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"EXTEND & PRETEND "
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"SULTANS OF SWAP"
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ACT I
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"EURO EXPERIMENT"
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EURO EXPERIMENT: German Steel or Schmucks?

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"INNOVATION"
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INNOVATION: America has a Structural Problem!

 

"PRESERVE & PROTECT"
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PRESERVE & PROTECT:  The Jaws of Death

 

 

2014 SMII

 

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What Are Tipping Points?
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ENERGY - OIL & GAS PRICES

FLIGHT TO PERCEIVVED SAFETY

2014 THEMES TRIGGER$ CHARTS
ENERGY

OIL WEAKNESS

  SII

OIL WEAKNESS

End Of Cheap Fossil Fuels Could Have More Severe Consequences Than Thought

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/04/2015 - 13:18

The characteristic feeling of the post-2008 world has been one of anxiety.Occasionally, that anxiety breaks out into fear as it did in the last two weeks when stock markets around the world swooned and middle class and wealthy investors had a sudden visitation from Pan, the god from whose name we get the word "panic." Pan's appearance is yet another reminder that the relative stability of the globe from the end of World War II right up until 2008 is over. We are in uncharted waters. The relentless, if zigzag, rise in financial markets for the past 150 years has been sustained by cheap fossil fuels and a benign climate. We cannot count on either from here on out...

Fallout From Petrodollar Demise Continues As Qatar Borrows $4 Billion Amid Crude Slump

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/04/2015 - 13:34

Early last month, we noted the irony inherent in the fact that Saudi Arabia, whose effort to bankrupt the US shale space has been complicated by the Fed's ZIRP, was set to opportunistically tap the debt market in an effort to offset a painful petrodollar reserve burn. As Bloomberg reports, Qatar is now doing the same, "raising money from local banks as the slump in oil prices buffets the finances of the Middle East’s largest oil and gas exporters."

09-05-15 SII

 

 

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 09/04/2015 15:08

Saudi King Arrives In DC??

Over the past month or so, we’ve spent quite a bit of time detailing the effect the death of the petrodollar has had on Saudi Arabia’s financial position. Recapping briefly, Riyadh’s move to Plaxico itself in an effort to bankrupt the US shale space late last year has forced the kingdom to draw down its petrodollar reserves to ensure that ordinary Saudis aren’t affected by plunging crude. Add in a proxy war (or two) and you get a budget deficit of 20% to go along with the first current account deficit in ages. The cost of maintaining the riyal’s peg to the dollar doesn’t help either. 

The situation described above has caused the Saudis to tap the debt market to help fill the gap and indeed, some estimates show the country’s currently negligible debt-to-GDP ratio climbing by a factor of 10 by the end of next year. 

But make no mistake, all of the above should not be mistaken as a suggestion that the Saudis aren’t rich - very rich, and if you had any doubts about that, consider the following description from Politico of King Salman's arrival in Washington for his first meeting with President Obama:

In anticipation of King Salman bin Abdulaziz of Saudi Arabia’s stay, the Four Seasons hotel in Georgetown has done some redecorating — literally rolling out red carpets in order to accommodate the royal’s luxurious taste.

Eyewitnesses at the property have seen crates of gilded furniture and accessories being wheeled into the posh hotel over the past several days, culminating in a home-away-from-home fit for the billionaire Saudi monarch, who is in Washington for his first White House meeting with President Barack Obama tomorrow.

“Everything is gold,” says one Four Seasons regular, who spied the deliveries arriving at the hotel. “Gold mirrors, gold end tables, gold lamps, even gold hat racks.” Red carpets have been laid down in hallways and even in the lower parking garage, so the king and his family never have to touch asphalt when departing their custom Mercedes caravan.

The guests staying at the 222-room hotel for the next couple of days are all part of the 79-year-old king’s entourage of Saudi diplomats, family members and assistants, one source said; a full buyout of the entire property was reserved for the visit. Guests who had booked to stay at the Four Seasons during the royal visit have apparently been moved to other luxury hotels in town. A call to the Four Seasons confirmed the hotel is sold out Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights.

King Salman, who ascended the throne in January, has a habit of displacing commoners for his own comforts; this summer, during a sojourn to the French Riviera, his eight-day stay forced the closure of a popular beach, enraging locals. Salman rolls deep, with a reported 1,000-person delegation joining him for his seaside August vacation.

Wall St. Journal reporter Carol Lee snapped this photograph of Salman's entourage arriving at Andrews Air Force Base on Thursday:

The king will reportedly discuss a number of rather pressing issues with the Obama administration including:

  • Riyadh's involvement in Yemen, where, as we detailed on Thursday, a former US counterterrorism "success story" is now on the verge of splitting into two separate countries.
  • Of course the Iran nuclear deal will also come up, especially in light of the fact that, as The New York Times noted earlier this week, "Republicans are considering legislative options to counter the deal, including the possible reimposition of sanctions the agreement is supposed to lift," now that the President has secured the support he needs to sustain a veto of a GOP challenge.
  • Perhaps more importantly, the two leaders will also discuss Syria and oil prices, with the latter issue now having a rather outsized impact on America's shale producers as well as on US majors' capex plans. Needless to say, the real question from a geopolitical perspective is whether Obama and King Salman come to any closed-door agreements on Syria where, as Al Jazeera delicately puts it, the US and Saudi Arabia are set to orchestrate a "managed political transition."

 

OIL WEAKNESS

08-29-15 SII
Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/21/2015

WTI Crude Breaks Below Historic $40 Level, Energy Credit Spikes To Record Highs After Rig Count Rise

Well, we have a winner - Oil broke to a 3 handle before 10Y rates hit a 1 handle (just - 10Y at 2.04%) following the 5th weekly rise in rig count (+2 to 674). Energy credit risk is soaring to record highs as investors realize 'there will be blood' in all those highly-levered loans.  This is the first time the front-month crude contract traded below $40 since March 3rd 2009... just before QE was unleashed in all its asset-inflating, malinvestment-driving, zombifying glory.

This didn't help:

  • *SAUDI LIKELY TO KEEP OUTPUT NEAR 10M B/D THROUGH 2016: BARCLA

And then the rig count data hit.

  • *U.S. TOTAL RIG COUNT 885 , BAKER HUGHES SAYS
  • *U.S. OIL RIG COUNT UP 2 TO 674, BAKER HUGHES SAY

WTI Crude breaks below $40....

and Energy credit risk is exploding..

Trade accordingly...

Charts: Bloomberg

 

Low Oil Prices Could Break The "Fragile Five" Producing Nations

Persistently low oil prices have already inflicted economic pain on oil-producing countries. But with crude sticking near six-year lows, the risk of political turmoil is starting to rise.

There are several countries in which the risks are the greatest – Algeria, Iraq, Libya, Nigeria, and Venezuela – and RBC Capital Markets has labeled them the “Fragile Five.”

Iraq, facing instability from the ongoing fight with ISIS, has seen its problems compounded by the fall in oil prices, causing its budget to shrink significantly. The government is moving to tap the bond markets for the first time in years, looking to issue $6 billion in new debt.

Revenues have been bolstered somewhat by continued gains in production. Iraq’s oil output hit a record high in July at 4.18 million barrels per day, up sharply from an average of 3.42 million barrels per day in the first quarter of this year. But with Brent crude now dropping well below $50 per barrel, Iraq’s finances are worsening. According to Fitch Ratings, Iraq may post a fiscal deficit in excess of 10 percent this year, and all the savings accrued during the years of high oil prices have been depleted.

Other political problems loom for Iraq. The central government and the semiautonomous region of Kurdistan have been unable to resolve a dispute over oil sales. With revenues running low for the central government, it has failed to transfer adequate funds to the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). That led to the breakdown of a tenuous deal between the two sides that saw Kurdish oil sold under the purview of the Iraqi government. The KRG is selling oil on its own now in an effort to obtain much needed revenue in order to pay private oil companies operating in its territory.

Meanwhile, in southern Iraq, which produces the bulk of the country’s oil and has been far from the violence associated with ISIS, protests have threatened oil operations there. Protests at the West Qurna-2 oilfield operated by Russian firm Lukoil have raised concerns within both the company and the Iraqi central government about disruptions. The Prime Minister even traveled to the site to reassure Lukoil about the stability of its operations.

“Recent pressure from villagers and nearby residents making demands could force us to consider halting operations if they keep extorting us,” a Lukoil official reportedly said. Disruptions don’t appear to be imminent, but any cutback in production would be a huge blow to Baghdad and would plunge Iraq deeper into financial despair.

Low oil prices could also push Venezuela into a deeper crisis. The cost of insuring Venezuelan government bonds has hit its highest level in 12 years, indicating the growing probability of default. Critical parliamentary elections loom in December, but the government has already cracked down on opposition candidates and will likely prevent a fair election from taking place, even while President Maduro’s popularity sinks. The economy is already in crisis, but it is teetering on the brink of something more acute. Bloomberg’s editors openly wonder whether Venezuela’s neighbors are prepared for its collapse.

For Libya, already torn apart by civil war and the growing presence of ISIS militants, low oil prices are the last thing the country needs. ISIS violently crushed a civilian rebellion last week in the coastal city of Sirte, according to Al-Jazeera. Libya’s internationally-recognized government has called upon Arab states for help in fighting ISIS, something that the Arab League has endorsed. Meanwhile, the country’s oil sector – the backbone of the economy – is producing less than 400,000 barrels per day, well below the 1.6 million barrels per day Libya produced during the Gaddafi era. In other words, Libya is selling far less oil than it used to, and at prices far below what they were as recently as last year. Citing IMF data, Bloomberg says that oil is selling for almost $160 per barrel less than what Libya would need it to be for its budget to breakeven.

Saudi Arabia does not belong in the same category of troubled countries, but it is also not immune to oil prices at multiyear lows, despite its vast reserves of foreign exchange. Saudi Arabia could run a fiscal deficit that is equivalent to about 20 percent of GDP. To finance public spending, Saudi Arabia has returned to the bond markets for the first time in eight years, issuing 15 billion riyals ($4 billion) in July, only to be followed up by an additional bond offering of 20 billion riyals ($5.33 billion) in August. The government plans on taking on more debt in the coming months as well.

Still, Saudi Arabia has a market share strategy that it is pursuing, and there are no signs that it will reconsider. That could spell trouble for much more fragile oil-producing countries around the world.

OIL WEAKNESS

08-22-15 SII

ubmitted by Tyler Durden on 08/21/2015 17:25

ZERO HEDGE:

"the most recent plunge has been entirely a function of what now appears to be a global economic recession"

One of the most vocal discussions in the past year has been whether the collapse, subsequent rebound, and recent relapse in the price of oil is due to surging supply as Saudi Arabia pumps out month after month of record production to bankrupt as many shale companies before its reserves are depleted, or tumbling demand as a result of a global economic slowdown. Naturally, the bulls have been pounding the table on the former, because if it is the later it suggests the global economy is in far worse shape than anyone but those long the 10 Year have imagined.

Courtesy of the following chart by BofA, we have the answer: while for the most part of 2015, the move in the price of oil was a combination of both supply and demand, the most recent plunge has been entirely a function of what now appears to be a global economic recession, one which will get far worse if the Fed indeed hikes rates as it has repeatedly threatened as it begins to undo 7 years of ultra easy monetary policy.

Here is BofA:

Retreating global equities, bond yields and DM breakevens confirm that EM has company. Much as in late 2014, global markets are going through a significant global growth scare. To illustrate this, we update our oil price decomposition exercise, breaking down changes in crude prices into supply and demand drivers (The disinflation red-herring).

Chart 6 shows that, in early July, the drop in oil prices seems to have reflected primarily abundant supply (related, for example, to the Iran deal). Over the past month, however, falling oil prices have all but reflected weak demand.

BofA's conclusion:

The global outlook has indeed worsened. Our economists have recently trimmed GDP forecasts in Japan, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia and South Africa, while noting greater downside risks in Turkey due to political uncertainty. Asian exports continue to underwhelm, and capital outflows are adding to regional woes. Looking ahead, we still expect the largest DM economies to keep expanding at above-trend pace but global headwinds have intensified.

And yet, BofA's crack economist Ethan Harris still expects a September Fed rate hike. Perhaps the price of oil should turn negative (yes, just like NIRP, negative commodity prices are very possible) for the Fed to realize just how cornered it truly is.

 

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 08/19/2015 13:14

WTI Collapses To A $40 Handle & What That Means For Earnings

Moments ago, following the DOE report of an unexpected jump in oil inventories which caught all algos by surprise, oil collapsed to a $40 handle...

...a price not seen since 2009.

So what does this mean for S&P 500 earnings in general, and energy earnings in particular?

Nothing short of much more pain, if not a complete wipeout, as the following chart - showing energy EPS with a 4 month lag vs oil prices - from Citigroup reveals.

Which, as we also reported two days ago, means forward energy multiples are about to explode to record highs and, as we also commented, if and when the realization arrives that forward multiples in the 25-30x range are just a "tad high" and multiples mean revert, watch out for a 50% crash in energy stock prices...

... which after a year of hopium courtesy of central banks, will finally metastasize to the rest of the S&P 500.

 

 

08-15-15

SII

ENERGY

 

 

 

Recall crude oil’s dramatic 2008 price collapse. The high that year was in July at $147.50 a barrel. By December, the price had plummeted to $30.28

This chart shows how Elliott Wave Theorist subscribers were warned ahead of time.
 
 
 
It was a few weeks before the top when the Theorist said, “Crude Oil: One of the greatest commodity tops of all time is due very soon.”
 
Eventually oil did climb back above $100 a barrel. But it took two-plus years, and even then prices remained far below the July 2008 high.
 
Crude traded roughly sideways through June 2014. Then came another nosedive, and about nine months later crude was trading below $44 a barrel.
 
Once again, subscribers were warned weeks ahead of time. Here’s what the May 2014 Theorist said:
 
“The multi-year outlook is for much lower prices.”
 
After oil’s relentless multi-month decline, the January 2015 Theorist said that “now that bearish conviction has crystallized, oil is likely to rally.”
 
By May 5, oil’s price climbed to just above $60 a barrel. Yet as our long-term analysis suggested, the bounce was relatively short-lived:
 
“US oil settles at a six-year low of $43.08 a barrel” (CNBC, Aug. 11).
 
Where are oil prices headed?
 
Well, one prominent financial observer has been consistent with his outlook for oil.
 
“Gary Shilling thinks the price of oil is going way lower. The economist and financial analyst wrote an op-ed for Bloomberg View discussing the various reasons why he thinks the price could get down to $10-20 per barrel” (Business Insider, Feb. 17).
 
Shilling is a deflationist. In an Aug. 3 tweet he reiterated his oil forecast: “Prices will drop even further.”
 
As always, there are voices saying the glass is half full: The founder of a financial firm recently told CNBC that “Oil does not have much more of a downside left.”
 
Time will tell which of these forecasts is correct.
 
Consider the bigger picture – namely the downtrend in other commodities (like copper). Think about the economic weakness in Europe and now China. Consider the record levels of global debt. Reflect on the ineffective stimulus efforts of central banks around the world. And finally, consider this excerpt from the July Theorist:
 
People who are afraid that deflation will lead to economic contraction are correct. That’s why the subtitle of Conquer the Crash includes both words: Deflationary Depression. But the trip to the finish line is a zigzag path. Results don’t show up overnight. What’s happening now is nothing compared to what’s coming.
 
"Peak Oil" -- And Other Ways Crude Oil Fooled Almost Everyone
Remember "Peak Oil"? About ten years ago, it was a hugely popular theory "explaining" why oil prices would only go higher. They didn't. These excerpts from Robert Prechter's Elliott Wave Theorist highlight the flaws in the conventional approach to forecasting oil prices and show you a better method -- a method that has done a remarkable job forecasting the future path of oil prices.

 

 

ENERGY - "Far Worse Than 1986"

Crude Collapse Continues - WTI Trades $47 Handle, New 4-Month Lows, Credit Crashing

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/24/2015 - 12:24

The crude collapse continues... and HY energy credit risk spikes above 950bps...

Crude Slips After Oil Rig Count Surges By Most In 15 Months

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/24/2015 - 13:11

Total US rig count increased a somewhat stunning 19 last week to 876 - the highest since May. This is the biggest rise in rig count since August 2014. The oil rig count surged 21 to 659 - this is the biggest weekly rise since April 2014. Louisiana (up 7) and Texas (up 8) saw the biggest increases.

Commodity Clobbering Continues

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/24/2015 - 06:59

After yesterday's latest drop in stocks driven by "old economy" companies such as CAT, which sent the Dow Jones back to red for the year and the S&P fractionally unchanged, today has been a glaring example of the "new" vs "old" economy contrast, with futures propped up thanks to strong tech company earnings after the close, chief among which Amazon, which gained $40 billion in after hours trading and has now surpassed Walmart as the largest US retailer. As a result Brent crude is little changed near 2-wk low after disappointing Chinese manufacturing data fueled demand concerns, adding to bearish sentiment in an oversupplied mkt. WTI up ~26c, trimming losses after yday falling to lowest since March 31 to close in bear mkt. Both Brent and WTI are set for 4th consecutive week of declines; this is the longest losing streak for Brent since Jan., for WTI since March.

World Trade Slumps By Most Since Financial Crisis

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2015 - 22:45

As goes the world, so goes America (according to 30 years of historical data), and so when world trade volumes drop over 2% (the biggest drop since 2009) in the last six months to the weakest since June 2014, the "US recession imminent" canary in the coalmine is drawing her last breath...

Gold "Flash-Crashes" Again Amid Continued Commodity Liquidation As China Manufacturing Slumps To 15-Month Lows

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2015 - 22:00

As Bridgewater talks back its now widely discussed bearish position on fallout from China's equity market collapse, Chinese stocks rose at the open (before fading after ugly manufacturing data). However, liquidations continue across the commodity complex in copper, gold, and silver. Though not on the scale to Sunday night's collapse, the China open brought another 'flash-crash' in precious metals. All signs point to CCFD unwinds, and forced liquidations as under the surface something smells rotten in China, which has just been confirmed by the lowest Manufacturing PMI print in 15 months.

Commodity Carnage Continues - Copper Crashes To 6 Year Lows

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2015 - 12:05

Across the board commodities are weak again today as CCFD unwinds and mal-investment booms collapse across the world. Copper is under the most pressure today, plunging to its lowest since June 2009... but of course, Dr. Copper now knows nothing about economics because eyeballs trump reality in the new normal... even as Goldman warns lower prices are to come.

WTI Crude Tumbles To $48 Handle, Energy Stocks At Dec 2012 Lows

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2015 - 11:09

WTI gave up earlier gains and is tumbling once again to 4-month lows, back into the $48 handle range... S&P Energy stocks are now back at Dec 2012 levels as Forward P/Es collapse back to reality...


"Far Worse Than 1986": The Oil Downturn Has No Parallel In Recorded History, Morgan Stanley Says

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/22/2015 - 22:51

The forward curve currently points towards a recovery in prices that is far worse than in 1986. As there was no sharp downturn in the ~15 years before that, the current downturn could be the worst of the last 45+ years. If this were to be the case, there would be nothing in our experience that would be a guide to the next phases of this cycle, especially over the relatively near term. In fact, there may be nothing in analysable history.

07-25-15

ENERGY

SII

 

Commodity Carnage Contagion Crushes Stocks & Bond Yields

Submitted by Tyler Durden on 07/23/2015 - 18:30


 

ubmitted by Tyler Durden on 07/22/2015 22:51

"Far Worse Than 1986": The Oil Downturn Has No Parallel In Recorded History, Morgan Stanley Says

On Tuesday the market got yet another reminder of just how painful the "current commodity price environment" has been for producers when Chesapeake eliminated its common dividend in order to conserve cash.

After noting the plunge in Chesapeake’s shares (to a 12-year low) we subsequently outlined why the US shale "revolution" is now running out of lifelines as hedges roll off and as the next round of credit line assessments looms in October.

A persistent theme here - as regular readers are no doubt aware - has been the extent to which an ultra-accommodative Fed has contributed to a deflationary supply glut by ensuring that beleaguered producers retain access to capital markets. In short, cash-strapped companies who would have otherwise gone out of business have been able to stay afloat thanks to the fact that Fed policy has herded investors into risk assets.

In a ZIRP world, there’s plenty of demand for new HY issuance and ill-fated secondaries, which means the digging, drilling, and pumping gets to continue indefinitely in what may end up being one of the most dramatic instances of malinvestment the market has ever seen

Those who contend that the downturn simply cannot last much longer - that the supply/demand imbalance will soon even out, that the market will clear sooner rather than later, and that even if the weaker hands are shaken out, the pain for the majors will be relatively short-lived - are perhaps ignoring the underlying narrative that helps to explain why the situation looks like it does. At heart, this is a struggle between the Fed’s ZIRP and the Saudis, who appear set to outlast the easy money that’s kept US producers alive.

Against that backdrop, and amid Wednesday's crude carnage, we turn to Morgan Stanley for more on why the current downturn will be "worse than 1986." 

From Morgan Stanley

Worse than 1986? Really?

We have been expecting the current downturn to be as severe as the one in 1986 – the worst for at least 45 years – but not worse than that. Still, if oil prices follow the path suggested by the forward curve, our thesis may yet prove too optimistic.

Our constructive stance on the majors is based on four factors: 1) supply – we expected production growth to moderate following large capex cuts and the sharp decline in the rig count; 2) demand – we anticipated that the fall in price would boost oil products demand; 3) cost and capex – we foresaw both falling sharply, similar to the industry's response in 1986; and 4) valuation – relative DY and P/BV indicated 35-year lows.

So far this year, we can put a tick against three of them [but] our expectation on supply has not materialised: US tight oil production growth has started to roll over, but this has been more than offset by OPEC, which has added ~1.5 mb/d since February. 

On current trajectory, this downturn could become worse than 1986: An additional +1.5 mb/d is roughly one year of oil demand growth. If sustained, this could delay the rebalancing of oil markets by a year as well. The forward curve has started to price this in: as the chart shows, the forward curve currently points towards a recovery in prices that is far worse than in 1986. This means the industrial downturn could also be worse. In that case, there would be little in analysable history that could be a guide to this cycle. 

[There are] strong similarities between the current oil price downturn and the one that occurred in 1985/86. The trajectory of oil prices is similar on both occasions. There were also common reasons for the collapse. 

A high and stable oil price in the preceding four years stimulated technological innovation and led to a high level of investment. This resulted in strong production growth outside OPEC, exceeding the rate of global demand growth. When it became clear that OPEC would no longer rein in production to balance the market (as it did during both the Nov 1985 and Nov 2014 OPEC meetings) the price collapsed. 

And although MS notes that similar to 1986, costs and capex are likely to come in sharply while demand growth should materialize, the supply side of the equation is not cooperating thanks to increased output from OPEC. 

Due to the sharp slowdown in drilling activity and the high decline rate of tight oil wells, we expected production in the US to flatline and start declining in 2H. This seems to be happening: according to the US Department of Energy, tight oil production in June was 94 kb/d below the April level, and it forecasts further falls of 90 kb/d in both July and August.

Now that capex is falling, we anticipated non-US production to be flat at best. Still, this has not yet been the case. At the time of our 'Looking Beyond the Nadir' report in February, OPEC production stood at ~30.2 mb/d. This increased substantially to 31.3 mb/d in May and 31.7 mb/d in June, i.e. OPEC has added 1.5 mb/d to global supply in the last four months alone.

Our commodity analyst Adam Longson argues that the oil market is currently ~800,000 b/d oversupplied. This suggests that the current oversupply in the oil market is fully due to OPEC's production increase since February alone. 

We anticipated that OPEC would not cut, but we didn't foresee such a sharp increase. In our view, this is the main reason why the rebalancing of oil markets had not yet gained momentum.

If oil prices follow the path suggested by the forward curve, and essentially remain rangebound around levels seen in the last 2-3 months, this downturn would be more severe than that in 1986. As there was no sharp downturn in the ~15 years before that, the current downturn could be the worst of the last 45+ years.

If this were to be the case, there would be nothing in our experience that would be a guide to the next phases of this cycle, especially over the relatively near term. In fact, there may be nothing in analysable history. 

Needless to say, this does not bode well for everyone who has unwittingly thrown good money after bad on the assumption that the Saudis will cut production and trigger a rebound in crude.

In addition to the immense pressure from persistently low prices, US producers also face a Fed rate hike cycle and thus the beginning of the end for easy money.

Of course, the more expensive it is to fund money-losing producers, the less willing investors will be to perpetuate this delay-and-pray scheme, which brings us right back to what we've been saying for months: the expiration date for heavily indebted US drillers is fast approaching, and if Morgan Stanley thinks the oil downturn has no parallel in "analysable history," wait until they see the carnage that will unfold in HY credit when a few high profile defaults in the oil patch send the retail crowd running for the junk bond ETF exits.

Tyler Durden on 07/22/2015 14:20 Submitted by Gail Tverberg via Our Finite World blog,

Nine Reasons Why Low Oil Prices May "Morph" Into Something Much Worse

Why are commodity prices, including oil prices, lagging? Ultimately, it comes back to the question, “Why isn’t the world economy making very many of the end products that use these commodities?” If workers were getting rich enough to buy new homes and cars, demand for these products would be raising the prices of commodities used to build and operate cars, including the price of oil. If governments were rich enough to build an increasing number of roads and more public housing, there would be demand for the commodities used to build roads and public housing.

It looks to me as though we are heading into a deflationary depression, because prices of commodities are falling below the cost of extraction. We need rapidly rising wages and debt if commodity prices are to rise back to 2011 levels or higher. This isn’t happening. Instead, Janet Yellen is talking about raising interest rates later this year, and  we are seeing commodity prices fall further and further. Let me explain some pieces of what is happening.

1. We have been forcing economic growth upward since 1981 through the use of falling interest rates. Interest rates are now so low that it is hard to force rates down further, to encourage further economic growth. 

Falling interest rates are hugely beneficial for the economy. If interest rates stop dropping, or worse yet, begin to rise, we will lose this very beneficial factor affecting the economy. The economy will tend to grow even less quickly, bringing down commodity prices further. The world economy may even start contracting, as it heads into a deflationary depression.

If we look at 10-year US treasury interest rates, there has been a steep fall in rates since 1981.

Figure 1. Chart prepared by St. Louis Fed using data through July 20, 2015.

Figure 1. Chart prepared by St. Louis Fed using data through July 20, 2015.

In fact, almost any kind of interest rates, including interest rates of shorter terms, mortgage interest rates, bank prime loan rates, and Moody’s Seasoned AAA Bonds, show a fairly similar pattern. There is more variability in very short-term interest rates, but the general direction has been down, to the point where interest rates can drop no further.

Declining interest rates stimulate the economy for many reasons:

  • Would-be homeowners find monthly payments are lower, so more people can afford to purchase homes. People already owning homes can afford to “move up” to more expensive homes.
  • Would-be auto owners find monthly payments lower, so more people can afford cars.
  • Employment in the home and auto industries is stimulated, as is employment in home furnishing industries.
  • Employment at colleges and universities grows, as lower interest rates encourage more students to borrow money to attend college.
  • With lower interest rates, businesses can afford to build factories and stores, even when the anticipated rate of return is not very high. The higher demand for autos, homes, home furnishing, and colleges adds to the success of businesses.
  • The low interest rates tend to raise asset prices, including prices of stocks, bonds, homes and farmland, making people feel richer.
  • If housing prices rise sufficiently, homeowners can refinance their mortgages, often at a lower interest rate. With the funds from refinancing, they can remodel, or buy a car, or take a vacation.
  • With low interest rates, the total amount that can be borrowed without interest payments becoming a huge burden rises greatly. This is especially important for governments, since they tend to borrow endlessly, without collateral for their loans.

While this very favorable trend in interest rates has been occurring for years, we don’t know precisely how much impact this stimulus is having on the economy. Instead, the situation is the “new normal.” In some ways, the benefit is like traveling down a hill on a skateboard, and not realizing how much the slope of the hill is affecting the speed of the skateboard. The situation goes on for so long that no one notices the benefit it confers.

If the economy is now moving too slowly, what do we expect to happen when interest rates start rising? Even level interest rates become a problem, if we have become accustomed to the economic boost we get from falling interest rates.

2. The cost of oil extraction tends to rise over time because the cheapest to extract oil is removed first. In fact, this is true for nearly all commodities, including metals. 

If costs always remained the same, we could represent the production of a barrel of oil, or a pound of metal, using the following diagram.

Figure 2

Figure 2. Base Case

If production is getting increasingly efficient, then we might represent the situation as follows, where the larger size “box” represents the larger output, using the same inputs.

Figure 3

Figure 3. Increased Efficiency

For oil and for many other commodities, we are experiencing the opposite situation. Instead of becoming increasingly efficient, we are becoming increasingly inefficient (Figure 4). This happens because deeper wells need to be dug, or because we need to use fracking equipment and fracking sand, or because we need to build special refineries to handle the pollution problems of a particular kind of oil. Thus we need more resources to produce the same amount of oil.

Figure 4. Growing inefficiency

Figure 4. Growing inefficiency (Notice how sizes of shapes differ in Figures 2, 3, and 4.)

Some people might call the situation “diminishing returns,” because the cheap oil has already been extracted, and we need to move on to the more difficult to extract oil. This adds extra steps, and thus extra costs. I have chosen to use the slightly broader term of “increasing inefficiency” because I am not restricting the nature of these additional costs.

Very often, new steps need to be added to the process of extraction because wells are deeper, or because refining requires the removal of more pollutants. At times, the higher costs involve changing to a new process that is believed to be more environmentally sound.

Figure 5

Figure 5. An example of what may happen to make inputs in physical goods and services rise. (The triangle shape was chosen to match the shape of the “Inputs of Goods and Services” triangle in Figures 2, 3, and 4.)

The cost of extraction keeps rising, as the cheapest to extract resources become depleted, and as environmental pollution becomes more of a problem.

3. Using more inputs to create the same or smaller output pushes the world economy toward contraction.

Essentially, the problem is that the same quantity of inputs is yielding less and less of the desired final product. For a given quantity of inputs, we are getting more and more intermediate products (such as fracking sand, “scrubbers” for coal-fired power plants, desalination plants for fresh water, and administrators for colleges), but we are not getting as much output in the traditional sense, such as barrels of oil, kilowatts of electricity, gallons of fresh water, or educated young people, ready to join the work force.

We don’t have unlimited inputs. As more and more of our inputs are assigned to creating intermediate products to work around limits we are reaching (including pollution limits), less of our resources can go toward producing desired end products. The result is less economic growth, and because of this declining economic growth, less demand for commodities. Prices for commodities tend to drop.

This outcome is to be expected, if increased efficiency is part of what creates economic growth, and what we are experiencing now is the opposite: increased inefficiency.

4. The way workers afford higher commodity costs is primarily through higher wages. At times, higher debt can also be a workaround. If neither of these is available, commodity prices can fall below the cost of production.

If there is a big increase in costs of products like houses and cars, this presents a huge challenge to workers. Usually, workers pay for these products using a combination of wages and debt. If costs rise, they either need higher wages, or a debt package that makes the product more affordable–perhaps lower rates, or a longer period for payment.

Commodity costs have been rising very rapidly in the last fifteen years or so. According to a chart prepared by Steven Kopits, some of the major costs of extracting oil began increasing by 10.9% per year, about 1999.

Figure 6. Figure by Steve Kopits of Westwood Douglas showing trends in world oil exploration and production costs per barrel. CAGR is 'Compound Annual Growth Rate.'

Figure 6. Figure by Steve Kopits of Westwood Douglas showing trends in world oil exploration and production costs per barrel. CAGR is “Compound Annual Growth Rate.”

In fact, the inflation-adjusted prices of almost all energy and metal products tended to rise rapidly during the period between 1999 and 2008 (Figure 7). This was a time period when the amount of mortgage debt was increasing rapidly as lenders began offering home loans with low initial interest rates to almost anyone, including those with low credit scores and irregular income. When buyers began defaulting and debt levels began falling in mid-2008, commodity prices of all types dropped.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted prices adjusted to 1999 price = 100, based on World Bank 'Pink Sheet' data.

Figure 6. Inflation adjusted prices adjusted to 1999 price = 100, based on World Bank “Pink Sheet” data.

Prices then began to rise once Quantitative Easing (QE) was initiated (compare Figures 6 and 7). The use of QE brought down medium-term and long-term interest rates, making it easier for customers to afford homes and cars.

Figure 7. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

Figure 7. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

More recently, prices have fallen again. Thus, we have had two recent times when prices have fallen below the cost of production for many major commodities. Both of these drops occurred after prices had been high, when debt availability was contracting or failing to rise as much as in the past.

5. Part of the problem that we are experiencing is a slow-down in wage growth.

Figure 8 shows that in the United States, growth in per capita wages tends to disappear when oil prices rise above $40 barrel. (Of course, as noted in Point 1, interest rates have been falling since 1981. If it weren’t for this, the cut off for wage growth might even be lower–perhaps even $20 barrel!)

Figure 8. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

Figure 8. Average wages in 2012$ compared to Brent oil price, also in 2012$. Average wages are total wages based on BEA data adjusted by the CPI-Urban, divided by total population. Thus, they reflect changes in the proportion of population employed as well as wage levels.

There is also a logical reason why we would expect that wages would tend to fall as energy costs rise. How does a manufacturer respond to the much higher cost of one or more of its major inputs? If the manufacturer simply passes the higher cost along, many customers will no longer be able to afford the manufacturer’s or service-provider’s products. If businesses can simply reduce some other costs to offset the rise in the cost in energy products and metals, they might be able to keep most of their customers.

A major area where a manufacturer or service provider can cut costs is in wage expense.  (Note the different types of expenses shown in Figure 5. Wages are a major type of expense for most businesses.)

There are several ways employment costs can be cut:

  1. Shift jobs to lower wage countries overseas.
  2. Use automation to shift some human labor to labor provided by electricity.
  3. Pay workers less. Use “contract workers” or “adjunct faculty” or “interns” who will settle for lower wages.

If a manufacturer decides to shift jobs to China or India, this has the additional advantage of cutting energy costs, since these countries use a lot of coal in their energy mix, and coal is an inexpensive fuel.

Figure 9. United States Percentage of Labor Force Employed, in by St. Louis Federal Reserve.

Figure 9. United States Labor Force Participation Rate by St. Louis Federal Reserve. It is computed by dividing the number of people who are employed or are actively looking for work by the number of potential workers.

In fact, we see a drop in the US civilian labor force participation rate (Figure 9) starting at approximately the same time when energy costs and metal costs started to rise. Median inflation-adjusted wages have tended to fall as well in this period. Low wages can be a reason for dropping out of the labor force; it can become too expensive to commute to work and pay day care expenses out of meager wages.

Of course, if wages of workers are not growing and in many cases are actually shrinking, it becomes difficult to sell as many homes, cars, boats, and vacation cruises. These big-ticket items create a significant share of commodity “demand.” If workers are unable to purchase as many of these big-ticket items, demand tends to fall below the (now-inflated) cost of producing these big-ticket items, leading to the lower commodity prices we have seen recently.

6. We are headed in slow motion toward major defaults among commodity producers, including oil producers. 

Quite a few people imagine that if oil prices drop, or if other commodity prices drop, there will be an immediate impact on the output of goods and services.

Figure 10.

Figure 10.

Instead, what happens is more of a time-lagged effect (Figure 11).

Figure 11.

Figure 11.

Part of the difference lies in the futures markets; companies hold contracts that hold sale prices up for a time, but eventually (often, end of 2015) run out. Part of the difference lies in wells that have already been drilled that keep on producing. Part of the difference lies in the need for businesses to maintain cash flow at all costs, if the price problem is only for a short period. Thus, they will keep parts of the business operating if those parts produce positive cash flow on a going-forward basis, even if they are not profitable considering all costs.

With debt, the big concern is that the oil reserves being used as collateral for loans will drop in value, because of the lower price of oil in the world market. The collateral value of reserves works out to be something like (barrels of oil in reserves x some expected price).

As long as oil is being valued at $100 barrel, the value of the collateral stays close to what was assumed when the loan was taken out. The problem comes when low oil prices gradually work their way through the system and bring down the value of the collateral. This may take a year or more from the initial price drop, because prices are averaged over as much as 12 months, to provide stability to the calculation.

Once the value of the collateral drops below the value of the outstanding loan, the borrowers are in big trouble. They may need to sell other assets they have, to help pay down the loan. Or they may end up in bankruptcy. The borrowers certainly can’t borrow the additional money they need to keep increasing their production.

When bankruptcy occurs, many follow-on effects can be expected. The banks that made the loans may find themselves in financial difficulty. The oil company may lay off large numbers of workers. The former workers’ lack of wages may affect other businesses in the area, such as car dealerships. The value of homes in the area may drop, causing home mortgages to become “underwater.” All of these effects contribute to still lower demand for commodities of all kinds, including oil.

Because of the time lag problem, the bankruptcy problem is hard to reverse. Oil prices need to stay high for an extended period before lenders will be willing to lend to oil companies again. If it takes, say, five years for oil prices to get up to a level high enough to encourage drilling again, it may take seven years before lenders are willing to lend again.

7. Because many “baby boomers” are retiring now, we are at the beginning of a demographic crunch that has the tendency to push demand down further.

Many workers born in the late 1940s and in the 1950s are retiring now. These workers tend to reduce their own spending, and depend on government programs to pay most of their income. Thus, the retirement of these workers tends to drive up government costs at the same time it reduces demand for commodities of all kinds.

Someone needs to pay for the goods and services used by the retirees. Government retirement plans are rarely pre-funded, except with the government’s own debt. Because of this, higher pension payments by governments tend to lead to higher taxes. With higher taxes, workers have less money left to buy homes and cars. Even with pensions, the elderly are never a big market for homes and cars. The overall result is that demand for homes and cars tends to stagnate or decline, holding down the demand for commodities.

8. We are running short of options for fixing our low commodity price problem.

The ideal solution to our low commodity price problem would be to find substitutes that are cheap enough, and could increase in quantity rapidly enough, to power the economy to economic growth. “Cheap enough” would probably mean approximately $20 barrel for a liquid oil substitute. The price would need to be correspondingly inexpensive for other energy products. Cheap and abundant energy products are needed because oil consumption and energy consumption are highly correlated. If prices are not low, consumers cannot afford them. The economy would react as it does to inefficiency.

Figure 12. World GDP in 2010$ compared (from USDA) compared to World Consumption of Energy (from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014).

Figure 12. World GDP in 2010$ (from USDA) compared to World Consumption of Energy (from BP Statistical Review of World Energy 2014)

These substitutes would also need to be non-polluting, so that pollution workarounds do not add to costs. These substitutes would need to work in existing vehicles and machinery, so that we do not have to deal with the high cost of transition to new equipment.

Clearly, none of the potential substitutes we are looking at today come anywhere close to meeting cost and scalability requirements. Wind and solar PV can only built on top of our existing fossil fuel system. All evidence is that they raise total costs, adding to our “Increased Inefficiency” problem, rather than fixing it.

Other solutions to our current problems seem to be debt based. If we look at recent past history, the story seems to be something such as the following:

Besides adopting QE starting in 2008, governments also ramped up their spending (and debt) during the 2008-2011 period. This spending included road building, which increased the demand for commodities directly, and unemployment insurance payments, which indirectly increased the demand for commodities by giving jobless people money, which they used for food and transportation. China also ramped up its use of debt in the 2008-2009 period, building more factories and homes. The combination of QE, China’s debt, and government debt brought oil prices back up by 2011, although not to as high a level as in 2008 (Figure 7).

More recently, governments have slowed their growth in spending (and debt), realizing that they are reaching maximum prudent debt levels. China has slowed its debt growth, as pollution from coal has become an increasing problem, and as the need for new homes and new factories has become saturated. Its debt ratios are also becoming very high.

QE continues to be used by some countries, but its benefit seems to be waning, as interest rates are already as low as they can go, and as central banks buy up an increasing share of debt that might be used for loan collateral. The credit generated by QE has allowed questionable investments since the required rate of return on investments funded by low interest rate debt is so low. Some of this debt simply recirculates within the financial system, propping up stock prices and land prices. Some of it has gone toward stock buy-backs. Virtually none of it has added to commodity demand.

What we really need is more high wage jobs. Unfortunately, these jobs need to be supported by the availability of large amounts of very inexpensive energy. It is the lack of inexpensive energy, to match the $20 oil and very cheap coal upon which the economy has been built, that is causing our problems. We don’t really have a way to fix this.

9. It is doubtful that the prices of energy products and metals can be raised again without causing recession.

We are not talking about simply raising oil prices. If the economy is to grow again, demand for all commodities needs to rise to the point where it makes sense to extract more of them. We use both energy products and metals in making all kinds of goods and services. If the price of these products rises, the cost of making virtually any kind of goods or services rises.

Raising the cost of energy products and metals leads to the problem represented by Growing Inefficiency (Figure 4). As we saw in Point 5, wages tend to go down, rather than up, when other costs of production rise because manufacturers try to find ways to hold total costs down.

Lower wages and higher prices are a huge problem. This is why we are headed back into recession if prices rise enough to enable rising long-term production of commodities, including oil.

 

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