And you know what? He is exactly right. The next great global financial collapse that so many are warning about is nearly upon us, and when it arrives derivatives are going to play a starring role.
When many people hear the word “derivatives”, they tend to tune out because it is a word that sounds very complicated. And without a doubt, derivatives can be enormously complex.
But what I try to do is to take complex subjects and break them down into simple terms. At their core, derivatives represent nothing more than a legalized form of gambling.
A derivative is essentially a bet that something either will or will not happen in the future. Ultimately, someone will win money and someone will lose money.
There are hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of these bets floating around out there, and one of these days this gigantic time bomb is going to go off and absolutely cripple the entire global financial system.
Back in 2002, legendary investor Warren Buffett shared the following thoughts about derivatives with shareholders of Berkshire Hathaway…
The derivatives genie is now well out of the bottle, and these instruments will almost certainly multiply in variety and number until some event makes their toxicity clear. Central banks and governments have so far found no effective way to control, or even monitor, the risks posed by these contracts. In my view, derivatives are financial weapons of mass destruction, carrying dangers that, while now latent, are potentially lethal.
Those words turned out to be quite prophetic. Derivatives have definitely multiplied in variety and number since that time, and it has become abundantly clear how toxic they are.
Derivatives played a substantial role in the financial meltdown of 2008, but we still haven’t learned our lessons.
Today, the derivatives bubble is even larger than it was just before the last financial crisis, and it could absolutely devastate the global financial system at any time.
During one recent interview, Buffett was asked if he is still convinced that derivatives are “weapons of mass destruction”. He told the interviewer that he believes that they are, and that “at some point they are likely to cause big trouble”…
Thirteen years after describing derivatives as “weapons of mass destruction” Warren Buffett has reaffirmed his view that they pose a threat to the global economy and financial markets.
In an interview with Chanticleer this week, Buffett said that “at some point they are likely to cause big trouble“.
“Derivatives, lend themselves to huge amounts of speculation,” he said.
Most of the time, the big banks that do most of the trading in these derivatives do very well. They use extremely sophisticated computer algorithms that help them come out on the winning end of these bets most of the time.
But when there is some sort of unforeseen event that suddenly causes a massive shift in the marketplace, that can cause tremendous problems. This is something that Buffett discussed during his recent interview…
“The problem arises when there is a discontinuity in the market for some reason or another.
“When the markets closed like it was for a few days after 9/11 or in World War I the market was closed for four or five months – anything that disrupts the continuity of the market when you have trillions of dollars of nominal amounts outstanding and no ability to settle up and who knows what happens when the market reopens,” he said.
So if the markets behave fairly calmly and predictably, the derivatives bubble probably will not burst.
But no balancing act of this nature ever lasts forever. Just remember what happened in 2008.