Posts Tagged ‘Oil’

There should be no doubt that greed makes people do funny things.

Take investing in oil.

Sure, there’s a lot of companies that truly want to buy oil.  To create gas.  Asphalt.  Lubricants, paint thinners, and dry-cleaning solvents.  Charcoal briquettes.  Wax birthday candles and crayons.  Polyester shirts.  Plastic drinking cups, toothbrushes, and hair combs.  And so on.

But there are also a lot of people that simply want to trade in oil… without never, ever taking delivery of oil.

These traders have played a rather interesting game.  They buy oil contracts.  But these contracts actually oblige them to take delivery of oil, because, after all, that’s what they’re buying.

But remember they never, ever really want to take delivery of oil… I mean, where are they going to put it, in their swimming pool?

So the plan is always to sell the contracts before having to take delivery.

That’s the way it’s worked for a long time.

Until this week.

Hoping for a last minute Hail Mary (i.e., something that would spike the price of oil higher), it looks like a group of oil contract holders held on to their contracts a bit too long.

Normally this isn’t a problem.  There’s always a buyer at the right price, right?

Not if there isn’t readily available storage for that purchased oil!

And that’s what happened this week.  There was no readily available storage… which caught a group of traders with their proverbial pants down.  Faced with the prospect of actually having to fill their swimming pools with black oil, these traders literally had to pay companies to take it off their hands.

And, thus, we saw the first NEGATIVE oil prices ever.

It didn’t last long.  And it wasn’t for that many contracts.  But it was a spectacular flame-out… an absolute spectacle to watch.

The lesson?  If you’re an oil trader and there isn’t any oil storage, DON’T WAIT UNTIL THE LAST MINUTE TO GET RID OF YOUR CONTRACTS.

And, except for a few isolated cases, chances are most oil traders won’t come anywhere close to doing that again.

Duh, right?

But, you never know.  :)

Anyone that reads this blog knows I root for oil to go down, down, down… because, while that doesn’t benefit an outdated oil industry, it does benefit every other person on the planet… and, oh by the way, it benefits the planet, too.

The facts all virtually guarantee oil will keep driving lower… because of lack of demand (remember the world has shut down!)… because of geopolitical bickering… and because — go figure — the world is really, truly almost out of oil storage.

Ha, those are some pretty great facts!

So why would anyone take a flyer on oil going up now, with oil trading in the low teens?

Because that’s what contrarians do… the opposite from what everyone else thinks.

Case in point:  After oil getting absolutely crushed over the last few days, it had a rather big pop today.

So oil can go up, if no other reason than a dead-cat bounce.

Or, let’s say there’s a threat of war… like what may have happened this morning given Trump told the military to shoot at any harassing Iranian gunboats they want.  Military disruption like that tends to spike oil prices.

Or, let’s say Trump just can’t help himself and he starts levying tariffs on foreign oil.  The U.S. is (sadly) the world’s biggest consumer — by a wide margin — so tariffs would mean the price of oil would be artificially raised in a rather meaningful way.

Or, let’s say that the world gets unbelievably creative and somehow finds a lot more storage space… like old train storage containers… or old storage silos or such… because it’s the lack of storage space that caused the extreme oil pricing mania yesterday.  (“What do you mean I have to keep all the oil in my swimming pool?!”)

Or, let’s say of the 70 vaccines in testing right now, one of them makes it to the finish line relatively soon.  The real possibility of the world reopening for business would also cause oil to spike.

Or, let’s say OPEC decides that their 9.7m barrels a day cut from a week or two ago was completely and utterly insufficient… and so they call another “emergency” session and cut oil by 30, no, 40 MILLION barrels a day… way more than anyone would expect… because they know the time for horse-shitting around is over.  That would send oil prices skyrocketing.

And, let’s say Trump can’t stand being out of the spotlight for more than 12 seconds and he politically forces the Saudis and Russians to cut supply… by offering guaranteed cuts from U.S. producers (something that was left off the table the last time OPEC got together).  With oil at perceived negative prices, he just might have the go-ahead to make that type of commitment.

Note that nothing above is, “when aliens invade the planet” crazy.

So, call it contrarian or whatever, but I just don’t trust that something, ANYTHING won’t happen to interrupt the greatest “fuck oil!” party ever.

Sadly.

Oil — really the cost of a unit of energy — affects the cost of EVERYTHING on the planet.

Which means that when oil prices go up, that FINANCIALLY HURTS everyone on the planet…

… including EVERY AMERICAN.

So why is Trump actively trying to drive oil prices higher?  In fact, why do all American presidents feel the need to do this?

I know people will say, “to protect America’s oil producers” … and so that we’re not strategically dependent on foreign oil.

Hogwash.

The way to do this is NOT to artificially raise set prices.  It’s to innovate.

Either we figure out a way to extract oil less expensively…

… or we figure out economically viable energy alternatives…

… say a conversion to natural gas, where we have a 100-year supply… or, electric cars… or solar-driven residential and commercial buildings.

And so on.

Anything but charging Americans MORE, which means we just end up FUNDING THE VERY PEOPLE THAT WANT TO DO US HARM MORE.

Sorry, energy industry.  Innovate or die.  Just like every other industry has had to do.  But don’t drag the rest of the country down with you.

For some reason, I thought shale was invincible… that is, a technology-enabled, found source of additional oil for many decades into the future.

But I just read a ZeroHedge piece — The Shale ‘Miracle’ & The Reality-Optional World Of Bizarro Finance — and apparently shale isn’t going to be the grand savior after all.

The two original big shale plays, the Bakken in North Dakota and the Eagle Ford in south Texas, have now apparently peaked and the baton has passed to the Permian Basin in west Texas. If the first two bonanzas were characteristic of shale, we can look forward not very far into the future when the Permian also craps out. There are only so many “sweet spots” in these plays.

The unfortunate part of the story is that the shale oil miracle only made this country more delusional at a moment in history when we really can’t afford to believe in fairy tales.

Let’s not give up on renewables quite yet!

 

It scares me that OPEC is so quiet.

OPEC countries usually love to grab the spotlight during big meetings (and the media loves to shine the spotlight on anyone that looks anywhere close to being an oil minister!).

That’s not happening for the big confab tomorrow, though… where everyone universally believes OPEC will extend their production cuts.  After all, the leading OPEC members said as much in a press conference on Monday.

Quiet is a bad sign… as is the Middle East unanimously agreeing on anything.

Could there be some hugely negative surprise tomorrow?

There have been little chirps here and there about Iran (the #2 player in OPEC) not wanting production cuts to apply to them…

… but nothing disruptive.  Indeed, everything seems civilized… which is a word not many would associate with the players involved.

Unbelievably, I think there’s a really good reason why OPEC may be in agreement:  The production cuts seem to be working.

Crude oil is trading about 15% higher than before the production agreement was announced last Nov.  Maybe more significantly, it dramatically changed the trend line.  Before the announcement oil was spiraling downward, everyone (there’s that “universally” thing again) was sure it would soon be trading in the 30’s.  OPEC’s agreement seemed to single-handedly stop the decline in its tracks…

… and there in lies the major motivation for cooperation:  Oil in the 50’s is a lot better than oil in the 30’s.

Guess we’ll see how it plays out in the next 24 hours or so.

 

OPEC Games?

Posted: May 22, 2017 in Business, Farros, Oil, OPEC, Royal
Tags: , , , ,

To say the oil market is sensitive to news coming out of the Middle East is an understatement.

In November I wrote, “If I Were A Bad (Oil) Guy“… essentially wondering if countries in the Middle East might be jerking oil markets around on purpose to earn a little side money.

Guess we’ll find out this week… there’s another very big meeting on Thursday… and while everything seems quite hunky-dory right now… it will be interesting to see if anyone tries to upset the oil cart this week.

Stay tuned.

P.S.  It’s quite possible that something like this already happened… UWT (which tracks crude oil 3x) was trading just under 23 about a month ago… about two weeks ago it his just above 13.50… that’s a pretty sizable drop in such a short period of time.

UWTI and DWTI are wildly popular 3x ETF’s that track WTI oil.

That means they approximate three times the daily move by WTI oil… and there’s a lot of daily volume so there are no weird trading patterns.

WTI was up about 0.33% today, which means UWTI should have been up about 1% today… and DWTI should have been down about 1%.

But, UWTI was up about 5.5%… while DWTI was down about 5.5%.

That makes no sense.  I’ve tracked these ETFs daily for years and I’ve never seen this.

There are some extracurriculars going on here, most notably it was announced yesterday that Credit Suisse AG is going to shut down the wildly popular UWTI and DWTI ETFs.  I don’t think this affected price because if it did, it would have had an equally negative impact on both.   Instead, both issues had completely mirrored performance today, just as you would expect — only, the mirrored performance was off by almost 6x!

Also, it could have been some kind of rumor out of the “practice” meeting at Doha, but, if that were the case, that would have affected WTI price first, which it did not… WTI was relatively calm today.

I’m trying to figure out whether this is one of those rare times when some kind of inefficiency affected price.  If that’s true, you would expect a snap back rather suddenly on Monday, possibly an interesting trading opportunity.  Problem with that thinking is these ETFs trade in such high volume, that kind of inefficiency is almost impossible.

This one certainly has me scratching my head.

The great historical fiction writer Leon Uris characterized in The Haj how difficult it was to negotiate with the Middle East… I roughly remember the language he used:  “Do you know how hard it is to negotiate with horse-traders that have been negotiating for 1,500 years?”

That’s not a direct quote… just something I read a long time ago that made an impression on me.

It’s also what I’ve observed when it comes to the Middle East.

Sometimes I wonder — since oil is incredibly sensitive to any comments coming out of Saudi Arabia — and since the Saudis clearly have a cash flow problem these days — whether they’re speculating on the side.

In my experience, almost all professions do it… it’s said that an honest bartender only steals 10% of the evening’s take… and that’s why we have insider trading laws and regulators.

I can only imagine how ineffective any kind of laws and/or regulators are in an area of the world as wild, wild west as the Middle East.

If I was a bad oil guy and wanted to make a chunk of cash speculating in oil in the next few weeks, I would have a “practice” meeting and leak that it was an utter failure.  That would send oil plummeting.  Then, miraculously, at the final meeting, I would triumphantly declare success, grabbing victory straight from the jaws of defeat… and, of course, sending oil soaring.

Even though people would eventually unravel the terms of the deal and find that it was mostly hype over substance…

… as a bad oil guy, short term I would still win on both ends of that horse trade.

Just sayin’.

(Note:  The “practice” meeting is in Doha, Qatar tomorrow… and the final meeting in Vienna, Austria on Nov 30th.  Stayed tuned.)

NOV 30 UPDATE:  Well, the timing was a bit off… they mostly waited to about a week before the meeting… but, yes, oil, which had a dramatic move downward in the last few days, is now soaring this morning on the heels of a (still unconfirmed) deal… so there may be bad oil guys in OPEC after all.  Go figure.

The setup:  Since last Friday, it seemed like a deal was completely and utterly dead.  First, it was announced the Saudis would not attend the preliminary Monday session, which was viewed as being a negative sign that the Saudis were putting their feet in the ground, including horrible “R” word rumors:  That they may be reneging on prior agreements.  

Then came the slew of press releases stating things like, “the Saudis can go pound sand, we’re not cutting!”… and “we think a freeze right now is the same thing as a cut in 2017″… and such.  

Over the weekend the head Saudi oil minister was even quoted as saying, “oil is rebalancing, anyhow, so if there’s not an agreement, everything will still be fine.”

Then came the last 24 hours where things appeared to be so bad, the Saudi oil minister even resorted to “sneaking in a side door” to avoid having to face the press and other countries.  Understand there is a lot of pomp and showing of strength (i.e., “mine’s bigger”) at these meetings so not making a formal entrance was also considered very negative.

Magically, though, an agreement — even bigger than what was expected — emerged this morning.  And now oil is soaring.

Imagine that.

 

 

 

Data is one of the things that moves the oil market these days.

Every Tuesday at 1:30pm pst we get data from the American Petroleum Institute (API).

I have found Marketwatch does a great job covering this report — which we mere mortals can’t actually get directly since we don’t pay the big bucks for a data subscription.

Yesterday Marketwatch reported a 3.65 million barrel build… compared to a 2 million barrel decline that analysts were expecting.  Relatively speaking, that’s a big miss… and would be quite bearish for oil prices.

CNBC, on the other hand, reported a 3.6 million barrel build… BUT as compared to analysts expectations of a 1.5 million barrel INCREASE.  That’s obviously a less dramatic miss.

So who’s right?

Who knows!  In this highly automated news era, it’s impossible to get in touch with any news agency to ask them to verify potentially big typos in reporting.  I’ve been trying to leave comments on the CNBC site… and am logged in correctly (since I got the “Welcome, Royal!” message)… but for some reason (maybe a bug) my comments aren’t posting.  (And, no, I don’t post a lot of comments so I haven’t been banned or anything.)

Technology is absolutely wonderful but still has a ways to go, eh?

Guess we’ll find out the true answer when the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports at 7:30am pst today.

That is, if the news agencies can get the reporting right.

UPDATE:  The EIA reported that the actual build was 5.3 million barrels… which I’m happy to say both news agencies got right… BUT, Marketwatch still is using an analyst figure of an expected decline of 2 million barrels… while CNBC is still using an analysts figure of a 1.5 million barrel increase.  Ugh!  Go figure.

OPEC just announced some “kinda” agreement about production levels and freeze.

Oil just skyrocketed on the potential “news” (up 5.3% @ $47.05 for the Nov ’16 contract).

Everyone has been waiting for this moment… a signal from OPEC that the strategy it’s employed the last few years is changing.

Everyone — 100% of all analysts — have come out saying this will put a floor under oil prices now.

The contrarian in me says when everyone thinks one way, the opposite usually happens.

What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe this inspires more U.S. shale oil to be produced… that was one of the reasons oil dropped from the triple digits not so long ago.

Maybe the “cuts” aren’t real cuts, just natural scale-back given the time of year (between summer driving and winter heating)… so any temporary euphoria in the market will soon get replaced with the commonsense observation that everyone is still pumping at near-record levels.

Maybe it’s just all of the OPEC members playing games with each other — and the world — again.

Who knows, but it will be interesting to see!

 

Everyone is asking when the market will crash.

They’re pointing to overvaluation… interest rates… the bull running way too long… P/E ratios… unemployment… wages… Europe and International melting down… etc., etc. *

Long-time readers know that I care most about one single, solitary metric:  The price of oil.

When oil spikes — like it did in 2008 — it affects the price of everything… and I mean absolutely, positively every item & service in the global economy.

That, of course, affects consumer purchases, which account for about 70% of all purchases and are truly the engine of the aforementioned global economy.

That, of course, affects corporate earnings, which affect stock price.

So, while everyone comes up with ever-increasing and complex ways to predict the market, I just keep my eye on oil… as I do every single day.

While the price of oil is subject to change at a moment’s notice… it’s been behaving for a while now.  That’s my signal that it’s safe to stay in the water.

 

*  P.S.  They’re also talking about global military actions and terrorism… which absolutely do have the ability to derail the market in the short run… those are — depending on whether you are short or not — unfortunately or fortunately constant wildcards in this connected, modern world we live in.

These days analysts are quick to draw comparisons between 2012 and 2008… in fact, many are saying we’re in for a repeat of global recession.

It’s tempting to do so.  The world is still a mess… even more so.

There are a TON of similarities and differences between 2012 and 2008… economically, socially, politically, etc.

But, according to my past writings, one counts above all else.

Not unemployment.  Not housing or subprime.  Not currencies or sovereignties-on-the-brink.

But, the behavior of oil.

In June 2008, oil was skyrocketing.  That made the cost of everything more expensive.  It was the biggest, most giant, humongous tax on the entire world.  So much so that the world said, “enough!” and stopped spending.

That’s when the engine of the world simply stopped.

When an engine stop, things stall.  And that’s exactly what happen to the world in 2008.  Bingo, global recession.

But that’s not happening right now.  In June 2012, oil is falling.

If oil continues this trend, things will become a cheaper… just like at the end of 2008… in fact, if there are any notable similarities, it’s that one.  Oil dropping in 2008 was the greatest stimulus in the world… hopefully falling oil prices provide a bit of a kick for us in 2012, too.

But, at the very least, if oil doesn’t spike, there shouldn’t be a cliff for us to go over quite yet.

That’s what I’ve been writing about for years.  Guess it’s time to see if my oil theory holds water.

Unbelievable.

Obama just announced a crack down on oil manipulations… which should be great news.

But it’s not.

Why?  Because he just can’t do anything without spending a ton of money.

He has four points to his proposal… the fourth being raise the margin requirements… which will cost nothing… and, as was the case with silver, can be effective in the short-term.

But Obama can’t help himself… he has to add a bunch of unnecessary and ineffective bureaucracy… to the tune of $52 million!

Ridiculous.

Just raise the margin requirement.  To 100%.  That costs nothing.  And if a relatively small handful of investors want to mess with one of the most strategic materials to life on the planet, then they should be prepared to own it outright.  Period.  Stop the monkey business.

If I were running for president, I’d promise to fix everything.

Seriously.

How would I do it?

I would mandate natural gas… the energy alternative that we have about 100 years worth in the U.S.

That would allow me to promise — and deliver — everything:

(1)  More money in consumer’s pockets:  Natural gas is cheaper than black oil… by about 1/3 to 2/3rds to consumers.  But anyone that reads this blog knows that the price of energy goes well beyond simply what we spend on energy for our cars… it affects the price of everything.  Lower energy price is the greatest — and most effective — stimulus in the world

(2)  Jobs:  A new/updated infrastructure would be necessary… as would new/updated vehicles.  Someone has to build all that stuff

(3)  More corporate profits:  More jobs and more money in people’s pockets mean more spending.  Cheaper energy also means less input costs.  Economy improves.  Stocks rise… and so does everyone’s 401K plans

(4)  Health:  Pollution is — literally — choking the world… just look at the rise of breathing-related illnesses like asthma over the last few decades… but unlike dirty fossil fuels, natural gas burns clean

(5)  Environment:  No more ugly, toxic oil spills… let’s make the Gulf disaster our last

(6)  Smaller military:  Reducing our dependence on foreign oil means less “geopolitical” conflicts… as in, if we didn’t need oil, how much would we really care about the Middle East?

(7)  More money in Uncle Sam’s pockets without raising taxes:  All those new jobs create tax revenues.  Also would require less spending on entitlement, health, and military programs.  Bottomline is a dramatically improving national bottomline

(8)  Oh, yeah, an extra $1 trillion per year — money that we usually send out of the country each year, mostly to countries that hate us — is kept in America

Now that’s the candidate I would vote for!

Everyone thinks the Occupy Wall Street movement is unfocused.

I believe it’s supposed to be unfocused… as in, after about a decade of things just sucking, everybody just wants to stand up and bitch about something.

Cheers to that, count me in.  I’m angry about a few things:

I believe speculators have taken over the pricing of oil… which, as everyone knows that reads this blog, is the single most important measure to the world economy… and the single most dangerous threat to life as we know it.  At a minimum, why not raise the margin requirements?  Duh.

I’m also furious about bonuses paid to failed banks.  I think once you drive your bank into the ground, all bonuses should be canceled.  Period.  What are you getting a bonus for?  Driving your bank into the ground?  Or, better, after we bail you out and artificially set your cost of funds to near zero, somehow you think you deserve a huge bonus for any bank profits?  Please, really — literally — it’s impossible for you not to make money when your cost of funds are ZERO… and your 6, 7, and 8-figure bonuses are just absolutely offensive.

I’m also angry with Obama… a guy who had the chance to be one of the greatest presidents ever… but he just blew it.  His health plan was supposed to cut costs… but it’s done the opposite.  His jobs bill looks like it was created by someone who has never hired a person in their life.  Why are we still spending a fortune on a war that no one cares about?  Why haven’t we seized the natural gas opportunity?!  Does he realize “wealthy” is a relative term… that “wealthy” in big cities like San Francisco, New York, LA, etc., in no way buys the same quality of life that it does in the rest of the country… not even close?

I’m also angry with Europe… for the misuse of the term “austerity”… it’s being used like it’s some kind of punishmentnot the result of decades of irresponsibility.  I’m angry with those politicians that have let such a negative label become standard… why not have labeled it what it really is?  “Responsibility.”

I’m also angry with our country and California in particular.  Why are there six languages on a voting ballot?  Aren’t we all Americans?  I have no problems with diversity… but there’s only one thing that unites a community — and that is the ability to communicate with each other.  Why can a non-citizen have a baby in the U.S. and that baby is somehow, magically, a citizen, which means we have to support that baby — and the baby’s family — for life?  You know the system is being gamed when non-citizens wait at the border for their water to break!

Why do I pay 2/3rds of my property taxes to horribly underperforming public schools that I can’t send my kid to?  Meanwhile, horribly underperforming teachers get tenure — TENURE — after just a few years on the job?  Please.  The teacher’s union is an example of something noble gone terribly wrong.  To add insult to injury, I pay for all of those big yellow school buses… what, public school parents can’t drive their kids to school like we do?  Don’t tell me they can’t because they have to work:  My wife and I work every bit as hard — dare I say harder.  Give me a break.  To add even more insult, we now are giving our tax dollars — tax dollars that we don’t have enough of — to finance the education of non-citizens over legal U.S. citizens?

Sadly, you can’t make this stuff up.

So I TOTALLY AGREE with the protestors… I’m MAD AS HELL about a lot of things, too… and it’s DEFINITELY TIME TO MAKE SOME CHANGES.

Tomorrow is a hugely anticipated jobs report.

From a stock market perspective — NOT the perspective of someone out of work and desperate to provide for loved ones, which is certainly a tragic situation — the jobs report really doesn’t matter.

Our economy is now highly tuned for about 10% unemployment… meaning, corporations are doing just fine selling to the 90 out of 95 people who are employed (remember that the definition of “full employment” is 5% unemployed).

But are these employed people spending?

Check the price of oil… as long as oil is behaving itself — and it has — then the employed people will have more money in there pockets to save and spend… which means that what drives the market — earnings and outlook — should be ok.

Regarding tomorrow, after the last few weeks of carnage, investors are expecting a mediocre or poor jobs report.  So that’s already factored in.

If the jobs report surprises to the upside, then we should see a big, opening market spike, followed by a sell-off given the run-up over the last few days.  Buy the rumor, sell the news kinda stuff.

In both cases, once the dust settles, we’ll meander higher in anticipation of good earnings and outlook… all contingent on, of course, nothing falling down and breaking in Europe for at least a couple of weeks…

… which, in a couple of weeks, you just know something will fall down and break in Europe.

I’d like to think I’m a simple guy.

Right now, however, there is way too much going on… too many moving parts… too many interdependencies… too many complexities.

So — no surprise to those that follow this blog — it helps me when I simplify the analysis.

And my favorite question?

What’s oil doing?

Months ago, it misbehaved… jumping from the $70’s and $80’s and threatening to spike to $120 seemingly overnight.

We are now seeing the shock of that rippling through the world economy.

Where is oil now?

Mid $80’s… with the feeling that it may be heading back to the $70’s.

That’s better than all the stimulus in the world… even better if we see a 6 handle.

And I’m sorry to say something so cruel — but that would be better than even the employment picture turning around.

Good to know that we’ll be ok as long as oil behaves itself.