Daily Impact Double Feature– Flags Up: Take Cover

From the keyboard of Thomas Lewis
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God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

God may not play dice with the universe, but the Masters of the Universe shoot craps with everything. (Photo by WoodleyWonderWorks/Flickr)

Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover

First published at The Daily Impact  August 23, 2014

This is not about TEOTWAWKI (The End of the World as We Know It), nor about the Crash of the Industrial Age (Wait! The acronym for that’s CIA!) that we expect. But it is about a very hard time we are all about to go through, most likely beginning before next year is out and ending God knows when. Most probably, it will not end, but like the last Great Recession simply deliver us to a new plateau of diminished expectations that will become the New Normal. This imminent event is being forecast by a rising chorus of voices like those who warned us 10 years ago that a prosperity based on subprime mortgages, and financial derivatives thereof, could not stand. These voices — actually some of them the very same people — are telling us that we face not one, but two, train wrecks that will be nearly simultaneous, in that one will bring on the other.

Train Wreck Number One could come at any time, and it is being brought on by the same people that caused the last one. Playing with Other Peoples’ Money, with borrowed money and with play money in the casinos otherwise known as stock, bond and commodity markets, the banksters (as someone has brilliantly labelled them) have inflated a number of bubbles, most smaller than the housing bubble was, but together capable of doing as much damage. They include:

  • The Car Bubble. Same formula, different asset. Sub-prime, low-interest-rate, long-term loans for cars, with the loans bundled, securitized, sold, resold and resold again. Everybody involved is making tons of money (25 per cent of all car loans are now subprime, and another 25 per cent are leases, many designed for people who can’t qualify for a subprime loan) until the music stops and the whole system folds.
  • The Housing Bubble (The Sequel). In which the Masters of the Universe, having driven millions into foreclosure or under water (with mortgages exceeding the value of their homes) snap up bargains via short sales and rent them out. What could go wrong with that>? Being a landlord is easy, right? These cash purchases are giving the appearance that the housing market is recovering much faster than it is.
  • The New Covenant Bubble. Business lending has become dominated by a new instrument known as the “covenant-lite” loan. Previously, business loans included a covenant signed by the borrower to the effect that the proceeds would not be used for non-productive things, such as buying in stock or paying bonuses to CEOs. Not so much anymore. The result is that instead of flowing into the economy, helping to create jobs, products and services, loan proceeds are going into the pockets of those who play in the Car Bubble and Housing Bubble casinos.
  • The Stock Bubble. This is the big one. Stock prices on average are at all-time highs, for no good reason. Price-earnings ratios are in the stratosphere, right where housing prices were in 2006. Phoenix Capital Research recently put it this way:

“The market is extremely tired and the systemic risks underlying the Financial Crisis are in no way resolved. With investor complacency (as measured by the VIX) at record lows, the Fed withdrawing several of its more significant market props, and low participation coming from the larger institutions, this market is ripe for a serious correction.”

Among the authoritative people (we are not referencing those doomer quotes down where you see “One Simple Trick to Cure Cancer” links, okay?) who have recently run up storm flags:

David Stockman: “the watchword at this point is stay out of harm’s way.  We are headed into a perfect storm of policy failures. Train wreck is a pretty good term to describe what is coming.”

John Ficenek: “Investors are dumping riskier debt faster than during the financial crisis in 2008. The money is rushing to safe havens such as US government bonds and gold. The staggering shift in investment strategy marks a reversal of the chase for returns that has been in place for five years.The credit market usually leads the equity market during turning points, as happened when credit markets cracked first in 2008.”

Bob Buckland: Citi Bank analyst Buckland has defined four phases the economy typically goes through, Phase One following a recession and Phase Four being the next one. He says we’re in Phase Three.

Train Wreck Number One, then, which could begin at any moment, is a “serious correction,” aka “crash,” of the stock market, with all the attendant collateral damage, much amplified because these guys are playing with borrowed money. Personal and corporate wealth will evaporate, banks that are too big to fail, will fail, and we may need swift, decisive action from the government to save the system, as we did in 2009. Wish us good luck with that.

And then there’s Train Wreck Number Two. More on that next time.

***

Oil Storm Flags Up: Take More Cover

Coming soon to an economy near you: a two-train wreck.

Coming soon to an economy near you: a two-train wreck.

 First published at The Daily Impact  August 24, 2014

The second train wreck about to sledgehammer the world’s economies is the implosion of the oil-and-gas renaissance scam. This implosion, most likely to occur in 2015, may occur before Train Wreck Number One (the financial “correction,” see the previous post, Financial Storm Flags Up: Take Cover) and bring it on, or it could kick in just afterward as the panicked Masters of the Universe run for the lifeboats. The cumulative effect of the two events will be devastating and lasting. They are not likely to bring on, quite yet, the ultimate crash of the industrial age — there is a lot of momentum left in the old battleship yet. But they will come close. Because while the financial implosion may not be quite as bad as that of 2008, the end of the oil scam, in itself, will be devastating to the world.

Big Fracking Lie. For at least five years now, the hype has been relentless.

Technology, in the form of hydraulic fracking, has saved us. With it, we have unlocked huge new reserves of oil and gas that will last a hundred years. We will surpass Russia and Saudi Arabia, become Number One in the world again, even reach energy independence! It’s gonna be great!

Now, the hype wasn’t aimed at you and me, it was directed at the people who move money around, because it takes a lot of money to frack a well. And in that respect the hype has worked — panting investors have opened their checkbooks and emptied their minds to finance this new American oil boom — even though, as I have been writing here for five years [See A Frack Job for Marcellus, December 2009, and many others], the hype flies in the face of arithmetic and logic.

There is no question that during the past decade, hydraulic fracturing in horizontally-drilled wells has greatly increased U.S. extraction of oil and gas. Gas frackers pretty much blew themselves up by bringing so much gas to market that they lowered prices below the cost of production; in the past two years natural gas extraction has been virtually flat.

Oil is a different animal. It goes into a global system, and is priced globally. The 3.7 million barrels a day of additional oil from the four main shale-oil plays in the U.S. went into a system that gobbles 80 million barrels a day, in a country that uses 20 million barrels a day, so the impact on global prices has been minimal. At best, shale oil can be credited with preventing steep price increases over the past five years or so based on flat and falling oil production in the rest of the world.

It is remarkable that it still seems irrational to talk about the end of the shale oil and gas boom and the return of peak oil worries, because the evidence all along has been abundant and clear that the boomers are the ones who have been irrational. And mounting evidence now indicates a breakdown is near:

  • Nothing lasts forever; fracking doesn’t even last a year. Traditional oil wells increased in productivity over years, then declined gradually over years, often having a useful life of 20 years or so. Fracked wells max out in a few months, then decline an average of 60 per cent in the first year. So if you’re a fracking company, and you want to show your investors rising production in your second year (and you do), you had better bring a new well on line at the beginning of that year. And two more the next year, and four the year after that. You’re on a fracking treadmill.
  • When the treadmill goes around fast enough, it throws you off. This treadmill effect is the reason why none of the players in the fracking revolution are making any money. According to a report out of Energy Aspects last year:

 “As a result, the average Capex (capital expenditure) spending of the 35 companies analyzed to serve as a guide to the industry has amounted to a staggering $50 per barrel of oil equivalent (BOE) over the last five years, at a time when their revenue per BOE has averaged $51.5.”

  • The only way to stay on the treadmill is to borrow money. Lots of money. Led by the frackers, the oil business as a whole is going seriously into debt with little to show for it. According to the US Energy Information Administration, 127 oil and gas companies worldwide took on $106 billion in additional debt in the first quarter of this year, while at the same time selling off $73 billion in assets. Collectively, their cash flow for the past year was negative $110 billion. In the shale patch alone, according to Bloomberg, in four years debt has doubled while revenues have risen 5.6%.
  • The sweet spots are going sour. The hypists have talked continuously about shale oil reserves as if all oil-soaked shale rock was equal, and equally available to extraction. In the immortal words of Rick Perry, “Oops.” The “reserves” of California’s Monterey shale play were the basis of much of the “America’s Back” hype, until the EIA took a second look and downsized the estimate — by 96 per cent.  Of course the wildcatters are picking the low-hanging fruit first. Correction: They have picked it. The only oil-shale field that has not peaked yet is North Dakota’s Bakken, where last year there was increased production in only one county.

Given all this, what should we expect? According to a study by Australian oil scientist David Archibald, for example, shale oil production in the United States will peak in mid-2015 and resume its steep, irreversible decline. (Okay, he’s a climate-change denier and an ice age promoter, but in contrast, he knows something about oil. Check out all his charts before you dismiss him.)  This fact alone will remove from world markets the only plausible reason for optimism about the economic future. The effects will be disastrous, especially when you combine them with those of Train Wreck Number One.

Duck, and cover. Get under your desk and put a helmet.

***

Thomas Lewis is a nationally recognized and reviewed author of six books, a broadcaster, public speaker and advocate of sustainable living. He also is Editor of The Daily Impact website, and former artist-in-residence at Frostburg State University. He has written several books about collapse issues, including Brace for Impact and Tribulation. Learn more about them here.

 

 

4 Responses to Daily Impact Double Feature– Flags Up: Take Cover

  • K-Dog says:

    Collapse of fracked gas could make a few house dogs shiver, some people too. People can freeze to death in the winter, that’s very bad. The loss of fracked oil is not without consequence. The Dakota boon will be over, but since prices of oil are determined on the world market the overall effect on oil prices will be mitigated. Overall the fracking scam will be exposed, and that’s good. The first wreck will cause the most damage. It may even counterbalance or negate oil price rising from the second wreck. Not that it will matter even if prices don’t change. The first wreck will cause demand destruction as broke people can’t fill up.

  • Mister Roboto says:

    @K-Dog: Another important component of the fracking scam WRT potential financial crises is the fact that what money is made from the scam is not so much from the production of oil and gas from shale deposits, but rather from the buying and selling of leases on land where the actual fracking is done. This has resulted in another real estate bubble comparable to the one of the previous decade that generated the financial collapse associated with the so-called Great Recession. The realization that shale oil and gas aren’t everything they’re fracked up to be could pop this bubble and be the thing that sets of The Great Depression 2.0.

  • K-Dog says:

    Since I posted my first comment I’ve since looked into how much fracked (tight) oil is being produced. As of March 28th this year more than 10% of world supply. I’d never have guessed that it would be so high. When tight oil crashes its fall will break bones.

    The U.S. now contributes more than 10 percent of the total global crude oil supply as of the end of 2013, a result of the advances in hydraulic fracturing and drilling technology that are driving the oil and gas boom in Texas, North Dakota and other Western states, new U.S. Energy Information Administration data show.

    With the contribution being so high the second train wreck is far more serious than I thought. Global prices can’t stabilize a 10% loss. in the supply line. Prices will rise and other ripples of crash will ensue.

    Perhaps some of the ‘Stans’ could give us foreign aid to subsidise our oil industry and prevent a world spike in prices. that would work for a while, and a while is all most people care about. Me, I shoot for eternity.

  • Mister Roboto says:

    @KD: I recall reading on another website that it was more like five percent. However, either figure is a significant enough percentage to cause problems at this point if the contribution to total world oil supply were to seriously decline.

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