Category Archives: Permian Basin

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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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

Exclusive: Dallas Fed Quietly Suspends Energy Mark-To-Market On Default Contagion Fears

Earlier this week, before first JPM and then Wells Fargo revealed that not all is well when it comes to bank energy loan exposure, a small Tulsa-based lender, BOK Financial, said that its fourth-quarter earnings would miss analysts’ expectations because its loan-loss provisions would be higher than expected as a result of a single unidentified energy-industry borrower. This is what the bank said:

“A single borrower reported steeper than expected production declines and higher lease operating expenses, leading to an impairment on the loan. In addition, as we noted at the start of the commodities downturn in late 2014, we expected credit migration in the energy portfolio throughout the cycle and an increased risk of loss if commodity prices did not recover to a normalized level within one year. As we are now into the second year of the downturn, during the fourth quarter we continued to see credit grade migration and increased impairment in our energy portfolio. The combination of factors necessitated a higher level of provision expense.”

Another bank, this time the far larger Regions Financial, said its fourth-quarter charge-offs jumped $18 million from the prior quarter to $78 million, largely because of problems with a single unspecified energy borrower. More than one-quarter of Regions’ energy loans were classified as “criticized” at the end of the fourth quarter.

It didn’t stop there and as the WSJ added, “It’s starting to spread” according to William Demchak, chief executive of PNC Financial Services Group Inc. on a conference call after the bank’s earnings were announced. Credit issues from low energy prices are affecting “anybody who was in the game as the oil boom started,” he said. PNC said charge-offs rose in the fourth quarter from the prior quarter but didn’t specify whether that was due to issues in its relatively small $2.6 billion oil-and-gas portfolio.

Then, on Friday, U.S. Bancorp disclosed the specific level of reserves it holds against its $3.2 billion energy portfolio for the first time. “The reason we did that is that oil is under $30” said Andrew Cecere, the bank’s chief operating officer. What else will Bancorp disclose if oil drops below $20… or $10?

It wasn’t just the small or regional banks either: as we first reported, on Thursday JPMorgan did something it hasn’t done in 22 quarter: its net loan loss reserve increased as a result of a jump in energy loss reserves. On the earnings call, Jamie Dimon said that while he is not worried about big oil companies, his bank has started to increase provisions against smaller energy firms.

Then yesterday it was the turn of the one bank everyone had been waiting for, the one which according to many has the greatest exposure toward energy: Wells Fargo. To be sure, in order not to spook its investors, among whom most famously one Warren Buffet can be found, for Wells it was mostly “roses”, although even Wells had no choice but to set aside $831 million for bad loans in the period, almost double the amount a year ago and the largest since the first quarter of 2013.

What was laughable is that the losses included $118 million from the bank’s oil and gas portfolio, an increase of $90 million from the third quarter. Why laughable? Because that $90 million in higher oil-and-gas loan losses was on a total of $17 billion in oil and gas loans, suggesting the bank has seen a roughly 0.5% impairment across its loan book in the past quarter.

How could this be? Needless to say, this struck us as very suspicious because it clearly suggests that something is going on for Wells (and all of its other peer banks), to rep and warrant a pristine balance sheet, at least until a “digital” moment arrives when just like BOK Financial, banks can no longer hide the accruing losses and has to charge them off, leading to a stock price collapse.

Which brings us to the focus of this post: earlier this week, before the start of bank earnings season, before BOK’s startling announcement, we reported we had heard of a rumor that Dallas Fed members had met with banks in Houston and explicitly “told them not to force energy bankruptcies” and to demand asset sales instead.

We can now make it official, because moments ago we got confirmation from a second source who reports that according to an energy analyst who had recently met Houston funds to give his 1H16e update, one of his clients indicated that his firm was invited to a lunch attended by the Dallas Fed, which had previously instructed lenders to open up their entire loan books for Fed oversight; the Fed was shocked by what it had found in the non-public facing records. The lunch was also confirmed by employees at a reputable Swiss investment bank operating in Houston.

This is what took place: the Dallas Fed met with the banks a week ago and effectively suspended mark-to-market on energy debts and as a result no impairments are being written down. Furthermore, as we reported earlier this week, the Fed indicated “under the table” that banks were to work with the energy companies on delivering without a markdown on worry that a backstop, or bail-in, was needed after reviewing loan losses which would exceed the current tier 1 capital tranches.

In other words, the Fed has advised banks to cover up major energy-related losses.

Why the reason for such unprecedented measures by the Dallas Fed? Our source notes that having run the numbers, it looks like at least 18% of some banks commercial loan book are impaired, and that’s based on just applying the 3Q marks for public debt to their syndicate sums.

In other words, the ridiculously low increase in loss provisions by the likes of Wells and JPM suggest two things: i) the real losses are vastly higher, and ii) it is the Fed’s involvement that is pressuring banks to not disclose the true state of their energy “books.”

Naturally, once this becomes public, the Fed risks a stampeded out of energy exposure because for the Fed to intervene in such a dramatic fashion it suggests that the US energy industry is on the verge of a subprime-like blow up.

Putting this all together, a source who wishes to remain anonymous, adds that equity has been levitating only because energy funds are confident the syndicates will remain in size to meet net working capital deficits. Which is a big gamble considering that as we first showed ten days ago, over the past several weeks banks have already quietly reduced their credit facility exposure to at least 25 deeply distressed (and soon to be even deeper distressed) names.

However, the big wildcard here is the Fed: what we do not know is whether as part of the Fed’s latest “intervention”, it has also promised to backstop bank loan losses. Keep in mind that according to Wolfe Research and many other prominent investors, as many as one-third of American oil-and-gas producers face bankruptcy and restructuring by mid-2017 unless oil rebounds dramatically from current levels.

However, the reflexive paradox embedded in this problem was laid out yesterday by Goldman who explained that oil could well soar from here but only if massive excess supply is first taken out of the market, aka the “inflection phase.”  In other words, for oil prices to surge, there would have to be a default wave across the US shale space, which would mean massive energy loan book losses, which may or may not mean another Fed-funded bailout of US and international banks with exposure to shale.

What does it all mean? Here is the conclusion courtesy of our source:

If revolvers are not being marked anymore, then it’s basically early days of subprime when mbs payback schedules started to fall behind. My question for bank eps is if you issued terms in 2013 (2012 reserves) at 110/bbl, and redetermined that revolver in 2014 ‎at 86, how can you be still in compliance with that same rating and estimate in 2016 (knowing 2015 ffo and shut ins have led to mechanically 40pc ffo decreases year over year and at least 20pc rebooting of pud and pdnp to 2p via suspended or cancelled programs). At what point in next 12 months does interest payments to that syndicate start to unmask the fact that tranch is never being recovered, which I think is what pva and mhr was all about.

Beyond just the immediate cash flow and stock price implications and fears that the situation with US energy is much more serious if it merits such an intimate involvement by the Fed, a far bigger question is why is the Fed once again in the a la carte bank bailout game, and how does it once again select which banks should mark their energy books to market (and suffer major losses), and which ones are allowed to squeeze by with fabricated marks and no impairment at all? Wasn’t the purpose behind Yellen’s rate hike to burst a bubble? Or is the Fed less than “macro prudential” when it realizes that pulling away the curtain on of the biggest bubbles it has created would result in another major financial crisis?

The Dallas Fed, whose new president Robert Steven Kaplan previously worked at Goldman Sachs for 22 years rising to the rank of vice chairman of investment banking, has not responded to our request for a comment as of this writing. ( source: ZeroHedge  )


Fed Response

Over the weekend, we gave the Dallas Fed a chance to respond to a Zero Hedge story corroborated by at least two independent sources, in which we reported that Federal Reserve members had met with bank lenders with distressed loan exposure to the US oil and gas sector and, after parsing through the complete bank books, had advised banks to i) not urge creditor counterparties into default, ii) urge asset sales instead, and iii) ultimately suspend mark to market in various instances.

Moments ago the Dallas Fed, whose president since September 2015 is Robert Steven Kaplan, a former Goldman Sachs career banker who after 22 years at the bank rose to the rank of vice chairman of its investment bank group – an odd background for a regional Fed president – took the time away from its holiday schedule to respond to Zero Hedge.

This is what it said.

We thank the Dallas Fed for their prompt attention to this important matter. After all, as one of our sources commented, “If revolvers are not being marked anymore, then it’s basically early days of subprime when MBS payback schedules started to fall behind.” Surely there is nothing that can grab the public’s attention more than a rerun of the mortgage crisis, especially if confirmed by the highest institution.

As such we understand the Dallas Fed’s desire to avoid a public reaction and preserve semantic neutrality by refuting “such guidance.”

That said, we fully stand by our story, and now that we have engaged the Dallas Fed we would like to ask several very important follow up questions, to probe deeper into a matter that is of significant public interest as well as to clear up any potential confusion as to just what “guidance” the Fed is referring to.

  • Has the Dallas Fed, or any other members and individuals of the Federal Reserve System, met with U.S. bank and other lender management teams in recent weeks/months and if so what was the purpose of such meetings?
  • Has the Dallas Fed, or any other members and individuals of the Federal Reserve System, requested that banks and other lenders present their internal energy loan books and loan marks for Fed inspection in recent weeks/months?
  • Has the Dallas Fed, or any other members and individuals of the Federal Reserve System, discussed options facing financial lenders, and other creditors, who have distressed credit exposure including but not limited to:
    • avoiding defaults on distressed debtor counter parties?
    • encouraging asset sales for distressed debtor counter parties?
    • advising banks to avoid the proper marking of loan exposure to market?
    • advising banks to mark loan exposure to a model framework, one created either by the creditors themselves or one presented by members of the Federal Reserve network?
    • avoiding the presentation of public filings with loan exposure marked to market values of counter party debt?
  • Was the Dallas Fed, or any other members and individuals of the Federal Reserve System, consulted before the January 15, 2016 Citigroup Q4 earnings call during which the bank refused to disclose to the public the full extent of its reserves related to its oil and gas loan exposure, as quoted from CFO John Gerspach:
     “while we are taking what we believe to be the appropriate reserves for that, I’m just not prepared to give you a specific number right now as far as the amount of reserves that we have on that particular book of business. That’s just not something that we’ve traditionally done in the past.”
  • Furthermore, if the Dallas Fed, or any other members and individuals of the Federal Reserve system, were not consulted when Citigroup made the decision to withhold such relevant information on potential energy loan losses, does the Federal Reserve System believe that Citigroup is in compliance with its public disclosure requirements by withholding such information from its shareholders and the public?
  • If the Dallas Fed does not issue “such” guidance to banks, then what precisely guidance does the Dallas Fed issue to banks?

Since the Fed is an entity tasked with serving the public, and since it took the opportunity to reply in broad terms to our previous article, we are confident that Mr. Kaplan and his subordinates will promptly address these follow up concerns.

Finally, in light of this official refutation by the Dallas Fed, we are confident that disclosing the Fed’s internal meeting schedules is something the Fed will not object to, and we hereby request that Mr. Kaplan disclose all of his personal meetings with members of the U.S. and international financial system since coming to office, both through this article, and through a FOIA request we are submitting concurrently. (source: ZeroHedge)


Fed Scrambles as Oil ETN Premium Soars to New Highs

Over the weekend, Zero Hedge reported exclusively how the Dallas Fed is pulling strings behind the scenes to conceal the fallout from the oil market crash. By suspending mark-to-market on energy loans and distorting the accounting, they are postponing the inevitable as long as possible. The current situation is eerily reminiscent to the heyday of the mortgage market in 2007, when mortgage defaults started to pick up, and yet the credit default swaps that tracked them continued to decline, bringing losses to those brave enough to trade against the crowd.

Amidst the market chaos on Friday, a trader brought something strange to my attention. He asked me exactly what the hell was going on with this ETN he was watching. I took a closer look and was baffled. It took me awhile to put the pieces together. Then when I saw the story about mark-to-market being suspended, it all made sense.

Here is the daily premium for the last 6 months on the Barclays iPath ETN that tracks oil:

iPath Oil ETN Premium

Initially, I thought this was merely a sign of retail desperation. As they faced devastating losses on their oil stocks, small investors turned to products like oil ETNs as they tried to grasp the elusive oil profits their financial adviser promised them a year ago. Oblivious to the cruel mechanics of ETNs, they piled in head first, in spite of the soaring premium to fair value. After all, Larry Fink is making the rounds to convince the small investor that ETFs are indeed safer than mutual funds. Because nothing says “safe” like buying an ETN that is 36% above its fair value.

Sure, there are differences between ETFs and ETNs, particularly regarding their solvency in the event of an issuer default, but the premium/discount problem plagues ETFs and ETNs alike. Nonetheless, widely trusted retail sources of investment information perpetuate the myth that ETNs do not have tracking errors.

I thought I had connected the dots on the Oil ETN story. It was just retail ignorance. Then I saw this comment from a Zero Hedge reader:

3:30 ramp

He had a point. On Friday, stocks were slammed, and the team known as 3:30 Ramp Capital was noticeably absent.

Or were they?

Behold, the missing 3:30 ramp has been found:

The Hidden 3:30 Ramp

With the oil fallout quickly spreading, the Fed is resorting to behind-the-scenes manipulation of energy debt, and now, that apparently includes oil ETNs as well.

 

Oil Theft Soars as Downturn Casts U.S. Roughnecks Out of Work

The moon was a waning crescent sliver Sept. 9 when a man emerged from an oil tanker, sidled up to a well outside Cotulla, Texas, and siphoned off almost 200 barrels. Then, he drove two hours to a town where he sold his load on the black market for $10 a barrel, about a quarter of what West Texas Intermediate currently fetches.

“This is like a drug organization,” said Mike Peters, global security manager of San Antonio-based Lewis Energy Group, who recounted the heist at a Texas legislative hearing. “You’ve got your mules that go out to steal the oil in trucks, you’ve got the next level of organization that’s actually taking the oil in, and you’ve got a gathering site — it’s always a criminal organization that’s involved with this.”

From raw crude sucked from wells to expensive machinery that disappears out the back door, drillers from Texas to Colorado are struggling to stop theft that has only worsened amid the industry’s biggest slowdown in a generation. Losses reached almost $1 billion in 2013 and likely have grown since, according to estimates from the Energy Security Council, an industry trade group in Houston. The situation has been fostered by idled trucks, abandoned drilling sites and tens of thousands of lost jobs.

“You’ve got unemployed oilfield workers that unfortunately are resorting to stealing,” said John Chamberlain, executive director of the Energy Security Council.

In Texas, unemployment insurance claims from energy workers more than doubled over the past year to about 110,000, according to the Workforce Commission. In North Dakota, average weekly wages in the Bakken oil patch decreased nearly 10 percent in the first quarter of 2015, compared with the previous quarter, according to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.

With dismissals hitting every corner of the industry, security guards hired during boom times are receiving pink slips. That’s leaving sites unprotected.

“There are a lot less eyes out there for security,” said John Esquivel, an analyst at security consulting firm Butchko Inc. in Tomball, Texas, and a former chief executive of the U.S. Border Patrol in Laredo. “The drilling activity may be quieter, but I don’t think criminal activity is.”

Special Charges

States are trying to get a handle on the theft, which can include anything from drill bits that can fetch thousands on the resale market, to copper wiring that can be melted down, to the crude itself. Texas lawmakers met earlier this month in Austin to craft a bill that would increase penalties related to the crime. A similar measure passed both houses of the legislature this year, but Republican Governor Greg Abbott vetoed it, saying it was “overly broad.” Lawmakers, at the urging of industry, are hoping to revive it next legislative session.

In Oklahoma, law-enforcement officers recently teamed with the Federal Bureau of Investigation to intensify their effort. In North Dakota, the FBI earlier this year opened an office in the heart of oil country to combat crimes including theft, drug trafficking and prostitution.

The lull in drilling has given oil companies more time to scrutinize their operations — and their losses.

During booms “they are moving at such a rapid pace there’s not a lot of auditing and inventorying going on,” said Gary Painter, sheriff in Midland County, Texas, in the oil-rich Permian Basin. “Whenever it slows down, they start looking for stuff and find out it never got delivered or it got delivered and it’s gone.”

Oil theft is as old as Spindletop, the East Texas oilfield that spewed black gold in 1901 and began the modern oil era. In the early 1900s, Texas Rangers were often deployed to carry out “town taming” in oil fields rife with roughnecks, prostitutes, gamblers and thieves. In 1932, 18 men were indicted for their role in a Mexia ring that included prominent politicians and executives and resulted in the theft of 1 million barrels.

The allure of ill-gotten oil money remains strong.

In April, the Weld County Sheriff’s office in Colorado recovered almost $300,000 worth of stolen drill bits. In January, a Texas man pleaded guilty to stealing three truckloads of oil worth nearly $60,000 after an investigation by the FBI and local law-enforcement officers. Robert Butler, a sergeant at the Texas Attorney General’s Office whose primary job is to investigate oil theft, said in the legislative hearing that he is investigating a case of 470,000 barrels stolen and sold over the past three years worth about $40 million.

In Texas, oilfield theft has become entangled with Mexican drug trafficking, as the state’s newest and biggest production area, the Eagle Ford Shale region, lies along traditional smuggling routes. That’s thrust oil workers in the middle of cartel activity, and made it even more difficult to track stolen goods across the U.S.-Mexico border, said Esquivel, the retired Border Patrol agent.

Trickling Away

Oil thieves are a slippery bunch. Criminals sand off serial numbers of stolen goods to evade detection or melt them for scrap. Tracking raw crude is even trickier, since tracing it to its originating well is almost impossible once it’s mixed with other oil. Many companies fail to report the crime, making it difficult for investigators to trace the origins of stolen goods.

Many of the crimes are inside jobs, with thieves doubling as gate guards, tank drivers or well servicers. Last year, a federal grand jury indicted three Texas men in connection with the theft of $1.5 million worth of oil from their employers, including Houston’s Anadarko Petroleum Corp.

“Your average person wouldn’t know the value of a drill bit or a piece of tubing or a gas meter,” said Chamberlain. “It’d be like breaking into a jewelry store; unless you know what’s valuable, you wouldn’t know what to steal.”

by Lauren Etter in Bloomberg Business

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