Dec 122014
 December 12, 2014  Posted by at 6:31 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , ,  11 Responses »

DPC Youngstown, Ohio. Steel mill and Mahoning River 1902

Please allow me to revert back again a little to what I wrote earlier today in Will Oil Kill The Zombies? I think we need to be clear on what’s going on here. The oil market actually works. And that’s a rarity in today’s world of manipulated everything, of no mark to market, of huge stock buybacks financed by zero interest rates, you know the story.

We know that the market works because of for instance this article from CNBC:

Oil Pressure Could Sock It To Stocks

“Oil has pretty much spooked people,” said Daniel Greenhaus, chief global strategist at BTIG. “There just isn’t a bid. With everything in energy and the oil price collapsing as it is, who is going to step in and be a buyer now? The answer is nobody.”

b>”It’s (oil) actually much weaker than the futures markets indicate. This is true for crude oil, and it’s true for gasoline. There’s a little bit of a desperation in the crude market,” said Kloza.”The Canadian crude, if you go into the oil sands, is in the $30s, and you talk about Western Canadian Select heavy crude upgrade that comes out of Canada, it’s at $41/$42 a barrel.

“Bakken is probably about $54.” Kloza said there’s some talk that Venezuelan heavy crude is seeing prices $20 to $22 less than Brent, the international benchmark. Brent futures were at $63.20 per barrel late Thursday.

“In the actual physical market, it’s fallen by even more than the futures market. That’s a telling sign, and it’s telling me that this isn’t over yet. This isn’t the bottoming process. The physical market turns before the futures,” he said.

It’s not about where WTI and Brent are at any given moment. Even if WTI is down another 3.60% today so far at $57.79. Whatever WTI tells us, the real world out there trumps it by a mile and a half. The prices at which oil actually sells in the real world are way below WTO and Brent standards, a very big and scary development. There are tons of parties that will sell at any price they can get. There is no better way to drive prices down further, it’s a vicious circle down a drain.

The market is setting future prices as we go along, that’s the – inevitable – mechanism. It’s called price discovery. We knew ISIS was selling at $30 or so, but tar sands at $30 and both Canada and Venezuela heavy crude at $40, that’s way more than an outlier. At WTI standard prices, too many can’t move nearly enough product anymore, and with credit having been slashed, moving product is the sole way to survive. How much of this ongoing process would you think we have we seen to date?

Here’s one of the first oil-producing countries about which serious alarm bells are raised. It’s not Venezuela or Nigeria, it’s Canada. From MarketWatch:

Falling Oil Threatens Canada’s Bulletproof Banking System

While the U.S. financial system – as well as many international banks – has gotten hopped up on a wide assortment of financial opiates and stumbled through more than a dozen bank-fueled crises through the decades, Canada boasts a stellar track record of banking sobriety. However, a spectacular death spiral in crude-oil futures – West Texas Intermediate settled Thursday at $59.95, a more than five-year low – threatens to deliver a serious shock to the banking system of the U.S.’s northern neighbor, according to a research note published Thursday by Pavilion Global Markets. Canada ranks as one the world’s five largest energy producers and a net exporter of oil, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. So, a big drop in oil would pose several risks to Canada’s oil-dependent economy.

“The drop in oil prices, as mentioned above, will have wide-ranging implications on the Canadian economy,” Pavilion strategists Pierre Lapointe and Alex Bellefleur said in the note. It’s not just that Canada’s banks will find themselves saddled with souring loans from underwater energy producers. The problem, Pavilion argues, is that Canada’s employment rate could suffer as oil-related businesses are forced to close.

Here’s how they put it: “In this context, the risk to Canadian banks doesn’t stem necessarily from a narrow view of loans to oil companies, but morefrom a broad macro risk perspective. As employment in the oil industry declines, a negative income and wealth shock to many households will take place, impacting a variety of loans (credit card, mortgage) on Canadian bank balance sheets.”

This is what I’ve been hammering on for weeks: the benefits of cheap oil are no match for the destruction that touches on a thousand different parts of our economies. It doesn’t help that much of both Canadian and American oil, especially the unconventional kinds, were drowning in debt even before oil turned south with a vengeance. But that’s not even the most crucial part.

Our entire economies revolve around oil, it’s not just something that you put in your car, oil is everywhere, it’s built our world and it maintains it.. And therefore the effects of a sudden 40% price drop – and counting – will be felt everywhere. What we’ve seen so far can still be labeled ‘orderly’, but that’s not going to last. Still, look at the bright side: at least you can say that for once in your life you’ve witnessed a functioning market.

Dec 052014
 December 5, 2014  Posted by at 8:29 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  5 Responses »

Arthur Rothstein President Roosevelt tours drought area, near Bismarck, North Dakota Aug 1936

OK, I don’t see a whole lot of comprehension out there, so let’s try and link the obvious: employment to shale to plummeting oil prices to the debt the shale industry was built on (and which is vanishing). I know, people look at the US jobs report today, and at the stock exchanges (Europe up some 2% across the board), and think salvation has landed on their doorstep, but the true story really is very different.

The EU markets are up because of US job numbers + the expectation that Draghi will launch a broad QE in January. But US jobs are far less sunny than meets the eye at first glance, and the Bundesbank will not all of a sudden do a 180º on ECB stimulus options. Ergo: a lot of European investors are set to lose a lot of money.

Anyone notice how quiet Angela Merkel has become about the QE debate? That’s because she doesn’t want to be caught stuck in a losing corner. Even if the Bundesbank would give in to Draghi, and chances are close to zero, there would be multiple court cases in Deutschland against that decision, and chances are slim the spend spend side would win them all. That’s the sort of quicksand an incumbent leader like Merkel wants to avoid at all cost.

But let’s leave Europe to cook itself, and its own goose too. What’s happening stateside is more important today. First, Marc Chandler has a good way of putting what I have said for as long as oil prices started testing ever deeper seas: the danger to the industry is not even so much falling prices, it’s financing both existing and future endeavors. Shale is a leveraged Ponzi, that’s its most urgent problem. Even if shale could break even at low prices, financiers and investors would still leave the building.

Both shale oil and gas have two big problems: 1) projects are based on highly optimistic returns, and 2) they are financed with very large and leveraged debt loads. With WTI prices now at $66 a barrel, and the first Bakken prices below $50 a barrel having been signaled, the entire industry starts resembling a house of cards, a game of dominoes and/or a pyramid shell (pick your favorite) more by the day. Chandler:

This Is Oil’s ‘Minsky Moment’

[..] Marc Chandler says the energy sector has just suffered its own Minsky moment. And while he doesn’t expect it to take down the stock market, the slide in oil could have a serious impact on the high-yield bond market. Minsky moment is a term coined by Pimco economist Paul McCulley in 1998, and it refers to a point when a period of rapid growth and risk-taking leads to a sudden turn lower and a crisis. Chandler, global head of markets strategy at Brown Brothers Harriman, says that is precisely what is happening in crude oil.

“Many people a couple years ago, a year ago, were saying that oil prices could only go up – ‘we’re in peak oil’ – meaning that we’re running out of the stuff. So a lot of things were leveraged based on oil prices that can only go up. Sort of like house prices—’they can only go up.’ So what happened is, because people held this as a deep conviction, they leveraged up,” Chandler said.” [..] “The big risk now to our shale is not going to be that the price of oil drops so far that it’s not going to be profitable,” he said. “The weakness, the Achilles’ heel, is that they don’t get the cheap funding anymore.”

Even Nature magazine this week gave it a shot, and tried to lend scientific credibility to a certain view of shale. Here’s the editorial:

The Uncertain Dash For Gas

[..] The International Energy Agency projected in November that global production of shale gas would more than triple between 2012 and 2040, as countries such as China ramp up fracking of their own shale formations.

[..] Academic journals are filled with earnest projections about future energy dynamics, which usually turn out to be wildly inaccurate. Even worse, governments and companies wager billions of dollars on dubious bets. This matters because investment begets further investment. As the pipework and pumps go in, momentum builds. This is what economists call technology lock-in.

[..] Nature has obtained detailed US Energy Information Administration (EIA) forecasts of production from the nation’s biggest shale-gas production sites. These forecasts matter because they feed into decisions on US energy policy made at the highest levels. Crucially, they are much higher than the best independent academic estimates. The conclusion is that the US government and much of the energy industry may be vastly overestimating how much natural gas the United States will produce in the coming decades.

[..] The EIA projects that production will rise by more than 50% over the next quarter of a century, and perhaps beyond, with shale formations supplying much of that increase. But such optimism contrasts with forecasts developed by a team of specialists at the University of Texas, which is analysing the geological conditions using data at much higher resolution than the EIA’s.

The Texas team projects that gas production from four of the most productive formations will peak in the coming years and then quickly decline. If that pattern holds for other formations that the team has not yet analysed, it could mean much less natural gas in the United States future.

And then an article:

Natural Gas: The Fracking Fallacy

When US President Barack Obama talks about the future, he foresees a thriving US economy fuelled to a large degree by vast amounts of natural gas pouring from domestic wells. “We have a supply of natural gas that can last America nearly 100 years,” he declared in his 2012 State of the Union address. [..]

Over the next 20 years, US industry and electricity producers are expected to invest hundreds of billions of dollars in new plants that rely on natural gas. And billions more dollars are pouring into the construction of export facilities that will enable the United States to ship liquefied natural gas to Europe, Asia and South America.

All of those investments are based on the expectation that US gas production will climb for decades, in line with the official forecasts by the US Energy Information Administration (EIA). As agency director Adam Sieminski put it last year: “For natural gas, the EIA has no doubt at all that production can continue to grow all the way out to 2040.”

But a careful examination of the assumptions behind such bullish forecasts suggests that they may be overly optimistic, in part because the government’s predictions rely on coarse-grained studies of major shale formations, or plays. Now, researchers are analysing those formations in much greater detail and are issuing more-conservative forecasts. They calculate that such formations have relatively small ‘sweet spots’ where it will be profitable to extract gas.

The results are “bad news”, says Tad Patzek, head of the University of Texas at Austin’s department of petroleum and geosystems engineering, and a member of the team that is conducting the in-depth analyses. With companies trying to extract shale gas as fast as possible and export significant quantities, he argues, “we’re setting ourselves up for a major fiasco”.

The scientific ring to it is commendable, but this misses quite a few things. They cite David Hughes, but leave out the work of Rune Likvern, without whom in my opinion no true – scientific or not – view of the shale industry is complete. But okay, they tried, in their own way, and their conclusions may be a bit softened, but they’re still miles apart from those of either the industry’s PR, or the EIA.

And then we move to the next link: that between shale and jobs. Because that’s where falling oil prices start to go from joy for the whole family to something entirely different.

What happens if the US shale industry crumbles under the weight of its own leverage? Most people will probably think: we’ll just start buying from that oversupplied world market again. But it’s not that easy, that leaves out one big issue. American jobs.

And we can take it straight from there to today’s hosannah heysannah BLS report. Which, however, has issues that don’t show up at the surface. Tyler Durden:

Full-Time Jobs Down 150K, Participation Rate Remains At 35 Year Lows

While the seasonally-adjusted headline Establishment Survey payroll print reported by the BLS moments ago may be indicative of an economy which the Fed will soon have to temper in an attempt to cool down, a closer read of the November payrolls report shows several other things that were not quite as rosy. First, the Household Survey was nowhere close to confirming the Establishment Survey data, suggesting jobs rose only by 4K from 147,283K to 147,287K, and furthermore, the breakdown was skewed fully in favor of Part-Time jobs, which rose by 77K while Full-Time jobs declined by 150K.

And then for those keeping tabs on the composition of the labor force, the same adverse trends indicated over the past 4 years have continued, with the participation rate remaining flat at 62.8%, essentially the lowest print since 1978, driven by a 69K worker increase in people not in the labor force.

So according to the BLS Household Survey, the US lost 150,000 jobs, while the Establishment Survey, prepared by the same BLS, shows a gain of 321,000 jobs. Yay! pARty! But we’ve been familiar with all the questions surrounding the jobs reports for a long time, so that’s not all that interesting anymore.

Still, when you see that again most of the jobs that were allegedly created are low paid service jobs, and that wages are not going anywhere, you have to wonder what is really happening. Well, this. The vast majority of new US jobs since 2008/9 have come from energy- and related industries, which makes them a dangerously endangered species now oil prices or down 40% and falling.

Tyler Durden ran the following on Wednesday, and I think this is very relevant today:

Jobs: Shale States vs Non-Shale States

Consider: lower oil prices unequivocally “make everyone better off”, Right? Wrong. First: new oil well permits collapse 40% in November; why is this an issue? Because since December 2007, or roughly the start of the global depression, shale oil states have added 1.36 million jobs while non-shale states have lost 424,000 jobs.

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.

Simply put, this means 9.3 million, or 93% of the 10 million jobs created since the recession/depression trough, are energy related.

The links above, jobs to shale to oil prices, are intended to give people an idea of what’s in store if oil prices stay where they are or fall more. It’s 4 to 12 for US shale, and its saving grace is nowhere to be seen. And if 93% of all new American jobs since the recession, even if they are burgerflipping ones, come from the oil and gas industry, what’s going to become of either of the BLS reports?

I’ve been saying for weeks that lower oil prices would not be a boon but a scourge for the US economy, for several different reasons, and this is a big one. The losses to investors, the restructurings and bankruptcies, and perhaps even the bailouts, are a very much interconnected and crosslinked other. There’s no resilience – left – in a system like this, it bets all on red, and that makes it terribly brittle.

Dec 042014
 December 4, 2014  Posted by at 9:05 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  28 Responses »

Dorothea Lange Homeless mother and child walking from Phoenix to Imperial County CA Feb 1939

So, Matthew Lynn, I’m sure you’re a fine young man and your mommy loves you to bits, but you’re obviously in the wrong line of work. Or maybe the right one, come to think of it, since if you can make enough people see the world your way, in the end you’ll be right. That’s how journalism is defined these days. Anything goes, provided you can make people believe what you write. The problem is, that process can only end up with everyone a lot dumber than they already are. The lowest common denominator wins the day, every day.

My problem with that is, why does someone work for a finance site like MarketWatch who has no clue what finance actually is, and how it works? Your ignorance leads you, I’m sure without any bad intentions, to insult millions of people who are having a very bad time. Does that mean anything to you? See, I’m guessing it doesn’t. I think you don’t know bad times, because if you did, you would never write the offensive blubber you do.

But Matthew, this once, and only once, I’m going to say what I have to say about your mindless drivel. Because I don’t care one bit about the investor crowd whose fancy you’re trying to tickle, I’m here for the people you aim to leave by the wayside (yeah, I know, you had no idea..). And you know, normally I don’t care anymore, I can’t get angry every single time some nutjob gets his stuff upside down. But this goes too far, you’ve overstretched even your lowest common standards.

In your article, you paint the perfect example of why seeing deflation only as falling prices is so completely useless, numbing and dumbing. Hey, maybe I should thank you for that.

If you refuse to look a WHY prices fall, you never learn a thing, and you will always be behind. Apart from the fact that the idea of Greece and Spain doing well can easily be refuted by 1000 other data sources, there’s the simple fact that looking at one day or week or month tells you nothing. You need to look at consumer spending over at least the past few years. That would also show more respect for the over 25% of the working population, and over 50% of youth, who are unemployed in both Greece and Spain, and who are the topic of your ‘article’.

Here’s you, Matthew:

If Deflation Is So Terrible, Why Are Spain, Greece Growing?

Prices are starting to fall across the European continent. Mass unemployment, and a grinding recession are forcing companies with too much capacity to charge less for their products. Company profits will soon be collapsing, while government debt ratios threaten to spiral out of control. The threat of deflation is so worrying, the European Central Bank is expected to throw everything in its armory to prevent it, and to get prices rising again. It may even move towards full-blown quantitative easing as early as Thursday.

You get it awfully wrong from the get-go. What you call “companies with too much capacity” are simply those who could sell their products before the recession set in, and would now have to fire people to get rid of that ‘overcapacity’, thereby lowering spending capacity, which would lead to even more ‘overcapacity’, and therefore more unemployed. I’m thinking you must have studied economics, because that’s the only place people pick up such warped notions. It’s a chicken and egg thing, Matthew, a horse and a cart, and getting them the wrong way around is not going to help.

What you describe but don’t understand is deflation. It starts with a drop in spending, caused by lower or no wages, saving or simply the demise of confidence. It doesn’t start with overcapacity. It starts with people losing their jobs.

But here’s a puzzle. The two countries with the worst deflation in Europe are Greece and Spain. And two of the countries with the best growth? Funnily enough, that also happens to be Greece and Spain. So if deflation is so terrible, how come those two are recovering fastest? The answer is that deflation is not nearly as bad as it sometimes made out to be by mainstream economists.

Matthew, I’m not a mainstream economist. I’m not an economist at all, and I see that as my saving grace. Steve Keen is a good friend, but I don’t know any other economists who make any sense to me (Steve says he know a few, so we’re covered). But I don’t think even Steve fully gets deflation either. Which of course he’ll deny.

Still, saying that Greece and Spain are doing just great despite their deflation is simply meaningless. Deflation is not about prices, it’s about spending. And people in Greece have been forced to lower their spending for years now. So much so that one single extra boat of tourists would suffice to raise its GDP. But that makes no difference for the population. Which means Greece is not doing well. Yeah, the highest GDP growth in Europe, but that only says something about the rest. Still, selling a few additional retsinas and tzatzikis may lift Greece, but not Europe. Here’s more you:

The real problem is debt. But if that is true, perhaps the eurozone would be better off trying to fix its debt crisis than campaigning to raise prices – especially as it probably won’t have much success with that anyway. There is no question that the eurozone is sliding inexorably towards deflation. Only last week, we learned that the inflation rate across the zone ratcheted down to 0.3% last month, from 0.4% a month earlier, and a significantly lower figure than the market expected. It has been going steadily down for some time. Consumer inflation has not hit the ECB’s target level of 2% since the start of 2013. It has been falling steadily since it peaked at 3% in late 2011.

I must admit, after reading that again, I have no idea where you’re going with it. The problem is debt, I get that, and I agree too, and that should be fixed, kudos, but after that, you don’t seem to have much of a train of thought, just numbers.

It would be rash to expect that to change any time soon. The oil price has collapsed, and other commodity prices are coming down as well. That will all feed into the inflation rate. Retail sales are still weak, and unemployment is still rising. People who have lost their job don’t spend money – and companies don’t hike prices when the shops are empty.

What you’re describing there is not so much deflation itself, but its consequences. And you yourself just claimed that deflation is not all that bad, didn’t you?

Most economists will tell you that is very worrying — and that the ECB needs to act immediately to stop it getting worse. People will postpone buying anything because they think it will be cheaper next month. Companies will be reluctant to invest because they see their prices and profits going down. Confidence will be sapped, and the economy will suffer. Even worse, the debts of peripheral eurozone countries will spiral out of control — because the amount they owe will remain the same, but there will be less income to service it. But there is something odd about that analysis. The two countries with the worst price data are also the two countries doing best within Europe.

What happens is that Greece and Spain have become so cheap that tourists from other countries come and spend their money on their beaches. That lifts their GDP. Nothing to do with the people in the street. Nor does it have anything to do with deflation. Deflation is defined by the speed at which people spend their money (provide the money supply remains reasonably high). If no-one spends, prices fall. The reason people don’t spend is because they’re too poor. I’m lousy at rocket science, but I do get that one.

Just take a look at the figures. In Greece, prices are falling at an annual rate of 1.7%. In Spain, they are falling by 0.4%. So presumably those are the two countries that have been hit hardest? Well, it has not quite worked out like that. The fastest growing economy in the eurozone right now is none other than Greece. True, it is not exactly China, but it is expanding at an annual rate of 1.9% right now. And how about Spain? Its economy is also growing again, at an annualized rate of 1.6%.

You see, this is where you start to be insulting. You have a nation full of people who don’t even know anymore how to pay for a doctor, and because of some empty government massaged number you want to tell those same people they’re actually doing fine? They’re still as poor as they were before Samaras published that number, and before you reported on it.

By contrast, the economies where prices are still rising are not doing as well. Over in Germany, the supposed powerhouse of Europe, the inflation rate is still just in positive territory, at an annual rate of 0.5%. But growth in the third quarter was only 0.1%, narrowly avoiding recession. The same is true in France – inflation just about stayed positive, but growth has completely stalled.

Yeah, I know, it’s shooting fish in a barrel here for me: if you don’t know what inflation or deflation is, you’re bound to get everything wrong and upside down. But even then, don’t you at least think when you write “the economies where prices are still rising are not doing as well”, that that is weird? Because it would mean that countries who are already knee deep in deflation, whether it’s your definition or mine, with lower prices and therefore higher unemployment, do better than those who have fewer jobless. Doesn’t that strike you as odd?

So there does not appear to be much of a connection between rising prices and stronger growth. Nor do falling prices appear to be hurting very much.

See, now I’m getting pissed off. Did you even read that? Falling prices, Matthew, are the result of having more than half of your young people out of work for years on end. What the f*ck do you mean, they don’t appear to be hurting that much?

So what is going on? In reality, there is nothing terrible about prices falling. It is what happens in a competitive economy. Most of us like it when the stuff we buy gets cheaper. There is no serious evidence to suggest that it deters people from buying things. If it did, no one would ever buy a television or a smartphone, because they know perfectly well that they can get a better one for less money next year. In reality, they buy plenty of both.

This is where I give up on you, Matthew, and where I call on the MarketWatch board to fir your ass. Chances are, I know, that they agree with this absurdity, but what the heck, I’m calling anyway. I mean, what the hell is this supposed to mean: “There is no serious evidence to suggest that it deters people from buying things. If it did, no one would ever buy a television or a smartphone ..”

There’s plenty evidence, go to Athens, go to their soupkitchens and hospitals, and you’ll see that deflation DOES deter people from buying smartphones. Because they need the money, if they even have any, to pay for treatments to keep their children alive that we don’t even have to think twice about. It doesn’t deter them becise deflation loewred prices, but because deflation took their jobs away.

People buy things when they need them, taking price trends into account – after all, you can’t take either the money or the phone with you when you die, so you can’t postpone the purchase forever. Neither is there much evidence that it saps the confidence of companies. Again, if it did, no one would make any kind of consumer electronics. Businesses will invest where they think they can make money, and so long as costs are falling as well it is fine for prices to come down.

No people don’t buy things when they need them when they can’t afford them, you ignorant drip. You’re completely clueless about the world out there. And I take that personal, because these are my people. They’re all my people.

The threat to growth from deflation is wildly oversold. Indeed, for most of the 19th century deflation was completely normal — and that didn’t stop the industrial revolution in its tracks. Indeed, mild deflation may actually be helping Spain and Greece. As things get cheaper, consumers feel a bit more confident – and start spending again.

Yeah, the 19th century was a great period, wasn’t it, Matthew, and completely normal to boot, whatever that may mean. Just ask Marx and Dickens how normal it was, or the millions who came to America escaping the hell that was much of Europe. All Oliver Twist needed was a bit more confidence, so he could start spending again…

The one thing that is a problem is where there are high debts, as there certainly are across the eurozone. If prices fall, then those debt ratios are just going to get worse and worse. At a certain point, they will be unsustainable. But in that case, surely the right response is to deal with the debt, not the deflation. Many eurozone countries have debts that they probably won’t ever be able to repay.

If they thought inflation was going to deal with that for them, they will be disappointed. It isn’t going to happen. By far the best thing for them to do now would be to restructure their debts. The ECB will throw everything it has at fighting deflation. But it is probably not going to work – and it might well be better if it didn’t.

See, Matthew, you actually know some things. But you don’t understand them. I know, if only because you end with this cracker:

Deflation is not nearly as bad as everyone thinks.

I don’t really know what to say in the face of so much, what do you call this, nonsense, propaganda, ignorance? I write because I don’t like what happens to the people that folks like Matthew Lynn couldn’t care less about, as long as their little economic theories seem to fit whatever little rich lives they lead.

I have nothing with that. I have something with the people. And I therefore find comments like the ones above by Matthew Lynn repulsive.

Here’s real life:

Is The Greek Economy Improving?

The Guardian’s Greece correspondent, Helena Smith, is deeply sceptical about the heralded recovery having any real impact on the ground. “The ‘success story’ peddled by the government differs wildly to what life is really like on the ground – with plummeting living standards, unprecedented unemployment and the inability of most to keep up with bills, including the barrage of new taxes that can change with lightning speed on any given day,” she says.

“Five years down the road the crisis, to great degree, has been ‘normalised’ but the disconnect is evident in the collateral damage caused by the massive devaluation Greece has been forced to undergo in return for emergency funding: suicides, homelessness, a middle class pauperised by austerity. “And all eclipsed by a level of uncertainty, shared by all who live in a country whose debt load – the biggest impediment to real economic recovery – has actually grown since the crisis began.” [..]

Catherine Moschonas, from Thessaloniki: “Wages still much lower than a few years ago but taxes are MUCH higher, especially land taxes – the state is now taxing real estate that people can’t find tenants for and can’t sell because nobody’s buying. Generally policies are driving rather than limiting tax evasion – otherwise people can’t make ends meet (quite apart from perceived lack of social justice in measures taken).

“For families, healthcare increasingly a major financial concern as hospitals or sections close and social insurance is cut – but most people can’t afford private healthcare. People with relatively decent paychecks are one sick parent away from disaster. I don’t see any sign that things are improving”

Greece’s Recovery Is Deceptive

A small economic recovery is little consolation when one considers that in the past 5 years of recession, the Greek economy has lost a fifth of its total volume. And in a country that has seen unemployment rise to 28%, a drop of half a percentage point is not particularly noticeable.

.. the conservative Prime Minister Antonis Samaras desperately needs successes to mobilize his core voters. But real life is not helping him much. Growth in Greece is still very fragile, restructuring of inefficient state apparatuses is still very slow, tax avoidance has not been clamped down on, privatization is stalling, and austerity measures are driving more and more people to despair – younger generations in particular are struggling with a dearth of opportunities ..

.. even in these unusual circumstances, the Greek parties are not in a position to achieve even a basic consensus on how to rescue the country. Even now, they are feverishly preparing for a new election instead of trying to establish some political stability and continuity. Leading members of Syriza have even suggested demanding leftover war reparations from Germany and use them in calculations for a new budget. This might sound like a farce from the periphery of the eurozone, but it is testament to the backwardness of political culture in Greece. Anyone who wants to help the Greek people needs to keep their politicians and governments under control first.

Greeks Struggle To Get By Despite Economic ‘Recovery’

The number of Greeks at risk of poverty has more than doubled in the last five years – from about 20% in 2008 to 44% in 2013, according to a report by the International Labor Organization.

Sorry if I get too emotional for your taste at times, but I have a hard time with sheer and especially mean hubris. Telling people things are great since their basic necessities just got cheaper, exactly BECAUSE they can no longer afford them (because that IS deflation), that must be the pits. Still, it’s how 99% of economists ‘understand’ the world. Now you know why it’s all such a mess.

Nov 272014
 November 27, 2014  Posted by at 6:34 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , ,  22 Responses »

Jack Delano Cafe at truck drivers’ service station on U.S. 1, Washington DC Jun 1940

We should be glad the price of oil has fallen the way it has (losing another 6% today as I write this). Not because it makes the gas in our cars a bit cheaper, that’s nothing compared to the other service the price slump provides. That is, it allows us to see how the economy is really doing, without the multilayered veil of propaganda, spin, fixed data and bailouts and handouts for the banking system.

It shows us the huge extent to which consumer spending is falling, how much poorer people have become as stock markets set records. It also shows us how desperate producing nations have become, who have seen a third of their often principal source of revenue fall away in a few months’ time. Nigeria was first in line to devalue its currency, others will follow suit.

OPEC today decided not to cut production, but whatever decision they would have come to, nothing would have made one iota of difference. The fact that prices only started falling again after the decision was made public shows you how senseless financial markets have become, dumbed down by easy money for which no working neurons are required.

OPEC has become a theater piece, and the real world out there is getting colder. Oil producing nations can’t afford to cut their output in some vague attempt, with very uncertain outcome, to raise prices. The only way to make up for their losses is to increase production when and where they can. And some can’t even do that.

Saudi Arabia increased production in 1986 to bring down prices. All it has to do today to achieve the same thing is to not cut production. But the Saudi’s have lost a lot of clout, along with OPEC, it’s not 1986 anymore. That is due to an extent to American shale oil, but the global financial crisis is a much more important factor.

We are only now truly even just beginning to see how hard that crisis has already hit the Chinese export miracle, and its demand for resources, a major reason behind the oil crash. The US this year imported less oil from OPEC members than it has in 30 years, while Americans drive far less miles per capita and shale has its debt-financed temporary jump. Now, all oil producers, not just shale drillers, turn into Red Queens, trying ever harder just to make up for losses.

The American shale industry, meanwhile, is a driverless truck, with brakes missing and fueled by on cheap speculative capital. The main question underlying US shale is no longer about what’s feasible to drill today, it’s about what can still be financed tomorrow. And the press are really only now waking up to the Ponzi character of the industry.

In a pretty solid piece last week, the Financial Times’ John Dizard concluded with:

Even long-time energy industry people cannot remember an overinvestment cycle lasting as long as the one in unconventional US resources. It is not just the hydrocarbon engineers who have created this bubble; there are the financial engineers who came up with new ways to pay for it.

While Reuters on November 10 (h/t Yves at NC) talked about giant equity fund KKR’s shale troubles:

KKR, which led the acquisition of oil and gas producer Samson for $7.2 billion in 2011 and has already sold almost half its acreage to cope with lower energy prices, plans to sell its North Dakota Bakken oil deposit worth less than $500 million as part of an ongoing downsizing plan.

Samson’s bonds are trading around 70 cents on the dollar, indicating that KKR and its partners’ equity in the company would probably be wiped out were the whole company to be sold now. Samson’s financial woes underscore how private equity’s love affair with North America’s shale revolution comes with risks. The stakes are especially high for KKR, which saw a $45 billion bet on natural gas prices go sour when Texas power utility Energy Future Holdings filed for bankruptcy this year.

And today, Tracy Alloway at FT mentions major banks and their energy-related losses:

Banks including Barclays and Wells Fargo are facing potentially heavy losses on an $850 million loan made to two oil and gas companies, in a sign of how the dramatic slide in the price of oil is beginning to reverberate through the wider economy. [..] if Barclays and Wells attempted to syndicate the $850m loan now, it could go for as little as 60 cents on the dollar.

That’s just one loan. At 60 cents on the dollar, a $340 million loss. Who knows how many similar, and bigger, loans are out there? Put together, these stories slowly seeping out of the juncture of energy and finance gives the good and willing listener an inkling of an idea of the losses being incurred throughout the global economy, and by the large financiers. There’s a bloodbath brewing in the shadows. Countries can see their revenues cut by a third and move on, perhaps with new leaders, but many companies can’t lose that much income and keep on going, certainly not when they’re heavily leveraged.

The Saudi’s refuse to cut output and say: let America cut. But American oil producers can’t cut even if they would want to, it would blow their debt laden enterprises out of the water, and out of existence. Besides, that energy independence thing plays a big role of course. But with prices continuing to fall, much of that industry will go belly up because credit gets withdrawn.

The amount of money lost in the ‘overinvestment cycle’ will be stupendous, and you don’t need to ask who’s going to end up paying. Pointing to past oil bubbles risks missing the point that the kind of leverage and cheap credit heaped upon shale oil and gas, as Dizard also says, is unprecedented. As Wolf Richter wrote earlier this year, the industry has bled over $100 billion in losses for three years running.

Not because they weren’t selling, but because the costs were – and are – so formidable. There’s more debt going into the ground then there’s oil coming out. Shale was a losing proposition even at $100. But that remained hidden behind the wagers backed by 0.5% loans that fed the land speculation it was based on from the start. WTI fell below $70 today. You can let your 3-year old do the math from there.

I wonder how many people will scratch their heads as they’re filling up their tanks this week and wonder how much of a mixed blessing that cheap gas is. They should. They should ask themselves how and why and how much the plummeting gas price is a reflection of the real state of the global economy, and what that says about their futures. Happy Turkey.

Nov 142014
 November 14, 2014  Posted by at 12:13 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  1 Response »

DPC St. Catherine Street, Montréal, Québec 1916

Most US Cities Unaffordable For Average Americans To Live In (MarketWatch)
US Wealth Inequality: Top 0.1% Worth As Much As The Bottom 90% (Guardian)
US Foreclosure Filings Climb 15% In October (MarketWatch)
Sub-$2-a-Gallon Gasoline Futures Hand US Motorists Gift (Bloomberg)
Albert Edwards: USDJPY 145, “Tidal Wave Of Deflation Westward” (Zero Hedge)
Oil, Other Commodities Will Be In The Dumps For Another Decade (MarketWatch)
Oil Price Rout To Deepen Amid Supply Glut, Warns IEA (Telegraph)
Keystone Left Behind as Canadian Oil Pours Into US (Bloomberg)
Putin Stockpiles Gold As Russia Prepares For Economic War (Telegraph)
It May Be Too Late for Japan PM to Fix World’s Third Largest Economy (TIME)
Europe’s Debt Fight May Undermine Push for Growth Deal (Bloomberg)
Cold Comfort As France, Germany Eke Out Tiny Q3 Growth (Reuters)
Italy’s Slump Enters Fourth Year, Complicating Renzi’s Plans (Bloomberg)
World Outlook Darkening as 89% in Poll See Europe Deflation Risk (Bloomberg)
China Busts Underground Banks Linked to $23 Billion Transactions (Bloomberg)
Stock Market Fear, Stress And Tensions Climbing (MarketWatch)
Apple Could Swallow Whole Russian Stock Market (Bloomberg)
Fracking Boom Spurs Demand for Sand and Clouds of Dust (Bloomberg)
Massive OW Bunker Bankruptcy: Questions Of Governance And Oversight (SeaTrade)
Aboriginals Decry G-20 Host Australia as Leaders Gather (Bloomberg)

This is what we’ve come to, and it’s hardly surprising. Where are the raised voices, though?

Most US Cities Unaffordable For Average Americans To Live In (MarketWatch)

Most big American cities are no longer affordable for the average worker. Home buyers earning a median income can only afford a median-priced home in 10 of the 25 largest metropolitan areas in the U.S., according to a survey by personal finance site That’s still a slight improvement on last year when only 8 of those metropolitan areas were affordable, but still lower than 2012 when 14 of those 25 areas were affordable for people on a median income in those regions. Being priced out of buying a home in the country’s major cities means more multi-family buildings in big cities and more people moving into second-tier cities and rural areas, says Stuart Gabriel, director of UCLA’s Richard S. Ziman Center for Real Estate.

“The consequences are large,” he says, “and they’re not just about affordability. It affects economic growth and economic viability of our major metropolitan areas.” While some people will find ways to work from home, for instance, spiraling housing costs also hurt people who need to work in cities. “Teachers, firefighters and police, these are people who are absolutely essential to the functioning of our urban areas, are priced out of those areas and have to commute long distances to get to work,” Gabriel says. “It’s certainly true here in L.A.” Sacramento had the biggest drop in home affordability over the past 12 months, falling to No. 18 this year from No. 12 in 2013. But it’s still more affordable than the other three California metro areas on the list: Los Angeles (No. 22), San Diego (No. 24) and San Francisco (No. 25) where the median income is 46% less than what is required to buy a median-priced home here. New York is No. 23 on the list.

The cheapest areas are Minneapolis, Atlanta, St. Louis and Detroit. “Low mortgage rates are helping home affordability to some extent, but the key ingredient — which has been missing to this point — is substantial income growth,” says Mike Sante, managing editor of “Millennials, in particular, are struggling to overcome their student loans and save enough money for a down payment.” The survey reflects a broader trend: 52% of Americans have made at least one major sacrifice to cover their rent or mortgage over the last three years, according to research commissioned by the nonprofit John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation released earlier this year. These sacrifices include getting a second job, deferring saving for retirement and cutting back on health care.

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Here’s why Americans can’t afford their own cities anymore.

US Wealth Inequality: Top 0.1% Worth As Much As The Bottom 90% (Guardian)

Wealth inequality in the US is at near record levels according to a new study by academics. Over the past three decades, the share of household wealth owned by the top 0.1% has increased from 7% to 22%. For the bottom 90% of families, a combination of rising debt, the collapse of the value of their assets during the financial crisis, and stagnant real wages have led to the erosion of wealth. The research by Emmanuel Saez and Gabriel Zucman [pdf] illustrates the evolution of wealth inequality over the last century. The chart shows how the top 0.1% of families now own roughly the same share of wealth as the bottom 90%. The picture actually improved in the aftermath of the 1930s Great Depression, with wealth inequality falling through to the late 1970s. It then started to rise again, with the share of total household wealth owned by the top 0.1% rising to 22% in 2012 from 7% in the late 1970s. The top 0.1% includes 160,000 families with total net assets of more than $20m (£13m) in 2012.

In contrast, the share of total US wealth owned by the bottom 90% of families fell from a peak of 36% in the mid-1980s, to 23% in 2012 – just one percentage point above the top 0.1%. The growing indebtedness of most Americans is the main reason behind the erosion of the wealth share of the bottom 90%, according to the report’s authors. Many middle-class families own their homes and have pensions, but too many have higher mortgage repayments, higher credit card bills, and higher student loans to service. The average wealth of bottom 90% jumped during the stock market boom of the late 1990s and the housing bubble of the early 2000s. But it then collapsed during and after the most recent financial crisis. Since then, there has been no recovery in the wealth of the middle class and the poor, the authors say. The average wealth of the bottom 90% of families is equal to $80,000 in 2012— the same level as in 1986. In contrast, the average wealth for the top 1% more than tripled between 1980 and 2012.

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No surprise here either.

US Foreclosure Filings Climb 15% In October (MarketWatch)

The pace of new foreclosures picked up last month as more troubled properties were pushed through the system, according to data released Thursday. In October, there were default notices and other foreclosure filings reported on more than 123,000 U.S. homes, up 15% from September — the largest monthly growth since foreclosure activity peaked in early 2010, online foreclosure marketplace RealtyTrac reported. Last month’s pop was driven by seasonal factors — banks were trying to “get ahead of the usual holiday foreclosure moratoriums,” said Daren Blomquist, vice president at RealtyTrac.

October’s spike narrowed the year-over-year contraction in foreclosure filings to 8%, the slowest annual drop since May 2012. “Distressed properties that have been in a holding pattern for years are finally being cleared for landing at the foreclosure auction,” Blomquist said. Despite October’s increase in filings, the pace of the foreclosure-related notices is trending closer to levels seen before the U.S. housing bubble burst. In 2006, as home prices were near their peak, there were average monthly foreclosure filings on 105,000 properties. October’s 123,000 foreclosure filings were down about 66% from a peak of 367,000 hit in 2010.

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Not going to boost holiday sales.

Sub-$2-a-Gallon Gasoline Futures Hand US Motorists Gift (Bloomberg)

U.S. drivers will have some extra money in their pockets this holiday season as gasoline futures tumbling below $2 a gallon mean lower prices at the pump. “The drop in futures is eventually going to translate into further declines at the pump,” Tim Evans, an energy analyst at Citi Futures Perspective in New York, said by phone yesterday. “There will be a little extra discretionary spending that consumers can use somewhere else this holiday season.” The nation’s largest motoring club says retail prices “have a very good chance” of being the lowest for the Nov. 28 Thanksgiving holiday in five years. Motorists are already paying the least since 2010 after crude oil tumbled more than 20% in the past four months. Gasoline futures added 0.7 cent, or 0.3%, to $2.0085 a gallon in electronic trading at 12:12 p.m. Singapore time.

Yesterday the contract closed at the lowest since September 2010. The average retail price for regular gasoline fell 0.6 cent to $2.917 a gallon on Nov. 12, the least since December 2010, according to Heathrow, Florida-based AAA. Based on the drop in the futures market, pump prices could fall to $2.70 or thereabouts, Michael Green, a Washington-based spokesman for AAA, said by telephone yesterday. “At this point, the market refuses to stabilize, the price of crude oil continues to fall and refiners are making more gasoline. There’s no end in sight.” Almost one-fourth of filling stations in the U.S. are selling gasoline for less than $2.75 a gallon, Green said. Less than 1% are under $2.50, he said. “We’re still a long way from getting down to $2,” Green said. “But I didn’t think it was going below $3, and here we are.”

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Edwards is one scary guy. Because he’s mostly right.

Albert Edwards: USDJPY 145, “Tidal Wave Of Deflation Westward” (Zero Hedge)

Less than two months ago, Albert Edwards presented “The Most Important Chart For Investors” in which he predicted, correctly, that the real action will come not in the Euro but the Japanese Yen, and at a time when the USDJPY was trading around 108, Edwards forecast a sharp move to 120. A month later, Abe’s just as shocking “all in” bet on boosting QE to a level where it matches the Fed’s peak monthly POMO despite an economy that is a third the size of the US, proved Edwards correct and has since sent the USDJPY some 800 pips higher and just 400 pips shy of Edwards’ 120 forecast. At this rate, the 120 target may be taken out within weeks not months. So what happens next? Here, straight from the horse’s mouth that got the first part of the rapid Yen devaluation so right, is the answer.

As Edwards updates with a note from this morning, “the yen is set to follow the US dollar DXY trade-weighted index by crashing through multi-decade resistance – around ¥120. It seems entirely plausible to me that once we break ¥120, we could see a very quick ¥25 move to ¥145, forcing commensurate devaluations across the whole Asian region and sending a tidal wave of deflation westwards.” Edwards, never one to beat around the bush, slams strategists who are at best willing to get the direction of a given move, if not the magnitude. So he will be the outlier:

… in the foreign exchange (FX) world, extreme volatility is often readily apparent but seldom ever predicted. We explained recently that investors were overly focusing on the euro/US$ when a further round of Japanese QE would make the yen the dominant currency story. I expect the key ¥120/$ support level to be broken soon and the lows of June 2007 (¥124) and Feb 2002 (¥135) to be rapidly taken out. If you want a target to reflect historic volatility, think about the Y145 low of August 1998 (see chart). That is my Q1 forecast.

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I see little value in predicting anything 10 years out today. The US dollar looks strongest, stocks definitely do not, they’re way too overvalued. in 2024, who says there’ll be much of any financial markets remaining? But hey, someone has to lose all that money going forward. Might as well this guy.

Oil, Other Commodities Will Be In The Dumps For Another Decade (MarketWatch)

Remember the commodities supercycle, that seemingly endless 2000s commodities boom? It drove oil, gold, copper and other commodities to record levels. The supercycle was driven by exploding demand from China and other emerging countries, supply bottlenecks caused by years of not developing wells and mines, and rock-bottom interest rates that inflated demand for hard assets all around the world. But now gold, oil and other commodities are well off their peaks, so far off, in fact, and for so long that they can only be described as in a supercycle in reverse, or a secular bear market. If that’s true – and I’m pretty sure it is – investors who piled in to commodities are in for a bruising decade ahead unless they take profits or cut their losses.

Meanwhile, stocks, which run counter to commodities, may well go much higher, along with the U.S. dollar. “We believe that we are in the initial years of a secular down cycle in commodities,” wrote Shawn Driscoll, manager of the natural resource-focused T. Rowe Price New Era Fund in the fund’s most recent semiannual report. “Commodity cycles are very long on the way up and the way down,” he told me in a phone interview. They last around 13 to 15 years, because it takes that long for fundamentals of supply and demand to go to extremes. When the most recent supercycle began in 1998, Driscoll said, commodities prices had plummeted, so producers shuttered old mines and wells and hadn’t opened new ones in a while. But when demand revived, it took years for producers to catch up. Ultimately, companies built too much capacity just in time for the next peak.

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“With this key level out of the way a move towards $75 now looks likely as the hunt for a real floor in oil prices goes on.” WTI at $74 this morning, Brent at $78.

Oil Price Rout To Deepen Amid Supply Glut, Warns IEA (Telegraph)

The rout which has sent oil prices to a four-year low is expected to deepen, the International Energy Agency warned in its latest monthly market report. The Paris-based watchdog said Friday: “While there has been some speculation that the high cost of unconventional oil production might set a new equilibrium for Brent prices in the $80 to $90 range, supply/demand balances suggest that the price rout has yet to run its course.” Against a backdrop of weakening demand, oil supply in October increased adding further downward pressure on prices, the IEA said in its monthly market report. According to the watchdog, global oil supply inched up by 350,000 barrels per day (bpd) in October to 94.2m bpd.

However, in London Brent crude bounced at the open up almost 1pc at around $78 per barrel after heavy losses overnight in the US saw West Texas Intermediate blend crude fall to $74 per barrel. “Crude prices are enduring another hefty move lower, with Brent shifting below $80 for the first time since late 2010,” said Chris Beauchamp, Market Analyst, IG. “With this key level out of the way a move towards $75 now looks likely as the hunt for a real floor in oil prices goes on.” The supply glut will add to pressure on the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries to sharply cut back on production at their meeting on November 27. However, the group’s major producers may be reluctant to do so due to the risk of losing more market share to shale oil drillers in the US.

The IEA’s warning on prices follows the US Energy Department, which this week pared back its forecasts for prices in 2015. The US Energy Information Administration (EIA) – part of the Department of Energy – has slashed its price forecasts for 2015. The EIA now expects US crude blends to average $77.75 per barrel next year, down from a previous forecast of $97.72, and Brent to average $83.42 in 2015, down from its old estimate of $101.67. The EIA has also revised down its global demand forecast by 200,000 barrels per day (bpd) to average 92.5m bpd in 2015, based on weaker global economic growth prospects for next year.

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The US doesn’t produce enough domestically yet, or so I guess.

Keystone Left Behind as Canadian Oil Pours Into US (Bloomberg)

Delays of the Keystone XL pipeline are providing little obstacle to Western Canadian oil producers getting their crude to the U.S. Gulf Coast, with shipments set to more than double next year. The volume of Canadian crude processed at Gulf Coast refineries could climb to more than 400,000 barrels a day in 2015 from 208,000 in August, according to Jackie Forrest, vice president of Calgary-based ARC Financial. The increase comes as Enbridge’s Flanagan South and an expanded Seaway pipeline raise their capacity to ship oil by as much as 450,000 barrels a day. Canadian exports to the Gulf rose 83% in the past four years.

The expansion shows Canadians are finding alternative entry points into the U.S. while the Keystone saga drags on. In the latest chapter, a Democratic senator and a Republican representative are seeking votes in their chambers to set the project in motion. The two are squaring off in a runoff election for a Senate seat from Louisiana, a state where support for the project is strong. “Keystone is kind of old news,” Sandy Fielden, director of energy analytics at Austin, Texas-based consulting company RBN Energy, said Nov. 12 in an e-mail. “Producers have moved on and are looking for new capacity from other pipelines.” TransCanada’s Keystone XL, which would transport Alberta’s heavy oil sands crude to refineries on the Gulf, has been held up for six years, awaiting Obama administration approval.

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Over the top headline and commentary. Russia buys gold because sanctions make access to dollar markets harder.

Putin Stockpiles Gold As Russia Prepares For Economic War (Telegraph)

Russia has taken advantage of lower gold prices to pack the vaults of its central bank with bullion as it prepares for the possibility of a long, drawn-out economic war with the West. The latest research from the World Gold Council reveals that the Kremlin snapped up 55 tonnes of the precious metal – far more than any other nation – in the three months to the end of September as prices began to weaken. Vladimir Putin’s government is understood to be hoarding vast quantities of gold, having tripled stocks to around 1,150 tonnes in the last decade. These reserves could provide the Kremlin with vital firepower to try and offset the sharp declines in the rouble. Russia’s currency has come under intense pressure since US and European sanctions and falling oil prices started to hurt the economy.

Revenues from the sale of oil and gas account for about 45pc of the Russian government’s budget receipts. The biggest buyers of gold after Russia are other countries from the Commonwealth of Independent States, led by Kazakhstan and Azerbaijan. In total, central banks around the world bought 93 tonnes of the precious metal in the third quarter, marking it the 15th consecutive quarter of net purchases. In its report, the World Gold Council said this was down to a combination of geopolitical tensions and attempts by countries to diversify their reserves away from the US dollar. By the end of the year, central banks will have acquired up to 500 tonnes of gold during the latest buying spell, according to Alistair Hewitt, head of market intelligence at the World Gold Council.

“Central banks have been consistently adding to their gold holdings since 2009,” Mr Hewitt told the Telegraph. In the case of Russia, Mr Hewitt said that the recent increases in its gold holdings could be a sign of greater geopolitical risk that has arisen since it seized Crimea sparking a dispute with Ukraine and the West. Overall, the World Gold Council said that global demand for gold was down 2pc year-on-year to 929 tonnes in the third quarter amid signs that buying in China, one of the main markets, had tailed off. Jewellery demand in the quarter ending in September was down 39pc to 147 tonnes, signalling weaker consumer sentiment in the world’s second-largest economy.

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After 2.5 years, and countless comments at TAE about Abe’s inevitable failure, mainstream America is catching on. Even a jibe at Krugman here.

It May Be Too Late for Japan PM to Fix World’s Third Largest Economy (TIME)

Tokyo is abuzz with speculation that Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is about to dissolve the Diet, as the country’s legislature is known, and call a snap election. He by no means has to take such action. It has only been two years since his Liberal Democratic Party, or LDP, swept to power in a massive landslide, and the opposition is in such disarray that there is little doubt Abe would be returned to office in a new election. Nevertheless, Abe apparently feels the need for another vote of confidence from the public, likely in part to bolster support for his radical program to revive Japan’s economy, nicknamed Abenomics. The problem is that it could already be too late. Abenomics is a failure, and Abe isn’t likely to fix it, no matter how many seats his party holds in parliament.

When Abe first introduced Abenomics, many economists – most notably, Nobel laureate Paul Krugman – believed the unconventional program would finally end the economy’s two-decade slump. The plan: the Bank of Japan (BOJ), the country’s central bank, would churn out yen on a biblical scale to smash through the economy’s endemic and destructive cycle of deflation, while Abe’s government would pump up fiscal spending and implement long-overdue reforms to the structure of the economy. Advocates argued that Abenomics was just the sort of bold action to jump-start growth and fix a broken Japan, and we all had reason to hope that it would work. Japan is still the world’s third largest economy, and a revival there would add another much-needed pillar to hold up sagging global economic growth.

However, I had my concerns from the very beginning. In my view, Japan’s economy doesn’t grow because there is a lack of demand. Pumping more cash into the economy, therefore, will not restart growth. Only deep reform to raise the potential of the economy can do that — by improving productivity and unleashing new economic energies. Unless Abe changed the way Japan’s economy works — and I doubted he would — all of the largesse from the BOJ would at best come to nothing. In a worst-case scenario, Abe’s program could turn Japan into an even bigger economic mess than it already is.

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The G20 is the most useless gathering on the planet. They see one thing only, growth, whether it’s there or not.

Europe’s Debt Fight May Undermine Push for Growth Deal (Bloomberg)

Europe’s infighting over debt rules may be the biggest challenge to its ambitions for a new commitment to growth at the Group of 20 summit in Australia. World leaders have already expressed their frustration with the European Union’s German-mandated obsession with budget deficits. When they sit down in Brisbane this weekend to consider the 28-nation bloc’s call for a “comprehensive” growth strategy that seeks to boost private investment and rein in fiscal excess, the G-20 group will include France and Italy, the euro nations that have most publicly fought the EU view. Germany and its allies say the debt rules are essential for the EU’s credibility yet the euro area’s six-year slump has already weakened the bloc’s reputation for economic management, regardless of whether the 18 euro members can eventually wrestle their budget deficits under control.

As global growth wanes, the rest of the world’s capacity to keep indulging Europe’s budget focus is narrowing too. “Europe has, from a global perspective, been too tight for years,” said Jacob Funk Kirkegaard, senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington. Even if the euro area relaxes its stance somewhat, “the global economy is growing slower now, so any undershoot matters more.” Behind the united facade European leaders will present in Brisbane, France and Italy are straining at the budget limits they’ve been set, spurred on by calls from European Central Bank President Mario Draghi for nations to supplement his “whatever it takes” monetary policy stance.

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A big relief, was the announcement. So why are EU stocks falling?

Cold Comfort As France, Germany Eke Out Tiny Q3 Growth (Reuters)

European stocks were flat on Friday after gross domestic product numbers showed both France and Germany grew marginally in the third quarter, while the dollar rose further against the yen on expectations of a snap election in Japan. The European data confirmed that the outlook for much of the world economy still looks much shakier than for the United States, although France beat expectations. Asian stocks fell following the latest signs that growth in China is slowing. Energy stocks were depressed as crude oil hovered near a four-year low in an oversupplied market and the Russian ruble, hammered in recent weeks as world oil prices fell, was again testing record lows around 48 rubles per dollar. Germany’s economy eked out growth of 0.1% on the quarter, while France – generally seen as in deeper trouble than its neighbor – grew by 0.3%. Overall euro zone data was due later. “The German number is slightly positive in line with expectations but it’s still soft,” said Patrick Jacq, a rate strategist at BNP Paribas in Paris.

“The (French) growth in Q3 is only driven by inventories. It’s just a one-off positive figure in a very weak environment and therefore this is not something which could lead the market to think that the economic situation is improving in France.” A Reuters poll showed Japanese companies overwhelmingly want Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to delay or scrap a planned tax increase, a move expected to come along with a decision, expected by many, to call a new election. The yen, down more than 3% against a stronger dollar this month, fell another half% to a seven-year low of 116.385 yen per dollar. “The argument is that delaying the sales tax hike means the impulse to CPI inflation will start to drop,” said Alvin Tan, a currency strategist at French bank Societe Generale in London. “If there’s no additional sales tax hike, the impulse to higher inflation starts to fade away quite rapidly. So in order to push inflation higher, which is what everybody wants, you need the currency to weaken a lot more.”

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All those years lost for growth that will never come. Renzi is not a smart guy.

Italy’s Slump Enters Fourth Year, Complicating Renzi’s Plans (Bloomberg)

Italy’s economy shrank in the third quarter pushing the nation into a fourth year of a slump that has complicated Prime Minister Matteo Renzi’s efforts to revive growth and keep public finances in check. Gross domestic product fell 0.1% from the previous three months, when it declined 0.2%, the national statistics institute Istat said in a preliminary report in Rome today. That matched the median forecast in a Bloomberg survey of 22 economists. Output was down by 0.4% from a year earlier. GDP in the euro region’s third-biggest economy has fallen in all but two of the last 13 quarters as the jobless rate rose to the highest on record.

Renzi is relying on estimated 0.6-percent growth next year to rein in a public debt of more than €2 trillion ($2.50 trillion) and preserve a tax rebate to low-paid employees aimed at reviving consumer demand. The Bank of Italy said yesterday in a report that the country needs to avoid a “recessionary demand spiral” due to the “persistence of economic difficulties, which have been exceptional in terms of duration and depth.” Italians rallied in Rome last month to protest an overhaul of labor market rules tha Renzi proposed to make it easier for businesses to hire and fire workers. The premier has repeatedly said the plan is a way to attract investments and that its framework will get parliamentary approval by year’s end before being fully implemented in 2015.

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Finally a Bloomberg poll that gets something right?

World Outlook Darkening as 89% in Poll See Europe Deflation Risk (Bloomberg)

The world economy is in its worst shape in two years, with the euro area and emerging markets deteriorating and the danger of deflation rising, according to a Bloomberg Global Poll of international investors. A plurality of 38% of those surveyed this week described the global economy as worsening, more than double the number who said that in the last poll in July and the most since September 2012, when Europe was mired in a recession. Much of the concern is again focused on the euro area: Almost two-thirds of those polled said its economy was weakening while 89% saw disinflation or deflation as a greater threat there than inflation over the next year. Respondents said the European Central Bank and the region’s governments are making the situation worse by pursuing too-tight policies, and fewer expressed confidence in ECB President Mario Draghi and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

“The euro-zone economy has deteriorated and will get worse if there are no fiscal policy actions from core European countries, mainly Germany,” poll participant Sanwook Lee, a senior portfolio manager at Shinhan Bank in Seoul, said in an e-mail. Europe isn’t the only source of concern in the global economy, according to the quarterly poll of 510 investors, traders and analysts who are Bloomberg subscribers. More than half of those contacted said conditions in the BRIC economies – Brazil, Russia, India and China – are getting worse, compared with 36% who said so in July.

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China is filled to its credit boom with this kind of shady deals.

China Busts Underground Banks Linked to $23 Billion Transactions (Bloomberg)

Beijing police raided and shut down more than 10 underground banks that were involved in 140 billion yuan ($23 billion) of transactions over the past few years. The banks were raided on Sept. 18, with 59 people arrested and 264 bank accounts frozen, Beijing Municipal Public Security Bureau said in a statement today. The investigation started in February when Beijing police found that a man with surname Yao had transferred more than $5 million abroad in a year, according to the statement. Yao, who had a number of bank accounts, frequently bought $50,000 of foreign exchange, the police said. That’s the most overseas currency that a Chinese citizen can buy annually. The underground banks, most of which are family-run and operating out of homes, use online and mobile payment devices to buy or sell foreign exchange and illegally transfer funds abroad, according to the statement. Beijing police said they would continue to crackdown on crimes that threaten China’s economic and financial security.

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Investors are clueless and befuddled. Ideal patsies.

Stock Market Fear, Stress And Tensions Climbing (MarketWatch)

What happens if we get another melt-up, maybe to 18,000 on the Dow Jones Industrial Average before we see 17,000 again? I’m in a less aggressive mode for now, but feet to fire, if this bubble-blowing bull market is to keep on blowing, why not a total melt-up into and above 18,000 before year-end? Stranger things have happened. I often ask, who’s more scared right now, the bulls or the bears because when there’s an overwhelming consensus in the answer to that question, it’s often time for the markets to put on a big contrarian move opposite that sentiment. Are you a bull or one of the few bears remaining? Are you scared right now? Do you think most bulls are scared right now?

Fear, stress and tensions have been climbing along with the markets, which isn’t what you’d expect, is it? I’ve noticed throughout this week that tensions have been very high on Latest Scuttles and that’s a reflection of the stress felt by most traders and investors right now. There’s likely a lot of money managers who missed this last leg higher from the Ebola lows and now find themselves drastically behind their market benchmarks with just 45 days to go into year-end. That kind of technical setup into year-end could be a catalyst for the winners to keep their momentum heading higher. I personally am not trying and wouldn’t suggest trying to game the next market move, but it’s something to think about.

And what if you’ve missed this bull run over the last five years and still aren’t in the markets or even if you just find yourself like the aforementioned money managers and feel underinvested here? Like I said, I don’t think the continuing bubble-blowing bull market that I’ve predicted would play out like this is over yet. I wouldn’t be aggressive, but if you don’t think you own enough stocks (or any for that matter) then I do suggest scaling into some of the best stocks you can find, including some of the very best, most revolutionary growth stocks you can find.

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The take-away: Apple is an 800-pound bubble.

Apple Could Swallow Whole Russian Stock Market (Bloomberg)

If you owned Apple Inc., and sold it, you could purchase the entire stock market of Russia, and still have enough change to buy every Russian an iPhone 6 Plus. The CHART OF THE DAY shows the total market capitalization of all public companies in the world’s largest country slipped below that of the world’s most-valued company for the first time on record. The gap, at $121 billion on Nov. 12, is about the price of 143 million contract-free 64-gigabyte iPhones, based on Apple Store prices. The value of Russian equities has slumped $234 billion to $531 billion this year, while Apple gained $147 billion to $652 billion, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The technology company’s innovation and brand value attract investors, while Russia’s political conflicts, sanctions and the threat of economic stagnation next year make them nervous, according to Vadim Bit-Avragim, a portfolio manager who helps oversee about $4 billion at Kapital Asset Management LLC in Moscow. “Apple works with shareholders to maximize returns and is based where property is protected by law,” Bit-Avragim said. “In Russia, the legislative protection for property is not as good, most state-run companies have poor corporate governance, resources are concentrated in state hands and borrowing costs are shooting up. After all this, when you get involved in conflicts with your neighbors, it becomes very hard to persuade investors from all over the world to invest here.”

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Destruction is our middle name.

Fracking Boom Spurs Demand for Sand and Clouds of Dust (Bloomberg)

A little sand mine down the road didn’t seem like a big deal 17 years ago, when Alphonse Dotson picked the site for a vineyard in the Texas Hill Country. Today he’s surrounded by four mines blasting sand from the earth, filling the air with a fine dust that drifts across acres of sensitive grape vines. A fifth will open soon, and he says he’s worried. “I don’t want us to be smothered to death,” he said. Add sand mining to the list of industries transformed by the U.S. oil boom. The tiny grains of silica are what keep frackers fracking, propping open cracks punched into rock so oil and natural gas can flow. As drilling surged, so has demand for sand. Sand production has more than doubled in the U.S. over the past seven years. By the end of 2016, oil companies in North America will be pumping 145 billion pounds (66 billion kilograms) of it down wells annually. That’s enough to fill railcars stretching from San Francisco to New York – and back.

That’s triggering complaints from local communities, according to a Grant Smith, senior energy policy adviser at the Civil Society Institute. Dust from sand can penetrate deep into lungs and the bloodstream; mines consume massive amounts of water; sand-laden trucks are damaging roads; and property values can be affected. The surge in mining is a “little-understood danger of the fracking boom,” Smith said in a September call with reporters. Energy companies are paying 6% more for sand this year at a time when oil prices are plunging. While low prices may slow down drilling, that won’t make up for a supply bottleneck, said Samir Nangia, a principal at the Houston-based research company PacWest Consulting Partners. Fracking companies are struggling to get enough sand because there aren’t enough trucks and railcars to deliver it. Higher transportation costs are eating into profits at oil-services companies like Schlumberger, Halliburton and Baker Hughes.

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A company that had revenues of $17 billion in 2013 just topples over, and no-one pays attention, because it happened to be in Denmark and SIngapore.

Massive OW Bunker Bankruptcy: Questions Of Governance And Oversight (SeaTrade)

The rapid collapse into bankruptcy of OW Bunker just 48 hours after it revealed a $125m fraud at Singapore subsidiary Dynamic Oil Trading, as well as $150m in risk management losses announced at the same time, leaves an awful lot of unanswered questions. OW Bunker was not a two-bit marine fuel supplier, it had revenues of $17bn in 2013 and claimed a 7% share of the global marine fuel supply market. In March this year its IPO on Copenhagen’s NASDAQ exchange valued the company at DKK5.33bn ($900m), making it one of Denmark’s largest IPOs in recent years. In May this year OW Bunker made Forbes list of top 2,000 list of the world’s biggest public companies. As it stands just seven months on the from the IPO some 20,000 investors will have lost everything they put into the company, based on the statement when it filed for in-court restructuring of its main operating subsidiaries that it “must be assumed that the group’s equity is lost”.

Suppliers and sub-contractors will find themselves with large unpaid bills, something which P&I insurers Skuld have warned shipowners about. And more than 600 employees of the group worldwide face a very uncertain future. Trading is a risky business, and anyone investing in it needs to understand this, but this is also why corporate governance and oversight are so important. It is worth noting that according to reports in the Danish media the company did not actually uncover the fraud at Dynamic itself; one of its senior executives flew to Denmark and tearfully confessed to it. How long it would have gone on if this had not happened we can only speculate. Two employees have since been reported to the Danish police as OW Bunker filed for bankruptcy. What fraud was actually committed we do not know, although we do know it was over a six month period, so its open to question whether it was actual embezzlement or the hiding of losses as the market turned against the executives involved.

Certainly the recent sharp falls in the oil and bunker price point to the latter as a possibility. The case bears certain parallels to then Singapore-based, British national, rogue trader Nick Leeson who caused the collapse of Barings Bank in 1995 having run up losses on speculative trades that eventually totaled in the region of $1.4bn. Indeed the BBC is reporting the fraud at Dynamic could be one of Singapore’s largest financial scandals in the last 10 years, joining what is already a huge scandal in Denmark. The fraud revelations came on top of the $150m in risk management losses that resulted in the firing of OW Bunker head of risk management and evp Jane Dahl Christensen. The full extent of the fallout of OW Bunker’s sudden bankruptcy will most likely take years to unravel. However, lessons do need to be learned on corporate governance and oversight for the benefit of all going forward.

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That Tony Abbott is one dumb f*ck: “Sydney before British settlement was “nothing but bush.”

Aboriginals Decry G-20 Host Australia as Leaders Gather (Bloomberg)

Across the Brisbane River from where some of the world’s biggest leaders will soon gather, a group of 200 indigenous Australians is seeking to present another side to the country’s image as host and regional power. “We want to talk to the people of the world,” said twenty-seven-year-old Meriki Onus, who joined the Aboriginal people protesting in a city park after a two-day, 1,100-mile bus ride to the Queensland state capital. “The police system here is racist, the government systems here are racist and we’ve used the G-20 as an opportunity to tell the world that it’s not OK.” Australia’s first inhabitants – who lived on the continent at least 40,000 years prior to British settlement in 1788 and now make up about 3% of the population – are among groups using the draw of leaders like U.S. President Barack Obama at the Group of 20 meetings to highlight their causes.

The indigenous people gathered in the subtropical city, where police outnumber the 7,000 delegates and media, say the system of government has entrenched poverty. “This country is occupied by force, like what happened in Poland and France during War War II, but for us this has been going on for more than two centuries,” Wayne Wharton, spokesman for the Brisbane Aboriginal Sovereign Embassy, said today at the park protest. “Our people want our rightful place in the world, and that means economic benefits, social benefits, responsibility and services.” Speaking at a business breakfast today in Sydney with U.K. Prime Minister David Cameron, Australia’s leader Tony Abbott, a self-declared prime minister for Aborigines and host of this weekend’s G-20 summit, said Sydney before British settlement was “nothing but bush.”

“As we look around this glorious city, as we see the extraordinary development, it’s hard to think that back in 1788 it was nothing but bush and that the marines and the convicts and the sailors that straggled off those 12 ships just a few hundred yards from where we are now must have thought they’d come almost to the moon,” Abbott said. Daubed with “mourning paint” across his face and torso to highlight indigenous deaths in police custody, Wharton said the G-20 won’t help his people or other Aboriginal races throughout the world because it’s designed to make rich nations wealthier at the expense of the poor. “It all comes back to having the ability to accumulate and then distribute wealth – my people have never had that,” he said.

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