Are we on the verge of a major worldwide economic downturn? Well, if recent warnings from prominent bankers all over the world are to be believed, that may be precisely what we are facing in the months ahead. As you will read about below, the big banks are warning that the price of oil could soon drop as low as 20 dollars a barrel, that a Greek exit from the eurozone could push the EUR/USD down to 0.90, and that the global economy could shrink by more than 2 trillion dollars in 2015. Most of the time, very few people ever actually read the things that the big banks write for their clients. But in recent months, a lot of these bankers are issuing such ominous warnings that you would think that they have started to write for The Economic Collapse Blog. Of course we have seen this happen before. Just before the financial crisis of 2008, a lot of people at the big banks started to get spooked, and now we are beginning to see an atmosphere of fear spread on Wall Street once again. Nobody is quite sure what is going to happen next, but an increasing number of experts are starting to agree that it won’t be good.
Let’s start with oil. Over the past couple of weeks, we have seen a nice rally for the price of oil. It has bounced back into the low 50s, which is still a catastrophically low level, but it has many hoping for a rebound to a range that will be healthy for the global economy.
Unfortunately, many of the experts at the big banks are now anticipating that the exact opposite will happen instead. For example, Citibank says that we could see the price of oil go as low as 20 dollars this year…
The recent rally in crude prices looks more like a head-fake than a sustainable turning point — The drop in US rig count, continuing cuts in upstream capex, the reading of technical charts, and investor short position-covering sustained the end-January 8.1% jump in Brent and 5.8% jump in WTI into the first week of February.
Short-term market factors are more bearish, pointing to more price pressure for the next couple of months and beyond — Not only is the market oversupplied, but the consequent inventory build looks likely to continue toward storage tank tops. As on-land storage fills and covers the carry of the monthly spreads at ~$0.75/bbl, the forward curve has to steepen to accommodate a monthly carry closer to $1.20, putting downward pressure on prompt prices. As floating storage reaches its limits, there should be downward price pressure to shut in production.
The oil market should bottom sometime between the end of Q1 and beginning of Q2 at a significantly lower price level in the $40 range — after which markets should start to balance, first with an end to inventory builds and later on with a period of sustained inventory draws. It’s impossible to call a bottom point, which could, as a result of oversupply and the economics of storage, fall well below $40 a barrel for WTI, perhaps as low as the $20 range for a while.
Even though rigs are shutting down at a pace that we have not seen since the last recession, overall global supply still significantly exceeds overall global demand. Barclays analyst Michael Cohen recently told CNBC that at this point the total amount of excess supply is still in the neighborhood of a million barrels per day…
“What we saw in the last couple weeks is rig count falling pretty precipitously by about 80 or 90 rigs per week, but we think there are more important things to be focused on and that rig count doesn’t tell the whole story.”
He expects to see some weakness going into the shoulder season for demand. In addition, there is an excess supply of about a million barrels of oil a day, he said.
And the truth is that many firms simply cannot afford to shut down their rigs. Many are leveraged to the hilt and are really struggling just to service their debt payments. They have to keep pumping so that they can have revenue to meet their financial obligations. The following comes directly from the Bank for International Settlements…
“Against this background of high debt, a fall in the price of oil weakens the balance sheets of producers and tightens credit conditions, potentially exacerbating the price drop as a result of sales of oil assets, for example, more production is sold forward,” BIS said.
“Second, in flow terms, a lower price of oil reduces cash flows and increases the risk of liquidity shortfalls in which firms are unable to meet interest payments. Debt service requirements may induce continued physical production of oil to maintain cash flows, delaying the reduction in supply in the market.”
In the end, a lot of these energy companies are going to go belly up if the price of oil does not rise significantly this year. And any financial institutions that are exposed to the debt of these companies or to energy derivatives will likely be in a great deal of distress as well.
Meanwhile, the overall global economy continues to slow down.
On Monday, we learned that the Baltic Dry Index has dropped to the lowest level ever. Not even during the darkest depths of the last recession did it drop this low.
And there are some at the big banks that are warning that this might just be the beginning. For instance, David Kostin of Goldman Sachs is projecting that sales growth for S&P 500 companies will be zero percent for all of 2015…
“Consensus now forecasts 0% S&P 500 sales growth in 2015 following a 5% cut in revenue forecasts since October. Low oil prices along with FX headwinds and pension charges have weighed on 4Q EPS results and expectations for 2015.”
Others are even more pessimistic than that. According to Bank of America, the global economy will actually shrink by 2.3 trillion dollars in 2015.
One thing that could greatly accelerate our economic problems is the crisis in Greece. If there is no compromise and a new Greek debt deal is not reached, there is a very real possibility that Greece could leave the eurozone.
If Greece does leave the eurozone, the continued existence of the monetary union will be thrown into doubt and the euro will utterly collapse.
Of course I am not the only one saying these things. Analysts at Morgan Stanley are even projecting that the EUR/USD could plummet to 0.90 if there is a “Grexit”…
The Greek Prime Minister has reaffirmed his government’s rejection of the country’s international bailout programme two days before an emergency meeting with the euro area’s finance ministers on Wednesday. His declaration suggested increasing minimum wages, restoring the income tax-free threshold and halting infrastructure privatisations. Should Greece stay firm on its current anti-bailout course and with the ECB not accepting Greek T-bills as collateral, the position of ex-Fed Chairman Greenspan will gain increasing credibility. He forecast the eurozone to break as private investors will withdraw from providing short-term funding to Greece. Greece leaving the currency union would convert the union into a club of fixed exchange rates, a type of ERM III, leading to further fragmentation. Greek Fin Min Varoufakis said the euro will collapse if Greece exits, calling Italian debt unsustainable. Markets may gain the impression that Greece may not opt for a compromise, instead opting for an all or nothing approach when negotiating on Wednesday. It seems the risk premium of Greece leaving EMU is rising. Our scenario analysis suggests a Greek exit taking EURUSD down to 0.90.
If that happens, we could see a massive implosion of the 26 trillion dollars in derivatives that are directly tied to the value of the euro.
We are moving into a time of great peril for global financial markets, and there are a whole host of signs that we are slowly heading into another major global economic crisis.
So don’t be fooled by all of the happy talk in the mainstream media. They did not see the last crisis coming either.
When the stock market starts to behave like a roller coaster, that is a sign that a major move to the downside is right around the corner. As I have stated repeatedly, when the market is very calm it tends to go up. But when the waters start getting really choppy, that is a clear indication that stocks are about to plummet. In early 2015, volatility has returned to Wall Street in a big way. At one point on Tuesday, the Dow was up more than 300 points. But then the bottom dropped out. From the peak on Tuesday, the Dow plunged nearly 700 points in less than 30 hours before recovering more than 100 points at the end of the day. The Dow has now experienced the longest losing streak that we have seen in 3 months, but that is not that big of a deal. Of much greater concern is the huge price swings that we have been seeing. Remember, the three largest single day stock market increases in history were right in the middle of the financial crisis of 2008. So if stocks go up 400 points tomorrow that is NOT a good sign. What we really need is a string of days when stocks move less than 100 points in either direction. If stocks keep making dramatic moves up and dramatic moves down, history tells us that it is only a matter of time before they collapse. Any student of stock market history knows that what we are witnessing right now is exactly how markets behave right before they crash.
Examine the chart below very carefully. It is a chart of the CBOE Volatility Index from 2006 to 2008. As you can see, volatility was very low as stocks soared during 2006. Then things started to get a bit choppy in 2007, and investors should have recognized this as a warning sign. Finally, you can see that the VIX absolutely skyrocketed during the financial crisis of 2008…
Looking back, it seems so obvious.
So why aren’t more people alarmed this time around?
As CNN is reporting, the VIX is up almost 20 percent so far in 2015…
Volatility has returned with a vengeance this January. The Dow has been moving up or down by at least 100 points nearly every day this year.
CNNMoney’s Fear & Greed Index is showing signs of Extreme Fear again. And a volatility gauge known as the VIX, which is one of the components in our index, is up nearly 20% so far this year.
Meanwhile, there are lots of other signs of trouble on the horizon as well.
For example, the price of copper got absolutely hammered on Wednesday. As I write this, it has fallen more than 5 percent and it has not been this low in more than five years.
In financial circles, it is referred to as “Dr. Copper” because it is such a valuable indicator regarding where the global economy is heading next.
For example, in 2008 the price of copper was close to $4.00 before plummeting to below $1.50 by the end of that year as the global financial system fell apart.
Now the price of copper is plunging again, and many analysts are becoming extremely concerned…
One growing global worry is the steep decline in copper, which is used in many products and is often viewed as good gauge on how China is doing. The price of copper hit its lowest price since 2009 on Wednesday at $2.46. Copper is down nearly 7% this week alone.
Meanwhile, the recession (some call it a depression) in Europe continues to get even worse, and the euro continues to plunge.
On Wednesday, the euro declined to the lowest level that we have seen in nine years, and Goldman Sachs is now saying that the euro and the U.S. dollar could be at parity by the end of next year.
That is amazing considering the fact that it took $1.60 to get one euro back in July 2008.
Personally, I am fully convinced that Goldman Sachs is right on this one. I believe that the euro is going to all-time lows that we have never seen before, and this is going to create massive problems for the eurozone.
With all of these signs of trouble out there, the smart money is rapidly pulling their money out of stocks and putting it into government bonds. This usually happens when a crisis is looming. It is called a “flight to safety”, and it pushes government bond yields down.
On Wednesday, the yield on 10 year U.S. Treasuries fell beneath the important 1.8 percent barrier. We will probably see it go even lower in the months ahead.
As the rest of the world economy crumbles, the remainder of the globe is looking to America to be the rock in the storm. For example, the following quote that I found today comes from a British news source…
‘The global economy is running on a single engine… the American one,’ the World Bank’s chief economist, Kaushik Basu, said. ‘This does not make for a rosy outlook for the world.’
Well, they may not want to rely on us too much, because there are plenty of signs that our economy is slowing down too. For example, we learned today that December retail sales were down 0.9% from a year ago, and this is being called “an unmitigated disaster“. Americans were supposed to be taking the money that they were saving on gasoline and spending it, but that apparently is not happening.
Back on October 29th, I wrote an article entitled “From This Day Forward, We Will Watch How The Stock Market Performs Without The Fed’s Monetary Heroin“. In that article, I warned that the end of quantitative easing could have dire consequences for the financial system as bubbles created by the Fed began to burst.
And that is precisely what is happening. In fact, many analysts are now pinpointing the end of QE as the exact moment when our current troubles began. For instance, check out this excerpt from a CNBC article that was published on Wednesday…
“Stuff happens when QE ends,” said Peter Boockvar, chief market analyst at The Lindsey Group. “It’s no coincidence that the market started going into a higher volatility mode, it’s no coincidence that the decline in commodity prices accelerated, it’s no coincidence that the yield curve started flattening when QE ended.”
Indeed, the increase in volatility and its effect on prices across the capital market spectrum was closely tied to the Fed ending the third round of QE in October.
We are moving into a time of great danger for Wall Street and for the global economy as a whole.
If we continue to see a tremendous amount of volatility, history tells us that it is only a matter of time before the markets implode.
Hopefully you will be ready when that happens.
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.
The parallels between the false prosperity of 2007 and the false prosperity of 2014 are rather striking. If we go back and look at the numbers in the fall of 2007, we find that the Dow set an all-time high in October, margin debt on Wall Street had spiked to record levels, the unemployment rate was below 5 percent and Americans were getting ready to spend a record amount of money that Christmas season. But then the very next year the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression shook the entire planet and everyone wondered why most people never saw it coming. Well, now a similar pattern is unfolding right before our eyes. The Dow and the S&P 500 both hit record highs on Monday, margin debt on Wall Street is hovering near record levels, the unemployment rate has ticked down a little bit and Americans are getting ready to spend more than 600 billion dollars this Christmas season. The truth is that the economy seems pretty stable for the moment, and most people cannot even imagine that an economic collapse is coming. So why are so many really smart people forecasting economic disaster in the near future?
For example, just consider what the Jerome Levy Forecasting Center is saying. This is an organization with a tremendous economic forecasting record that goes all the way back to the Great Depression. In fact, it predicted ahead of time the financial trouble and the recession that would happen in 2008. Well, now this company is forecasting that there is a 65 percent chance that there will be a global recession by the end of next year…
In 1929, a businessman and economist by the name of Jerome Levy didn’t like what he saw in his analysis of corporate profits. He sold his stocks before the October crash.
Almost eight decades later, the consultancy company that bears his name declared “the next recession will be caused by the deflating housing bubble.” By February 2007, it predicted problems in the subprime-mortgage market would spread “to virtually all financial markets.” In October 2007, it saw imminent recession — the slump began two months later.
The Jerome Levy Forecasting Center, based in Mount Kisco, New York, and run by Jerome’s grandson David, is again more worried than its peers. Its half-dozen analysts attach a 65 percent probability of a worldwide recession forcing a contraction in the U.S. by the end of next year.
Could they be wrong?
It’s certainly possible.
But I wouldn’t bet against them.
John Hussman is another expert that is warning of financial disaster on the horizon. He believes that we are experiencing a massive stock market bubble right now and that stocks are approximately double the value that they should be…
If you look at corporate profits and especially corporate profit margins, they’re one of the most cyclical and mean-reverting series in economics. Right now, we have corporate profits that are close to about 11% of GDP, but if you look at that series you will find that corporate profits as a share of GDP have always dropped back to about 5.5% or below in every single economic cycle including recent decades, including not only the financial crisis but 2002 and every other economic cycle we have been in.
Right now stocks as a multiple of last year’s expected earnings may look only modestly over valued or modestly richly valued. Really if you look at the measures of valuation that are most correlated to the returns that stocks deliver over time say over seven years or over the next 10 years the S&P 500 in our estimation is about double the level of valuation that would give investors a normal rate of return.
Could you imagine the chaos that would ensue if stocks really did drop by 50 percent?
Well, Hussman says that this is precisely what must happen in order for stock prices to return to historical norms…
Right now, like I say, we are looking at stocks that have been pressed to long-term expected returns that are really dismal. But more important than that, in every market cycle that we’ve seen with the mild exception of 2002, we’ve seen stocks price revert back to normal rates of return. In order to get to that point from here, we would have to have equities drop by about half.
If that does happen, it will make the crisis of 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
Meanwhile, other very prominent thinkers are also warning that an economic nightmare is rapidly approaching.
Economic cycle theorist Martin Armstrong foresees major economic problems in 2015 which will ultimately lead to “civil unrest” in 2016…
It looks more and more like a serious political uprising will erupt by 2016 once the economy turns down. That is the magic ingredient. Turn the economy down and you get civil unrest and revolution.
And of course there are a whole lot of other economic cycle theorists that are forecasting that we are about to experience a massive economic downturn as well. For much more on this, please see this article and this article.
What is truly frightening is that we have never even come close to recovering from the last economic crisis. One poll that was taken just prior to the recent election found that only 28 percent of Americans said that their families were doing better financially. In addition, here are some more survey numbers about how Americans are feeling about the economy…
According to voter exit polls conducted by CNN, 78% said they are worried about the economy, with 69% saying that, in their view, economic conditions are not good. 65% responded that the country is on the wrong track vs. only 31% who believed that it is headed in the right direction.
Even though we are repeating so many of the same patterns that we experienced back in 2007, we are doing so with a fundamentally weaker economy. The last crisis did a tremendous amount of permanent damage to us. For an extensive look at this, please see my previous article entitled “12 Charts That Show The Permanent Damage That Has Been Done To The U.S. Economy“.
And there are lots of signs that much of the planet is already entering another major economic slowdown. In a recent article, Brandon Smith summarized some of these. He says that we are currently witnessing “the last gasp of the global economy“…
Global exports, and thus consumer demand, are plunging. Germany, the only pillar left to prop up the failing European Union, has experienced a severe decline in exports not seen since 2009.
China, the largest exporter and importer in the world, and Chinese companies, have been caught in a number of instances using fraudulent invoices to artificially inflate their own export numbers, in some cases reporting 50% more exported goods than had actually existed.
China’s manufacturing has also declined for the past five months, exposing the nature of its inflated export stats and indicating a global slowdown.
The Baltic Dry Index, a measure of global shipping rates for raw goods, and thus a measure of demand for shipping, continues to drag along near historic lows.
The U.S. consumer (the only economic asset the U.S. has besides the dollar’s world reserve status), has seen declines in spending as well as wages.
In the meantime, long term jobless Americans continue to fall off welfare rolls by the millions, making unemployment numbers look good, but the overall future picture look terrible as participation rates dissolve into the ether of government statistics.
How is such poverty being hidden? Foodstamps. Plain and simple. Nearly 50 million Americans now subsist on food stamp programs today, and this number shows no signs of dropping. In states like Illinois, two people sign up for food assistance for every citizen that happens to find a job.
From time to time, I get accused of “spreading fear” and of being obsessed with “doom and gloom”.
But that is not the case at all.
I actually want our economy to stay stable for as long as possible. Many Americans don’t realize this, but even the poorest of us live in luxury compared to much of the rest of the world. It would be wonderful if we could all live out our lives in peace and quiet and safety.
Unfortunately, it is simply not going to happen.
And it does not take an expert to see what is coming.
Anyone with half a brain should be able to see the economic disaster that is approaching.
There is hope in understanding what is happening and there is hope in getting prepared. Millions of Americans that are willingly blind to our problems are going to have their lives absolutely destroyed when they get blindsided by the coming crisis. So please use this brief period of relative stability to get prepared and to warn others.
Once this false bubble of hope runs out, all of our lives are going to dramatically change.
Is Ebola going to cause another of the massive October stock market crashes that Wall Street is famous for? At one point on Wednesday, the Dow was down a staggering 460 points. It ultimately closed down just 173 points, but this was the fifth day in a row that the Dow has declined. And of course Ebola is one of the primary things that is being blamed for this stunning stock market drop. Since September 19th, we have seen the S&P 500 fall about 7 percent and the Nasdaq fall nearly 10 percent. The VIX (the most important measure of volatility on Wall Street) shot up an astounding 22 percent on Wednesday. So many of the ominous signs for the markets that I wrote about on Tuesday are now even worse. If a handful of Ebola cases in the United States can cause this much panic in the financial world, what would a full-blown pandemic look like?
Of course Ebola is not the only reason why stocks are declining. Just look at what is happening over in Europe. The European Stoxx 600 index is already down a whopping 11.4 percent from the high that it hit just 18 days ago. That is officially considered to be “correction” territory.
And Greece experienced a full-blown stock market collapse on Wednesday…
As if the world didn’t have enough to be worried about (ISIS, Ebola, slowing China, Ukraine, slowing Germany, Fed tightening, etc.) now look what’s back: Greece. And in a big way.
The stock market is down over 9% on Wednesday, which is about as big as crashes come.
And the banks are getting absolutely smashed.
In general, markets tend to fall faster than they rise.
When there is a sudden downturn, the price action can be violent. And just like we saw back in 2008, financial stocks are leading the way. Just check out what happened to some of the biggest banks in America before the final bell sounded…
Volume leader Bank of America, down 5%, Citigroup, off 5.5%, and JP Morgan, down 4.6%, were particularly hard hit.
And thanks to Ebola fears, airline stocks plummeted as well…
Airline stocks were roiled by the prospects of curtailed travel due to the spreading Ebola virus. United Continental fell 4% and American Airlines was off 4.3%. Among tech stocks, Intel lost 3.3%. Apple fell 1.7% and Microsoft slipped 2.3%.
An increasing number of voices are concerned that we could be on the verge of a repeat of what happened back in 2008.
For example, Professor Steve Keen, the head of Economics, History & Politics at Kingston University in London, wrote the following in a piece for CNN entitled “Brace yourself for another financial crash“…
My acceleration indicator has been flagging that the stock market was due for a fall since mid-2013.
It’s a tribute to the power of the Fed’s Quantitative Easing that the market continued to defy the gravity of decelerating debt for so long. QE was really a program to inflate asset prices since, as my colleague Michael Hudson puts it, “the Fed’s helicopter money fell on Wall Street, not Main Street”.
But with QE being unwound, the stock market is now back under the control of the not so tender mercies of excessive private debt.
So welcome to the New Crisis — same as the Old Crisis. The roller coaster ride is likely to continue.
Others are even more pessimistic. For example, just check out what Daniel Ameduri of Future Money Trends recently told his readers…
“If it drops below 15,000 points I would suggest people start buying food and ammo, because this depression is about to turn nasty.”
However, keep in mind that not that much has really changed from a month or two ago.
Yes, we now have had three confirmed cases of Ebola in the United States, but this could be just the beginning.
At first, the fear of Ebola will be worse than the disease.
But if a worst-case scenario does develop in the United States where hundreds of thousands of people are getting the virus, the fear such a pandemic will create will be off the charts.
In the midst of a full-blown Ebola pandemic, we wouldn’t just be talking about a 10 percent, 20 percent or 30 percent stock market decline.
Rather, we would be talking about the greatest stock market collapse in the history of stock market collapses. In essence, there would not be much of a market at all at that point.
And if Ebola does start spreading wildly in this country, we would have a credit crunch that would make 2008 look like a Sunday picnic.
During times of extraordinary fear, financial institutions do not want to lend money to each other or to consumers. But our economy is entirely based on debt. If credit were to stop flowing, we would essentially not have an economy.
That is why we need to pray that this Ebola crisis stops here. But thanks to the incompetence of Barack Obama and the CDC, there has been a series of very grave errors in trying to contain this disease. This display of incompetence would be absolutely hilarious if we weren’t talking about a disease that could potentially kill millions of us.
Let us hope for the best, but let us also prepare for the worst. That means stocking up on the food and supplies that you will need to stay isolated for an extended period of time. As we have seen so many times in the past, basic essentials fly off of store shelves during any type of an emergency. During an extended Ebola pandemic, those essentials would be in very short supply and prices on the basics would absolutely skyrocket. Those that have taken the time to get prepared now will be way ahead of the game.
And if there were dozens or hundreds of people in your community that were contagious, you would definitely not want to go to a grocery store or anywhere else where large numbers of people circulate.
The key during any major pandemic is to keep yourself and your family isolated from the virus. This is basic common sense, but it is something that Barack Obama does not seem to understand. As I write this, he still has not done anything to restrict air travel between the United States and West Africa. Hopefully this very foolish decision will not result in scores of dead Americans.