Market Update – 18 Months In Review

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2014 began with an intense implosion of overpriced tech stocks that destabilized players and set us up for nasty knock off effects. Months afterwards, energy names began to turn downward and started an at first slow descent; a black omen for anyone looking for a forward indicator.

Saudi Arabia decided to play the world’s worst move (effectively maiming OPEC), spiked the oil markets when they could least handle it, and sent oil into the abyss touching off a second massive sector implosion in oil and gas names. But not just oil & gas, as the market became terrified of economic stagnation led by fears out of Europe and Asia, and the entire energy sector followed oil down the hole.

We are now experiencing what I view as the third wave of the same phenomenon that began in early 2014, more than a year later, as the entire stock market collapses 10% in a short span of time, led by China’s markets and the intensely poor decision making of a command/control economy trying to have their cake and eat it too.

That being said, I haven’t yet seen any indication that the real economy is retracting.

Job growth seems present and in my own local markets where I have a good ear to the ground concerning hiring and pay policies, I am actually hearing talk of wage hikes. The last five years, our local job market at least was terrified of the HR monsters that were federal regulations (chiefly PPACA), not to mention we are still reeling from 2009 in some respects. But I think as we clear away from the implementation of these federal regulations, especially with rigid conservatives now holding fast against, we are going to start to see some wage growth. Employees are actually demanding it now, voting with their feet when they can.

This should do wonders for the economy.

With regards to oil specifically (which is chiefest of my concerns) the EIA is suggesting that the current imbalance between consumption and production of oil is 2 million barrels per day. This is the cause of our stockpiling and the foremost reason oil has sunk so far. Saudi Arabia’s move to curtail US production has been a failure and so far the long feared wave of insolvencies has held to a slow drip, even from the most precarious of businesses.

A 2 million barrel imbalance is not all that bad and I believe that, barring some sort of real demand destruction, we’ll just float along at these levels until the market becomes more comfortable with oversupply. I don’t think oversupply necessarily will force pricing lower as it would take a very specific set of circumstances which include not having a merger & acquisition brokerage occur. Yet we see M&A activity is very healthy in this current time period and I have to believe that if oil goes much lower you would see US markets consolidate aggressively.

Besides this, the global imbalance is equivalent to about one major oil producer globally. And in this current environment, we also should be aware that civil unrest is a powerful destabilizer of oil production (via civil war) with positive likelihood.

Sources of new supply are questionable. New well development at these oil prices are unprofitable and only large state sponsored development is probable. Yet, economic weakness is harming state budgets and may make it difficult to attain approval for unprofitable ventures. The largest foreign state controlled sources of oil are also some of the most sensitive to this oil price shock.

Altogether, I continue to believe that the most likely outcome in oil markets is unknowable yet still predictable production locations going offline from internal unrest. Venezuela is pegged as the most likely location for such an event, do to the extreme nature of their current state of affairs, and because their leadership is proven incapable of handling the situation. But Venezuela is hardly the only candidate; just the best.

Outside of that, the economic uncertainty that hit everyone’s radar earlier this summer is now coming back under control. Bond yields continue to subside across all major foreign issuers, and I would not be surprised if the EU crisis in particular remains hidden from view for another full two years.

Domestically, I expect monetary policy to remain accommodating, but would not be surprised if Yellen raises interest rates some token amount, to try and claim some victory for the Federal Reserve. I cannot expect how the market will react to his, but believe the raise will be mostly symbolic anyway, so any effects should be temporary in nature.

Oil Treading Water

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Another disappointing inventory report sent oil down about 1% over the past 24 hours. Despite this, the oil names are holding up okay. BAS, HCLP, and VOC were all up today, and ALDW was down if you can imagine.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The oil and energy patch is down from the recent top, but this is a process we are working through.

See you tomorrow.

Euro And Oil Are Decoupling

2,396 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.

Tumultuous Action In Oil Names

1,664 views

The inventory build in oil was about three times greater than what the market was expecting. Oil prices slid fast throughout the day and the sector by and large reversed the recent move. But going into the final hour of trading, there does seem to be some minor strength ticking up. BAS notably was flat just about an hour ago and could tread water some more.

My guess: oil returns sub $50 for a spell and weak players get slapped around some more until someone finally closes shop. The inventory builds are big but the overall market imbalance is much less so, in the grand scheme of things. US inventory is building rapidly but only partially due to overproduction. Recent currency moves have contributed to the problem by trapping US crude with uncompetitive manufacturing and refinery businesses behind an export barrier, which is why oil companies are banging the drum so loudly on crude export rules. My guess is that at least half the build is probably from dollar strength pricing US competition out of foreign goods markets.

There is no reason to think the Fed will just sit by while the US economy slides into a recession. They’ll have to defend the dollar at some point (or what do you call intentionally making it weaker anyway?). But in the meantime, things could get rough. Oil majors are only halfheartedly looking to fix the problem; they’d really like to gobble up all the small competition for pennies on the dollar first to keep their proven reserves stacked. So yeah this could get worse before it gets better.

Still, I’m thinking now is a perfectly good time to start building positions in known survivors. The majors themselves are cheap, given how huge they are and that they aren’t going anywhere. Everything that made oil majors a crappy investment when they had a premium attached makes them the perfect choice now that they’re going for no premium. If you pick the right foreign oil major, you can even get paid in non-dollars and – God help us when the Fed finally delivers a weaker dollar – make a second strong killing on the exchange back into the US.

Oil Markets Are Destroying Themselves

3,671 views

We’re still in the midst of watching the oil industry unravel in spectacular fashion. I do not feel comfortable even uttering the word “bottom”, not even in jest, for the fear the entire structure would unwind and usher in $10 oil for two decades.

We need more expensive oil. I know you do not want to hear that; why just a few weeks ago I saw a long dormant Hummer H3 roaming the tundra planes of southeast Michigan. A once formidable species, these vehicles could once be seen all across the North American continent.

Their reemergence was a startling sign. Gasoline has gotten cheap.

It is comforting to think of these lower input costs as an unchallenged blessing to America. It is more complicated than that, I am afraid.

High oil prices have been one of very few elements that has actually helped foster stability in third world countries. Watching the recent turmoil and wars, it is easy to forget just how unnaturally peaceful the most recent decades have been in the grand scheme of things. Oil money has been used to weave the social fabric in these places and if oil prices stay low for a sustained period, we are going to see much more egregious cases of foreign sovereign collapse.

Oil prices have also driven the US recovery. The shale revolution was named thusly for a reason; job growth in the US would not have been possible without the advances in shale oil. This is a major pillar of the US recovery and without it our economy is going to suffer. High input costs were a minor inconvenience that came with job growth.

And of course there is the euro. The euro may just be the cause of the oil collapse in and of itself. I cannot say for certain yet, but I am suspicious. The euro and dollar are now almost at parity and this has crippled US exporters. If our own markets are suddenly sloshing around with oil to spare, it is because we are suddenly priced out of foreign markets. This is a precarious barrier…how cheap would oil need to be in this country to enable exporters to compete against euro/dollar parity? The dollar is going to isolate our business and tank us if we let this continue.

We need to start taking steps to regain stability. Bernanke would have never let this happen. Yellen is pushing for normalization of policy and this is not a bad thing. But they are far too comfortable watching a currency move like this happen with our probably largest trade group. We need a weaker dollar and we need more expensive oil and we need it now.

Now, because oil is so cheap, struggling shale producers are clocking overtime to meet payments. This is the exact opposite of what the oil markets need to find a bottom – a glut of even more oil.

In addition to addressing currency and demand issues, we really need a JP Morgan figure to emerge and start brokering some M&A moves that stitch up the supply side. Oil markets are leaking supply uncontrollably and this is going to cause extensive damage if not treated like the dire risk that it is.

The weak hands need to be either bought out or flushed or secured with long term financing. If we can’t shut some of these wells off, we’re going to have irreparable damage on our hands.

A Messy Process

2,142 views

I am getting constructive on oil markets, and starting to feel more comfortable with my BAS, VOC and HCLP positions. I may just edge in a little further, in another month or so.

I understand how dark prospects for oil are right now; we have numerous estimates calling for the total dismantling of oil, sending it into the $20’s, and suddenly those forecasts aren’t feeling quite so fanciful. It’s the fear creeping up in people.

But how many of these forecasts existed before last October? Tell me that, will you? Back in July, it was only a matter of how many $10’s we could stack on top of the $100 mark. Nobody I know was seriously calling for sub-$40 oil. Even those of us who were expecting a pullback had the $70-90 range as a guide. Which is why almost everybody long got smoked. Even scaling a position back to half the size wasn’t enough to escape this (trust me I know).

Which leads me to think a lot of these “experts” talking up ultra cheap crude oil are just trolling the public. Goldman Sachs has a pretty horrible record of forecasting commodities, actually. That’s not how commodity storage facilities work – there you have cheap cost to store and opportunistic offerings and purchases. You also have a futures trading desk which you can tie into to cooperate with. But you still don’t know what’s going to actually happen. You just roll with it and make money as you can.

Names like BAS are chopping 8% every other which way. But they are working a floor in, and steadily, slowly, offering higher prices.

And what about the demand for crude globally? Yes there was a (not really that) significant excess supply gap, which is growing. But that gap existed with $100 crude oil and well development pricing in $100 crude oil. We are seeing just massive layoffs as the industry reacts to new facts on the ground. So future supply is being taken offline.

And to boot, oil is cheap now. So cheap.

Look at industrial output in the Eurozone; one part oil prices, one part a cheap currency. Is that killing the US? Nope, we seem to be absorbing the currency strength but still happily putting along. Cheap oil lifts all boats. I was very concerned that oil prices would make a serious headwind to the US – and certainly on some level it is, gross – but net jobs are working out fine as any complications from the Dakota’s are being more than offset.

Currency games are fun, but net economic growth is all that really matters at the end of the day. If a few thousand losses in one spot beget a few thousand gains in another, then activity will continue apace and crude demand will keep growing. You’re only really in trouble if you start getting net losses.

I think the oil market got way ahead of itself as unabashed speculators got their comeuppance. This is drawing to a close and I wouldn’t be surprised if oil abruptly rediscovers that $70-90 range we all sort of guessed was a fair price. I would not count on crude oil hanging out at levels from the 20th century, because that’s just not how extraction costs have trended.

And ultimately, no matter what crude oil does, I think there are going to be limits to how much devastation we see in oil companies. It doesn’t take much to swing the oil market back into balance; the imbalance is really not that significant. If oil sustains these prices, it will be because it is profitable for enough US shale companies to do so. If US shale cripples, you are going to see way more than just US shale cripple. Which is sort of a Catch 22.

Market Update – 18 Months In Review

621 views

2014 began with an intense implosion of overpriced tech stocks that destabilized players and set us up for nasty knock off effects. Months afterwards, energy names began to turn downward and started an at first slow descent; a black omen for anyone looking for a forward indicator.

Saudi Arabia decided to play the world’s worst move (effectively maiming OPEC), spiked the oil markets when they could least handle it, and sent oil into the abyss touching off a second massive sector implosion in oil and gas names. But not just oil & gas, as the market became terrified of economic stagnation led by fears out of Europe and Asia, and the entire energy sector followed oil down the hole.

We are now experiencing what I view as the third wave of the same phenomenon that began in early 2014, more than a year later, as the entire stock market collapses 10% in a short span of time, led by China’s markets and the intensely poor decision making of a command/control economy trying to have their cake and eat it too.

That being said, I haven’t yet seen any indication that the real economy is retracting.

Job growth seems present and in my own local markets where I have a good ear to the ground concerning hiring and pay policies, I am actually hearing talk of wage hikes. The last five years, our local job market at least was terrified of the HR monsters that were federal regulations (chiefly PPACA), not to mention we are still reeling from 2009 in some respects. But I think as we clear away from the implementation of these federal regulations, especially with rigid conservatives now holding fast against, we are going to start to see some wage growth. Employees are actually demanding it now, voting with their feet when they can.

This should do wonders for the economy.

With regards to oil specifically (which is chiefest of my concerns) the EIA is suggesting that the current imbalance between consumption and production of oil is 2 million barrels per day. This is the cause of our stockpiling and the foremost reason oil has sunk so far. Saudi Arabia’s move to curtail US production has been a failure and so far the long feared wave of insolvencies has held to a slow drip, even from the most precarious of businesses.

A 2 million barrel imbalance is not all that bad and I believe that, barring some sort of real demand destruction, we’ll just float along at these levels until the market becomes more comfortable with oversupply. I don’t think oversupply necessarily will force pricing lower as it would take a very specific set of circumstances which include not having a merger & acquisition brokerage occur. Yet we see M&A activity is very healthy in this current time period and I have to believe that if oil goes much lower you would see US markets consolidate aggressively.

Besides this, the global imbalance is equivalent to about one major oil producer globally. And in this current environment, we also should be aware that civil unrest is a powerful destabilizer of oil production (via civil war) with positive likelihood.

Sources of new supply are questionable. New well development at these oil prices are unprofitable and only large state sponsored development is probable. Yet, economic weakness is harming state budgets and may make it difficult to attain approval for unprofitable ventures. The largest foreign state controlled sources of oil are also some of the most sensitive to this oil price shock.

Altogether, I continue to believe that the most likely outcome in oil markets is unknowable yet still predictable production locations going offline from internal unrest. Venezuela is pegged as the most likely location for such an event, do to the extreme nature of their current state of affairs, and because their leadership is proven incapable of handling the situation. But Venezuela is hardly the only candidate; just the best.

Outside of that, the economic uncertainty that hit everyone’s radar earlier this summer is now coming back under control. Bond yields continue to subside across all major foreign issuers, and I would not be surprised if the EU crisis in particular remains hidden from view for another full two years.

Domestically, I expect monetary policy to remain accommodating, but would not be surprised if Yellen raises interest rates some token amount, to try and claim some victory for the Federal Reserve. I cannot expect how the market will react to his, but believe the raise will be mostly symbolic anyway, so any effects should be temporary in nature.

Oil Treading Water

1,649 views

Another disappointing inventory report sent oil down about 1% over the past 24 hours. Despite this, the oil names are holding up okay. BAS, HCLP, and VOC were all up today, and ALDW was down if you can imagine.

We’ll see what tomorrow brings. The oil and energy patch is down from the recent top, but this is a process we are working through.

See you tomorrow.

Euro And Oil Are Decoupling

2,396 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.

Tumultuous Action In Oil Names

1,664 views

The inventory build in oil was about three times greater than what the market was expecting. Oil prices slid fast throughout the day and the sector by and large reversed the recent move. But going into the final hour of trading, there does seem to be some minor strength ticking up. BAS notably was flat just about an hour ago and could tread water some more.

My guess: oil returns sub $50 for a spell and weak players get slapped around some more until someone finally closes shop. The inventory builds are big but the overall market imbalance is much less so, in the grand scheme of things. US inventory is building rapidly but only partially due to overproduction. Recent currency moves have contributed to the problem by trapping US crude with uncompetitive manufacturing and refinery businesses behind an export barrier, which is why oil companies are banging the drum so loudly on crude export rules. My guess is that at least half the build is probably from dollar strength pricing US competition out of foreign goods markets.

There is no reason to think the Fed will just sit by while the US economy slides into a recession. They’ll have to defend the dollar at some point (or what do you call intentionally making it weaker anyway?). But in the meantime, things could get rough. Oil majors are only halfheartedly looking to fix the problem; they’d really like to gobble up all the small competition for pennies on the dollar first to keep their proven reserves stacked. So yeah this could get worse before it gets better.

Still, I’m thinking now is a perfectly good time to start building positions in known survivors. The majors themselves are cheap, given how huge they are and that they aren’t going anywhere. Everything that made oil majors a crappy investment when they had a premium attached makes them the perfect choice now that they’re going for no premium. If you pick the right foreign oil major, you can even get paid in non-dollars and – God help us when the Fed finally delivers a weaker dollar – make a second strong killing on the exchange back into the US.

Oil Markets Are Destroying Themselves

3,671 views

We’re still in the midst of watching the oil industry unravel in spectacular fashion. I do not feel comfortable even uttering the word “bottom”, not even in jest, for the fear the entire structure would unwind and usher in $10 oil for two decades.

We need more expensive oil. I know you do not want to hear that; why just a few weeks ago I saw a long dormant Hummer H3 roaming the tundra planes of southeast Michigan. A once formidable species, these vehicles could once be seen all across the North American continent.

Their reemergence was a startling sign. Gasoline has gotten cheap.

It is comforting to think of these lower input costs as an unchallenged blessing to America. It is more complicated than that, I am afraid.

High oil prices have been one of very few elements that has actually helped foster stability in third world countries. Watching the recent turmoil and wars, it is easy to forget just how unnaturally peaceful the most recent decades have been in the grand scheme of things. Oil money has been used to weave the social fabric in these places and if oil prices stay low for a sustained period, we are going to see much more egregious cases of foreign sovereign collapse.

Oil prices have also driven the US recovery. The shale revolution was named thusly for a reason; job growth in the US would not have been possible without the advances in shale oil. This is a major pillar of the US recovery and without it our economy is going to suffer. High input costs were a minor inconvenience that came with job growth.

And of course there is the euro. The euro may just be the cause of the oil collapse in and of itself. I cannot say for certain yet, but I am suspicious. The euro and dollar are now almost at parity and this has crippled US exporters. If our own markets are suddenly sloshing around with oil to spare, it is because we are suddenly priced out of foreign markets. This is a precarious barrier…how cheap would oil need to be in this country to enable exporters to compete against euro/dollar parity? The dollar is going to isolate our business and tank us if we let this continue.

We need to start taking steps to regain stability. Bernanke would have never let this happen. Yellen is pushing for normalization of policy and this is not a bad thing. But they are far too comfortable watching a currency move like this happen with our probably largest trade group. We need a weaker dollar and we need more expensive oil and we need it now.

Now, because oil is so cheap, struggling shale producers are clocking overtime to meet payments. This is the exact opposite of what the oil markets need to find a bottom – a glut of even more oil.

In addition to addressing currency and demand issues, we really need a JP Morgan figure to emerge and start brokering some M&A moves that stitch up the supply side. Oil markets are leaking supply uncontrollably and this is going to cause extensive damage if not treated like the dire risk that it is.

The weak hands need to be either bought out or flushed or secured with long term financing. If we can’t shut some of these wells off, we’re going to have irreparable damage on our hands.

A Messy Process

2,142 views

I am getting constructive on oil markets, and starting to feel more comfortable with my BAS, VOC and HCLP positions. I may just edge in a little further, in another month or so.

I understand how dark prospects for oil are right now; we have numerous estimates calling for the total dismantling of oil, sending it into the $20’s, and suddenly those forecasts aren’t feeling quite so fanciful. It’s the fear creeping up in people.

But how many of these forecasts existed before last October? Tell me that, will you? Back in July, it was only a matter of how many $10’s we could stack on top of the $100 mark. Nobody I know was seriously calling for sub-$40 oil. Even those of us who were expecting a pullback had the $70-90 range as a guide. Which is why almost everybody long got smoked. Even scaling a position back to half the size wasn’t enough to escape this (trust me I know).

Which leads me to think a lot of these “experts” talking up ultra cheap crude oil are just trolling the public. Goldman Sachs has a pretty horrible record of forecasting commodities, actually. That’s not how commodity storage facilities work – there you have cheap cost to store and opportunistic offerings and purchases. You also have a futures trading desk which you can tie into to cooperate with. But you still don’t know what’s going to actually happen. You just roll with it and make money as you can.

Names like BAS are chopping 8% every other which way. But they are working a floor in, and steadily, slowly, offering higher prices.

And what about the demand for crude globally? Yes there was a (not really that) significant excess supply gap, which is growing. But that gap existed with $100 crude oil and well development pricing in $100 crude oil. We are seeing just massive layoffs as the industry reacts to new facts on the ground. So future supply is being taken offline.

And to boot, oil is cheap now. So cheap.

Look at industrial output in the Eurozone; one part oil prices, one part a cheap currency. Is that killing the US? Nope, we seem to be absorbing the currency strength but still happily putting along. Cheap oil lifts all boats. I was very concerned that oil prices would make a serious headwind to the US – and certainly on some level it is, gross – but net jobs are working out fine as any complications from the Dakota’s are being more than offset.

Currency games are fun, but net economic growth is all that really matters at the end of the day. If a few thousand losses in one spot beget a few thousand gains in another, then activity will continue apace and crude demand will keep growing. You’re only really in trouble if you start getting net losses.

I think the oil market got way ahead of itself as unabashed speculators got their comeuppance. This is drawing to a close and I wouldn’t be surprised if oil abruptly rediscovers that $70-90 range we all sort of guessed was a fair price. I would not count on crude oil hanging out at levels from the 20th century, because that’s just not how extraction costs have trended.

And ultimately, no matter what crude oil does, I think there are going to be limits to how much devastation we see in oil companies. It doesn’t take much to swing the oil market back into balance; the imbalance is really not that significant. If oil sustains these prices, it will be because it is profitable for enough US shale companies to do so. If US shale cripples, you are going to see way more than just US shale cripple. Which is sort of a Catch 22.

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