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Boom Goes The Dynamite: The Crashing Price Of Oil Is Going To Rip The Global Economy To Shreds

Boom Goes The Dynamite - Public DomainIf 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…

Price Of Oil Since 2006

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.

Plummeting Oil Prices Could Destroy The Banks That Are Holding Trillions In Commodity Derivatives

Panic Button - Public DomainCould rapidly falling oil prices trigger a nightmare scenario for the commodity derivatives market?  The big Wall Street banks did not expect plunging home prices to cause a mortgage-backed securities implosion back in 2008, and their models did not anticipate a decline in the price of oil by more than 40 dollars in less than six months this time either.  If the price of oil stays at this level or goes down even more, someone out there is going to have to absorb some absolutely massive losses.  In some cases, the losses will be absorbed by oil producers, but many of the big players in the industry have already locked in high prices for their oil next year through derivatives contracts.  The companies enter into these derivatives contracts for a couple of reasons.  Number one, many lenders do not want to give them any money unless they can show that they have locked in a price for their oil that is higher than the cost of production.  Secondly, derivatives contracts protect the profits of oil producers from dramatic swings in the marketplace.  These dramatic swings rarely happen, but when they do they can be absolutely crippling.  So the oil companies that have locked in high prices for their oil in 2015 and 2016 are feeling pretty good right about now.  But who is on the other end of those contracts?  In many cases, it is the big Wall Street banks, and if the price of oil does not rebound substantially they could be facing absolutely colossal losses.

It has been estimated that the six largest “too big to fail” banks control $3.9 trillion in commodity derivatives contracts.  And a very large chunk of that amount is made up of oil derivatives.

By the middle of next year, we could be facing a situation where many of these oil producers have locked in a price of 90 or 100 dollars a barrel on their oil but the price has fallen to about 50 dollars a barrel.

In such a case, the losses for those on the wrong end of the derivatives contracts would be astronomical.

At this point, some of the biggest players in the shale oil industry have already locked in high prices for most of their oil for the coming year.  The following is an excerpt from a recent article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard

US producers have locked in higher prices through derivatives contracts. Noble Energy and Devon Energy have both hedged over three-quarters of their output for 2015.

Pioneer Natural Resources said it has options through 2016 covering two- thirds of its likely production.

So they are protected to a very large degree.  It is those that are on the losing end of those contracts that are going to get burned.

Of course not all shale oil producers protected themselves.  Those that didn’t are in danger of going under.

For example, Continental Resources cashed out approximately 4 billion dollars in hedges about a month ago in a gamble that oil prices would go back up.  Instead, they just kept falling, so now this company is likely headed for some rough financial times…

Continental Resources (CLR.N), the pioneering U.S. driller that bet big on North Dakota’s Bakken shale patch when its rivals were looking abroad, is once again flying in the face of convention: cashing out some $4 billion worth of hedges in a huge gamble that oil prices will rebound.

Late on Tuesday, the company run by Harold Hamm, the Oklahoma wildcatter who once sued OPEC, said it had opted to take profits on more than 31 million barrels worth of U.S. and Brent crude oil hedges for 2015 and 2016, plus as much as 8 million barrels’ worth of outstanding positions over the rest of 2014, netting a $433 million extra profit for the fourth quarter. Based on its third quarter production of about 128,000 barrels per day (bpd) of crude, its hedges for next year would have covered nearly two-thirds of its oil production.

Oops.

When things are nice and stable, the derivatives marketplace works quite well most of the time.

But when there is a “black swan event” such as a dramatic swing in the price of oil, it can create really big winners and really big losers.

And no matter how complicated these derivatives become, and no matter how many times you transfer risk, you can never make these bets truly safe.  The following is from a recent article by Charles Hugh Smith

Financialization is always based on the presumption that risk can be cancelled out by hedging bets made with counterparties. This sounds appealing, but as I have noted many times, risk cannot be disappeared, it can only be masked or transferred to others.

Relying on counterparties to pay out cannot make risk vanish; it only masks the risk of default by transferring the risk to counterparties, who then transfer it to still other counterparties, and so on.
This illusory vanishing act hasn’t made risk disappear: rather, it has set up a line of dominoes waiting for one domino to topple. This one domino will proceed to take down the entire line of financial dominoes.
The 35% drop in the price of oil is the first domino. All the supposedly safe, low-risk loans and bets placed on oil, made with the supreme confidence that oil would continue to trade in a band around $100/barrel, are now revealed as high-risk.

In recent years, Wall Street has been transformed into the largest casino in the history of the world.

Most of the time the big banks are very careful to make sure that they come out on top, but this time their house of cards may come toppling down on top of them.

If you think that this is good news, you should keep in mind that if they collapse it virtually guarantees a full-blown economic meltdown.  The following is an extended excerpt from one of my previous articles

—–

For those looking forward to the day when these mammoth banks will collapse, you need to keep in mind that when they do go down the entire system is going to utterly fall apart.

At this point our economic system is so completely dependent on these banks that there is no way that it can function without them.

It is like a patient with an extremely advanced case of cancer.

Doctors can try to kill the cancer, but it is almost inevitable that the patient will die in the process.

The same thing could be said about our relationship with the “too big to fail” banks.  If they fail, so do the rest of us.

We were told that something would be done about the “too big to fail” problem after the last crisis, but it never happened.

In fact, as I have written about previously, the “too big to fail” banks have collectively gotten 37 percent larger since the last recession.

At this point, the five largest banks in the country account for 42 percent of all loans in the United States, and the six largest banks control 67 percent of all banking assets.

If those banks were to disappear tomorrow, we would not have much of an economy left.

—-

Our entire economy is based on the flow of credit.  And all of that debt comes from the banks.  That is why it has been so dangerous for us to become so deeply dependent on them.  Without their loans, the entire country could soon resemble White Flint Mall near Washington D.C….

It was once a hubbub of activity, where shoppers would snap up seasonal steals and teens would hang out to ‘look cool’.

But now White Flint Mall in Bethesda, Maryland – which opened its doors in March 1977 – looks like a modern-day mausoleum with just two tenants remaining.

Photographs taken inside the 874,000-square-foot complex show spotless faux marble floors, empty escalators and stationary elevators.

Only a couple of cars can be seen in the parking lot, where well-tended shrubbery appears to be the only thing alive.

I keep on saying it, and I will keep on saying it until it happens.  We are heading for a derivatives crisis unlike anything that we have ever seen.  It is going to make the financial meltdown of 2008 look like a walk in the park.

Our politicians promised that they would do something about the “too big to fail” banks and the out of control gambling on Wall Street, but they didn’t.

Now a day of reckoning is rapidly approaching, and it is going to horrify the entire planet.

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