In The Funnel Again

1,773 views

Oh hurray, it looks like deflation is the path forward. All commodities are getting creamed, and no commodity is more commodity-y than oil.

I’m back to flat for the year and feeling as if my head is firmly placed in a vice.

If you had a puppy, I would kick it.

Saudi Arabia Can Suck It

2,308 views

The Saudi’s are clinging to the past.

The days of them being the variable producer are coming to a close. They see that clearly and are completely freaked out by it. This is a desperate guy move.

The thing about desperate guy moves is…they’re desperate. Saudi Arabia is not putting this genie back in the bottle. American oil production is here to stay. Right now there’s a cost average race to the bottom going on, and a big game of chicken being played with cash reserves.

But US production isn’t going to just roll over and die. These people are fighting for their lives and have been largely successful about it.

I am absolutely positive that we will see some domestic US producers collapse. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But what comes out the other side is a leaner, slimmer, more efficient US oil operation.

OPEC is dead, folks. The US endeavored to put a stake through the heart of that malediction for 40 years. In the last 5, we pulled it off. They are coming apart at the seams and the Saudi’s, as the ring leader for that little circus, are trying to hold it all together.

They’re not going to succeed.

Euro And Oil Are Decoupling

2,372 views

I have a working theory that the EURUSD move precipitated the collapse of oil prices (and the strength of the dollar against other currencies more generally), with the currency move starting at the beginning of 2014 and finally being brought to a head in oil prices in the second half of the year.

It is difficult to fully disentangle the parts because everything is so complex and we cannot fully rule out that oil demand is or would have been soft without the dollar strength. Perhaps it would have been regardless.

But seeing the EURUSD fall while oil bids hold up is encouraging, as it at least breaks the conventional trends that have held so well for nine months.

One thing that does strike me; if currency exchanges were the primary cause of the disruption, then you can expect the pricing swing to correct itself abruptly either when those exchange moves halt or, possibly, just because a majority of the damage escalating from the move has been absorbed or priced in and so the continuation of the cause has a diminutive effect going forward.

For the moment, euro-dollar parity feels like a forgone conclusion and it also seems that oil traders have made their peace with that. But maybe it is too soon to tell.

Garbage Friday Action

2,783 views

Everything I own is sharply lower as apparently American’s gaining employment is something to be feared.

I will try to explain this to you. The reason we have had no inflation before now is because even as the monetary supply rocketed to untold heights, the velocity of money was collapsing. All of the deflationists have been harping on the sound money crowd because they believe they can control employment levels by printing ugly pictures of dead people (which is stupid).

Now that employment is regaining its stride, Americans will have more to spend, and you can probably expect the velocity of money to start picking back up. In fact, if you just bother to look at my new position OMAB, flight volumes are surging to vacation destinations as an example.

We have made much ado about the ever higher levels of debt owed by Americans. Well the numbers aren’t really that bad either. Does an extra $300 of credit card debt on average per year really signify the end times? The debt has almost no carrying cost at the moment; even average citizens can take hold of these zero percent interest rates in one way or another.

The point, good sir or ma’am, is that the monetary supply outstanding is still quite a bit larger than it was five years ago and there is no good strategy to unwind that. Employment numbers picking up are the first stride to wage growth which will usher in the final stretch of the recovery – inflation.

And that inflation will probably get out of hand, because the probability of a perfectly controlled, centrally planned recovery is exactly zero.

Don’t be surprised if commodities experience a second awakening in the not too distant future.

The Big Question Then: How To Play EU QE?

1,510 views

The Swiss bank just announced that the ceiling they have been maintaining against the euro is to be dropped. That would make sense, since the euro is now trading below 1.17, down from almost 1.40 just earlier. In terms of the exchange rate, that had to be getting very expensive.

But the timing here should be viewed as a sign that the ECB is really about to start QE. This should be the stance because if they don’t, the impact would be minimal, but if they do you can’t be on the wrong side of the trade.

In terms of what this QE will look like…well, that is the question. What is the ECB going to buy? Not public debt, surely. How much more financing can these governments stomach with yields already negative in many countries. Even the worst countries, like Greece, are borrowing at rates that an average citizen would envy.

My guess here is two fold: (1) they buy up private financial assets similar to the mortgage program the Fed had in place, but that it will center on short term bonds, while also working with banks to create a long term financing window (EU companies and banks in particular have notoriously short term financing arrangements) and (2) they take the opportunity to absorb whatever mechanisms exactly they have been using, before now, to hide the massive debt loads that should have been coming due over the past three years.

If you forgot, Europe ended up pulling some master BS, using a combination of trade accounts to gobble up the garbage so that the markets wouldn’t have to see it default. I’m hazy on the exact specifics, but I would gamble that those imbalanced accounts are still outstanding; and my guess is they’re about to get totally monetized.

So the big question now is, where do you park money? I think that it would be very stupid to try and be short right now with central banks making big noise and seemingly readying the cannons.

If this is like past central bank action, then any longs will do – equity, commodities, debt, whatever you like. Oil could get a huge boost since it’s been so ravaged. ECB action will give the Fed room to play, especially if deflation keeps up. Yellen is no Bernanke…yet, but she also hasn’t been tried either. If the Fed coordinates, all boats get lifted.

But the safest low key play is probably just to hug U.S. dollars until things are a little more clear.

I am ~78% cash, with positions in CCJ, BAS and VOC, down roughly 3% in the first two weeks of the year.

nOPEC

1,048 views

Oil just got beat again when it became public that OPEC is a dysfunctional organization. Who could have imagined that disparate oil producing nations with deep, cultural differences (read racism) might have trouble working through competition?

I never would have guessed it would crop up this quickly. But the demise of OPEC is hardly unforeseen. I myself penned an article this July discussing the possibility of the oil markets being upended.

But it is funny, reading through those thoughts going on just five months old, and seeing how violently they have diverged from what I expected.

I expected the development of US oil and gas reserves would create trouble for the old guards. I did not expect that oil would collapse 30% in two months. While you could say that those price swings were to be expected – just simple economics – I had expected the US might actually do more legislatively to erect a wall between us and the oil nations altogether. Obviously this happened much too quickly for any of that.

I had also guessed that when things started to get tough, OPEC would at least try to band together first. They’ve been successful at this in the past, so failing to construct even symbolic production cuts this round is certainly worse off along than I would have ventured.

The fallout in oil and energy names, following August, is not something I truthfully believed in. This may sound strange, but I was actually betting against myself when I made those sales of my oil and gas positions. And I never would have believed we’d fall so far. BAS is off 60% peak to trough, for crying out loud. Even when I knew we were experiencing a correction, I didn’t think it would be this extreme.

Now let’s put some context into all of this. Some of these energy names are trading at prices as bad as or worse than they were in 2010-2011 (when oil prices were pretty much where they are now); and lots of these energy companies were losing money back then, whereas they are making money today. I’m talking about BAS explicitly as an example.

So what happens now?

Well, I think that the prices of oil & gas plays are pretty compelling here. Yes oil is a bummer and there is big talk about $30 oil being right around the corner. And it’s no coincidence that I think this talk is stupid and that those responsible should be viciously ridiculed. I think the price drop is temporary, unremarkable and indistinct from any other major selloff that has gripped the price of oil in the past five years.

I think competition will continue to do real damage to the major oil nations in the world bringing about the greatest power shift of our lifetimes. But as apart from my peers, who seem to believe that a Venezuela or Russia has the ability to ramp up production into this price drop, leading to a deflationary spiral that ushers in 1990’s prices for all Western nations, I tend to feel this is silly.

You can’t call for the death of the Bakkens and simultaneously think that oil stays this low. Actually I have a hypothesis that the events that would have to converge to keep oil this low are few and far between. The big question here is timing as to when oil goes higher.

So my guess – and this is definitely just that – is that the US shale boom lives. And here’s what will enable that to happen.

These oil exporting countries have all made brazen moves with their budgets. Places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Iran are barely holding it together. Places like Venezuela can’t even muster that; oil prices for Venezuela are kind of like mattresses or trampolines to a guy already falling off a roof – a point of hope.

But if oil prices keep falling, you’re going to see one of these places – and Venezuela is definitely near the top of my list – buckle. Venezuela is probably the easiest case to get back to $100 oil, because one Venezuela is good enough to offset new US production. But it could just as easily be a combination of other smaller oil exporters. A half dozen of the smaller to mid size guys, or even a combination of Syria and Iraq plunging back into darkness. IS is obviously a possible trigger here; a bunch of pissed off twenty year olds, armed with rocket propelled grenades, trying to operate oil machinery? Sounds like a nice, safe combo.

What we’ve seen, repeatedly, is that when a place like, oh, Syria or Libya plunges into anarchy, it’s not just a small setback. Rather, the entire oil infrastructure gets taken offline for years at a time.

Another civil war or resurgent fighting could easily get us back to lower oil production in these places. Some US legislative work (now freed from the concerns about access to supply thanks to the US domestic advances) could help keep our own oil expertise from setting those places back up again after they tumble.

Why would we want to do this? Rome is sick of Carthage.

Just think about the sheer number of problems that these countries have dealt us over the past fifty years. We already know that the US can withstand $100 oil. We’ve been doing it for a few years now. And $100 oil benefits the US economy directly, whereas $80 oil is the worst of all worlds; too cheap or expensive to care about.

With the GOP in Congress and looking to juice the US a little, and with Obama increasingly looking for a major win, sticking a stake in the middle east is probably the lowest hanging fruit around. Kill IS by letting them destroy their own oil infrastructure, then restrict the companies that have usually bailed that region back out (Shell, Exxon, etcetera) from doing that. Lower Russia back into 1993 conditions, then tell Blankfein to keep out this time.

That’s how I see things playing out. Sure we could watch the US shale revolution just go to waste completely. But I think at this junction the US has a pretty vested interest in not letting that happen. It’s a new dawn, after all.

In The Funnel Again

1,773 views

Oh hurray, it looks like deflation is the path forward. All commodities are getting creamed, and no commodity is more commodity-y than oil.

I’m back to flat for the year and feeling as if my head is firmly placed in a vice.

If you had a puppy, I would kick it.

Saudi Arabia Can Suck It

2,308 views

The Saudi’s are clinging to the past.

The days of them being the variable producer are coming to a close. They see that clearly and are completely freaked out by it. This is a desperate guy move.

The thing about desperate guy moves is…they’re desperate. Saudi Arabia is not putting this genie back in the bottle. American oil production is here to stay. Right now there’s a cost average race to the bottom going on, and a big game of chicken being played with cash reserves.

But US production isn’t going to just roll over and die. These people are fighting for their lives and have been largely successful about it.

I am absolutely positive that we will see some domestic US producers collapse. It would be silly to suggest otherwise. But what comes out the other side is a leaner, slimmer, more efficient US oil operation.

OPEC is dead, folks. The US endeavored to put a stake through the heart of that malediction for 40 years. In the last 5, we pulled it off. They are coming apart at the seams and the Saudi’s, as the ring leader for that little circus, are trying to hold it all together.

They’re not going to succeed.

Euro And Oil Are Decoupling

2,372 views

I have a working theory that the EURUSD move precipitated the collapse of oil prices (and the strength of the dollar against other currencies more generally), with the currency move starting at the beginning of 2014 and finally being brought to a head in oil prices in the second half of the year.

It is difficult to fully disentangle the parts because everything is so complex and we cannot fully rule out that oil demand is or would have been soft without the dollar strength. Perhaps it would have been regardless.

But seeing the EURUSD fall while oil bids hold up is encouraging, as it at least breaks the conventional trends that have held so well for nine months.

One thing that does strike me; if currency exchanges were the primary cause of the disruption, then you can expect the pricing swing to correct itself abruptly either when those exchange moves halt or, possibly, just because a majority of the damage escalating from the move has been absorbed or priced in and so the continuation of the cause has a diminutive effect going forward.

For the moment, euro-dollar parity feels like a forgone conclusion and it also seems that oil traders have made their peace with that. But maybe it is too soon to tell.

Garbage Friday Action

2,783 views

Everything I own is sharply lower as apparently American’s gaining employment is something to be feared.

I will try to explain this to you. The reason we have had no inflation before now is because even as the monetary supply rocketed to untold heights, the velocity of money was collapsing. All of the deflationists have been harping on the sound money crowd because they believe they can control employment levels by printing ugly pictures of dead people (which is stupid).

Now that employment is regaining its stride, Americans will have more to spend, and you can probably expect the velocity of money to start picking back up. In fact, if you just bother to look at my new position OMAB, flight volumes are surging to vacation destinations as an example.

We have made much ado about the ever higher levels of debt owed by Americans. Well the numbers aren’t really that bad either. Does an extra $300 of credit card debt on average per year really signify the end times? The debt has almost no carrying cost at the moment; even average citizens can take hold of these zero percent interest rates in one way or another.

The point, good sir or ma’am, is that the monetary supply outstanding is still quite a bit larger than it was five years ago and there is no good strategy to unwind that. Employment numbers picking up are the first stride to wage growth which will usher in the final stretch of the recovery – inflation.

And that inflation will probably get out of hand, because the probability of a perfectly controlled, centrally planned recovery is exactly zero.

Don’t be surprised if commodities experience a second awakening in the not too distant future.

The Big Question Then: How To Play EU QE?

1,510 views

The Swiss bank just announced that the ceiling they have been maintaining against the euro is to be dropped. That would make sense, since the euro is now trading below 1.17, down from almost 1.40 just earlier. In terms of the exchange rate, that had to be getting very expensive.

But the timing here should be viewed as a sign that the ECB is really about to start QE. This should be the stance because if they don’t, the impact would be minimal, but if they do you can’t be on the wrong side of the trade.

In terms of what this QE will look like…well, that is the question. What is the ECB going to buy? Not public debt, surely. How much more financing can these governments stomach with yields already negative in many countries. Even the worst countries, like Greece, are borrowing at rates that an average citizen would envy.

My guess here is two fold: (1) they buy up private financial assets similar to the mortgage program the Fed had in place, but that it will center on short term bonds, while also working with banks to create a long term financing window (EU companies and banks in particular have notoriously short term financing arrangements) and (2) they take the opportunity to absorb whatever mechanisms exactly they have been using, before now, to hide the massive debt loads that should have been coming due over the past three years.

If you forgot, Europe ended up pulling some master BS, using a combination of trade accounts to gobble up the garbage so that the markets wouldn’t have to see it default. I’m hazy on the exact specifics, but I would gamble that those imbalanced accounts are still outstanding; and my guess is they’re about to get totally monetized.

So the big question now is, where do you park money? I think that it would be very stupid to try and be short right now with central banks making big noise and seemingly readying the cannons.

If this is like past central bank action, then any longs will do – equity, commodities, debt, whatever you like. Oil could get a huge boost since it’s been so ravaged. ECB action will give the Fed room to play, especially if deflation keeps up. Yellen is no Bernanke…yet, but she also hasn’t been tried either. If the Fed coordinates, all boats get lifted.

But the safest low key play is probably just to hug U.S. dollars until things are a little more clear.

I am ~78% cash, with positions in CCJ, BAS and VOC, down roughly 3% in the first two weeks of the year.

nOPEC

1,048 views

Oil just got beat again when it became public that OPEC is a dysfunctional organization. Who could have imagined that disparate oil producing nations with deep, cultural differences (read racism) might have trouble working through competition?

I never would have guessed it would crop up this quickly. But the demise of OPEC is hardly unforeseen. I myself penned an article this July discussing the possibility of the oil markets being upended.

But it is funny, reading through those thoughts going on just five months old, and seeing how violently they have diverged from what I expected.

I expected the development of US oil and gas reserves would create trouble for the old guards. I did not expect that oil would collapse 30% in two months. While you could say that those price swings were to be expected – just simple economics – I had expected the US might actually do more legislatively to erect a wall between us and the oil nations altogether. Obviously this happened much too quickly for any of that.

I had also guessed that when things started to get tough, OPEC would at least try to band together first. They’ve been successful at this in the past, so failing to construct even symbolic production cuts this round is certainly worse off along than I would have ventured.

The fallout in oil and energy names, following August, is not something I truthfully believed in. This may sound strange, but I was actually betting against myself when I made those sales of my oil and gas positions. And I never would have believed we’d fall so far. BAS is off 60% peak to trough, for crying out loud. Even when I knew we were experiencing a correction, I didn’t think it would be this extreme.

Now let’s put some context into all of this. Some of these energy names are trading at prices as bad as or worse than they were in 2010-2011 (when oil prices were pretty much where they are now); and lots of these energy companies were losing money back then, whereas they are making money today. I’m talking about BAS explicitly as an example.

So what happens now?

Well, I think that the prices of oil & gas plays are pretty compelling here. Yes oil is a bummer and there is big talk about $30 oil being right around the corner. And it’s no coincidence that I think this talk is stupid and that those responsible should be viciously ridiculed. I think the price drop is temporary, unremarkable and indistinct from any other major selloff that has gripped the price of oil in the past five years.

I think competition will continue to do real damage to the major oil nations in the world bringing about the greatest power shift of our lifetimes. But as apart from my peers, who seem to believe that a Venezuela or Russia has the ability to ramp up production into this price drop, leading to a deflationary spiral that ushers in 1990’s prices for all Western nations, I tend to feel this is silly.

You can’t call for the death of the Bakkens and simultaneously think that oil stays this low. Actually I have a hypothesis that the events that would have to converge to keep oil this low are few and far between. The big question here is timing as to when oil goes higher.

So my guess – and this is definitely just that – is that the US shale boom lives. And here’s what will enable that to happen.

These oil exporting countries have all made brazen moves with their budgets. Places like Russia, Saudi Arabia, or Iran are barely holding it together. Places like Venezuela can’t even muster that; oil prices for Venezuela are kind of like mattresses or trampolines to a guy already falling off a roof – a point of hope.

But if oil prices keep falling, you’re going to see one of these places – and Venezuela is definitely near the top of my list – buckle. Venezuela is probably the easiest case to get back to $100 oil, because one Venezuela is good enough to offset new US production. But it could just as easily be a combination of other smaller oil exporters. A half dozen of the smaller to mid size guys, or even a combination of Syria and Iraq plunging back into darkness. IS is obviously a possible trigger here; a bunch of pissed off twenty year olds, armed with rocket propelled grenades, trying to operate oil machinery? Sounds like a nice, safe combo.

What we’ve seen, repeatedly, is that when a place like, oh, Syria or Libya plunges into anarchy, it’s not just a small setback. Rather, the entire oil infrastructure gets taken offline for years at a time.

Another civil war or resurgent fighting could easily get us back to lower oil production in these places. Some US legislative work (now freed from the concerns about access to supply thanks to the US domestic advances) could help keep our own oil expertise from setting those places back up again after they tumble.

Why would we want to do this? Rome is sick of Carthage.

Just think about the sheer number of problems that these countries have dealt us over the past fifty years. We already know that the US can withstand $100 oil. We’ve been doing it for a few years now. And $100 oil benefits the US economy directly, whereas $80 oil is the worst of all worlds; too cheap or expensive to care about.

With the GOP in Congress and looking to juice the US a little, and with Obama increasingly looking for a major win, sticking a stake in the middle east is probably the lowest hanging fruit around. Kill IS by letting them destroy their own oil infrastructure, then restrict the companies that have usually bailed that region back out (Shell, Exxon, etcetera) from doing that. Lower Russia back into 1993 conditions, then tell Blankfein to keep out this time.

That’s how I see things playing out. Sure we could watch the US shale revolution just go to waste completely. But I think at this junction the US has a pretty vested interest in not letting that happen. It’s a new dawn, after all.

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