The price of oil collapsed by more than 8 percent on Wednesday, and a decision by the European Central Bank has Greece at the precipice of a complete and total financial meltdown. What a difference 24 hours can make. On Tuesday, things really seemed like they were actually starting to get better. The price of oil had rallied by more than 20 percent since last Thursday, things in Europe seemed like they were settling down, and there appeared to be a good deal of optimism about how global financial markets would perform this month. But now fear is back in a big way. Of course nobody should get too caught up in how the markets behave on any single day. The key is to take a longer term point of view. And the fact that the markets have been on such a roller coaster ride over the past few months is a really, really bad sign. When things are calm, markets tend to steadily go up. But when the waters start really getting choppy, that is usually a sign that a big move down in on the horizon. So the huge ups and the huge downs that we have witnessed in recent days are likely an indicator that rough seas are ahead.
A stunning decision that the European Central Bank has just made has set the stage for a major showdown in Europe. The ECB has decided that it will no longer accept Greek government bonds as collateral from Greek banks. This gives the European Union a tremendous amount of leverage in negotiations with the new Greek government. But in the short-term, this could mean some significant pain for the Greek financial system. The following is how a CNBC article described what just happened…
“The European Central Bank is telling the Greek banking system that it will no longer accept Greek bonds as collateral for any repurchase agreement the Greek banks want to conduct,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group, said in a note.
“This is because the ECB only accepts investment grade paper and up until today gave Greece a waiver to this clause. That waiver has now been taken away and Greek banks now have to go to the Greek Central Bank and tap their Emergency Liquidity Assistance facility for funding,” he said.
And it certainly didn’t take long for global financial markets to respond to this news…
The Greek stock market closed hours ago, but the exchange-traded fund that tracks Greek stocks, GREK, crashed during the final minutes of trading in the US markets.
The euro is also getting walloped, falling 1.3% against the US dollar.
The EUR/USD, which had recovered to almost 1.15, fell to nearly 1.13 on news of the action taken by the ECB.
But this is just the beginning.
In coming months, I fully expect the euro to head toward parity with the U.S. dollar.
And if the new Greek government will not submit to the demands of the EU, and Greece ultimately ends up leaving the common currency, it could potentially mean the end of the eurozone in the configuration that we see it today.
Meanwhile, the oil crash has taken a dangerous new turn.
Over the past week, we have seen the price of oil go from $43.58 to $54.24 to less than 48 dollars before rebounding just a bit at the end of the day on Wednesday.
This kind of erratic behavior is the exact opposite of what a healthy market would look like.
What we really need is a slow, steady climb which would take the price of oil back to at least the $80 level. In the current range in which it has been fluctuating, the price of oil is going to be absolutely catastrophic for the global economy, and the longer it stays in this current range the more damage that it is going to do.
But of course the problems that we are facing are not just limited to the oil price crash and the crisis in Greece. The truth is that there are birth pangs of the next great financial collapse all over the place. We just have to be honest with ourselves and realize what all of these signs are telling us.
And it isn’t just in the western world where people are sounding the alarm. All over the world, highly educated professionals are warning that a great storm is on the horizon. The other day, I had an economist in Germany write to me with his concerns. And in China, the head of the Dagong Rating Agency is declaring that we are going to have to face “a new world financial crisis in the next few years”…
The world economy may slip into a new global financial crisis in the next few years, China’s Dagong Rating Agency Head Guan Jianzhong said in an interview with TASS news agency on Wednesday.
“I believe we’ll have to face a new world financial crisis in the next few years. It is difficult to give the exact time but all the signs are present, such as the growing volume of debts and the unsteady development of the economies of the US, the EU, China and some other developing countries,” he said, adding the situation is even worse than ahead of 2008.
For a long time, I have been pointing at the year 2015. But this year is not going to be the end of anything. Rather, it is just going to be the beginning of the end.
During the past few years, we have experienced a temporary bubble of false stability fueled by reckless money printing and an unprecedented accumulation of debt. But instead of fixing anything, those measures have just made the eventual crash even worse.
Now a day of reckoning is fast approaching.
Life as we know it is about to change dramatically, and most people are completely and totally unprepared for it.
We are really starting to see the price of oil weigh very heavily on the economy and on the stock market. On Tuesday, the Dow was down 291 points, and the primary reason for the decline was disappointing corporate sales numbers. For example, heavy equipment manufacturer Caterpillar is blaming the “dramatic decline in the price of oil” for much lower than anticipated sales during the fourth quarter of 2014. Even though Caterpillar is not an “energy company”, the price of oil is critical to their success. And the same could be said about thousands of other companies. That is why I have repeatedly stated that anyone who believes that collapsing oil prices are good for the U.S. economy is crazy. The key to how much damage this oil collapse is going to do to our economy is not how low prices ultimately go. Rather, the key is how long they stay at these low levels. If the price of oil went back to $80 a barrel next week, the damage would be fairly minimal. But if the price of oil stays at this current level for the remainder of 2015, the damage will be absolutely catastrophic. Just think of the price of oil like a hot iron. If you touch it for just a fraction of a second, it won’t do too much damage. But if you press it against your skin for an hour, you will be severely damaged for the rest of your life at the very least.
So the damage that we are witnessing right now is just the very beginning unless the price of oil goes back up substantially.
When the price of oil first started crashing, most analysts focused on the impact that it would have on energy companies. And without a doubt, quite a few of them are likely to be wiped out if things don’t change soon.
But of even greater importance is the ripple effects that the price of oil will have throughout our entire economy. The oil price crash is not that many months old at this point, and yet big companies are already blaming it for causing significant problems. The following is how Caterpillar explained their disappointing sales numbers on Tuesday…
“The recent dramatic decline in the price of oil is the most significant reason for the year-over-year decline in our sales and revenues outlook. Current oil prices are a significant headwind for Energy & Transportation and negative for our construction business in the oil producing regions of the world. In addition, with lower prices for copper, coal and iron ore, we’ve reduced our expectations for sales of mining equipment. We’ve also lowered our expectations for construction equipment sales in China. While our market position in China has improved, 2015 expectations for the construction industry in China are lower”
We also learned on Tuesday that orders for durable goods were extremely disappointing. Many analysts believe that this is another area where the oil price crash is having an impact…
Orders for business equipment unexpectedly fell in December for a fourth month, signaling a global growth slowdown is weighing on American companies. Bookings for non-military capital goods excluding aircraft dropped 0.6 percent for a second month, data from the Commerce Department showed. Demand for all durable goods − items meant to last at least three years − declined 3.4 percent, the worst performance since August.
Let’s keep an eye on the durable goods numbers in coming months. Usually, when the economy is heading into a recession durable goods numbers start declining.
Meanwhile, a bunch of other big companies reported disappointing sales numbers on Tuesday as well. The following summary comes from the Crux…
Microsoft lost 9.9 percent as software-license sales to businesses were below forecasts. Caterpillar plunged 7.3 percent after forecasting 2015 results that trailed estimates as plunging oil prices signal lower demand from energy companies. DuPont Co. dropped 2.8 percent as a stronger dollar cuts into the chemical maker’s profit. Procter & Gamble Co. and United Technologies Corp. declined at least 2 percent after saying the surging greenback will lower full-year earnings.
What the economy could really use right now is a huge rebound in the price of oil.
Unfortunately, as I wrote about the other day, that is not likely to happen any time soon.
In fact, a top executive for Goldman Sachs recently told CNBC that he believes that the price of oil could ultimately go as low as 30 dollars a barrel.
And hedge fund managers are backing up their belief that oil is heading even lower with big money…
Hedge funds boosted bearish wagers on oil to a four-year high as US supplies grew the most since 2001.
Money managers increased short positions in West Texas Intermediate crude to the highest level since September 2010 in the week ended January 20, US Commodity Futures Trading Commission data show. Net-long positions slipped for the first time in three weeks.
US crude supplies rose by 10.1 million barrels to 397.9 million in the week ended January 16 and the country will pump the most oil since 1972 this year, the Energy Information Administration says. Saudi Arabia’s King Salman, the new ruler of the world’s biggest oil exporter, said he will maintain the production policy of his predecessor despite a 58 percent drop in prices since June.
Sadly, the truth is that anyone that thought that the stock market would go up forever and that the U.S. economy would be able to avoid a major downturn indefinitely was just being delusional.
Our economy goes through cycles, and every financial bubble eventually bursts.
For example, did you know that the S&P 500 has never had seven up years in a row? The following comes from a CNBC article that was posted on Tuesday…
Doubleline Capital founder Jeff Gundlach, more known for his bond prowess than as an equity market expert, pointed out that the S&P 500 has never had seven consecutive up years.
Of course, records are made to be broken, and each year is supposed to stand on its own.
But in a market that faces an uncertain future regarding monetary policy, the specter of a global economic slowdown, and an oil price plunge that is dampening capital investment, Gundlach’s little factoid sparked a lot of chatter at ETF.com’s InsideETFs conference in Hollywood, Florida.
Hmm – that reminds me of the seven year cycles that I discussed in my article yesterday.
If the price of oil stays this low for the rest of 2015, there is no way that we are going to avoid a recession.
If the price of oil stays this low for the rest of 2015, there is no way that we are going to avoid a stock market crash.
So let’s hope that the price of oil starts going back up.
If it doesn’t, the damage that is inflicted on our economy is going to get progressively worse.
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.
Are 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.
Could 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.
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.
There 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.