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.

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

The Biggest Threat To Oil Prices: 2-Mile Long Stretch Of Iraq Oil Tankers Headed For The U.S.

https://s17-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=http%3A%2F%2Fens-newswire.com%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2013%2F07%2F20130705_shipssingapore.jpg&sp=88dd9c2a647d73922d4d13126517cc68

After some initial excitement, November has seen crude oil prices collapse back towards cycle lows amid demand doubts (e.g. slumping China oil imports, overflowing Chinese oil capacity, plunging China Industrial Production) and supply concerns (e.g. inventories soaring). However, an even bigger problem looms that few are talking about. As Iraq – the fastest-growing member of OPEC – has unleashed a two-mile long, 3 million metric ton barrage of 19 million barrel excess supply directly to US ports in November.

Crude prices are already falling:


But OPEC has another trick up its sleeve to crush US Shale oil producers. As Bloomberg reports,

Iraq, the fastest-growing producer within the 12-nation group, loaded as many as 10 tankers in the past several weeks to deliver crude to U.S. ports in November, ship-tracking and charters compiled by Bloomberg show.


Assuming they arrive as scheduled, the 19 million barrels being hauled would mark the biggest monthly influx from Iraq since June 2012, according to Energy Information Administration figures.

The cargoes show how competition for sales among members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries is spilling out into global markets, intensifying competition with U.S. producers whose own output has retreated since summer. For tanker owners, it means rates for their ships are headed for the best quarter in seven years, fueled partly by the surge in one of the industry’s longest trade routes.

Worst still, they are slashing prices…

Iraq, pumping the most since at least 1962 amid competition among OPEC nations to find buyers, is discounting prices to woo customers.

The Middle East country sells its crude at premiums or discounts to global benchmarks, competing for buyers with suppliers such as Saudi Arabia, the world’s biggest exporter. Iraq sold its Heavy grade at a discount of $5.85 a barrel to the appropriate benchmark for November, the biggest discount since it split the grade from Iraqi Light in May. Saudi Arabia sold at $1.25 below benchmark for November, cutting by a further 20 cents in December.

“It’s being priced much more aggressively,” said Dominic Haywood, an oil analyst at Energy Aspects Ltd. in London. “It’s being discounted so U.S. Gulf Coast refiners are more incentivized to take it.”

So when does The Obama Administration ban crude imports?

And now, we get more news from Iraq:

  • *IRAQ CUTS DECEMBER CRUDE OIL OSPS TO EUROPE: TRADERS

So taking on the Russians?

*  *  *

Finally, as we noted previously, it appears Iraq (and Russia) are more than happy to compete on price.. and have been successful – for now – at gaining significant market share…

Even as both Iran and Saudi Arabia are losing Asian market share to Russia and Iraq, Tehran is closely allied with Baghdad and Moscow while Riyadh is not. That certainly seems to suggest that in the long run, the Saudis are going to end up with the short end of the stick.

Once again, it’s the intersection of geopolitics and energy, and you’re reminded that at the end of the day, that’s what it usually comes down to.

Source: Zero Hedge


WTI Tumbles To $43 Handle After API Confirms Huge Inventory Build

API reported a huge 6.3 million barrel inventory build (notably larger than expected) extending the series of build to seven weeks. Even more worrying was the massive 2.5 million barrel build at Cushing, even as gasoline inventories fell 3.2mm. WTI immediately dropped 35c, breaking back to a $43 handle after-hours.

A huge build…


But for Cushing it was massive…

The reaction was quick and on heavy volume…

Source: Zero Hedge


Four US Firms With $4.8 Billion In Debt Warned This Week They May Default Any Minute

The last 3 days have seen the biggest surge in US energy credit risk since December 2014, blasting back above 1000bps. This should not be a total surprise since underlying oil prices continue to languish in “not cash-flow positive” territory for many shale producers, but, as Bloomberg reports, the industry is bracing for a wave of failures as investors that were stung by bets on an improving market earlier this year try to stay away from the sector. “It’s been eerily silent,” in energy credit markets, warns one bond manager, “no one is putting up new capital here.”

The market is starting to reprice dramatically for a surge in defaults...

Eleven months of depressed oil prices are threatening to topple more companies in the energy industry. As Bloomberg details,

Four firms owing a combined $4.8 billion warned this week that they may be at the brink, with Penn Virginia Corp., Paragon Offshore Plc, Magnum Hunter Resources Corp. and Emerald Oil Inc. saying their auditors have expressed doubts that they can continue as going concerns. Falling oil prices are squeezing access to credit, they said. And everyone from Morgan Stanley to Goldman Sachs Group Inc. is predicting that energy prices won’t rebound anytime soon.

The industry is bracing for a wave of failures as investors that were stung by bets on an improving market earlier this year try to stay away from the sector. Barclays Plc analysts say that will cause the default rate among speculative-grade companies to double in the next year. Marathon Asset Management is predicting default rates among high-yield energy companies will balloon to as high as 25 percent cumulatively in the next two to three years if oil remains below $60 a barrel.


“No one is putting up new capital here,”
said Bruce Richards, co-founder of Marathon, which manages $12.5 billion of assets. “It’s been eerily silent in the whole high-yield energy sector, including oil, gas, services and coal.”

That’s partly because investors who plowed about $14 billion into high-yield energy bonds sold in the past six months are sitting on about $2 billion of losses, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

And the energy sector accounts for more than a quarter of high-yield bonds that are trading at distressed levels, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Barclays said in a Nov. 6 research note that the market is anticipating “a near-term wave of defaults” among energy companies. Those can’t be avoided unless commodity prices make “a very large” and “unexpected” resurgence.

“Everybody’s liquidity is worse than it was at this time last year,” said Jason Mudrick, founder of Mudrick Capital Management. “It’s a much more dire situation than it was 12 months ago.”

Source: Zero Hedge


Something Very Strange Is Taking Place Off The Coast Of Galveston, TX

Having exposed the world yesterday to the 2-mile long line of tankers-full’o’crude heading from Iraq to the US, several weeks after reporting that China has run out of oil storage space we can now confirm that the global crude “in transit” glut is becoming gargantuan and is starting to have adverse consequences on the price of oil.

While the crude oil tanker backlog in Houston reaches an almost unprecedented 39 (with combined capacity of 28.4 million barrels), as The FT reports that from China to the Gulf of Mexico, the growing flotilla of stationary supertankers is evidence that the oil price crash may still have further to run, as more than 100m barrels of crude oil and heavy fuels are being held on ships at sea (as the year-long supply glut fills up available storage on land). The storage problems are so severe in fact, that traders asking ships to go slow, and that is where we see something very strange occurring off the coast near Galveston, TX.


FT reports that “
the amount of oil at sea is at least double the levels of earlier this year and is equivalent to more than a day of global oil supply. The numbers of vessels has been compiled by the Financial Times from satellite tracking data and industry sources.”

The storage glut is unprecedented:
 
 
Off Indonesia, Malaysia and Singapore, Asia’s main oil hub, around 35m barrels of crude and shipping fuel are being stored on 14 VLCCs.
 
“A lot of the storage off Singapore is fuel oil as the contango is stronger,” said Petromatrix analyst Olivier Jakob. Fuel oil is mainly used in shipping and power generation.
 
Off China, which is on course to overtake the US as the world’s largest crude importer, five heavily laden VLCCs — each capable of carrying more than 2m barrels of oil — are parked near the ports of Qingdao, Dalian and Tianjin.
 
In Europe, a number of smaller tankers are facing short-term delays at Rotterdam and in the North Sea, where output is near a two-year high. In the Mediterranean a VLCC has been parked off Malta since September.
 
On the US Gulf Coast, tankers carrying around 20m barrels of oil are waiting to unload, Reuters reported. Crude inventories on the US Gulf Coast are at record levels.
 
A further 8m barrels of oil are being held off the UAE, while Iran — awaiting the end of sanctions to ramp up exports — has almost 40m barrels of fuel on its fleet of supertankers near the Strait of Hormuz. Much of this is believed to be condensate, a type of ultralight oil.
And unlike the last oil price collapse during the financial crisis only half of the oil held on the water has been put there specifically by traders looking to cash in by storing the fuel until prices recover. Instead, sky-high supertanker rates have prevented them from putting more oil into so-called floating storage, shutting off one of the safety valves that could prevent oil prices from falling further.
 
 
A widening oil market structure known as contango — where future prices are higher than spot prices — could make floating storage possible.
 
 
 
The difference between Brent for delivery in six months’ time and now rose to $4.50 last week, up from $1.50 in May. Traders estimate it may need to reach $6 to make sea storage viable.
JBC Energy, a consultancy, said in many regions onshore oil storage is approaching capacity, arguing oil prices may have to fall to allow more to be stored profitably at sea.
 
 
“Onshore storage is not quite full but it is at historically high levels globally,” said David Wech, managing director of JBC Energy.
 
“As we move closer to capacity that is creating more infrastructure hiccups and delays in the oil market, leading to more oil being backed out on to the water.”
 
Patrick Rodgers, the chief executive of Euronav, one of the world’s biggest listed tanker companies, said oil glut was so severe traders were asking ships to go slow to help them manage storage levels.
 
“We are being kept at relatively low speeds. The owners of the oil are not in a hurry to get their cargoes. They are managing their storage capacity by keeping ships at a certain speed.”
As a result of all this, something very unusual going on off the coast of Galveston, where more than 39 crude tankers w/ combined cargo capacity of 28.4 million bbls wait near Galveston (Galveston is area where tankers can anchor before taking cargoes to refineries at Houston and other nearby plants), vessel tracking data compiled by Bloomberg show, which compares w/ 30 vessels, 21 million bbls of capacity in May. Vessels wait avg of 5 days, compared w/ 3 days May.

As AP puts it,a traffic jam of oil tankers is the latest sign of an unyielding global supply glut.”

More than 50 commercial vessels were anchored outside ports in the Houston area at the end of last week, of which 41 were tankers, according to Houston Pilots, an organization that assists in navigation of larger vessels. Normally, there are 30 to 40 vessels, of which two-thirds are tankers, according to the group.
 
Although the channel has been shut intermittently in recent weeks because of fog or flooding, oil traders pointed to everything from capacity constraints to a lack of buyers.
 
“It appears that the glut of supply in the global market is only getting worse,” said Matt Smith, director of commodity research at ClipperData. Several traders said some ships might have arrived without a buyer, which can be hard to find as ample supply and end-of-year taxes push refiners to draw down inventories.
And here, courtesy of MarineTraffic is the interactive snapshot (readers can recreate it here):

All of which explains why this is happening:


Crude Jumps After API Reports Modest Inventory Draw (First In 8 Weeks) Despite Another Big Build At Cushing

11/17/2015: After seven straight weeks of significant inventory builds, API reported a modest 482k draw. That was all the algos needed and WTI immediately ramped back above $41.00. However, what they likely missed was the 2nd weekly (huge) build in Cushing (1.5mm barrels) as we warned earlier on land storage starting to really fill…

Cushing saw another big build…

And crude reacted…

As we noted earlier,

In short: “The US is the last place with significant onshore crude storage space left.”

Which leads directly to Citi’s conclusion: “‘Sell the rally’ near-term as fundamentals remain very sloppy and inventory constraints are becoming increasingly more binding.”

Source: Zero Hedge

Is Big Oil In Bed With The Saudis To Destroy The Fracking Industry?

Summary

  • Saudis want Big Oil to win – have predictable working relationship with them.
  • Big Oil is waiting on the sidelines until the price of properties drop.
  • Those with DUC wells and enough reserves will be able to survive the onslaught.
  • U.S. shale oil remains viable, but the players are going to change.

https://s16-us2.ixquick.com/cgi-bin/serveimage?url=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.cornucopia.org%2Fwp-content%2Fuploads%2F2015%2F08%2FUnlinedHotFrackingWaterPit-FacesofFracking.jpg&sp=5e83ddd577051c082e8bf0083737a243

As the strategy of Saudi Arabia becomes clearer, along with the response of shale producers to low oil prices, the question now has to be asked as to whether or not the big oil companies support the decision by Saudi Arabia to crush frackers until they have to offer their various plays at fire sale prices.

With the emergence of frackers came a significant number of new competitors in the market that didn’t have an interest in playing nice with OPEC and Saudi Arabia, as major oil companies have in the past. This was a real threat as other OPEC members and shale companies started to take share away from Saudi Arabia.

The general consensus is Saudi Arabia isn’t interested in crushing any particular competitor, rather it’ll keep production at high levels until the weakest producers capitulate. I have thought that as well until recently.

What changed my thinking was analyzing who was the biggest threat to OPEC and Saudi Arabia, and in fact it is the shale industry in the U.S. The reason I draw that conclusion is the energy industry had its traditional competitors in place for many years, and other than occasional moves to impact the price of oil using production levels as the weapon, it has been a relatively stable industry. Shale changed all that.

I think what bothered Saudi Arabia in particular was it didn’t have a working relationship with many of these new competitors, who have been very aggressive with expanding production capacity over the last few years. They were in fact real competitors who were working to take market share away from existing players. And with Saudi Arabia being the low-cost producer with the highest reserves in the world, it was without a doubt a direct assault on its authority and leverage it historically has had on the oil market. Its response to frackers is obvious: it isn’t willing to give up share for any reason.

Where the challenge for Saudi Arabia now is it has started to have to draw on its own reserves and issue bonds to make up for budget shortfalls. It has plenty of reserves, but it appears we now have a clear picture on when it would really come under pressure, which is within a four to five year period. That’s the time it has to devastate its shale competitors.

The other problem for the country is it could take down some members of OPEC in the process, where there are already significant problems they’re facing, which could lead to unrest.

From a pure oil perspective, it seems to be an easy read. Saudi Arabia can outlast the small shale producers with no problem. I think that’s its goal. But it is putting enormous pressure on other countries as well, and there will be increasing pressure for them to slow production in order to support oil prices.

This even extends to Russia, which produces more oil than any other country.

My belief is Saudi Arabia is attempting to force consolidation in the shale industry, so it can resume its dealings with big oil players it has worked with for many years. I believe it’s also what big oil players want. All they have to do is sit back and experience some temporary pain and wait for some of the attractive plays to come onto the market at low prices.

So far the price is still high in the U.S., but as time goes on, the smaller companies will be forced to sell, one way or another. That’s the big opportunity for investors. Identifying those companies with the resources and desire to acquire these properties is the key. That and evaluating the plays with the most potential for those buying them up.

At what price can Saudi crush shale oil?

There are analysts predicting oil price levels that are all over the board. I’ve seen those that believe it’s going to shoot up to over $100 per barrel again, and those that have estimated it could fall to as low as $15 per barrel.

The best way to analyze this is to consider what Saudi Arabia can handle over the longest period of time without destroying its own economy and industry, meaning at what price it can remain fairly healthy and outlast its competitors.

Looking at the price movement of oil and the range it’s now settled into, I think it’s close to what the Saudi have been looking for.

Most smaller shale producers will struggle to make it, if the price of oil remains under $60 per barrel, which it will probably do until Saudi Arabia cuts back on production. There will be occasional moves above that, and probably below $50 per barrel again as well, but I think we can now look to somewhere in the $50 per barrel area as the target being sought. We’ll probably see this be the price range oil will move in for the next couple of years, with $50 being the desired low and $60 being the desired high.

I don’t mean by this Saudi Arabia can absolutely control the price of oil, but it can influence the range it operates in, and I think that’s where we are now.

For that reason oil investors should be safe in investing under these assumptions, understanding there will be occasional price moves outside of that range because of usual trading momentum.

Response from shale oil companies

Some may question why the price of oil got slammed not too long ago, falling below $40 per barrel, if the probable price range for oil is about $10 to $20 per barrel higher.

As mentioned above, some of that was simply from trading momentum. It didn’t take long for it to rebound soon afterward.

The other element was the response by shale companies to the new price of oil, which threatened their ability to pay interest on loans that were due.

Frackers weren’t boosting production because they believed they could outlast Saudi Arabia; they kept production levels high because they had to continue to sell even into that low-price environment or default on their payments. This was a major factor in why prices dropped so far over the short term.

With the bulk of the over $5 trillion spent on shale exploration and development coming from companies operating in the U.S., that is also where the bulk of the risk is.

Much of the efficiencies have been wrung out of operations, and moving to higher producing wells that are less costly to operate can only last so long. I believe efficiencies will position some in the industry to survive the current competitive environment, but they will also have to have enough reserves to tap into in order to do so.

Top producing shale wells are at their highest level of productivity in the first 6 months it goes into operation. It gradually fades after that.

Larger players like EOG Resources (NYSE:EOG) have continued to drill, but they are stopping short of production, with approximately 320 DUC wells ready to bring online when the price of oil reaches desired levels. Its smaller competitors don’t have the resources to wait out existing production levels, which is what will again offer the opportunity for patient investors.

In other words, most of what can be done has been or is currently being done, and from now on it’s simply a waiting game to see how long the Saudis are willing to keep the oil flowing.

Most shale producers believed the lowest oil prices would sustainably fall and would be about $70 per barrel. Decisions were made based upon that assumption.

Big oil and Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia and big international energy companies have had close relationships a long time via Saudi Aramco, the state-owned firm.

Those relationships, while competitive, still operated within parameters most agreed upon. Shale producers weren’t playing that game, as they invested trillions and aggressively went after market share. If Saudi Arabia wanted to maintain market share, it had to respond.

If the smaller shale producers thought their strategy though, they must have underestimated the will of Saudi Arabia to fight back against them. Either that or they became overly optimistic and started to believe their own press about the shale revolution.

It’s a revolution for sure, but the majority of those that helped launch it won’t be finishing it.

My point is big oil, in my opinion, doesn’t mind quietly standing on the sidelines as their somewhat friendly competitors destroys their competition and prepares the way for them to acquire shale properties at extremely attractive prices.

I’ve said for some time the shale revolution will go on. The oil isn’t going anywhere. What is changing is who the players will end up being, and what properties they’ll end up acquiring.

With EOG, the strongest shale player, it said the prices of those plays now for sale are still too high; that means the smaller players still think they have some leverage.

My only thought is they are hoping for the large players to enter a bidding war and they can at least recoup some of their capital. I think they’re going to wait until they’re desperate and have no more options.

Sure, some big players may lose out on a desirable property or two, but everyone will get a piece of the action. It appears once the prices move down to levels they’re looking for, at that time they’ll swoop in and make their bids. At that time it’s going to be a buyer’s market.

Big oil companies are the preferable players Saudi Arabia wants to do business with and compete against. They will play the game with them, and there won’t be a lot of surprises.

Some of the companies to watch

Some of the larger companies that have already filed for bankruptcy this year include Hercules Offshore (NASDAQ:HERO), Sabine Oil & Gas (SOGC) and Quicksilver Resources (OTCPK:KWKAQ).

Companies known to have hired advisers for that purpose are Swift Energy (NYSE:SFY) and Energy XXI Ltd. (NASDAQ:EXXI).

Some under heavy pressure include Halcón Resources Corporation (NYSE:HK), SandRidge Energy, Inc. (NYSE:SD) and Rex Energy Corporation (NASDAQ:REXX).

There are more in each category, but I included only those that had at least a decent market cap, with the exception of those that already declared bankruptcy.

Here are a couple of other companies to look at going forward, which can be used for the purpose of analyzing ongoing low prices.

Stone Energy’s credit facility of $500 million is reaffirmed, but may not be liquid enough to endure the next couple of years, even though in the short term it does have decent liquidity. If Saudi Arabia keeps up the pressure, it’s doubtful it will be able to survive on its own. There are quite a few companies falling under these parameters, including Laredo (NYSE:LPI). The basic practice of all of them was to limit the amount of leverage they have in place in order not to have paying off interest as the priority use of their capital, while maintaining a strong credit facility.

I’m not saying these companies will survive, but they will survive if the price of oil stays low, but it will take a lot more to root them up than their highly leveraged peers.

Clayton Williams (NYSE:CWEI) recently put itself up for sale because it can’t afford to continue operating at these prices. It has approximately 340,000 acres under its control, and two of the most productive shale basins in the U.S.

Once it announced it was open to selling, the share price skyrocketed, but since it’s struggling to afford extracting the oil, it’s puzzling as to why some believe it’s going to attract a premium price. It’s possible because of the quality of assets, but it would make more sense for larger companies to wait.

This will be a good test on how big oil companies are going to respond. It’s possible they may be willing to pay for the higher quality shale plays, but under these conditions shareholders would resist paying a significant premium.

If Clayton Williams does go for a premium, it doesn’t in any way mean that’s how it’ll work out for most of the shale companies.

There would have to be a significant reason they would pay such a high price. In the case of CWEI, the catalyst would be high production.

Conclusion

All of this sounds neatly packaged, and if all things proceed as planned, this is how it will play out.

Where there could be some risk is if the Middle East explodes and oil production is interrupted. That would change this entire scenario, and if it were to happen soon, shale companies still in operation would not only survive, but thrive.

Barring that level of disruption, which would have to be something huge, this is how it will play out. After all, with everything going on there now, it hasn’t done anything to disrupt Middle East oil. It would take a big event or a series of events to bring it about. That’s definitely a possibility, but it’s one that is unlikely.

Once all of this plays out, there is no doubt in my mind the bigger oil companies will be much stronger and able to produce a lot more oil.

What we’ll probably see happen is for them to cut back on production to levels where everyone is happy, including the Saudi.

That’s what this war is all about, because shale oil deposits remain in the ground. While some companies can quickly resume production because of the nature of shale oil, which can ramp up production fast, it depends on the will and determination of Saudi Arabia and whether or not the geopolitical situation remains under control.

I don’t care too much about the number of rig counts in shale plays because production can be resumed or initiated quick. The risk is how leveraged the shale companies are, and whether or not they have to continue production at a loss in order to pay off their interest on loans in hopes the price of oil will rise.

What I’m looking for with existing plays is for companies like EOG Resources, which continues to develop wells, but does so without the idea of completing them and bringing them into production until the price of oil rebounds.

Shale oil in the U.S. is alive and well, but those companies overextended and few resources are going to be forced to sell at bargain prices. That will produce a lot of added value to the big oil companies waiting on the sidelines watching it all unfold.

Read more by Gary Bourgeault on Seeking Alpha

How Banks Funded the U.S. Oil Boom and (So Far) Escaped the Bust

“Everyone in the [shale] chain was making money in the short term.”

by Asjylyn Loder from Bloomberg Business

When Whiting Petroleum needed cash earlier this year as oil prices plummeted, JPMorgan Chase, its lead lender, found investors willing to step in. The bank helped Whiting sell $3.1 billion in stocks and bonds in March. Whiting used almost all the money to repay the $2.9 billion it owed JPMorgan and its 25 other lenders. The proceeds also covered the $45 million in fees Whiting paid to get the deal done, regulatory filings show.

Analysts expect Whiting, one of the largest producers in North Dakota’s Bakken shale basin, to spend almost $1 billion more than it earns from oil and gas this year. The company has sold $300 million in assets, reduced the number of rigs drilling for oil to eight from a high of 24, and announced plans to cut spending by $1 billion next year. Eric Hagen, a Whiting spokesman, says the company has “demonstrated that it is taking appropriate steps to manage within the current oil price environment.” Whiting has said it will be in a position next year to have its capital spending of $1 billion equal its cash flows with an oil price of $50 a barrel.

As for Whiting’s investors, the stock is down 36 percent, as of Oct. 14, since the March issue, and the new bonds are trading at 94¢ on the dollar. More than 73 percent of the stocks and bonds issued this year by oil and gas producers are worth less today than when they were sold, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

Banks’ sell-the-risk strategy underpins the shale oil boom. Lenders extended low interest credit to wildcatters desperate for cash, then—perhaps remembering the 1980s oil bust—wheeled the debt off their books by selling new stocks and bonds to investors, earning sizable fees along the way. “Everyone in the chain was making money in the short term,” says Louis Meyer, a special situations analyst at Oscar Gruss & Son. “And no one was thinking long term about what they’re going to do if prices fall.”

North American oil and gas producers have sold $61.5 billion in equity and debt since January, paying more than $700 million in fees, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. Half the money was raised to repay loans or restructure debt, the data show. “Being there for our clients in all market environments, particularly the tough ones, is something we feel very strongly about,” says Brian Marchiony, a JPMorgan spokesman. “During challenging periods, companies typically look to strengthen their balance sheets and increase liquidity, and we have helped many do just that.”

Lenders have been setting aside cash to cover potential energy losses. JPMorgan bolstered its reserves by $160 million in the third quarter. Bank of America’s at-risk loans increased 15 percent from a year ago as a result of the deteriorating finances of some of its oil and gas borrowers. Still, the oil bust has left banks relatively unscathed. Asked why lenders weren’t seeing more losses from energy defaults, BofA Chief Executive Officer Brian Moynihan said in a conference call, “A lot of that risk is distributed out to investors.”

Citigroup, Bank of America, and JPMorgan were among the banks that courted fast-growing shale drillers in the hope that an initial loan would lead to investment banking business. Citigroup’s energy portfolio, including loans and unfunded commitments, swelled to $59.7 billion as of June 30, Bank of America’s to $47.3 billion, and JPMorgan’s to $43.6 billion, according to company filings. “They loan money at cheap rates, and the banks get the fees from the bond and share sales,” says Jason Wangler, an analyst with Wunderlich Securities. “When things are going well, it’s mutually beneficial. Now it’s a different conversation.”

When crude prices plummeted in the early 1980s, hundreds of banks failed across such oil-rich states as Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas. This time around, banks were keen to limit their exposure to a boom-and-bust industry. Every year since 2009, about half the debt and equity sold by North American exploration and production companies was intended, at least in part, to restructure debt or repay loans, data compiled by Bloomberg show. Often the banks selling the securities were the ones getting repaid. “The bankers have gone through this before,” says Oscar Gruss’s Meyer. “They know how it works out in the end, and it’s not pretty. Most of the lenders have been more on top of things this time. They are not going to get caught short in the ways they got caught short before.”

The bottom line: Oil companies have sold $61.5 billion in stocks and bonds since January as oil prices have tumbled.

U.S. Housing Sector Shifts to Buyers Markets in September

U.S. Housing Sector Shifts to Buyers Markets in September

by Miho Favela in The World Property Journal

According to Realtor.com’s ‘Advance Read of September Trends‘, with month-over-month declining prices and increased time on market, the September 2015 housing market has transitioned into a buyer’s market. This means that it is now easier for buyers to purchase a home than it has been any time so far this year.

“The spring and summer home-buying seasons were especially tough on potential buyers this year with increasing prices and limited supply,” said Jonathan Smoke, chief economist for Realtor.com. “Buyers who are open to a fall or winter purchase should find some relief with lower prices and less competition from other buyers. However, year-over-year comparisons show that fall buyers will have it tougher than last year as the housing market continues to show improvement.”

Housing demand is in its seasonally weaker period and as a result, median list prices are continuing to decline from July’s peak. Likewise, inventory has also peaked for 2015, so buyers will see fewer choices through the end of the year. Top line findings of the monthly report that draws on residential inventory and demand trends over the first three weeks of the month include:

  • National median list price is $230,000 down decreased 1 percent over August and up 6 percent year-over-year.
  • Median age of inventory is now 80 days, up 6.7 percent from August, but down 5 percent year-over-year, reflecting the seasonal trend for fall listings to stay longer on the market as the day becomes shorter.
  • Listings inventory will likely end the month down 0.5 percent from August.

Realtor.com September 2015 Market Hotness Data

The 20 hottest markets in the country, ranked by number of views per listing on Realtor.com and the median age of inventory in each market, in September 2015 are:

WPJ News | Top 20 hottest real estate markets in the U.S.
Key takeaway from Realtor.com September Hotness Index:

  • California maintains 11 cities on the Hotness Index due to continued tight supply and turbo charged economy. Markets in the state have been characterized as having extremely tight supply all year, so frustrated buyers who have not been able to find a home so far remain active, supporting continued strength in sales across much of Northern and Southern California.
  • Texas and Michigan also continue to feature multiple markets also driven by job growth, but compared especially to the California markets have more affordable inventory attracting a broader base of potential buyers.
  • Fort Wayne, Ind., and Modesto, Calif., both entered the top 20 list in September having just missed in August. Both markets benefit from strong housing affordability for their regions.

“The hottest markets are little changed in September as supply remains tight and demand remains strong,” Smoke commented. “Sellers across all these markets continue to see listings move much more quickly than the rest of the country in September, and the seasonal slow-down is not as strong in these markets.”

Energy Companies Face “Come-To-Jesus” Point As Bankruptcies Loom

Last week, amid a renewed bout of crude carnage, Morgan Stanley made a rather disconcerting call on oil. 

“On current trajectory, this downturn could become worse than 1986: An additional +1.5 mb/d [of OPEC supply] is roughly one year of oil demand growth. If sustained, this could delay the rebalancing of oil markets by a year as well. The forward curve has started to price this in: as the chart shows, the forward curve currently points towards a recovery in prices that is far worse than in 1986. This means the industrial downturn could also be worse. In that case, there would be little in analysable history that could be a guide to this cycle,” the bank wrote, presaging even tougher times ahead for the O&G space.

If Morgan Stanley is correct, we’re likely to see tremendous pressure on the sector’s highly indebted names, many of whom have been kept afloat thus far by easy access to capital markets courtesy of ZIRP.

With a rate hike cycle on the horizon, with hedges set to roll off, and with investors less willing to throw good money after bad on secondaries and new HY issuance, banks are likely to rein in credit lines in October when the next assessment is due. At that point, it will be game over in the absence of a sharp recovery in crude prices. 

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Against this challenging backdrop, we bring you the following commentary from Emanuel Grillo, partner at Baker Botts’s bankruptcy and restructuring practice who spoke to Bloomberg Brief last week.  

*  *  *

Via Bloomberg Brief

How does the second half of this year look when it comes to energy bankruptcies?

A: People are coming to realize that the market is not likely to improve. At the end of September, companies will know about their bank loan redeterminations and you’ll see a bunch of restructurings. And, as the last of the hedges start to burn off and you can’t buy them for $80 a barrel any longer, then you’re in a tough place.

The bottom line is that if oil prices don’t increase, it could very well be that the next six months to nine months will be worse than the last six months. Some had an ability to borrow, and you saw other people go out and restructure. But the options are going to become fewer and smaller the longer you wait.

Are there good deals on the horizon for distressed investors?

A: The markets are awash in capital, but you still have a disconnect between buyers and sellers. Sellers, the guys who operate these companies, are hoping they can hang on. Buyers want to pay bargain-basement prices. There’s not enough pressure on the sellers yet. But I think that’s coming. 

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Banks will be redetermining their borrowing bases again in October. Will they be as lenient this time around as they were in April?

A: I don’t know if you’ll get the same slack in October as in April, absent a turnaround in the market price for oil. It’s going to be that ‘come-to-Jesus’ point in time where it’s about how much longer can they let it play. If the banks get too aggressive, they’re going to hurt the value for themselves and their ability to exit. So they’re playing a balancing act.

They know what pressure they’re facing from a regulatory perspective. At the same time, if they push too far in that direction, toward complying with the regulatory side and getting out, then they’re going to hurt themselves in terms of what their own recovery is going to be. All of the banks have these loans under very close scrutiny right now. They’d all get out tomorrow if they could. That’s the sense they’re giving off to the marketplace, because the numbers are just not supporting what they need to have from a regulatory perspective.

Source: Zero Hedge

Is $50 “Hard Floor” Oil Price Already In?

Volte-Face Investments believes that it is …

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The Last Two Oil Crashes Show Peak Oil Is Real

Summary

  • Recent oil crashes show you the hard floor for gauging value oil company equities.
  • Properly understood, the crashes lend an insight into the concept of Peak Oil.
  • All oil equity investors should understand the overarching upward trend on display here.
 

Note: ALL prices used in this article are using current 2015 dollars, inflation adjusted using the
US BLS inflation calculator.

Generally, when I invest, I try to keep my thesis very simple. Find good companies, with good balance sheets and some kind of specific catalytic event on the horizon. But when one starts to concentrate their holdings in a sector, as I have recently in energy (see my recent articles on RMP Energy (OTCPK:OEXFF) and DeeThree Energy (OTCQX:DTHRF), you need to also get a good handle on the particular tail or headwinds that are affecting it. Sometimes a sector like oil (NYSEARCA:USO) can be subjected to such forces, like the recent oil price crash, where almost no company specific data mattered.

One of the biggest arguments, normally used by proponents of owning oil stocks as core holdings, in the energy sector is “Peak Oil.” For the unfamiliar, it is a theory forwarded first by M. King Hubbert in the 1950s regarding U.S. oil production. Essentially, the theory stated that the U.S. would reach a point where the oil reserves would become so depleted that it would be impossible to increase oil production further, or even maintain it at a given level, regardless of effort. This would inevitably lead to oil price rises of extreme magnitudes.

Since those early beginnings, the details have been argued over in an ever-evolving fashion. The argument has shifted with global events, technological developments, and grown to encompass nearly every basin in the world (even best-selling books have been written about peak oil like Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock and the World Economy by Matt Simmons about a decade ago) consuming endless bytes of the Internet in every kind of investment forum and medium of exchange.

In general, I believe that the term “peak oil” is a highly flawed one. Some picture peak oil in a Mad Max fashion, with oil supplies running out like a science fiction disaster movie. Others simply dismiss peak oil as having failed to predict these so-called peaks repeatedly (the world is producing a record amount of oil right now, so all previous absolute “Peak Oil” calls below these amounts are obviously wrong). But what people should be stating when they use these terms is a Peak Oil Price.

Using my own thinking and phrasing, I believe civilization has probably passed $25 Peak Oil. This means that if you set the oil price to $25 a barrel, there is no method available to humanity to provide enough oil to meet demand over any period of time that’s really relevant. I also believe we are in the middle of proving that we have also passed $50 Peak Oil. My final conjecture here is that we will prove in the near-term future to have reached $75 Peak Oil. I don’t believe we are quite at $100 Peak Oil.

Notice that in my formulation the term Peak Oil is always stated as a peak price. Oil is not consumed in a vacuum. The price affects the demand the world has for the product and simultaneously changes the ability of all sorts of entities (businesses and governments) to retrieve deposits of it. This is what I hope to prove in this article.

So what data could I bring to this crowded table?

Well we have one thing we now have that previous entrants into the Peak Oil melee didn’t, which is the recent price crash in oil. Peak oil is often falsely portrayed as a failed idea since it hasn’t resulted in a super squeeze to ultra high prices. These spike prices are viewed as the really critical element by energy investors since they are trying to find the best case. After all, who doesn’t want to own an oil producer if they can identify a spot in which oil prices will rise to some enormous number.

But that is the wrong way to go about it for your oil investments over the long haul. Because what $50 Peak Oil really provides is a floor. In a world where we have passed $25 Peak Oil, it should be impossible, without exogenous events of enormous magnitude (world war, etc.), to press the price of the product below that price. If you could do so, you would immediately disprove the thesis. You would then know the floor provided by whichever peak oil price level you selected was wrong. The same idea seems to hold true for $50 Peak Oil now.

To prove this “floor” we need to choose times of extreme stress in the oil markets, and look at those oil prices and see what the bottoms were. For these examples, let’s select WTI oil, whose weekly average prices are reported all the way back to 1986 by the EIA.

Let’s take the three big crashes in the oil markets. I will use a full year’s average to try to smooth out the various difficulties presented by weather, seasonal effects, or various one-off events (outages, etc.). The first crash I will use as a benchmark is The 1986 Oil Crash. The 1986 breakdown was a supply crash, caused by supply swamping demand. How big a disaster was it for the oil industry?

In 1986, the Saudis opened the spigot and sparked a four-month, 67 percent plunge that left oil just above $10 a barrel. The U.S. industry collapsed, triggering almost a quarter-century of production declines, and the Saudis regained their leading role in the world’s oil market.

This was quite a crash obviously. Triggering a 25 year decline? Not going to find a lot worse than this. So in inflation adjusted dollars what was WTI oil at for the year of 1986? It sold for around $32 a barrel. Now let’s note that at this time WTI crude was actually at a higher price vs. Brent and other world prices. On a Brent basis, crude would have been just around $25 for the year. This will prove to be an important point in a short while.

The next crash we will use to benchmark was the 2008 Financial Crisis. On this website, I should hope that this world crisis will need no introduction and little explanation. This crash in oil prices (and just about every other thing priced by human beings) was a demand crash. The financial disintegration across the world led to massive drops in demand, as jobs were lost across the world by the millions. So with this demand crash what was the average price of WTI crude in the year 2009? It sold in that year for a little over $60.

The last crash I will add is the current drop, starting sometime around October by my reckoning. I would find it hard to imagine any reader of this article is unfamiliar with the current situation in North America or the world regarding oil, at least in a headline sense. This seems to be a supply crash again, where North American-led tight oil drillers have caused an increase in production that the world’s demand couldn’t handle at the $100 price level. Since then, prices have dropped down to a level that suppresses the production of oil and enhances demand.

In the first four months of 2015, the North American oil rig count has already dropped by more than 50% as compared to last year and the demand for oil has begun to increase according to EIA statistics. The current price of WTI oil has been just over $49 as an average for the year 2015. However, let us note that WTI oil now sells for a large discount to world prices, and during the previous two crashes, WTI sold for a premium.

Now we have three data points. Each one is a fairly long period of time, not just a single week. We know that the world in 1986 nearly ended for the oil industry, yet in current dollars, WTI oil was unable to trade for a year below $30 a barrel. Then we had in 2008 and 2009 an economic crisis which was widely described as being the most dire financial disaster since WWII. In 2009, WTI oil still ended up trading well over the 1986 low. In fact it was nearly double that price. This shows just how hard it can be using almost any technique to push oil prices below a true peak number.

Now we have another supply led crunch. One that is widely described as the worst oil crash since 1986, a nearly 30 year time gap. We are attacking the oil price from the supply side instead of 2008’s demand side. Yet thus far, in 2015, oil is still trading more than 50% higher than the 1986 year average, inflation adjusted. In fact, WTI, when adjusted for its current discount to world prices, is trading close to its 2009 average price. Again, nearly double the price of the 1986 crash.

What does this all mean for investing? It means to me that $25 Peak Oil is behind us. You couldn’t really hit and maintain that number in the 1986 crash when many more virgin conventional reservoirs of oil were available. Despite the last three oil crises, not one of them could get WTI oil to $25 and keep it there. Now, using much more expensive oil resources (shale fracing, deep water drilling, arctic development, etc.), it doesn’t seem like the last two disasters have been able to press WTI oil much below $50 for a material length of time. In this recent crash, the $50 floor was able to be reached only with several years of hyper-investment made possible by the twin forces of sustained high prices and access to ultra-cheap capital. Both of these forces are no longer present in the oil markets.

Therefore, I think using a $50 Peak Oil number is a very reasonable hard floor to use when stress testing your oil stocks. It means that when I am choosing a stock that produces oil, it can survive both from supply and the demand led crashes using the worst the world can throw at it.

Some will say this reasoning is simplistic. One could claim any number of variables in the future (technology, peace in the Middle East, etc.) could change all the points I am relying on here. But we have thrown everything at the oil complex between 2008 and now; both from the supply side and the demand sides; breakdowns of the whole world economy, wars, sanctions, natural disasters, hugely stupid governmental policies, OPEC’s seeming fade to irrelevance, biofuels, periods of ultra-high prices, technological progress, electric cars, etc. Yet, here we stand with these numbers staring us in the face.

In conclusion, I feel these price points prove the reality of $50 Peak Oil (WTI). If WTI oil averages more than $50 in 2015 (which I strongly feel the data shows will happen), then it will confirm my thesis that no matter what happens in the world, human beings cannot seem to produce the amount of oil they require for less than that number. Therefore, one will know what the hard floor for petroleum is provided by the hugely complex interplay of geology, politics, economics, and technology by simply measuring those effects on one easy-to-measure point of data, namely price. This version of peak oil also means I have a minimum to test my selections on. I can buy companies that can at least deal with that floor, then make large profits as the prices rise from that hard floor. All oil fields deplete, and for the past twenty years, the solution has universally been to add more expensive technological solutions, exploit smaller or more physically difficult deposits, or use more expensive alternatives. The oil market does not have the same options available to it like it did 1986. Large, cheap conventional oil deposits are no longer available in sufficient supply, which is likely what the oil price is telling us by having higher Peak Floors during crashes. Without the magic of sustained ultra high prices, the investment levels that made this run at the $50 Peak Oil level will not exist going into the future. This means that the Peak Oil floor price should be creeping higher as a sector tailwind, giving a patient and selective investor a tremendous advantage for themselves.

Read more: Volte-Face Investments: The Last Two Oil Crashes Show Peak Oil Is Real

US Oil Rig Count Decline Quickened This Week

Idle rigs in Helmerich & Payne International Drilling Co.'s yard in Ector County, Texas. North Dakota has also been hit hard, forcing gains in technology.

Source: Rigzone

The fall in U.S. rigs drilling for oil quickened a bit this week, data showed on Friday, suggesting a recent slowdown in the decline in drilling was temporary, after slumping oil prices caused energy companies to idle half the country’s rigs since October.

Drillers idled 31 oil rigs this week, leaving 703 rigs active, after taking 26 and 42 rigs out of service in the previous two weeks, oil services firm Baker Hughes Inc said in its closely watched report.

With the oil rig decline this week, the number of active rigs has fallen for a record 20 weeks in a row to the lowest since 2010, according to Baker Hughes data going back to 1987.
Since the number of oil rigs peaked at 1,609 in October, energy producers have responded quickly to the steep 60 percent drop in oil prices since last summer by cutting spending, eliminating jobs and idling rigs.

After its precipitous drop since October, the U.S. oil rig count is nearing a pivotal level that experts say could dent production, bolster prices and even coax oil companies back to the well pad in the coming months.

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Pioneer Natural Resources Co, a top oil producer in the Permian Basin of West Texas, said this week it will start adding rigs in June as long as market conditions are favorable. U.S. crude futures this week climbed to over $58 a barrel, the highest level this year, as a Saudi-led coalition continued bombings in Yemen.

That was up 38 percent from a six-year low near $42 set in mid March on oversupply concerns and lackluster demand, in part on expectations the lower rig count will start reducing U.S. oil output.

After rising mostly steadily since 2009, U.S. oil production has stalled near 9.4 million barrels a day since early March, the highest level since the early 1970s, according to government data.

The Permian Basin in West Texas and eastern New Mexico, the nation’s biggest and fastest-growing shale oil basin, lost the most oil rigs, down 13 to 242, the lowest on record, according to data going back to 2011.

Texas was the state with the biggest rig decline, down 19 to 392, the least since 2009.
In Canada, active oil rigs fell by four to 16, the lowest since 2009. U.S. natural gas rigs, meanwhile, climbed by eight to 225, the same as two weeks ago.

Cheaper Foreign Oil Caps US Drilling Outlook

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By Chris Tomlinson | Houston Chronicle | MRT.com

The shale oil revolutionaries are retreating in disarray, and cheap foreign oil may banish them to the margins of the market.

As oil and natural gas move into a period of low prices, new data shows that North American drillers may not have the wherewithal to keep producing shale wells, which make up 90 percent of new drilling. In fact, if prices remain low for years to come, which is a real possibility, then investors may never see a return on the money spent to drill shale wells in the first place.

The full cost of producing oil and natural gas at a representative sample of U.S. companies, including capital spent to build the company and buy assets, is about $80 per barrel of oil equivalent, according to a study from the Bureau of Economic Geology’s Center for Energy Economics at the University of Texas.

The analysis of 2014 corporate financial data from 15 of the top publicly traded producers, which I got an exclusive look at before it’s published this week, determined that companies will have a hard time recovering the capital spent that year and maintaining production unless prices rise above $80 a barrel.

The price for West Texas Intermediate has spent most of the year below $50 a barrel.

Low prices, though, won’t mean that producers will shut in existing wells. Many of these same companies can keep pumping to keep cash coming into the company, and they can still collect a 10 percent return above the well’s operating costs at $50 a barrel of oil. They just won’t make enough money to invest in new wells or recover the capital already spent.

This harsh reality of what it will take to keep the shale revolution going shows how vulnerable it is to competition from cheap overseas oil.

“Everyone walks around thinking that they know how much this stuff costs because they see published information on what people spend to just drill wells,” explained Michelle Foss, who leads the Houston-based research center. “That is not what it takes for a company to build these businesses, to recover your capital and to make money.” The bureau was founded in 1909 and functions as the state geological agency.

Low oil prices will also exacerbate the economic impact of low natural gas prices. For years natural gas has kept flowing despite prices below $4 for a million British thermal units because about 50 percent of wells produced both gas and liquids, such as crude oil and condensate.

True natural gas costs

High oil prices have helped companies subsidize natural gas wells, but lower oil prices mean natural gas wells that don’t produce liquids will need to stand on their own economics.

The center’s analysis found that among the sample companies focused primarily on gas, prices will need to top $6 a million BTUs just to cover full costs and rise above $12 a million BTUs to recover the capital expended to develop the wells.

“We have important resources, but people have to be realistic about the challenges of developing them,” Foss told me. “There will have to be higher prices.”

Everyone predicts prices will rise again. The only questions are how quickly and to what price. Some experts predict WTI prices will reach $70 a barrel by the end of 2015, while others see $60. The soonest most expect to see $80 a barrel oil is in 2017. Saudi Arabian officials have said they believe the price has stabilized and don’t see oil returning to $100 a barrel for the next five years.

High prices and shale

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The Saudi opinion is particularly important because that nation can produce oil cheaper than any other country and can produce more oil than any other country. As the informal leader of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries, Saudi Arabia kept the price of oil inside a band between $80 and $100 a barrel for years. Now, the Saudis appear ready to keep the price low.

That’s because high prices inspired the shale revolution, where American companies figured out how to economically drill horizontally into tight rocks and then hydraulically fracture them to release oil and natural gas. Since OPEC countries rely on high oil prices to finance their governments, everyone assumed OPEC would cut production and keep revenues high.

Arab leaders, though, were more concerned about holding on to market share and allowed prices to fall below levels that make most shale wells economic. Foss, who recently returned from meetings in the United Arab Emirates, said OPEC is unlikely to change course because developing countries are seeking alternatives to oil and reducing demand.

“The Saudis and their partners see pressures on oil use everywhere they look, and what they want is their production, in particular their share of the global supply pie, to be as competitive as it can be to ensure they’ve got revenue coming into the kingdom for future generations,” she said.

OPEC is afraid rich countries like the U.S. are losing their addiction to oil, and by lowering prices hope to keep us hooked. And OPEC has plenty of product.

“There’s 9 million barrels a day in current and potential production capacity in Iraq and Iran that is tied up by political conflicts, and if you sort that out enough, that’s a flood of cheap oil onto the market,” Foss said.

On the losing end

If prices remain low, the big losers will be the bond holders and shareholders of indebted, small and medium-size companies that drill primarily in North America. Since these companies are not getting high enough prices to pay off capital expenditures through higher share prices or interest payments , they are in serious trouble.

The inability of Denver-based Whiting Petroleum to sell itself is an example. The board of the North Dakota-focused company was forced to issue new shares, reducing the company’s value by 20 percent, and take on more expensive debt. Quicksilver Resources, based in Fort Worth, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy on March 17 because it couldn’t make the interest payments on its debt and no one was willing to invest more capital.

Until one of these companies is bought, we won’t know the true value of the shale producers at the current oil and natural gas prices.

But as more data reaches the market, there is a real danger that these companies are worth even less than investors fear, even though they may have high-quality assets.

Why Oil Price Should Bottom In April

Summary

  • Oil production continues to eclipse record highs on a weekly basis despite the oil rig count declining 49% since October.
  • A single oil-well declines exponentially up to 75% in its first year of production. However, in a process known as Convolution, older wells buffer the rapid decline from new rigs.
  • This article provides a comprehensive analysis of principles behind oil drilling and production, applies it to the current crude oil climate, and predicts future production, rig counts, and oil price.
  • Based on my analysis, I remain short-term bearish but long-term bullish on the commodity. My trading strategy based on this analysis is discussed in detail.

by Force Majeure | Seeking Alpha

On Friday, March 20, Baker Hughes (NYSE:BHI) reported that the crude oil rig count had fallen an additional 41 rigs to 825 active rigs. This was the 15th straight week and 25th out of 26 weeks that the rig count has declined. Active oil rigs are now at the lowest level since the week ending March 18th, 2011 and total drilling rigs (oil + natural gas) are the fewest since October 2009. Overall, the oil rig count is down 49% in the 23 weeks since peaking in October. Nevertheless, in its weekly Petroleum Report, the EIA announced last Wednesday that domestic oil production set yet another record high of 9.42 million barrels per day. Since the rig count peaked the week of October 10, 2014 and began its subsequent collapse, oil production has climbed 460,000 barrels per day, or 5.2%. This continued increase in production in the face of a plummeting rig count has confounded journalists, flummoxed investors, and inflated supplies to record highs leading to a continued slump in oil prices.

The two main questions on traders’ minds are 1) why is oil production still at record highs five months after the rig count started dropping? And 2) when, if at all, will oil production begin to fall and how far will it fall? This article provides a comprehensive analysis of the principles behind the relationship between oil drilling and production, applies it to the current crude oil climate, and predicts where both production and the rig count will go in the coming year.

Before we discuss the real-world oil production and drilling situation – an extremely complex picture with over 1 million rigs producing oil – let’s look at a simple, hypothetical situation. The first key point is that once an oil well is drilled, its production is not constant. In fact, production not only begins to decline almost immediately, it does so in an exponential fashion. After analyzing production curves from multiple wells, I will be estimating weekly oil production from a single oil well by the following equation:

Equation 1:

Daily Oil Production From Single Well = (Initial Daily Production)/(1+ (Week # from start of production*K)

Where K is a constant equal to 0.06

When graphed using a well that initially produces 1000 barrels of oil per week this equation is represented by Figure 1 below:

Figure 1: Crude oil production curve of single, hypothetical well showing exponential decay.

There are two take home points to note from this chart. First, initial decay is very rapid, with weekly production declining by about 75% after 1 year. Second, after the initial rapid decay, production declines much slower and becomes approximately linear with decay rates of 5-10% per year. Although this graph ends after 2 years or 104 weeks, production continues slowly and steadily beyond 5 years.

Figure 1 represents production from a single well. What happens when we add multiple wells over a period of time? The process by which multiple functions – in this case, oil wells – are added over time is known as Convolution. As noted before, even after an oil well has been active for many years, it is still producing a small volume of oil, a fraction of its initial output. However, there are a LOT of these old, low-output rigs – over 1.1 million in fact. When the number of drilling rigs decreases – thus reducing the number of new wells that come into the service – the old, stable wells plus the production from the declining number of new wells is initially enough to buffer the decline in rig count and net output will continue to rise.

Let’s illustrate this with a simple example. Imagine a new oil field monopolized with a single company that owns 30 oil rigs. The company adds five new rigs each month. Each rig is able to drill 1 new well per month. After six months, the company has deployed all of its rigs to the field. Unfortunately, shortly thereafter the company encounters financial difficulties and is forced to withdraw rigs at a rate of 5 per month until zero remain drilling. Figure 2 below compares active drilling rigs and total wells in this field.

Figure 2: Rig count and total well count of hypothetical oil field

Note that after the rig count peaks and begins to decline, total wells continue to increase before ultimately peaking at 180, where it remains for the remainder of the 20-month period.

Each well initially produces 200 barrels of oil per day and declines according to Equation 1 and the chart in Figure 1. Figure 3 below shows total oil field production overlaid with the total rig count of the field.

Figure 3: Oil Production from hypothetical oil field illustrating how crude oil production can continue to climb despite a sharp reduction in the rig count due to convolution.

Oil production initially climbs rapidly as more rigs are added to the field, reaching 500,000 barrels per month by the time the rig count peaks after 6 months. However, even though the rig count declines to zero six months later, total production continues to increase and peaks at 770,000 barrels per month in month 10 – 4 months after the rig count peaked. Production then begins to decline, but slowly. Even by month 20 after the rig count has been at zero for eight months, production has only declined by 33%.

This is obviously a simply, insular example, but it illustrates several important points. First, there is a delay between when the rig count peaks and when production begins to decline as the combination of old, accumulated oil wells and the continued addition of new wells by the declining rigs is sufficient to coast production higher initially. Second, even when production begins to decline, it is blunted, with production declining a fraction of the actual reduction in rig count. For those interested, the Following Article delves into these principles further and provides useful insight.

Let’s now apply these principles to actual domestic oil production. Before we can set up the model, there are three baseline metrics that need to be established: 1) Rate that rigs drill a well, 2) Time between initial spudding of a well and when it begins production, and 3) Initial production rate of new oil wells.

The EIA has released well counts on a quarterly basis for the past two years. Their data shows that the ratio of new wells to rigs has increased slowly from around 4.75 per quarter in 2012 to 5.3 per quarter in 2014. This equates to about 0.4 wells per week per rig presently. For the model, I used a linear reduction in drilling efficiency with drilling rates down to 0.3 wells per week per rig in 2006.

It takes 15-30 days to drill a new oil well. Once the hole is dug, the well must be completed. It typically takes another week for the rig to be removed and new equipment to be set up. A further week is devoted to hydraulic fracturing. Initial flow back and priming of production takes place over the next 3-4 days. Over the final week, the well is primed for continuous production including installation of tank batteries, the pump jack, and assorted power connections. The well is then connected to the pipeline and permanent production begins. Thus, it takes roughly two months from initial spudding of the well to when it begins production. However, once a well is completed it does not always begin to produce immediately and may not do so for up to six months.

Initial oil production rates have increased markedly over the past decade as drilling technology has improved. The EIA released the chart shown below in Figure 4 showing yearly initial production rates in the Eagleford Shale.

Figure 4: Yearly production rates in Eagleford Shale Formation showing rapidly increased initial rates of production 2009-2014. (Source: EIA)

Initial rates increased from less than 50 barrels per day (or 350 per week) in 2009 to nearly 400 barrels per day (or 2800 per week) in 2014. Note that the decay rate has also increased such that by 2-3 years, all wells are approaching the same output despite the significant differences in increased production. This is a relatively new oil formation and older formations produced more oil initially prior to 2010. For my model, I assumed initial production of 2625 barrels of oil per well per week in 2014-2015 with initial production declining to 1400 barrels per well per week in 2006.

Using this data and the methodology discussed in the example above, a modeled projection of U.S. oil production is created dating back to 2006. This data is shown in Figure 5 below and is compared to actual oil production, calculated on a weekly basis. My preferred unit of time is 1 week as this is the frequency that both the rig count and oil production numbers are released.

Figure 5: Projected oil production based on my model vs. observed crude oil production vs. Baker Hughes Rig Count [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

Overall, this model accurately projects oil production based on active drilling rigs. Between 2006 and 2015, the average error was 88,000 barrels per day, or 1.2%. Over the past six months, this error has averaged just 44,000 barrels per day. The model correctly shows production continuing to increase despite the sharp reduction in active drilling rigs. It is interesting to note that the largest deviation between projected oil production and observed production occurred in late 2009 and early 2010, or shortly after the rig count bottomed out from the previous oil price collapse. The model predicted that oil production would decline somewhat while actual production actually just leveled off before beginning a new rally once the rig count rebounded later in 2010.

This model can be used to project how oil production might behave heading into the future. To do so, we must make assumptions about how the rig count might behave heading into the future. First, let’s pretend that the rig count stays unchanged at 825 active oil rigs for the next 1 year. Figure 6 below projects crude oil production to 1 year.

Figure 6: Projected oil production based the rig count remaining unchanged at 825 [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

Using this projection, crude oil production will peak during the week ending April 10 at 9.51 million barrels per day and then begin declining. By next March 2016, production will have declined to 8.68 million barrels per day, down 9.5% from the projected peak. Again, this goes to show the buffering capacity of older rigs, given that a sustained 50% reduction in the rig count results in a comparatively small <10% decrease in output.

Two qualifying notes are necessary. This model shows a relatively short period of time between production plateauing and production beginning its decline. 1) Given that this model assumes all completed wells are producing oil within 3 months of spudding, it is certainly possible that the production curve may flatten out for a longer period of time due to additional completed wells that have been idle are slowly hooked up to pipelines over the next several months. 2) This model also makes the assumption that all rigs produce oil equally. If rigs drilling less-productive oil fields have been selectively retired while those drilling richer fields have remained active, the rate of decline will similarly be slower and less than projected.

The most recent historical comparison to the events currently unfolding took place in 2008-2009 following the collapse of oil from record highs during the great recession from a high of $146/barrel to near $30/barrel. The rig count during that event was likewise slashed by 50% before rapidly recovering when prices rebounded. However, this is not an apples-to-apples comparison since drilling technology has changed substantially – decline rates are much more rapid, initial production is nearly double that in 2008, etc – and inferences cannot necessarily be made about the future of production. However, let’s assume that the current rig count follows a similar trend. If so, the rig count will slow its descent and bottom out in roughly six weeks near 760-780. If the rig count follows the trend seen in 2009, the count will then rapidly rise and will reach 1330 by this time next year. Production will again peak during the week of April 10, before declining. Production will bottom out in late October near 8.9 million barrels per day, down just 6.3% from its peak before again increasing late in the year.

However, the decline in oil in 2008-2009 was based more on the combination of a bubble bursting and a slumping economy than fundamental forces while the current slump is predicated on a supply/demand mismatch. I expect this will keep prices and rigs down significantly longer than in 2008-2009. Let’s amplify the 2008-2009 rig count curve and project instead that rigs bottom out near 730-750 and that the rate of recovery is roughly half that of 2008-2009 with total rigs at just 950 this time next year. Using this model, production will continue to slowly decline through the New Year and flatten out near 8.7 million barrels per day by March 2016, down 8.4% from the peak. I believe that this is a more realistic model for crude oil production. This projection is shown below in Figure 7.

Figure 7: Projected oil production based on 2008-2009 rig count [Sources: Baker Hughes, EIA]

What does this mean for the supply/demand situation? As I have discussed in my previous articles, crude oil supply and demand are severely mismatched. This has led to oil inventories skyrocketing to a record high of 458 million barrels, a huge 98.7 million barrels above the five-year mean for March. Applying the projected production curve shown in Figure 7 to crude oil storage yields some surprising results. Even with just an 8.7% reduction in supply, the inventory surplus will narrow markedly. These results are shown below in Figure 8, which compares the five-year average storage level and current and projected storage levels. Note: These projections assume that total imports will remain flat and that total demand will follow the five-year average.

Figure 8: Projected crude oil storage based on projected oil production data vs. 5-year average [Source: EIA]

While the rig count continues to climb and then plateaus, I expect that the storage surplus will continue to widen with total inventories approaching 500 million barrels by early May. However, as production drops off, the inventory surplus begins to decline. By the last week of 2015, total supply has declined by 4.7 million barrels per week and projected inventory levels cross the five-year average for the first time since October 2014. Should the rig count begin the slow rise that is projected, by March of 2016, total storage levels will be 50 million barrels BELOW the five-year average. Even if the two qualifying statements discussed above verify or the rig count rises more rapidly than projected, I expect that, based on the drop in rig count already, crude oil inventories will be at or below average this time next year.

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What does this mean for crude oil prices? There is a chicken and egg situation going on here. This article makes references to the rebound in rig count after bottoming out in the next month or two. This, of course, is predicated on a rise in price to make drilling again profitable. Without a rally, the count will continue to fall or, at the very least NOT rise, putting further pressure on supply and down-shifting the projected production curve further, making it more likely that prices will THEN rally. Until they finally do. One way or another, I do not see how crude oil can remain priced at under $45/barrel for longer than a few months. Something has to give. Drilling technology is simply not yet to the point where this is a profitable price range for the majority of companies.

Given that these projections show production increasing through early April, I would not be surprised to see continued short-term pressure on oil prices. As I discussed in My Article Last Week, storage at Cushing, the closely watched oil pipeline hub, continues to fill rapidly and threatens to reach capacity by early May. I would welcome such an event, as crude oil would likely drop under $40/barrel presenting an even better buying opportunity. I therefore maintain a short-term bearish, long-term bullish stance on oil.

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My favorite way to play a rally in oil is to short the VelocityShares 3x Inverse Crude Oil ETN (NYSEARCA:DWTI) to gain long exposure. This takes advantage of leverage-induced decay to at least partially negate the impact of contango on the ETF. The United States Oil ETF USO), on the other hand, is intended to track 1x the price of oil and leaves an investor directly exposed to contango, which is now 15% over the next six months. The same applies to the VelocityShares 3x Long Crude Oil ETN (NYSEARCA:UWTI), except that exposure to contango is now tripled to 45%.

The advantage to USO is in its safety. A short position in DWTI theoretically leaves an investor open to infinite losses should the price of oil continue to drop. Further, shares must be borrowed to short, which can cost 3-5% annually depending on the broker. And if, once a trader has a position, these shares are no longer available, the position can be forcibly closed at an inopportune time. A slightly less risky position would be the ProShares UltraShort Bloomberg Crude Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:SCO) that is more liquid and less volatile.

For this reason, I started a small position in USO on Thursday at $16.05 when oil erased its post-Fed Remarks gains from Wednesday. This position is equal to just 2% of my portfolio. I will add to my USO position once oil breaks $45/barrel and then again should the commodity break $42/barrel for a total exposure of 6% of my portfolio. Should oil continue to decline to under $40/barrel, I will begin to sell short DWTI at what I assume to be a safer entry point until 10% of my portfolio is allocated to oil ETFs.

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Should oil rebound, I will look to take profits. Once the rig count bottoms, I will begin taking profits once oil reaches $50/barrel. I will selectively sell USO initially. I prefer to close out the position most exposed to contango initially in the event that oil reverses and I would otherwise be stuck holding it for an extended period of time. I will then close out DWTI if and when crude oil again reaches $60/barrel. While I believe that oil may ultimately see higher prices, I am concerned at the speed at which rigs may be re-deployed once drilling again becomes profitable. I believe that this will keep oil under $70/barrel for the foreseeable future and will look to exit prior to this level.

In conclusion, an oil production model based on 9 years of domestic production and rig count data is used to project oil production for the past 1 year. This model suggests that oil will bottom around the week ending April 10. However, this is just a modeled projection and the actual peak in production will depend on nuances in drilling discussed above. Nevertheless, I believe that the peak in oil production will represent a significant psychological inflection point and that crude oil is poised for a rally once production begins to roll over.

Junk-Rated Oil & Gas Companies in a “Liquidity Death Spiral”

by Wolf Richter

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On the face of it, the oil price appears to be stabilizing. What a precarious balance it is, however.

Behind the facade of stability, the re-balancing triggered by the price collapse has yet to run its course, and it might be overly optimistic to expect it to proceed smoothly. Steep drops in the US rig count have been a key driver of the price rebound. Yet US supply so far shows precious little sign of slowing down. Quite to the contrary, it continues to defy expectations.

So said the International Energy Agency in its Oil Market Report on Friday. West Texas Intermediate plunged over 4% to $45 a barrel.

The boom in US oil production will continue “to defy expectations” and wreak havoc on the price of oil until the power behind the boom dries up: money borrowed from yield-chasing investors driven to near insanity by the Fed’s interest rate repression. But that money isn’t drying up yet – except at the margins.

Companies have raked in 14% more money from high-grade bond sales so far this year than over the same period in 2014, according to LCD. And in 2014 at this time, they were 27% ahead of the same period in 2013. You get the idea.

Even energy companies got to top off their money reservoirs. Among high-grade issuers over just the last few days were BP Capital, Valero Energy, Sempra Energy, Noble, and Helmerich & Payne. They’re all furiously bringing in liquidity before it gets more expensive.

In the junk-bond market, bond-fund managers are chasing yield with gusto. Last week alone, pro-forma junk bond issuance “ballooned to $16.48 billion, the largest weekly tally in two years,” the LCD HY Weekly reported. Year-to-date, $79.2 billion in junk bonds have been sold, 36% more than in the same period last year.

But despite this drunken investor enthusiasm, the bottom of the energy sector – junk-rated smaller companies – is falling out.

Standard & Poor’s rates 170 bond issuers that are engaged in oil and gas exploration & production, oil field services, and contract drilling. Of them, 81% are junk rated – many of them deep junk. The oil bust is now picking off the smaller junk-rated companies, one after the other, three of them so far in March.

On March 3, offshore oil-and-gas contractor CalDive that in 2013 still had 1,550 employees filed for bankruptcy. It’s focused on maintaining offshore production platforms. But some projects were suspended last year, and lenders shut off the spigot.

On March 8, Dune Energy filed for bankruptcy in Austin, TX, after its merger with Eos Petro collapsed. It listed $144 million in debt. Dune said that it received $10 million Debtor in Possession financing, on the condition that the company puts itself up for auction.

On March 9, BPZ Resources traipsed to the courthouse in Houston to file for bankruptcy, four days after I’d written about its travails; it had skipped a $60 million payment to its bondholders [read… “Default Monday”: Oil & Gas Companies Face Their Creditors].

And more companies are “in the pipeline to be restructured,” LCD reported. They all face the same issues: low oil and gas prices, newly skittish bond investors, and banks that have their eyes riveted on the revolving lines of credit with which these companies fund their capital expenditures. Being forever cash-flow negative, these companies periodically issue bonds and use the proceeds to pay down their revolver when it approaches the limit. In many cases, the bank uses the value of the company’s oil and gas reserves to determine that limit.

If the prices of oil and gas are high, those reserves have a high value. It those prices plunge, the borrowing base for their revolving lines of credit plunges. S&P Capital IQ explained it this way in its report, “Waiting for the Spring… Will it Recoil”:

Typically, banks do their credit facility redeterminations in April and November with one random redetermination if needed. With oil prices plummeting, we expect banks to lower their price decks, which will then lead to lower reserves and thus, reduced borrowing-base availability.

April is coming up soon. These companies would then have to issue bonds to pay down their credit lines. But with bond fund managers losing their appetite for junk-rated oil & gas bonds, and with shares nearly worthless, these companies are blocked from the capital markets and can neither pay back the banks nor fund their cash-flow negative operations. For many companies, according to S&P Capital IQ, these redeterminations of their credit facilities could lead to a “liquidity death spiral.”

Alan Holtz, Managing Director in AlixPartners’ Turnaround and Restructuring group told LCD in an interview:

We are already starting to see companies that on the one hand are trying to work out their operational problems and are looking for financing or a way out through the capital markets, while on the other hand are preparing for the events of contingency planning or bankruptcy.

Look at BPZ Resources. It wasn’t able to raise more money and ended up filing for bankruptcy. “I think that is going to be a pattern for many other companies out there as well,” Holtz said.

When it trickled out on Tuesday that Hercules Offshore, which I last wrote about on March 3, had retained Lazard to explore options for its capital structure, its bonds plunged as low as 28 cents on the dollar. By Friday, its stock closed at $0.41 a share.

When Midstates Petroleum announced that it had hired an interim CEO and put a restructuring specialist on its board of directors, its bonds got knocked down, and its shares plummeted 33% during the week, closing at $0.77 a share on Friday.

When news emerged that Walter Energy hired legal counsel Paul Weiss to explore restructuring options, its first-lien notes – whose investors thought they’d see a reasonable recovery in case of bankruptcy – dropped to 64.5 cents on the dollar by Thursday. Its stock plunged 63% during the week to close at $0.33 a share on Friday.

Numerous other oil and gas companies are heading down that path as the oil bust is working its way from smaller more vulnerable companies to larger ones. In the process, stockholders get wiped out. Bondholders get to fight with other creditors over the scraps. But restructuring firms are licking their chops, after a Fed-induced dry spell that had lasted for years.

Investors Crushed as US Natural Gas Drillers Blow Up

by Wolf Richter

The Fed speaks, the dollar crashes. The dollar was ripe. The entire world had been bullish on it. Down nearly 3% against the euro, before recovering some. The biggest drop since March 2009. Everything else jumped. Stocks, Treasuries, gold, even oil.

West Texas Intermediate had been experiencing its biggest weekly plunge since January, trading at just above $42 a barrel, a new low in the current oil bust. When the Fed released its magic words, WTI soared to $45.34 a barrel before re-sagging some. Even natural gas rose 1.8%. Energy related bonds had been drowning in red ink; they too rose when oil roared higher. It was one heck of a party.

But it was too late for some players mired in the oil and gas bust where the series of Chapter 11 bankruptcy filings continues. Next in line was Quicksilver Resources.

It had focused on producing natural gas. Natural gas was where the fracking boom got started. Fracking has a special characteristic. After a well is fracked, it produces a terrific surge of hydrocarbons during first few months, and particularly on the first day. Many drillers used the first-day production numbers, which some of them enhanced in various ways, in their investor materials. Investors drooled and threw more money at these companies that then drilled this money into the ground.

But the impressive initial production soon declines sharply. Two years later, only a fraction is coming out of the ground. So these companies had to drill more just to cover up the decline rates, and in order to drill more, they needed to borrow more money, and it triggered a junk-rated energy boom on Wall Street.

At the time, the price of natural gas was soaring. It hit $13 per million Btu at the Henry Hub in June 2008. About 1,600 rigs were drilling for gas. It was the game in town. And Wall Street firms were greasing it with other people’s money. Production soared. And the US became the largest gas producer in the world.

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But then the price began to plunge. It recovered a little after the Financial Crisis but re-plunged during the gas “glut.” By April 2012, natural gas had crashed 85% from June 2008, to $1.92/mmBtu. With the exception of a few short periods, it has remained below $4/mmBtu – trading at $2.91/mmBtu today.

Throughout, gas drillers had to go back to Wall Street to borrow more money to feed the fracking orgy. They were cash-flow negative. They lost money on wells that produced mostly dry gas. Yet they kept up the charade. They aced investor presentations with fancy charts. They raved about new technologies that were performing miracles and bringing down costs. The theme was that they would make their investors rich at these gas prices.

The saving grace was that oil and natural-gas liquids, which were selling for much higher prices, also occur in many shale plays along with dry gas. So drillers began to emphasize that they were drilling for liquids, not dry gas, and they tried to switch production to liquids-rich plays. In that vein, Quicksilver ventured into the oil-rich Permian Basin in Texas. But it was too little, too late for the amount of borrowed money it had already burned through over the years by fracking for gas below cost.

During the terrible years of 2011 and 2012, drillers began reclassifying gas rigs as rigs drilling for oil. It was a judgement call, since most wells produce both. The gas rig count plummeted further, and the oil rig count skyrocketed by about the same amount. But gas production has continued to rise since, even as the gas rig count has continued to drop. On Friday, the rig count was down to 257 gas rigs, the lowest since March 1993, down 84% from its peak in 2008.

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Quicksilver’s bankruptcy is a consequence of this fracking environment. It listed $2.35 billion in debts. That’s what is left from its borrowing binge that covered its negative cash flows. It listed only $1.21 billion in assets. The rest has gone up in smoke.

Its shares are worthless. Stockholders got wiped out. Creditors get to fight over the scraps.

Its leveraged loan was holding up better: the $625 million covenant-lite second-lien term loan traded at 56 cents on the dollar this morning, according to S&P Capital IQ LCD. But its junk bonds have gotten eviscerated over time. Its 9.125% senior notes due 2019 traded at 17.6 cents on the dollar; its 7.125% subordinated notes due 2016 traded at around 2 cents on the dollar.

Among its creditors, according to the Star Telegram: the Wilmington Trust National Association ($361.6 million), Delaware Trust Co. ($332.6 million), US Bank National Association ($312.7 million), and several pipeline companies, including Oasis Pipeline and Energy Transfer Fuel.

Last year, it hired restructuring advisers. On February 17, it announced that it would not make a $13.6 million interest payment on its senior notes and invoked the possibility of filing for Chapter 11. It said it would use its 30-day grace period to haggle with its creditors over the “company’s options.”

Now, those 30 days are up. But there were no other “viable options,” the company said in the statement. Its Canadian subsidiary was not included in the bankruptcy filing; it reached a forbearance agreement with its first lien secured lenders and has some breathing room until June 16.

Quicksilver isn’t alone in its travails. Samson Resources and other natural gas drillers are stuck neck-deep in the same frack mud.

A group of private equity firms, led by KKR, had acquired Samson in 2011 for $7.2 billion. Since then, Samson has lost $3 billion. It too hired restructuring advisers to deal with its $3.75 billion in debt. On March 2, Moody’s downgraded Samson to Caa3, pointing at “chronically low natural gas prices,” “suddenly weaker crude oil prices,” the “stressed liquidity position,” and delays in asset sales. It invoked the possibility of “a debt restructuring” and “a high risk of default.”

But maybe not just yet. The New York Post reported today that, according to sources, a JPMorgan-led group, which holds a $1 billion revolving line of credit, is granting Samson a waiver for an expected covenant breach. This would avert default for the moment. Under the deal, the group will reduce the size of the revolver. Last year, the same JPMorgan-led group already reduced the credit line from $1.8 billion to $1 billion and waived a covenant breach.

By curtailing access to funding, they’re driving Samson deeper into what S&P Capital IQ called the “liquidity death spiral.” According to the New York Post’s sources, in August the company has to make an interest payment to its more junior creditors, “and may run out of money later this year.”

Industry soothsayers claimed vociferously over the years that natural gas drillers can make money at these prices due to new technologies and efficiencies. They said this to attract more money. But Quicksilver along with Samson Resources and others are proof that these drillers had been drilling below the cost of production for years. And they’d been bleeding every step along the way. A business model that lasts only as long as new investors are willing to bail out old investors.

But it was the crash in the price of “liquids” that made investors finally squeamish, and they began to look beyond the hype. In doing so, they’re triggering the very bloodletting amongst each other that ever more new money had delayed for years. Only now, it’s a lot more expensive for them than it would have been three years ago. While the companies will get through it in restructured form, investors get crushed.


Oil Production Falling In Three Big Shale Plays, EIA Says

HOUSTON – It’s official: The shale oil boom is starting to waver.

And, in a way, it may have souped-up rigs and more efficient drilling technologies to thank for that.

Crude production at three major U.S. shale oil fields is projected to fall this month for the first time in six years, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Tuesday.

It’s one of the first signs that idling hundreds of drilling rigs and billions of dollars in corporate cutbacks are starting to crimp the nation’s surging oil patch.

But it also shows that drilling technology and techniques have advanced to the point that productivity gains may be negligible in some shale plays where horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing have been used together for the past several years.

Because some plays are already full of souped-up horizontal rigs, oil companies don’t have as many options to become more efficient and stem production losses, as they did in the 2008-2009 downturn, the EIA said.

The EIA’s monthly drilling productivity report indicates that rapid production declines from older wells in three shale plays are starting to overtake new output, as oil companies drill fewer wells.

In the recession six years ago, the falling rig count didn’t lead to declining production because new technologies boosted how fast rigs could drill wells.

But now that oil firms have figured out how to drill much more efficiently, “it is not clear that productivity gains will offset rig count declines to the same degree as in 2008-09,” the EIA said.

Energy Information Agency

Overall, U.S. oil production is set to increase slightly from March to April to 5.6 million barrels a day in six major fields, according to the EIA.

But output is falling in the Eagle Ford Shale in South Texas, North Dakota’s Bakken Shale and the Niobrara Shale in Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska and Kansas.

In those three fields, net production is expected to drop by a combined 24,000 barrels a day.

The losses were masked by production gains in the Permian Basin in West Texas and other regions.

Efficiency improvements are still emerging in the Permian, faster than in other oil fields because the region was largely a vertical-drilling zone as recently as December 2013, the EIA said.

Net crude output in the Bakken is expected to decline by 8,000 barrels a day from March to April. In the Eagle Ford, it’s slated to fall by 10,000 barrels a day. And in the Niobrara, production will dip by roughly 5,000 barrels a day.

But daily crude output jumped by 21,000 barrels in the Permian and by 3,000 barrels in the Utica Shale in Ohio and Pennsylvania.

Read more at MRT.com

This Chart Shows the True Collapse of Fracking in the US

by Wolf Richter
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Rex Tillerson, Exxon Mobile CEO

“People need to kinda settle in for a while.” That’s what Exxon Mobil CEO Rex Tillerson said about the low price of oil at the company’s investor conference. “I see a lot of supply out there.”

So Exxon is going to do its darnedest to add to this supply: 16 new production projects will start pumping oil and gas through 2017. Production will rise from 4 million barrels per day to 4.3 million. But it will spend less money to get there, largely because suppliers have had to cut their prices.

That’s the global oil story. In the US, a similar scenario is playing out. Drillers are laying some people off, not massive numbers yet. Like Exxon, they’re shoving big price cuts down the throats of their suppliers. They’re cutting back on drilling by idling the least efficient rigs in the least productive plays – and they’re not kidding about that.

In the latest week, they idled a 64 rigs drilling for oil, according to Baker Hughes, which publishes the data every Friday. Only 922 rigs were still active, down 42.7% from October, when they’d peaked. Within 21 weeks, they’ve taken out 687 rigs, the most terrific, vertigo-inducing oil-rig nose dive in the data series, and possibly in history:

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-06=oilAs Exxon and other drillers are overeager to explain: just because we’re cutting capex, and just because the rig count plunges, doesn’t mean our production is going down. And it may not for a long time. Drillers, loaded up with debt, must have the cash flow from production to survive.

But with demand languishing, US crude oil inventories are building up further. Excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve, crude oil stocks rose by another 10.3 million barrels to 444.4 million barrels as of March 4, the highest level in the data series going back to 1982, according to the Energy Information Administration. Crude oil stocks were 22% (80.6 million barrels) higher than at the same time last year.

“When you have that much storage out there, it takes a long time to work that off,” said BP CEO Bob Dudley, possibly with one eye on this chart:

US-crude-oil-stocks-2015-03-04So now there is a lot of discussion when exactly storage facilities will be full, or nearly full, or full in some regions. In theory, once overproduction hits used-up storage capacity, the price of oil will plummet to whatever level short sellers envision in their wildest dreams. Because: what are you going to do with all this oil coming out of the ground with no place to go?

A couple of days ago, the EIA estimated that crude oil stock levels nationwide on February 20 (when they were a lot lower than today) used up 60% of the “working storage capacity,” up from 48% last year at that time. It varied by region:

Capacity is about 67% full in Cushing, Oklahoma (the delivery point for West Texas Intermediate futures contracts), compared with 50% at this point last year. Working capacity in Cushing alone is about 71 million barrels, or … about 14% of the national total.

As of September 2014, storage capacity in the US was 521 million barrels. So if weekly increases amount to an average of 6 million barrels, it would take about 13 weeks to fill the 77 million barrels of remaining capacity. Then all kinds of operational issues would arise. Along with a dizzying plunge in price.

In early 2012, when natural gas hit a decade low of $1.92 per million Btu, they predicted the same: storage would be full, and excess production would have to be flared, that is burned, because there would be no takers, and what else are you going to do with it? So its price would drop to zero.

They actually proffered that, and the media picked it up, and regular folks began shorting natural gas like crazy and got burned themselves, because it didn’t take long for the price to jump 50% and then 100%.

Oil is a different animal. The driving season will start soon. American SUVs and pickups are designed to burn fuel in prodigious quantities. People will be eager to drive them a little more, now that gas is cheaper, and they’ll get busy shortly and fix that inventory problem, at least for this year. But if production continues to rise at this rate, all bets are off for next year.

Natural gas, though it refused to go to zero, nevertheless got re-crushed, and the price remains below the cost of production at most wells. Drilling activity has dwindled. Drillers idled 12 gas rigs in the latest week. Now only 268 rigs are drilling for gas, the lowest since April 1993, and down 83.4% from its peak in 2008! This is what the natural gas fracking boom-and-bust cycle looks like:

US-rig-count_1988_2015-03-06=gasYet production has continued to rise. Over the last 12 months, it soared about 9%, which is why the price got re-crushed.

Producing gas at a loss year after year has consequences. For the longest time, drillers were able to paper over their losses on natural gas wells with a variety of means and go back to the big trough and feed on more money that investors were throwing at them, because money is what fracking drills into the ground.

But that trough is no longer being refilled for some companies. And they’re running out. “Restructuring” and “bankruptcy” are suddenly the operative terms.


“Default Monday”: Oil & Gas Face Their Creditors

by Wolf Richter

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Debt funded the fracking boom. Now oil and gas prices have collapsed, and so has the ability to service that debt. The oil bust of the 1980s took down 700 banks, including 9 of the 10 largest in Texas. But this time, it’s different. This time, bondholders are on the hook.

And these bonds – they’re called “junk bonds” for a reason – are already cracking. Busts start with small companies and proceed to larger ones. “Bankruptcy” and “restructuring” are the terms that wipe out stockholders and leave bondholders and other creditors to tussle over the scraps.

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Early January, WBH Energy, a fracking outfit in Texas, kicked off the series by filing for bankruptcy protection. It listed assets and liabilities of $10 million to $50 million. Small fry.

A week later, GASFRAC filed for bankruptcy in Alberta, where it’s based, and in Texas – under Chapter 15 for cross-border bankruptcies. Not long ago, it was a highly touted IPO, whose “waterless fracking” technology would change a parched world. Instead of water, the system pumps liquid propane gel (similar to Napalm) into the ground; much of it can be recaptured, in theory.

Ironically, it went bankrupt for other reasons: operating losses, “reduced industry activity,” the inability to find a buyer that would have paid enough to bail out its creditors, and “limited access to capital markets.” The endless source of money without which fracking doesn’t work had dried up.

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On February 17, Quicksilver Resources announced that it would not make a $13.6 million interest payment on its senior notes due in 2019. It invoked the possibility of filing for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to “restructure its capital structure.” Stockholders don’t have much to lose; the stock is already worthless. The question is what the creditors will get.

It has hired Houlihan Lokey Capital, Deloitte Transactions and Business Analytics, “and other advisors.” During its 30-day grace period before this turns into an outright default, it will haggle with its creditors over the “company’s options.”

On February 27, Hercules Offshore had its share-price target slashed to zero, from $4 a share, at Deutsche Bank, which finally downgraded the stock to “sell.” If you wait till Deutsche Bank tells you to sell, you’re ruined!

When I wrote about Hercules on October 15, HERO was trading at $1.47 a share, down 81% since July. Those who followed the hype to “buy the most hated stocks” that day lost another 44% by the time I wrote about it on January 16, when HERO was at $0.82 a share. Wednesday, shares closed at $0.60.

Deutsche Bank was right, if late. HERO is headed for zero (what a trip to have a stock symbol that rhymes with zero). It’s going to restructure its junk debt. Stockholders will end up holding the bag.

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On Monday, due to “chronically low natural gas prices exacerbated by suddenly weaker crude oil prices,” Moody’s downgraded gas-driller Samson Resources, to Caa3, invoking “a high risk of default.”

It was the second time in three months that Moody’s downgraded the company. The tempo is picking up. Moody’s:

The company’s stressed liquidity position, delays in reaching agreements on potential asset sales and its retention of restructuring advisors increases the possibility that the company may pursue a debt restructuring that Moody’s would view as a default.

Moody’s was late to the party. On February 26, it was leaked that Samson had hired restructuring advisers Kirkland & Ellis and Blackstone’s restructuring group to figure out how to deal with its $3.75 billion in debt. A group of private equity firms, led by KKR, had acquired Samson in 2011 for $7.2 billion. Since then, Samson has lost $3 billion. KKR has written down its equity investment to 5 cents on the dollar.

This is no longer small fry.

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Also on Monday, oil-and-gas exploration and production company BPZ Resources announced that it would not pay $62 million in principal and interest on convertible notes that were due on March 1. It will use its grace period of 10 days on the principal and of 30 days on the interest to figure out how to approach the rest of its existence. It invoked Chapter 11 bankruptcy as one of the options.

If it fails to make the payments within the grace period, it would also automatically be in default of its 2017 convertible bonds, which would push the default to $229 million.

BPZ tried to refinance the 2015 convertible notes in October and get some extra cash. Fracking devours prodigious amounts of cash. But there’d been no takers for the $150 million offering. Even bond fund managers, driven to sheer madness by the Fed’s policies, had lost their appetite. And its stock is worthless.

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Also on Monday – it was “default Monday” or something – American Eagle Energy announced that it would not make a $9.8 million interest payment on $175 million in bonds due that day. It will use its 30-day grace period to hash out its future with its creditors. And it hired two additional advisory firms.

One thing we know already: after years in the desert, restructuring advisers are licking their chops.

The company has $13.6 million in negative working capital, only $25.9 million in cash, and its $60 million revolving credit line has been maxed out.

But here is the thing: the company sold these bonds last August! And this was supposed to be its first interest payment.

That’s what a real credit bubble looks like. In the Fed’s environment of near-zero yield on reasonable investments, bond fund managers are roving the land chasing whatever yield they can discern. And they’re holding their nose while they pick up this stuff to jam it into bond funds that other folks have in their retirement portfolio.

Not even a single interest payment!

Borrowed money fueled the fracking boom. The old money has been drilled into the ground. The new money is starting to dry up. Fracked wells, due to their horrendous decline rates, produce most of their oil and gas over the first two years. And if prices are low during that time, producers will never recuperate their investment in those wells, even if prices shoot up afterwards. And they’ll never be able to pay off the debt from the cash flow of those wells. A chilling scenario that creditors were blind to before, but are now increasingly forced to contemplate.

Another Dubious Jobs Report

Source: Prison Planet

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According to the payroll jobs report today (March 6) the economy created 295,000 new jobs in February, dropping the rate of unemployment to 5.5%. However, the BLS also reported that the labor force participation rate fell and the number of people not in the labor force rose by 354,000.

In other words, the unemployment rate dropped because the labor force shrunk.

If the economy was in recovery, the labor force would be growing and the labor force participation rate would be rising.

The 295,000 claimed new jobs are highly suspect. For example, the report claims 32,000 new retail jobs, but the Census Bureau reports that retail sales declined in December and January. Why would retailers experiencing declining sales hire more employees?

Construction spending declined 1.1% in January, but the payroll jobs report says 29,000 construction jobs were added in February.

Zero Hedge reports that the decline in the oil price has resulted in almost 40,000 laid off workers during January and February, but the payroll jobs report only finds 2,900 lost jobs in oil for the two months.http://www.zerohedge.com/news/2015-03-06/did-bls-once-again-forget-count-tens-thousands-energy-job-losses

There is no sign in the payroll jobs report of the large lay-offs by IBM and Hewlett Packard.

These and other inconsistencies do not inspire confidence.

By ignoring the inconsistencies the financial press does not inspire confidence.

Let’s now look at where the BLS says the payroll jobs are.

 photo JobBulletinBoard.jpg

All of the goods producing jobs are accounted for by the 29,000 claimed construction jobs. The remaining 259,000 new jobs–90%–of the total–are service sector jobs. Three categories account for 70% of these jobs. Wholesale and retail trade, transportation and utilities account. for 62,000 of the jobs. Education and health services account for 54,000 of which ambulatory health care services accounts for 19,900. Leisure and hospitality account for 66,000 jobs of which waitresses and bartenders account for 58,700 jobs.

These are the domestic service jobs of a turd world country.

John Williams (shadowstats.com) reports: “As of February, the level of full-time employment still was 1.0 million shy of its pre-recession peak.”

Paul Craig Roberts was Assistant Secretary of the Treasury for Economic Policy and associate editor of the Wall Street Journal. He was columnist for Business Week, Scripps Howard News Service, and Creators Syndicate. He has had many university appointments. His internet columns have attracted a worldwide following. His latest book, The Failure of Laissez Faire Capitalism and Economic Dissolution of the West is now available.

 

Texas Home Buyers Are Better Off Than National Average

by Rye Durzin

Texas homebuyers

The March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are older, more likely to be married and make more money than the national averages, according to the March 2015 Texas Home buyers and Sellers Report from the Texas Association of Realtors.

The study shows that between July 2013 and June 2014 median household income for Texas home buyers increased 5.9 percent year-over-year compared with a national increase of only 1.4 percent. However, the percentage of first-time home buyers in Texas fell 4 points to 29 percent, compared to a 5 percent decline nationally to 33 percent.

Home buyers in Texas are also two years older compared to the previous period, edging up to 45 years of age, and 72 percent of home buyers are married, compared to 65 percent nationally.

Texans are also buying larger and newer homes than other buyers across the U.S. In Texas, the typical three-bedroom, two-bathroom home had 2,100 square feet and was built in 2002, compared to the typical national home built in 1993 with 1,870 square feet.

Forty-seven percent of first-time home buyers in Texas said that finding the right property was the most difficult step in buying a home, as did 48 percent of repeat home buyers.

For Texans selling homes, 21 percent said that the reason for selling was because of job relocation, followed by 16 percent who said that their home was too small. The median household income for a Texas home seller was $120,800, compared with a national media income of $96,700 among home sellers.

Texas home buyers (overall): July 2013 – June 2014

  • Median household income: +5.9% to $97,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 28% (-1% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 29% (-4% from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 45 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 32 years old (+1 year from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 50 years old (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +5.8% to $72,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -8.9% to $97,500 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 72% (+1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 28% (-2% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $120,800
  • Age of average home seller: 49 years

National home buyers (overall): June 2013 – July 2014

  • Median household income: +1.4% to $84,500
  • Percent of homes bought that were new: 16% (constant from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percentage of first-time home buyers: 33% (-5% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Age of typical home buyer: 44 years old (+2 years from July 2012 – June
  • 2013)
  • Average age of first-time home buyer: 31 years old (unchanged from July
  • 2012 – June 2013)
  • Average age of repeat home buyer: 53 years old (+1 year from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for first-time home buyers: +2.3% to $68,300 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for repeat home buyers: -1% to $95,000 (compared to July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Percent of married home buyers: 65% (-1% from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • New homes purchased: 16% (unchanged from July 2012 – June 2013)
  • Median household income for home sellers: $96,700
  • Age of average home seller: 54 years

Gundlach: If The Fed Raises Rates By Mid-Year “The Sinister Side Of Low Oil may Raise Its Head

jeffrey gundlach

Photo by Reuters | Eduardo Munoz.  Article by by Robert Huebscher in Advisor Perspective

The Fed should reject its inclination to raise rates, according to Jeffrey Gundlach. It’s rare that he agrees with Larry Summers, but in this case the two believe that the fundamentals in the U.S. economy do not justify higher interest rates.

Gundlach, the founder and chief investment officer of Los Angeles-based Doubleline Capital, spoke to investors in a conference call on February 17. The call was focused on the release of the new DoubleLine Long Duration Fund, but Gundlach also discussed a number of developments in the economy and the bond market.

Signals of an impending rate increase have come from comments by Fed governors that the word “patient” should be dropped from the Fed meeting notes, according to Gundlach. That word has taken on special significance, he explained, since Janet Yellen attached a two-month time horizon to it.

“If they drop that word,” Gundlach said, “it would be a strong signal that rates would rise in the following two months.”

The Fed seems “philosophically” inclined to raise rates, Gundlach said, even though the fundamentals do not justify such a move. Strong disinflationary pressure coming from the collapse in oil prices should caution the Fed against raising rates, he said.

Gundlach was asked about comments by Gary Shilling that oil prices might go as low at $10/barrel. “We better all hope we don’t get $10,” he said, “because something very deflationary would be happening in this world.” If that is the case, Gundlach said investors should flock to long-term Treasury bonds.

“I’d like to think that the world is not in that kind of deflationary precipice,” he said.

Oil will break below its previous $44 low, Gundlach said. But he did not put a price target on oil.

Gundlach warned that by mid-year, if the Fed does raise rates, “the sinister side of low oil may raise its head.” At that time, lack of hiring or layoffs in the fracking industry could cripple the economy, according to Gundlach.

In the short term, Gundlach said that the recent rise in interest rates is a signal that the “huge deflationary scare” –which was partly because of Greece – has dissipated. Investors should monitor Spanish and Italian yields, he said. If they remain low, it is a signal that Greece is not leaving the Eurozone or that, if it does, “it is not a big deal.”

http://www.advisorperspectives.com/newsletters15/Gundlach_to_the_Fed.php

Study: Government’s Control of Land Is Hurting Oil Production, Job Growth

by Ben Smith

Current government regulations imposed by the Bureau of Land Management are harming energy production and holding back the U.S. economy, a new study reveals.

“While federally owned lands are also full of energy potential, a bureaucratic regulatory regime has mismanaged land use for decades,” write The Heritage Foundation’s Katie Tubb and Nicolas Loris.

The report focuses on the Federal Lands Freedom Act, introduced by Rep. Diane Black, R-Tenn., and Sen. James Inhofe, R-Okla. It is designed to empower states to regain control of their lands from the federal government in order to pursue their own energy goals. That is a challenge in an oil-rich state like Colorado.

“We need to streamline the process as there are very real consequences to poor [or nonexistent] management,” Tubb, a Heritage research associate, told The Daily Signal.

“Empowering the states is the best solution. The people who benefit have a say and can share in the benefits. If there are consequences, they can address them locally with state and local governments that are much more responsive to elections and budgets than the federal government.”

Emphasizing the need to streamline the process, Tubb pointed to the findings in the new report.

“The Bureau of Land Management estimates that it took an average of 227 days simply to complete a drill application,” Tubb said.

That’s more than the average of 154 days in 2005 and more than seven times the state average of 30 days, according to the report.

The report blames this increase in the application process on the drop in drilling on federal lands.

“Since 2009,” Tubb and Loris write, “oil production on federal lands has fallen by nine percent, even as production on state and private lands has increased by 61 percent over the same period.”

Despite almost “43 percent of crude oil coming from federal lands,” government-owned lands have seen a 13-point drop in oil production, from 36 percent to 23 percent.

The report also examines the recent oil-related job boom.

“Job creation in the oil and gas industry bucked the slow economic recovery and grew by 40 percent from 2007 to 2012, in comparison to one percent in the private sector over the same period,” according to the report.

That boom has had a big impact on jobs.

Map: John Fleming

“Energy-abundant states like Colorado and Alaska would stand to benefit tremendously. We’ve seen oil and natural gas production increase substantially in Colorado over the past eight years, bringing jobs and economic activity to the state,” said Loris, an economist who is Heritage’s Herbert and Joyce Morgan fellow.

Tubb cautioned that any change will happen slowly. “The federal government likely will not release the land that easily.”

Loris agreed, noting the long-running debate about the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.

“It was no surprise that the Alaskan delegation was up in arms when the administration proposed to permanently put ANWR off limits to energy exploration,” Loris told The Daily Signal. “Many in the Alaskan delegation and Alaskan natives, including village of Kaktovik—the only town in the coastal plain of ANWR, support energy development.”

“We are putting power to the people,” Tubb concluded.

OPEC Can’t Kill American Shale

https://i0.wp.com/static3.businessinsider.com/image/542c5b786da8118e288b4570/morgan-stanley-here-are-the-16-best-stocks-for-playing-the-american-shale-boom.jpgby Shareholdersunite

Summary

  • OPEC is supposedly out to beat, or at least curtail the growth of American shale oil production.
  • For a host of reasons, especially the much shorter capex cycle for shale, they will not succeed unless they are willing to accept permanent low oil prices.
  • But, permanent low oil prices will do too much damage to OPEC economies for this to be a credible threat.

We’re sure by now you are familiar with the main narrative behind the oil price crash. First, while oil production outside of North America is basically stagnant since 2005.

The shale revolution has dramatically increased supply in America.

(click to enlarge)

The resulting oversupply has threatened OPEC and the de-facto leader Saudi Arabia has chosen a confrontational strategy not to make way for the new kid on the block, but instead trying to crush, or at least contain it. Can they achieve this aim, provided it indeed is their aim?

Breakeven price
At first, one is inclined to say yes, for the simple reason that Saudi (and most OPEC) oil is significantly cheaper to get out of the ground.

(click to enlarge)

This suggests that all OPEC has to do is to keep output high and sooner or later the oversupply will work itself off the market, and expensive oil is more likely to see cutbacks than cheaper oil, although this critically depends on incentives facing individual producers.

Capex decline
It is therefore no wonder that we’ve seen significant declines in rig counts and numerous companies have announced considerable capex declines. While this needs time to work out into supply cutbacks, these will eventually come.

For instance BP (NYSE:BP) cutting capex from $22.9B in 2014 to $20B in 2015, or Conoco (NYSE:COP) reducing expenditures by more than 30% to $11.5B this year on drilling projects from Colorado to Indonesia. There are even companies, like SandRidge (NYSE:SD), that are shutting 75% of their rigs.

Leverage
It is often argued that the significant leverage of many American shale companies could accelerate the decline, although it doesn’t necessarily have to be like that.

While many leveraged companies will make sharp cutbacks in spending, which has a relatively rapid effect on production (see below), others have strong incentives to generate as much income as possible, so they might keep producing.

Even the companies that go belly up under a weight of leverage will be forced to relinquish their licenses or sell them off at pennies to the dollar, significantly lowering the fixed cost for new producers to take their place.

Hedging
Many shale companies have actually hedged much of their production, so they are shielded from much of the downside (at a cost) at least for some time. And they keep doing this:

Rather than wait for their price insurance to run out, many companies are racing to revamp their policies, cashing in well-placed hedges to increase the number of future barrels hedged, according to industry consultants, bankers and analysts familiar with the deals. [Reuters]

Economics
Being expensive is not necessarily a sufficient reason for being first in line for production cuts. For instance, we know that oil from the Canadian tar sands is at the high end of cost, but simple economics can explain why production cuts are unlikely for quite some time to come.

The tar sands involve a much higher fraction as fixed cost:

Oil-sands projects are multibillion-dollar investments made upfront to allow many years of output, unlike competing U.S. shale wells that require constant injections of capital. It’s future expansion that’s at risk. “Once you start a project it’s like a freight train: you can’t stop it,” said Laura Lau, a Toronto-based portfolio manager at Brompton Funds. Current oil prices will have producers considering “whether they want to sanction a new one.” [Worldoil]

So, once these up-front costs are made, these are basically sunk, and production will only decline if price falls below marginal cost. As long as the oil price stays above that, companies can still recoup part of their fixed (sunk) cost and they have no incentive to cut back production.

But, of course, you have tar sand companies that have not yet invested all required up-front capital and new capex expenditures will be discouraged with low oil prices. So, there is still the usual economic upward sloping supply curve operative here.

Swing producer
The funny thing is American shale oil is at the opposite end of this fixed (and sunk) cost universe, apart from acquiring the licenses. As wells have steep decline curves, production needs constant injection of capital for developing new wells.

Production can therefore be wound down pretty quickly should the economics require, and it can also be wound back up relatively quickly, which we think is enough reason why American shale is becoming the new (passive) swing producer. This has very important implications:

  • The relevant oil price to look at isn’t necessarily the spot price, but the 12-24 months future price, the time frame between capex and production.
  • OPEC will not only need to produce a low oil price today, that price needs to be low for a prolonged period of time in order to see cutbacks in production of American shale oil. Basically, OPEC needs the present oil price to continue indefinitely, as soon as it allows the price to rise again, shale oil capex will rebound and production will increase fairly soon afterwards.

So basically, shale is the proverbial toy duck which OPEC needs to submerge in the bathtub, but as soon as it releases the pressure, the duck will emerge again.

Declining cost curves
The shale revolution caught many by surprise, especially the speed of the increase in production. While technology and learning curves are still improving, witness how production cost curves have been pushed out in the last years:

There is little reason this advancement will come to a sudden halt, even if capex is winding down. In fact, some observers are arguing that producers shift production from marginal fields to fields with better production economics, and the relatively steep production decline curves allow them to make this shift pretty rapidly.

Others point out that even the rapid decline in rig count will not have an immediate impact on production, as the proportion of horizontal wells and platforms where multiple wells are drilled from the same location are increasing, all of which is increasing output per rig.

Another shift that is going on is to re-frack existing wells, instead of new wells. The first is significantly cheaper:

Beset by falling prices, the oil industry is looking at about 50,000 existing wells in the U.S. that may be candidates for a second wave of fracking, using techniques that didn’t exist when they were first drilled. New wells can cost as much as $8 million, while re-fracking costs about $2 million, significant savings when the price of crude is hovering close to $50 a barrel, according to Halliburton Co., the world’s biggest provider of hydraulic fracturing services. [Bloomberg]

Production cuts will take time
The hedging and shift to fields with better economics is only a few of the reasons why so far there has been little in the way of actual production cuts in American shale production, the overall oil market still remains close to record oversupply. The International Energy Agency (IEA) argues:

It is not unusual in a market correction for such a gap to emerge between market expectations and current trends. Such is the cyclical nature of the oil market that the full physical impact of demand and supply responses can take months, if not years, to be felt [CNBC].

In fact, the IEA also has explicit expectations for American shale oil itself:

The United States will remain the world’s top source of oil supply growth up to 2020, even after the recent collapse in prices, the International Energy Agency said, defying expectations of a more dramatic slowdown in shale growth [Yahoo].

OPEC vulnerable itself
Basically, the picture we’re painting above is that American shale will be remarkably resilient. Yes, individual companies will struggle, sharp cutbacks in capex are already underway, and some companies will go under, but the basic fact is that as quick as capex and production can fall, they can rise as quickly again when the oil price recovers.

How much of OPEC can the storm of the oil price crash, very much remains to be seen. There is pain all around, which isn’t surprising as one considers that most OPEC countries have budgeted for much higher oil prices for their public finances.

(click to enlarge)
You’ll notice that these prices are all significantly, sometimes dramatically, higher than what’s needed to balance their budgets. Now, many of these countries also have very generous energy subsidies on domestic oil use, supposedly to share the benefits of their resource wealth (and/or provide industry with a cost advantage).

So, there is a buffer as these subsidies can be wound down relatively painless. Some of these countries also have other buffers, like sovereign wealth funds or foreign currency reserves. And there is often no immediate reason for public budgets to be balanced.

But to suggest, as this article is doing, that OPEC is winning the war is short-sighted.

Conclusion
While doing damage to individual American shale oil producers and limiting its expansion, the simple reality is that for a host of reasons discussed above, OPEC can’t beat American shale oil production unless it is willing to accept $40 oil indefinitely. While some OPEC countries might still produce profitably at these levels, the damage to all OPEC economies will be immense, so, we can’t really see this as a realistic scenario in any way.

Oil Glut Gets Worse – Production, Inventories Soar to Record

https://i1.wp.com/bloximages.newyork1.vip.townnews.com/oaoa.com/content/tncms/assets/v3/editorial/9/14/914424e8-aaf0-11e4-ac1c-b74346c3e35b/54cf9855658eb.image.jpgby Wolf Richter

February 4th, 2015: Crude oil had rallied 20% in three days, with West Texas Intermediate jumping $9 a barrel since Friday morning, from $44.51 a barrel to $53.56 at its peak on Tuesday. “Bull market” was what we read Tuesday night. The trigger had been the Baker Hughes report of active rigs drilling for oil in the US, which had plummeted by the most ever during the latest week. It caused a bout of short covering that accelerated the gains. It was a truly phenomenal rally!

But the weekly rig count hasn’t dropped nearly enough to make a dent into production. It’s down 24% from its peak in October. During the last oil bust, it had dropped 60%. It’s way too soon to tell what impact it will have because for now, production of oil is still rising.

And that phenomenal three-day 20% rally imploded today when it came in contact with another reality: rising production, slack demand, and soaring crude oil inventories in the US.

The Energy Information Administration reported that these inventories (excluding the Strategic Petroleum Reserve) rose by another 6.3 million barrels last week to 413.1 million barrels – the highest level in the weekly data going back to 1982. Note the increasingly scary upward trajectory that is making a mockery of the 5-year range and seasonal fluctuations:

US-crude-oil-stocks-2015-02-04
And there is still no respite in sight.

Oil production in the US is still increasing and now runs at a multi-decade high of 9.2 million barrels a day. But demand for petroleum products, such as gasoline, dropped last week, according to the EIA, and so gasoline inventories jumped by 2.3 million barrels. Disappointed analysts, who’d hoped for a drop of 300,000 barrels, blamed the winter weather in the East that had kept people from driving (though in California, the weather has been gorgeous). And inventories of distillate, such as heating oil and diesel, rose by 1.8 million barrels. Analysts had hoped for a drop of 2.2 million barrels.

In response to this ugly data, WTI plunged $4.50 per barrel, or 8.5%, to $48.54 as I’m writing this. It gave up half of the phenomenal three-day rally in a single day.

Macquarie Research explained it this way:

In our experience, oil markets rarely exhibit V-shaped recoveries and we would be surprised if an oversupply situation as severe as the current one was resolved this soon. In fact, our balances indicate the absolute oversupply is set to become more severe heading into 2Q15.

Those hoping for a quick end to the oil glut in the US, and elsewhere in the world, may be disappointed because there is another principle at work – and that principle has already kicked in.

As the price has crashed, oil companies aren’t going to just exit the industry. Producing oil is what they do, and they’re not going to switch to selling diapers online. They’re going to continue to produce oil, and in order to survive in this brutal pricing environment, they have to adjust in a myriad ways.

“Efficiency and innovation, when price falls, it accelerates, because necessity is the mother of invention,” Michael Masters, CEO of Masters Capital Management, explained to FT Alphaville on Monday, in the middle of the three-day rally. “Even if the investment only spits out quarters, or even nickels, you don’t turn it off.”

Crude has been overvalued for over five years, he said. “Whenever the return on capital is in the high double digits, that’s not sustainable in nature.” And the industry has gotten fat during those years.

Now, the fat is getting trimmed off. To survive, companies are cutting operating costs and capital expenditures, and they’re shifting the remaining funds to the most productive plays, and they’re pushing 20% or even 30% price concessions on their suppliers, and the damage spreads in all directions, but they’ll keep producing oil, maybe more of it than before, but more efficiently.

This is where American firms excel: using ingenuity to survive. The exploration and production sector has been through this before. And those whose debts overwhelm them – and there will be a slew of them – will default and restructure, wiping out stockholders and perhaps junior debt holders, and those who hold the senior debt will own the company, minus much of the debt. The groundwork is already being done, as private equity firms and hedge funds offer credit to teetering oil companies at exorbitant rates, with an eye on the assets in case of default.

And these restructured companies will continue to produce oil, even if the price drops further.

So Masters said that, “in our view, production will not decrease but increase,” and that increased production “will be around a lot longer than people are forecasting right now.”

After the industry goes through its adjustment process, focused on running highly efficient operations, it can still scrape by with oil at $45 a barrel, he estimated, which would keep production flowing and the glut intact. And the market has to appreciate that possibility.


Rigs Down By 21% Since Start Of 2015
Permian Basin loses 37 rigs first week in February

by Trevor Hawes

The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the Permian Basin fell 37 this week to 417, according to the weekly rotary rig count released Friday by Houston-based oilfield service company Baker Hughes.

This week’s count marked the ninth-consecutive decrease for the Permian Basin. The last time Baker Hughes reported a positive rig-count change was Dec. 5, when 568 rigs were reported. Since then, the Permian Basin has shed 151 rigs, a decrease of 26.58 percent.

For the year, the Permian Basin has shed 113 rigs, or 21.32 percent.

In District 8, which includes Midland and Ector counties, the rig count fell 19 this week to 256. District 8 has shed 58 rigs, 18.47 percent, this year.

Texas lost 41 rigs this week for a statewide total of 654. The Lone Star State has 186 fewer rigs since the beginning of the year, a decrease of 22.14 percent.

In other major Texas basins, there were 168 rigs in the Eagle Ford, down 10; 43 in the Haynesville, unchanged; 39 in the Granite Wash, down one; and 19 in the Barnett, unchanged.

The Haynesville shale is the only major play in Texas to have added rigs this year. The East Texas play started 2015 with 40 rigs.

At this time last year, there were 483 rigs in the Permian Basin and 845 in Texas.

In the U.S., there were 1,456 rigs this week, a decrease of 87. There were 1,140 oil rigs, down 83; 314 natural gas rigs, down five; and two rigs listed as miscellaneous, up one.

By trajectory, there were 233 vertical drilling rigs, down two; 1,088 horizontal drilling rigs, down 80; and 135 directional drilling rigs, down five.

The top five states by rig count this week were Texas; Oklahoma with 176, down seven; North Dakota with 132, down 11; Louisiana with 107, down one; and New Mexico with 78, down nine.

The top five basins were the Permian; the Eagle Ford; the Williston with 137, down 11; the Marcellus with 71, down four; and the Mississippian with 53, down one.

In the U.S., there were 1,397 rigs on land, down 85; nine in inland waters, down three; and 50 offshore, up one. There were 48 rigs in the Gulf of Mexico, up one.

Canada’s rig count fell 13 this week to 381. There were 184 oil rigs, down 16; 197 natural gas rigs, up three; and zero rigs listed as miscellaneous, unchanged. Canada had 621 rigs a year ago this week, a difference of 240 rigs compared to this week’s count.

The number of rigs exploring for oil and natural gas in the North America region, which includes the U.S. and Canada, fell 100 this week to 1,837. There were 2,392 rigs in North America last year.

Rigs worldwide

On Friday, Baker Hughes released its monthly international rig count for January. The worldwide total was 3,309 rigs. The U.S. ended January with 1,683 rigs, just more than half of all rigs worldwide.

The following are January’s rig counts by region, with the top three nations in each region in parentheses:

Africa: 132 (Algeria: 97; Nigeria: 19; Angola: 14)

Asia-Pacific: 232 (India: 108; Indonesia: 36; China offshore: 33)

Europe: 128 (Turkey: 37; United Kingdom offshore: 15; Norway: 13)

Latin America: 351 (Argentina: 106; Mexico: 69; Venezuela: 64)

Middle East: 415 (Saudi Arabia: 119; Oman: 61; Iraq: 60)

Odessa migrant worker 1937

Migrant oil worker and wife near Odessa, Texas 1937

Photographer: Dorothea Lange Created: May 1937 Location: OdessaTexas

Call Number: LC-USF34-016932 Source: MRT.com

Oil Bust will hurt housing in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana

https://i1.wp.com/eaglefordtexas.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/9/2015/01/gas-prices-620x330.jpg

Source: MRT.com

The oil boom that lifted home prices in Texas, Oklahoma and Louisiana is coming to an end.

Crude oil prices have crashed since June, falling by more than 54 percent to less than $50 a barrel. That swift drop has started to cripple job growth in oil country, creating a slow wave that in the years ahead may devastate what has been a thriving real estate market, according to new analysis by the real estate firm Trulia.

“Oil prices won’t tank home prices immediately,” Trulia chief economist Jed Kolko explained. “Rather, falling oil prices in the second half of 2014 might not have their biggest impact on home prices until late 2015 or in 2016.”

History shows it takes time for home prices in oil country to change course.

Kolko looked at the 100 largest housing markets where the oil industry accounted for at least 2 percent of all jobs. Asking prices in those cities rose 10.5 percent over the past year, compared with an average of 7.7 percent around the country.

Prices climbed 13.4 percent in Houston, where 5.6 percent of all jobs are in oil-related industries. The city is headquarters to energy heavyweights such as Phillips 66, Halliburton and Marathon Oil. Asking prices surged 10.2 percent in Fort Worth and 10.1 percent in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In some smaller markets, oil is overwhelmingly dominant — responsible for more than 30 percent of the jobs in Midland for instance.

The closest parallel to the Texas housing market might have occurred in the mid-1980s, when CBS was airing the prime-time soap opera “Dallas” about a family of oil tycoons.

In the first half of 1986, oil prices plunged more than 50 percent, to about $12 a barrel, according to a report by the Brookings Institution, a Washington-based think tank.

Job losses mounted in late 1986 around Houston. The loss of salaries eventually caused home prices to fall in the second half of 1987.

That led Kolko to conclude that since 1980, it takes roughly two years for changes in oil prices to hit home prices.

Of course, there is positive news for people living outside oil country, Kolko notes.

Falling oil prices lead to cheaper gasoline costs that reduce family expenses, freeing up more cash to spend.

“In the Northeast and Midwest especially, home prices tend to rise after oil prices fall,” he writes in the analysis.

Midland Texas, Hunkering Down For The Oil Bust

 Oilfield worker on a rigOilfield worker on a rig
Active pumping rig located on Highway 385 south of Odessa, photographed Tuesday, Sept. 24, 2014. James Durbin/Reporter-Telegram.  Source: MRT.com 

MIDLAND — With oil prices plummeting by more than 50 percent since June, the gleeful mood of recent years has turned glum here in West Texas as the frenzy of shale oil drilling has come to a screeching halt.

Every day, oil companies are decommissioning rigs and announcing layoffs. Small firms that lease equipment have fallen behind in their payments.

In response, businesses and workers are getting ready for the worst. A Mexican restaurant has started a Sunday brunch to expand its revenues beyond dinner. A Mercedes dealer, anticipating reduced demand, is prepared to emphasize repairs and sales of used cars. And people are cutting back at home, rethinking their vacation plans and cutting the hours of their housemaids and gardeners.

Dexter Allred, the general manager of a local oil field service company, began farming alfalfa hay on the side some years ago in the event that oil prices declined and work dried up. He was taking a cue from his grandfather, Homer Alf Swinson, an oil field mechanic, who opened a coin-operated carwash in 1968 — just in case.

“We all have backup plans,” Allfred said with a laugh. “You can be sure oil will go up and down, the only question is when.”

Indeed, to residents here in the heart of the oil patch, booms and busts go with the territory.

“This is Midland and it’s just a way of life,” said David Cristiani, owner of a downtown jewelry store, who keeps a graph charting oil prices since the late 1990s on his desk to remind him that the good times do not last forever. “We are always prepared for slowdowns. We just hunker down. They wrote off the Permian Basin in 1984, but the oil will always be here.”

It is at times like these that Midland residents recall the wild swings of the 1980s, a decade that began with parties where people drank Dom Pérignon out of their cowboy boots. Rolls-Royce opened a dealership, and the local airport had trouble finding space to park all the private jets.

By the end of the decade, the Rolls-Royce dealership was shut and replaced by a tortilla factory, and three banks had failed.

There has been nothing like that kind of excess over the past five years, despite the frenzy of drilling across the Permian Basin, the granddaddy of U.S. oil fields. Set in a forsaken desert where tumbleweed drifts through long-forgotten towns, the region has undergone a renaissance in the last four years, with horizontal drilling and fracking reaching through multiple layers of shale stacked one over the other like a birthday cake.

But since the Permian Basin rig count peaked at around 570 last September, it has fallen to below 490, and local oil executives say the count will probably go down to as low as 300 by April unless prices rebound.

The last time the rig count declined as rapidly was in late 2008 and early 2009, when the price of oil fell from more than $140 to under $40 a barrel because of the financial crisis.

Unlike traditional oil wells, which cannot be turned on and off so easily, shale production can be cut back quickly, and so the field’s output should slow considerably by the end of the year.

The Dallas Federal Reserve recently estimated that the falling oil prices and other factors will reduce job growth in Texas overall from 3.6 percent in 2014 to as low as 2 percent this year, or a reduction of about 149,000 jobs created.

Midland’s recent good fortune is plain to see. The city has grown in population from 108,000 in 2010 to 140,000 today, and there has been an explosion of hotel and apartment construction. Companies like Chevron and Occidental are building new local headquarters. Real estate values have roughly doubled during the past five years, according to Mayor Jerry Morales.

The city has built a new fire station and recruited new police officers with the infusion of new tax receipts, which increased by 19 percent from 2013 to 2014 alone. A new $14 million court building is scheduled to break ground next month.

But the city has also put away $39 million in a rainy-day fund for the inevitable oil bust.

“This is just a cooling-off period,” Morales said. “We will prevail again.”

Expensive restaurants are still full and traffic around the city can be brutal. Still, everyone seems to sense that the pain is coming, and they are preparing for it.

“We are responding to survive, so that we may once again thrive when we come out the other side,” said Steven H. Pruett, president and chief executive of Elevation Resources, a Midland-based oil exploration and production company. “Six months ago there was a swagger in Midland and now that swagger is gone.”

Pruett’s company had six rigs running in early December but now has only three. It will go down to one by the end of the month, even though he must continue to pay a service company for two of the rigs because of a long-term contract.

The other day Pruett drove to a rig outside of Odessa he feels compelled to park to save cash, and he expressed concern that as many as 50 service workers could eventually lose their jobs.

But the workers themselves seemed stoic about their fortunes, if not upbeat.

“It’s always in the back of your mind — being laid off and not having the security of a regular job,” said Randy Perry, a tool-pusher who makes $115,000 a year, plus bonuses, managing the rig crews. But Perry said he always has a backup plan because layoffs are so common — even inevitable.

Since graduating from high school a decade ago, he has bought several houses in East Texas and fixed them up, doing the plumbing and electrical work himself. At age 29 with a wife and three children, he currently has three houses, and if he is let go, he says he could sell one for a profit he estimates at $50,000 to $100,000.

Just a few weeks ago, he and other employees received a note from Trent Latshaw, the head of his company, Latshaw Drilling, saying that layoffs may be necessary this year.

“The people of the older generation tell the young guys to save and invest the money you make and have cash flow just in case,” Perry said during a work break. “I feel like everything is going to be OK. This is not going to last forever.”

The most nervous people in Midland seem to be the oil executives who say busts may be inevitable, but how long they last is anybody’s guess.

Over a lavish buffet lunch recently at the Petroleum Club of Midland, the talk was woeful and full of conspiracy theories about how the Saudis were refusing to cut supplies to vanquish the surging U.S. oil industry.

“At $45 a barrel, it shuts down nearly every project,” Steve J. McCoy, Latshaw Drilling’s director of business development, told Pruett and his guests. “The Saudis understand and they are killing us.”

Pruett nodded in agreement, adding, “They are trash-talking the price of oil down.”

“Everyone has been saying ‘Happy New Year,’” Pruett continued. “Yeah, some happy new year.”

GUNDLACH: Don’t Be Bottom-Fishing In Oil Stocks And Bonds

ducks bottom feedingSource: Business Insider

NEW YORK (Reuters) – DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach said on Tuesday there is a possibility of a “true collapse” in U.S. capital expenditures and hiring if the price of oil stays at its current level.

Gundlach, who correctly predicted government bond yields would plunge in 2014, said on his annual outlook webcast that 35 percent of Standard & Poor’s capital expenditures comes from the energy sector and if oil remains around the $45-plus level or drops further, growth in capital expenditures could likely “fall to zero.”

Gundlach, the co-founder of Los Angeles-based DoubleLine, which oversees $64 billion in assets, noted that “all of the job growth in the (economic) recovery can be attributed to the shale renaissance.” He added that if low oil prices remain, the U.S. could see a wave of bankruptcies from some leveraged energy companies.

Brent crude approached a near six-year low on Tuesday as the United Arab Emirates defended OPEC’s decision not to cut output and traders wondered when a six-month price rout might end.

Brent has fallen as low as just above $45 a barrel, near a six-year low, having averaged $110 between 2011 and 2013.

Gundlach said oil prices have to stop going down so “don’t be bottom-fishing in oil” stocks and bonds. “There is no hurry here.”

Energy bonds, for example, have been beaten up and appear attractive on a risk-reward basis, but investors need to hedge them by purchasing “a lot, lot of long-term Treasuries. I’m in no hurry to do it.”

High-yield junk bonds have also been under severe selling pressure. Gundlach said his firm bought some junk in November but warned that investors need to “go slow” and pointed out “we are still underweight.”

Gundlach said U.S. stocks could outperform other countries’ equities as the economic recovery looks stronger than its counterparts, though double-digit gains cannot be repeated.

He also reiterated that it’s possible yields on the benchmark 10-year Treasury note could drop to 1 percent in 2015. The 10-year yield traded around 1.91 percent on Tuesday, little changed from late on Monday after hitting 20-month low of 1.8640 percent.

“The 10-year Treasury could join the Europeans and go to 1 percent. Why not?” Gundlach told Reuters last month. “If oil goes to $40, then the 10-year could be going to 1 percent.”

The yield on 10-year German Bunds stood at 0.47 percent on Tuesday.


Meanwhile…

Jeff Gundlach Unveils His Outlook For 2015

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.13.56 PM

by: Myles Unland

“V”

This is the title of the latest webcast from DoubleLine Capital’s Jeffrey Gundlach, who just wrapped up a webcast giving his outlook for 2015.

We last heard from Gundlach in December when he held a presentation called “This Time It’s Different,” in which he talked about the oil markets, the dollar, and how the 10-year Treasury bond could get to 1%.

Among the things Gundlach believes 2015 has in store for the market is more volatility, lower Treasury yields, and a Federal Reserve rate hike, “just to see if they can do it.”

Gundlach spent a good chunk of his open talking about the effects that the decline in oil will have on jobs growth and capital investment in the US, noting that 35% of capital investment from the S&P 500 is related to the energy sector.

The bull case for the US in 2015, Gundlach said, is predicated primarily on the strength of the US labor market. Meanwhile the chart of the year so far is the US 10-year yield against other major economies, with the US clearly having space to converge towards the super-low yields seen on 10-year bonds in Japan, Germany, and Switzerland.

We’ve broken out a number of Gundlach’s slides below and added commentary taken as he spoke live on Tuesday.

  • 4:22 PM

  • Gundlach’s leading slide.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.21.40 PM

  • 4:22 PM

  • Gundlach says of the title that it stands for the fifth year that he’s being these webcasts, but also has a market theme. “Most risk markets have gone into a V since about June.”

Says that the “touchdown” part of the drop in oil is that consumers get more money in their pocket. “I think that’s one of the reasons, rightly, that people view the oil decline as somewhat positive.”

Gundlach says that there is a sinister side to the oil decline, which is potential impacts on employment in the US, particularly in the energy space.

Gundlach says “all of the job growth” from the recession until today can be attributed to the shale oil boom.

  • 4:25 PM

  • Gundlach says that if oil stays anywhere near where it is today, we’re going to see leveraged energy companies go bankrupt.

“And maybe some other things related to that.”

  • 4:27 PM

  • Gundlach said that in 2014 he thought bonds would return 6%. The Barclays Aggregate Bond Index returned 6%.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.26.43 PM

  • 4:28 PM

  • Gundlach says, as he did in December, “TIPS are for losers, that’s for sure.”

  • 4:30 PM

  • Every yield curve flattened in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.29.59 PM

  • 4:31 PM

  • “It wasn’t the US of A in 2014, but the US of Only.”

US stocks were the only really strong equity markets among major developed economies. Chinese and Indian stocks were big winners among emerging markets.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.30.40 PM

  • 4:34 PM

  • Gundlach says he’s been positive on the US dollar since 2011. This was a huge consensus trade in 2014, and Gundlach says sometimes the consensus is right.

“It looks to me like the dollar is headed higher.”

Gundlach says he knows long dollar is a crowded trade, but the fundamentals bolstering a strong dollar remain in tact.

Additionally, Gundlach thinks the Fed will raise rates with a few more months of strong payrolls gains, which will only make the dollar stronger.
Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.32.01 PM

  • 4:35 PM

  • Gundlach says his investments are still dollar-denominated.

  • 4:36 PM

  • What a year for the ruble.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.35.43 PM

  • 4:37 PM

  • Mutual fund flows in 2014 looked a lot like 2007.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.37.07 PM

  • 4:38 PM

  • The Long Bond had one of the best years ever in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.38.03 PM

  • 4:39 PM

  • Gundlach said that in 2012, when bonds hit their low he had a 90% conviction that that would THE low for bonds. His conviction is less than that now.

  • 4:40 PM

  • 2014 was a disaster for commodities.

The best commodity in 2014 was gold.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.39.46 PM

  • 4:42 PM

  • The white line is the commodity index, the yellow line is the commodity index you can actually invest in.

Investable commodities have been losers for years.

Gundlach says you lost 800 basis points per annum over the last 10 years investing in commodities.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.40.56 PM

  • 4:42 PM

  • Gold gained ground in basically every currency except the US dollar in 2014.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.42.11 PM

  • 4:43 PM

  • “Gold is on a stealthy rally and I suspect gold is going to be headed higher not lower.”

  • 4:43 PM

  • Gold gained 89% in ruble terms last year.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.43.19 PM

  • 4:45 PM

  • “Bitcoin is on its way to being relegated to the ash heap of digital currencies.”

  • 4:47 PM

  • “One of the great vintages of Chateau Mouton.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.46.31 PM

  • 4:49 PM

  • Gundlach says the labor market is the backbone of the US bull case in 2015.

The number of companies worrying about poor sales is dropping, while there is a modest increase concerns about the quality of labor.

Gundlach says he is “from Missouri” on this one. He will wait to see wage growth show up before making the case for a lift off in wages.

  • 4:50 PM

  • The job scenario is stronger as fewer people apply for disability.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.49.14 PM

  • 4:50 PM

  • Food stamp usage has been flat over the last few years.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.50.01 PM

  • 4:52 PM

  • This is the most bullish chart of 2015.

Oil prices have been correlated with GDP growth 18 months forward.

And so this chart implies 3+% global growth going forward.

“On balance this should be viewed as an encouraging indicator.”

Gundlach doesn’t think, however that global growth is going to be upgraded in 2015, and like the last several years will be downgraded as the year goes along.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.51.07 PM

  • 4:53 PM

  • The S&P 500 has been strong against the rest of the world since 2010, but this trend really accelerated in June of 2015.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.52.34 PM

  • 4:54 PM

  • Gundlach says US outperformance “isn’t really a great sign.” But says US is probably the preferred place to invest against the rest of the world, however.

“It’s almost impossible for the gains from June 2014 to now to be repeated this year.”

  • 4:55 PM

  • Bear case is three big slides, Gundlach says.

  • 4:55 PM

  • The stock market has never been up seven years in a row.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.55.26 PM

  • 4:56 PM

  • Gundlach adds that its rare for the bond market to go up three years in a row, and that happened in 2010, 2011, and 2012.

“Lo and behold, they didn’t go up in 2013.”

  • 4:57 PM

  • Margin debt has peaked, and with Fed raising rates, Gundlach says it seems likely that margin debt would likely shrink.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.56.47 PM

“Let’s just say the S&P 500 has not gone up.”

“This seems to have been a predictable headwind, and it’s staring at us again.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 4.57.27 PM

  • 4:59 PM

  • Gunlach says stocks diverging from junk bonds is the most worrying signal coming out of markets right now.

  • 5:02 PM

  • Gundlach thinks we could go into an “overshoot” of low yields with yields rising in the second part of this year.

The path of least resistance to Gundlach seems to be for lower bond yields.

  • 5:04 PM

  • “I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the red line goes down.”

Gundlach says that oil just can’t stop going down. Last year, Treasury yields couldn’t stop going down, and this year oil can’t seem to stop going down.

Adds that contrarianism is dagnerous in commodities and stocks, says that contrarian investing is tempting, but oil is just a dangerous trade right now.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.03.19 PM

  • 5:06 PM

  • Gundlach says that once oil broke $70, it would create acceptance that oil isn’t going back to $95, causing producers to increase production because they need the revenue, not cut production to boost prices.

And so here we are.

  • 5:08 PM

  • “When one sector gets weak, don’t make the rookie mistake of thinking that everything around it is fine.”

“It’s too early to be going all-in on the concept that we’re at the bottom of the oil or junk bond cycle.”

“Go slow.”

Gundlach says DoubleLine is still underweight junk bonds.

Gundlach says CPI is down over the last six months, and it is going to be negative.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.08.32 PM

  • 5:10 PM

  • “So the Fed is kind of in a dilemma.”

The employment situation looks like it might be time to raise rates, but the inflation data is saying the opposite.

  • 5:10 PM

  • Non-government inflation data is also cratering.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.10.03 PM

  • 5:11 PM

  • “The bloodless verdict of the bond market says that inflation will be negative for two years.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.10.39 PM

  • 5:14 PM

  • The chart of the year for bonds so far.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.14.14 PM

  • 5:15 PM

  • Gundlach says the bond chart of the year is part of the argument about why oil at $40, weighing on inflation, could bring the 10-year below its 2012 lows.

  • 5:16 PM

  • “Watch this closely.”

Gundlach says something happened when investors got scared of Spanish and Italian bonds.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.15.43 PM

  • 5:17 PM

  • “A harbinger of doom for the eurozone.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.16.17 PM

  • 5:19 PM

  • “This is what I think is going to happen in the US.”

Since the financial crisis, every interest rate hike has been accompanied by a reversal, and Gundlach thinks this will happen again.

Gundlach says, as he did in December, that he thinks the Fed is going to raise rates “just to do it.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.18.12 PM

  • 5:19 PM

  • Gundlach says that not a single OPEC member can balance their budget at current oil prices.

  • 5:20 PM

  • “I am quite sure that one of the things ‘V’ can represent in 2015 is volatility.”

“I expect this year to have substantially higher volatility than past years.”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.19.54 PM

  • 5:21 PM

  • This chart corroborates the idea that maybe $50 is normal and that $100 oil was the outlier.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.20.57 PM

  • 5:22 PM

  • 35% of CapEx in the S&P 500 is in the energy space, Gundlach says.

“That could cause some trouble.”

  • 5:24 PM

  • There are essentially no cities in China with rising home prices.

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.24.10 PM

  • 5:25 PM

  • “No wonder China is talking about a $10 trillion stimulus program.”

  • 5:25 PM

  • “You wonder how many lives this cat can have.”

Gundlach on the real estate market in China.

  • 5:26 PM

  • The good news? We won’t see high-yield debt defaults for a few years because everyone has refinanced their debt.

“There are lots of reasons to think rates should rise in five years, but not much in five days or five months.”
Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.25.39 PM

  • 5:28 PM

  • Let’s talk about something you should not own …

Mall REITS.

Gundlach says that with online sales at 9% of retail sales coming online, it seems low. But consider that you can’t buy gasoline online, you don’t really buy groceries online.

“People don’t want the median banana.”

  • 5:29 PM

  • The Mall REIT index is up 35% or so in the last 12 months.

This seems like a horrible idea, Gundlach says.

“If you hate corporate bonds yielding 3%, if you hate mortgages yielding 3%, then how could you want to own a Mall REIT yielding 3%?”

Screen Shot 2015 01 13 at 5.28.43 PM

  • 5:31 PM

  • Gundlach says Russia doesn’t become a good speculative bet until oil stops dropping.

“You’ve got to see oil put in a low, a consolidation. Until then, Russia is dagnerous.”

  • 5:33 PM

  • Thoughts on Tesla, given oil …

“I think of all the car companies, Tesla is less of a car company than any other.”

“I’m surprised that anyone would change their car buying habits based on the six-month price of oil. Tesla isn’t so much a play on cars being sold, but on batteries being transformative in many phases of life.”

Gundlach again talking about potential for Tesla’s batteries to get homes entirely off the grid.

“Tesla has as good a chance as anybody to develop a battery that can change the world.”

Says that the stock is hugely overvalued if you just look at the auto sales.

Midland Texas Posts Largest Percentage Gain In Employment Again

Down town Midland TX, financial center of the Permian Basin.  Article Source: Midland Reporter – Telegram

For the second straight month, Midland showed the nation’s largest over-the-year percentage gain in employment, according to figures released last week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Midland reported a 6.2 percent increase in employment during the month of November. The number of employed increased from 95,200 to 96,000. Odessa (a drilling town next door to Midland) was second in the nation with a growth rate of 4.7 percent.

Midland also bettered its position among the metropolitan statistical areas with the lowest unemployment rates. In October, Midland was tied for fifth with a 2.5 percent jobless rate. In November, with the rate dropping to 2.3 percent, Midland was ranked fourth. Lincoln, Nebraska, took home the top spot with a 2.1 percent rate. Makato, Minnesota, and Fargo, North Dakota, tied for second at 2.2 percent.

There were 14 MSAs with unemployment rates at or below 3 percent during the month of November, including Odessa at 2.8 percent. There were 34 MSAs at 3.5 percent or below.

The following are the lowest unemployment rates in the nation during the month of November, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • Lincoln, Nebraska, 2.1
  • Mankato, Minnesota, 2.2
  • Fargo, North Dakota, 2.2
  • Midland 2.3
  • Bismarck, North Dakota, 2.5
  • Ames, Iowa, 2.5
  • Logan, Utah, 2.5
  • Iowa City, Iowa, 2.6
  • Rochester, Minnesota, 2.6
  • Grand Forks, North Dakota, 2.7
  • Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2.7
  • Odessa 2.8
  • Minneapolis, St. Paul, 3.0
  • Omaha, Nebraska, 3.0

Lowest rates from October:

Bismarck, North Dakota, 2.0; Fargo, North Dakota, 2.2; Lincoln, Nebraska, 2.3. Also: Midland 2.5

Lowest rates from September:

Bismarck, North Dakota 2.1; Fargo, North Dakota 2.3; Midland 2.6

Lowest rates from August:

Bismarck, North Dakota 2.2, Fargo North Dakota 2.4; Midland 2.8.

Lowest rates from July:

Bismarck, North Dakota, 2.4; Sioux Falls, South Dakota, 2.7; Fargo, North Dakota, 2.8; Midland 2.9.

Lowest rates from June:

Bismarck, North Dakota, 2.6, Midland 2.9, Fargo, North Dakota, 3.0.

Lowest rates from May:

Bismarck, North Dakota, 2.2, Fargo, North Dakota, 2.5, Logan, Utah, 2.5, Midland 2.6.

Lowest rates from April:

Midland 2.3, Logan, Utah 2.5, Bismarck, North Dakota 2.6, Ames, Iowa 2.7.

Lowest rates from March:

Midland 2.7, Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, La. 3.1, Bismarck, N.D. 3.1, Odessa 3.3, Fargo, N.D. 3.3, Ames, Iowa 3.3, Burlington, Vt. 3.3

Lowest rates from February:

Houma-Bayou Cane-Thibodaux, La. 2.8; Midland 3.0; Lafayette, La. 3.1

Lowest rates from January:

Midland 2.9; Logan, Utah 3.3; Bismarck, N.D. 3.4

Lowest rates from December:

Bismarck, N.D. 2.8; Logan, Utah 2.8; Midland 2.8

Oil Doomsayers Were Wrong In 2009: 4 Reasons Why They’re Wrong Now

https://i0.wp.com/img0.etsystatic.com/000/0/6787557/il_340x270.350576144.jpgSource: Hawkinvest

Summary

  • Oil is extremely oversold and due for a rebound.
  • Oil consumption remains strong and is likely to increase thanks to cheaper prices.
  • Historically oil rebounds quite quickly, especially when the U.S. and global economy are growing.
  • Investors are overly negative on oil ever since the OPEC meeting, but production cuts could still be on the way.

Ever since the November 27th OPEC meeting the price of oil has plunged by about 20% and many stocks are off by much, much more. The doomsayers and shorts are out in force now, emboldened by the weakness in this sector. There is a tremendous amount of negative sentiment towards oil now. But this extreme level of negativity appears to be very overdone. It also seems to be based on psychology, forced margin call selling, panic selling and tax-loss selling. With all these factors, it’s been a perfect storm that has brought some small-cap oil stocks back to levels not seen since the depths of the financial crisis. Back in 2009, oil plunged to the $40 range, but the U.S. and the global economy were in free fall and oil consumption was also falling. The factors that drove oil to collapse in 2009 like bank failures, financial system imploding, home prices collapsing, massive layoffs, and other negatives that just do not exist today. That is why it does not make sense to be expecting oil to plunge back towards the lows seen in 2009. Furthermore, it is really important to realize that even when oil plunged in 2009, it rebounded very, very quickly (in spite of all the doomsayers back then). That is another big factor to consider because since the global economy is significantly stronger now, it could rebound sooner than most investors realize. Here are a few more reasons why this is a buying opportunity as oil is not likely to go down much more and why it is not likely to stay down for very long:

Reason #1: Energy company insiders are calling the recent plunge in stocks a “fire sale” and they are buying at a pace that has not been seen in years. Oil industry insiders have seen the ups and downs in oil prices and have experienced market pullbacks before. If oil company insiders are buying en masse now, there is a good chance that they see bargains and a strong future for oil. This supports the idea that there is a disconnect between the current market price of many oil stocks and the longer-term fundamentals of this industry. Citigroup (NYSE:C) recently made a strong case that indicates there is a disconnect between asset prices in the oil industry and the fundamentals. A Bloomberg article details some of the recent insider activity, it states:

“This is an absolute fire sale,” he said. “It’s an overreaction and the result is it’s oversold.” With valuations at a decade low, oil executives such as Rochford and Chesapeake Energy Corp.’s (NYSE:CHK) Archie Dunham are driving the biggest wave of insider buying since 2012, data compiled by the Washington Service and Bloomberg show. They’re snapping up stocks after more than $300 billion was erased from share values as crude slipped below $70 for the first time since 2010.”

Reason #2: Just because OPEC did not act at the November 27th meeting, it does not mean they won’t act. OPEC is scheduled to meet again in 2015, but there is always the possibility for an emergency meeting at any time. Even a statement from OPEC discussing the willingness to cut production or to address “cheating” by some members who are producing more than their quota allows could cause a significant short-covering rebound in the oil sector. A CNBC article points out that some industry watchers believe OPEC could act soon with an extraordinary or “emergency” meeting, it states:

“We see the possibility they call an extraordinary meeting sometime next year,” said Dominic Haywood, crude and products analyst with Energy Aspects. “We think they’re going to address countries not living within their quota.” OPEC has a quota of 30 million barrels a day, but it has been producing more.

On December 2, a Saudi Prince stated that his country would cut production if other countries would also participate. This seems the first “olive branch” since the OPEC meeting and it appears to be in response to the slide in oil since that meeting took place.

Reason #3: The perceived “glut” of oil is much smaller than most people realize. Furthermore, that excess supply could be taken out rather rapidly because cheaper oil is likely to lead to more demand and consumption. Toyota (NYSE:TM) just reported that sales of its 4Runner sport utility vehicle just jumped by 53% in November and sales of the Prius fell by 14% in the same period. This is just one example of how quickly demand for oil can rise and if you multiply even slight increases in global oil consumption because of much lower prices the numbers get quite large. Urban Carmel (a former McKinsey consultant and President of UBS Securities in Asia) believes that oil is going back to $80 per barrel and a recent article he wrote explains why the perceived glut is not going to last long, he states:

“Excess oil supply (over demand) is presently about 1 mbd. That would be a problem for oil prices except for one thing: existing fields lose about 6% of their production capacity each year, equal to about 5.5 mbd. That means that even if demand is flat, at least 4.5 mbd in new production is needed. Opec has spare capacity of only about 3 mbd. The remainder must come from new investment. New deep water and oil sand projects have a breakeven cost of about $80-90. There will be little incentive to make these investments unless the price of oil is at least $80. If the price stays lower than $80, supply will be insufficient for demand. It’s exactly under those circumstances that spikes higher in oil prices have occurred in the past.”

Reason #4: Oil can be very volatile, but it historically rebounds very quickly because it is used in very large quantities every day. The chart below shows that oil has reached a level that is giving investors a buy signal. Also, it is worth noting that prior oil price slides typically lasted about 20 weeks and the current slide is on week 25 which is another sign a rebound is way overdue. Oil and most oil stocks are extremely oversold now and that means a powerful relief and short covering rally could be coming soon. Some “smart money” investors are recognizing the buying opportunity at hand. Hedge funds are starting to position for a rebound in oil as there is a growing belief that the oil slide has run its course and is now due for a rally.

Oil is already down by about 40%, and the global economy is not in a current state that would support drastically lower prices as some are predicting. It is worth noting that most analysts and economists have a terrible track record when it comes to forecasting oil prices. If you had told anyone that oil was going to surge to over $100 within a couple years of the financial crisis you would have been ridiculed. I believe that the inaction at the OPEC meeting triggered margin call selling, and as we know, selling begets selling especially at this time of year when tax-loss selling fuels even more downside pressure. Some investors are making too much of the oil price decline by trying to connect the dots which should not be connected. I don’t believe that oil’s decline is a major sign of global economic weakness, I believe it is partially because supplies are temporarily a bit higher than needed, the dollar has been strong, and because too many speculators held futures contracts that were suddenly liquidated after the OPEC meeting sparked a sell-off. This has created bargains, especially in small-cap oil stocks. I have been primarily focusing my buying on companies that have no direct exposure to the price of oil and significant contract backlogs. This has led me to buy stocks like McDermott International (NYSE:MDR) which is now incredibly cheap at less than $3 per share. This company is an engineering and construction firm that specializes in the energy industry. It has a $4 billion contract backlog and it has about $900 million in cash and (incredibly) a market cap of just $584 million. That means that this company could buy all the outstanding shares and still have over $300 million left in cash on the balance sheet. McDermott shares are also trading for less than half of the stated book value which is $6.30 per share. On November 14, David Trice (a director) bought 20,000 shares at $4.16, which was about $83,000 worth of stock. But, due to immensely negative sentiment in the oil sector, panic selling, margin call selling, and tax-loss selling, this stock is down by about 40% just from when this insider bought, even though this company has no direct exposure to oil prices and enough business (with the $4 billion+ contract backlog) to keep it busy for the next two years. It also does projects for the natural gas industry and investors seem to have overlooked that natural gas prices have remained solid.

I also see opportunity in Willbros Group (NYSE:WG) which trades for just over $4 now (down from a high of about $13 this year). It specializes in pipeline projects for the energy industry which includes oil and gas, petrochemicals, refining as well as electric power. This stock took a hit several weeks ago when the company announced it would restate earnings due to a charge on a pipeline project that was estimated to reverse about $8 million in previously reported pre-tax income. This caused the company to be delayed in filing the latest financial report and the market overreacted by knocking off about $160 million in market cap in just a few days after the restatement issue was announced. Willbros Group has a strong balance sheet and a $1.7 billion backlog which absolutely dwarfs the restatement numbers and the market cap of just about $215 million. It also recently announced plans for an asset sale that is estimated to generate up to $125 million. For more details, read my recent article on Willbros Group.

I expect that small cap stocks like McDermott and Willbros will rebound as tax-loss selling should fade by December 19th which is the Friday before the holiday season. This causes most traders and investors to have completed their tax planning issues before taking off for the holidays and that often leads to a significant “Santa Claus” and “January Effect” rally in beaten-down small caps.

Keep An Eye On Futures

https://i0.wp.com/www.jamierood.com/art/var/resizes/Oilfield/PumpJacks/PumpjackAtSnowySunset.jpg

Oil Futures Structure Seen as Encouraging Traders to Store Crude. 

By Mohammed Aly Sergie

Brent oil in a contango will encourage traders to take delivery of crude and wait for higher prices, according to U.S. economist Dennis Gartman.

Brent for February delivery is $6.10 a barrel cheaper than the February 2016 contract. February Oman oil traded on the Dubai Mercantile Exchange is $8.30 cheaper than the year later contract after being $6 more expensive about six months ago.

“Not enough people pay attention to the importance of term structure,” Dennis Gartman, author of the Suffolk, Virginia-based Gartman Letter, said yesterday in a phone interview. “The market is saying it will pay traders to go into storage.”

Gartman said contango arbitrage is easier to trade on the broader benchmarks than the Oman contract because banks prefer to provide financing for markets that are more heavily traded. Investors can earn a “nearly riskless return” of 8 percent by selling crude futures and storing oil at current prices, Gartman said.

The cost of warehousing and lending has hindered popularity of the trade, Gartman said. Shipbroker Charles R. Weber said this month that oil tanker rates are too high to spur floating storage. There are 28.8 million barrels of oil being stored at Cushing, Oklahoma, about three million barrels above the 2014 average.

20 Stunning Facts About Energy Jobs In The US

https://i2.wp.com/www.paradinerecruiting.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/07/oil-jobs.jpgby Tyler Durden

For all those who think the upcoming carnage to the shale industry will be “contained” we refer to the following research report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research:

  • The United States is now the world’s largest and fastest-growing producer of hydrocarbons. It has surpassed Saudi Arabia in combined oil and natural gas liquids output and has now surpassed Russia, formerly the top producer, in natural gas. [ZH: that’s about to change]
  • The increased production of domestic hydrocarbons not only employs people directly but also radically reduces the drag on growth and job formation associated with America’s trade deficit.
  • As the White House Council of Economic Advisers noted this past summer: “Every barrel of oil or cubic foot of gas that we produce at home instead of importing abroad means more jobs, faster growth, and a lower trade deficit.” [the focus now is not on the oil produced at home, which is set to plunge, but the consumer “tax cut” from plunging oil prices]
  • Since 2003, more than 400,000 jobs have been created in the direct production of oil & gas and some 2 million more in indirect employment in industries such as transportation, construction, and information services associated with finding, transporting, and storing fuels from the new shale bounty.
  • All told, about 10 million Americans are employed directly and indirectly in a broad range of businesses associated with hydrocarbons.
  • There are 16 states with more than 150,000 people employed in hydrocarbon-related activities. Even New York, which continues to ban the production of shale oil & gas, is seeing job benefits in a range of support and service industries associated with shale development in adjacent Pennsylvania.

  • Direct employment in the oil & gas industry had been declining for 30 years but has recently reversed course, with the availability of new technologies to develop shale fields. Nearly 300,000 direct oil & gas jobs have been created following the 2003 nadir in that sector’s direct employment.
  • The five super-major oil companies—Exxon, BP, Chevron, Shell, Conoco—that operate in the U.S. account for only 10 percent of Americans working directly in the oil & gas business.
  • Meanwhile, more than 20,000 other firms are directly involved in the oil & gas industry, and they produce over 75 percent of America’s oil & gas output. The median independent oil & gas firm has fewer than 15 employees. (Note that these data exclude gasoline stations, which employ nearly 1 million people and are overwhelmingly owned by individuals or small businesses.)
  • As in the oil & gas industry, most Americans are employed by firms with fewer than 500 employees. Small businesses not only employ half of all American workers but also generate nearly half the nation’s economic output. Young firms tend to be small firms; and young firms tend to emerge disproportionately in areas of rapid growth or new opportunities—such as in and around America’s shale fields.

  • A broad array of small and midsize oil & gas companies are propelling record economic and jobs gains—not just in the oil fields but across the economy. The enormous expansion in employment, exports, and tax revenues from the domestic oil & gas revolution is largely attributable to a core and defining feature of America: small businesses.
  • The oil & gas sector boom creates “induced” and energy-related jobs. For every direct job, there are, on average, three jobs created in industries such as housing, retail, education, health care, food services, manufacturing, and construction.
  • In the 10 states at the epicenter of oil & gas growth, overall statewide employment gains have greatly outpaced the national average. There we see the ripple-out effect on overall (not just oil & gas) employment. The shale boom’s broad jobs benefits are most visible in North Dakota and Texas, of course, where overall state employment growth in all sectors has vastly outpaced U.S. job recovery. Similarly, in the other states that have experienced recent growth in hydrocarbon production—notably, Pennsylvania, Colorado, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Wyoming—statewide overall (again, not just oil & gas) employment growth has also outpaced the U.S. recovery.
  • In addition to the direct and induced jobs, America is beginning to see the economic and jobs impact of a renaissance in energy-intensive parts of the manufacturing sector, from plastics and chemicals to fertilizers. Examples include an Egyptian firm planning a $1 billion fertilizer plant in Iowa and a South Korean tire company with an $800 million plan for a Tennessee plant. Germany’s BASF recently announced expansion of its American investments, including production and research. BASF calculated that its German operations’ energy bill would be $700 million a year lower if it could pay American prices for energy
  • The Marcellus shale fields in Pennsylvania were responsible for enabling statewide double-digit job growth in 2010 and 2011 and now account for more than one-fifth of that state’s manufacturing jobs. For every $1 that the Marcellus industry spends in the state, $1.90 of total economic output is generated.
  • The typical wage effect of the oil & gas revolution is most clearly visible in Texas. In the 23 counties atop the Eagle Ford shale, average wages for all citizens have grown by 14.6 percent annually since 2005, compared with the 6.8 and 6.3 percent average for Texas and the U.S., respectively, over the same period. The top five counties in the Eagle Ford shale have experienced an average 63 percent annual rate of wage growth. These are the kinds of wage effects sought in every state and by every worker.

  • Given the persistent, slow job recovery from the Great Recession, there could not be a more important time in modern history to find ways to foster more small businesses of all kinds, given that they are not only the core engine for growth but also frequently grow rapidly.

Punchline #1:

  • The $300–$400 billion overall annual economic gain from the oil & gas boom has been greater than the average annual GDP growth of $200–$300 billion in recent years—in other words, the economy would have continued in recession if it were not for the unplanned expansion of the oil & gas sector.

Punchline #2:

  • Hydrocarbon jobs have provided a greater single boost to the U.S. economy than any other sector, without requiring any special taxpayer subsidies—instead generating tax receipts from individual incomes and business growth.

And the final punchline:

  • The National Association of Manufacturers estimated that the shale revolution will lead to 1 million manufacturing jobs over the coming decade. Manufacturing jobs pay nearly 30 percent more than the industrial average and generate $1.48 of economic activity for every $1 spent, making manufacturing the highest economic multiplier of all industrial sectors.

Sorry, not anymore.

Now, thanks to John Kerry’s “secret pact“, and America’s close “ally” in the middle-east, Saudi Arabia whose “mission” it no longer to bankrupt Russia but to crush America’s shale industry, the only question surround the only bright spot for America’s economy over the past 6 years is how long before most of the marginal producers file Chapter 11, or 7.

Texas: Recession In 2015?

https://i2.wp.com/i.imwx.com/web/news/2012/january/snow-txdrillrig-iwit-mlallison-440x297-010911.jpgby Josh Young

Summary

  • Texas is by far the largest producer of oil in the US.
  • Oil production represents a disproportionate portion of Texas’s economy.
  • With oil prices down 45%, oil’s share of Texas GDP may fall 50% or more.
  • Unlike Russia and other countries, Texas cannot depreciate its own currency, magnifying the economic effect.

Texas is the largest oil producer in the US. And oil prices are down almost 50% in the past 4 months. Yet nowhere in the news do we hear about the risk of Texas entering a recession. The facts and figures below should concern investors in securities with economic exposure to the Texas economy. The risk is real.

As seen in the below chart by the EIA, Texas is the largest oil producing state in the US, producing 3x as much oil as the next largest producing state.

In September, Texas produced 3.23 million barrels of oil per day. This compares to 1.1 million barrels of oil per day produced in the second largest oil producing state, North Dakota, and much smaller quantities by other traditional oil producing states such as Alaska, California, and Oklahoma. And by comparison, Russia produces 10.9 million barrels per day.

Quantifying the value of this production, at $100 oil, that would be $323 million worth of oil produced per day, or $118 billion of oil produced per year. With the current price of oil hovering around $55 per barrel, that same oil production is only worth $178 million per day, or $65 billion. This is a loss of $53 billion of oil sales revenue just in the state of Texas.

This $53 billion in lost revenues compares to Texas’s GDP of $1.4 trillion in 2013 – it would be 3.8% of the State’s GDP, which is now “missing” due to oil prices having fallen. This is only the direct loss to the state – the indirect loss is likely several times as much. Direct oilfield activity is slowing down dramatically, as oil producing companies cut their capital expenditure budgets for 2015. Oilfield services stocks (NYSEARCA:OIH) are already down 37% from their peak earlier this year in anticipation of an activity slowdown. And for every job lost on a rig or in an oil company’s office, there are several additional jobs that may be lost, from the gas station manager to the sales clerk at a store to the front desk worker at a hotel.

The oil industry is unusual in that both the upstream independent producers and the service companies tend to outspend their cash flow, typically on local (to Texas) goods and services, on everything from drill pipe to rig manufacturing to catering. This means that for every dollar of lost oil sales from the lower oil price, there may be several dollars less spent across the Texas economy. This could be devastating for the Texas economy, and has not yet been widely discussed in the financial media.

To see an extreme example of the impact of lower oil prices on an economy tied to oil production, we can look at Russia (NYSEARCA:RSX). The Russian economy is more oil dependent than Texas’s. Russia’s GDP was $2.1 trillion in 2013. This compares to Texas’s GDP of $1.4 trillion. So Russia produces 3.3x as much oil as Texas, but only has 1.5x the GDP. So on a direct basis, assuming “ceteris paribus” conditions, a $1 decline in the price of oil would have 2.2x the impact to the economy of Russia as to the economy of Texas.

So what is happening in Russia? Already, the ruble has dropped in value by 50% in the past year. And numerous sources are calling for a severe recession in 2015. This would be expected, considering the high portion of the GDP that is attributable to oil production.

However, Russia has an advantage that Texas does not have. It has its own currency. While a 50% drop in a currency may not sound great if you’re looking to spend that currency elsewhere, it is crucial if you are an exporter and your primary export just dropped in price by 45%. The ruble denominated impact of the drop in the price of oil is a mere 10%. Unfortunately, for Texas, the dollar denominated drop in oil is 45%. So despite the lower economic exposure to oil, Texas does not have the benefit of a falling currency to buffer the blow of lower oil prices.

It may get even worse. With less drilling activity, oil production growth in Texas may slow, and eventually may decline. Depending on the speed of this slowdown, Texas could even see production decline by the end of 2015. This is because most of the new production has been coming from fracking unconventional wells, which can decline in production by as much as 80% in the first year. Production growth has required an increasing number of wells drilled, and has been funded with 100% of oil company cash flow along with hundreds of billions of dollars of equity and debt over the past few years. With the recent crash in oil stock prices (NYSEARCA: XOP) and in oil company bonds (NYSEARCA: JNK), oil drillers may be forced to spend within cash flow, and that cash flow will be down at least 45% in 2015 if the oil price stays on the path projected in the futures market.

All of this means that in 2015, Texas oil wells could be producing less than the 3.23 million barrels of oil per day it was producing in September 2014, and their owners could be receiving 45% less revenue per barrel produced. Again applying an economic multiplier, the results could be devastating. And without the cushion of a weak currency that benefits countries like Russia, it is hard to see how Texas could avoid a recession in 2015 if the price of oil stays near its current low levels.

“Houston, You Have A Problem” – Texas Is Headed For A Recession Due To Oil Crash, JPM Warns

https://i1.wp.com/i.qkme.me/3rq0zl.jpg
by
Tyler Durden

It was back in August 2013, when there was nothing but clear skies ahead of the US shale industry that we asked “How Much Is Oil Supporting U.S. Employment Gains?” The answer we gave:

The American Petroleum Institute said last week the U.S. oil and natural gas sector was an engine driving job growth. Eight percent of the U.S. economy is supported by the energy sector, the industry’s lobbying group said, up from the 7.7 percent recorded the last time the API examined the issue. The employment assessment came as the Energy Department said oil and gas production continued to make gains across the board. With the right energy policies in place, API said the economy could grow even more. But with oil and gas production already at record levels, the narrative over the jobs prospects may be failing on its own accord…. The API’s report said each of the direct jobs in the oil and natural gas industry translated to 2.8 jobs in other sectors of the U.S. economy. That in turn translates to a total impact on U.S. gross domestic product of $1.2 trillion, the study found.

Two weeks ago we followed up with an article looking at “Jobs: Shale States vs Non-Shale States” in which we showed the following chart:

And added the following:

According to a new study, investments in oil and gas exploration and production generate substantial economic gains, as well as other benefits such as increased energy independence.  The Perryman Group estimates that the industry as a whole generates an economic stimulus of almost $1.2 trillion in gross product each year, as well as more than 9.3 million permanent jobs across the nation. 

The ripple effects are everywhere. If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.

 

Another way of visualizing the impact of the shale industry on the US economy comes courtesy of this chart from the Manhattan Institute which really needs no commentary:

The Institute had this commentary to add:

The jobs recovery since the 2008 recession has been the slowest of any post recession recovery in the U.S. since World War II. The number of people employed has yet to return to the 2007 level. The country has suffered a deeper and longer-lasting period of job loss than has followed any of the ten other recessions since 1945.

There has, however, been one employment bright spot: jobs in America’s oil & gas sector and related industries. Since 2003, more than 400,000 jobs have been created in the direct production of oil & gas and some 2 million more in indirect employment in industries such as transportation, construction, and information services associated with finding, transporting, and storing fuels from the new shale bounty.

In addition, America is seeing revitalized growth and jobs in previously stagnant sectors of the economy, from chemicals production and manufacturing to steel and even textiles because of access to lower cost and reliable energy.

The surge in American oil & gas production has become reasonably well-known; far less appreciated are two key features, which are the focus of this paper: the widespread geographic dispersion of the jobs created; and the fact that the majority of the jobs have been created not in the ranks of the Big Oil companies but in small businesses, even more widely dispersed.

Fast forward to today when we are about to learn that Newton’s third law of Keynesian economics states that every boom, has an equal and opposite bust.

Which brings us to Texas, the one state that more than any other, has benefited over the past 5 years from the Shale miracle. And now with crude sinking by the day, it is time to unwind all those gains, and give back all those jobs. Did we mention: highly compensated, very well-paying jobs, not the restaurant, clerical, waiter, retail, part-time minimum-wage jobs the “recovery” has been flooded with.

Here is JPM’s Michael Feroli explaining why Houston suddenly has a very big problem.

  • In less than five years Texas’ share of US oil production has gone from around 25% to over 40%
  • By some measures, the oil intensity of the Texas economy looks similar to what it was in the mid-1980s
  • The 1986 collapse in oil prices led to a painful regional recession in Texas
  • While the rest of the country looks to benefit from cheap oil, Texas could be headed for recession

The collapse in oil prices will create winners and losers, both globally and here in the US. While we expect the country, overall, will be a net beneficiary from falling oil prices, two states look like they will bear the brunt of the pain: North Dakota and Texas. Given its much larger size, the prospect of a recession in Texas could have some broader reverberations. 

By now, most people are familiar with the growth of the fossil fuel industry in places like Pennsylvania and Ohio. However, that has primarily been a natural gas story. The renaissance of US crude oil production has been much more concentrated: over 90% of the growth in the past five years has been in North Dakota and Texas; with Texas alone accounting for 67% of the increase in the nation’s crude output over that period.

In the first half of 1986, crude oil prices fell just over 50%. At the end of 1985, the unemployment rate in Texas was equal to that in the nation as a whole; at the end of 1986 it was 2.6%- points higher than the national rate. There are some reasons to think that it may not be as bad this time around, but there are even better reasons not to be complacent about the risk of a regional recession in Texas.

Geography of a boom

The well-known energy renaissance in the US has occurred in both the oil and natural gas sectors. Some states that are huge natural gas producers have limited oil production: Pennsylvania is the second largest gas producing state but 19th largest oil producer. The converse is also true: North Dakota is the second largest crude producer but 14th largest gas producer. However, most of the economic data as it relates to the energy sector, employment, GDP, etc, often lump together the oil and gas extraction industries. Yet oil prices have collapsed while natural gas prices have held fairly steady. To understand who is vulnerable to the decline in oil prices  specifically we turn to the EIA’s state-level crude oil production data.

The first point, mentioned at the outset, is that Texas, already a giant, has become a behemoth crude producer in the past few years, and now accounts for over 40% of US production. However, there are a few states for which oil is a relatively larger sector (as measured by crude production relative to Gross State Product): North Dakota, Alaska, Wyoming, and New Mexico. For two other states, Oklahoma and Montana, crude production is important, though somewhat less so than for Texas. Note, however, that these are all pretty small states: the four states where oil is more important to the local economy than Texas have a combined GSP that is only 16% of the Texas GSP. Finally, there is one large oil producer, California, which is dwarfed by such a huge economy that its oil intensity is actually below the national average, and we would expect it, like the country as a whole, to benefit from lower oil prices.

Texas-sized challenges

As discussed above, Texas is unique in the country as a huge economy and a huge oil producer. When thinking about the challenges facing the Texas economy in 2015 it may be useful, as a starting point, to begin with the oil price collapse of 1986. Then, like now, crude oil prices collapsed around 50% in the space of a few short months. As noted in the introduction, the labor market response was severe and swift, with the Texas unemployment rate rising 2.0%-points in the first three months of 1986 alone. Following the hit to the labor market, the real estate market suffered a longer, slower, burn, and by the end of 1988 Texas house prices were down over 14% from their peak in early 1986 (over the same period national house prices were up just over 14%). The last act of this tragedy was a banking crisis, as several hundred Texas banks failed, with peak failures occurring in 1988 and 1989.

How appropriate is it to compare the challenges Texas faces today to the ones they faced in 1986? The natural place to begin is by getting a sense of the relative energy industry intensity of Texas today versus 1986. Unfortunately, the GSP-by-industry data have a definitional break in 1997, but splicing the data would suggest a similar share of the oil and gas sector in Texas GSP now and in 1985: around 11%. Employment in the mining and logging sector (which, in Texas, is overwhelmingly dominated by the oil and gas sector) was around 3.7% in 1985 and is 2.7% now. This is consistent with a point we have been making in the national context: the oil and gas sector is very capital-intensive, and increasingly so. Even so, as the 1986 episode demonstrated, there do seem to be sizable multiplier effects on non-energy employment. Finally, there does not exist capital spending by state data, but at the national level we can see the flip side of the increasing capital intensive nature of energy: oil and gas related cap-ex was 0.58% of GDP in 4Q85, and is 0.98% of GDP now.

Given this, what is the case for arguing that this time is different, and the impact will be smaller than in 1986? One is that now, unlike in 1986, natural gas prices haven’t moved down in sympathy with crude oil prices, and the Texas recession in 1986 may have owed in part also to the decline in gas prices. Another is that, as noted above, the employment share is somewhat lower, and thus the income hit will be felt more by capital-holders – i.e. investors around the country and the world. Finally, unlike 1986, the energy industry is experiencing rapid technological gains, pushing down the energy extraction cost curve.

While these are all valid, they are not so strong as to signal smooth sailing for the Texas economy. Financially, oil is a fair bit more important than gas for Texas, both now and in 1986, with a dollar value two to three times as large. Moreover, while energy employment may be somewhat smaller now, we are not talking about night and day. The current share is about 3/4ths what it was in 1986. (Given the higher capital intensity, there are some reasons to think employment may be greater now in sectors outside the traditional oil and gas sectors, such as pipeline and heavy engineering construction).

As we weigh the evidence, we think Texas will, at the least, have a rough 2015 ahead, and is at risk of slipping into a regional recession. Such an outcome could bring with it the usual collateral damage that occurs in a slowdown. Housing markets have been hot in Texas. Although affordability in Texas looks good compared to the national average, it always does; compared to its own history, housing in some major Texas metro areas looks quite dear, suggesting a risk of a pull-back in the real estate market.

The national economy performed quite well in 1986, in spite of the Texas recession. We expect the US economy will perform well next year too , though some  regions – most notably Texas – could significantly under perform the national average.

* * *
So perhaps it is finally time to add that footnote to the “unambiguously good” qualified when pundits describe the oil crash: it may be good for everyone… except Texas which is about to enter a recession. And then Pennsylvania. And then North Dakota. And then Colorado. And then West Virginia. And then Alaska. And then Wyoming. And then Oklahoma. And then Montana, and so on, until finally we find just where the new equilibrium is following the exodus of hundreds of thousands of the best-paying jobs created during the “recovery” offset by minimum-wage waiters, bartenders, retail workers and temps.

Bank of America Sees $50 Oil As OPEC Dies

“Our biggest worry is the end of the liquidity cycle. The Fed is done. The reach for yield that we have seen since 2009 is going into reverse”, said Bank of America.

https://i1.wp.com/media0.faz.net/ppmedia/aktuell/wirtschaft/759001933/1.2727518/article_multimedia_overview/umweltpolitisch-hoch-umstritten-hilft-fracking-hier-in-colorado-amerika-dabei-unabhaengiger-von-den-opec-mitgliedern-zu-werden.jpgBy Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

The OPEC oil cartel no longer exists in any meaningful sense and crude prices will slump to $50 a barrel over the coming months as market forces shake out the weakest producers, Bank of America has warned.

Revolutionary changes sweeping the world’s energy industry will drive down the price of liquefied natural gas (LNG), creating a “multi-year” glut and a much cheaper source of gas for Europe.

Francisco Blanch, the bank’s commodity chief, said OPEC is “effectively dissolved” after it failed to stabilize prices at its last meeting. “The consequences are profound and long-lasting,“ he said.

The free market will now set the global cost of oil, leading to a new era of wild price swings and disorderly trading that benefits only the Mid-East petro-states with deepest pockets such as Saudi Arabia. If so, the weaker peripheral members such as Venezuela and Nigeria are being thrown to the wolves.

The bank said in its year-end report that at least 15pc of US shale producers are losing money at current prices, and more than half will be under water if US crude falls below $55. The high-cost producers in the Permian basin will be the first to “feel the pain” and may soon have to cut back on production.

The claims pit Bank of America against its arch-rival Citigroup, which insists that the US shale industry is far more resilient than widely supposed, with marginal costs for existing rigs nearer $40, and much of its output hedged on the futures markets.

Bank of America said the current slump will choke off shale projects in Argentina and Mexico, and will force retrenchment in Canadian oil sands and some of Russia’s remote fields. The major oil companies will have to cut back on projects with a break-even cost below $80 for Brent crude.

It will take six months or so to whittle away the 1m barrels a day of excess oil on the market – with US crude falling to $50 – given that supply and demand are both “inelastic” in the short-run. That will create the beginnings of the next shortage. “We expect a pretty sharp rebound to the high $80s or even $90 in the second half of next year,” said Sabine Schels, the bank’s energy expert.

Mrs Schels said the global market for (LNG) will “change drastically” in 2015, going into a “bear market” lasting years as a surge of supply from Australia compounds the global effects of the US gas saga.

If the forecast is correct, the LNG flood could have powerful political effects, giving Europe a source of mass supply that can undercut pipeline gas from Russia. The EU already has enough LNG terminals to cover most of its gas needs. It has not been able to use this asset as a geostrategic bargaining chip with the Kremlin because LGN itself has been in scarce supply, mostly diverted to Japan and Korea. Much of Europe may not need Russian gas at all within a couple of years.

Bank of America said the oil price crash is worth $1 trillion of stimulus for the global economy, equal to a $730bn “tax cut” in 2015. Yet the effects are complex, with winners and losers. The benefits diminish the further it falls. Academic studies suggest that oil crashes can ultimately turn negative if they trigger systemic financial crises in commodity states.

Barnaby Martin, the bank’s European credit chief, said world asset markets may face a stress test as the US Federal Reserve starts to tighten afters year of largesse. “Our biggest worry is the end of the liquidity cycle. The Fed is done and it is preparing to raise rates. The reach for yield that we have seen since 2009 is going into reverse”, he said.

Mr Martin flagged warnings by William Dudley, the head of the New York Fed, that the US authorities had tightened too gently in 2004 and might do better to adopt the strategy of 1994 when they raised rates fast and hard, sending tremors through global bond markets.

Bank of America said quantitative easing in Europe and Japan will cover just 35pc of the global stimulus lost as the Fed pulls back, creating a treacherous hiatus for markets. It warned that the full effect of Fed tapering had yet to be felt. From now on the markets cannot expect to be rescued every time there is a squall. “The threshold for the Fed to return to QE will be high. This is why we believe we are entering a phase in which bad news will be bad news and volatility will likely rise,” it said.

What is clear is that the world has become addicted to central bank stimulus. Bank of America said 56pc of global GDP is currently supported by zero interest rates, and so are 83pc of the free-floating equities on global bourses. Half of all government bonds in the world yield less that 1pc. Roughly 1.4bn people are experiencing negative rates in one form or another.

These are astonishing figures, evidence of a 1930s-style depression, albeit one that is still contained. Nobody knows what will happen as the Fed tries to break out of the stimulus trap, including Fed officials themselves.

The Real Reason Saudis Didn’t Cut Oil Production

https://i1.wp.com/www.touristmaker.com/images/saudi-arabia/medina-saudi-arabia.jpgby Martin Vleck

Summary

  • There have been plenty of explanations why OPEC didn’t cut production quotas.
  • Most of them make sense. But they fail to explain the whole strategic long-term picture.
  • There is a rarely mentioned strategic reason why – counter intuitively – oil prices falling and staying low in 2015 is in the best long-term interest of most oil exporters.
  • Moreover, the current status threatens OPEC’s influence over oil prices. OPEC will need to reform and include virtually all major oil producers in quota negotiations. Otherwise, OPEC will become irrelevant.
  • There is also an unexpected historical parallel for the current oil slump.

The conventional explanations for OPEC not cutting the production

The OPEC leaving production quotas unchanged has naturally been the top news last week and most investors have spent at least some time over the weekend to reflect on the implications of the move on their portfolios. There have been several theories and explanations as to why the OPEC didn’t cut. The obvious reasons stretch from the lack of agreement between OPEC members on whether to cut, by how, and most importantly, how much production each country sacrifices. Other explanations include the strategy of the dominant OPEC member, Saudi Arabia, to let the prices fall in order to squeeze out high-cost oil producers, such as Canadian oil sands and U.S. shale oil. The explanations or speculations also include some supposed secret deal between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to damage Russia, Iran, ISIS and other “rogue” regimes or interest groups around the world. There are certainly many more theories for why OPEC didn’t cut.

Saudis are most probably thinking long term, so any explanation needs to include a combination of short term and long-term strategic goals. And the question also lingers whether OPEC still has enough power over oil prices.

Is this the real reason why Saudis didn’t cut?

There have been plenty of explanations why the OPEC didn’t cut production quotas. But there is one very long-term strategic reason why the price fall may be welcome by OPEC. This explanation has not been discussed too much, at least I haven’t seen it mentioned. Yet over the very long, very strategic time horizon, this would be the most probable explanation for letting the price of oil to fall now.

Who is the biggest competitor for the Saudis, or OPEC countries? Is it Canada? Is it the U.S.? Russia? Offshore Africa? The answer is no. Let me give you a hint. What is the biggest threat to not just Saudi Arabia, or OPEC, but to all oil producers? The answer is simple:

The biggest threat to all oil producers of the world is the high oil price. (No, that’s not a typo).

Alternative energy sources are the true competitor of all participants in the oil and gas industry.

High price of oil spurs faster development and implementation of alternative energy technologies. It is just a matter of time before solar, wind and other alternative sources of energy will become competitive or cheaper than oil and gas in many applications. In some places they already are. Sometimes even without any subsidies and including the benefits that oil and gas industry receives in the form of free negative externalities, such as the damage to the water and environment in general. To be fair, the negative environmental impact of the solar panel production and disposition is rarely mentioned.

Moreover, the cost of generating alternative energy has been falling and there is no reason why the cost should stop falling as the technological process keeps leaping ahead. It will probably take centuries before the world runs out of good sunny or windy spots (Sahara, Saudi desert – interestingly, Southern U.S. for solar and plenty of shores for wind are just some examples), so the costs to extract additional alternative energy megawatts will not rise. Plus, the sun rises every day, so the source of this energy is almost infinite and doesn’t deplete or deteriorate. It is like a fixed cost which will never rise over time.

On the other hand, the reserves of oil and gas are finite and the cost of extracting an additional barrel of oil has been rising – and will most probably keep rising – due to cheap sources of oil being always extracted first as well as due to generally rising overall costs associated with oil production.

Alternative energy space is rapidly developing

The recent technical development in the area of electricity storage (batteries, etc.) and alternative energy is surprisingly fast. Panasonic, Tesla and many others are investing in cheaper and more efficient large-scale batteries for economically viable electricity storage. The sales of electric cars, while still tiny, grow at rapid annual rates globally. Hydrogen fuel cell powered cars are emerging (Honda, Hyundai and Toyota already sold/leased some hydrogen models to the public, Audi has a fully functional prototype, many other brands are at similar stages but the technology is evolving rapidly). Ironically, hydrogen is usually produced from natural gas or methane. However, the efficiency is roughly 80%, which is extremely high, much higher than conventional combustion engines. Natural gas also has a much lower value for the oil and gas producers than the oil (lots of it is still just burnt on the spot). So the overall revenue for the oil and gas industry will be significantly lower from a hydrogen-powered car than from a conventional gasoline car. The same holds true for electric cars of course. The hydrogen fueling stations infrastructure is in its infancy, and only a true fan would buy/rent a hydrogen car now, but judging from the hydrogen car mileage and activities of car manufacturers, fuel cell infrastructure may be just 2-3 years behind the electric vehicle infrastructure. If some favorable legislation chips in, the gap could actually close very soon.

But cars are just one of many examples of how alternative energy sources threaten to replace significant volumes of oil in the future. On the other end of the spectrum are speculative developments, such as the fusion power which has been a fata-morgana for many decades. Even a working solution now would probably take five to ten years to make it commercially available. However, Lockheed Martin now claims to have made a breakthrough in fusion technology, offering no details though. So their claim may easily be just part of a creative PR campaign. (I am not suggesting they are lying, but I have to discount the information because there is no way to prove it)

Oil is here to stay for decades

Of course lots of oil will still need to be consumed, for many decades to come. But the market will be shrinking or stagnant in dollar terms. Actual physical volumes may moderately rise. The improvements in power consumption efficiencies are not exactly going to help the price and volume. On the other hand, growing global population and rising buying power of a global consumer is a major positive factor. All in all, I believe the current oil price weakness will continue only in the short run. The prices of WTI crude should stabilize in the medium term of several months or quarters at the level of $60-$80 per barrel.

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The only way many oil and gas exporting countries can survive in the long run

Oil and gas revenues are often a dominant source of income for the producing countries. To say many are very dependent on oil and gas revenues is a gross understatement. Preserving at least some oil and gas revenue is a matter of life and death for these countries. Therefore, the only way to survive the next few decades for most oil and gas producing countries is to cut the price of oil drastically NOW. That is their only chance to at least slow down the development and implementation of alternative energy sources into widespread usage, before it is too late from their point of view. If they fail, the price of oil will get stuck at much lower levels almost permanently.

OPEC will lose relevance if it doesn’t manage to reform and include virtually all major oil producers in quota negotiations

Higher-cost producers are planning to increase their oil/oil products exports to global markets. For example, Canada prepares to sign a free trade agreement with South Korea “in the coming months” which will cut crude oil and LNG duties by 3% and by 8% on refined products virtually immediately upon signing the deal, and this deal would serve as a “gateway to the wider Asia-Pacific region”). Similarly, the U.S. has been warming up to the idea of looser oil export policies and discussing a free trade deal with the EU. The fact that Saudi Arabia recently cut price for its Asian customers while raising them for the U.S. would give some more support the theory that the North American market and its producers are the prime target of its strategy. And this is probably the medium-term goal of the Saudis, according to my opinion.

The fact that oil prices topped in the middle of June, almost exactly on the date when the message about the planned free trade agreement with South Korea was officially released (June 16, 2014), is certainly an interesting coincidence. Or is it? Additionally, it is likely that the Saudis see the waning pricing power of OPEC due to flexible production from the U.S. shale oil fields which can be quickly boosted or cut in order to influence the total world production. This ability takes away the power over oil from the Saudis which have possessed this power to adjust production until recently. Therefore, the Saudis probably try to reign in all OPEC members and force them to respect the set quotas and share any potential cuts among all members, without the Saudis bearing most of the quota cut. But the falling oil price has an interesting historical parallel and implications.

Lower price of oil serves as an inverse oil price shock (the opposite of the 70’s)

Besides the conventional explanations for the current oil price slump, there is a surprising inverse historical parallel – the first and second oil price shock in the 70’s (1973 and 1979). Back then, prices of oil spiked rapidly and remained high and the time was generally characterized by booming population growth, young population, rapid inflation, high interest rates which subsequently caused a supply-side shock and a recession. But this period also spurred unprecedented innovation around the world with advances in robotics, miniaturization, semiconductors, and other fields which radically improved efficiencies which decreased energy and material intensity of production, especially in Japan.

The current situation is almost exactly the opposite. The price of oil is not rising but falling rapidly. Inflation is extremely low (parts of the world already experience deflation), aggregate demand is sluggish amid falling real income, almost non-existent population growth and aging population (in the U.S. and other developed countries). All this discourages investments in energy innovation and energy efficiency (low interest rates help a lot, though).

Existing alternative energy solutions are becoming more and more uneconomical compared to falling price of oil and gas, and the opportunity cost of using subsidized “green” energy is rising relative to cheaper oil. Existing subsidies suddenly may not be high enough to cover the costs to install further alternative energy capacities. Investments into further alternative energy R&D will be hard to obtain due to low potential ROI of the innovations if the future price of oil is expected to remain low. This will help conserve the status quo or at least slow down alternative energy advances. For the current oil producers – from all around the world, not only for Saudi Arabia or OPEC – lower prices are great news in the long run, even though they are painful now.

My oil price outlook

In the short run (several months and quarters), I am very bearish on oil prices because the oil producers have motivation to keep the price low until the highly leveraged, high-cost oil producers go out of business or are bought for pennies by their stronger competitors. Also, oil producing countries would need to maintain at least several quarters of weak oil to discourage long-term investments into alternative energy innovation, possibly until the current round of alternative energy R&D companies and some solar energy companies go out of business or consolidate.

However, over the medium to long term (years and decades), I am neutral to moderately bullish on oil prices as I believe the markets and industry will find a decent equilibrium around $60-80 per barrel. However, I don’t expect long-lasting spikes above $90-100 per barrel (barring the global security situation getting out of hand) because the flexible U.S. shale producers currently hold a permanent “call option” on the oil market. Every time the price spikes, they will quickly add more production, balancing the market. It is quite similar to the Bernanke put option, just working the opposite way and in oil.

Investment implication

I opened a long position in United States Oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USO) (selling covered calls to help mitigate contango issues) and Seadrill (NYSE:SDRL) late last week. I am also considering establishing a long position in British Petroleum (NYSE:BP). Furthermore, for long-term investors with high risk tolerance, I recommend smaller positions in more speculative and risky oil and gas services small-cap stocks which I analyzed in the past few weeks. These include Tidewater (NYSE:TDW), TGC Industries (NASDAQ:TGE), Dawson Geophysical (NASDAQ:DWSN), GulfMark Offshore (NYSE:GLF), Ion Geophysical (NYSE:IO) and CGG Industries (NYSE:CGG). I don’t hold any positions in any of these due to my preference for a highly concentrated portfolio but may decide to open long positions depending on future situation.

OPEC Refuses to Cut Production, Oil Plunges off the Chart

https://martinhladyniuk.files.wordpress.com/2014/11/a4b67-a2boil2bworker2bin2bnorth2bdakota.jpg

   Oil rig in North Dakota. Increased US drilling is a factor in the current decline in prices.  This article by Wolf Richter

The global oil glut, as some call it, is caused by the toxic mix of soaring production in the US and lackluster demand from struggling economies around the world. Since June, crude oil prices have plunged 30%. It drove oil producers in the US into bouts of hand wringing behind the scenes, though they desperately tried to maintain brittle smiles and optimistic verbiage in public.

But everyone in the industry – particularly junk bondholders that have funded the shale revolution in the US – were hoping that OPEC, and not the US, would come to its senses and cut production.

So the oil ministers from OPEC members just got through with what must have been a tempestuous five-hour meeting in Vienna, and it was not pretty for high-cost US producers: the oil production target would remain unchanged at 30 million barrels per day.

“It was a great decision,” Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said with a big smile after the meeting.

Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states were thus overriding the concerns from struggling countries such as Venezuela which, at these prices – and they’re plunging as I’m writing this – will head straight into default, or get bailed out by China, at a price, whatever the case may be.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Rafael Ramirez emerged from the meeting, visibly steaming, and refused to comment.

The US benchmark crude oil grade, West Texas Intermediate, plunged instantly. Even before the decision, it was down 30% from its recent high in June. As I’m writing this, it crashed through the $70-mark without even hesitating. It currently trades for $68.51. Chopped down by a full third from the peak in June.

This is what that Thanksgiving plunge looks like:

US-WTI_2014-11-27

Nigerian Oil Minister said OPEC and Non-OPEC producers should share responsibility to stabilize the markets. I don’t know what he was thinking; maybe some intervention by central banks around the world, such as the coordinated announcement of “QE crude infinity” perhaps?

Ecuadorian Oil Minister called the decision a rollover. However, the Iranian Oil Minister, whose country must have a higher price, kept a positive face, saying, “I’m not angry.”

The next OPEC meeting will be held in June, 2015. So this is going to last a while. And there is no deus ex machina on the horizon.

It seems OPEC, or rather Saudi Arabia and some of the Gulf States, decided for now to live with the circumstances, to let the markets sort it out. High-cost producers around the world will spill red ink. Governments might topple. Junk bondholders and shareholders of oil-and-gas IPOs that have blindly funded the miraculous shale revolution in the US, lured by ever increasing hype, will watch more of their money go up in thick smoke.

And the bloodletting in the US fracking revolution will go on until the money finally dries up.

OPEC’s Prisoner’s Dilemma Unfolding

https://i0.wp.com/www.econlife.com/wp-content/uploads/imported/16422_8.26_000005651286XSmall.jpg
by Marc Chandler

Summary

  • OPEC faces internal and external challenges.
  • A large cut in output is unlikely.
  • Prices may have to fall by another $10 a barrel or so to begin having impact on production.

Prisoner’s Dilemma Unfolding. The oil producing cartel will be 55 years old next year. It is not clear, but it may be experiencing an existential crisis. It’s share of the world oil production has fallen with the rise of non-OPEC sources, like Russia, Norway, the UK, Canada, and significantly in recent years, increasingly the US.

In addition to the external threat, OPEC faces internal challenges, There is a divergence of perceptions of national interest by the political elite. Indeed, Middle East politics is arguably incomprehensible without appreciating the tension between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

Generally speaking, OPEC countries have tended to fall into one of two groups. The first has greater oil reserves relative to population. Saudi Arabia and Kuwait are the obvious examples. The second have relatively less oil and more people. Iran and Iraq are examples. This has often created conflicting strategies. The former wants to protect the value of their reserves by discouraging alternatives, which means relatively low prices. The latter want to maximize their current value.

OPEC, like all cartels, have governance or enforcement challenges. It long faced difficulty ensuring that the production agreements and quotas are respected. By OPEC’s own reckoning, there is often production in excess of the prevailing agreement. Last month, while oil prices were falling, OPEC says that it produced 30.25 mln barrels a day, which is 250k barrels a day over the production agreement. This may under-estimate OPEC’s production. Iran, for example, appears to be selling greater amounts of (condensate) oil than the sanctions allow.

The prisoner’s dilemma is both within OPEC and without. For the Saudis to continue to act as the swing producer, it would mean the surrender of revenue and market share to its rival Iran. Iran would very likely use the proceeds for purposes that would frustrate Saudi Arabia’s strategic interest. In a similar vein, a substantial cut in OPEC output, even if it could be agreed up, would benefit non-OPEC producers and only encourage the expansion of US shale development.

https://i2.wp.com/static2.businessinsider.com/image/54748126ecad04c815222db7/russia-doesnt-have-a-great-reputation-with-opec.jpg

Putin with Igor Sechin (right)

Contrary to the some conspiracy theorists who claim Saudi Arabia is doing US bidding by allowing the price of oil to fall to squeeze Russia, it has its own reasons not to want do Russia favors. Putin’s support for Assad in Syria and the Iranian regime puts Russia in opposition to Saudi Arabia. If the Saudis pick up the mantle again as the swing producer, Russia would a beneficiary. A recovery in oil prices would allow Putin to replenish his coffers, which would make its foreign assistance program even more challenging.

Moreover, and this is a key point, given OPEC’s reduced leverage in the oil market, a large cut in the Middle East production of mostly heavy sour crude might not be sufficient to support prices. It could lead to a loss of both revenue and market share. It could also lead to new widening of the spread between Brent, the international benchmark, and WTI, the US benchmark.

The significant drop in oil prices over the last several months has not deterred the expansion of US output. In the week ending November 7, the US produced nine mln barrels a day, which was the most in more than two decades. Output slipped in the week through November 14 by less than 60k barrels a day, but we would not read much into that.

Industry estimates suggest that more than three-quarters of the new light oil production next year is expected to be profitable between $50 and $69 a barrel. The press reports that rather than be deterred by the decline in prices, some companies, like Encana (NYSE:ECA) plan to dramatically increase the number of wells in the US Permian Basin (Texas) next year.

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Reports do suggest that parts of nearly 20 fields are no longer profitable at $75 a barrel. There has been a very modest reduction of oil rigs. However, this has been largely offset by the rise in productivity of the existing wells. For example, in the North Dakota Bakken area, the output per well has risen to a record. In addition, industry reports suggest that the costs of shale and horizontal drilling is falling.

Although the price of oil has fallen below budget levels for many oil producing countries, the situation is not particularly urgent. Seasonally this is a high demand period. Most countries have ample reserves to cover the shortfall in the coming months. Around March, the seasonal factors shift and demand typically eases. That is when some key decisions will have to be made. It may not sound like a significant tell, but when the next OPEC meeting is scheduled may be indicative of a sense of urgency. A meeting in the February-March period may indicate higher anxiety than say a meeting in the middle of next year.

One study by Bloomberg found that only two OPEC quota cuts have been for less than one million barrels. A Bloomberg’s survey found that the respondents were evenly split between expecting a cut and not, few seem to be actually anticipating a significant cut. This suggests the scope for disappointment may be limited. That said, there is gap risk on the US oil futures contract come Friday, when they re-open after Thursday’s holiday.

As a consequence of lower oil prices, some oil producers may have to draw down their financial reserves to close the funding gap. Some will assume this will translate into liquidation of US Treasuries. However, it is not as easy as that. According to US Treasury data, in the first nine months of this year, OPEC increased its holdings of US Treasuries by $41 bln. In some period last year, it had sold about $17 bln of Treasuries. Could OPEC countries also be unwinding the diversification of reserves into euros, with yields so low and officials explicitly seeking devaluation (something not seen in the US since Robert Rubin first articulated a “strong dollar” policy almost two decades ago).

There may be political fallout from a continued decline in oil prices. An agreement between Baghdad and Kurds may be more difficult. Pressure in Libya and Nigeria is bound to increase, for example.

Back in 2009 when some observers began warning that higher food prices were the result of the extremely easy and unorthodox monetary policy. We argued that the shock was more on the supply side than the demand side and that commercial farmers would respond to the price signal by boosting output. Oil is similar but opposite. Oil prices will bottom after producers respond to the price signal by cutting production because they have to, not because they want to. Fear not greed will be the driver. It does not look like this can happen until Brent falls below $70 a barrel and WTI is nearer $60-$65.

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