Category Archives: Economic fundamentals

Oil Tanks After OPEC Fails to Cut Production; US Shale Gas Targeted?

After a testy meeting, OPEC agreed to maintain current production targets. The failure to support oil prices via reducing production led to a sharp fall in prices on Thursday, with West Texas Intermediate crude dropping by over 6% and Brent plunging over 8% before rebounding to finish the day 6.7% lower, at $72.55 a barrel. Many analysts believe that oil could continue its slide to $60 a barrel.

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Germany and the European Commission’s €315 Billion Infrastructure “New Deal” is Yet More Smoke and Mirrors

I have to confess I had not taken the announcement of a €315 billion infrastructure spending program by the European Commission all that seriously, despite the fact that this on the surface represented a very serious departure from the Troika’s antipathy for anything resembling fiscal spending. It was so out of character that something had to be wrong with the picture, particularly given the absence of any evidence of Pauline conversions from the Germans. And that’s before you get to the fact that while €315 billion sounds impressive, given that the spending is likely to be spread out over time, the size of the shot, even if it worked as advertised, is less impressive than it might seem.

In fact, the history of post-crisis interventions in the Eurozone has been that of sleight-of-hand over substance, except as far as austerity program are concerned. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard peels away the dissimulation in the latest effort at confidence building, with emphasis on the con.

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Who Will Wind Up Holding the Bag in the Shale Gas Bubble?

We’ve been writing off and on about how the sudden fall in gas prices has been expected to put a lot of shale gas development on hold. In fact, quite a few analysts believe that one of the big Saudi aims in refusing to support oil prices was to dent the prospects for competitive energy sources, not just renewables like wind and hydro power, but shale gas.

Even though OilPrice reported that US rig count had indeed fallen as oil prices plunged, John Dizard at the Financial Times (hat tip Scott) gives a more intriguing piece of the puzzle: the degree to which production is still chugging along despite it being uneconomical. The oil majors have been criticized for levering up to continue developing when it is cash-flow negative; they are presumably betting that prices will be much higher in short order.

But the same thing is happening further down the food chain, among players that don’t begin to have the deep pockets of the industry behemoths: many of them are still in “drill baby, drill” mode.

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Wolf Richter: Global Business Outlook “Darkest Picture Since Financial Crisis”

Yves here. Wolf like to paint in bright colors, but the points he makes are consistent with business and financial press reporting, if you cut through the hype. Europe is still teetering on the verge of recession. Growth in Japan has gone negative. China is slowing down, to a degree that led the authorities to give it a monetary shot in the arm. And the US simply is not getting to liftoff. Even with official unemployment falling, consumers are cautious about purchases, with most planning to spend less on Christmas than last year. Corporate capital expenditures in the US are increasing, but so far, this is in the “a robin does not mean it’s spring” category. So with the US as the one possible engine for world expansion, and that one not firing robustly, it’s not hard to see the reason for global business leaders getting more nervous.

And to add a wild card into the mix: contrary to current conventional wisdom, bond maven Jeff Gundlach thinks the Fed will raise rates next year. That seems plausible, given that ZIRP gives the Fed no policy room if anything bad happens to the financial system and that the central bank is also coming under more political heat for its continuing extreme monetary policies. Crisis junkies may recall that the Fed went from 25 basis point interest rate cuts to 75 basis points (“75 is the new 25″), when it wasn’t clear that reductions that large were necessary (ie, signaling that the Fed was on the case and taking matters seriously was probably sufficient). The magnitude of the cuts brought the central bank deeper into super-lowe interest rate terrain. I recall thinking when the Fed cut the Fed funds rate below 2% that they would come to regret that decision.

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Wolf Richter: Signs That the Startup Bubble is Totally Maxed Out

Yves here. Wolf’s longer original headline to this post focused on how gobsmacked he was to get glossy mail pieces to promote supposedly hot Silicon Valley startups. Apparently, the deemed-to-be-transgressive communications medium (by West Coast standards) was a way to cut through the new venture clutter. But what I found more surprising was how obviously lame these ideas were, yet they’ve all already gotten multiple rounds of funding and have eight figure investments so far.

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Michael Hudson, Other Experts Discuss America, China and Russia Jockeying in G20 and APEC Summits

Yves here. This is an intriguing exchange among Michael Hudson, John Weeks, professor emeritus of development economics at the University of Long and Colin Bradford of Brookings. The points of difference between Hudson and Bradford are sharp, with Bradford admitting to giving a Washington point of view that Obama scored important gains at the APEC summit, with Hudson contending that both confabs exposed America’s declining role and lack of foreign buy-in for its neoliberal economic policies.

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Why is Anyone Surprised that Abenomics Failed?

In case you managed to miss it, there’s been a fair bit of hand-wringing over the fact that Japan has fallen back into a recession despite the supposedly heroic intervention called Abenomics, whose central feature was QE on steroids.

But Japan of all places should know that relying on the wealth effect to spur growth has always bombed in the long term.

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Michael Hudson: Putin’s Pivot to Asia

Yves here. Understandably, US reporting on the just-finished APEC summit focused on Obama’s objectives and supposed achievements. Russia has historically not been a major force in the region and thus received less coverage here. It was therefore surprising to see our man in Japan Clive tell us that Japanese media coverage of Putin at APEC was on a par with the column-inches given to Obama.

On Real News Network, Michael Hudson describes how Putin is shifting Russia’s export focus and economic alliances towards Asia, particularly China. Putin did better at the APEC summit than most Western sources acknowledge, and that could have longer-term ramifications for the US.

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Corporate Profit Margins vs. Wages in One Disturbing Chart

Yves here. This brief post by Doug Short is even more important than it appears to be. We had an outburst of neoliberal orthodoxy in comments yesterday on a post that discussed how wealth of most households had fallen since 1987. Some readers assigned blame for stagnant average worker wages (which was a big contributor to the lack of growth in household wealth) to immigrants, particularly Mexicans and H1-B visa workers.

The Doug Short chart below looks at corporate profit share versus labor share. This pinpoints the degree to which wage stagnation is the result of corporate managers and executives succeeding in cutting the pie to favor themselves (executive pay has become increasingly linked to stock prices, and relentless focus on short-term earnings, as well as stock buybacks, do wonders for earnings per share).

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Wealth of Most US Households Has Fallen Over the Last 25 Years

Yves here. This Real News Network interview on the results of the latest Survey of Consumer Finances paint a picture familiar to most readers: the rich are becoming richer while those with less wealth are falling further and further behind.

David Rosnick of CEPR makes an important observation in passing. The decline in the position of typical households is even worse the the Consumer Finances survey indicates. In 1989, many workers had pensions. Far fewer do now. The value of pensions isn’t included in these surveys due to the difficulty of determining what they are worth on a current basis. But they clearly are significant assets that relatively few working age people have now.

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Joe Firestone: Elizabeth Warren – Better, But Not There Yet

Yves here. As Elizabeth Warren inches to the left on overall economic policy, one wonders if she’s actually shifting her views or responding to Hillary Clinton trying to rebrand herself as a populist. In fairness to Warren, it’s difficult not to be deeply inculcated in flawed economic thinking and thus hostage to false ideas like “We depend on China and Japan to finance our federal spending.” I look at my pre-crisis coverage and am embarrassed to see that sort of idea treated as obviously true. But if nothing else, the shift in Warren’s stance may be a sign that the Overton window is moving a smidge away from the right. After all, a big reason the Republicans so badly trounced the Dems in the midterms wasn’t just Democratic party fecklessness, but also that the Republicans kept their Tea Party extremists well out of the limelight and toned down the anti-women, anti-gay (and outside the border states) the anti-immigrant rhetoric. That actually amounts to a shift to the center, even if more for show than for real.

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Ed Harrison: Zero Rates, Resource Misallocation, and Shale Oil

Yves here. Established Naked Capitalism readers may recall that Ed Harrison was a regular and much appreciated contributor to the site, particularly in 2009 when I was on partial book leave writing ECONNED. Ed now focuses more on writing premium content, as well as producing RT’s Boom and Bust. But he is now posting occasional pieces on his non-subscription site, and has graciously allowed us to post them from time to time.

This article is a more systematic work-up of something that we’ve discussed short form and Wolf Richter has also written up: that of the dependence of the shale oil boom on reasonably high oil prices as well as cheap financing. And as predicted, shale oil producers have shut marginal wells, and even majors are cutting back on oil production.

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Coalition Launches World War on Youth

Yves here. I must confess to not being anywhere near as on top of Australian politics as I’d like to be, and I have a great deal of difficulty understanding the ascendancy of Liberal leader and now Prime Minister Tony Abbott, save that in a parliamentary system, who winds up on top often has more to do with infighting skills than real leadership. This post shows that the latest Abbot scheme for addressing youth un and under employment is a serious contender for Worst Neoliberal Post-Crisis Policy Evah. And recall it has QE as a competitor. So this post serves to launch a watch for Really Horrid Neoliberal Policies so we can start creating a taxonomy, which helps in making fun of them.

For starters, how smart is it to throw young people under the bus in an economy that has become almost entirely a real estate one trick pony? Where is household formation going to come from, exactly? Chinese investors and Chinese-driven extraction boom have both provided a big lift to Oz over most of the last decade. Deflation across non-agricultural commodities is a strong tell that that game is past its sell-by date.

One of the things I noticed briefly about Australian policies when I lived there is that they were weirdly bimodal, as in either really well thought out or terrible. This was confirmed by some Canadian policy wonks I met who said when they were looking for policy ideas from other countries, they’d look at Australia first because they were most likely to have gotten it right. The new Abbott policy suggests that capability is being destroyed.

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