We live in a new world, and the Saudis are either the only or the first ones to understand that. Because they are so early to notice, and adapt, I would expect them to come out relatively well. But I would fear for many of the others. And that includes a real fear of pretty extreme reactions, and violence, in quite a few oil-producing nations that have kept a lid on their potential domestic unrest to date. It would also include a lot of ugliness in the US shale patch, with a great loss of jobs (something it will have in common with North Sea oil, among others), but perhaps even more with profound mayhem for many investors in US energy. And then we’re right back to your pension plans.
The oil price drop that has dominated the headlines in recent weeks has been framed almost exclusively in terms of oil market economics, with most media outlets blaming Saudi Arabia, through its OPEC Trojan horse, for driving down the price, thus causing serious damage to the world's major oil exporters – most notably Russia. While the market explanation is partially true, it is simplistic, and fails to address key geopolitical pressure points in the Middle East.
The ability of oil exporters to trigger a short-term collapse in price does not automatically translate into an ability to control the financial conflagration such a crash ignites.
Fighters from Islamic State (ISIS) claim to have shot down a US-led coalition warplane in northern Syria and taken the Jordanian pilot captive, according to The Times. The Jordanian army confirmed that one of its planes had crashed and the pilot had been captured, and said: “Jordan holds the group and its supporters responsible for the safety of the pilot and his life”. As The NY Times reports, the strike and capture signals the harshest blow yet to the coalition and could affect the resolve of the Arab nations that have joined the United States in its air campaign.
A form of society could undoubtedly exist powered by nuclear, wind and shale gas. But it would be a society supported by the state with far larger numbers working in the energy industries than now, producing lower surpluses, the energy production part perhaps running at a perennial loss. Those losses have to be covered by either higher price or via the taxation system. Either way, the brave new world that awaits us will be characterized as the time of less that will be in stark contrast to the time of plenty many of us enjoyed during the 20th Century.
For all those who think the upcoming carnage to the shale industry will be "contained" we refer to the following research report from the Manhattan Institute for Policy Research. For the impatient ones, here is the punchline: "The $300–$400 billion overall annual economic gain from the oil & gas boom has been greater than the average annual GDP growth of $200–$300 billion in recent years—in other words, the economy would have continued in recession if it were not for the unplanned expansion of the oil & gas sector."
As the year winds down, a Gordian knot tying Russia, oil prices and China together is receiving a great deal of attention. Let's see if we can unravel some of the confusing twists and turns.
We turn first to China's offer of assistance to Russia. The idea that Russia could activate its CNY150 bln (~$24 bln) currency swap line with China is capturing the imagination of many.
"People should not be worried," explained Kazakhstan President Nursultan Nazarbayev in a TV address over the weekend, "we have a plan in place if oil prices are $40 per barrel." Kazakhstan, the second largest ex-Soviet oil producer after Russia, explains "there are reserves which could support people, preventing living conditions from worsening." However, if A. Gary Schilling's reality check of $20 oil being possible comes to fruition, as he explains, what matters are marginal costs - the expense of retrieving oil once the holes have been drilled and pipelines laid. That number is more like $10 to $20 a barrel in the Persian Gulf... We wonder who has a plan for that?
WWII is still reshaping our economic reality. The subsequent baby booms in the US and globally in Japan, Europe, and so many more locations which were affected by the war created a “pig in the python” moment. This unusually large wave of population growth from ’45-’55 was “pent up demand” from the war. But society and its leaders assumed this baby boom anomaly to be the new reality. The “pig is passing” from the American and global workforce into retirement and now the wreckage and folly of such basic misnomers has come home to roost…and will get far worse.
- Police officers' slaying raises pressure on New York mayor (Reuters)
- People Call for Cooling of Racial Tensions After Murder of NYPD Officers (BBG)
- The $6.3 Trillion Frenzy That Vanquished Treasury Bears (BBG)
- China Investigates Possible Stock-Price Manipulation (WSJ)
- Citigroup Was Wary of Metals-Backed Loans (WSJ)
- UPS Turns Parking Lots Into Sorting Centers to Add Speed (BBG)
- U.S. Move to Normalize Cuba Ties Boosts Firms’ Asset Claims (WSJ)
- Meredith Whitney’s Fund Said to Drop 11% as Office Put on Market (BBG)
- Railcar Bottleneck Looms for Oil (WSJ)
"The oil-price weapon, in the face of the terminal enfeeblement of the Obama administration, is the last recourse before the Saudis and Turks, whatever their autocues of racist rhetoric, invite Israel to smash the Iranian nuclear program from the air."
Drilling Our Way Into Oblivion: Shale Was About Land Gambling With Cheap Debt, Not Technological MiraclesSubmitted by Tyler Durden on 12/21/2014 15:00 -0500
The shale patch can exist in its present form only if it has access to nigh limitless credit, and only if prices are in the $100 or up range. Wells in the patch deplete faster than you can say POOF, and drilling new wells costs $10 million or more a piece. Without access to credit, that’s simply not going to happen. That’s about all we need to know. Shale was never a viable industry, it was all about gambling on land prices from the start. And now that wager is over, even if the players don’t get it yet. So strictly speaking my title is a tad off: we’re not drilling our way into oblivion, the drilling is about to grind to a halt. But it will still end in oblivion.
As even Reuters observes this morning when discussing the ongoing crude rout, "the market slide has triggered conspiracy theories, ranging from the Saudis seeking to curb the U.S. oil boom, to Riyadh looking to undermine Iran and Russia for their support of Syria." It appears said theories will continue raging for a long time, because as Saudi Arabia's oil minister who has been extensively in the news in the past couple (that means "two" as per Janet Yellen) of month explained, the biggest OPEC oil producer said on Sunday it would not cut output to prop up oil markets even if non-OPEC nations did so, in one of the toughest signals yet that the world's top petroleum exporter plans to ride out the market's biggest slump in years, and that the price of crude is not going up any time soon.
One would think that plunging oil prices and the resulting mothballing (or bankruptcy) of the highest-cost domestic producers would lead to a collapse in US oil production. And sure enough, if looking simply at headline data like the Baker Hughes count of active rigs in the US, then US oil production grinding to a halt would be all but assured. However, what will actually happen, even as the highest-cost producers and those with the weakest balance sheets are taken to their local bankruptcy court, is that as Bloomberg reports, the US is - paradoxically - set to pump a 42-year high amount of oil in 2015 "as drillers ignore the recent decline in price, pointing them in the opposite direction."
"It’s hard to say what the right price is for a commodity like oil . . . and thus when the price is too high or too low. Was it too high at $100-plus, an unsustainable blip? History says no: it was there for 43 consecutive months through this past August. And if it wasn’t too high then, isn’t it laughably low today? The answer is that you just can’t say. Ditto for whether the response of the price of oil to the changes in fundamentals has been appropriate, excessive or insufficient. And if you can’t be confident about what the right price is, then you can’t be definite about financial decisions regarding oil." - Howard Marks