Blog Archives

The Black Swan Is a Drone

Predictably, the mainstream media is serving up heaping portions of reassurances that the drone attacks on Saudi oil facilities are no big deal and full production will resume shortly. The obvious goal is to placate global markets fearful of an energy disruption that could tip a precarious global economy into recession.

The real impact isn’t on short-term oil prices, it’s on asymmetric warfare: the coordinated drone attack on Saudi oil facilities is a Black Swan event that is reverberating around the world, awakening copycats and exposing the impossibility of defending against low-cost drones of the sort anyone can buy.

(Some published estimates place the total cost of the 10 drones deployed in the strike at $15,000. Highly capable commercially available drones cost around $1,200 each.)

The attack’s success should be a wake-up call to everyone tasked with defending highly flammable critical infrastructure: there really isn’t any reliable defense against a coordinated drone attack, nor is there any reliable way to distinguish between an Amazon drone delivering a package and a drone delivering a bomb.

(more…)

Tagged with: , ,

15 Years of War: To Whose Benefit?

Setting aside the 12 years of “no fly zone” air combat operations above Iraq from 1991 to 2003, the U.S. has been at war for almost 17 years in Afghanistan and 15 years in Iraq. (If the word “war” is too upsetting, then substitute “continuing combat operations”.)

Since the burdens and costs of these combat operations are borne solely by the volunteers of the U.S. Armed Forces, the American populace pays little to no attention to the wars unless a household has a family member in uniform who is in theatre.

Permanent combat operations are now a barely audible background noise in America, something we’ve habituated to: the human costs are invisible to the vast majority of residents, and the financial costs are buried in the ever-expanding mountain of national debt. What’s another borrowed trillion dollars on top of the $21 trillion pile?

But a nation continually waging war should ask: to whose benefit? (cui bono)

(more…)

Tagged with: , , , ,

Mideast Turmoil: Follow the Oil, Follow the Money

While there are numerous dynamics at work in the turmoil roiling Saudi Arabia and by extension, the Mideast, one way to cut to the chase is to follow the oil, follow the money. Correspondent B.D. recently posited a factor that has been largely overlooked in the geopolitical / fate-of-the-petrodollar discussions:

Perhaps the core dynamic is a technical one of diminished oil production. Here is B.D.’s commentary:

“I think the Saudis may be quickly running out of profitable oil to produce/export.

I think they tried to over-produce for a while to damage the competition… and they now have production issues resulting from that. (As has happened in the past)

I think they may have recently slipped over the event horizon for being the world’s swing producer of ‘cheap-ish and abundant’ oil. That has huge ramifications for the global markets ability to quickly respond to supply/demand fluctuations.

I suspect they’re no longer cutting production voluntarily … they are now in the grip of a technically driven decline in output. (Why else begin selling off ARAMCO now?)

I doubt that many national economies can handle $70+ oil for very long… price will be limited by the ability of the consumers to pay. What I assume should happen is relentless severe volatility in the absence of a big swing producer that can open up or shut in production with comparative ease.”

Thank you, B.D. Let’s start with what’s well-established about Saudi oil production:

(more…)

Tagged with: , , ,

You Can Only Choose One: Cheap Oil or a Weak Dollar

Glance at this chart of the trade-weighted U.S. dollar, and note the swing highs and lows in the price of oil per barrel around each peak and trough. You can look up historical inflation-adjusted prices of oil in USD on this handy chart: Crude Oil Prices – 70 Year Historical Chart (macrotrends.net)

(more…)

Tagged with: ,

The “Nuclear Options:” Oil Pinned Below $30/barrel, US Dollar Rising

The “nuclear option” is the extreme-measures button you push when conventional approaches have failed and you’re facing certain defeat. In terms of upsetting the global economy’s precarious balance, there are two nuclear options short of actual nuclear war: pinning oil to $30/barrel or even lower for an extended period, and triggering a sustained rise in the US dollar. (USD)

Let’s glance at weekly charts of oil (WTIC) and the USD:

(more…)

Tagged with: , , , ,

Cheap Oil, the U.S. Dollar and the Deep State

That oil fell off a cliff once the U.S. dollar (USD) began its liftoff in mid-2014 is, well, interesting. Causation, correlation or coincidence? There are a variety of opinions on this, as there should be. What we do know is the soaring USD blew up a bunch of carry trades that borrowed money denominated in USD and invested the cash in emerging markets paying much higher yields. Here’s WTIC oil:

And here’s the USD Index:

We also know the Saudis announced that the kingdom would pump every barrel it could “to maintain market share,” which is generally understood to mean crush competitors such as Russia and U.S. shale producers.

We also know that storage facilities are almost full up (Oil Fundamentals Could Cause Oil Prices To Fall, Fast!).

We also know that global growth is slowing, so demand could weaken sharply going forward.

And lastly, we know that many oil exporters are heavily dependent on oil revenues to fund their oligarchy/monarchy/ruling elites, their military and their vast social welfare programs, which keep the restive masses from overthrowing the oligarchy, etc.

Here is the U.S., heavily indebted producers must pump or die, as they need every dime of revenue to service their vast debts.

If we add all this up– carry trades blowing up, weakening demand and heavy pressures to maintain production–we get a perfect set-up for a continued decline in oil.

Many observers are expecting the Federal Reserve to pull out all the stops to weaken the dollar. They think this because a strong dollar hurts U.S. exports. If oil and the USD are indeed correlated, a weaker dollar would trigger a boost in oil prices–a welcome “saved by the bell” for indebted U.S. producers, and the bankers who lent tens of billions of dollars to them.

If you glance at the above chart of the dollar index, you’ll note the Bollinger Bands are tightening. This usually presages a big move up or down. We don’t know which way the USD will move, but since it’s in a Bull market, we might surmise the move will be a continuation of the current trend, i.e. up.

Technically, a 20% gain to the 120 level would be quite typical of a long-term uptrend.

What would an additional 20% gain in the USD do to oil? If the correlation holds (and perhaps it won’t–there are no guarantees), it would very likely crush oil to new and breathtaking lows. Analyst Art Berman recently suggested a target of $16.50/barrel, and this corresponds rather neatly with USD at 120 (a 20% gain).

Lower oil prices are not an unalloyed “win” for the U.S. The U.S. energy sector is getting pummeled, and soon its lenders will start booking staggering losses. The decline in petrodollars also means there is less demand for U.S. Treasuries from oil exporters.

Enter the U.S. Deep State, which is only marginally interested in Wall Street bankers’ losses or petrodollar recycling into Treasuries. Global hegemony ultimately rests on issuing the reserve currency in size, and the sheer magnitude of financial resources that can be brought to bear to do what is viewed as necessary.

The collapse in oil has led to an unprecedented transfer of wealth from producers to consumers. Oil exporters (the number of which is diminishing, as populations and domestic consumption levels soar throughout the oil-producing world) have far fewer USD to spend on military adventures, social welfare, the tallest buildings in the world, and so on.

If global bankers wise up (and they are smart gals/guys), lending to oil producers is about to dry up like the proverbial mist in Death Valley. Why loan money to someone with $35/barrel oil in the ground if oil is heading to $20 or lower?

Who goes broke/goes home/is overthrown at sustained $20/barrel oil? You can make your own list, but it pretty much includes every oil exporter.

So who wins in a scenario in which the USD gains another 20% and pins oil to new, sustained lows? Consumers, of course, but as Zero Hedge and others have explained, this windfall isn’t leading to robust consumer spending. Rather, households are saving the proceeds, hunkering down in the recessionary winds they see rising.

The U.S. oil sector will take some serious lumps, along with every other producer. We can anticipate huge writedowns of uncollectible debt, bankruptcies, and all the other collateral damage (pun intended) of a bust.

But who is left relatively unscathed in terms of financial power and hegemony? The U.S. Should the USD soar another 20%, China would be forced to devalue its currency, causing massive capital flows out of China and an immediate loss of trillions of dollars of purchasing power for all who hold yuan/RMB. Not much of a win there.

All this is to suggest that those expecting a major weakening in the USD to push oil higher shouldn’t hold their breath awaiting this outcome. Maybe the USD will weaken 20%, but why would it do so when every other central bank is weakening its currency? Wouldn’t it make much more sense to drain wealth and geopolitical leverage from oil exporters?

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Is Oil Close to a Tradable Bottom?

By all accounts, the world is awash with oil: production remains high while demand is softening along with the global economy. This has led many observers to forecast further declines in oil from the current price (in USD) of around $35/barrel.

(more…)

Tagged with: , , ,

Will this Manic Stock Market Rally End in Tears?

Judging by October’s rocket launch, the stock market is back to where it should be, i.e. in rally mode. Yee-haw! All it took to keep the party going was another rate cut in China, another “whatever it takes” assurance from Mario Draghi and blowout earnings from a few tech giants.

(more…)

Tagged with: , , , , , , ,

Will the Oil Patch Bust Trigger Recession?

This seemingly inexhaustible credit line is now drying up, with severely negative consequences for oil producers with debt that’s coming due.

Could the oil patch bust triggered by oil plummeting from $100/barrel to $50/barrel kick the U.S. into recession? Longtime correspondent B.C. recently observed: The question is whether the incipient recession in the energy and energy-related transport sectors is sufficient this time around to be the proximate cause of a US/global recession and real estate bust.

(more…)

Tagged with: , , , , ,

Oil Surges, Gold and Silver Spike as Saudi Arabia Bombs Yemen

Oil Surges, Gold and Silver Spike as Saudi Arabia Bombs Yemen

– Geopolitical tensions in Middle East escalate dramatically as Saudi Arabia bombs Yemen
– Yemen’s government seized power in coup – Regarded as hostile to Saudi and ally of Iran
– Saudi attack is an escalation of Middle Eastern proxy war between Gulf States and Iran
– Action has broader geopolitical implications in deepening cold war between the West and East
– Oil surged 6% and gold 2% on the the news
– Should oil prices return to new record highs will impact struggling global economy

goldcore_chart1_26-03-15

Geopolitical tensions escalated dramatically over night as Saudi Arabia launched military operations including air strikes in Yemen. The Saudis claim the action is to counter Iran-allied forces besieging the southern city of Aden where the U.S. backed Yemeni president had taken refuge.

Oil surged and gold rose nearly 2% following a sharp drop in stocks on Wall Street globally in response to the bombing in Yemen.

Gulf broadcaster al-Arabiya TV reported that the kingdom was contributing as many as 150,000 troops and 100 war planes to the operations. Egypt, Jordan, Sudan and Pakistan were ready to take part in a ground offensive in Yemen, the broadcaster said. (more…)

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Oil Dinosaurs Face Extinction: State Oil Companies and the Meteor-Strike of Low Oil Prices

State-owned oil companies that don’t slash expenses to align with revenues and boost critical investment in the infrastructure needed to maintain production will suffer financial extinction.

Domestic and international energy companies are responding to the 50% decline in the price of oil by doing what’s necessary to remain in business: they’re slashing payroll, postponing capital investments, delaying new projects and soliciting price cuts from suppliers and subcontractors.

This is the discipline of profit-driven capitalism: if expenses exceed revenues, profits vanish, losses pile up, capital contracts and eventually the company runs out of cash (and access to credit) and closes down.

Unfortunately for state-owned oil companies, the feedback of expenses, losses and access to credit are superceded by the need to feed hordes of parasites: the state-owned company exists not to generate profits but to fund large payrolls and support state officials and cronies.

(more…)

Tagged with: , , ,

Oil Collapses and Copper Crashes 8% in Day – Great Recession Cometh?

 Oil Collapses and Copper Crashes 8% in Day – Great Recession Cometh?

Oil prices fell another 1 per cent this morning  and continue their collapse – down 57% in just over 6 months. Copper crashed 8% on the London Metal Exchange, plunging to 5 and a half year lows.

Doctor Copper -  Usually a good indicator for economic trends and markets via Marketwatch

Oil fell to fresh six-year lows and has fallen almost 60 per cent since June 30, 2014 to levels last seen in early 2009 after the 2008 crash (see chart). (more…)

Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,