: Daily Reckoning

This Might Have Been The Biggest Theft In History

 

… and how the biggest heist ever (central banking) might be facing the beginning of the end.

The following is a highly educational discussion with Bill Holter and Lynette Zang about Janet Yellen, monetary policy, principles of finance, a declining dollar, the future of pensions, precious metal hedges, and TONS of charts and data!

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