The Beginning Of The End
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Anyone That Believes That Collapsing Oil Prices Are Good For The Economy Is Crazy

Oil - Public DomainAre much lower oil prices good news for the U.S. economy?  Only if you like collapsing capital expenditures, rising unemployment and a potential financial implosion on Wall Street.  Yes, lower gasoline prices are good news for the middle class.  I certainly would rather pay two dollars for a gallon of gas than four dollars.  But in order to have money to fill up your vehicle you have got to have an income first.  And since the last recession, the energy sector has been the number one creator of good jobs in the U.S. economy by far.  Barack Obama loves to stand up and take credit for the fact that the employment picture in this country has been improving slightly, but without the energy industry boom, unemployment would be through the roof.  And now that the “energy boom” is rapidly becoming an “energy bust”, what will happen to the struggling U.S. economy as we head into 2015?

At the start of this article I mentioned that much lower oil prices would result in “collapsing capital expenditures”.

If you do not know what a “capital expenditure” is, the following is a definition that comes from Investopedia

“Funds used by a company to acquire or upgrade physical assets such as property, industrial buildings or equipment. This type of outlay is made by companies to maintain or increase the scope of their operations. These expenditures can include everything from repairing a roof to building a brand new factory.”

Needless to say, this kind of spending is very good for an economy.  It builds infrastructure, it creates jobs and it is an investment in the future.

In recent years, energy companies have been pouring massive amounts of money into capital expenditures.  In fact, the energy sector currently accounts for about a third of all capital expenditures in the United States according to Deutsche Bank

US private investment spending is usually ~15% of US GDP or $2.8trn now. This investment consists of $1.6trn spent annually on equipment and software, $700bn on non-residential construction and a bit over $500bn on residential. Equipment and software is 35% technology and communications, 25-30% is industrial equipment for energy, utilities and agriculture, 15% is transportation equipment, with remaining 20-25% related to other industries or intangibles. Non-residential construction is 20% oil and gas producing structures and 30% is energy related in total. We estimate global investment spending is 20% of S&P EPS or 12% from US. The Energy sector is responsible for a third of S&P 500 capex.

These companies make these investments because they believe that there are big profits to be made.

Unfortunately, when the price of oil crashes those investments become unprofitable and capital expenditures start getting slashed almost immediately.

For example, the budget for 2015 at ConocoPhillips has already been reduced by 20 percent

ConocoPhillips is one of the bigger shale players. And its decision to slash its budget for next year by 20% is raising eyebrows. The company said the new target reflects lower spending on major projects as well as “unconventional plays.” Despite the expectation that others will follow, it doesn’t mean U.S. shale oil production is dead. Just don’t expect a surge in spending like in recent years.

And Reuters is reporting that the number of new well permits for the industry as a whole plunged by an astounding 40 percent during the month of November…

Plunging oil prices sparked a drop of almost 40 percent in new well permits issued across the United States in November, in a sudden pause in the growth of the U.S. shale oil and gas boom that started around 2007.

Data provided exclusively to Reuters on Tuesday by industry data firm Drilling Info Inc showed 4,520 new well permits were approved last month, down from 7,227 in October.

If the price of oil stays this low or continues dropping, this is just the beginning.

Meanwhile, the flow of good jobs that this industry has been producing is also likely to start drying up.

According to the Perryman Group, the energy sector currently supports 9.3 million permanent jobs in this country

According to a new study, investments in oil and gas exploration and production generate substantial economic gains, as well as other benefits such as increased energy independence. The Perryman Group estimates that the industry as a whole generates an economic stimulus of almost $1.2 trillion in gross product each year, as well as more than 9.3 million permanent jobs across the nation.

The ripple effects are everywhere. If you think about the role of oil in your life, it is not only the primary source of many of our fuels, but is also critical to our lubricants, chemicals, synthetic fibers, pharmaceuticals, plastics, and many other items we come into contact with every day. The industry supports almost 1.3 million jobs in manufacturing alone and is responsible for almost $1.2 trillion in annual gross domestic product. If you think about the law, accounting, and engineering firms that serve the industry, the pipe, drilling equipment, and other manufactured goods that it requires, and the large payrolls and their effects on consumer spending, you will begin to get a picture of the enormity of the industry.

And these are good paying jobs.  They aren’t eight dollar part-time jobs down at your local big box retailer.  These are jobs that comfortably support middle class families.  These are precisely the kinds of jobs that we cannot afford to lose.

In recent years, there has been a noticeable economic difference between areas of the country where energy is being produced and where energy is not being produced.

Since December 2007, a total of 1.36 million jobs have been gained in shale oil states.

Meanwhile, a total of 424,000 jobs have been lost in non-shale oil states.

So what happens now that the shale oil boom is turning into a bust?

That is a very good question.

Even more ominous is what an oil price collapse could mean for our financial system.

The last time the price of oil declined by more than 40 dollars in less than six months, there was a financial meltdown on Wall Street and we experienced the deepest recession that we have seen since the days of the Great Depression.

And now many fear that this collapse in the price of oil could trigger another financial panic.

According to Citigroup, the energy sector now accounts for 17 percent of the high yield bond market.

J.P. Morgan says that it is actually 18 percent.

In any event, the reality of the matter is that the health of these “junk bonds” is absolutely critical to our financial system.  And according to Deutsche Bank, if these bonds start defaulting it could “trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle”

Based on recent stress tests of subprime borrowers in the energy sector in the US produced by Deutsche Bank, should the price of US crude fall by a further 20pc to $60 per barrel, it could result in up to a 30pc default rate among B and CCC rated high-yield US borrowers in the industry. West Texas Intermediate crude is currently trading at multi-year lows of around $75 per barrel, down from $107 per barrel in June.

A shock of that magnitude could be sufficient to trigger a broader high-yield market default cycle, if materialized,” warn Deutsche strategists Oleg Melentyev and Daniel Sorid in their report.

If the price of oil stays at this level or continues to go down, it is inevitable that we will start to see some of these junk bonds go bad.

In fact, one Motley Fool article recently stated that one industry analyst believes that up to 40 percent of all energy junk bonds could eventually go into default…

The junk bonds, or noninvestment-rated bonds, of energy companies are also beginning to see heavy selling as investors start to worry that drillers could one day default on these bonds. Those defaults could get so bad, according to one analyst, that up to 40% of all energy junk bonds go into default over the next few years if oil prices don’t recover.

That would be a total nightmare for Wall Street.

And of course bond defaults would only be part of the equation.  As I wrote about the other day, a crash in junk bonds is almost always followed by a significant stock market correction.

In addition, plunging oil prices could end up absolutely destroying the banks that are holding enormous amounts of energy derivatives.  This is something that I recently covered in this article and this article.

As you read this, there are five “too big to fail” banks that each have more than 40 trillion dollars in exposure to derivatives.  Of course only a small fraction of that total exposure is made up of energy derivatives, but a small fraction of 40 trillion dollars is still a massive amount of money.

These derivatives trades are largely unregulated, and even Forbes admits that they are likely to be at the heart of the coming financial collapse…

No one understands the derivative risk positions of the Too Big To Fail Banks, JP Morgan Chase, Citigroup, Bank of America, Goldman Sachs or Morgan Stanley. There is presently no way to measure the risks involved in the leverage, quantity of collateral, or stability of counter-parties for these major institutions. To me personally they are big black holes capable of potential wrack and ruin. Without access to confidential internal data about these risky derivative positions the regulators cannot react in a timely and measured fashion to block the threat to financial stability, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research study.

So do we have any hope?

Yes, if oil prices start going back up, much of what you just read about can be averted.

Unfortunately, that does not seem likely any time soon.  Even though U.S. energy companies are cutting back on capital expenditures, most of them are still actually projecting an increase in production for 2015.  Here is one example from Bloomberg

Continental, the biggest holder of drilling rights in the Bakken, last month said 2015 output will grow between 23 percent and 29 percent even after shelving plans to allocate more money to exploration.

Higher levels of production will just drive the price of oil even lower.

At this point, Morgan Stanley is saying that the price of oil could plummet as low as $43 a barrel next year.

If that happens, it would be absolutely catastrophic to the most important industry in the United States.

In turn, that would be absolutely catastrophic for the economy as a whole.

So don’t let anyone tell you that much lower oil prices are “good” for the economy.

That is just a bunch of nonsense.

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.

Guess What Happened The Last Time The Price Of Oil Crashed Like This?…

Price Of Oil Causes A Junk Bond Crash - Public DomainThere has only been one other time in history when the price of oil has crashed by more than 40 dollars in less than 6 months.  The last time this happened was during the second half of 2008, and the beginning of that oil price crash preceded the great financial collapse that happened later that year by several months.  Well, now it is happening again, but this time the stakes are even higher.  When the price of oil falls dramatically, that is a sign that economic activity is slowing down.  It can also have a tremendously destabilizing affect on financial markets.  As you will read about below, energy companies now account for approximately 20 percent of the junk bond market.  And a junk bond implosion is usually a signal that a major stock market crash is on the way.  So if you are looking for a “canary in the coal mine”, keep your eye on the performance of energy junk bonds.  If they begin to collapse, that is a sign that all hell is about to break loose on Wall Street.

It would be difficult to overstate the importance of the shale oil boom to the U.S. economy.  Thanks to this boom, the United States has become the largest oil producer on the entire planet.

Yes, the U.S. now actually produces more oil than either Saudi Arabia or Russia.  This “revolution” has resulted in the creation of  millions of jobs since the last recession, and it has been one of the key factors that has kept the percentage of Americans that are employed fairly stable.

Unfortunately, the shale oil boom is coming to an abrupt end.  As a recent Vox article discussed, OPEC has essentially declared a price war on U.S. shale oil producers…

For all intents and purposes, OPEC is now engaged in a “price war” with the United States. What that means is that it’s very cheap to pump oil out of places like Saudi Arabia and Kuwait. But it’s more expensive to extract oil from shale formations in places like Texas and North Dakota. So as the price of oil keeps falling, some US producers may become unprofitable and go out of business. The result? Oil prices will stabilize and OPEC maintains its market share.

If the price of oil stays at this level or continues falling, we will see a significant number of U.S. shale oil companies go out of business and large numbers of jobs will be lost.  The Saudis know how to play hardball, and they are absolutely ruthless.  In fact, we have seen this kind of scenario happen before

Robert McNally, a White House adviser to former President George W. Bush and president of the Rapidan Group energy consultancy, told Reuters that Saudi Arabia “will accept a price decline necessary to sweat whatever supply cuts are needed to balance the market out of the US shale oil sector.” Even legendary oil man T. Boone Pickens believes Saudi Arabia is in a stand-off with US drillers and frackers to “see how the shale boys are going to stand up to a cheaper price.” This has happened once before. By the mid-1980’s, as oil output from Alaska’s North Slope and the North Sea came on line (combined production of around 5-6 million barrels a day), OPEC set off a price war to compete for market share. As a result, the price of oil sank from around $40 to just under $10 a barrel by 1986.

But the energy sector has been one of the only bright spots for the U.S. economy in recent years.  If this sector starts collapsing, it is going to have a dramatic negative impact on our economic outlook.  For example, just consider the following numbers from a recent Business Insider article

Specifically, if prices get too low, then energy companies won’t be able to cover the cost of production in the US. This spending by energy companies, also known as capital expenditures, is responsible for a lot of jobs.

“The Energy sector accounts for roughly one-third of S&P 500 capex and nearly 25% of combined capex and R&D spending,” Goldman Sachs’ Amanda Sneider writes.

Even more troubling is what this could mean for the financial markets.

As I mentioned above, energy companies now account for close to 20 percent of the entire junk bond market.  As those companies start to fail and those bonds start to go bad, that is going to hit our major banks really hard

Everyone could suffer if the collapse triggers a wave of defaults through the high-yield debt market, and in turn, hits stocks. The first to fall: the banks that were last hit by the housing crisis.

Why could that happen?

Well, energy companies make up anywhere from 15 to 20 percent of all U.S. junk debt, according to various sources.

It would be hard to overstate the seriousness of what the markets could potentially be facing.

One analyst summed it up to CNBC this way

This is the one thing I’ve seen over and over again,” said Larry McDonald, head of U.S strategy at Newedge USA’s macro group. “When high yield underperforms equity, a major credit event occurs. It’s the canary in the coal mine.

The last time junk bonds collapsed, a major stock market crash followed fairly rapidly.

And those that were hardest hit were the big Wall Street banks

During the last high-yield collapse, which centered around debt tied to the housing sector, Citigroup lost 63 percent of its value in the following 60 days, Kensho shows. Bank of America was cut in half.

I understand that some of this information is too technical for a lot of people, but the bottom line is this…

Watch junk bonds.  When they start crashing it is a sign that a major stock market collapse is right at the door.

At this point, even the mainstream media is warning about this.  Just consider the following excerpt from a recent CNN article

That swing away from junk bonds often happens shortly before stock market downturns.

“High yield does provide useful sell signals to equity investors,” Barclays analysts concluded in a recent report.

Barclays combed through the past dozen years of data. The warning signal they found is a 30% or greater increase in the spread between Treasuries and junk bonds before a dip.

If you have been waiting for the next major financial collapse, what you have just read in this article indicates that it is now closer than it has ever been.

Over the coming weeks, keep your eye on the price of oil, keep your eye on the junk bond market and keep your eye on the big banks.

Trouble is brewing, and nobody is quite sure exactly what comes next.

Did We Just Witness The Last Great Black Friday Celebration Of American Materialism?

Black Friday - Photo by PowhuskuAmericans are going to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season, and on Friday we got to see our fellow citizens fight each other like rabid animals over foreign-made flat screen televisions and Barbie dolls.  As disgusting as this behavior is to many of us, there may soon come a time when we will all fondly remember these days.  Most Americans are completely unaware of what is currently happening in the financial world, but right now there are deeply troubling signs that we could be on the verge of another major global financial collapse.  If the next great economic downturn does strike in 2015, that could mean that we may have just witnessed the last great Black Friday celebration of American materialism.  As you read this, stock prices are approximately double the value that they should be, margin debt is hovering near all-time record highs, and the “too big to fail” banks are being far more reckless than they were just prior to the last major stock market implosion.  So many of the exact same patterns that we witnessed back in 2007 and 2008 are repeating right now, and as you will see below, this includes a horrifying crash in the price of oil.  Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the slow-motion financial train wreck that is unfolding right before our eyes.

Every year, it has been my tradition to write an article about the mini-riots that erupt in retail stores all around the country on Black Friday.  This year things were a bit calmer because so many stores opened up on Thanksgiving itself, but there was still plenty of chaos.  For example, in the video posted below you can see women viciously fighting one another over discounted lingerie and underwear…

But instead of launching into another diatribe about how we are committing national economic suicide by buying hundreds of billions of dollars of foreign-made goods with money that we do not have, I want to focus on what is coming next.

You see, I believe that in the not too distant future many of us will be wishing for the days when the debt-fueled U.S. economy was healthy enough for people to be wrestling with one another on the floor over good deals in our retail establishments.

The next great financial crash (which many have been anticipating for years) is rapidly approaching.  So many of the same things that happened last time are happening again.  As I noted above, this includes a crash in the price of oil.

In the months prior to the last stock market collapse, the price of oil began plummeting dramatically in the summer of 2008.  This was an “early warning signal” that something was deeply amiss in the financial world…

Oil Price 2007 - 2008

Many people assume that a lower price for oil is good for the economy, but the exact opposite is actually true.  The oil industry has become absolutely critical to the U.S. and Canadian economies.  And in recent years, the “shale oil boom” has been one of the only bright spots for the United States.  If the shale oil industry starts to fail because of lower prices, a lot of the boom areas all over the nation are going to go bust really quickly and a lot of the financial institutions that were backing these projects are going to feel an immense amount of pain.

Unfortunately for us, the “shale oil revolution” simply does not work at 80 dollars a barrel.

And it certainly does not work at 70 dollars a barrel.

As I write this, U.S. crude is sitting at about 66 dollars a barrel due to OPEC’s recent decision to not cut output.

That is the lowest price for U.S. crude since September 2009.

So just like we saw during the summer of 2008, crude oil prices are collapsing once again.  The chart below comes from the Federal Reserve, but it is a few days out of date.  Now that the price of crude is down to about 66 dollars, you have to imagine the price actually going below the bottom of this chart…

Oil Price 2013 - 2014

Needless to say, this price collapse is having a huge impact on the stock prices of oil companies.  The following information about what happened in the markets on Friday comes from Business Insider

Here were some of the biggest losers on Friday:

  • BP (BP), down 5%
  • Royal Dutch Shell (RDS.A), down 6%
  • Total (TOT), down 5%
  • Statoil (STO), down 14%
  • Exxon Mobil (XOM), down 5%
  • ConocoPhillips (COP), down 9%
  • Marathon Oil (MRO), down 13%
  • Occidental Petroleum (OXY), down 7%
  • Anadarko Petroleum (APC), down 14%
  • Linn Energy (LINE), down 13%
  • Whiting Petroleum (WLL), down 28%
  • Oasis Petroleum (OAS), down 32%
  • Kodiak Oil & Gas (KOG), down 28%

And this list goes on.

But this could just be the beginning of the oil price declines.

The most powerful oil official in Russia believes that the price of oil could fall below $60 next year…

Russia’s most powerful oil official Igor Sechin said in an interview with an Austrian newspaper that oil prices could fall below $60 by mid-way through next year.

Sechin, chief executive of Rosneft, Russia’s largest oil producer, also said U.S. oil production would fall after 2025 and that an oil market council should be created to monitor prices, the same day the OPEC cartel met in Vienna and left its output targets unchanged.

“We expect that a fall in the price to $60 and below is possible, but only during the first half, or rather by the end of the first half (of next year),” Sechin told the Die Presse newspaper.

And one oil industry analyst just told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately plunge as low as $35 a barrel…

“When you look at the second half of 2015, that’s when you see oil beginning to dwarf demand by about a million, a million and a half barrels a day,” he said. “Thirty-five dollars is a possibility if they don’t get an agreement next spring because that’s when the oil really starts to build and you can have a billion barrels of oil with really no place to put it.”

This comes at a time when there are already a whole host of signs that the global economy is slowing down.  Three of the ten largest economies on the planet have already slipped into recession, and the economic nightmare over in Europe just continues to get even worse.  In fact, we just learned that the unemployment rate in Italy has shot above 13 percent for the first time ever recorded.

In addition, it is important to remember that the “real economy” in the United States is in far worse shape than it was just prior to the last financial crash.  Just consider these numbers…

-In the United States today, the number of payday lending locations is greater than the number of McDonald’s and the number of Starbucks.

-One recent survey found that about 22 percent of all Americans have had to turn to a church food panty for assistance.

-This year, almost one out of every five households in the United States celebrated Thanksgiving on food stamps.

-The rate of government dependence in America is at an all-time high and approximately 60 percent of U.S. households get more in transfer payments from the government than they pay in taxes.

-According to a report that was just released by the National Center on Family Homelessness, the number of homeless children in the U.S. has soared to a new all-time record high of 2.5 million.

If things are this bad now, what are they going to look like after the next great financial crash?

And without a doubt, the next crash is coming.  Hopefully we have at least a couple more months of relative stability, but many experts are now urgently warning that time is quickly running out.

By this time next year, Black Friday may look a whole lot different than it does today.

 

The Riots In Egypt And The Price Of Oil

As if the world economy did not have enough problems already, now the riots in Egypt threaten to send the price of oil soaring into the stratosphere.  On Friday, the price of U.S. crude soared 4 percent.  A 4 percent rise in a single day is pretty staggering.  The price of Brent crude in London closed just under the magic $100 a barrel mark at $99.42.  The incredibly violent riots in Egypt have financial markets all over the globe on edge right now.  Any time there is violence or war in the Middle East it has a dramatic impact on financial markets, but this time things seem even more serious than usual.  Many believe that we could see an entirely new Egyptian government emerge out of this crisis, and the uncertainty that would bring would make investors all around the globe nervous.  Financial markets like predictability, peace and security.  If Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30 year reign is brought to an end, it will severely shake up the entire region, and that will not be good news for the global economy.

Have you seen how violent these protests have become?  Cars and buildings are on fire all over the place.  Even the headquarters of Hosni Mubarak’s political party was burned down.  The Egyptian military has been deployed on the streets of Cairo.  Protesters have been showering government forces with stones, firebombs and anything else that they can find to throw.  Security forces have been using rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas to try to disperse the protesters but those efforts seem to be doing little good.  Deaths and injuries are being reported all over the place.  There are even rumors that the wife and son of Hosni Mubarak have already left the country.

At this point, Mubarak has gone on national television and has announced that he has asked his cabinet to resign.  That is an absolutely stunning move, but it is doubtful that the protesters will be satisfied.  All over Cairo protesters continue to chant for Mubarak to resign.

The following is a short compilation of some raw video from the riots in Egypt….

These riots in Egypt come on the heels of violent uprisings in Algeria and Tunisia.  In fact, it seems like virtually the entire Middle East is in a very foul mood right now.  Riots have been reported in Lebanon, in Jordan and in Yemen over the past few days.

Some of the rioting has been motivated by economic factors, but unfortunately all of this rioting is only going to make the global economic situation even worse.  Concern over all of these riots is driving up the price of oil and driving up the prices of agricultural commodities.  These higher prices are going to make it even harder for the poor people in the Middle East to afford food.

But also it must be acknowledged that much of this rioting is being done for very deep political and religious reasons as well.  Many westerners are cheering the protests in Egypt because they envision the protesters to be some sort of “freedom fighters”.  But the vast majority of these protesters do not desire “American-style democracy”.  The Muslim Brotherhood is one of the groups at the heart of these protests.  The government that they intend to set up would not give “liberty and freedom for all”.  Rather, it would be a hardline Islamic government based on Shariah law.  According to Wikipedia, the Muslim Brotherhood bills itself as the “world’s most influential Islamist movement”, and their goal is to impose their version of Islam on society….

The Brotherhood’s stated goal is to instill the Qur’an and Sunnah as the “sole reference point for … ordering the life of the Muslim family, individual, community … and state”

So unless your version of “freedom” includes being forced to live like the Taliban, then you probably would not enjoy the “liberty” that the Muslim Brotherhood wishes to impose on you.

Coptic Christians all over Egypt are already being slaughtered even with a relatively pro-western president in power.  On New Year’s Day, an attack on a Coptic Christian church in Egypt killed 21 people.  The following is how one eyewitness described the scene to a reporter from the New York Times….

“There were bodies on the streets,” said Sherif Ibrahim, who saw the blast’s aftermath. “Hands, legs, stomachs. Girls, women and men.”

Once a radical Islamic government is installed in Egypt it will be open season on all Christians.

Yes, there is a whole lot of blame to be passed around to other nations, organizations and individuals in the Middle East for things they have done as well, but that does not excuse the horrific persecution of the Coptic Christians in Egypt.

We have to call a spade a spade.  We cannot condemn some forms of tyranny and persecution and then make excuses for other forms of tyranny and persecution just because those doing it are on “our side”.

Replacing one form of tyranny (Mubarak) with an even more repressive form of tyranny (The Muslim Brotherhood) is not something that those who love liberty and freedom should be celebrating.

In any event, everyone should be able to agree that these events are going to severely rattle world financial markets that were already very nervous about 2011.

If these violent riots in Egypt and other countries in the Middle East keep going on, the global price of oil and the global price of food will continue to soar.

Not that oil and food were not going to be heading in that direction anyway.  Yesterday I wrote about the warning signs for the global economy that we are starting to see.  Wheat and corn have absolutely skyrocketed in price over the past 6 months.  The UN had already been projecting that we would see a 30 percent increase in the global price of food in 2011 even before these riots.

If you add rampant political instability into the mix, there is no telling how bad food inflation could get this year.

Many experts have already been forecasting substantial food shortages throughout the world this year based on all the extreme weather we have been having.  So what is going to happen if something causes those food shortages to be even worse than anticipated?

We live in very interesting times my friends.  The globe is becoming an increasingly unstable place.  Even nations that seemed perfectly stable just a few months ago can erupt in rioting at almost any moment.

People around the world are getting angry.  Thanks to the Internet, people are able to circumvent official government propaganda more easily than ever before.  This is making it harder and harder for governments to control people.

Egypt tried to regain some of that control during the riots by shutting down cell phones and by shutting down the Internet but it did not work.

Let’s just hope that Egypt can soon find peace and that the changes that are made in the Egyptian government are good for freedom and liberty.

100 Dollar Oil Is Coming

The price of oil has been hovering around 80 dollars a barrel for quite some time now, but get ready, because it is going to move significantly higher.  Oil prices have already risen about 9 percent over the past month, and many believe that this could very well be the start of a new trend.  Lawrence Eagles, a top analyst at JP Morgan, recently made headlines across the globe when he stated that oil could hit 100 dollars a barrel “much sooner than we expect”.  Not only that, but a number of top OPEC officials are also publicly discussing the possibility of 100 dollar oil.  But just because a few people are talking about it does not mean that it is going to happen.  So are there any other reasons why we should anticipate a significant increase in the price of oil?

Well, yes there is.

*The Decline Of The U.S. Dollar

Since August 27th, the U.S. dollar has declined approximately 4.8% against the currencies of major U.S. trading partners.  Unfortunately, there seems to be every indication that the dollar is going to continue to decline.  As the U.S. dollar continues to display weakness, just about everything priced in dollars (including oil) is going to continue to rise.

*The Threat Of Quantitative Easing By The Federal Reserve

For weeks, top Federal Reserve officials have been making public statements about the need for more quantitative easing.  If the Fed does initiate a significant program of quantitative easing in the coming months, that is going to put even more downward pressure on the U.S. dollar and even more upward pressure on the price of oil. 

*Other Commodities Have Been Skyrocketing

Over recent weeks, the prices of a wide array of key commodities have been absolutely skyrocketing.  As I noted in a previous article, not only has the price of gold been setting records, the truth is that almost every major commodity has been spiking.  In a recent column entitled “An Inflationary Cocktail In The Making“, Richard Benson noted some of the commodity price increases that he has been tracking this year….

-Agricultural Raw Materials: 24%

-Industrial Inputs Index: 25%

-Metals Price Index: 26%

-Coffee: 45%

-Barley: 32%

-Oranges: 35%

-Beef: 23%

-Pork: 68%

-Salmon: 30%

-Sugar: 24%

-Wool: 20%

-Cotton: 40%

-Palm Oil: 26%

-Hides: 25%

-Rubber: 62%

-Iron Ore: 103%

The increase in the price of oil is just part of a larger trend of soaring commodity prices.  As long as this trend in commodity prices continues it is unlikely that the price of oil will go down.

*The Strikes In France

The austerity strikes in France have interrupted the flow of gasoline in that country.  Once the strikes are over there will be an increase in demand as inventories are restocked.

*Increased Demand From China And Other Emerging Nations

Most analysts are forecasting that the demand for oil in China and other emerging nations will continue to grow at an impressive pace.  This growing demand will also cause upward pressure on the price of oil.

*The Potential Of War In The Middle East

As always, war could break out in the Middle East at any time.  A minor conflict in the Middle East would likely push the price of oil over 100 dollars a barrel very quickly.  A major conflict would likely push it over 200 dollars or even beyond.  War is very, very difficult to predict, but it does seem quite likely that some kind of conflict will break out in the Middle East at some point over the next several years.

So how soon will oil reach the 100 dollar mark?

That is very hard to say. 

But even now, Americans are already having to dig deeper into their wallets at the gas pump.

For the two week period ending October 22nd, the average price of gasoline in the United States increased 5.23 cents to $2.82 a gallon.

As the price of oil continues to rise significantly over the long-term, it is going to have an impact on thousands of other prices.  Virtually all products must be transported, and an increase in the price of oil will cause those transportation costs to go up.

So an increase in the price of oil would be really bad news. 

If we do see 100 dollar oil, that will be a huge challenge for the U.S. economy.

If we end up seeing 150 dollar oil (especially for an extended period of time) it will be an absolute nightmare for the U.S. economy.

So where do you think the price of oil is going?  Feel free to leave a comment with your opinion….

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