International Energy Agency
Just a few short days ago we were the first to bring attention to the potential of an Iran nuclear deal being a catalyst for the next big leg lower in the energy complex and sure enough, not only is the market startuing to leg lower in a hurry as the deadline looms, but the mainstream media is catching on too. WTI hit fresh cycle lows this morning at $42.63 with the contango continuing to surge.
There are signs that crude oil production in the US remains strong, despite the strong correction in prices recently. The American Association of Railroads (“AAR”) publishes rail traffic data for a variety of commodities in the US and Canada. The subset for petroleum and petroleum products can provide a sense of crude oil volumes being railed across North America (although it also includes refined products like gasoline, distillates, jet fuel and so on). Here’s the latest monthly data for the US.
Having recently explained why the stock market is extremely overvalued (in his own words by Fed-driven multiple expansion alone), Alan Greenspan - seemingly brimming over with the need to remedy his years of lies/mistruths with some uncomfortable truthiness - is now taking on the US Dollar ("it is not from a strong US economy but a weak rest of the world") and oil prices (America has a massive surplus of oil and there may soon be nowhere to store all of it, "we'll be lucky if we can get $40 for it.")
While none of the catalysts are new (IEA warning temporary stabilization amid rising oil glut and increased US production), it appears the February bounce is done as our discussions of storage limitations gains traction among the ETF-driven knife-catchers. April WTI Crude futures have collapsed in the last few days from over $52 to a $45 handle now - the lowest since January and only marginally above cycle lows... As oil cratered so EURUSD slipped and S&P futures fell.
No matter how much oil the United States produces over the next few years, it will never become the next Saudi Arabia in the global oil market, according to Fatih Birol, the new executive director of the International Energy Agency (IEA). What's especially interesting about this forecast is that it directly contradicts what Birol said only three months ago, and he gave no explanation for his change of mind. “The United States will never be a major oil exporter. Their import needs are getting less but the US is not becoming Saudi Arabia,” Birol told the conference. “Their production growth is good to diversify the market but it will not solve the world’s oil problems.”
The front page of The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday, February 10 proclaimed “Oil-Price Rebound Predicted” according to the IEA (International Energy Agency).
"This is further evidence that they are hellbent on protecting their market share in China," warns one strategist as just when US talking-heads thought things were 'stabilizing' Saudi Aramco slashes its official selling price for Arab Light crude by 90 cents to $2.30 a barrel less than Middle East benchmarks - the biggest discount in 14 years. As Bloomberg reports, the desert kingdom is continuing to fight for market share, and using the oil weapon by "trying to stay competitive in what is the biggest area of growth," as Middle Eastern producers are increasingly competing with cargoes from Latin America, Africa and Russia for buyers in Asia.
The Ukrainian government has repeatedly claimed it is doing its best to improve the oil and gas investment climate, but official statements are the opposite of the reality, as Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk is leading the great deception.
One day after the SNB stunner roiled markets, overnight global markets have seen - as expected - substanial downward pressure, with the Swiss market slide resuming post open, while European stocks have seen some pressure despite what is now an assured ECB QE announcement next week. However, the one trade that can not be mistaken is the global rush into the safety of government paper, with every single treasury yielding less today than yesterday (the Swiss 10Y was trading below 0% at last check), except for Greek 10Y which are wider on deposit run fears. That said, with capital market liquidity absolutely non-existent even the smallest trade has a disproportionate effect on futures, and expect to see much more rangebound trading until the damage report from the SNB action is fully digested, something which will take place over the weekend.
If technology requires a complex society to build and maintain it, and our dreams and hopes are pinned on even more complex and useful technology in the future, but net energy from new oil plays is shrinking, then it might not be wise to pin all our hopes on technology. Perhaps there should be some other plans in the works too.
We are once more in the hands of Occam’s Razor, namely that oil prices are falling hard because demand is falling hard. The scale gives us insight into the nature of the slowing of the global economy, to which the US is a full part, meaning that comparisons only with past and serious downslopes is not a welcome development; nor should it be “unexpected.” Mainstream commentary seeks to reject this simple and basic argument because it cannot fathom, predicated on its penchant for nothing but parroting economic “authority”, that the world could fall so deeply into recession once more drowning not just in oil but also “stimulus.” Once you get past the idea that “stimulus” isn’t, logical sense is restored.
As the following snapshot from January 2009 shows, the 12 month, $25 contango back then was without precedent, and as a result there was an epic scramble by hedge funds, banks and various other speculators to store about 100 million barrels on tankers with the intention to sell later. Since the contango was so wide one could easily lease any number of VLCCs and still be profitable on the trade. In fact, a big reason for the renormalization of the crude curve back then was because so many funds jumped on this arb. Fast forward to today, because the "risk-free" contango trade is back.
Despite the widely held belief that 2015 will be the year in which a patient Fed finally begins to normalize rate policy, we believe the Fed has no possibility of withdrawing the stimulus to which it has addicted us. QE4 was always much more probable than anyone in government or on Wall Street cares to admit. A recession and a financial panic caused by sub $60 oil will significantly quicken the timetable by which the Fed cranks up the presses. When it does, oil could once again increase in price, along with all the other things we need on a daily basis. That should finally dispel any remaining illusions that the Fed could successfully land the metaphorical plane. More QE may minimize the damage in the short-term, but we believe it will keep us trapped in our current cocoon of endless stimulus, where we will slowly suffocate to death.
Deflation and the attendant risks caused by a sudden revelation about hidden debts will remain the chief concern for investors and policy makers in 2015
In space, no one can hear you scream... unless you happen to be Venezuela's (soon to be former) leader Nicolas Maduro, who has been doing a lot of screaming this morning following news that UAE's Energy Minister Suhail Al-Mazrouei said OPEC will stand by its decision not to cut crude output "even if oil prices fall as low as $40 a barrel" and will wait at least three months before considering an emergency meeting.