If you were waiting for a “black swan event” to come along and devastate the global economy, you don’t have to wait any longer. As I write this, the price of U.S. oil is sitting at $45.76 a barrel. It has fallen by more than 60 dollars a barrel since June. There is only one other time in history when we have seen anything like this happen before. That was in 2008, just prior to the worst financial crisis since the Great Depression. But following the financial crisis of 2008, the price of oil rebounded fairly rapidly. As you will see below, there are very strong reasons to believe that it will not happen this time. And the longer the price of oil stays this low, the worse our problems are going to get. At a price of less than $50 a barrel, it is just a matter of time before we see a huge wave of energy company bankruptcies, massive job losses, a junk bond crash followed by a stock market crash, and a crisis in commodity derivatives unlike anything that we have ever seen before. So let’s hope that a very unlikely miracle happens and the price of oil rebounds substantially in the months ahead. Because if not, the price of oil is going to absolutely rip the global economy to shreds.
What amazes me is that there are still many economic “experts” in the mainstream media that are proclaiming that the collapse in the price of oil is going to be a good thing for the U.S. economy.
The only precedent that we can compare the current crash to is the oil price collapse of 2008. You can see both crashes on the chart below…
If rapidly falling oil prices are good economic news, that collapse should have pushed the U.S. economy into overdrive.
But that didn’t happen, did it? Instead, we plunged into the deepest recession that we have seen since the Great Depression.
And unless there is a miracle rebound in the price of oil now, we are going to experience something similar this time.
Already, we are seeing oil rigs shut down at a staggering pace. The following is from Bloomberg…
U.S. oil drillers laid down the most rigs in the fourth quarter since 2009. And things are about to get much worse.
The rig count fell by 93 in the three months through Dec. 26, and lost another 17 last week, Baker Hughes Inc. data show. About 200 more will be idled over the next quarter as U.S. oil explorers make good on their promises to curb spending, according to Moody’s Corp.
But that was just the beginning of the carnage. 61 more oil rigs shut down last week alone, and hundreds more are being projected to shut down in the months ahead.
For those that cannot connect the dots, that is going to translate into the loss of large numbers of good paying jobs. Just check out what is happening in Texas…
A few days ago, Helmerich & Payne, announced that it would idle 50 more drilling rigs in February, after having already idled 11 rigs. Each rig accounts for about 100 jobs. This will cut its shale drilling activities by 20%. The other two large drillers, Nabors Industries and Patterson-UTI Energy are on a similar program. All three combined are “likely to cut approximately 15,000 jobs out of the 50,000 people they currently employ,” said Oilpro Managing Director Joseph Triepke.
Unfortunately, this crisis will not just be localized to states such as Texas. There are tens of thousands of small and mid-size firms that will be affected. The following is from a recent CNBC report…
More than 20,000 small and midsize firms drive the “hydrocarbon revolution” in the U.S. that has helped the oil and gas industry thrive in recent years, and they produce more than 75 percent of the nation’s oil and gas output, according to the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research’s February 2014 Power & Growth Initiative Report. The Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank in New York City.
A sustained decline in prices could lead to layoffs at these firms, say experts. “The energy industry has been one of the job-growth areas leading us out of the recession,” said Chad Mabry, a Houston-based analyst in the energy and natural resources research department of boutique investment bank MLV & Co. in New York City. “In 2015, that changes in this price environment,” he said. “We’re probably going to see some job losses on a fairy significant scale if this keeps up.”
If the price of oil makes a major comeback, the carnage will ultimately not be that bad.
But if it stays at this level or keeps going down for an extended period of time, it is inevitable that a whole bunch of those firms will go bankrupt and their debt will go bad.
That would mean a junk bond crash unlike anything that Wall Street has ever experienced.
And as I have written about previously, a stock market crash almost always follows a junk bond crash.
These are things that happened during the last financial crisis and that are repeating again right in front of our eyes.
Another thing that happened in 2008 that is happening again is a crash in industrial commodity prices.
At this point, industrial commodity prices have hit a 12 year low. I am talking about industrial commodities such as copper, iron ore, steel and aluminum. This is a huge sign that global economic activity is slowing down and that big trouble is on the way.
So what is driving this? The following excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article gives us a clue…
Globally there are over $9 trillion worth of borrowed US Dollars in the financial system. When you borrow in US Dollars, you are effectively SHORTING the US Dollar.
Which means that when the US Dollar rallies, your returns implode regardless of where you invested the borrowed money (another currency, stocks, oil, infrastructure projects, derivatives).
Take a look at commodities. Globally, there are over $22 TRILLION worth of derivatives trades involving commodities. ALL of these were at risk of blowing up if the US Dollar rallied.
Unfortunately, starting in mid-2014, it did in a big way.
This move in the US Dollar imploded those derivatives trades. If you want an explanation for why commodities are crashing (aside from the fact the global economy is slowing) this is it.
Once again, much of this could be avoided if the price of oil starts going back up substantially.
Unfortunately, that does not appear likely. In fact, many of the big banks are projecting that it could go even lower…
Goldman Sachs, CitiGroup, Societe General and Commerzbank are among the latest investment banks to reduce crude oil price estimates, and without production cuts, there appears to be more room for lower prices.
“We’re going to keep on going lower,” says industry analyst Brian Milne of energy manager Schneider Electric. “Even with fresher new lows, there’s still more downside.”
OPEC could stabilize global oil prices with a single announcement, but so far OPEC has refused to do this. Many believe that the OPEC countries actually want the price of oil to fall for competitive reasons…
Representatives of Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait stressed a dozen times in the past six weeks that the group won’t curb output to halt the biggest drop in crude since 2008. Qatar’s estimate for the global oversupply is among the biggest of any producing country. These countries actually want — and are achieving — further price declines as part of an attempt to hasten cutbacks by U.S. shale drillers, according to Barclays Plc and Commerzbank AG.
The oil producing countries in the Middle East seem to be settling in for the long haul. In fact, one prominent Saudi prince made headlines all over the world this week when he said that “I’m sure we’re never going to see $100 anymore.”
Never is a very strong word.
Could there be such a massive worldwide oil glut going on right now that the price of oil will never get that high again?
Well, without a doubt there is a huge amount of unsold oil floating around out there at the moment.
It has gotten so bad that some big trading companies are actually hiring supertankers to store large quantities of unsold crude oil at sea…
Some of the world’s largest oil traders have this week hired supertankers to store crude at sea, marking a milestone in the build-up of the global glut.
Trading firms including Vitol, Trafiguraand energy major Shell have all booked crude tankers for up to 12 months, freight brokers and shipping sources told Reuters.
They said the flurry of long-term bookings was unusual and suggested traders could use the vessels to store excess crude at sea until prices rebound, repeating a popular 2009 trading gambit when prices last crashed.
The fundamentals for the price of oil are so much worse than they were back in 2008.
We could potentially be looking at sub-$50 oil for an extended period of time.
If that is indeed the case, there will be catastrophic damage to the global economy and to the global financial system.
So hold on to your hats, because it looks like we are going to be in for quite a bumpy ride in 2015.
On Monday, the price of oil fell below $50 for the first time since April 2009, and the Dow dropped 331 points. Meanwhile, the stock market declines over in Europe were even larger on a percentage basis, and the euro sank to a fresh nine year low on concerns that the anti-austerity Syriza party will be victorious in the upcoming election in Greece. These are precisely the kinds of things that we would expect to see happen if a global financial crash was coming in 2015. Just prior to the financial crisis of 2008, the price of oil collapsed, prices for industrial commodities got crushed and the U.S. dollar soared relative to other currencies. All of those things are happening again. And yet somehow many analysts are still convinced that things will be different this time. And I agree that things will indeed be “different” this time. When this crisis fully erupts, it will make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
Another thing that usually happens when financial markets begin to unravel is that they get really choppy. There are big ups and big downs, and that is exactly what we have witnessed since October.
So don’t expect the markets just to go in one direction. In fact, it would not be a surprise if the Dow went up by 300 or 400 points tomorrow. During the initial stages of a financial crash, there are always certain days when the markets absolutely soar.
For example, did you know that the three largest single day stock market advances in history were right in the middle of the financial crash of 2008? Here are the dates and the amount the Dow rose each of those days…
October 13th, 2008: +936 points
October 28th, 2008: +889 points
November 13th, 2008: +552 points
Just looking at those three days, you would assume that the fall of 2008 was the greatest time ever for stocks. But instead, it was the worst financial crash that we have seen since the days of the Great Depression.
So don’t get fooled by the volatility. Choppy markets are almost always a sign of big trouble ahead. Calm waters usually mean that the markets are going up.
In order to avoid a major financial crisis in the near future, we desperately need the price of oil to rebound in a substantial way.
Unfortunately, it does not look like that is going to happen any time soon. There is just way too much oil being produced right now. The following is an excerpt from a recent CNBC article…
The Morgan Stanley strategists say there are new reports of unsold West and North African cargoes, with much of the oil moving into storage. They also note that new supply has entered the global market with additional exports coming from Russia and Iraq, which is reportedly seeing production rising to new highs.
Since June, the price of oil has plummeted close to 55 percent. If the price of oil stays where it is right now, we are going to see large numbers of small producers go out of business, the U.S. economy will lose millions of jobs, billions of dollars of junk bonds will go bad and trillions of dollars of derivatives will be in jeopardy.
And the lower the price of oil goes, the worse our problems are going to get. That is why it is so alarming that some analysts are now predicting that the price of oil could hit $40 later this month…
Some traders appeared certain that U.S. crude will hit the $40 region later in the week if weekly oil inventory numbers for the United States on Wednesday show another supply build.
‘We’re headed for a four-handle,’ said Tariq Zahir, managing member at Tyche Capital Advisors in Laurel Hollow in New York. ‘Maybe not today, but I’m sure when you get the inventory numbers that come out this week, we definitely will.’
Open interest for $40-$50 strike puts in U.S. crude have risen several fold since the start of December, while $20-$30 puts for June 2015 have traded, said Stephen Schork, editor of Pennsylvania-based The Schork Report.
The only way that the price of oil has a chance to move back up significantly is if global production slows down. But instead, production just continues to increase in the short-term thanks to projects that were already in the works. As a result, analysts from Morgan Stanley say that the oil glut is only going to intensify…
Morgan Stanley analysts said new production will continue to ramp up at a number of fields in Brazil, West Africa, Canada and in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico as well as U.S. shale production. Also, the potential framework agreement with Iran could mean more Iranian oil on the market.
Yes, lower oil prices mean that we get to pay less for gasoline when we fill up our vehicles.
But as I have written about previously, anyone that believes that lower oil prices are good for the U.S. economy or for the global economy as a whole is crazy. And these sentiments were echoed recently by Jeff Gundlach…
“Oil is incredibly important right now. If oil falls to around $40 a barrel then I think the yield on ten year treasury note is going to 1%. I hope it does not go to $40 because then something is very, very wrong with the world, not just the economy. The geopolitical consequences could be – to put it bluntly – terrifying.“
If the price of oil does not recover, we are going to see massive financial problems all over the planet and the geopolitical stress that this will create will be unbelievable.
To expand on this point, I want to share an excerpt from a recent Zero Hedge article. As you can see, a rapid rise or fall in the price of oil almost always correlates with a major global crisis of some sort…
Large and rapid rises and falls in the price of crude oil have correlated oddly strongly with major geopolitical and economic crisis across the globe. Whether driven by problems for oil exporters or oil importers, the ‘difference this time’ is that, thanks to central bank largesse, money flows faster than ever and everything is more tightly coupled with that flow.
So is the 45% YoY drop in oil prices about to ’cause’ contagion risk concerns for the world?
And without a doubt, we are overdue for another stock market crisis.
Between December 31st, 1996 and March 24th, 2000 the S&P 500 rose 106 percent.
Then the dotcom bubble burst and it fell by 49 percent.
Between October 9th, 2002 and October 9th, 2007 the S&P 500 rose 101 percent.
But then that bubble burst and it fell by 57 percent.
Between March 9th, 2009 and December 31st, 2014 the S&P 500 rose an astounding 204 percent.
When this bubble bursts, how far will it fall this time?
Who is to blame for the staggering collapse of the price of oil? Is it the Saudis? Is it the United States? Are Saudi Arabia and the U.S. government working together to hurt Russia? And if this oil war continues, how far will the price of oil end up falling in 2015? As you will see below, some analysts believe that it could ultimately go below 20 dollars a barrel. If we see anything even close to that, the U.S. economy could lose millions of good paying jobs, billions of dollars of energy bonds could default and we could see trillions of dollars of derivatives related to the energy industry implode. The global financial system is already extremely vulnerable, and purposely causing the price of oil to crash is one of the most deflationary things that you could possibly do. Whoever is behind this oil war is playing with fire, and by the end of this coming year the entire planet could be dealing with the consequences.
Ever since the price of oil started falling, people have been pointing fingers at the Saudis. And without a doubt, the Saudis have manipulated the price of oil before in order to achieve geopolitical goals. The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Andrew Topf…
We don’t have to look too far back in history to see Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest oil exporter and producer, using the oil price to achieve its foreign policy objectives. In 1973, Egyptian President Anwar Sadat convinced Saudi King Faisal to cut production and raise prices, then to go as far as embargoing oil exports, all with the goal of punishing the United States for supporting Israel against the Arab states. It worked. The “oil price shock” quadrupled prices.
It happened again in 1986, when Saudi Arabia-led OPEC allowed prices to drop precipitously, and then in 1990, when the Saudis sent prices plummeting as a way of taking out Russia, which was seen as a threat to their oil supremacy. In 1998, they succeeded. When the oil price was halved from $25 to $12, Russia defaulted on its debt.
The Saudis and other OPEC members have, of course, used the oil price for the obverse effect, that is, suppressing production to keep prices artificially high and member states swimming in “petrodollars”. In 2008, oil peaked at $147 a barrel.
Turning to the current price drop, the Saudis and OPEC have a vested interest in taking out higher-cost competitors, such as US shale oil producers, who will certainly be hurt by the lower price. Even before the price drop, the Saudis were selling their oil to China at a discount. OPEC’s refusal on Nov. 27 to cut production seemed like the baldest evidence yet that the oil price drop was really an oil price war between Saudi Arabia and the US.
If the Saudis wanted to stabilize the price of oil, they could do that immediately by announcing a production cutback.
The fact that they have chosen not to do this says volumes.
In addition to wanting to harm U.S. shale producers, some believe that the Saudis are determined to crush Iran. This next excerpt comes from a recent Daily Mail article…
Above all, Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies see Iran — a bitter religious and political opponent — as their main regional adversary.
They know that Iran, dominated by the Shia Muslim sect, supports a resentful underclass of more than a million under-privileged and angry Shia people living in the gulf peninsula — a potential uprising waiting to happen against the Saudi regime.
The Saudis, who are overwhelmingly Sunni Muslims, also loathe the way Iran supports President Assad’s regime in Syria — with which the Iranians have a religious affiliation. They also know that Iran, its economy plagued by corruption and crippled by Western sanctions, desperately needs the oil price to rise. And they have no intention of helping out.
The fact is that the Saudis remain in a strong position because oil is cheap to produce there, and the country has such vast reserves. It can withstand a year — or three — of low oil prices.
There are others out there that are fully convinced that the Saudis and the U.S. are actually colluding to drive down the price of oil, and that their real goal is to destroy Russia.
In fact, Venezuela’s President Nicolas Maduro openly promoted this theory during a recent speech on Venezuelan national television…
“Did you know there’s an oil war? And the war has an objective: to destroy Russia,” he said in a speech to state businessmen carried live on state TV.
“It’s a strategically planned war … also aimed at Venezuela, to try and destroy our revolution and cause an economic collapse,” he added, accusing the United States of trying to flood the market with shale oil.
Venezuela and Russia, which both have fractious ties with Washington, are widely considered the nations hardest hit by the global oil price fall.
And as I discussed just the other day, Russian President Vladimir Putin seems to agree with this theory…
“We all see the lowering of oil prices. There’s lots of talk about what’s causing it. Could it be an agreement between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia to punish Iran and affect the economies of Russia and Venezuela? It could.”
Without a doubt, Obama wants to “punish” Russia for what has been going on in Ukraine. Going after oil is one of the best ways to do that. And if the U.S. shale industry gets hurt in the process, that is a bonus for the radical environmentalists in Obama’s administration.
There are yet others that see this oil war as being even more complicated.
Marin Katusa believes that this is actually a three-way war between OPEC, Russia and the United States…
“It’s a three-way oil war between OPEC, Russia and North American shale,” says Marin Katusa, author of “The Colder War,” and chief energy investment strategist at Casey Research.
Katusa doesn’t see production slowing in 2015: “We know that OPEC will not be cutting back production. They’re going to increase it. Russia has increased production to all-time highs.” With Russia and OPEC refusing to give up market share how will the shale industry compete?
Katusa thinks the longevity and staying power of the shale industry will keep it viable and profitable. “The versatility and the survivability of a lot of these shale producers will surprise people. I don’t see that the shale sector is going to collapse over night,” he says. Shale sweet spots like North Dakota’s Bakken region and Texas’ Eagle Ford area will help keep production levels up and output steady.
Whatever the true motivation for this oil war is, it does not appear that it is going to end any time soon.
And so that means that the price of oil is going to go lower.
How much lower?
One analyst recently told CNN that we could see the price of oil dip into the $30s next year…
Few saw the energy meltdown coming. Now that it’s here, industry analysts warn another move lower is possible as the momentum remains firmly to the downside.
“If this doesn’t hold, we could go back to price levels in late 2008 and early 2009 — down in the $30s. There’s no reason why it couldn’t happen,” said Darin Newsom, senior analyst at Telvent DTN.
Others are even more pessimistic. For instance, Jeremy Warner of the Sydney Morning Herald, who correctly predicted that the price of oil would fall below $80 this year, is now forecasting that the price of oil could fall all the way down to $20 next year…
Revisiting the past year’s predictions is, for most columnists a frequently humbling experience. The howlers tend to far outweigh the successes. Yet, for a change, I can genuinely claim to have got my main call for markets – that oil would sink to $US80 a barrel or less – spot on, and for the right reasons, too.
Just in case you think I’m making it up, this is what I said 12 months ago: “My big prediction is for $US80 oil, from which much of the rest of my outlook for the coming year flows. It’s hard to overstate the significance of a much lower oil price – Brent at, say, $US80 a barrel, or perhaps lower still – yet this is a surprisingly likely prospect, the implications of which have been largely missed by mainstream economic forecasters.”
If on to a good thing, you might as well stick with it; so for the coming year, I’m doubling up on this forecast. Far from bouncing back to the post crisis “normal” of something over $US100 a barrel, as many oil traders seem to expect, my view is that the oil price will remain low for a long time, sinking to perhaps as little as $US20 a barrel over the coming year before recovering a little.
But even Warner’s chilling prediction is not the most bearish.
A technical analyst named Abigail Doolittle recently told CNBC that under a worst case scenario the price of oil could fall as low as $14 a barrel…
No one really saw 2014’s dramatic plunge in oil price coming, so it’s probably fair to say that any predictions about where it’s going from here fall somewhere between educated guesses and picking a number out of a hat.
In that light, it’s less than shocking to see one analyst making a case—albeit in a pure outlier sense—for a drop all the way below $14 a barrel.
Abigail Doolittle, who does business under the name Peak Theories Research, posits that current chart trends point to the possibility that crude has three downside target areas where it could find support—$44, $35 and the nightmare scenario of, yes, $13.65.
But the truth is that none of those scenarios need to happen in order for this oil war to absolutely devastate the U.S. economy and the U.S. financial system.
There is a very strong correlation between the price of oil and the performance of energy stocks and energy bonds. But over the past couple of weeks this correlation has been broken. The following chart comes from Zero Hedge…
It is inevitable that at some point we will see energy stocks and energy bonds come back into line with the price of crude oil.
And it isn’t just energy stocks and bonds that we need to be concerned about. There is only one other time in all of history when the price of oil has crashed by more than 50 dollars in less than a year. That was in 2008 – just before the great financial crisis that erupted in the fall of that year. For much, much more on this, please see my previous article entitled “Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?…”
Whether the price of oil crashed or not, we were already on the verge of massive financial troubles.
But the fact that the price of oil has collapsed makes all of our potential problems much, much worse.
As we enter 2015, keep an eye on energy stocks, energy bonds and listen for any mention of problems with derivatives. The next great financial crisis is right around the corner, but most people will never see it coming until they are blindsided by it.
Do you want to know if the stock market is going to crash next year? Just keep an eye on junk bonds. Prior to the horrific collapse of stocks in 2008, high yield debt collapsed first. And as you will see below, high yield debt is starting to crash again. The primary reason for this is the price of oil. The energy sector accounts for approximately 15 to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market, and those energy bonds are taking a tremendous beating right now. This panic in energy bonds is infecting the broader high yield debt market, and investors have been pulling money out at a frightening pace. And as I have written about previously, almost every single time junk bonds decline substantially, stocks end up following suit. So don’t be fooled by the fact that some comforting words from Janet Yellen caused stock prices to jump over the past couple of days. If you really want to know where the stock market is heading in 2015, keep a close eye on the market for high yield debt.
If you are not familiar with junk bonds, the concept is actually very simple. Corporations that do not have high credit ratings typically have to pay higher interest rates to borrow money. The following is how USA Today describes these bonds…
High-yield bonds are long-term IOUs issued by companies with shaky credit ratings. Just like credit card users, companies with poor credit must pay higher interest rates on loans than those with gold-plated credit histories.
But in recent years, interest rates on junk bonds have gone down to ridiculously low levels. This is another bubble that was created by Federal Reserve policies, and it is a colossal disaster waiting to happen. And unfortunately, there are already signs that this bubble is now beginning to burst…
Back in June, the average junk bond yield was 3.90 percentage points higher than Treasury securities. The average energy junk bond yielded 3.91 percentage points higher than Treasuries, Lonski says.
That spread has widened to 5.08 percentage points for junk bonds vs. 7.86 percentage points for energy bonds — an indication of how worried investors are about default, particularly for small, highly indebted companies in the fracking business.
The reason why so many analysts are becoming extremely concerned about this shift in junk bonds is because we also saw this happen just before the great stock market crash of 2008. In the chart below, you can see how yields on junk bonds started to absolutely skyrocket in September of that year…
Of course we have not seen a move of that magnitude quite yet this year, but without a doubt yields have been spiking. The next chart that I want to share is of this year. As you can see, the movement over the past month or so has been quite substantial…
And of course I am far from the only one that is watching this. In fact, there are some sharks on Wall Street that plan to make an absolute boatload of cash as high yield bonds crash.
One of them is Josh Birnbaum. He correctly made a giant bet against subprime mortgages in 2007, and now he is making a giant bet against junk bonds…
When Josh Birnbaum was at Goldman Sachs in 2007, he made a huge bet against subprime mortgages.
Now he’s betting against something else: high-yield bonds.
From The Wall Street Journal:
Joshua Birnbaum, the ex-Goldman Sachs Group Inc. trader who made bets against subprime mortgages during the financial crisis, now has more than $2 billion in wagers against high-yield bonds at his Tilden Park Capital Management LP hedge-fund firm, according to investor documents.
Could you imagine betting 2 billion dollars on anything?
If he is right, he is going to make an incredible amount of money.
And I have a feeling that he will be. As a recent New American article detailed, there is already panic in the air…
It’s a mania, said Tim Gramatovich of Peritus Asset Management who oversees a bond portfolio of $800 million: “Anything that becomes a mania — ends badly. And this is a mania.”
Bill Gross, who used to run PIMCO’s gigantic bond portfolio and now advises the Janus Capital Group, explained that “there’s very little liquidity” in junk bonds. This is the language a bond fund manager uses to tell people that no one is buying, everyone is selling. Gross added: “Everyone is trying to squeeze through a very small door.”
Bonds issued by individual energy developers have gotten hammered. For instance, Energy XXI, an oil and gas producer, issued more than $2 billion in bonds just in the last four years and, up until a couple of weeks ago, they were selling at 100 cents on the dollar. On Friday buyers were offering just 64 cents. Midstates Petroleum’s $700 million in bonds — rated “junk” by both Moody’s and Standard and Poor’s — are selling at 54 cents on the dollar, if buyers can be found.
So is there anything that could stop junk bonds from crashing?
Yes, if the price of oil goes back up to 80 dollars or more a barrel that would go a long way to settling things back down.
Unfortunately, many analysts are convinced that the price of oil is going to head even lower instead…
“We’re continuing to search for a bottom, and might even see another significant drop before the year-end,” said Gene McGillian, an analyst at Tradition Energy in Stamford, Connecticut.
As I write this, the price of U.S. oil has fallen $1.69 today to $54.78.
If the price of oil stays this low, junk bonds are going to keep crashing.
If junk bonds keep crashing, the stock market is almost certainly going to follow.
For additional reading on this, please see my previous article entitled “‘Near Perfect’ Indicator That Precedes Almost Every Stock Market Correction Is Flashing A Warning Signal“.
But just like in the years leading up to the crash of 2008, there are all kinds of naysayers proclaiming that a collapse will never happen.
Even though our financial problems and our underlying economic fundamentals have gotten much worse since the last crisis, they are absolutely convinced that things are somehow going to be different this time.
In the end, a lot of those skeptics are going to lose an enormous amount of money when the dominoes start falling.
The 8th largest economy on the entire planet is in a state of turmoil right now. The shocking collapse of the price of oil has hit a lot of countries really hard, but very few nations are as dependent on energy production as Russia is. Sales of oil and natural gas account for approximately two-thirds of all Russian exports and approximately 50 percent of all government revenue. So it should be no surprise that the fact that the price of oil has declined by almost 50 percent since June is absolutely catastrophic for the Russian economy. And when you throw in international sanctions, wild money printing by the Central Bank of Russia and unprecedented capital flight, you get the ingredients for an almost perfect storm. But those of us living in the western world should not be too smug about what is happening in Russia, because the nightmare that is unfolding over there is just a preview of the economic chaos that will soon envelop the whole world.
So far this year, the Russian ruble has fallen nearly 50 percent against the U.S. dollar. That is a monumental shift. And as the collapse of the ruble has accelerated in recent days, we are seeing scenes in Russia that are reminiscent of the Weimar Republic. For example, just consider the following excerpt from an article that just appeared in the New York Times…
Scenes that Russians hoped had receded into the past reappeared on the streets: Currency exchange signs blinked ever-changing digits, and Russians rushed to appliance stores to buy washing machines or televisions to unload rubles.
“We are seeing an economic crisis,” Natalia V. Akindinova, a professor at the Higher School of Economics, said in a telephone interview. “We are seeing a sharp devaluation of the ruble at a time when the central bank doesn’t have the reserves to influence the market, as it did in the past crises.”
In a desperate attempt to stop the bleeding, the Central Bank of Russia made an astounding move. Last night it raised its key interest rate from 10.5 percent all the way up to 17 percent.
It was hoped that this desperate move would keep the ruble from plummeting any further.
And it did work for a few minutes, but then the collapse of the ruble resumed. This is how Zero Hedge described the carnage…
For those wondering if the CBR’s intervention in the Russian FX market with its shocking emergency rate hike to 17% overnight calmed things, the answer is yes… for about two minutes. The USDRUB indeed tumbled nearly 10% to 59 and then promptly blew right back out, the Ruble crashing in panic selling and seemingly without any CBR market interventions, and at last check was freefalling through 72 74, and sending the Russian stock market plummeting by over 15%.
So why is this happening now?
Well, the biggest reason for the freefall of the ruble is the fact that the Central Bank of Russia just printed up about 625 billion rubles and gave it to their friends at Rosneft.
Rosneft is an absolutely massive oil company that is controlled by the Russian government. For months, Rosneft has been asking for a bailout (sound familiar?) to refinance loans that can no longer be rolled over with western banks because of economic sanctions.
And on Friday they got one.
In an attempt to quietly slip this massive injection of new money past everyone, Rosneft issued 625 billion rubles worth of new bonds just before the weekend and the Central Bank of Russia gobbled most of those new bonds up with freshly created money. Unfortunately for Rosneft and the Central Bank of Russia, the rest of the world took notice…
With the oil giant in a bind, the central bank ruled that it would accept Rosneft bonds held by commercial banks as collateral for loans.
Rosneft issued 625 billion rubles, about $10.9 billion at the exchange rate at the time, in new bonds on Friday. The identities of the buyers were not publicly disclosed, but analysts say that large state banks bought the issue.
When these banks deposit the bonds with the central bank in exchange for loans, Rosneft will have been financed, in effect, with an emission of rubles from the central bank.
So that is what led to the panic selling that we witnessed on Monday.
Meanwhile, money is being pulled out of Russia at an absolutely staggering pace. As confidence in the ruble and in the Russian financial system disappears, wealthy people are feverishly trying to protect their wealth by moving it somewhere else. The following is an excerpt from an editorial that Mohamed A. El-Erian recently penned for Business Insider…
Rather than bring in buyers at these substantially cheaper levels, Russian currency weakness is inducing more selling, including by a growing number of worried bank depositors who, instead of holding their savings in ruble, are opting for safer dollars. The larger the extent of this “currency substitution,” the bigger the scope for capital flight out of Russia. This puts even greater pressure on the currency, aggravating the output contraction, imported inflation, and the general sense economic and financial instability.
It has been estimated that total capital outflows for 2015 will reach an astounding $128 billion.
And this could just be the beginning of the economic troubles for Russia.
If the price of oil stays this low or goes even lower, the Russian economy will shrink. The only question is how much it will contract…
The Bank of Russia said Monday that the country could sink into a deep recession next year if oil prices remain at $60 a barrel. GDP could contract by as much as 4.7% in 2015, and then by a further 1.1% in 2016 unless oil prices pick up.
Sadly, it isn’t just oil producing nations such as Russia that are going to be devastated by the coming crisis.
Eventually, the entire globe is going to feel the pain.
Last week was the worst week for global financial markets in three years, and so many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed just prior to the great financial crisis of 2008 are happening once again. We have been living in a false bubble of relative stability for the past couple of years, but now time is running out. The next great financial crisis is rapidly approaching, and 2015 promises to be the most “interesting” year that we have seen in ages.
Is this the start of the next major financial crisis? The nightmarish collapse of the price of oil is creating panic in financial markets all over the planet. On June 16th, U.S. oil was trading at a price of $107.52. Since then, it has fallen by almost 50 dollars in less than 6 months. This has only happened one other time in our history. In the summer of 2008, the price of oil utterly collapsed and we all remember what happened after that. Well, the same patterns that we witnessed back in 2008 are happening again. As the price of oil crashed in 2008, so did prices for a whole host of other commodities. That is happening again. Once commodities started crashing, the market for junk bonds started to implode. That is also happening again. Finally, toward the end of 2008, we witnessed a horrifying stock market crash. Could we be on the verge of another major one? Last week was the worst week for the Dow in more than three years, and stock markets all over the world are crashing right now. Bad financial news continues to roll in from the four corners of the globe on an almost hourly basis. Have we finally reached the “tipping point” that so many have been warning about?
What we witnessed last week is being described as “a bloodbath” that was truly global in scope. The following is how Zero Hedge summarized the carnage…
- WTI’s 2nd worst week in over 3 years (down 10 of last 11 weeks)
- Dow’s worst worst week in 3 years
- Financials worst week in 2 months
- Materials worst week since Sept 2011
- VIX’s Biggest week since Sept 2011
- Gold’s best week in 6 months
- Silver’s last 2 weeks are best in 6 months
- HY Credit’s worst 2 weeks since May 2012
- IG Credit’s worst week in 2 months
- 10Y Yield’s best week since June 2012
- US Oil Rig Count worst week in 2 years
- The USDollar’s worst week since July 2013
- USDJPY’s worst week since June 2013
- Portugal Bonds worst week since July 2011
- Greek stocks worst week since 1987
The stock market meltdown in Greece is particularly noteworthy. After peaking in March, the Greek stock market is down 40 percent since then. That includes a 20 percent implosion in just the past three trading days.
And it isn’t just Greece. Financial markets all over Europe are in turmoil right now. In addition to crashing oil prices, there is also renewed concern about the fundamental stability of the eurozone. Many believe that it is inevitable that it is headed for a break up. As a result of all of this fear, European stocks also had their worst week in over three years…
European stock markets closed sharply lower on Friday, posting their biggest weekly loss since August 2011, as commodity prices continued to fall and and shares in oil-related firms came under renewed pressure from the weak price for crude.
The pan-European FTSEurofirst 300 unofficially ended 2.6 percent lower, down 5.9 percent on the week as the energy sector once again weighed heavily on wider benchmarks, falling over 3 percent.
But despite all of the carnage that we witnessed in the U.S. and in Europe last week, things are actually far worse for financial markets in the Middle East.
Just check out what happened on the other side of the planet on Sunday…
Stock markets in the Persian Gulf got drilled Sunday as worries about further price declines grew. The Dubai stock index fell 7.6% Sunday, the equivalent of a 1,313-point plunge in the Dow Jones industrial average. The Saudi Arabian market fell 3.3%.
Overall, Dubai stocks are down a whopping 23 percent over the last two weeks, and full-blown stock market crashes are happening in Qatar and Kuwait too.
Like I said, this is turning out to be a truly global financial panic.
Another region to keep an eye on is South America. Argentina is a financial basket case, the Brazilian stock market is tanking big time, and the implied probability of default on Venezuelan debt is now up to 93 percent…
Swaps traders are almost certain that Venezuela will default as the rout in oil prices pressures government finances and sends bond prices to a 16-year low.
Benchmark notes due 2027 dropped to 43.75 cents on the dollar as of 11:35 a.m. in New York, the lowest since September 1998, as crude extended a bear market decline. The upfront cost of contracts to insure Venezuelan debt against non-payment for five years is at 59 percent, bringing the implied probability of default to 93 percent, the highest in the world.
So what does all of this mean for the future?
Are we experiencing a repeat of 2008?
Could what is ahead be even worse than that?
Or could this just be a temporary setback?
Recently, Howard Hill shared a few things that he looks for to determine whether a major financial crisis is upon us or not…
The first condition is a serious market sector correction.
According to some participants in the market for energy company bonds and loans, such a correction is already underway and heading toward a meltdown (the second condition). Others are more sanguine, and expect a recovery soon.
That smaller energy companies have issued more junk-rated debt than their relative size in the economy isn’t under debate. Of a total junk bond market estimated around $1.2 trillion, about 18% ($216 billion, according to a Bloomberg estimate) has been issued by energy-related companies. Yet those companies represent a far smaller share of the economy or stock market capitalization among the universe of junk-rated companies.
If the beaten-down prices for junk energy bonds don’t stabilize or recover a bit, we might see the second condition: a spiral of distressed sales of bonds and loans. This could happen if junk bond mutual funds or other large holders sell into an unfriendly market at low prices, and then other holders of those bonds succumb to the pressure of fund redemptions or margin calls and sell at even lower prices.
The third condition, which we can’t determine directly, would be pressure on Credit Default Swap dealers or hedge funds to make deposits as the prices of the CDS move against them. AIG was taken down when collateral demands were made to support existing CDS agreements, and nobody knew it until they were going under. There simply isn’t a way to know whether banks or dealers are struggling until the effect is already metastasizing.
I think that he makes some really good points.
In particular, I think that watching how junk bonds perform over the next few weeks will be extremely telling.
Last week was truly a bloodbath for high yield debt.
But perhaps things will stabilize this week.
Let’s hope so, because this is the closest that we have been to another major financial crisis since 2008.
It isn’t just the price of oil that is collapsing. The last time commodity prices were this low was during the immediate aftermath of the last financial crisis. The Bloomberg Commodity Index fell to 110.4571 on Monday – the lowest that it has been since April 2009. Just like junk bonds, industrial commodities are a very reliable leading indicator. In other words, prices for industrial commodities usually start to move in a particular direction before the overall economy does. We witnessed this in the summer of 2008 when a crash in commodity prices preceded the financial crisis in the fall by a couple of months. And right now, we are witnessing what may be another major collapse in commodity prices. In recent weeks, the price of copper has declined substantially. So has the price of iron ore. So has the price of nickel. So has the price of aluminum. You get the idea. So this isn’t just about oil. This is a broad-based commodity decline, and if it continues it is really bad news for the U.S. economy.
Of course most Americans would much rather read news stories about Kim Kardashian, but what is happening to the prices of these industrial metals at the moment is actually far more important to their daily lives. For example, when the price of iron ore goes down that is a strong indication that economic activity is slowing down. And that is why it is so troubling that the price of iron ore has almost sunk to a five year low. The following comes from an Australian news source…
The price of iron ore has held below $US70 a tonne in overnight trade, leaving its five-year low within reach.
At the end of the latest offshore session, benchmark iron ore for immediate delivery to the port of Tianjin in China was trading at $US69.40 a tonne, down 0.4 per cent from its previous close of $US69.70 a tonne and only 2 per cent above the five-year low of $US68 reached a fortnight ago.
This week’s dip back under $US70 a tonne has followed revised forecasts from JPMorgan that suggest the commodity will average just $US67 a tonne next year, about $US20 below the investment bank’s previous expectation.
Copper is probably an even better economic indicator than iron ore is. Economists commonly refer to it as “Dr. Copper”, and there is a really good reason for that. Looking back over history, the price of copper often makes a significant move in one direction or the other before the economy does. And now that the price of copper just hit the lowest level that we have seen since the last financial crash, alarm bells are going off. The following comes from an article by CNBC contributor Ron Insana…
Copper prices are now below $3 a pound and there’s an expression that “the economy is topped with a copper roof.” More simply put, copper tends to top out in price, before it becomes obvious that, in this case, the global economy is about to weaken.
So is the global economy heading for rough waters?
Could 2015 be a very rough year economically?
According to Insana, the signs are all around us…
We already have evidence that the commodity crash has ominous portents for the rest of the world:
* Japan’s recession is deeper than previously thought.
* China’s demand for basic materials, amid a glut of uneconomic construction projects, appears to be plummeting.
* Russia’s ruble has collapsed and the country is on the brink, if not already in, a recession.
* India’s economic recovery is beginning to look shaky.
* Europe’s growth rate and inflation rate, for the next two years, were just revised downward by the European Central Bank, suggesting that Europe’s economic crisis is far from over. In fact, at least one former European leader with whom I recently spoke, believes the crisis in Europe may just be in its early stages.
* Brazil and other emerging market nations are struggling with a variety of issues, from recessions at home, to the rising value of the dollar, which is complicating how emerging markets conduct economic policies at home, given how closely their currencies are tied to the greenback.
In addition, the Baltic Dry Index is now at the lowest point that we have seen at this time of the year since 2008…
Simply put, with collapsing commodity prices (iron ore for instance) and massive fleets of credit-driven mal-investment-based vessels, it should surprise no one that the shipping index just plunged back below 1000, now at its lowest for this time of year since 2008. Furthermore, the seasonal bounce always seen in Q3 was among the weakest ever.
What does all of this mean?
It is commonly said that those that do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
So many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed leading up to the financial crash of 2008 are happening again.
Unfortunately, very few people saw the last crash coming, and this next crash will take most Americans by surprise as well.
I have written more than 1,200 articles about the economy on my website since 2009, and right now our financial system is more primed for a crash than at any other time since I started The Economic Collapse Blog.
Hopefully we have at least a couple more months of relative stability, but without a doubt 2015 is shaping up to be the most “interesting” year that we have seen in the financial world in a very long time.
All of the signs are there. But most people choose to believe that everything is going to be okay somehow. When the next crash comes, those people are going to be absolutely blindsided by it.
When you see storm clouds on the horizon, the logical thing to do is to prepare. And the number one thing that most people should be working on is an emergency fund. So don’t be frittering your money away on frivolous things. In the early stages of this next crisis, you are going to need money to pay the mortgage, to put food on the table and to take care of your family.
Just remember what happened back in 2008. A lot of middle class families were living on the financial edge every month, and because they didn’t have any cushion to fall back on, millions of those families ended up losing their homes when their jobs disappeared.
You need to have an emergency fund that can cover at least six months of expenses. You don’t want a job loss or a major emergency to put you into a situation where your family could be put out into the street.
And for those that still have lots of money invested in the stock market – I really hope that you know what you are doing.
The market giveth, and the market taketh away.
And when the market taketh away, the consequences can often be exceedingly cruel.