Category Archives: Oil Bust

Meet The Only Private Equity Fund In History To Raise $2 Billion From Investors And Return $0

(ZeroHedge) Sir Richard Branson once said that the quickest way to become a millionaire was to take a billion dollars and buy an airline. But, as EnerVest Ltd, a Houston-based private equity firm that focuses on energy investments, recently found out, there’s more than one way to go broke investing in extremely volatile sectors. 

As the Wall Street Journal points out today, EnerVest is a $2 billion private-equity fund that borrowed heavily at the height of the oil boom to scoop up oil and gas wells.  Unfortunately, shortly after those purchases were made, energy prices plunged leaving the fund’s equity, supplied primarily by pensions, endowments and charitable foundations, worth essentially nothing. 

The outcome will leave investors in the 2013 fund with, at most, pennies for every dollar they invested, the people said. At least one investor, the Orange County Employees Retirement System, already has marked its investment down to zero, according to a pension document.

Though private-equity investments regularly flop, industry consultants and fund investors say this situation could mark the first time that a fund larger than $1 billion has lost essentially all of its value.

EnerVest’s collapse shows how debt taken on during the drilling boom continues to haunt energy investors three years after a glut of fuel sent prices spiraling down.

But, at least John Walker, EnerVest’s co-founder and chief executive, expressed some remorse for investors by confirming to the WSJ that they “are not proud of the result.”

All of which leaves EnerVest with the rather unflattering honor of being perhaps the only private equity fund in history to ever raise over $1 billion in capital from investors and subsequently lose pretty much 100% of it. 

Only seven private-equity funds larger than $1 billion have ever lost money for investors, according to investment firm Cambridge Associates LLC. Among those of any size to end in the red, losses greater than 25% or so are almost unheard of, though there are several energy-focused funds in danger of doing so, according to public pension records.

EnerVest has attempted to restructure the fund, as well as another raised in 2010 that has struggled with losses, to meet repayment demands from lenders who were themselves writing down the value of assets used as collateral, according to public pension documents and people familiar with the efforts.

So, who’s getting wiped out?  Oh, the usual list of pension funds, charities and university endowments.

A number of prominent institutional investors are at risk of having their investments wiped out, including Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, Canada’s second-largest pension, which invested more than $100 million. Florida’s largest pension fund manager and the Western Conference of Teamsters Pension Plan, a manager of retirement savings for union members in nearly 30 states, each invested $100 million, according to public records.

The fund was popular among charitable organizations as well. The J. Paul Getty Trust, John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur and Fletcher Jones foundations each invested millions in the fund, according to their tax filings.

Michigan State University and a foundation that supports Arizona State University also have disclosed investments in the fund.

Luckily, we’re somewhat confident that at least the losses accrued by U.S.-based pension funds will be ultimately be backstopped by taxpayers…so no harm no foul.

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Oil Rally Not Sustainable Says Russian Central Bank

Summary

  • The Russian central bank sees several catalysts that could stop the oil rally in its tracks.
  • Bearish rig count report from Baker Hughes could signal a reverse in direction.
  • Supply will continue to increase rather than slow down in 2016 – even if there is a decline in shale production.
  • Battle for market share is one of the major catalysts not being considered.

I believe it’s very clear this oil rally is running on fumes and was never the result of an improvement in fundamentals. That means to me this rally is going to quickly run out of steam if it isn’t able to run up quicker on existing momentum. I don’t see that happening, and it could pull back dramatically, catching a lot of investors by surprise. The Russian central bank agrees, saying it doesn’t believe the price of oil is sustainable under existing market conditions.

Cited by CNBC, the Russian central bank said, “the current oil market still features a continued oversupply, on the backdrop of a slowdown in the Chinese economy, more supplies originating from Iran and tighter competition for market share.”

In other words, most things in the market that should be improving to support the price of oil aren’t. That can only mean one thing: a violent pullback that could easily push the price of oil back down to the $30 to $32 range. If the price starts to fall quickly, we could see panic selling driving the price down even further.

I think most investors understand this is not a legitimate rally when looking at the lack of change in fundamentals. I’ll be glad when the production freeze hoax is seen for what it is: a manipulation of the price of oil by staggered press releases meant to pull investors along for the ride. The purpose is to buy some time to give the market more time to rebalance. Once this is seen for what it really is, oil will plummet. It could happen at any time in my opinion.

 

Rig count increases for first time in three months

For the first time in three months, the U.S. rig count was up, increasing by one to 387. By itself this isn’t that important, but when combined with the probability that more shale supply may be coming to the market in 2016, it definitely could be an early sign of the process beginning.

EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) has stated it plans on starting up to 270 wells in 2016. We don’t know yet how much additional supply it represents, but it’s going to offset some of the decline from other companies that can’t continue to produce at these price levels. There are other low-cost shale producers that may be doing the same, although I think the price of oil will have to climb further to make it profitable for them, probably around $45 per barrel.

It’s impossible to know at this time if the increase in the price of oil was a catalyst, or we’ve seen the bottom of the drop in rig counts. The next round of earnings reports will give a glimpse into that.

Fundamentals remain weak

Most of the recent strength of the price of oil has been the continual reporting on the proposed production freeze from OPEC and Russia. This is light of the fact there really won’t be a freeze, even if a piece of paper is signed saying there is.

We know Iran isn’t going to agree to a freeze, and with Russia producing at post-Soviet highs and Iraq producing at record levels, what would a freeze mean anyway? It would simply lock in output levels the countries were going to operate at with or without an agreement.

The idea is the freeze is having an effect on the market and this will lead to a production cut. That simply isn’t going to happen. There is zero chance of that being the outcome of a freeze, if that ever comes about.

And a freeze without Iran isn’t a freeze. To even call it that defies reality. How can there be a freeze when the one country that would make a difference isn’t part of it? If Iran doesn’t freeze production, it means more supply will be added to the market until it reaches pre-sanction levels. At that time, all Iran has promised is it may consider the idea.

 

What does that have to do with fundamentals? Absolutely nothing. That’s the point.

Analysis and decisions need to be based on supply and demand. Right now that doesn’t look good. The other major catalyst pushing up oil prices has been the belief that U.S. shale production will decline significantly in 2016, which would help support oil. The truth is we have no idea to what level production will drop. It seems every time a report comes out it’s revised in a way that points to shale production remaining more resilient than believed.

I have no doubt there will be some production loss in the U.S., but to what degree there will be a decline, when considering new supply from low-cost shale companies, has yet to be determined. I believe it’s not going to be near to what was originally estimated, and that will be another element weakening support over the next year.

Competing for market share

One part of the oil market that has been largely ignored has been the competition for market share itself. When U.S. shale supply flooded the market, the response from Saudi Arabia was to not cede market share in any way. That is the primary reason for the plunge in oil prices.

There has been no declaration by the Saudis that they are going to change their strategy in relationship to market share and have said numerous times they are going to let the market sort it out, as far as finding a balance between supply and demand. So the idea they are now heading in a different direction is a fiction created by those trying to find anything to push up the price of oil.

It is apparent some of the reason for increased U.S. imports comes from Saudi Arabia in particular lowering its prices to nudge out domestic supply. It’s also why the idea of inventory being reduced in conjunction with lower U.S. production can’t be counted on. It looks like imports will continue to climb while shale production declines.

More competition means lower prices, although in this case, Saudi Arabia is selling its oil at different price points to different markets. It’s the average that matters there, and we simply don’t have the data available to know what that is.

 

In the midst of all of this, Russia is battling the Saudis for share in China, while the two also battle it out in parts of Europe, with Saudi Arabia looking to take share away from Russia. Some of Europe has opened up to competitors because it doesn’t want to rely too much on Russia as its major energy source.

For this and other competitive reasons, I could never trust a production freeze agreement if it ever came to fruition. They haven’t been adhered to in the past, and they won’t be if it happens again. Saudi Arabia has stated several times that it feels the same way.

Conclusion

To me the Russian central bank is spot on in saying the chance of a sustainable oil rally is slim. It also accurately pointed out the reasons for that: it’s about the lack of the fundamentals changing.

With U.S. inventory increasing, rig counts probably at or near a bottom, no end in sight to oversupply continuing, and competition for a low-demand market heating up, there is nothing I see that can justify an ongoing upward price move. I don’t even see it being able to hold.

A weaker U.S. dollar has legitimately helped some, but it can’t support the price of oil on its own. When all the other factors come together in the minds of investors, and the price of oil starts to reverse direction, there is a very strong chance a lot of bullish investors are going to get crushed hard. It is probably time to take some profits and run for the exit if you’re in the oil market for the short term.

by Gary Bourgeault


Irrational Oil Optimists About To Experience Some Panic Selling Pain

Summary

  • Short-term positions in oil getting more risky.
  • U.S. production will outperform estimates as shale producers add supply to the market.
  • Inventory will come under more strain as key U.S. storage facilities approach full capacity.
  • Dollar weakness isn’t enough to maintain oil price momentum.

The longer the price of oil has upward momentum, and the higher it goes, the more risky it becomes for investors because there is nothing outside of a weakening U.S. dollar to justify any kind of move we’ve seen the price of oil make recently.

The falling dollar isn’t enough to keep the oil price from falling to where it belongs, and that means when the selloff begins, it’s likely to gravitate into full-panic mode, with sellers running for the exits before they get burned.

This is especially risky for those looking to make a quick windfall from the upward movement of oil. I’m not concerned about those taking long-term positions in quality energy companies with significant oil exposure, since they’ve probably enjoyed some great entry points. There is, of course, dividend risk, along with the strong probability of further share erosion before there is a real recovery that has legs to stand on because it’s based on fundamentals.

For that reason, investors should seriously consider taking profits off the table and wait for better conditions to re-enter.

Oil has become a fear play. Not the fear of losing money, but the fear of not getting in on the fast-moving action associated with the quick-rising price of oil. Whenever there is a fear play, it is ruled by emotion, and no amount of data will convince investors to abandon their giddy profits until they lose much, if not all, of what they gained. Don’t be one of them.

 

Having been a financial adviser in the past, I know what a lot of people are thinking at this time in response to what I just said. I’ve heard it many times before. It usually goes something like this: “What if the price of oil continues to rise and I lose a lot of money because of leaving the market too soon?” That’s a question arising from a fear mentality. The better question is this: “What if the oil price plunges and panic selling sets in?”

Oil is quickly becoming a casino play on the upside, and the longer investors stay in, the higher the probability they’ll lose the gains they’ve enjoyed. Worse, too much optimism could result in losses if preventative action isn’t taken quickly enough.

What needs to be considered is why one should stay in this market. What is so convincing it warrants this type of increasing risk, which offers much less in the way of reward than even a week ago? What fundamentals are in place that suggest a sustainable upward movement in the price of oil? The answer to those questions will determine how oil investors fare in the near future.

U.S. shale production

The more I think on the estimates associated with U.S. shale production in 2016, measured against the statements made by stronger producers that they’re going to boost supply from premium wells this year, the more I’m convinced it isn’t going to fall as much as expected. New supply will offset a lot of the less productive and higher cost wells being shuttered. I do believe there will be some loss of production from that, but not as much as is being suggested.

There are various predictions on how much production is going to be lost, but the general consensus is from 300,000 bpd to 600,000 bpd. It could come in on the lower side of that estimate, but I don’t think it’ll be close to the upper end of the estimate.

What is unknown because we don’t have an historical guideline to go by is, the amount of oil these premium wells will add to supply. We also don’t know if the stated goals will be followed up on. I think they will, but we won’t know for certain until the next couple of earnings reports give a clearer picture.

 

When combined with the added supply coming from Iran, and the ongoing high levels of production from Saudi Arabia, Russia and Iraq, I don’t see how the current support for the price of oil can continue on for any length of time.

There is no way of knowing exactly when the price of oil will once again collapse, but the longer it stays high without a change in the fundamentals, the higher the risk becomes, and the more chance it could swing the other way on momentum, even if it isn’t warranted. It could easily test the $30 mark again under those conditions.

Inventory challenges

What many investors don’t understand about storage and inventory is it definitely matters where the challenges are located. That’s why Cushing being over 90 percent capacity and Gulf storage only a little under 90 percent capacity means more than if other facilities were under similar pressure. Together, they account for over 60 percent of U.S. storage.

With the imbalance of supply and demand driving storage capacity levels, the idea of oil staying above $40 per barrel for any period of time is highly unlikely. A lower U.S. dollar and the highly irrelevant proposed production freeze talks can’t balance it off.

Once the market digests this, which could happen at any time, we’ll quickly enter bear mode again. The problem is the price of oil is straining against its upper limits, and if momentum starts to deflate, the race to sell positions will become a sprint and not a marathon.

Uncertainty about shale is the wild card

As already mentioned, U.S. shale production continues to be the major catalyst to watch. The problem is we have no way of knowing what has already been unfolding in the first quarter. If investors start to abandon their positions, and we find shale supply is stronger than projected, it’ll put further downward pressure on oil after it has already corrected.

What I mean by that is we should experience some fleeing from oil before the next earnings reports from shale producers are released. If the industry continues to surprise on the upside of supply, it’ll cause the price of oil to further deteriorate, making the outlook over the next couple of months potentially ominous.

 

This isn’t just something that has a small chance of happening; it’s something that has a very strong probability of happening. Agencies like IEA have already upwardly revised their outlook for shale supply in 2016, and if that’s how it plays out, the entire expected performance for the year will have to be adjusted.

Conclusion

Taking into account the more important variables surrounding what will move the price of oil, shale production remains the most important information to follow. Not much else will matter if supply continues to exceed expectations. It will obliterate all the models and force analysts to admit this has little to do with prior supply cycles and everything to do with a complete market disruption. Many are still in denial of this. They’ll learn the reality soon enough.

That doesn’t mean there won’t eventually be a time when demand finally catches up with supply, but within the parameters of this weak global economy and oil supply that continues to grow, it’s going to take a lot longer to realize than many thought.

For several months, it has been understood that the market underestimated the expertise and efficiency of U.S. shale producers, and to this day they continue to do so. We will find out if that remains in play in the first half of 2016, and by then, whether it’ll extend further into 2017.

As for how it will impact the price of oil now, if we start to have some panic selling before the earnings reports, and the earnings reports of the important shale producers exceed expectations on the supply side, with it being reflected in an increase in the overall output estimates for the year, it will put more downward pressure on oil.

The other scenario is oil lingers around $40 per barrel until the earnings reports come out. There will still be a decline in the price of oil, the level of which would depend on how much more supply shale producers brought to the market in the first quarter than expected.

My thought is we’re going to experience a drop in the price of oil before earnings reports, which then could trigger a secondary exodus from investors in it for short-term gains.

 

For those having already generated some decent returns, it may be time to take it off the table. I don’t see how the shrinking reward can justify the growing risk.

by Gary Bourgeault

The Mosul Dam – OPEC’s Unavoidable Supply Cut

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Summary

The Mosul Dam in Iraq could collapse at any time, causing massive flooding across the country.

Iraq produces over four million barrels of oil per day, a number which will drop immediately when this event occurs.

The destruction of oil production in Iraq will immediately decrease world supply, lifting oil prices.

The Oil Situation: Since 2014, the oil market has been in a tailspin due to a multitude of global factors. As of March 2016, prices seem to have stabilized, although the persistence of crude oversupply continues to hang over the market. For months, declining US production and a potential output freeze by OPEC have been putting a potential floor in place. However, I believe an event is on the horizon which will change the equilibrium of oil prices immediately… the collapse of the Mosul Dam.

The Mosul Dam: The Mosul Dam is the largest dam in Iraq. It is located on the Tigris River in the western governance of Ninawa, upstream of the city of Mosul. Constructed in 1981, the dam has had a history of structural issues, requiring perpetual maintenance in order to maintain its integrity. Since 1984, this consisted of 300 man crews, working 24 hours a day across three shifts, filling holes in the bedrock through a process called grouting. For 30 years, this process worked, although it was always considered to be a ticking time bomb, dubbed “the most dangerous dam in the world” by the US Army Corps of Engineers.

In August 2014, the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant took control of the dam, halting the maintenance process until it was retaken by Iraqi, Kurdish and US Forces two weeks later. Unfortunately, the damage was already done… since then, the maintenance crews have been limited to 30 personnel or less, and the equipment is inadequate to continue patching holes. Per the dam’s former chief engineer, Nasrat Adamo, “The machines for grouting have been looted. There is no cement supply. They can do nothing. It is going from bad to worse, and it is urgent. All we can do is hold our hearts.” As winter snows melt, the water levels will rise to unsustainable levels, and while it has two pressure release gates to avoid this scenario, one has been non-functioning for years, and using the second one alone risks the stability of the structure.

The Iraqis have been working on a solution with an Italian firm, the Trevi Group, known for fixing 150 dams worldwide. This case is special, however, as it will require a cut off wall 800 feet below the dam, the construction of which may affect the dam’s integrity. Additionally, the continued presence of ISIS poses a risk to any contractors in the area, which will require a security force of 450 personnel. Until Mosul (still held by ISIS) is retaken by Coalition forces, full repairs cannot commence. While the Iraqi forces believe this can happen in months, the US Defense Intelligence Agency head, Lt Gen. Vincent Stewart, is not optimistic that it will occur this year.

My personal opinion, knowing the effectiveness of Iraqi Forces (who dropped their guns and fled during the initial ISIL invasion), is that the Mosul Dam will fail. Without significant US assistance, the retaking of Mosul will not occur fast enough to begin construction, and as long as it is in ISIS’ hands, safe repairs cannot commence. Although the US has not said the event is guaranteed, warnings are coming at an increasing pace, and the State Department has warned US citizens to prepare for evacuation in the event of failure.

The Event: When the Mosul Dam collapses (and without reconstruction measures being implemented quickly, this is considered a ‘when’, not an ‘if’), a wave 45-65 feet high is expected to flood the country, drowning Mosul in four hours and reaching Baghdad within two to four days.

Estimates range from 500,000 to 1,500,000 lives lost. In addition to flooding, there will be secondary and tertiary effects… as demonstrated in America during Hurricane Katrina, panic and lawlessness can be equally as dangerous as the flooding itself, but even worse, diseases such as malaria and West Nile fever will follow. A catastrophic event of this magnitude will immediately push the entire country into chaos, and Iraq does not have the capability to respond without global support. The closest comparison to make is Haiti, which with billions in global assistance has not returned to normalcy in five years. Overall, I anticipate this catastrophe will take years to overcome… in the meantime, it will have a significant effect on the world’s supply of oil today.

The Effects: As of winter 2015, Iraq was producing 4.3M barrels per day, with the southern fields producing 3.3M barrels and the remaining 1M coming from the north. The graphic below (left) is from 2014, but gives a picture of the oil field placements. To the right is a topographical map, which gives us an idea of how the floodwaters will progress. Based on the elevation of where the flood would initiate, everything between Mosul and Baghdad will be completely covered, and while the wave will dissipate over time, the fields between Baghdad and Basra will see enough water (and everything that comes with it, to include bodies, disease and unexploded ordinance) to temporarily disable operations. Additionally, the pipeline between Kirkuk and Ramadi will be underwater, and there is a potential for damage to the Iraq Strategic Pipeline, which runs parallel to the direction of the water’s progression.

The world’s oversupply of oil is estimated around one million barrels per day. Assume that the above happens, and in a best-case scenario, only northern production is affected. What would occur immediately is the elimination of one quarter of Iraq’s oil output, rapidly pushing supply and demand into equilibrium. In a worst-case scenario, where all of Iraq’s oil is temporarily eliminated, it will move the supply deficit to three million barrels per day, leading to large ramifications on the world’s crude oil surplus within weeks.

While the true answer lies somewhere between these possibilities, what is undeniable is that a catastrophe of this magnitude will immediately move the price of crude oil up, and depending on the timeline to return to today’s production levels, that move could be enormous. In late 2015, the world produced 97M barrels per day, causing the price to collapse to $26.00 per barrel. In 2014, while producing 93M barrels per day, the price averaged near $110.00 prior to its fall. Although the above is simple extrapolation, demand continues to grow, so I think we can all agree that the price shift north will be significant.

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Conclusion: The subject of this article is admittedly morbid. The true fallout of this event is the loss of hundreds of thousands of Iraqi lives, and damage that would take years to erase. However, as informed investors, it would be irresponsible to not consider global events, and this has the potential to re-balance the oil market in a matter of days. When this occurs, over four million barrels per day can disappear from production, immediately shifting the direction of oil prices. Based on the above information, I believe a production cut decision by OPEC is irrelevant, as natural forces are preparing to address the oil oversupply on their own.

by Middle East Medium in Seeking Alpha

West Texas Bust – “We Never Expected The Good Times To End”

The residents of West Texas are accustomed to a life dependent on hydrocarbons. As Bloomberg reports, the small communities built into the flat West Texas desert are dotted with oil pumps and rigs, and the chemical smell of an oil field hangs in the air.

Here the economy rises and falls on drilling.

When the drilling is good, everyone in the town benefits. When it’s bad, most of West Texas feels the pinch.

Oil prices have plunged as much as 75 percent since June 2014. That drop has dismal consequences for residents, and not just the ones working in oil fields. Bloomberg spoke with some of the people trying to endure the historic dip in oil prices. This video tells some of their stories….

In sharp contrast, click the following to enjoy this bitter sweet October, 2013 oil boom report by (CNN Money) titled ‘Moving in droves’ to Midland, Texas

The Oil Short Squeeze Explained: Why Banks Are Aggressively Propping Up Energy Stocks

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Last week, during the peak of the commodity short squeeze, we pointed out how this default cycle is shaping up to be vastly different from previous one: recovery rates for both secured and unsecured debts are at record low levels. More importantly, we noted how this notable variance is impacting lender behavior, explaining that banks – aware that the next leg lower in commodities is imminent – are not only forcing the squeeze in the most trashed stocks (by pulling borrow) but are doing everything in their power to “assist” energy companies to sell equity, and use the proceeds to take out as much of the banks’ balance sheet exposure as possible, so that when the default tsunami finally arrives, banks will be as far away as possible from the carnage. All of this was predicated on prior lender conversations with the Dallas Fed and the OCC, discussions which the Dallas Fed vocally denied accusing us of lying, yet which the WSJ confirmed, confirming the Dallas Fed was openly lying.

This was the punchline:

[Record low] recovery rate explain what we discussed earlier, namely the desire of banks to force an equity short squeeze in energy stocks, so these distressed names are able to issue equity with which to repay secured loans to banks who are scrambling to get out of the capital structure of distressed E&P names. Or as MatlinPatterson’s Michael Lipsky put it: “we always assume that secured lenders would roll into the bankruptcy become the DIP (debtor in possession) lenders, emerge from bankruptcy as the new secured debt of the company. But they don’t want to be there, so you are buying the debt behind them and you could find yourself in a situation where you could lose 100% of your money.

And so, one by one the pieces of the puzzle fall into place: banks, well aware that they are facing paltry recoveries in bankruptcy on their secured exposure (and unsecured creditors looking at 10 cents on the dollar), have engineered an oil short squeeze via oil ETFs…

… to push oil prices higher, to unleash the current record equity follow-on offering spree

… to take advantage of panicked investors some of whom are desperate to cover their shorts, and others who are just as desperate to buy the new equity issued. Those proceeds, however, will not go to organic growth or even to shore liquidity but straight to the bank to refi loan facilities and let banks, currently on the hook, leave silently by the back door. Meanwhile, the new investors have no security claims and zero liens, are at the very bottom of the capital structure, and  face near certain wipe outs.

In short, once the current short squeeze is over, expect everyone to start paying far more attention to recovery rates and the true value of “fundamentals.”

Going back to what Lipsky said, “the banks do not want to be there.” So where do they want to be? As far away as possible from the shale carnage when it does hit.

Today, courtesy of The New York Shock Exchange, we present just the case study demonstrating how this takes place in the real world. Here the story of troubled energy company “Lower oil prices for longer” Weatherford, its secured lender JPM, the incestuous relationship between the two, and how the latter can’t wait to get as far from the former as possible, in…

Why Would JP Morgan Raise Equity For An Insolvent Company?

I am on record saying that Weatherford International is so highly-leveraged that it needs equity to stay afloat. With debt/EBITDA at 8x and $1 billion in principal payments coming due over the next year, the oilfield services giant is in dire straits. Weatherford has been in talks with JP Morgan Chase to re-negotiate its revolving credit facility — the only thing keeping the company afloat. However, in a move that shocked the financial markets, JP Morgan led an equity offering that raised $565 million for Weatherford. Based on liquidation value Weatherford is insolvent. The question remains, why would JP Morgan risk its reputation by selling shares in an insolvent company?

According to the prospectus, at Q4 2015 Weatherford had cash of $467 million debt of $7.5 billion. It debt was broken down as follows: [i] revolving credit facility ($967 million), [ii] other short-term loans ($214 million), [iii] current portion of long-term debt of $401 million and [iv] long-term debt of $5.9 billion. JP Morgan is head of a banking syndicate that has the revolving credit facility.

Even in an optimistic scenario I estimate Weatherford’s liquidation value is about $6.7 billion less than its stated book value. The lion’s share of the mark-downs are related to inventory ($1.1B), PP&E ($1.9B), intangibles and non-current assets ($3.5B). The write-offs would reduce Weatherford’s stated book value of $4.4 billion to – $2.2 billion. After the equity offering the liquidation value would rise to -$1.6 billion.

JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley also happen to be lead underwriters on the equity offering. The proceeds from the offering are expected to be used to repay the revolving credit facility.

In effect, JP Morgan is raising equity in a company with questionable prospects and using the funds to repay debt the company owes JP Morgan. The arrangement allows JP Morgan to get its money out prior to lenders subordinated to it get their $401 million payment. That’s smart in a way. What’s the point of having a priority position if you can’t use that leverage to get cashed out first before the ship sinks? The rub is that [i] it might represent a conflict of interest and [ii] would JP Morgan think it would be a good idea to hawk shares in an insolvent company if said insolvent company didn’t owe JP Morgan money?

The answer? JP Morgan doesn’t care how it looks; JP Morgan wants out and is happy to do it while algos and momentum chasing day traders are bidding up the stock because this time oil has finally bottomed… we promise.

So here’s the good news: as a result of this coordinated lender collusion to prop up the energy sector long enough for the affected companies to sell equity and repay secured debt, the squeeze may last a while; as for the bad news: the only reason the squeeze is taking place is because banks are looking to get as far from the shale patch and the companies on it, as possible.

We leave it up to readers to decide which “news” is more relevant to their investing strategy.

by ZeroHedge

The Big Banks Secret Oil Play: Why Oil Prices Are So Low

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We grow up being taught a very specific set of principles.

One plus one equals two. I before E, except after C.

As we grow older, the principles become more complex.

Take economics for example.

The law of supply states that the quantity of a good supplied rises as the market price rises, and falls as the price falls. Conversely, the law of demand states that the quantity of a good demanded falls as the price rises, and vice versa.

These basic laws of supply and demand are the fundamental building blocks of how we arrive at a given price for a given product.

At least, that’s how it’s supposed to work.

But what if I told you that the principles you grew up learning is wrong?

With today’s “creative” financial instruments, much of what you learned no longer applies in the real world.

Especially when it comes to oil.

The Law of Oil

Long time readers of this Letter will have read many of my blogs regarding commodities manipulation.

With oil, price manipulation couldn’t be more obvious.

For example, from my Letter, “Covert Connection Between Saudi Arabia and Japan“:

“…While agencies have found innovative ways to explain declining oil demand, the world has never consumed more oil.

In 2010, the world consumed a record 87.4 million barrels per day. This year (2014), the world is expected to consume a new record of 92.7 million barrels per day.

Global oil demand is still expected to climb to new highs.

If the price of oil is a true reflection of supply and demand, as the headlines tell us, it should reflect the discrepancy between supply and demand.

Since we know that demand is actually growing, that can’t be the reason for oil’s dramatic drop.

So does that mean it’s a supply issue? Did the world all of a sudden gain 40% more oil? Obviously not.

So no, the reason behind oil’s fall is not the causality of supply and demand.

The reason is manipulation. The question is why.

I go on to talk about the geopolitical reasons of why the price of oil is manipulated.

Here’s one example:

“On September 11, Saudi Arabia finally inked a deal with the U.S. to drop bombs on Syria.

But why?

Saudi Arabia possesses 18 per cent of the world’s proven petroleum reserves and ranks as the largest exporter of petroleum.

Syria is home to a pipeline route that can bring gas from the great Qatar natural gas fields into Europe, making billions of dollars for Saudi Arabia as the gas moves through while removing Russia’s energy stronghold on Europe.

Could the U.S. have persuaded Saudi Arabia, during their September 11 meeting, to lower the price of oil in order to hurt Russia, while stimulating the American economy?

… On October 1, 2014, shortly after the U.S. dropped bombs on Syria on September 26 as part of the September 11 agreement, Saudi Arabia announced it would be slashing prices to Asian nations in order to “compete” for crude market share. It also slashed prices to Europe and the United States.”

Following Saudi Arabia’s announcement, oil prices have plunged to a level not seen in more than five years.

Is it a “coincidence” that shortly after the Saudi Arabia-U.S. meeting on the coincidental date of 9-11, the two nations inked a deal to drop billions of dollars worth of bombs on Syria? Then just a few days later, Saudi Arabia announces a massive price cut to its oil.

Coincidence?

There are many other factors – and conspiracies – in oil price manipulation, such as geopolitical attacks on Russia and Iran, whose economies rely heavily on oil. Saudi Arabia is also flooding the market with oil – and I would suggest that it’s because they are rushing to trade their oil for weapons to lead an attack or beef up their defense against the next major power in the Middle East, Iran.

However, all of the reasons, strategies or theories of oil price manipulation could only make sense if they were allowed by these two major players: the regulators and the Big Banks.

How Oil is Priced

On any given day, if you were to look at the spot price of oil, you’d likely be looking at a quote from the NYMEX in New York or the ICE Futures in London. Together, these two institutions trade most of the oil that creates the global benchmark for oil prices via oil futures contracts on West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and North Sea Brent (Brent).

What you may not see, however, is who is trading this oil, and how it is being traded.

Up until 2006, the price of oil traded within reason. But all of a sudden, we saw these major price movements. Why?

Because the regulators allowed it to happen.

Here’s a review from a 2006 US Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations report:

“Until recently, U.S. energy futures were traded exclusively on regulated exchanges within the United States, like the NYMEX, which are subject to extensive oversight by the CFTC, including ongoing monitoring to detect and prevent price manipulation or fraud.

In recent years, however, there has been a tremendous growth in the trading of contracts that look and are structured just like futures contracts, but which are traded on unregulated OTC electronic markets. Because of their similarity to futures contracts they are often called ”futures look-a likes.”

The only practical difference between futures look-alike contracts and futures contracts is that the look-a likes are traded in unregulated markets whereas futures are traded on regulated exchanges.

The trading of energy commodities by large firms on OTC electronic exchanges was exempted from CFTC oversight by a provision inserted at the behest of Enron and other large energy traders into the Commodity Futures Modernization Act of 2000 in the waning hours of the 106th Congress.

The impact on market oversight has been substantial.

NYMEX traders, for example, are required to keep records of all trades and report large trades to the CFTC. These Large Trader Reports (LTR), together with daily trading data providing price and volume information, are the CFTC’s primary tools to gauge the extent of speculation in the markets and to detect, prevent, and prosecute price manipulation.

…In contrast to trades conducted on the NYMEX, traders on unregulated OTC electronic exchanges are not required to keep records or file Large Trader Reports with the CFTC, and these trades are exempt from routine CFTC oversight.

In contrast to trades conducted on regulated futures exchanges, there is no limit on the number of contracts a speculator may hold on an unregulated OTC electronic exchange, no monitoring of trading by the exchange itself, and no reporting of the amount of outstanding contracts (”open interest”) at the end of each day.

The CFTC’s ability to monitor the U.S. energy commodity markets was further eroded when, in January of this year (2006), the CFTC permitted the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE), the leading operator of electronic energy exchanges, to use its trading terminals in the United States for the trading of U.S. crude oil futures on the ICE futures exchange in London-called ”ICE Futures.”

Previously, the ICE Futures exchange in London had traded only in European energy commodities-Brent crude oil and United Kingdom natural gas. As a United Kingdom futures market, the ICE Futures exchange is regulated solely by the United Kingdom Financial Services rooority. In 1999, the London exchange obtained the CFTC’s permission to install computer terminals in the United States to permit traders here to trade European energy commodities through that exchange.

Then, in January of this year, ICE Futures in London began trading a futures contract for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude oil, a type of crude oil that is produced and delivered in the United States. ICE Futures also notified the CFTC that it would be permitting traders in the United States to use ICE terminals in the United States to trade its new WTI contract on the ICE Futures London exchange.

Beginning in April, ICE Futures similarly allowed traders in the United States to trade U.S. gasoline and heating oil futures on the ICE Futures exchange in London. Despite the use by U.S. traders of trading terminals within the United States to trade U.S. oil, gasoline, and heating oil futures contracts, the CFTC has not asserted any jurisdiction over the trading of these contracts.

Persons within the United States seeking to trade key U.S. energy commodities-U.S. crude oil, gasoline, and heating oil futures-now can avoid all U.S. market oversight or reporting requirements by routing their trades through the ICE Futures exchange in London instead of the NYMEX in New York.

As an increasing number of U.S. energy trades occurs on unregulated, OTC electronic exchanges or through foreign exchanges, the CFTC’s large trading reporting system becomes less and less accurate, the trading data becomes less and less useful, and its market oversight program becomes less comprehensive.

The absence of large trader information from the electronic exchanges makes it more difficult for the CFTC to monitor speculative activity and to detect and prevent price manipulation. The absence of this information not only obscures the CFTC’s view of that portion of the energy commodity markets, but it also degrades the quality of information that is reported.

A trader may take a position on an unregulated electronic exchange or on a foreign exchange that is either in addition to or opposite from the positions the trader has taken on the NYMEX, and thereby avoid and distort the large trader reporting system.

Not only can the CFTC be misled by these trading practices, but these trading practices could render the CFTC weekly publication of energy market trading data, intended to be used by the public, as incomplete and misleading.”

Simply put, any one can now speculate and avoid being tagged with illegal price. The more speculative trading that occurs, the less “real” price discovery via true supply and demand become.

With that in mind, you can now see how the big banks have gained control and cornered the oil market.

Continued from the Report:

“…Over the past few years, large financial institutions, hedge funds, pension funds, and other investment funds have been pouring billions of dollars into the energy commodities markets…to try to take advantage of price changes or to hedge against them.

Because much of this additional investment has come from financial institutions and investment funds that do not use the commodity as part of their business, it is defined as ”speculation” by the Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC).

…Reports indicate that, in the past couple of years, some speculators have made tens and perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars in profits trading in energy commodities.

This speculative trading has occurred both on the regulated New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX) and on the over-the-counter (OTC) markets.

The large purchases of crude oil futures contracts by speculators have, in effect, created an additional demand for oil, driving up the price of oil to be delivered in the future in the same manner that additional demand for the immediate delivery of a physical barrel of oil drives up the price on the spot market.

As far as the market is concerned, the demand for a barrel of oil that results from the purchase of a futures contract by a speculator is just as real as the demand for a barrel that results from the purchase of a futures contract by a refiner or other user of petroleum.

Although it is difficult to quantify the effect of speculation on prices, there is substantial evidence that the large amount of speculation in the current market has significantly increased prices.

Several analysts have estimated that speculative purchases of oil futures have added as much as $20-$25 per barrel to the current price of crude oil, thereby pushing up the price of oil from $50 to approximately $70 per barrel.”

The biggest banks in the world, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Citigroup, JP Morgan, are now also the biggest energy traders; together, they not only participate in oil trades, but also fund numerous hedge funds that trade in oil.

Knowing how easy it is to force the price of oil upwards, the same strategies can be done in reverse to force the price of oil down.

All it takes is for some media-conjured “report” to tell us that Saudi Arabia is flooding the market with oil, OPEC is lowering prices, or that China is slowing, for oil to collapse.

Traders would then go short oil, kicking algo-traders into high gear, and immediately sending oil down further. The fact that oil consumption is actually growing really doesn’t matter anymore.

In reality, oil price isn’t dictated by supply and demand – or OPEC, or Russia, or China – it is dictated by the Western financial institutions that trade it.

The Reason is Manipulation, the Question is Why?

Via my past Letter, “Secrets of Bank Involvement in Oil Revealed“:

“For years, I have been talking about how the banks have taken control of our civilization.

…With oil prices are falling, economies around the world are beginning to feel the pain causing a huge wave of panic throughout the financial industry. That’s because the last time oil dropped like this – more than US$40 in less than six months – was during the financial crisis of 2008.

…Let’s look at the energy market to gain a better perspective.

The energy sector represents around 17-18 percent of the high-yield bond market valued at around $2 trillion.

Over the last few years, energy producers have raised more than a whopping half a trillion dollars in new bonds and loans with next to zero borrowing costs – courtesy of the Fed.

This low-borrowing cost environment, along with deregulation, has been the goose that laid the golden egg for every single energy producer. Because of this easy money, however, energy producers have become more leveraged than ever; leveraging themselves at much higher oil prices.

But with oil suddenly dropping so sharply, many of these energy producers are now at serious risk of going under.

In a recent report by Goldman Sachs, nearly $1 trillion of investments in future oil projects are at risk.

…It’s no wonder the costs of borrowing for energy producers have skyrocketed over the last six months.

…many of the companies are already on the brink of default, and unable to make even the interest payments on their loans.

…If oil continues in this low price environment, many producers will have a hard time meeting their debt obligations – meaning many of them could default on their loans. This alone will cause a wave of financial and corporate destruction. Not to mention the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs across North America.”

You may be thinking, “if oil’s fall is causing a wave of financial disaster, why would the banks push the price of oil down? Wouldn’t they also suffer from the loss?”

Great question. But the banks never lose. Continued from my letter:

“If you control the world’s reserve currency, but slowly losing that status as a result of devaluation and competition from other nations (see When Nations Unite Against the West: The BRICS Development Bank), what would you do to protect yourself?

You buy assets. Because real hard assets protect you from monetary inflation.

With the banks now holding record amounts of highly leveraged paper from the Fed, why would they not use that paper to buy hard assets?

Bankers may be greedy, but they’re not stupid.

The price of hard physical assets is the true representation of inflation.

Therefore, if you control these hard assets in large quantities, you could also control their price.

This, in turn, means you can maintain control of your currency against monetary inflation.

And that is exactly what the banks have done.

The True World Power

Last month, the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations published a 403-page report on how Wall Street’s biggest banks, such as Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, and JP Morgan, have gained ownership of a massive amount of commodities, food, and energy resources.

The report stated that “the current level of bank involvement with critical raw materials, power generation, and the food supply appears to be unprecedented in U.S. history.”

For example:

“…Until recently, Morgan Stanley controlled over 55 million barrels of oil storage capacity, 100 oil tankers, and 6,000 miles of pipeline. JPMorgan built a copper inventory that peaked at $2.7 billion, and, at one point, included at least 213,000 metric tons of copper, comprising nearly 60% of the available physical copper on the world’s premier copper trading exchange, the LME.

In 2012, Goldman owned 1.5 million metric tons of aluminum worth $3 billion, about 25% of the entire U.S. annual consumption. Goldman also owned warehouses which, in 2014, controlled 85% of the LME aluminum storage business in the United States.” – Wall Street Bank Involvement with Physical Commodities, United States Senate Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations

From pipelines to power plants, from agriculture to jet fuel, these too-big-to-fail banks have amassed – and may have manipulated the prices – of some of the world’s most important resources.

The above examples clearly show just how much influence the Big Banks have over our commodities through a “wide range of risky physical commodity activities which included, at times, producing, transporting, storing, processing, supplying, or trading energy, industrial metals, or agricultural commodities.”

With practically an unlimited supply of cheap capital from the Federal Reserve, the Big Banks have turned into much more than lenders and facilitators. They have become direct commerce competitors with an unfair monetary advantage: free money from the Fed.

Of course, that’s not their only advantage.

According to the report, the Big Banks are engaging in risky activities (such as ownership in power plants and coal mining), mixing banking and commerce, affecting prices, and gaining significant trading advantages.

Just think about how easily it would be for JP Morgan to manipulate the price of copper when they – at one point – controlled 60% of the available physical copper on the world’s premier copper trading exchange, the LME.

How easy would it be for Goldman to control the price of aluminum when they owned warehouses – at one point – that controlled 85% of the LME aluminum storage business in the United States?

And if they could so easily control such vast quantities of hard assets, how easy would it be for them to profit from going either short or long on these commodities?

Always a Winner

But if, for some reason, the bankers’ bets didn’t work out, they still wouldn’t lose.

That’s because these banks are holders of trillions of dollars in FDIC insured deposits.

In other words, if any of the banks’ pipelines rupture, power plants explode, oil tankers spill, or coal mines collapse, taxpayers may once again be on the hook for yet another too-big-to-fail bailout.

If you think that there’s no way that the government or the Fed would allow this to happen again after 2008, think again.

Via the Guardian:

“In a small provision in the budget bill, Congress agreed to allow banks to house their trading of swaps and derivatives alongside customer deposits, which are insured by the federal government against losses.

The budget move repeals a portion of the Dodd-Frank financial reform act and, some say, lays the groundwork for future bailouts of banks who make irresponsibly risky trades.”

Recall from my past letters where I said that the Fed wants to engulf you in their dollars. If yet another bailout is required, then the Fed would once again be the lender of last resort, and Americans will pile on the debt it owes to the Fed.

It’s no wonder that in the report, it actually notes that the Fed was the facilitator of this sprawl by the banks:

“Without the complementary orders and letters issued by the Federal Reserve, many of those physical commodity activities would not otherwise have been permissible ‘financial’ activities under federal banking law. By issuing those complementary orders, the Federal Reserve directly facilitated the expansion of financial holding companies into new physical commodity activities.”

The Big Banks have risked tons of cash lending and facilitating in oil business. But in reality they haven’t risked anything. They get free money from the Fed, and since they aren’t supposed to be directly involved in natural resources, they obtain control in other ways.

Remember, the big banks – and ultimately the Fed who controls them – are the ones who truly control the world. Their monetary actions are the cause of many of the world’s issues and have been used for many years to maintain control of other nations and the world’s resources.

But they can’t simply go into a country, put troops on the ground and take over. No, that would be inhumane.

So what do they do?

Via my past Letter, The Real Reason for War in Syria:

“Currency manipulation allows developed countries to print and lend to other developing countries at will.

A rich nation might go into a developing nation and lend them millions of dollars to build bridges, schools, housing, and expand their military efforts. The rich nation convinces the developing nation that by borrowing money, their nation will grow and prosper.

However, these deals are often negotiated at a very specific and hefty cost; the lending nation might demand resources or military and political access. Of course, developing nations often take the loans, but never really have the chance to pay it back.

When the developing nations realize they can’t pay back the loans, they’re at the mercy of the lending nations.

The trick here is that the lending nations can print as much money as they want, and in turn, control the resources of developing nations. In other words, the loans come at a hefty cost to the borrower, but at no cost to the lender.”

This brings us back to oil.

We know that oil’s crash has put a heavy burden on many debt facilities that are associated with oil. We also know that the big banks are all heavily leveraged within the sector.

If that is the case, why are the big banks so calm?

The answer is simple.

Asset-Backed Lending

Most of the loans associated with oil are done through asset-backed loans, or reserve-based financing.

It means that the loans are backed by the underlying asset itself: the oil reserves.

So if the loans go south, guess who ends up with the oil?

According to Reuters, JP Morgan is the number one U.S. bank by assets. And despite its energy exposure assumed at only 1.6 percent of total loans, the bank could own reserves of up to $750 million!

Via Reuters:

“If oil reaches $30 a barrel – and here we are – and stayed there for, call it, 18 months, you could expect to see (JPMorgan’s) reserve builds of up to $750 million.”

No wonder the banks aren’t worried about a oil financial contagion – especially not Jamie Dimon, JP Morgan’s Chairman, CEO and President:

“…Remember, these are asset-backed loans, so a bankruptcy doesn’t necessarily mean your loan is bad.” – Jamie Dimon

As oil collapses and defaults arise, the banks have not only traded dollars for assets on the cheap, but gained massive oil reserves for pennies on the dollar to back the underlying contracts of the oil that they so heavily trade.

The argument to this would be that many emerging markets have laws in place that prevent their national resources from being turned over to foreign entities in the case of corporate defaults.

Which, of course, the U.S. and its banks have already prepared for.

Via my Letter, How to Seize Assets Without War:

“…If the Fed raises interest rates, many emerging market economies will suffer the consequence of debt defaults. Which, historically means that asset fire sales – often commodity-based assets such as oil and gas – are next.

Historically, if you wanted to seize the assets of another country, you would have to go to war and fight for territory. But today, there are other less bloody ways to do that.

Take, for example, Petrobras – a semi-public Brazilian multinational energy corporation.

…Brazil is in one of the worst debt positions in the world with much of its debt denominated in US dollars.

Earlier this year (2015), Petrobras announced that it is attempting to sell $58 billion of assets – an unprecedented number in the oil industry.

Guess who will likely be leading the sale of Petrobras assets? Yup, American banks.

Via Reuters:

“…JPMorgan would be tasked with wooing the largest number of bidders possible for the assets and then structure the sales.”

As history has shown, emerging market fire sales due to debt defaults are often won by the US or its allies. Thus far, it appears the Petrobras fire sale may be headed that way.

Via WSJ:

‘Brazilian state-run oil company Petróleo Brasileiro SA said Tuesday (September 22, 2015) it is closing a deal to sell natural-gas distribution assets to a local subsidiary of Japan’s Mitsui & Co.’

The combination of monetary policy and commodities manipulation allows Western banks and allies to accumulate hard assets at the expense of emerging markets. And this has been exactly the plan since day one.

As the Fed hints of raising rates, financial risks among emerging markets will continue to build. This will trigger a reappraisal of sovereign and corporate risks leading to big swings in capital flows.”

Not only are many of the big banks’ practices protected by government and Fed policies, but they’re also protected by the underlying asset itself. If things go south, the bank could end up owning a lot of oil reserves.

No wonder they’re not worried.

And since the banks ultimately control the price of oil anyway, it could easily bring the price back up when they’re ready.

Controlling the price of oil gives U.S. and its banks many advantages.

For example, the U.S. could tell the Iranians, the Saudis, or other OPEC nations, whose economies heavily rely on oil, “Hey, if you want higher oil prices, we can make that happen. But first, you have to do this…”

You see how much control the U.S., and its big banks, actually have?

At least, for now anyway.

Don’t think for one second that nations around the world don’t understand this.

Just ask Venezuela, and many of the other countries that have succumbed to the power of the U.S. Many of these countries are now turning to China because they feel they have been screwed.

The World Shift

The diversification away from the U.S. dollar is the first step in the uprising against the U.S. by other nations.

As the power of the U.S. dollar diminishes, through international currency swaps and loans, other trading platforms that control the price of commodities (such as the new Shanghai Oil Exchange) will become more prominent in global trade; thus, bringing some price equilibrium back to the market.

And this is happening much faster than you expect.

Via Xinhuanet:

Chinese President Xi Jinping returned home Sunday after wrapping up a historic trip to Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran with a broad consensus and 52 cooperation agreements set to deepen Beijing’s constructive engagement with the struggling yet promising region.

During Xi’s trip, China upgraded its relationship with both Saudi Arabia and Iran to a comprehensive strategic partnership and vowed to work together with Egypt to add more values to their comprehensive strategic partnership.

Regional organizations, including the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the Cooperation Council for the Arab States of the Gulf (GCC) and the Arab League (AL), also applauded Xi’s visit and voiced their readiness to cement mutual trust and broaden win-win cooperation with China.

AL Secretary General Nabil al-Arabi said China has always stood with the developing world, adding that the Arab world is willing to work closely with China in political, economic as well as other sectors for mutual benefit.

The Belt and Road Initiative, an ambitious vision Xi put forward in 2013 to boost inter-connectivity and common development along the ancient land and maritime Silk Roads, has gained more support and popularity during Xi’s trip.

…Xi and leaders of the three nations agreed to align their countries’ development blueprints and pursue mutually beneficial cooperation under the framework of the Belt and Road Initiative, which comprises the Silk Road Economic Belt and the 21st Century Maritime Silk Road.

The initiative, reiterated the Chinese president, is by no means China’s solo, but a symphony of all countries along the routes, including half of the OIC members.

During Xi’s stay in Saudi Arabia, China, and the GCC resumed their free trade talks and “substantively concluded in principle the negotiations on trade in goods.” A comprehensive deal will be made within this year.”

In other words, the big power players in the Middle East – who produce the majority of the world’s oil – are now moving closer to cooperation with China, and away from the U.S.

As this progresses, it means the role of the U.S. dollar, and its value in world trade, will diminish.

And the big banks, which hold trillions of dollars in U.S. assets, aren’t concerned.

They’d much rather own the underlying assets.

Seek the truth,

by Ivan Lo for The Equedia Letter

Iran Says No Thanks To Dollars; Demands Euro Payment For Oil Sales

Iran enjoys trolling the United States. In fact, it’s something of hobby for the Ayatollah, who has maintained the country’s semi-official “death to America” slogan even as President Rouhani plays good cop with Obama and Kerry.

The ink was barely dry on the nuclear accord when Tehran test-fired a next-gen surface-to-surface ballistic missile with the range to hit archrival Israel, a move that most certainly violated the spirit of the deal if not the letter. Two months later, the IRGC conducted live rocket drills in close proximity to an American aircraft carrier and then, on the eve of President Obama’s final state-of-the-union address, Iran essentially kidnapped 10 American sailors in what amounted to a truly epic publicity stunt.

All of this raises serious questions about just how committed Tehran is to nurturing the newfound relationship with America, a state which for years sought to impoverish Iran as “punishment” for what the West swears was an illegitimate effort to build a nuclear weapon.

As regular readers are no doubt aware, Iran is now set to ramp up crude production by some 500,000 b/d in H1 and by 1 million b/d by the end of the year now that international sanctions have been lifted. In the latest humiliation for Washington, Tehran now says it wants to be paid for its oil in euros, not dollars.

Iran wants to recover tens of billions of dollars it is owed by India and other buyers of its oil in euros and is billing new crude sales in euros, too, looking to reduce its dependence on the U.S. dollar following last month’s sanctions relief,” Reuters reports. “In our invoices we mention a clause that buyers of our oil will have to pay in euros, considering the exchange rate versus the dollar around the time of delivery,” an National Iranian Oil Co. said. Here’s more:

Iran has also told its trading partners who owe it billions of dollars that it wants to be paid in euros rather than U.S. dollars, said the person, who has direct knowledge of the matter.

Iran was allowed to recover some of the funds frozen under U.S.-led sanctions in currencies other than dollars, such as the Omani rial and UAE dhiram.

Switching oil sales to euros makes sense as Europe is now one of Iran’s biggest trading partners.

“Many European companies are rushing to Iran for business opportunities, so it makes sense to have revenue in euros,” said Robin Mills, chief executive of Dubai-based Qamar Energy.

Iran’s insistence on being paid in euros rather than dollars is also a sign of an uneasy truce between Tehran and Washington even after last month’s lifting of most sanctions.

U.S. officials estimate about $100 billion (69 billion pound) of Iranian assets were frozen abroad, around half of which Tehran could access as a result of sanctions relief.

It is not clear how much of those funds are oil dues that Iran would want back in euros.

India owes Tehran about $6 billion for oil delivered during the sanctions years.

Last month, NIOC’s director general for international affairs told Reuters that Iran “would prefer to receive (oil money owed) in some foreign currency, which for the time being is going to be euro.”

Indian government sources confirmed Iran is looking to be paid in euros.

Iran has pushed for years to have the euro replace the dollar as the currency for international oil trade. In 2007, Tehran failed to persuade OPEC members to switch away from the dollar, which its then President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad called a “worthless piece of paper“.

Of course all fiat money amounts to “worthless pieces of paper” and as things currently stand, the USD is the least “worthless” of the lot which means that Iran’s insistence on being paid in a currency that Mario Draghi is hell bent on devaluing might seem strange to anyone who knows nothing about geopolitics. 

Put simply, this has very little to do with economics and a whole lot to do with sending a message. “Iran shifted to the euro and canceled trade in dollars because of political reasons,” the same NOIC source told Reuters.

Right. So basically, Iran is looking to punish the US for instituting years of economic tyranny by de-dollarizing the oil trade. 

This comes at a time when the petrodollar is under tremendous pressure. Russia and China are already settling oil sales in yuan and “lower for longer” crude has broken the virtuous circle whereby producing countries were net exporters of capital, recycling their USD proceeds into USD assets thus underwriting decades of dollar dominance. 

The question, we suppose, is whether other producers move away from the dollar just as Russia and Iran have. If there’s a wholesale shift away from settling oil sales in greenbacks, another instrument of US hegemony will be dismantled and Washington’s leverage over “unfriendly” producers will have been broken.

The irony is this: if Iran follows through on its promises to flood an already oversupplied market, crude might not fetch any “worthless pieces of paper” at all – dollars or euros.

by Tyler Durden in Zero Hedge