Most people believe that low oil prices are good for the United States, since the discretionary income of consumers will rise. There is the added benefit that Peak Oil must be far off in the distance, since “Peak Oilers” talked about high oil prices. Thus, low oil prices are viewed as an all around benefit. In fact, nothing could be further from the truth...
Remember when the commodity and gas plunge was supposed to be an "unambiguously good" tailwind for discretionary US spending, something which we warned over and over would never happen as the Obamacare "mandatory tax" surge pricing for healthcare insurance more than offset and discretionary savings? Moments ago another 825 or so soon to be formerly paid workers just found out the hard way just how clueless the vast majority of the punditry was when Chesapeake energy just announced it would terminate 15% of its workforce, or about 825 of its 5,500 most recent employees, as a result of the "current oil and natural gas prices."
We have been warning for months that high-yield bonds have decoupled from equity markets, just as they did in 2007/8, and the credit cycle's turning will inevitably flow through to crush the only thing left supporting stock valuations - the irrational non-economic corporate buyback-er. However, as we detail below, time's running out and it’s getting tougher out there for our QE and ZIRP-coddled corporate junk-bond heroes.
The #1 question we get after we review correlations every month is “Why are they so high relative to long term historical norms?” Our answer is that Federal Reserve policy has been an unusually important factor in asset prices since 2009. The unusually easy monetary policy since that time (and its planning, implementation, and effect on the economy) has been a powerful unifying story in capital markets. Now, as the Federal Reserve moves to return the economy to a more “Normal” policy stance, correlations should drop. That they have not yet moved convincingly lower is a sign that equity markets may want to see the Fed actually pull the trigger.
"Lenders in general are increasing pressure on oil companies either to raise more equity or do some sort of transaction to pay down their credit lines and free up extra cash."
"There’s another redetermination cycle in the fall, And I’m not going to say likely but it’s possible we’ll be selectively downgrading some clients."
Earlier today one of Icahn's favorite energy names (you won't find him tweeting about this one much thought) Chesapeake Energy, the second-largest US natural gas producer, announced it too is now scrambling to conserve cash (in this case $240 million per year) by suspending its dividend payment.
Financial engineering is one of the worst ills perpetuated by the Fed’s regime of cheap debt and money market subsidies for speculation. And these deformations are turbo-charged by the tax code which creates a powerful bias toward loading capital structures with tax deductible debt, and to delivering returns as lightly taxed capital gains rather than ordinary income. In fact, stock buybacks and LBOs are the bastard offspring of the IRS and Federal Reserve.
Are oil prices heading for a double dip? The surge in shale production has produced a temporary glut in supplies causing oil prices to experience a massive bust. After tanking to a low of $44 per barrel in January, falling rig counts and enormous reductions in exploration budgets have fueled speculation that the market will correct sometime later this year. However, there is a possibility that the recent rise to $51 for WTI and $60 for Brent may only be temporary. In fact, several trends are conspiring to force prices down for a second time.
and other things to keep an eye on today
- Greece to submit loan request to euro zone, Germany resists (Reuters)
- Ukrainian forces start to quit besieged town (Reuters)
- Bank of Japan maintains policy, no surprises (FT)
- China Considering Mergers Among Its Big State Oil Companies (WSJ)
- Soros Shifts to Europe, Asia as Investors Cut U.S. Equities (BBG)
- Putin tells Kiev to let troops surrender as Ukraine ceasefire unravels (Reuters)
- Venezuela Squanders Its Oil Wealth (BBG)
- Swiss prosecutor raids HSBC office, opens criminal inquiry (Reuters)
Over a month ago we presented a ranking of "America's most levered energy companies." Since then they have all, without exception gotten clobbered, not only in their publicly traded stock but also their debt. Today, long after the liquidation whirlwind has left junk bond owners dazed and confused, Goldman catches up, and lays out a matrix of shale companies sorted not only by leveraged (they see 2.5x as the cutoff; we used 4.0x) but also by shale asset quality. From there, it also lays out the various opportunities, if any, available to the management teams in the resultant 4 quadrants. Readers will be most interested in the "restructuring/bankruptcy" option, most applicable for Group 4, because these are the names which, all else equal, will file for bankruptcy first.
With crude oil prices in a strong corrective mode, energy depletion is understandably not on people’s minds these days. However, this is a scenario that many of us might have to deal with at some point in our lifetimes. We might be swimming in oil for now, but this should be no reason to become complacent. Our children and grandchildren will thank us for it.
- Ferguson in Flames (Reuters)
- Ferguson Cop Told Grand Jury He Feared for His Life (BBG)
- Sharpton: Grand Jury Announcement ‘An Absolute Blow’ (Daily Caller)
- Gunshots echo as violence returns to Ferguson, protests across U.S. (Reuters)
- BoJ members warned on costs of more easing (FT)
- Hagel Exit Shows Obama Has Taken Power Away From Pentagon (BBG)
- Ukraine leader, under pressure from West, pledges new government soon (Reuters)
- Eurozone Stagnation Poses Major Risk to Global Growth, OECD Warns (WSJ)
- ECB’s Coeure Says Officials Won’t Rush as They Debate All Assets (BBG)
Seven of the 30 largest U.S. corporations paid more money to their chief executive officers last year than they paid in U.S. federal income taxes, according to a new study by Center for Effective Government and Institute for Policy Studies. As Reuters reports, the study said the seven companies, which in 2013 reported more than $74 billion in combined U.S. pre-tax profits, came out ahead on their taxes, gaining $1.9 billion more than they owed... and at the same time their CEOs were paid - on average - over $17 million each. While some of the firms dispute the findings, the study concludes its findings reflected "deep flaws in our corporate tax system."
"The audience in the ballroom of the Hotel Derek included engineers for shale drillers such as Marathon, Continental and Rice. Pamela Allen, a senior reserves coordinator for Marathon, raised her hand and told Lee that she was worried that using outsized forecasts in public presentations would run afoul of the SEC and “come back to haunt us.” Singhania, the Marathon spokeswoman, said she was unable to comment on Allen’s remarks without seeing a transcript. “If a lot of people get burned -- and I think a lot of people can and will be burned -- by these numbers in the investor presentations, there may be a push by investors to get the SEC to do something about it,” Lee said during the workshop."