FT Alphaville readers will not be strangers to the argument a ballooning petrodollar float over the last decade set alight an emerging market export feedback loop, one of dot comedy vendor-financing proportions. Or how encumbered petrodollars have played an important role in the counterintuitive side-effects of a drop in the price of oil.
The analysts at Citi are on the case as well, calling it “Oilmageddon — death by circular reference”.
Here’s the thrust of their argument set out in a note published Friday (our emphasis):
It appears that four inter-linked phenomena are driving a negative feedback loop in the global economy and across financial markets: 1) stronger USD, 2) weaker oil/commodity prices, 3) weaker world trade/capital flows, eg petrodollars, and 4) weaker EM growth. This cycle then repeats.
The world is a confusing and tangled web of interconnections. One such set of interconnections relates to the cost and storage of commodities and how it feeds into the wider economy.
For years we’ve made a simple point: the return on commodities is pretty indicative of the natural rate of return. When the return on money beats the return on holding commodity inventories, commodity companies are encouraged to drawdown on inventories in a bid to turn them into higher yielding monetary holdings. All of which has two effects.
In the first instance this encourages a liquidation effect. Commodity prices fall as the market scrambles to swap oil for cash reserves. In the second instance it reduces the amount of buffer commodity stocks in the economy, because holding anything other than emergency reserves is considered a capital cost. Read more
Stocks and corporate bonds haven’t been doing so well lately, while the market-implied probability of four Fed rate hikes by the end of this year — the median expectation of policymakers as of December — has plunged below 1 per cent (according to Bloomberg’s WIRP function, anyway). Reasonable people are now starting to wonder whether another downturn is imminent.
Changes in prices could be signalling weakness yet to be captured by the official statistics on employment, output, and incomes. Even if you don’t believe asset prices contain useful information, it’s possible the hit to net wealth could encourage households and businesses to cut spending, thereby leading to recession and job losses.
We can’t answer whether a recession is around the corner, although the probability of another downturn necessarily rises with time since the last one. Instead, we want to lay out some of the main arguments and think through what various downside scenarios might look like. Read more
The intuitive impact of falling oil prices is that it’s a hammer blow for producers and a gift for countries that are net importers. There is obviously some truth in this. Saudi Arabia, for example, is having to take drastic action to cut its fiscal deficit, while Venezuela is in crisis, with chronic shortages of basic everyday goods.
But as we have written before, falling oil prices also impose discipline on sovereigns who were previously able to use a torrent of petrodollars to cover up economic, political and social fractures. And conversely for emerging market importers, the benefit of lower oil costs is likely far outweighed by the broader carnage created by a collapsing energy industry, reversing petrodollar flows and the decreasing appetite for risky EM assets. Read more
Consider this chart from Charles Robertson at Renaissance Capital. Click to enlarge…
Some bullet points from JP Morgan’s Flows & Liquidity team to start the week.
Signs of capitulation, as they put it, in the face of a slowing China, the CNY and its “depaluation”, the Fed, a liquidity vacuum etc:
Retail investors were heavy sellers of equity funds for two consecutive weeks on extreme pessimism.
While the world contends with the consequences of shrinking petrodollar flows, Emad Mostaque at consultancy Ecstrat provides an interesting take on the potential benefits of such reversals for petro sovereign Saudi Arabia.
Tl;dr: It’s a blessing in disguise because it forces the kingdom to restructure its economy and reduce its dependency on foreign labour and hydrocarbon receipts.
As Mostaque explains, to-date Saudi Arabia’s rulers have supported a social contract with the populace wherein the state offers a level of employment surety through the public sector and benefits, while almost all of the private sector workers are foreigners without settlement rights: Read more
History never repeats and most analogies are wrong, but there are some intriguing parallels between the global macro environment in 1997-8 and today.
Back then, the Federal Reserve controversially chose to ease policy, first by refraining from rate hikes anticipated by the markets and then by cutting its target for Fed funds by 75 basis points. Many believe this choice inflated equity prices and encouraged excessive business investment at a time when America’s economy was already running hot. Despite the subsequent fillips of tax cuts, a boom in defence spending, and a housing bubble, the aftermath was a massive decline in employment and painfully slow recovery.
A simple comparison between conditions then and now suggests the Fed’s explicit desire to “normalise” financial conditions may come from a desire to avoid repeating the experiences of the late 1990s. Whether policymakers are right to prioritise the real economic data, which tells us what’s already happened, over the action in the financial markets, which tends to affect what will happen, is anyone’s guess. Read more
One to watch in the next few weeks — Kinder Morgan, as the energy company approaches junk status:
A few quick things to note. Read more
With Goldman raising the spectre of a $20 crude price, here’s an alternative scenario from Ecstrat strategist Emad Mostaque…
After years of being too high, oil forecasts now appear too low. As supply rolls over we could see prices back at $100, with decade-high geopolitical risks shocking it higher. Read more
Money printing was supposed to cause an inflationary collapse, right?
Except, points out Seth Kleinman at Citi on Wednesday, by encouraging investment in risky commodity ventures like shale, easy money has in reality ended up causing a deflationary feedback loop of hell.
The access to cheap financing that low rates and QE generated has been deflationary in two key ways: 1) the growth of shale and the sanctioning of very high breakeven projects that cheap financing made possible has glutted the markets with oil; and 2) the rampant growth of shale, which is located in the middle of the cost curve and has significantly shorter lead times for first oil versus conventional production, acts as a buffer against price rises. Furthermore, given how much of the EM growth story of the previous decade has been driven by the rise of commodity exporters, the negative growth shock from lower commodity prices is compounding the first order deflationary impact in the US and Europe.
Despite some ups and downs, bonds issued by dodgy borrowers are essentially flat since the start of 2014 — and that’s only after accounting for hefty interest payments:
Ever since oil prices started plunging last summer, people have been wondering whether the producers responsible for the supply added since 2010 — mostly in the US and Canada — would want to keep pumping. How many US shale wells, for example, would be economically viable in a world where the West Texas Intermediate price was about $45 per barrel instead of $100?
It’s now been long enough to get a sense of the answer. Compared to the peak almost exactly one year ago, the number of US rigs drilling has collapsed by 62 per cent, according to Baker Hughes: Read more
About a year ago — a few days before Opec spooked the world with its decision to wage war on shale producers with an oil production race to the bottom, but following a few months of steady oil declines post the Fed’s decision to start signalling an upcoming tightening path — we speculated regarding a what if scenario based on the hypothetical eventuality of no petrodollars :
The monthly IEA oil market report puts things about as simply as they can be put:
In our Christmas podcast and this post, we warned of the eery similarities between the oil market of today and the oil market of JR Ewing and Blake Carrington in the 1980s.
We even predicted that if history tells us anything we might soon be blessed with a modern equivalent of a Dynasty and Dallas TV series, something along the lines of “North Dakota Millionaires”. Read more
Many shale producers outspend cash flow and thus depend on capital market injections to fund ongoing activity.
That’s from Citi’s Richard Morse and Edward Morse (related?), plus team, on the way capital markets rather than cartels are driving commodity prices these days. The note is titled: “From Cartel to Capital Markets: Investors Join OPEC Shaping Oil Market Dynamics.”
This of course relates to our point on Monday that even the big commodity traders have been forced to turn to market-based funding in lieu of a dearth of bank finance in the sector. Read more
From the IEA’s Oil Market Report released on Wednesday:
WTI prices were sliding again on Monday:
And we’re probably going lower due to a glut of Saudi and Middle Eastern crude entering the market. Read more
The Central Bank of Nigeria MPC voted eight to four to leave the monetary policy rate unchanged at 13.00 per cent following the conclusion of its two-day meeting on July 24, note Barclays’ emerging market team.
But, in a further signal that the oil producing country, which transitioned to a new government in March after 16 years of rule by the People’s Democratic Party, may be prepping for a sustained period of low petroleum prices the Central Bank stressed the importance of diversifying the economy away from oil and expanding its base of FX receipts. Read more
Bigger than Greece, bigger than China (or at least one of the most significant parts of the China story) is the massive shift occurring in global currency reserves. Long story short: they’re being depleted, rapidly. Especially the reserves of emerging market sovereigns.
On Thursday we suggested the evolving dynamic could be linked to a contraction of petrodollar/sweatdollars in the global monetary system, thanks to growing US energy independence and US labour/tech-based re-shoring.
We failed to mention, however, how the situation is exacerbated by China’s growing inability to throw renminbi at its export competitiveness problem due to not insubstantial dollar leverage exposure on the country’s books. Which is to say: China can only help its exporters — and by extension other emerging markets — by shedding a whole bunch of dollar reserves at the same time. Read more
Back in November we meandered through the possible implications of there being no more petrodollars in the system (on account of US shale oil energy liberation).
Since then, we’ve also been thinking about the possible implications of there being no more sweatdollars in the system (on account of US re-shoring and digital manufacturing trends).
So what happens if key dollar recycling pathways were to be significantly closed off or contracted?
Privately, we’ve speculated the situation could over time lead to the rise of a new international funding currency front runner. (Though, certainly not because the US is losing influence. More because, shale oil and a labour surplus means it may not be in America’s interest to defend reserve-currency status at all.) Read more
See below for short view videographic, corporate credit related thoughts, as well as some additional sauce. Read more
In 2008, it was fairly common practice to blame any of the following (evil passive index investors — hedge funds—oil traders—Opec) for driving oil prices up to $145 per barrel.
The standard narrative was either that irresponsible and greedy institutions were synthetically pumping the price higher — and in so doing imposing a needless energy tax on the global economy — or, alternatively, that the smart-money was taking advantage of oil scarcity for their own future profitability.
But with prices back at $60-65 per barrel levels, and the world facing something of a fossil fuel oil glut, is it time to frame the reality of 2008 in a different perspective?
Perhaps, by providing the world with the incentive it desperately needed to get its collective butt into action on alternative fuel investment and development, speculators/passive investors/Opec cartels/banks actually did everyone a massive favour, albeit costly favour, in 2008. Read more
A quick post to update readers on an interesting debacle that occurred in the world of oil stock data analysis this week.
Philip Verleger, veteran independent oil analyst, launched a scathing attack on the quality of the EIA’s data on Monday, claiming the agency had been overestimating US output by some 1.6m barrels a day.
The accusations in his note were brutal to say the least:
“The explanation for the mistake indicates a gross dereliction of responsibility on the EIA’s part. Rarely if ever has a US agency charged with collecting data made a miscue of this magnitude. The EIA administrator should be dismissed immediately for gross incompetence.”
So this could be the beginning of the end.
Or, alternatively, the bond price rout is a perfectly predictable response to…:
There were those who said it would never happen. Then there were those who said it wouldn’t matter even if it did happen. And there were those who recognised Saudi Arabia was probably panicking about the prospect of a destabilising cash burn situation as soon as the term Saudi America became a thing.
But, as the FT reports on Friday, Saudi cash burn is now not only a big thing, it’s an accelerating big thing: Read more
At first glance, America’s latest growth figures don’t look so good. We generally refrain from commenting on quarterly GDP data because, among other reasons, the numbers are naturally noisy and they’re often revised by large amounts. (Or as the Fed says, “transitory factors,” although probably not the weather.) Those caveats out of the way, there are a few interesting points in this report that are worth noting.
Let’s start with a theoretical exercise. Imagine it were one year ago today, and someone told you that, between then and the end of this past March, the price of oil would fall by about half and that the real, trade-weighted dollar would appreciate by more than 10 per cent. A reasonable person would expect two things: big cutbacks in domestic oil investment that wouldn’t initially have been offset by higher investment elsewhere, and a hit to net exports.
None of this would have told you anything about would happen to total spending, but it would have provided guidance on how the composition of spending would change. Read more
You’ve got to hand it to Alan Rusbridger: he’s a great contrarian indicator. The editor of The Guardian launched his valedictory campaign to demand divestment from fossil fuels with a wrap-around promotion and the paper’s full moral force. Read more