Moments ago, the 2016 edition of the Sohn Investment Conference started, a feeding frenzy for traders and hedge fund managers such as Gundlach, Einhorn and Chanos who descend on this popular annual "round table" to pitch their best and worst ideas. As always, the moment a company's name is mentioned in a bullish or bearish context, its stock is sure to surge or slump, as the headline-hungry algos immediate pounce in the current reactionary market environment. But is following the advice of these hedge fund gurus such a good idea?
In one of the least surprising highlights from the ongoing earnings season, yesterday we reported that as oil continues to rise, US shale companies are starting to resume mothballed production. And now, according to the latest Reuters production survey, in the aftermath of the failed Doha oil freeze agreement, OPEC will be the next to boost production in the coming month, expanding supplies from an already oversupplied 32.46MMb/d to 32.64MMb/d. Finally, Reuters just blasted that Saudi Arabia is boosting its exports to near-record high levels.
With oil surging above the critical $40 new "floor" price, as Reuters put it moments ago, "a dreaded scenario for U.S. oil bulls might just be becoming a reality." The reason: some U.S. shale oil producers, including Oasis Petroleum and Pioneer Natural Resources Co, are activating drilled but uncompleted wells (DUCs), which is sure to bring back more crude to a saturated market and dampen any sustained rebound in prices.
Whiting, the largest oil producer in North Dakota's Bakken shale formation, had $2.7 billion left on a loan revolver at the end of 2015. Its CEO Volcker said on Thursday he expects Whiting will have "at least $1.5 billion" left on the loan after the redetermination, implying a cut of $1.2 billion. What is most troubling is that as recently as late February, or just a few weeks ago, the company said it expected a cut of no more than 30%, which would have been roughly $800 million.
As Nate Hagens noted, "people think that the economy runs on money but it runs on energy," and as Art Berman details in the following interview how the current oil price collapse represents devaluation from over-investment in unconventional oil - and most commodities - because of cheap capital, and is simply a classic bubble. "Continued oil prices of $30 per barrel or less are the only reasonable path to higher growth and a balanced oil market," Berman contends, adding that he expects $16.50/bbl - "I think we're gonna get there." Berman concludes ominously, we're not going 'back' to anything - "Normal is over, and there is no new normal yet."
For leading U.S. shale oil producers, $40 is the new $70. Less than a year ago major shale firms were saying they needed oil above $60 a barrel to produce more; now some say they will settle for far less in deciding whether to crank up output after the worst oil price crash in a generation.
Yesterday Saudi oil minister Ali al-Naimi made it explicitly clear that Saudi Arabia would not cut production, instead saying that it is high-cost producers that would need to either "lower costs, borrow cash or liquidate” adding that there is "no need for cuts as marginal barrel will get out of the market." He was right. Today his wish is slowly coming true after news that North Dakota's largest producer, Whiting Petroleum, would suspend all fracking, and that Continental Resources has effectively done the same after reporting that it no longer has any fracking crews working in the Bakken shale.
The just concluded 13-F bonanza shows that "some of the world’s top hedge fund managers scaled back their U.S. stock investments last quarter as markets tumbled." Below, courtesy of Bloomberg, is the full summary of what the most prominent hedge fund names did in Q3...
Oil companies have sold $61.5 billion in stocks and bonds since January as oil prices have tumbled. However, the fees geneated are a tiny fraction of the bank's real exposure to the energy sector, at over $150 billion. So have the banks learned their lesson? "The bankers have gone through this before,” says Oscar Gruss’s Meyer. “They know how it works out in the end, and it’s not pretty." Then again, perhaps banks are just sailing on an ocean of liquidity allowing them to postpone the day of Mark to Market reckoning, especially since this time, everyone is in it together....
Overly myopic investors/creditors will continue to be confident in various drillers, based on the numbers of initial production (IP) data extrapolations and balance sheets, but will in the near future spend sleepless nights wondering why such good IPs and strong balance sheets produces poor or no profits and/or why they do not fully receive the money lent. Their worries will gradually morph from being focused on return on investment to return of investment. The mysteries created by Nature’s lack of cooperation with the balance sheets will surpass any other existential questions.
Yesterday it was US and Italian energy giants Chevron and Saipem which announced a total of over 10,000 new job cuts in the aftermath of oil sliding back under $50 and resuming its downward trend. Today, we got more confirmation of this when Royal Dutch Shell, still basking in the glow of its proposed $70 billion mega-acquisition of BG Group, announced it would axe 6,500 jobs this year and step up spending cuts, responding to an extended period of lower oil prices which contributed to a 37 percent drop in the oil and gas group's second-quarter profits.
If one excludes the gargantuan April merger between Shell and the BG Group, Q2 M&A activity was the slowest in since 2008! If the price of oil continues to decline, one can be certain that Q3 M&A activity will be a dead zone. And since with the exception of just one mega-deal, the merger and acquisition landscape has hit a brick wall, one needs no explanation to understand just how "market participants view future opportunities."