Category Archives: Energy markets

Big Retail Sales Miss for December Dents Theory that Consumers Will Spend Gas Savings

Mr. Market is having a major sad today largely as a result of disappointing retail sales figures for December, a 0.9% fall, well below the median forecast of analysts suveyed by Bloomberg of a fall of 0.1% and lower than the most bearish forecast of 0.5%. Maybe I should just pay attention to NC reader and shopping maven Li, who told me repeatedly that the retail environment was in poor shape based on the fact that major retail stores were putting through December markdowns vastly ahead of their usual schedule.

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Green Growth or No Growth?

Many readers have taken the position that we need to put a brake on growth in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions and reduce consumption of other resources.

In a Real News Network interview, Robert Pollin goes through the math of carbon output and shows why a no growth approach is inadequate.

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Yanis Varoufakis: Why He is Running for Greek Parliament on the Syriza Ticket

I’m putting up the entire Boom/Bust show in which Yanis Varoufakis appears, in part because the introductory section discusses how stressed oil producers may use secured lending to borrow more money in an effort to ride out the price bust. That would lead to a further drop in the price of any junk bonds or market value of any existing loans on those companies, since the new secured borrowing would be senior to the existing debt.

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Michael Klare: How Big Oil Is Responding to the Anti-Carbon Movement

Yves here. It should be no surprise that Big Oil is not about to go down without a big fight. And they continue to copy from the playbook used by Big Tobacco. Behind the scenes, they go to great lengths to trying to undermine the already strong and ever-increasing evidence of the connection between greenhouse gas emissions and climate change, including openly offering bribes to scientists to attack the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change reports. In addition, frontally, they try to present their products and their social role as positive.

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Ilargi: Oil, Power and Psychopaths

Yves here. One minor caveat to a fine overview. Ilargi mentions at the end that Angela Merkel has said that it is prepared to let Greece leave the Eurozone if it bucks austerity. A regular reader of the German press who also read the report in Der Spiegel thinks this is a bluff to influence the Greek election.

And there is a bigger question that goes unanswered: why so much US warmongering and destructive, and eventually self-destructive behavior (blowback, anyone?). As Karl Polanyi mentions in passing in his The Great Transformation (see our recent post) because it seems so obvious, a peace consensus had emerged among the Great Powers in the nineteenth century, largely because domestic and international commerce were now a major social organizing principle, and businessmen correctly saw war as bad for business. So why has the peace faction been successfully supplanted by a war faction? Is it that (so far) the US wars are not inflicted on parties we consider to be contemporary Great Powers?

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Wolf Richter: First Oil, Now US Natural Gas Plunges, “Negative Igniter” for New Debt Crisis

Yves here. Wolf has been keeping a sharp eye out on how shale gas players were junk bond junkies, and how that is going to lead to a painful withdrawal. Here, he focuses on one of the big drivers of the heavy borrowings: the deep involvement of private equity firms, who make money whether or not the companies they invest in do well, by virtue of all the fees they extract. The precipitous drop in natural gas prices is exposing how bad the downside of a dubious can be, at least for the chump fund investors.

It’s hard to imagine an industry that is a worse candidate for private equity than oil and gas exploration and production. The prototypical private equity purchase is a mature company with steady cash flow. Oil and gas development is capital intensive and the cash flows are unpredictable and volatile, because the commodity prices are unpredictable and volatile.

A less obvious issue is that it actually takes a lot of expertise to run these businesses. This is not like buying a retailer or a metal-bender. Now private equity kingpins flatter themselves into believing that experts are just people they hire, but here, the level of expertise required, and the fact that the majors are way bigger than private equity firms means that the private equity buyers don’t know enough to vet whether the guy they hire is really as good as he says he is. Like all outsiders, they are way too likely to be swayed by the sales pitch and personality rather than competence.* And even with all the money that private equity has thrown at energy plays, it’s not clear that New York commands much respect in Houston.

As one private equity insider wrote in June, ironically just before oil priced peaked:

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Saudis Tell Shale Industry It Will Break Them, Plans to Keep Pumping Even at $20 a Barrel

When the Saudis announced their intention not to support oil prices when they were sliding towards $90 and plunged quickly through that level, we deemed the move to be a masterstroke. It served to damage both economic and political enemies. On the economic front, the casualties would include renewables, Canadian tar sands, and the US shale gas industry. On the geopolitical front, the casualties would include Iran, Syria, Russia…. and the US.

Even though Riyadh is nominally still an ally, relations with the US are fraught. The Saudis are mighty unhappy with America over its failure to get rid of Assad, its refusal to indulge Saudi demands of attacking Iran (our leaders may be drunk on power, but they haven’t quite gone over the deep end) and or indirectly working with Iran against ISIS (which started out as Prince Bandar’s private army and may still have the kingdom as a stealth patron). So the Saudis are not at all unhappy if the US suffers as a result of the whackage of its energy industry. First, that’s an inevitable outcome if the Saudis are to succeed in maximizing the value of their oil assets, which is a survival issue for the royal family. Second, since relations between the US and Riyadh are frayed right now, it is an opportune time to show that the kingdom is not to be treated casually.

Yesterday, the Saudis made it even more clear that they are not pulling out of their game of chicken with other energy producing nations. The Saudis will keep pumping and by implication, will force production cuts on others.

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Putin: Battered, Bruised But Not Broken

Yves here. The triumphalism among Western commentators as the ruble plunged last week is more than a little cringe-making. We’re not yet in Two Minute Hate territory yet, but this feels like a warmup. Robert Parry provides an insanity check:

Official Washington’s “group think” on the Ukraine crisis now has a totalitarian feel to it as “everyone who matters” joins in the ritualistic stoning of Russian President Putin and takes joy in Russia’s economic pain, with liberal economist Paul Krugman the latest to hoist a rock…

Indeed, much of what Krugman finds so offensive about Putin’s Russia actually stemmed from the Yeltsin era following the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 when the so-called Harvard Boys flew to Moscow to apply free-market “shock therapy” which translated into a small number of well-connected thieves plundering Russia’s industry and resources, making themselves billionaires while leaving average Russians near starvation.

The piece goes on to debunk in considerable detail the caricature of Putin presented in America, the most important element being the charge that Putin was the aggressor in Ukraine and is therefore getting what he deserved. Mind you, Putin is still an authoritarian, but we don’t find that objectionable in many of our putative allies, starting with the Saudis.

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Ilargi: Drilling Our Way Into Oblivion

Lambert here: So the fracking companies have purchased “risk insurance.” I wonder what happens when they all file their claims at the same time. What could go wrong? By Raúl Ilargi Meijer, editor-in-chief of The Automatic Earth. Originally published at Automatic Earth. Oh, that sweet black gold won’t leave us alone, will it? West Texas […]

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Blowback from Oil Price War: Sovereign Wealth Funds Selling Investments

While there has been ample discussion the impact of falling oil prices on the national budgets of major oil producing nations, there’s been less media focus on how some of the countries that face budget squeezes are likely to react.

Consider what a difference nine days makes. Moody’s gave six Middle Eastern countries a thumbs up on December 8, based on the assumption that oil prices will average $80 to $85 a barrel in 2015. With WTI now at $55.33, it appears reasonable to assume a price of $60 or below for the first half of 2015. The consensus is that production cuts will lead to much firmer prices in the final two quarters,* but $70 a barrel would now seem a more reasonable forecast for the year.

Here is the money part of the Moody’s assessment (emphasis ours):

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