Jan 152016
 January 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:03 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  

Russell Lee Tracy, California. Tank truck delivering gasoline to a filling station 1942

The first thing that popped into our minds on Tuesday when WTI oil briefly broached $30 for its first $20 handle in many years, was that this should be triggering a Gawdawful amount of bets, $30 being such an obvious number. Which in turn would of necessity lead to a -brief- rise in prices.

Apparently even that is not so easy to see, since when prices did indeed go up after, some 3% at the ‘top’, ‘analysts’ fell over each other talking up ‘bottom’, ‘rebound’ and even ‘recovery’. We’re really addicted to that recovery idea, aren’t we? Well, sorry, but this is not about recovering, it’s about covering (wagers).

Same thing happened on Thursday after Brent hit that $20 handle, with prices up 2.5% at noon. That too, predictably, shall pass. Covering. On this early Friday morning, both WTI and Brent have resumed their fall, threatening $30 again. And those are just ‘official’ numbers, spot prices.

If as a producer you’re really squeezed by your overproduction and your credit lines and your overflowing storage, you’ll have to settle for less. And you will. Which is going to put downward pressure on oil prices for a while to come. Inventories are more than full all over the world. With oil that was largely purchased, somewhat ironically, because prices were perceived as being low.

Interestingly, people are finally waking up to the reality that this is a development that first started with falling demand. China. Told ya. And only afterwards did it turn into a supply issue as well, when every producer began pumping for their lives because demand was shrinking.

All the talk about Saudi Arabia’s ‘tactics’ being aimed at strangling US frackers never sounded very bright. By November 2014, the notorious OPEC meeting, the Saudi’s, well before most others including ‘analysts’, knew to what extent demand was plunging. They had first-hand knowledge. And they had ideas, too, about where that could lead prices. Alarm bells in the desert.

There are alarm bells ringing in many capitals, there’s not a single oil producer sitting comfy right now. And that’s why ‘official’ prices need to be taken with a bag of salt. Bloomberg puts the real price today at $26:

The Real Price of Oil Is Far Lower Than You Realize

While oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is even deeper. West Texas Intermediate futures, the U.S. benchmark, sank below $30 a barrel on Tuesday for the first time since 2003. Actual barrels of Saudi Arabian crude shipped to Asia are even cheaper, at $26 – the lowest since early 2002 once inflation is factored in and near levels seen before the turn of the millennium. Slumping oil prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is “unwinding,” according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

Slowing investment and construction in China, the world’s biggest energy user, is “sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what’s happening in this oil-price collapse,” Turner, former chairman of the U.K. Financial Services Authority, said. The nation’s economic expansion faltered last year to the slowest pace in a quarter of a century. “You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers,” Turner said. “That is having a major effect on their expenditure across the world.”

Zero Hedge does one better and looks at 1998 dollars:

The ‘Real’ Price Of Oil Is Below $17

“You see a big destruction in the income of the oil and commodity producers,” exclaims an analyst but, as Bloomberg notes, while oil prices flashing across traders’ terminals are at the lowest in a decade, in real terms the collapse is considerably deeper. Adjusted for inflation, WTI is its lowest since 2002 and worse still Saudi Light Crude is trading at below $17 (in 1998 dollar terms) – the lowest since the 1980s… Slumping prices are a critical signal that the boom in lending in China is “unwinding,” according to Adair Turner, chairman of the Institute for New Economic Thinking.

In fact, while sub-$30 per barrel oil sounds very scary, Saudi prices would be less than $17 a barrel when converted into dollar levels for 1998, the year oil sank to its lowest since the 1980s. Slowing investment and construction in China, the world’s biggest energy user, is “sending an enormous deflationary impetus through to the world, and that is a significant part of what’s happening in this oil-price collapse,” Turner, former chairman of the U.K. Financial Services Authority, said.

But this still covers only light sweet crude. Heavier versions are already way below even those levels. Question: what does tar sands oil go for in 1998 dollars? $5 perhaps? A barrel’s worth of it fetched $8.35 in 2016 US dollars on Tuesday. And that does not stop production, because investment (sunk cost) has been spent so there’s no reason to cut, quite the contrary.

Crude At $10 Is Already A Reality For Canadian Oil-Sands Miners

Think oil in the $20s is bad? In Canada they’d be happy to sell it for $10. Canadian oil sands producers are feeling pain as bitumen – the thick, sticky substance at the center of the heated debate over TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline – hit a low of $8.35 on Tuesday, down from as much as $80 less than two years ago. Producers are all losing money at current prices, First Energy Capital’s Martin King said Tuesday at a conference in Calgary. Which doesn’t mean they’ll stop. Since most of the spending for bitumen extraction comes upfront, and thus is a sunk cost, production will continue and grow.

Another interesting question is where the price of oil would be right now if the perception of low prices had not made 2015 such a banner year for filling up storage space across the globe, including huge amounts of tankers that are left floating at sea, awaiting a ‘recovery’. But that is so last year:

Tanker Rates Tumble As Last Pillar Of Strength In Oil Market Crashes

If there was one silver-lining in the oil complex, it was the demand for VLCCs (as huge floating storage facilities or as China scooped up ‘cheap’ oil to refill their reserves) which drove tanker rates to record highs. Now, as Bloomberg notes so eloquently, it appears the party is over! Daily rates for benchmark Saudi Arabia-Japan VLCC cargoes have crashed 53% year-to-date to $50,955 (as it appears China’s record crude imports have ceased). In fact the rate crashed 12% today for the 12th straight daily decline from over $100,000 just a month ago…

China imported a record amount of crude last year as oil’s lowest annual average price in more than a decade spurred stockpiling and boosted demand from independent refiners. China’s crude imports last month was equivalent to 7.85 million barrels a day, 6% higher than the previous record of 7.4 million in April, Bloomberg calculations show.

China has exploited a plunge in crude prices by easing rules to allow private refiners, known as teapots, to import crude and by boosting shipments to fill emergency stockpiles. The nation’s overseas purchases may rise to 370 million metric tons this year, surpassing estimated U.S. imports of about 363 million tons, according to Li Li, a research director with ICIS China, an industry researcher. But given the crash in tanker rates – and implicitly demand – that “boom” appears to be over.

The consequences of all this will be felt all over the world, and for a long time to come. All of our economic systems run on oil, so many jobs are related to it, so many ‘fields’ in the economy, and no, things won’t get easier when oil is at $20 or $10, it’ll be a disaster of biblical proportions, like a swarm of locusts that leaves precious little behind. Squeeze oil and you squeeze the entire economic system. That’s what all the ‘low oil prices are great for the economy’ analysts missed (many still do).

Entire nations will undergo drastic changes in leadership and prosperity. Norway, Canada, North Dakota, Russia. But more than that, Middle East nations that rely entirely on oil, a dependency that won’t allow for many of their rulers to remain in office. Same goes for all OPEC nations, and many non-OPEC producers.

We can argue that a war of some kind or another can be the black swan that sets prices ‘straight’, but black swans are supposed to be the things you can’t see coming, and Middle East warfare for obvious reasons doesn’t even qualify for that definition.

The world is full of nations and rulers that are fighting for bare survival. And things like that don’t play out on a short term basis. For that reason alone, though there are many others as well, oil prices will remain under pressure for now.

Even a war will be hard put to turn that trend around at this point. Unless production facilities are destroyed on a large scale, war may just lead to even more production as demand keeps falling. The fact that Iran is preparing to ‘come back online’, promising an even steeper glut in world markets, is putting the Saudi’s on edge. Rumors of Libya wanting to return for a piece of the pie won’t exactly soothe emotions either.

And when, in a few years’ time, all the production cuts due to shut wells become our new reality, and eventually they must, then no, there will still not be an oil shortage. Because the economy will be doing so much worse by then that demand will have fallen more than supply.

Barring large scale warfare in the Middle East there is nothing that can solve the low oil price conundrum. But think about it, which Gulf nation can even afford such warfare in present times? For that matter, which nation in the world can?

The US may try and ignite a proxy war with Russia, but that would lead to an(other) endless and unwinnable war theater. Which would carry the threat of dragging in China as well. The US and its -soon even officially- shrinking economy can’t afford that. Which of course by no means guarantees it won’t try.

Aug 062015
 August 6, 2015  Posted by at 8:05 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  

Arnold Genthe “Chinatown, San Francisco. The street of the gamblers at night” 1900

Far too many people have already used lines like “We Are All Greeks Now” for the words to hold on to much if any meaning by now. But it’s still a very accurate description of what awaits us all. Just not for the same reasons most who used it, did.

No, I don’t really want to talk about Greece again. I want to talk about where you live. And about how similar the two will be not too long from now. How Greece is holding up a lesson and a big red flashing warning sign for all of us.

Greece is the mold upon which all of our futures will be based. Quite literally. Greece is a test tube baby rat.

Greece will never “recover” to our North American and Western European economic levels (if ever they were there). Instead, it’s us who will descend, “uncover” so to speak, to the levels Greece is at today. That is baked into the cake, that is inevitable, and that is therefore what we need to be ready for.

If we wake up in time to this new reality, we may, and that’s still only may, be able to prevent the worst, prevent something akin to the same punitive measures the Troika has unleashed upon Greek society, fully wrecking it in the process, its healthcare system, the safety nets for its most needy.

We may find a way to make a smoother transition from here to there if we prepare in time. But that’s the best we can do. As societies, that is; individual fates will vary.

Greece will find ways to do better than it does right now, balance things out, but it won’t be through a recovery or a bailout. Athens will -because it must, lest the humanitarian crisis deepens profoundly- find ways to better -fairer- apportion what means are at its disposition, amongst its people.

We all have to do the same, wherever we are. Our advantage today is that we can do this from a relatively well-to-do starting point. Our disadvantage is that, unlike the Greeks, we do not understand the reality we’re in.

We’re ignorant, we deny, we prefer not to think about it. The Greeks used to be like that, but they no longer have that choice. And we won’t for much longer either.

The reason why Greece is where it is today, and why we will all be there tomorrow, we can by now for good reason call ‘deceptively simple’. That is to say, the global banking system that orchestrated the financial crisis refuses to take the losses on its extravagant bets, and it has the political clout to get its way, all the way. That’s all you need to know.

The losses are therefore unloaded upon the citizens of our respective nations. But the losses are far too massive for those citizens to bear. They, or rather we, will see our societies stripped of most things, most of the social fabric, that hold them together. Any service that costs money will be cut, progressively, until there’s very little left.

It happened in Greece, and it will happen all over the world. Mind you, this is nothing new; third world nations have undergone the same treatment for decades, if not forever. Disaster capitalism wasn’t born yesterday. What’s new is that it now takes place in the supposedly well-off part of the world, in this case the European Union. And it will spread.

The successive Greek bailouts that have now ruined the entire nation were “needed” to stem the losses on wagers, derivatives and other, incurred by global banks, French, Dutch, German, Wall Street, the City. The first bailout in 2010 also served the purpose of allowing the banks time to shift away from their exposure to Greek debt.

All bailouts, be they directly for banks, or indirectly through a country like Greece and then for the banks, have been set up according to the exact same MO. Greece’s economic reserves just happened to be a bit tighter, and moreover, the country was a convenient lab rat and scarecrow to prevent others from protesting the bailout system too loudly.

The whole system of bailouts, be it in Greece or in the US, was never anything else than a transfer of public money to private interests, with the express aim of making good on the lost wagers of that private sector. With impunity, no less.

And no, the losses have not disappeared. Nor have they been written down. They have instead been transferred to fester in dark vaults, hidden behind swaps and other derivatives, and on central bank balance sheets. But that won’t last either.

The Automatic Earth has warned of the imminent deleveraging and deflation for years, and now everyone is talking about deflation. No worries, guys. As you were. But do please try and understand how this works.

There’s all these losses, with no-one prepared to write down any of them (see Germany vs Greece), and the elites behind the banks unwilling to absorb any -the elites instead insist on getting richer even in a depression-. There is only one outcome left then: that you and me will have to become much poorer. They are our losses now.

The only way the rich can keep getting richer is if the rest of us keep getting poorer. Economic growth is a thing of the past. Deleveraging has started for real. Huge amounts of zombified ‘money’ are disappearing as we speak.

That leaves the world with a lot less wealth. And still the rich seek to get richer, and they are in charge. The math is simple. As Greece shows us, the rich have no qualms about throwing an entire society off the cliff.

A large part of what is now considered wealth is made up of QE and related and inflated stocks, bonds and real estate prices, all of which is zombie wealth. Which can disappear overnight. And if it can, it will.

China stocks and “real” estate and local government debt to shadow banks, emerging markets, commodity currencies (Australia, New Zealand, Canada etc.), if you overlook that whole panorama it’s hard to see how you could possibly think there’ll be some kind of recovery.

Where should it come from? Overall debts are much worse, much higher, now, then they were in 2008. We haven’t had a recovery, we’ve had an “uncovery”. And we’re headed for a discovery.

The entire idea, the phantom ghost, of a functioning market died, if you were willing to look, with the advent of central bank intervention. People who work in finance, obviously and for understandable reasons, have never been willing to take that look. They’re just looking to make more money even if things tumble down the mountain in a handbasket. They call it “opportunity”.

But they haven’t been actual investors in years. They’ve just helped the banking system put you into deeper doodoo. Greece shows us where that leads. And soon, wherever you live will show that to you too.

Deflation is a bitch. Nicole Foss here at the Automatic Earth has used the phrase “multiple claims to underlying real wealth”, for a long time. It’s like playing musical chairs. And you’re not winning. You never had a chance.

The only people who will wind up winning are the rich trying to get richer. The rest of us will soon live like the Greeks, and that’s if we are lucky.

There is no other possibility. “Money” is vanishing fast, and the only way it can even seem to return is if central banks do more QE, but that’s a dead in the water policy. Economic growth across the globe, and certainly in the west, is an illusion.

China was the last place that briefly seemed to have any, and they screwed up just like us, ending up with far too much debt to ever repay.

There is a point when the can gets so big and heavy, no-one can kick it down any road anymore. Not even one that plunges down a mountain. Something to do with gravity.