Gasoline consumption in the United States has been dropping for years. In the last decade, vehicle fuel efficiency has improved by 20%, and the combination of that shift and a weak economy of late has pushed gasoline demand to its lowest level in a decade. At the same time, US oil production is at its highest level in a decade. Deepwater wells in the Gulf of Mexico and horizontal fracs in the Bakken shale have turned America's domestic oil production scene around. After 20 years of declining production, US crude output rates started to climb in 2008 and have increased every year since. With production up and demand down, the basics of supply and demand indicate that oil prices should be falling. Americans should be paying less at the pump. Instead, the average US price at the pump reached US$3.80 per gallon on March 5, after 27 consecutive days of gains. That's 26.7¢ above the old record for March 5, set last year. The price of gasoline has climbed 32¢ or 9.3% since February 1; analysts expect prices to continue rising, reaching a national average of something like US$4.25 per gallon. What gives? Is it all about Iran? Are speculators manipulating the market? Do any politicians have good ideas on how to "fix" the high cost of gasoline? And is there relief on the horizon?
The latest in a series of reports evaluating the future of the energy markets, especially in the context of the increasingly inevitable Iranian conflict, may just be the best and most comprehensive one (not just because it looks at the commodity from an "Austrian" angle). In 82 pages, Austrian Erste Group has extracted the key aspects and variables for the world oil market and come up with a simple conclusion: "nothing to spare." To wit: "We see the risks for the oil price heavily skewed to the upside. At the moment, the market is well supplied, but the smouldering crisis in the Persian Gulf could easily push oil prices to new all-time-highs should it escalate. We believe that new all-time-highs can be reached in H1, at which point we could see demand destruction setting in. We forecast an average oil price (Brent) of USD 123 per barrel between now and March 2013...The latently smouldering Iran crisis seems to be close to escalation. The most recent manoeuvres, ostentatious threats, sanctions, embargoes and the shadow war currently ongoing, have heated up the situation further. It seems we may soon see the last straw that breaks the camel's back. Even though Iran could probably only maintain a blockade of the Straits of Hormuz only for a very limited period of time, the consequences would still be dramatic. The oil price would definitely set new all-time-highs and could reach levels of up to USD 200." Enjoy those price dips while you can.
Dallas Fed's Fisher "Perplexed" By Wall Street "Fetish" With QE3 And Disgusted With The Addiction To "Monetary Morphine"Submitted by Tyler Durden on 03/05/2012 14:36 -0400
And now for some pure irony, we have a member of the Fed, granted a gold bug, but a Fed member nonetheless, one of the same people who not only enacted ZIRP, but encourage easy money every time there is a downtick in the market, complaining about, get this, Wall Street's "continued preoccupation, bordering upon fetish" with QE3. The irony continues: "Trillions of dollars are lying fallow, not being employed in the real economy. Yet financial market operators keep looking and hoping for more. Why? I think it may be because they have become hooked on the monetary morphine we provided when we performed massive reconstructive surgery, rescuing the economy from the Financial Panic of 2008–09, and then kept the medication in the financial bloodstream to ensure recovery....I believe adding to the accommodative doses we have applied rather than beginning to wean the patient might be the equivalent of medical malpractice." So let's get this straight: these academic titans, who for one reason or another, are given free rein to determine the fate of the once free world with their secret decisions every two or three months, are completely unaware of classical conditioning, discovered by Pavlov nearly 90 years ago, also known as a salivation response. The same Fed is shocked, shocked, that every time the market dips, the red light goes off, and the "balls to the wall" crowd scream for more, more, more free money. Really Fisher? Really? Oh, and let us guess what happens the next time the S&P slides into the tripple digits: will the Fed a) do nothing, thereby letting the market slide to its fair value in the 400 point range, or b) print. Our money, in the form of hard yellow metal, is on the latter, just like we predicted, correctly, back in March 2009 in " Bailoutspotting (Or The Search For The Great Financial Methadone Clinic" that nothing will ever change vis-a-vis the great market junkie until it all comes crashing down.
- China cuts 2012 growth target to 7.5 percent, stability key (Reuters)
- Freom the Fed scribe himsef - Fed Takes a Break to Weigh Outlook (WSJ)
- Greek bond swap deal rests on knife-edge (FT)
- Lenders Stress Over Test Results (WSJ)
- China to Curb Auto Production Capacity, Promote New-Energy Car Development (Bloomberg)
- China military spending to top $100 billion in 2012, alarming neighbours (WaPo)
- Warning: A New Who's Who of Awful Times to Invest (Hussman)
- EU to push quota for women directors (FT)
- Romney Advances As Obama Gains (WSJ)
- Saudi Aramco Raises Oil Premium for April Sales to Asia, U.S.; Cuts Europe (Bloomberg)
Natural gas prices are depressed and expected to remain so for the short to medium term, so investing in natural gas options or a natural gas exchange-traded fund is not likely to bring home the big bucks anytime soon. Domestic natural gas equities are an even riskier idea - most producers are scaling back production and selling assets as they hunker down in preparation for a tough few years. In this case, the way to profit is by understanding how natural gas' changing role is impacting North America's energy machine as a whole. Cheap natural gas is prompting utilities to switch from coal to gas where possible. The confluence of cheap natural gas and a risky global economy has droves of investors turning their backs on green energy, the sector that was such a market darling only a few years ago. Farther down the road, North Americans are debating - and in places implementing - a range of strategies to take advantage of the continent's newfound abundance of natural gas, from natural-gas-powered transport trucks to exportation of liquefied natural gas (LNG). Isaac Newton showed us that for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. That is why every downside force in the energy sector creates upside opportunities elsewhere. The challenge is finding them. It takes an understanding of the entire global energy machine to figure out what areas are benefitting from the changing landscape.
All this money sloshing around is nothing but kindling. This is enough to start one hell of a large inflationary fire, but probably not until we have a deflationary panic first – which will add even more kindling to the pile. The progression from the $1.5 billion Chrysler rescue to the current multi-trillion dollar worldwide financial support operations seems to parallel the march from the first US forestry service attempts to limit forest fires about a century ago to the far more sophisticated efforts possible today... Studies have shown that the onset of that catastrophe is almost totally unpredictable. By suppressing small fires, the forests approach an unstable state where the dead wood, resulting from the natural cycle of birth and death in the wild, is piled high, ready to explode into flames if the conditions are right. The central banks and other governmental authorities have piled the money so high that bubbles are popping up everywhere. With so many bubbles and so much kindling, volatility in price is a sure thing. As research has shown that the timing of these dramatic breakdowns, whether a forest fire, an earthquake, or a market crash cannot predicted, or mitigated as it runs its course, the time to control these crises is way before they start. The US Forestry Service knows that, please tell Bernanke!
On this leap day, we have a busy schedule which includes the second Q4 GDP revision, Chicago PMI (expect another massive beat courtesy of consumers confident that they can have Apple apps, if not so much food, since they still don't pay their mortgages), various Fed speakers, of which most important will be Ben Bernanke who takes the podium in Congress at 10 am for his semi-annual monetary policy report.
Chatham House: Gold Standard Impractical But Gold Hedge Against Declining Values of Key Fiat CurrenciesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/28/2012 08:35 -0400
While the gold standard may no longer exist, nations and international organizations still have 30,877 metric tons of bullion reserves, valued at about $1.77 trillion. The dollar has been the world’s reserve currency since the U.S. and allies agreed at the 1944 Bretton Woods conference to peg it to a rate of $35 per ounce of gold. It remained the most- traded legal tender after global currencies began freely floating in the early 1970s. The greenback dropped 12 percent against a basket of six major currencies since March 2009. The U.K. suspended the gold standard in 1931, Chatham House said. “Greater discipline on financial markets might have been helpful in inhibiting the reckless banking and excessive debt accumulation of the past decade,” the task force said. “However, with the onset of the global crisis, had gold had a more formal role to play, the rigidity it imposes might also have been a handicap when a more flexible policy response was required.” “For gold to play a more formal role in the international monetary system, it would be imperative for it neither to hamper the system’s performance nor to create unacceptable constraints on national economic policies,” the task force said. Gold may “continue playing a significant role in the international monetary system, serving as a valuable hedge and safe haven, particularly in times when tail risks predominate.”
A big reason for the dour mood overcast on the market this morning is the failure of G-20 to resolve latent funding issues, with the IMF demanding more money from Germany for a global firewall, and Germany demanding more money from everyone else. A way to summarize events is that in lieu of any credible collateral left (the bulk of it has and will be pledged with the ECB in its discount window, aka LTRO operations, to keep Italian bonds bid and thus perpetuate the fallacy that things are under control), the world is now running out of ideas how to even kick the can down the road. Which is not a good sign as much kicking remains with tens of trillions in debt rollover coming up in the next few years. Below is Art Cashin's summary of this weekend's disappointing G-20 weekend retreat in Cabo san Lucas, which enjoyed the scenery but did nothing to easy the confusion over who pays for what in the next few weeks.
The IMF data on central bank demand in January showed that Sweden raised its gold reserves by 18.3 metric tons to 144 tons in January. The data on the International Monetary Fund’s website was gold bullish showing continued demand for gold by central banks internationally. Belarus added 5 tons to reserves, Kazakhstan raised reserves by 7.6 tons and Turkey increased gold reserves by 4.1 tons. They were two quite odd minor reductions in gold reserves. Mexico reduced bullion reserves by 0.1 ton and Tajikistan cut them by 0.3 ton, according to the IMF. However soon after the increase in Sweden’s gold reserves was reported by Bloomberg, Sweden’s central bank gold reserves contradicted the IMF data and denied that they had increased their reserves. Joanna Gerwin, acting head of communication for the Riksbank, told Bloomberg that Swedish gold reserves were unchanged at 125.7 metric tons in January. Officials at the IMF’s office in Paris said nobody in Europe was able to comment. Alistair Thomson, a spokesman for the IMF in Washington, didn’t immediately reply to a voicemail and e-mail from Bloomberg outside normal business hours. Interestingly, the Riksbank sold 36.6 tons under the Central Bank Gold Agreement (CBGA) from 2007-2009. An increase in reserves of 18.3 tonnes is exactly half of the amount sold and would mean that the Riksbank had bought back half of the gold sold from 2007 to 2009.
That the German vote to pass the second Greek bailout package would be problematic is an understatement. Even as German parliamentarians are expected to pass the latest (but certainly not last as the G-20 meeting over the weekend demonstrated) hurdle to fund the Greek rescue, new revelations out of Greece have come to light exposing the true degree of capital flight out of the country, spearheaded by none other than the country's own corrupt politicians. Kathimerini reports: "As a political outcry grew on Friday over the revelation that an MP had transferred 1 million euros out of the country in May when authorities were struggling to appease Greek citizens’ fears of the repercussions of a possible default on their savings, Finance Minister Evangelos Venizelos told Parliament that a significant number of lawmakers had moved sums in excess of 100,000 euros out of the country. Earlier, addressing a cabinet meeting, Venizelos had told fellow ministers that there are several public figures among the Greeks who transferred a total of 16 billion euros abroad over the last two years. According to research conducted by the Finance Ministry’s information systems department, 9 percent of this money ended up in Swiss bank accounts." As such, it is obvious why German popular tabloid Bild has called for German lawmakers to reject the Greek bailout: at this point the farce is arguably too much for everyone, and the situation is playing out just as predicted here back in July. Merkel is due to address the Bundestag at 3 pm local time, or in just over an hour. Those curious about the blow by blow, can follow the developments out of Germany at the following live blog by Bild.
Overnight sentiment is significantly negative, with stocks, bond yields, risk currencies lower after G-20 over the weekend refused to increase IMF funding. The result is an end to the buoyant market sentiment of recent days which has seen the Dax down 1.2%, bund, UST yields lower, and US futures lower. As many had expected, the G-20 has rebuffed EU leaders' request for more assistance, which in turn has placed the onus on Germany to find a way to resolve its internal conflict vis-a-vis a Greek bailout, ironically as many believe that it is Germany who more than anyone wants Greece out. This happens as the Bundestag votes today on second aid package today; Merkel’s government must decide whether to back plans at this week’s summit to combine EFSF and ESM. In other news, tomorrow the ECB will call for bids for the second 3 Year LTRO tomorrow, with results announced on February 29. And with the ECB's deposit facility at €477 billion, it is rather clear that the banks will park the bulk of new proceeds with the ECB once again, where it will continue to be a negative carry trade, earning 0.25% at a cost of 1.00%. And somehow this is favorable for the European sovereign bond market, which continues to ignore the various layers of subordination it is now working under. We expect the market revulsion to this flaw to be violent when it comes, and will result in a rapid and sudden divergence between the various subordinated tranches of sovereign bonds.
Guest Post: Scale Invariant Behaviour In Avalanches, Forest Fires, And Default Cascades: Lessons For Public PolicySubmitted by Tyler Durden on 02/21/2012 13:14 -0400
We have lived through a long period of financial management, in which failing financial institutions have been propped up by emergency intervention (applied somewhat selectively). Defaults have not been permitted. The result has been a tremendous build-up of paper ripe for burning. Had the fires of default been allowed to burn freely in the past we may well have healthier financial institutions. Instead we find our banks loaded up with all kinds of flammable paper products; their basements stuffed with barrels of black powder. Trails of black powder run from bank to bank, and it's raining matches.