Category Archives: International

Inflation

There is much noise that the Fed will raise interest rates to combat “inflation.”

Over the last year to the end of February, wages are up 2.8% (nominal). The price of oil, as a metric for energy prices, is up 32%.

Guess what is driving “inflation.”

The Saudis are still pumping as hard as they can, but justifying it on the grounds that they are storing the above-quota output, not selling it internationally. It seems to me that a tank in Saudi and a tank in Oklahoma are pretty much fungible, except that we at least think we know how much is in the Oklahoma tanks.

The bottom line is that global inventories of oil are continuing to expand to new records, more or less on a daily basis. The EIA is forecasting that US shale is set to expand production by 109k barrels from March to April, rising from 4.853mmbpd to 4.962mmbpd, and offsetting OPEC’s entire February production cut.

At some point we are going to see a reaction and that will be the end of “inflation.” For a while, anyway.

Crude Dreams

It seems like the price of crude oil is finally taking notice of the new records in inventories being set every week.

OPEC is ruminating about further cuts. The problem, for OPEC anyway, is that keeping the price high has fed a resurgence in US production as the rig count keeps driving higher and higher. A resurgence that will not easily be countered as the high prices have allowed producers to sell forward the oil that they have yet to produce either into the public futures market, or by private contract. Either way, they can drill with confidence in the pricing.

As a result, the global re-balancing of the oil markets that OPEC hoped to achieve remains a fantasy. GLWT.

As a side note, speculators’ most recently reported positions in WTI crude oil futures total about 525 million bbl., or nearly $27 billion at the current price of $51.

Pension Tsunami Sighted

NY Teamsters Pension Fund becomes first to run out of money.

Oh, and after the close the API announced that crude and product inventories continue to set new records. Not to worry, speculative buying continues. GLWT.

 

Socialism Is Good For You

If you need to lose weight, that is. Due to lack of food supply, Venezuelans have lost an average of 19lbs. over the last year. This despite having the largest proven oil reserves in the world.

Greece Again

Greece is back in the news. As a pretty much unbiased observer, a few points:

  • The IMF is right. Greece cannot pay its debts. Debt repayments come from surplus, profits in a sense. They’re not there, and they’re not coming.
  • Greece is a zombie. It needs a fresh start desperately, for humanitarian reasons if nothing else.
  • Apparently, there is no provision in the rules for a Eurozone member to go bankrupt. Therefore, the Eurozone rules need to be changed. It is foolish to believe that bad things don’t happen.
  • Germany has profited hugely from the Eurozone – on paper – but a lot of those profits are yet to be collected because they are in the form of unpaid debts.
  • Germany is, understandably, reluctant to write off any of those debts for fear that the whole racket will come apart, so it insists on the “nuclear option” of Grexit. As the French would say “Pour encourager les autres.”
  • Draghi is unwilling to take a leadership role in resolving the situation, because he knows that if Greece is given a less painful solution, then Italy is next in line. And Germany will be on the short end of the stick.
  • It is likely that nothing good will happen until Merkel and Schäuble are gone. The good news is that, because of the immigrant crisis, their departure from the scene is no longer unthinkable.

Inflation

The Fed sounded dovish on the inflation front today. As I have mentioned, there are only two prices worth worrying about. One is labor, up about 2.5% for 2016, and the other is energy. Oil is up from the $30s to the low $50s in the last year.

The real mystery is how oil prices are being kept up despite rapid growth in inventories of both crude oil and refined products, as well as domestic production. I have a sneaking suspicion that OPEC producers, at least, are selling product and partially offsetting their sales with purchases in the futures market, which is used to set contract prices, probably through proxies. We do know that speculative long positions in crude oil are at record levels (also in some other commodities, such as copper), and keep setting new records with each COT report. Someone has deep pockets.

Oil is the price to watch. As oil goes, so goes inflation – and the market, I suspect.

Unbalanced

So let’s see. Janet Yellen, at least as of yesterday, sees three or more interest rate increases in 2017 and wants the dollar higher. The Trump team, reportedly, will seek large cuts to government spending.

So… tighter monetary policy + tighter fiscal policy + unfavorable export pricing = market euphoria? Sorry, that equation doesn’t make sense.

And It’s Gone

Jack Ma points out that the US has wasted $14 trillion on wars.

Since the Vietnam war, more than 45 years ago, the US has embarked on a neocon strategy of war in an effort to build a global empire. The result of that strategy has left American infrastructure second rate, its school system in shambles, and its healthcare system a complete and utter joke.

Just imagine what America could’ve done with $14t of investable dollars, instead of waging wars.

Aside from the wars, America spends more than 50% of its discretionary budget on the military, per annum, 16% of its overall budget.

And the neocons are trying to stir up another one, with Russia. Why? For what? Wag The Dog? And that doesn’t even count the other futile wars, like the “War On Drugs.”

Going Out On A Limb

I think the end of this bubble is beginning, as yields spike and the dollar soars:

“Our revels now are ended. These our actors,
As I foretold you, were all spirits and
Are melted into air, into thin air:
And, like the baseless fabric of this vision,
The cloud-capp’d towers, the gorgeous palaces,
The solemn temples, the great globe itself,
Yea, all which it inherit, shall dissolve
And, like this insubstantial pageant faded,
Leave not a rack behind. We are such stuff
As dreams are made on, and our little life
Is rounded with a sleep.”

― William Shakespeare, The Tempest

The economy is not strong. There are 100+ million adults not working (“not in the labor force”) out of a total population of 325 million, to say nothing of the myriad of government employees who are employed, but not contributing any value to the economy.

Consumption is being sustained by debt, both private borrowing and government money-printing. By January 2009, the United States had accumulated $10.6 trillion in debt. The gross national debt – just federal government debt – stands at $19.7 trillion as of the end of FY2016. Spending is on a pace to add another $2.4 trillion this fiscal year (2017), surpassing $21 trillion by next September. Krugman applauds, and of course this is Obama, not Trump. Yet.

Debt-funded consumption in excess of income has crowded out savings and therefore investment. As investment has declined, so, logically enough, productivity growth has fallen (see previous post). Simultaneously, government has been growing, making a lethal cocktail for real household disposable incomes, which have been declining for years. Pensioners who think they are in good shape are not noticing that defined-benefit pension funds are already starting to cut benefits and many, especially state and local government funds, are woefully under-funded. Social Security is in negative cash flow, and drawing on the general tax revenue pot to make up the difference. The stock market is ludicrously over-valued and promises zero or negative returns to pension funds for years to come. As Margaret Thatcher notably said “Socialist governments traditionally do make a financial mess. They always run out of other people’s money. It’s quite a characteristic of them.”

Powerful deflationary forces are being unleashed. The world is awash in oil and efforts to keep the price up will eventually fail. OPEC in aggregate will not cut supply because its governments (as well as the non-OPEC ones) depend on the flow of oil money to stay in power. I expect oil to reach the lower $20s if not below. Most of the world is engaged in a race to the bottom, cutting interest rates to devalue their currencies and boost exports. They are therefore exporting deflation to the US. I expect to see CAD in the 0.60s and the EUR in the 0.80s. Consumer price inflation in the US appears comparatively strong due to the inclusion of OER¹ in the CPI, which is not done elsewhere, and due to the uncontrolled rise in healthcare and education prices, funded by government subsidies and debt. These prices end up being a form of taxation by the 0.01%, who are on the receiving end. The protest vote in the US election should be no surprise.

OER, a completely fictional number to start with, is high as a result of low interest rates financing housing bubbles. These will end as badly as the previous lot. I choose not to be a homeowner, largely because I don’t want to face a huge capital loss.

In short, the economy is a Potemkin village. Things are not as they are made out to be. Even a fractional increase in rates may trigger a deflationary crisis, especially considering the shortage of dollar liquidity outside the US.

¹ OER, Owner’s Equivalent Rent, is weighted about 25% of the CPI basket. It is estimated by a telephone survey of selected homeowners, asking them how much they think it would cost to rent their a property like theirs.It has nothing to do with what it actually costs them to own and live in their properties.  I am not kidding. Now do you think CPI means anything?

Pitter Patter Of Little Feet

Well it appears that my advice of yesterday with respect to DB was not needed:

Millennium Partners, Capula Investment Management and Rokos Capital Management are among about 10 hedge funds that have cut their exposure, said a person familiar with the situation who declined to be identified talking about confidential client matters.

So the next question is to the dip buyers:

“Are you feeling lucky, punk?”