Will 2016 Bring the Next Great Depression?

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This year could yield the next 'Great Depression'
This year could yield the next 'Great Depression.' (Reuters)

A lot of people were expecting some really big things to happen in 2015, and most of them did not happen. But what did happen? It is my contention that a global financial crisis began during the second half of 2015, and it threatens to greatly accelerate as we enter 2016.

During the last six months of the year that just ended, financial markets all over the planet crashed, trillions of dollars of global wealth were wiped out, and some of the largest economies in the world plunged into recession. Here in the United States, 2015 was the worst year for stocks since 2008nearly 70 percent of all investors lost money last year, and it is being projected that the final numbers will show that close to 1,000 hedge funds permanently shut down within the last 12 months. This is what the early stages of a financial crisis look like, and the worst is yet to come.

If we were entering another 2008-style crisis, we would expect to see junk bonds crashing. When financial trouble starts, it usually doesn't start with the biggest and strongest companies. Instead, it usually starts percolating on the periphery. Right now, bonds of firms that are considered to be on the risky side of things are rapidly losing value.

A high-yield bond ETF that I track very closely known as JNK started crashing in the middle of 2008. This crash began to unfold before the horrific crash of stocks in the fall. Investors that saw junk bonds crashing in advance and pulled their money out of stocks in time saved an enormous amount of money.

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Now, for the very first time since the last financial crisis, we are seeing junk bonds crash again. In December, there was finally a sustained crash through the psychologically-important 35.00 level, and at this point, JNK is sitting a bit below 34.00. This stunning decline is a giant red flag that tells us stocks will soon follow in the exact same direction.

In 2015, Third Avenue Management shocked Wall Street when they froze withdrawals from a $788 million mutual fund that was highly focused on junk bonds. Investors who couldn't get their money out began to panic, and other mutual funds now find themselves under siege. If junk bonds continue to crash, this will just be the beginning of the carnage.

One of the big reasons why junk bonds are crashing is the crash in the price of oil. Over the past 18 months, the price of oil has plummeted from $108 a barrel to $37 a barrel.

There has only been one other time in all of history when we have ever seen an oil price crash of this magnitude. That was in 2008—just before the greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

Why can't people see the parallels?

Crashes are happening all around us, and yet so many of the "experts" seem completely blind to what is going on.

Unlike 2008, the price of oil is not expected to rapidly rebound any time soon. The following comes from CNN:

Crude prices dropped a whopping 35 percent last year and are hovering around $37 a barrel. That's a level not seen since the global financial crisis.

It won't get better any time soon. Most oil experts believe prices will bounce back in late 2016, but they expect more pain first.

Goldman Sachs forecasts that oil will average about $38 a barrel in February, even lower than for most of 2015.

Meanwhile, the prices of industrial commodities have been crashing as well. 

Things are unfolding just as we would expect they would during the initial stages of a new global financial crisis.

We have already seen a full-blown stock market crash in many of the largest economies around the planet. For instance, just look at what has been happening in Brazil. The Brazilians have the seventh largest economy in the world, and Goldman Sachs says that they have plunged into an "outright depression." 

We see a similar thing when we look at our neighbor to the north. Canada has the 11th largest economy on the entire planet, and I recently wrote a lengthy article about the economic difficulties that the Canadians are now facing. 2015 was a very bad year for Canadian stocks as well, and they just kept falling steadily all the way through December.

Of course, nobody can forget what happened to China. The Chinese have the second largest economy on the globe, and news about their economic slowdown makes headlines almost every single day now.

Last summer, Chinese stocks crashed about 40 percent, and they did manage to bounce back just a bit since then. But they are still down about 30 percent from the peak of the market. 

There is plenty more that we could talk about. European stocks just had their second worst December ever, and Japanese stocks are down about 500 points in early trading as I write this article.

Here in the United States, the Dow Jones Industrial Average, Dow Transports, the S&P 500 and the Russell 2000 all had their worst years since 2008. As I mentioned the other day674 hedge funds shut down during the first nine months of 2015, and it is being projected that the final total for the year will be up around 1,000.

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