Conservation

(In Dollars)

Off the keyboard of Steve Ludlum

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Published on Economic Undertow on August 13, 2015

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Figure 1: the not-quite-triangle of not-yet doom: World is slipping relentlessly toward energy deflation. Chart by TFC Charts, (click on for big).

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Since last summer oil prices have crashed 50% (in dollars). The media fairy tale suggests an output contest between Saudi Arabia and US oil drillers with the resulting glut overwhelming demand. This is yet another reprise of the modern myth of plenty and prosperity, eternally bountiful supply enabling bottomless demand in a consumption paradise. Indeed, demand exists everywhere there is a TV set and paper money; it is the ability to exercise demand that is slipping away.

The Undertow story is of an unacknowledged energy shortage leading to exclusion of less-solvent customers from petroleum markets world-wide. Instead of odd-even days or gas lines, fuel is rationed by way of access to credit. As the fuel shortage propagates, the number of solvent customers declines. This is natural and should not need explanation: oil prices fall because customers are broke. There is the illusion of excess supply because the number of solvent customers falls faster than extraction rates. Attempts by drillers to lift more petroleum exaggerates the illusion of excess supply; prices fall which strangles drillers in a vicious cycle.

Low prices are unable to stimulate consumption, instead, they illuminate the failure of consumption to earn anything … that the economy itself is bankrupt-by-design rather than mismanaged.

The absence of real earnings means all returns must be borrowed. Debt is expensive, the costs are added to those of extracting- and distributing fuel. The marginal consumer is excluded from fuel markets because he cannot afford to borrow or the lender rations credit for solvency reasons. The outcome is a margin call across the economy leading to bankruptcies that ration credit further. Ultimately, credit becomes unavailable and fuel is allocated to those who can earn an actual return on its use … provided there are any real returns to be had. If the returns are not sufficient to support energy extraction there is no energy. This is the outcome of energy deflation, why every effort must be made to keep from slipping into it.

Just as leverage amplifies itself in a virtuous cycle during the expansion period, leverage works violently ‘the other way’ as credit contracts. Self-amplification of customer insolvency is the point of no-return. When low prices strangle- rather than enable consumption, there is no way to reverse the process. If relative solvency cannot enable output then neither will insolvency. If governments cannot enable output by way of subsidies during a period of credit expansion they certainly cannot do so when credit is contracting. Governments must borrow the subsidies they offer to drillers, in doing so they ultimately borrow from the same customers who cannot meet the drillers’ costs; as such governments are no more solvent than their bankrupt citizens.

The great post- World War Two buildout of American style suburbs in the US and elsewhere has succeeded in devouring its resource base and replacing it with claims against what (little) resource capital remains. We are certain to fail spectacularly because we have succeeded at our fools’ errand so spectacularly.

When Is the Crash Coming?

The usual finance suspects are queuing up to predict an imminent market crash, aome have been predicting one for twenty years. They don’t want to be seen as missing the Titanic, others have proven to be prescient: Jeremy Grantham, Nouriel Roubini, Professor Steve Keen. Robert Shiller warns investors to beware the ‘New Normal Bubble'; Dean Baker … well, maybe not this time. Martin Armstrong suggests October this year for the big bang (slump). Nicole Foss suggests that the unraveling is already underway as does Economic Undertow. The problem is most economists view the problem as confined to finance and interest rate policy. This misses the point, monetary- and financial adjustments are irrelevant to an outcome that is driven by resource depletion. Finance difficulties are symptoms of the disease not the cause; we are undergoing a self-propelled regime of hard rationing that is taking shape under everyone’s nose.

Recent China currency depreciation (vs. dollars) puts more downward pressure on fuel prices even as OPEC drillers Iran and Iraq send more crude to the markets, currency depreciation (vs. dollars) in Japan and Europe reduces the overall bid for crude; demand in countries that supply China such as Brazil are likewise blowing up due to ripple effects and unwinding carry trades.

U.S. stocks fell in early trading on Tuesday in a broad-based retreat as China’s surprise devaluation of the yuan pushed the dollar higher and pressured commodity-related shares.

 

 

 

 

 

Oil erased most of its gains from Monday following the devaluation by the world’s top energy consumer. Other commodities such as copper, aluminum, nickel and zinc also fell.

Eight of the 10 major S&P sectors were down, with the energy index and the materials index both lower by nearly 2 percent (and more).

Exxon Mobil’s 1.8 percent drop was the biggest drag on the energy index and Freeport-McMoRan’s 12.5 percent slump dragged on the materials index.

Concerns around the health of the second-largest economy in the world also weighed on shares of U.S. automakers and industrials. General Motors was down nearly 3 percent, while Caterpillar was down 2.4 percent.

The yuan fell to its lowest against the dollar in almost three years following what the country’s central bank described as a “one-off depreciation”.

 

 

 

 

Stock prices are variable, what matters is the price trend (in dollars) relative to the trends of other currencies. Dollar-preference can be seen at work: China needs dollars to import fuel, so do other fuel importers. China also needs dollars to prop up its gargantuan stock- and real estate swindles – slash – Ponzi schemes. To gain dollars it must offer more RMB to foreign exchange holders than it did the day previously. This becomes a sort of dog-chasing-his-tail process where every depreciation gives cause for further depreciations down the road. The name of the game is to trade the ‘Brand X’ currencies including RMB at any price to gain dollars; as these are bought up becoming scarce and more desirable the trade amplifies itself.

With time, the causes that propel depreciation become indistinguishable from effects. China depreciates because of the flight of dollars overseas represents shrinking demand for its own currency. Yet, the depreciation itself is incentive to ditch the currency! Over the span of two days China and everything that it contains is today worth five- percent less than it was, previously. Out of $6.8 trillion in GDP, $340 billion has vanished without a trace, in the blink of an eye: whatever increase the country expected to gain this year is lost by way of its depreciation.

Whatever China seeks to gain by way of cheaper exports is lost due to higher import prices (in dollars):

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Figure 2: China net petroleum exports by Mazama Science (click for big). The gap between what China extracts domestically and what it must import is financed with borrowed dollars and euros. China turns out to be another energy deadbeat little different from Greece, Argentina or Spain. While China domestic crude output is significant, it cannot keep pace with the country’s galloping consumption.

As China property- and stock markets crash, China aims to dump its deflation onto its trading partners … who are all trying to do the same thing. Like Germany within the eurozone, China has its bunch of captive punching bags to which it can export its misery: Australia, Peru, Myanmar, Brazil, Canada among others. For China’s largest trade partner the US, depreciating RMB is a defacto interest rate increase whether it is considered as such or not. This renders irrelevant whether the Federal Reserve raises policy rates later this fall or not … the result is deflation for the US leading to recession.

Economies are nothing more than fuel wasting enterprises, with the financing edifice erected upon this scaffold. Because fuel itself is hard to hold and store (without a tank farm), ‘money’ is held instead of fuel. With the passage of time, the dollar becomes preferred over other currencies as a fuel carrier. This is because there are plenty of dollars, because Wall Street produces the bulk of the world’s credit; because the US has been the ‘consumer of last resort’, because so many countries export goods or workers to the US that dollars are in wide circulation in these countries … because the dollar is proxy for the American hyper-wasteful lifestyle that almost everyone on Planet Earth aspires to.

Dollar preference turns this last dynamic on its head: instead of being a proxy for waste, the dollar becomes a proxy for what is being wasted. Once that point is reached it becomes a hard currency like the gold-backed dollar of 1932, the same dollar that was hoarded out of circulation causing most of the banks and businesses in the country to fail. The difference was that going ‘off gold’ did not affect how the US consumed energy, going ‘off oil’ would mean just that: switching from a non-functioning industrial economy to a non-industrial version that uses little or no oil at all.

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Figure 3: The Canadian loonie (in dollars); Forex charts by XE.com, (click for big). China exports deflation: the loss of crude oil customers in China and elsewhere leaves Canada at the brink of a recession.

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Figure 4: The US dollar — Australian dollar cross; like Canada, Australia bought the ‘it’s different this time’ hype about China resource capital consumption. As it turns out, Australia, like China, is worth a less today than it was over several years of yesterdays. Its reliance on China manufacturing leaves it with assets that have become liabilities.

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Figure 5: The US dollar — Brazilian real cross. Sez Bloomberg:

Investors are concerned that the political instability (in Brazil) will push the country into a deeper recession and make it increasingly vulnerable to a sovereign-credit downgrade. The real has depreciated 8.1 percent in the last month, the biggest decline among 16 major currencies tracked by Bloomberg.

Currency depreciation is a dynamic that drives itself. Monetary- and fiscal policy is irrelevant: the worst-case scenario is well- meaning policy blunders amplifying dollar preference unintentionally. As with debt, once on the depreciation treadmill it is almost impossible to get off; this offers a continuum of opportunities for errors, these tend to be self-amplifying as well.

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Figure 6: Welcome to Eurolandia, the home of self-propagating policy errors (in dollars). Turns out Germany beating its trading partners to a pulp is not good for business. Who could have guessed? As the fuel buying power of dollars increases, they flow toward the highest bidders, out of Europe, China, Japan and elsewhere toward Wall Street … and offshore tax havens. The outcome is a margin call against leveraged assets. Credit flows are never one- way. After flooding into a country, credit reverses and the funds that are necessary to support leveraged assets are withdrawn. This results in deflation. The same credit rationing underway in Greece is scaled up monumentally in China … with the same outcome!

China Sector Credit Flows(1)

Figure 7: China’s problem takes the form of a giant pink arrow: China’s finance structure is like Argentina’s because China is dependent upon dollar- and other hard currency inflows as collateral for domestic loans. This contradicts conventional analysis which has China as a US creditor. China cannot create dollars or dollar credit; China ‘lends’ energy (coal) and human labor to the US in the form of manufactured goods, these cost the country very little to produce. Repayment is in the form of dollar loans which cost Wall Street almost nothing to produce.

Within China there are two parallel dollar economies. Dollars flow by way of US customers and retailers to Chinese manufacturers. Some are forwarded to the Peoples Bank of China at the official exchange rate where purchasing power is replicated in the form of secured RMB loans into the Chinese economy. The balance are diverted by manufacturers into the loan shark economy where they become quasi-collateral for as many RMB loans as the market will bear. This lending is universally unsecured: when there is no collateral to seize in the place of circulating money, both borrower and lender are ruined.

In China, the shadow banks are very strong, they have distributed losses into the economy a long time ago; these losses have simply not been recognized. Deflation occurs when these losses are finally measured, when inflated Chinese assets are marked to market.

Analysts insist that Chinese dollar reserves can be deployed to bailout its shadow lending business. This is not possible because there is no refunding channel between the central bank and shadow finance. Lenders are simply shells erected to enable the theft of Forex reserves. Any redeployed reserves would be stolen as well. This in turn starves manufacturers of customers who lack vendor credit with which to purchase Chinese goods. Because shadow banks are strong, any unsecured central bank lending would be distributed into the Chinese economy as more unrecognized losses. Attempts to bail out shadow banks precipitates the deflation crisis the Chinese establishment is desperate to avoid: flight of dollar collateral => decline in RMB purchasing power => recognition of losses => bank insolvency and runs out of banks.

Credit cannot expand forever; the ‘Minsky Moment’ occurs when the cost of servicing (unsecured) debt plus the cost of running the actual economy exceeds the cash flow that can be generated by more borrowing.

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Figure 8: The yen (in dollars). The Japanese government purposefully aimed to depreciate the yen and monetize government spending at the same time. The outcome has been higher import prices and less consumption, “Conservation by Other MeansTM“.

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Figure 9: Argentina would rather not depreciate but it has little choice. The country is desperate to develop even as it becomes another economic road kill. Argentina shares with Brazil, Canada and Australia a dependence upon Chinese purchase of commodity goods; as China falters so does the peso. Sadly, Argentina’s plight does not offer it any relief from its overseas creditors …

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Figure 10: Even oil producing giants such as Russia are not immune to dollar preference. Like other countries, Russia uses foreign exchange dollars, euros and sterling as collateral for its own lending. As a result, it is in trouble when the Forex starts flowing out of the country; there is nothing supporting the ruble. Russia’s fortunes have not been helped by its sclerotic ruling cadre and military adventures; Russia is only a powerhouse in the history books.

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Figure 11: US dollar – Iranian rial. The chart clearly indicates when Western sanctions were applied in 2012 and later in 2013. Iranians were desperate to swap whatever rials they could get their hands on to gain precious dollars. Oil exports do not give any country wealth, instead the wealth is pumped onto ships and sent away to be annihilated somewhere else. Sadly, our economists don’t see things this way, they call the parasitic claims on wealth ‘capital’ and the wealth that is destroyed … ‘inputs'; they whine when the inputs can’t be had cheaply, they whine louder when they are too cheap. Because of economists’ blindness, it is always a surprise when countries like Iran, Russia, Brazil and Mexico find themselves in hot water; economists refer to the ‘Dutch disease’. These countries are hollowing themselves out as fast as they possibly can. What might save some of them is the ruin of their customers; a bit of oil might remain in the ground until some day in the future when someone can figure out what to do with oil besides burn it up for nothing!

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Figure 12: Mexican peso (in dollars). Another petroleum exporter facing the hardest of times: the government is incompetent and corrupt, the countryside is overrun with violent bandits, its largest oil field is in terminal decline … the peso is worth less every minute. Checking through other currencies and countries the indicators are much the same. Save for UK sterling and a few others, the world’s currencies are worth much less — over a considerable period of time — relative to the dollar.

Regarding what can be done, vs. what will be done: consider the role of crashes within debtonomies (click on thumbnail then look to the far right):

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Technology and institutions are suggested as change-agents by conventional analysts. Within Debtonomics, the change agent is the process itself. Increasing the capital burn-through rate results in more changes which in turn serve to amplify capital exhaustion. Technology is the instrument of waste, institutions take form to rationalize the use of technology and to provide credit to enable more waste.

 

 

 

 

 

Crashes are the consequence of resource depletion (Great Finance Crisis) or aggregated surplus-related costs that cannot be shifted. The outcome is that costs rebound against the aggregators themselves; (Great Depression, Long Depression, ongoing Great Finance Crisis). In advance of a crash there is no general incentive to make management changes so as to reduce risks … even as risks compound. Crashes result in mass bankruptcy and obvious changes including public demand for accountability. Crashing is the hardest way to change but seemingly the only way for Debtonomies.

 

 

 

 

It is hard to say right now whether the depreciation seen worldwide represents dollar preference or something else. It is possible that currency movements are marketplace phenomena that will revert to some sort of mean over time. In any event, the time to take steps to avoid this problem and energy deflation … is slipping away. Obviously, the most important step is to stop wasting resource capital. Because one way or the other, like it or not, capital is going to be conserved.

“A sound banker, alas, is not one who foresees danger and avoids it, but one who, when he is ruined, is ruined in a conventional way along with his fellows, so that no one can really blame him.”

— John Maynard Keynes,

 

© Copyright Steve Ludlum 2015

Petroleum/Economic Endgame

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on October 8, 2014

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Figure 1: classic doomsday scenario as fuel prices begin to decline below what drillers require to bring new fuels to the marketplace. Fuel shortages do not drive prices higher; instead, capital depletion is reflected by the parallel decline of purchasing power. Customers are unable to gain credit while banking/finance systems break down. (Chart by TFC Charts, click on for big.)

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Every part of the world is experiencing distress as modernity requires cheap fuel and other resources to squander. Since 2000, waste- for- pleasure confronts resources increasingly priced in line with their value; resources that are becoming too costly to waste. Sadly, we humans never figured out alternative uses for our capital, the time to find such uses has run out.

Failure (Financial Times):

Sumitomo’s US shale oil foray turns sourBen McLannahanSumitomo Corp of Japan has drawn a line under its disastrous two-year foray into shale oil in the US, with writedowns connected to the project almost completely erasing its full-year earnings.On Monday, Sumitomo, the fourth biggest of Japan’s trading companies by market capitalization, said that an impairment loss of Y170bn ($1.6bn) on a “tight oil” project in west Texas would form the bulk of Y240bn of charges for the fiscal year to March 2015.… on Monday, Sumitomo said it had decided to sell roughly three-quarters of its acreage, triggering the loss on the assets and the agreement to fund their development. “It is difficult to extract the oil and gas efficiently,” the company said, adding that it could not “expect as much production to recover the investment”.Other Japanese trading companies have taken big writedowns as shale bets have soured. Itochu Corp, the third largest trader by market capitalization, has written down about four-fifths of the Y78bn it paid in 2011 for a 25 per cent stake in family-owned Samson Investment of the US.

More Failure, Tim Morgan (Telegraph UK):

Shale has been hyped (“Saudi America”) and investors have poured hundreds of billions of dollars into the shale sector. If you invest this much, you get a lot of wells, even though shale wells cost about twice as much as ordinary ones.If a huge number of wells come on stream in a short time, you get a lot of initial production. This is exactly what has happened in the US.The key word here, though, is “initial”. The big snag with shale wells is that output falls away very quickly indeed after production begins. Compared with “normal” oil and gas wells, where output typically decreases by 7pc-10pc annually, rates of decline for shale wells are dramatically worse. It is by no means unusual for production from each well to fall by 60pc or more in the first 12 months of operations alone.Faced with such rates of decline, the only way to keep production rates up (and to keep investors on side) is to drill yet more wells. This puts operators on a “drilling treadmill” (running with the Red Queen), which should worry local residents just as much as investors. Net cash flow from US shale has been negative year after year, and some of the industry’s biggest names have already walked away.The seemingly inevitable outcome for the US shale industry is that, once investors wise up, and once the drilling sweet spots have been used, production will slump, probably peaking in 2017-18 and falling precipitously after that. The US is already littered with wells that have been abandoned, often without the site being cleaned up.

2017-18 is optimistic. Drilling is undermined by an overall shortage of credit; oil prices are declining b/c oil customers around the world are bankrupt. Declining wages and the inability to ‘earn’ by wasting petroleum means customers cannot borrow, they are insolvent.

Loans are made to firms, instead; they are larger, they can offer up their leases as collateral. The result is that customers are starved for funds. Credit turns out to be another non-renewable resource; drillers compete against their own customers — and their lenders as well — to gain access to loans.

Energy Commodity Futures

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
Crude Oil (WTI) USD/bbl. 87.67 -1.18 -1.33% Nov 14
Crude Oil (Brent) USD/bbl. 91.60 -0.51 -0.55% Nov 14
RBOB Gasoline USd/gal. 232.05 -4.78 -2.02% Nov 14
NYMEX Natural Gas USD/MMBtu 3.86 -0.10 -2.40% Nov 14
NYMEX Heating Oil USd/gal. 258.23 -2.50 -0.96% Nov 14

Precious and Industrial Metals

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
COMEX Gold USD/t oz. 1,221.20 +8.80 +0.73% Dec 14
Gold Spot USD/t oz. 1,220.56 -0.58 -0.05% N/A
COMEX Silver USD/t oz. 17.38 +0.14 +0.81% Dec 14
COMEX Copper USd/lb. 302.75 -1.15 -0.38% Dec 14
Platinum Spot USD/t oz. 1,279.31 -0.44 -0.03% N/A

Table by Bloomberg, A decline in prices from current levels will reveal the fracking enterprise as a Ponzi scheme. This will in turn upset markets which have been promoting fracking returns as a ‘sure thing’, both for finance as well as for the consumption economy as a whole. Meanwhile, energy company internals deteriorate further, (Bloomberg):

Drillers Piling Up More Debt Than Oil Hunting Fortunes in ShaleAsjylyn LoderFloyd Wilson raps his fingertips against the polished conference table. He’s just been asked, for a second time, how he reacted when his Halcon Resources Corp. (HK) wrote off $1.2 billion last year after disappointing results in two key prospects.Wilson once told investors that the acreage might contain the equivalent of 1.2 billion barrels of oil. He fixes his interlocutor with a blue-eyed stare and leans forward. At 67, he bench-presses 250 pounds (110 kilograms) and looks it. Outside the expansive windows of his 67th-floor executive suite, downtown Houston steams in its July smog.He responds, unsmiling, with a one-syllable obscenity: “F—.”Wilson has reason to curse, Bloomberg Markets magazine will report in its October issue. On the wall behind him hang framed stock certificates of the four public energy companies he’s built in his 44-year career. The third, Petrohawk Energy Corp., discovered the Eagle Ford shale, now the second-most-prolific oil formation in the country. He sold Petrohawk three years ago for $15.1 billion.

Then came Halcon. Since Wilson took over as chairman and chief executive officer in February 2012, the company’s shares have dropped by about half, trading at $5.67 on Sept. 5.

Halcon spent $3.40 for every dollar it earned from operations in the 12 months through June 30. That’s more than all but six of the 60 U.S.-listed companies in the Bloomberg Intelligence North America Independent E&P Valuation Peers index. The company lost $1.4 billion in those 12 months. Halcon’s debt was almost $3.2 billion as of Sept. 5, or $23 for every barrel of proved reserves, more than any of its competitors.


Figure 2: the first appearance of the Triangle of Doom, in October, 2012. Economists fail to predict crashes and other events, their models are not particularly useful. At the same time, non-economists have little difficulty predicting onrushing adversity: in 2007, almost everyone in the real estate industry was concerned about questionable loan origination and underwriting. Most economists ignored the warning signs, just like they do today.

Almost every one …

Zero-percent interest rates, direct asset purchases and swaps by central banks, stock market rigging and propaganda have had the affect of pushing oil driller credit costs as low as possible, resulting in a modest increase in the flow of unconventional petroleum. This increase has been sufficient to offset declines in conventional plays elsewhere in the world but not enough to support our ‘affluence lifestyles’ built around waste. This leaves us with the choice to conserve voluntarily or for conservation to be forced upon us by events.

The Defunct Politics of More

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

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Published on Economic Undertow on October 4, 2013

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The ‘Almost-but-not-quite Goldilocks Oil Price’: not so costly as to torpedo the world’s economies at once but costly enough to strangle them slowly (click on for big). Costly enough to assure drillers of a profit for their hard-to-gain crude, never costly enough to bring extra-cheap crude onto the marketplace as during the ‘Good Old Days’ …

Costly crude = non-costly crude: if you cannot wrap your minds around the foregoing paradox, don’t worry. None of the ‘Brand X’ analysts are able to do so, either: “”We had to destroy the village in order to save it!”

This small notice appeared in a major media outlet;

Cyprus’ energy minister says that a gas field off the country’s southern coast contains between 3.6 and 5 trillion cubic feet (0.1-0.14 trillion cubic meters) of natural gas, noticeably less than an earlier estimate.

A 2011 estimate put the size of the field -— being developed by U.S. firm Noble Energy Inc. and its Israeli partners Delek and Avner -— at 5-8 trillion cubic feet.

The initial rosy estimates of available ‘reserves’ invariably shrink; this reduction takes place before the first drops of petroleum- or the first cubic millimeters of natural gas are out of the ground. There are technical reasons behind this but real issue has to do with finance. Initial estimates are always made large enough to guarantee funding for the necessary infrastructure; everything else by necessity follows along behind.

21st century petroleum extraction has become one of the world’s most expensive industrial enterprises along with nuclear power and military. As with these others infrastructure must always be built first. This would appear to be self-evident but appearances are deceiving: the crude and other resources are presumed to spurt themselves out of the ground at our pleasure after some hand-waving and utterance of the magic words ‘fracking’, ‘deepwater’ and ‘technology’.

Petroleum cannot bootstrap itself and hasn’t been able to since the Rockefeller era. There was never enough petroleum available early on to create and support petroleum extraction, what enabled the pioneer wildcatters was the nation’s gigantic coal industry. We could extract crude oil because we had an industrial base. Inventors were ready to design- and steel mills and factories were in place to produce the inexpensive rotary rigs used to gain the crude bounty lying out of reach in the super-giant fields of Texas, Oklahoma and California. Those were indeed the good old days: the highest quality sweet crudes were to be found in porous, easy to drill free-flowing formations relatively close to the surface, on dry land with good year-round climate, near transportation, refining and ultimately customers. At the same time, the infant automobile industry was producing what looked to be unlimited fuel demand — cash flow — as fast as highways could be built and banks could provide credit.

The crude oil added to the coal energy represented a colossal surplus that had the effect of driving the price of all energy products to the cost of production. Energy became a ‘loss-leader’ for the consumption side of the economy, perpetually cheap fuels became an American entitlement that is in force today. Nevertheless, without an industrial base the crude surplus would not have been available. Oil reservoirs were well beyond the reach of hand-dug wells.

The coal industry was only partly able to bootstrap its self. Large coal deposits could be found early on near the surface. Coal mining required agriculture, firewood and human labor. Farmers created enough food to allow the surplus labor to delve deeply within the earth chasing coal seams rather than farm. With time, coal provided the necessary energy for miners to dig more ‘efficiently’: fewer farmers and more coal. Instead of claustrophobic and dangerous underground mines there were gigantic open pits made possible by explosives, steam engines and railroads.

Eventually there were diminished returns to mechanized mining; the coal seams were exhausted, greater efforts were needed to retrieve less coal: the bootstrap started running in reverse.

Fast-forward and we have painted ourselves into a technology corner. Relentlessly increasing real costs are ‘baked into’ the petroleum cake. We retrieve hard-to-get oil by wasting ever increasing amounts of oil that is slightly easier to get. Petroleum isn’t a stock, it’s a chain of increasingly expensive flows, every link dependent upon all the others.

Analysts insist peak oil isn’t about ‘running out’ and that there will always be oil available. Without relatively cheap petroleum and a high-tech industrial base there is no way to access the expensive crudes needed to replace those already depleted … any more than Welsh miners and pit ponies could possibly gain natural gas from Cyprus’ Mediterranean waters.

Deepwater gas fields require a massive up-front expenditure in dynamic positioning drillships, undersea robots and well-control hardware, gas separators, processing plants and a network of pipelines along with the factories needed to create all of these things. Drillships are nor made in garages by entrepreneurs but in a handful of gigantic specialized shipyards by companies with multi-decade experience building such things. They are not pulled out of the air ‘from nothing’; every drillship in the world today is conceptually dependent upon every one built before. Ship building is an institution rather than simply a mechanical process; the products are not just ships but the continually improved means to design and build them. This must be so otherwise there would be no deep water oil drilling at all. There are too many chances within the drilling process for company-killing failures, the greatest of these; not being able to retrieve enough oil with the newly-purchased ship to pay for it.

Every bit of infrastructure must be in place and paid for before the Cyprus gas enterprise turns its first dollar. Customer dollars in turn are dependent upon the amount of credit these customers have available to them. This in turn is dependent on how much credit is left over after the drillers have taken their share! Our new credit economy can be difficult to understand because it is in many ways paradoxical; drillers depend on their customers as a source of credit at the same time they compete with them. We don’t recognize a contest for credit because consumption is never considered to be a component of energy production. We intently focus extracting more supply in order to overcome shortages without considering why there are shortages in the first place.

Because Cyprus’ gas industry cannot bootstrap itself it must oversell and borrow. With time, the Cypriot’s necessary fuel supply will be unaffordable if it isn’t so already. Cyprus will fall further into debt even as it is already bankrupt. Its natural gas will either be exhausted for a pittance or unaffordable to end users … whereby it will remain in the ground; the drilling endeavor will be a bust.

Humans consume petroleum to gain two things: waste and empty feel-good abstractions such as ‘prosperity’, ‘freedom’, ‘growth’, ‘progress’, presumably Godliness and proper manners. Waste is self-explanatory, the rest can be hard to grasp. Growth, etc. are not things. They can only be experienced vicariously by way of television and the gloating overlordship of billionaire tycoons whose luxurious idleness is gained at the expense of everyone else. None of these abstractions can be held in the hand, they can only be inferred- or referred to relative to other empty abstractions, or to other real resources that shrink like petroleum. Prosperity has become an inventory of disposable novelties. Freedom is the sensation that occurs when sitting in a traffic jam. Growth is like a football score with an exception: there is no clear public understanding what happens when the growth wins.

Progress is war by other means …

— The flaming Tesla, an apt symbol of our vulnerable failed technological paradigm. The fiasco underway in Washington right now is a failure of government, not necessarily a failure of particular components of a particular government but rather the generalized failure of the the modern technocratic state itself. What technocrats are able to do now is manage their own bankruptcy. They are limited to do anything else because they were designed around the modern premise of continual ‘more’: more resources to gobble, more growth, more business, money and credit … more waste, more political power and influence. Theirs is the ‘Politics of More’, which has been stealthily rendered obsolete by events, by their own prior management success.

Governments are now faced with problems they are ill-equipped to solve. Questioning problems is by itself destabilizing because of the ominous implications. Discussing energy implies there is a shortage. Discussing default implies that one is underway. Policy ceases to exist because words needed to frame the policy dare not be spoken. The analog is Walter Bagehot’s observation about finance, “Every banker knows that if he has to prove that he is worthy of credit, however good may be his arguments, in fact his credit is gone …” Every effort our politicians make to prove their credibility undermines it.

That governments are unwilling to solve their self-created crises does not mean they cannot be solved, it is just that our ‘more’ economic and political solutions are inappropriate to changing times. We need solutions devised around the necessity for less in all things. We throw around the term ‘efficiency’ but the more useful approach is restraint. Americans consider themselves conservatives, our governments are filled with them. Some of these governments should start conserving. The alternative is self-solutions; indirect conservation by other means driven by events.

It’s not too hard to notice how close to the edge we really are. The triangle of doom is nothing other than the corner we have painted ourselves into. Every component of the world economy must function flawlessly, policy makers must avoid errors. Even so there is little time left before the cost of extracting fuel — driven by the necessary extent of our industrial base — runs higher than what customers can afford. This can be safely estimated to occur at the end of next year.

If the managers err, credit will likely be affected first although direct energy shortages are a possibility. Fatal management error could occur next week, uncertain customers would be unable or unwilling to borrow … fuel prices would decline. Unable to borrow, the entire industrial base — not just the petroleum segment — would be stranded like over-mortgaged house purchasers were in 2007. Oil production starting with the least productive would be shut in: the deep-water, the arctic, the tight- heavy oils and bitumen production, biofuels. When consumers have no credit they cannot bid prices higher or afford to take deliveries, whether there is a fuel shortage does not matter if fuel users have no money, falling fuel supply cannot grant more credit or make it available to consumers, neither can ‘artificial shortages’ caused by OPEC or others.

Reduced fuel supply would then strand consumption dependent firms such as real estate, auto making, trucking, airlines and tourism; business failures would reduce credit which in turn would reduce available fuel supplies in a self-reinforcing cycle. The danger that lurks behind the ongoing charade in Washington, DC, is that an inadvertent ‘technical default’ would look like the real thing and credit system would delever in a panic. Borrowing costs particularly for short-term credit would quickly escalate out of reach; there would be a rapid return of the Great Finance Crisis … with the central banks’ policy rates already at the lower bound, with them already buying securities, with governments either embracing fiscal austerity or having it forced upon them by force of events.

Painted into a corner: even full-on fiscal and monetary easing directed toward individuals would have little effect other than to kick the proverbial can, but only so far! Even now, there are visibly diminished returns to increased credit flows; the real costs of energy extraction relentlessly increase, the real returns on energy consumption remain at zero … the costs of energy added to the cost of additional credit become too burdensome to bear.

Moderns have gotten used to more, we have known nothing else. We’ve been stupendously lucky; our entire lives, our parents’ lives and generations into the past, from the beginning of the Enlightenment and the founding of the republic onward … every American has had available some measure of more. Even during the depths of the Great Depression, Americans in general lived better than their counterparts did a hundred years’ previously … even though there were far more Americans in the 1930s than in the 1830s. Now we are confronted with less, something alien to moderns as the tropics would be to a walrus. Our economy emerged to manage the costs associated with increased surpluses. Now all the surpluses are questionable, are false assumptions or claims made against phantoms. We need to embrace a new conceptual approach … and do so in a big hurry.

How do we reinvent our society? Creativity is going to save us, not repeating the same errors, making greater efforts until we exhaust ourselves …

Wheels Falling Off…

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

Published on Economic Undertow on April 14, 2013

Discuss this article at the Economics Table inside the Diner

In 2013 it is 2007 all over again, there is a sense of foreboding. Markets are breaking down except for the self-funded stock markets. When these markets begin to break … ?

A difference between now and the ‘good old days’ is that management has already deployed its reserves, its props to support key men. There is little left to deploy: policy rates around the world are near zero and cannot be effectively lowered. Torrents of cheap credit flow from central banks toward commercial finance. Bad loans have been shifted from the private sector to the public’s accounts. Trillions in all currencies have been borrowed and spent by governments … largely to benefit finance. Every one of these are rear-guard efforts, behind them there is nothing, only desperate flailing, arbitrary confiscation, stealing what remains to steal … capitulation to reality … and ruin.

HSNIF 041213

Figure 1: What a fuel price hedge looks like along with its collapse, the Incredible US Housing Recovery compared to the monumental surge in housing churn that took place from 1990 to 2007. The ‘recovery’ is the tendril on the far right. Realtors want Americans to believe what is underway right now is the start of another ramp-up in house building and selling. This is a lie: Americans are broke, suburbia is too expensive to duplicate. A palatable alternative to suburbia in 2013 does not exist.

What would make a ‘recovery’ sustainable? Fuel prices returning to sub-$20 per barrel of crude oil. Otherwise, most of what is seen on the chart is a stranded ‘investment’.

What would derail any hope of recovery and leave the world a sustainable ruin? Fuel prices returned to sub-$20 per barrel of crude oil. At that price there would be very little crude oil available, there would be insufficient buying power to lift the hard-to-reach petroleum that now remains.

Energy Commodity Futures

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
Crude Oil (WTI) USD/bbl. 91.29 -2.22 -2.37% May 13
Crude Oil (Brent) USD/bbl. 103.11 -1.16 -1.11% May 13
RBOB Gasoline USd/gal. 280.18 -2.92 -1.03% May 13
NYMEX Natural Gas USD/MMBtu 4.22 +0.08 +2.01% May 13

 

Precious and Industrial Metals

Commodity Units Price Change % Change Contract
COMEX Gold USD/t oz. 1,501.40 -63.50 -4.06% Jun 13
Gold Spot USD/t oz. 1,482.75 -78.75 -5.04% N/A
COMEX Silver USD/t oz. 26.33 -1.37 -4.93% May 13
COMEX Copper USd/lb. 335.00 -8.35 -2.43% May 13
Platinum Spot USD/t oz. 1,486.75 -45.55 -2.97% N/A

Bloomberg commodities: precious metals and US petroleum were hammered on Friday. Metals have been leading indicators, petroleum is declining to the price level where drilling becomes unprofitable. Without new drilling there is no replacement for rapidly depleting existing reserves.

As reserves are exhausted so is the ability pay for them. The fuel waste process is collateral for fuel extraction, not the fuel itself. The reason for this should be obvious: as soon as fuel is extracted it is destroyed, it is useless as collateral. Instead, the fuel wasting implements become collateral for the funds used to waste more. As credit expands, it first becomes more costly then unaffordable. Industrial output — which is  nothing more than non-remunerative waste — becomes impossible to finance. Ultimately, credit contracts, the nominal prices decline … as the ability to meet prices declines faster … we are entering into the credit contraction phase now.

This is a dynamic that escapes conventional analysis, which assumes an economy running normally in the background and providing credit … even as its fuel supply is depleted. Meanwhile, the economy runs down in real time, credit is diminished and analysts are perplexed.

Triangle of Doom 041213

Figure 2: (Click for big), Brent crude @ $118 in February accompanied the robbery/crash of Cyprus, panic in Japan and deflation. Brent crude today is $103.11, nearing the marginal level where extraction becomes unprofitable. Chart by TFC Charts.

Since 2008 the world has been in the grip of deflation which reflects facts on the ground. With depleting resources, multiplying claims against these same resources or adding wasting implements does not create anything new but depletes what we have access to, faster. Deflation exposes claims as worthless, the fuel extraction process itself is stranded. We have so successfully cannibalized ourselves that it is becoming too late to do anything useful about it.

20y JGB yields 1

Figure 3: (ZeroHedge) Japan 20 year bond yields have become massively volatile: bonds are offered for sale driving up yields which retreat as the Bank of Japan steps up to buy. For Japan’s central bank to meet its targets it must flood the world’s markets with … more credit. This credit-for-credit exchange is a charade, it cannot alter the trajectory of Japan’s fuel- and resource reality, it cannot even change Japan’s finance reality … it is capitulation, the wheels finally coming off in Japan.

Bond-holders ‘sell’ their holdings for yen then swap these for dollars or euros in forex markets. Volatility is increased because of the enormity of the trades required to move the generally liquid bond markets. Large lenders to Japan such as banks and insurance companies appear to be dumping bonds, exiting their positions. These lenders become yen sellers as well: because there are more sellers than buyers, the currency is depreciated. There is no real increase in the overall supply of money. Sean Corrigan @ Diapason Commodities Management, (ZeroHedge):

 

Net new debt issues are currently being penciled in at around the Y42 trillion mark a year and, with the BOJ scheduled to buy Y70 trillion p.a., it might seem that JGBs offer a one-way bet even here, but with a current overhang of Y942 trillion as we write, the possibility is not to be  overlooked that while the Bank may be comfortably able to mop up the new flow, it might have its work cut out if others decide to use its resting bid to get rid of some of their enormous existing stock of claims.Prime candidates would be foreigners (with Y87tln to hand and steep currency losses to hazard), the banks (which, we have seen, hold Y425tln in government claims, of which Y360tln in JGBS per se), and insurance companies (with Y222 trillion in debt and Y184 trillion in JGBs & TBs combined). In its last concerted attempt at re-inflation, conducted in 2002-3, the BOJ briefly pushed up both the monetary base and overall M1 by around 30%. The response of prices was modest to say the least: CPI moved from -1.4% to +0.5% three years later. If the same thing were to happen again, all that would have been achieved would be to have introduced an unnecessary disturbance of the pricing structure between inland and foreign trade and, at the margin, between those living off current income and those reliant upon stored past income. Debt would, of course, have climbed inexorably skyward, as would the debt/nominal income ratio.

 

The reason for the gambit is Japan’s vanished trade surplus which had overseas customers subsidizing resource waste by the Japanese. Exports never provided any return for Japan’s customers: they are now broke, they cannot subsidize anyone. The depreciation is a futile attempt to retrieve the irretrievable.

 

Report to Congress on International Economic and Exchange Rate PoliciesU.S. Department of the Treasury Office of International AffairsApril 12, 2013Bruce Krasting discusses the Treasury Department response to the Japanese:

 

There are two potentially market moving sections in the report. The Treasury Department planted a “dirty bomb” at the Bank of Japan, and tossed a grenade at the Swiss National Bank. I’m thinking of all the folks who are big long USDJPY. They are going to have to sweat the next 50 hours. They have to hold their cards and wait. I suspect that quite a few FX players will have their weekends ruined.The key words on Japan (from US Treasury Secretary Jack Lew):

“We will continue to press Japan to adhere to the commitments agreed to in the G7 and G 20, to remain oriented towards meeting respective domestic objectives using domestic instruments and to refrain from competitive devaluation and targeting its exchange rate for competitive purposes.”

“I think we just had the Jack Lew moment that I was anticipating. I believe that Jackie Boy has made a mistake. He picked a public fight with Japan that he can’t win. Having picked the fight, he can’t back off. When the BOJ and the markets make him look silly (USDJPY = 110+) there is going to be pressure on him. Jackie has set himself up for a fall.

In all my years of watching (and participating) in the FX markets I have never once seen a situation where “talk” accomplished a damn thing. In fact, idle talk often creates the opposite reaction to what was intended. So for those who are having sphincter problems this weekend over a long USDJPY book, and the 50 hours you have to wait to find out what happens, I say relax. By the opening in NY on Monday, you will be okay again. In a few weeks you’ll be buying hot cars and houses.”

 

Keep in mind, the Treasury Secretary doesn’t act by himself, he has a fleet of ‘associates’ at the Big Banks pulling his strings. If he makes a mistake they lose and they don’t like to lose = they pull the strings as needed.

Meanwhile, the fundamentals are ignored: the effects of Japan’s maneuvering are likely to be negligible. Management has already deployed its reserves, its props to support key men. There is little left to deploy: policy rates around the world are near zero … torrents of cheap credit flow, etc. Things cannot be improved, only be made worse.

Japan — like all the other countries — has no independent monetary policy. This is because the price of money has nothing to do with interest rates or trades on forex markets. Rather, it’s priced at gasoline stations around the world by millions of motorists every single day. If gas prices are too high — because of currency depreciation or some other reason — drivers buy less and economies deflate. This undoes the efforts of the money-managers.

Enter the post-1998 peak oil paradigm shift: when gas prices fall drivers buy more fuel but there is quickly less available, prices either increase again or shortages occur. The real price of fuel — that relative to other goods and services — increases relentlessly. Eventually, this real price bankrupts countries like Japan!

Think of the old-fashioned ‘gold standard’ constraining the money supply as well as industry and commerce as it did during the 1930s. With the ‘gasoline standard’ there are the same constraints except it is impossible to go off petroleum and grow the economy as could be done by ‘going off gold’. The only way to escape the gas standard is to jettison cars and other fuel-guzzling gadgets, this also annihilates economic growth which is dependent upon more and more of these things being sold. Meanwhile, in the background where the analysts pretend not to notice, the gasoline standard strands cars and other fuel guzzling gadgets anyway: at the end of the modernity’s ever-shortening gangplank there is no room to maneuver.

Fiddling with nominal prices is pointless: any possible currency-driven export gains are offset exactly by currency-driven import costs. Because Japan is nothing more or less than a car factory with radioactive beaches it cannot gain anything by depreciating its currency. Its export prices are determined entirely by what it pays for imports … including fuel! The only effect of so-called monetary ‘policy’ is steal funds from workers and shift them to plutocrats. Everything else remains the same.

The blowup in Japan is part of the de-carring process which is underway right now everywhere in the World. Depreciating the yen does not bring one drop of petroleum fuel onto the market. The only question is how soon the ‘Abenomics’ experiment will fail and what form the failure will take. As holders of yen and yen-denominated bonds reduce their ‘exposure’ and dump their bonds there is less credit available rather than more. Prices for fuel decline … as they are doing so now! This does not help the Japanese exporters because their customers are still broke … regardless of the price of credit.

When the price of crude declines below the cost of extraction there will be physical shortages. These will reduce credit further which will in turn shut in more crude in a vicious cycle. There will be a return to recession with no way to end it: conservation by other means.

What sort of country does Japan become? A place to look is Egypt which has its own currency but depends upon foreign exchange same as Japan:

 

Short of Money, Egypt Sees Crisis on Fuel and FoodDavid D. Kirkbpatrick (NY Times)A fuel shortage has helped send food prices soaring. Electricity is blacking out even before the summer. And gas-line gunfights have killed at least five people and wounded dozens over the past two weeks.The root of the crisis, economists say, is that Egypt is running out of the hard currency it needs for fuel imports. The shortage is raising questions about Egypt’s ability to keep importing wheat that is essential to subsidized bread supplies, stirring fears of an economic catastrophe at a time when the government is already struggling to quell violent protests by its political rivals.

 

The establishment insists that the fuel shortage is the result of a money-credit shortage. Instead, the reverse is true: there is a shortage of fuel; there is no useful collateral for new credit, only (obsolete) waste enablers.

Japan can also become Portugal:

Portugal’s elder statesman calls for ‘Argentine-style’ defaultAmbrose Evans-Pritchard (Telegraph UK)Mario Soares, who steered the country to democracy after the Salazar dictatorship, said all political forces should unite to “bring down the government” and repudiate the austerity policies of the EU-IMF Troika.“Portugal will never be able to pay its debts, however much it impoverishes itself. If you can’t pay, the only solution is not to pay. When Argentina was in crisis it didn’t pay. Did anything happen? No, nothing happened,” he told Antena 1.The former socialist premier and president said the Portuguese government has become a servant of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, meekly doing whatever it is told.

“In their eagerness to do the bidding of Senhora Merkel, they have sold everything and ruined this country. In two years this government has destroyed Portugal,” he said.

Raoul Ruparel from Open Europe said Portugal had reached the limits of austerity. “The previous political consensus in parliament has evaporated. As so often in this crisis, the eurozone is coming up against the full force of national democracy.”

The rallying cry by Mr. Soares comes a week after Portugal’s top court ruled that pay and pension cuts for public workers are illegal, forcing premier Pedro Passos Coelho to search for new cuts. The ruling calls into question the government’s whole policy “internal devaluation” aimed at lowering labour costs.

A leaked report from the Troika warned that the country is at risk of a debt spiral, with financing needs surging to €15bn by 2015, a third higher than the levels that precipitated the debt crisis in 2011. “There is substantial funding risk,” it said.

 

To operate its massive fleet of cars, Portugal must compete with China and America for fuel. These countries’ can generate their own credit, Portugal cannot, in fact none of the eurozone nations are able do so. Right now Portugal must borrow from Wall Street by way of EU banks, so as to repay Wall Street. Portugal has borrowed to buy fuel, it must borrow additional amounts to buy more fuel at the same time service and repay its dead-money debts.

The end result for all these countries is the same: there are debts that cannot be retired, industrial obligations that cannot possibly be met. As during the early years of the 20th century, the wheels are falling off all over the world … we shall not see them turn again in our lifetime …

Peak Oil Demand Destruction

Off the keyboard of Gail Tverberg

Published on Our Finite World on April 11, 2013

Discuss this article at the Energy Table inside the Diner

We in the United States, the Euro-zone, and Japan are already past peak oil demand. Oil demand has to do with how much oil we can afford. Many of the developed nations are not able to outbid the developing nations when it comes to the world’s limited oil supply. A chart of oil consumption shows that oil consumption peaked for the combination of the United States, EU-27, and Japan in 2005 (Figure 1).

Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world "all liquids" production amounts.Figure 1. Oil consumption by part of the world, based on EIA data. 2012 world consumption data estimated based on world “all liquids” production amounts.

We can see an even more pronounced version of this pattern if we look at the oil consumption of the five countries known as the PIIGS in Europe: Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain. All of these countries have had serious declines in oil consumption in recent years, as high oil prices have impeded their economies.

Figure 2. Oil consumption for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, based on EIA data.Figure 2. Oil consumption for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece, and Spain, based on EIA data.

Oil consumption for the PIIGS in total hit its highest level in 2004, before the decline began. Peak oil consumption by country varied a bit: Portugal, 2002; Italy, declining since 1995; Ireland, peak in 2007; Spain, peak in 2007; Greece, peak in 2006.

Peak demand is very much related to jobs. Peak oil demand occurs when a country is not competitive in the world market-place, and because of this, loses industry and jobs. One reason this happens is because the country’s energy cost structure is not competitive in the world market-place. With the run-up in oil prices starting about 2003, oil is by far the most expensive of the traditional energy sources we have available today. Countries that use a large percentage of oil in their energy mix can be expected to have a hard time competing, because of oil’s higher cost.

Figure 3. Oil consumption as percentage of energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.Figure 3. Oil consumption as percentage of energy consumption for selected countries, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Anything else that is done which raises costs for businesses will also have an impact. This would include “carbon taxes,” if competitors do not have them, and if there is no tariff on imported goods to reflect carbon inputs.

High-cost renewables can also have an adverse impact, regardless of whether the cost is borne by businesses, consumers or the government.

  • If the cost is borne by businesses, those businesses must raise their prices to keep the same profit margins, and because of this become less competitive.
  • If the cost is borne by consumers, those consumers will cut back on discretionary expenditures, in order to balance their budgets. This is likely to mean  a cutback in demand for discretionary goods by local consumers.
  • If the government bears the cost, it still must pass the cost back to businesses or consumers, and thus reduce competitiveness because of higher tax costs.

This importance of competitiveness holds, no matter how worthy a given approach is. If costs were “externalized” before, and are now borne by the local system, it makes the local system less competitive. For example, putting in proper pollution controls will make local industry less competitive, if the competition is Chinese industry, acting without such  controls.

One issue in competitiveness is wage levels. Wages in turn are related to standards of living. In a global economy, countries with higher wage levels for workers, and higher benefit levels for workers (such as health insurance and pensions) will be at a competitive disadvantage. Countries that use coal as their prime source of energy will be at an advantage, because workers’ wages will tend to “go farther” in heating their homes and buying electricity.

Countries that are warm in the winter will be at a competitive advantage, because homes don’t have to be built as sturdily, and don’t have to be heated in winter. Workers can commute by bicycle even in the coldest weather.

Energy usage (all types combined, not just oil) is far higher in cold countries than it is in warm wet countries. Countries that extract oil also tend to be high users of energy.

Figure 4. Per capita energy consumption for selected countries for the year 2010, based on EIA data.Figure 4. Per capita energy consumption for selected countries for the year 2010, based on EIA data.

The difference in per capita energy usage among the various countries is truly astounding. For example, Bangladesh’s per capita energy consumption is slightly less than 2% of US energy consumption. This difference in energy consumption means that salaries can be much lower, and thus products made in Bangladesh can be much cheaper, than those made in the United States. This is part of our competitiveness problem, even apart from the energy mix problem mentioned earlier.

In my view, globalization brought on many of our current problems. Perhaps globalization could not be avoided, but we should have foreseen the problems. We could have put tariffs in place to make a more level playing field.  See my post, Twelve Reasons Why Globalization is a Huge Problem.

Inadequate world oil supply isn’t exactly the problem. The issue is far more that the price of oil extraction is rising.  The price of oil extraction is rising for a variety of reasons, an important one being that we extracted the easy to extract oil first, and what is left is more expensive to extract. Another issue is that oil exporters now have large populations that need to be kept fed and clothed, so they don’t revolt. This is a separate issue, that raises costs, even above the direct cost of extraction. There is no reason to believe that these costs will level off or fall, no matter how much oil the US produces using high-priced methods, such as fracking.

When oil prices rise, wages don’t rise at the same time. In fact, in the US there is evidence  that wages stagnate when oil prices are high, partly because fewer are employed, and partly because the wages of those employed flatten.

Figure 5. High oil prices are associated with depressed wages. Oil price through 2011 from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, updated to 2012 using EIA data and CPI-Urban from BLS. Average wages calculated by dividing Private Industry wages from US BEA Table 2.1 by US population, and bringing to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban.Figure 5. High oil prices are associated with depressed wages. Oil price through 2011 from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy, updated to 2012 using EIA data and CPI-Urban from BLS. Average wages calculated by dividing Private Industry wages from US BEA Table 2.1 by US population, and bringing to 2012 cost level using CPI-Urban.

The countries that are most affected by rising oil prices are the countries that use oil to the greatest extent in their mix of energy products. In Figure 3, that would be the PIIGS. The rest of the US, EU-27, and Japan would be next in line.

When oil prices rise, consumers need to balance their budgets. The price of oil products and food rises, so they cut back on discretionary items.  Their smaller purchases of discretionary goods and services means that workers in discretionary sectors get laid off.

Businesses find that the price of oil used in manufacturing and shipping their products has risen. If they raise the sales price of the goods to reflect their higher costs, it means that fewer people can afford their products. This too, leads to cutbacks in sales, and layoffs of workers. Sometimes businesses decide to outsource production to a cheaper country, or use more automation, as a way of mitigating the cost increases that higher oil prices add, but automation or outsourcing also tends to reduce US wages.

The net effect of all of these changes is that there are fewer workers with jobs in the countries with high oil usage. This reduces the demand for oil in the high oil usage countries, both from business owners making goods and from the consumers who might use gasoline to drive their cars. This price mechanism is part of what leads to the oil consumption shift we see in Figure 1.

We are dealing with is close to a zero-sum game, when it comes to oil supply. The amount of oil that is extracted from the ground is almost constant (very slightly increasing for the world in total). If prices stayed at the low level they were in the past (say $20 barrel), there would not be enough to go around. Instead, higher prices redistribute oil to countries that can use it manufacture goods at low overall cost. Workers in factories making these goods are then able to afford to buy goods that use oil, such as a motor scooter.

Citigroup recently released a report titled, “Global Oil Demand Growth, – the End is Nigh.” Its subtitle says,

The substitution of natural gas for oil combined with increasing fuel economy means oil demand is approaching a tipping point.

This is out-and-out baloney, for a number of reasons:

1. There are way too many of “them” compared to the number of “us,” for energy efficiency to make even a dent in our problem.

2. When we look at past oil consumption, changes in vehicle energy efficiency did not make a big difference.

3. Substituting natural gas for oil still leaves cost levels for the US, Europe, and Japan very high, compared to those for the rest of the world, where little energy is used.

4. There are really separate markets in many parts of the globe. Our market is collapsing because of high price. Perhaps increased efficiency and natural gas substitution will help low-cost producers until they reach a different limit of some sort.

Let’s look at these issues separately.

There are way too many of “them” relative to us, for energy efficiency to even make a dent in our problem.

If we look at world population, this is what we see:

Figure 6. World population split between US, EU-27, and Japan, and the Rest of the World.Figure 6. World population split between US, EU-27, and Japan, and the Rest of the World.

Using a ruler, we could probably make fairly reasonable projections of future population for each of these groups.

If we look at per capita oil consumption for the two groups separately, there is a huge disparity:

Figure 7. Per capita oil consumption separately for the group US, EU-27, plus Japan, and for the rest of the world, based on BP's 2102 Statistical Review of World Energy, and population statistics from EIA (since 1980) and Angus Maddison data. (earlier dates).Figure 7. Per capita oil consumption separately for the group US, EU-27, plus Japan, and for the rest of the world, based on BP’s 2102 Statistical Review of World Energy, and population statistics from EIA (since 1980) and Angus Maddison data. (earlier dates).

Per capita oil consumption for the EU, US, and Japan group peaked in 1973–a very long time ago. In recent years, it has been drifting down fairly rapidly, just to keep up with a slight per capita rise in oil consumption of the Rest of the World. Even with recent changes, per capita oil consumption of the EU, US and Japan group is more than 4.5 times that of the rest of the world.

If cars were made more efficient, more people could afford them. The market for cars is unbelievably huge, compared to today’s market, if costs could be brought down. Furthermore, gasoline accounts for less than half of US oil consumption. Even if efficiency were improved to allow cars to use half as much fuel, it would save a little less than one-fourth of current oil consumption. How far would this oil go in satisfying the needs of 6 billion other people–and growing every year?

When we look at past oil consumption, changes in vehicle energy efficiency did not make a big difference.

If we look at per capita oil consumption in the US, split between gasoline and other oil products, we see that the big drop in oil consumption came from the drop in other oil products–that is the commercial and industrial part of US oil consumption.

Figure 8. US per capita consumption of oil products, split between gasoline and other. Total consumption from BP's 2012 Statistical Review of  World Energy. Gasoline consumption from EIA. (Amounts include biofuels.)Figure 8. US per capita consumption of oil products, split between gasoline and other. Total consumption from BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Gasoline consumption from EIA. (Amounts include biofuels.) Difference by subtraction.

The amount of fuel used for gasoline has stayed in the 10 to 12 barrels a year per capita band, since 1970, in spite of huge improvements in vehicle efficiency.

I recently wrote a post called Why is US Oil Consumption Lower? Better Gasoline Mileage? In it, I looked at the decrease in US oil consumption between 2005 and 2012. I concluded that the majority of the decrease in consumption was due to a drop in commercial use. Only 7% was due to an improvement in miles per gallon for gasoline powered vehicles.

Substituting natural gas for oil still leaves the US (as well as Europe and Japan) very high priced, compared to the rest of the world, that doesn’t use much energy.

Living in the US, Europe or Japan, it is  hard to get an idea of the cost structure of the rest of the world. We are so far above the cost structure of the rest of the world that substituting natural gas for oil would do little to fix the situation.

Figure 9. Photo I took of an auto-rickshaw while visiting India in October 2012. A total of 10 of us (including driver) traveled for several miles in a three-seated version of one of these. Those of us on the edges held on tightly to the frame, because there was not room for all of us.  Figure 9. Photo of an auto-rickshaw I took while visiting India in October 2012. A total of 10 of us (including driver) traveled for several miles in a three-seated version of one of these. Those of us on the edges held on tightly to the frame, because there was not room for all of us.

We can also debate how much substitution of natural gas will actually do, and in what timeframe. In the US, natural gas is temporarily very cheap. But it costs more to extract shale gas than the market currently pays, in many areas. Also, a recently University of Texas study showed that Barnett Shale was past peak production, if prices do not rise.

There are really separate markets in many parts of the globe. Our market is collapsing because of high price. Perhaps increased efficiency and natural gas substitution will help low-cost producers, until they reach a different limit of some sort.

When a country is not competitive, it is not just oil consumption that drops, but consumption of other energy products as well.  If we look at the per capita energy consumption of the US, EU-27, and Japan combined, we see that non-oil energy consumption per capita reached its peak in 2004, and is now declining (Figure 10, below).  If consumers are too poor to buy oil products, they are also too poor to buy products made with other types of energy.

Figure 10. Per capita consumption for the sum of the EU-27, US, and Japan, based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of  World Energy.Figure 10. Per capita consumption for the sum of the EU-27, US, and Japan, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The Rest of the World followed a very different pattern of energy consumption. Non-oil consumption soared, on a per capita basis. Oil consumption also increased on a per capita basis.

Figure 11. Per capita energy consumption for the Rest of the World, based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.Figure 11. Per capita energy consumption for the Rest of the World, based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

More detailed data shows that the big increase in non-oil consumption was a huge rise in coal consumption, after China was admitted to the World Trade Organization in December 2001.

How does peak oil demand work out in the end?

I would argue that lack of competitiveness in world markets is a limit that the US, EU-27 and Japan are hitting right now, but at slightly different rates. EU-27 now seems to be ahead in the race to the bottom, partly because its combined currency. I wrote a post in March 2012 called Why High Oil Prices Are Now Affecting Europe More Than the US, explaining the situation.

It seems to me, though, that a big piece of the problem with lack of competitiveness gets transferred to the governments of the affected countries. This happens because collection of tax revenue lags, because not enough people are working, and those who are working are earning lower wages. At the same time increased payouts are needed to stimulate the economy, and to provide benefits to the many without jobs.

Governments increase their debt to meet the revenue shortfall. They reduce interest rates to record-low levels, to stimulate the economy.  They also use Quantitative Easing, or “printing money” to try to lower long-term interest rates, and to try to make their exports more competitive. Unfortunately, these actions do not solve the basic structural problem of high and rising world oil prices, and the fact that these rising prices make their economies increasingly less competitive in the world marketplace.

One possible way I see of the current situation working out is that the total energy consumption (including all types of energy products, not just oil) of the EU, US and Japan will continue to fall, as high-priced oil continues to erode our competitive position in the world marketplace.

Figure 12. One view of future energy consumption for the EU-27, US, and Japan. Historical is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy. Figure 12. One view of future energy consumption for the EU-27, US, and Japan. Historical is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

The slope of the decline is based on the type of decline experienced by the Former Soviet Union, in the years immediately following its collapse. This pattern might reflect a combination of different patterns for different countries. Greece and Spain, for example might continue to fall quite quickly. The US might lag the EU in the speed at which problems take place. The likely path seems downward, because any action taken to fix the government gap between income and expense can be expected to have a recessionary impact, and thus have an adverse impact on energy consumption.

The Rest of the World is now growing rapidly, but at some point they will start reaching limits. One of these limits will be lack of an export market. Another will be lack of spare parts, because businesses in the US, Europe and Japan are failing for financial reasons. Some of these limits will relate to pollution and lack of fresh water. The effect of these limits will also be to raise costs. For example, a shortage of water can be worked around through desalination, but this raises costs. Lack of spare parts can be worked around by building a new plant to make the spare part. Pollution problems can be mitigated by pollution controls, but these add costs. These higher costs, when passed on to consumers will also lead to a cutback in demand for discretionary goods, and the same kinds of problems experienced in oil exporting nations. Thus, these countries will also have “Peak Demand” problems, because of rising prices, related to limits they are reaching.

I don’t know exactly how soon the Rest of the World will hit limits, but given the interconnectedness of the world system, it would seem to be within the next few years. Figure 13 shows one estimate of how this may occur.

Figure 13. One view of energy consumption for the Rest of the World. Historical data is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.Figure 13. One view of energy consumption for the Rest of the World. Historical data are based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

Here again, individual countries may do better than others. Countries with little connectedness to the world system (for example, countries in central Africa) may have fewer problems than others. Of course, their energy consumption (of the type measured by the EIA or BP) is very low now. They may use cow dung and fallen branches for fuel, but these are not counted in international data.

Figure 14, below, shows the sum of the amounts from Figures 12 and 13. Thus, it gives one estimate of  future world energy consumption based on Peak Demand considerations.

Figure 14. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP's 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.  Figure 14. One view of future energy consumption for the world as a whole. History is based on BP’s 2012 Statistical Review of World Energy.

If there is a silver lining to all of this, it is that world CO2 emissions are likely to start falling quite rapidly, because of Peak Oil Demand. World CO2 emissions could quite possibly drop below 20% of current levels before 2050. In the scenario I show, energy consumption drops faster than forecasts such as those put out by the Energy Watch Group. Such forecasts do not take into account financial considerations, so are likely overstated.

The downside of Peak Oil Demand is that the world we live in will be very much changed. Population levels will likely drop, indirectly because of serious recession, job loss, and cutbacks in government benefits. The financial system will need to be completely revised, because debt financing will make sense much less often than today. In fact, in a shrinking world economy, money can no longer act as a store of value. There no doubt will be some people who survive and prosper, but their lives will likely be very different from what they are today.

More of the Same…

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

Published on Economic Undertow on April 3, 2013

Detroit Packard Plant. The largest abandoned factory plant in the World.

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

What is underway in this world right now is more of the same. It’s a song: ‘La la-la- la-la … more of the same!

There is more of the same thievery on the part of the establishment, everywhere in the world. There is more of the same poverty, there is more of the same denial … There is more of the same advertising for unlimited resources, more of the same consumer sales, more of the same real estate rebounds, more of the same freeway lane-miles added to more of the same freeways …

More of the same hollow, pointless ‘progress’.

More of the same, the management systems the world has relied upon since the end of World War Two are breaking down but more applications of the same failed management approaches are underway. To support more of the same failures there is more of the same moral hazard, more of the same credit provision, more of the same propaganda and lies. There is more of the same breakages with more of the same exponentially increasing consequences. There is more of the same corruption, more of the same outright pillage and bullying.

There more of the same indifference and refusal to face reality. There is more of the same flight out of banking deposits into risky currency traps even as there is more of the same flight into banking deposits! There is more of the same sense of foreboding, that there is no way out of the traps that we have built for ourselves, that the end of the ‘good old days’ is right around the corner. At the same time, there is more of the same begging/wishing for more of the same ‘good old days’.

With more of the same taking place right now, less of the same will certainly be a whole lot worse. Pray thee Lord for more of the same.

More or the same makes life easy for the analyst even as it makes it more difficult. More of the same becomes very hard to become outraged about. More of the same evil: how do Alex Jones or Yves Smith remain enraged at the highest pitch day after day about more of the same perfidy? The government will be just as conniving next year as it was ten years ago, the big Wall Street banks will still shove more of the same blood funnels seeking more of the same easy payoffs and more of the same bonuses. Who really cares?

The market can offer more of the same a lot longer than you can remain solvent!

At the same time, more of the same analysis becomes very simple: readers can turn to older articles to see how the same really was when it first emerged. It’s more of the same now! It can’t get any easier!

Singularity = self-writing analytical articles!

 
Edward Chapotin house 1

Unknown photographer: Dr. Edward Chapotin house and his medical practice next door in 1915, on Woodward Avenue @ Woodbridge Street, from the Burton Historical Collection, Detroit Public Library- University of Michigan. Note the streetcar tracks on Woodward. This business/residence was located within a few blocks of the Detroit River.

More of the same lurks on both sides of the political divide from Richard Alford by way of Yves Smith, (Naked Capitalism):

 

Richard Alford: Fed Policy – (more of the same) Old Wine in New Bottles
 Yves here. This is an important post, in that it describes how the Fed, despite the unconventional look of some of its measures, is using more extreme variants of traditional policy approaches, and why that is not such a hot idea.One place where I quibble with Alford is in attributing the way Greenspan dropped short term rates dramatically in the early 1990s recession as driven by unemployment policy. At the time, there was considerable concern about the health and stability of banks in the US. It wasn’t just savings and loans that were hemorrhaging losses. Citibank nearly went under. Some major commercial banks in Texas and the Southwest had lent heavily to spec commercial real estate projects at just the wrong time. And although it was mainly foreign banks that hoovered up participations in LBO financings, like Campeau, that came a cropper, US financial firms had exposures as well. Greenspan’s driving short term rates to the floor created an extremely large spread between short and long term interest rates, enabling wounded banks to borrow short and lend long, and rebuild their capital bases out of artificially high profits.

Another quibble is at the very end, where Alford is correctly concerned about our sustained trade deficits, but also is unduly exercised about our fiscal deficits. They are in fact necessary and desirable as long as the business sector keeps net saving, which it did even in the years immediately preceding the crisis. If capitalists refuse to play their proper role and loot rather than dedicate resources to future growth, government has to step in. But as we are seeing now, what is unsustainable about this arrangement is the politics much more than the economics.

 

Here’s Alford:

 

But Have We Seen It All Before? 

For all their differences in perspective and emphasis, most of the opposing evaluations of the merits of Fed policy have one element in common: They all appear to be largely prisoners of a Phillips Curve mentality. Policy is set based only on the current levels of unemployment and inflation. Policymakers, economists and pundits do not look beyond near-term changes in unemployment and inflation when evaluate the risks and returns of alternative policy responses.

However, there may be a more troublesome risk attached to current monetary policy. The risk is that the current policy stance – low interest rates as well as QE- is reducing the probability of a return to self–sustaining economic growth … “

 

Alford is a very bright guy and he’s paid his dues within the money management ‘racket’. Yves = ditto. Nevertheless, it’s impossible to take either one seriously. What does ‘sustainable’ mean? More of the same tract houses? More of the same auto sales? More of the same insurance and finance? More of the same strip malls and Pizza Huts? More of the same F-35 fighter jets? More of the same coal mines, gas pipelines, VLCCs … how about more of the same airports? What is sustainable about any of this? How about those tens- of thousands of tombstone-like concrete towers in China? How many more-of-the-same vacant apartments are needed before the Chinese get to sustainability heaven?

How does everyone get there? There are seven billion of us meat-bags right now on Planet ‘E’ and only 15% have automobiles. Do we ‘arrive’ when 30% become automotive? How about 50%? Where do we put the 800 million or so extra cars? Where do we get the fuel for them? Does the US build another 55,000 mile interstate highway system to go along with the 55,000 mile system we already have? We cannot afford to fix our roads now! How is more of the same sustainable again?

‘Sustainable’ is gross abuse of the language. In order to ‘have’ our desired industrial goodies we must borrow. Our machines do not pay their own way. If they did there would be no debts as deploying machines would retire them. That they do not do so is self-evident. With thousands of millions of machines there is an exponential increase in debt required to assemble them and provide them with fuel. This is debt that even the entire world’s bloated finance establishment cannot provide.

Credit is a resource in the sense that it is a means to allocate other resources: with less of these other resources to allocate, adding credit becomes pointless and unaffordable. US recessions from 1970- onward were the result of fuel shortages- and price shocks including the current version. Even the modest credit demands of the earlier time periods … were breaking. Today’s high real credit requirements are destructive in and of themselves without the added blows of high fuel prices.

People must understand: the Glory Days are gone and never coming back … ! Santa Claus is not going to come down the chimney with some kind of industry … to take the human race by the hand and lead it into the Promised Land. Our collective future is binary: we are either joint-and severally destroyed by shortages and inability to adjust to them … or we escape destruction by the skin on our noses.

Watch what the plutocrats are doing right now! They know what’s going on because they can afford ‘intelligence’ and are ruthless enough to take advantage! They use the time remaining … to steal … then leave the rest of us to Mad Max.

It will take every single inner resource the human race possesses … clarity, honor, courage, perseverance, helpfulness, strength, wisdom … the willingness to endure tremendous suffering and hardship for decades and perhaps centuries … what is absent in popular culture particularly among finance analysts … it will take all of these things and more to escape our self-constructed annihilation.

Right now, this isn’t happening. There is too much fantasy thinking and denial about redistribution … what is there to redistribute, exactly? Deck chairs on the Titanic?

Here is another variation on the theme … from Bill Buckler @ ZeroHedge:

 

The Puppet Master – Government For hundreds if not thousands of years of human history, the vast majority were all too well aware that the government “lives” on the backs of the people. Today, that long-held knowledge has been astonishingly, successfully reversed. Today, the perceived “wisdom” is that the people live on the back of the government. In the realm of the history of ideas, it took many centuries to bring forward the idea that a life might be lived without constant kowtowing to government. It has only taken one century – the time since World War One – to all but totally submerge that legacy in a new wave of government dependency.The old and tired phrase – “I’m from the government and I’m here to help you” – is met by as much derision as it has ever been when people bemoan the impositions of their rulers. But those same people rely on the government to insulate them from the consequences of any action they may choose to undertake.

 

The great myth is that our industrial economy is ‘productive’, that it is saddled temporarily by parasitic governments (fascists) or bankers (socialists). Get rid of one or the other and the industrial economy will spread its wings and fly off to consumer good paradise, taking the American Worker along with it.

This is false: the product of industrial economies is waste. Because waste is not a good there are no organic returns for industrial activities. Instead, the cost of the activities must be met with credit. To provide the needed credit there are bankers, to service the debts there are governments.

That this is so is self-evident: if industry was productive — if there was any product at all other than waste — there would be no crisis and no debts. Any shortfalls would be met by deploying additional machines, which would pay for themselves, thereby retiring their own debts … and ours besides.

 
Edward Chapotin house 2
 

The intersection of Woodward Avenue and Woodbridge Street is long-gone, so are Doctor Chapotin’s restrained yet whimsical houses. All of them are replaced by the urban equivalent of the place-mat, the concrete pad and grassy area(s). Note the occasional tree.

 
Edward Chapotin house 3
 

Forsaken and bleak … the backdrop for a homicide, here is the adjacent 1 Civic Center Plaza. Perhaps Chernobyl is more soulless, then again … perhaps not.

Today, there are more and more machines, these do not pay anything. Instead these machines must be subsidized by robbing from savers, retirees, workers and business customers. Meanwhile, the world’s economies are burdened by hundreds of trillions of dollars worth of non-repayable debt … taken on to build and run the machines.

Without credit, there is no industry. Meanwhile, our precious fleet of machines strip-mines the world of credit along with resources. This stripping process is underway right now in Europe and elsewhere … coming soon to your town! (It’s already happened if you live in Detroit.)

The underlying cause is centuries’ long destruction of resource capital. The consequence is diminishing resource throughput, diminished capital with a large and increasing scarcity premium attached to it. There is simply no more (of the same) capital to waste affordably. What capital remains is too valuable: the cost of retiring debts is greater than the worth of debts themselves. Whether the managers admit it or not, the markets right now are pricing the true costs of waste beyond the reach of today’s wasters … also tomorrow’s.

Because ‘more of the same waste’ is a physical process, it doesn’t matter who manages it, Austrian or Marxist, neo-Liberal or Friedmanite, salt-water or fresh-water. All of them will fail. Regardless of who is in charge there will always be less.

Don’t let the common sense baffle you! It’s not that hard to figure out. If prosperity = waste, nobody can promise prosperity any longer.

The ONLY solution is stringent energy- and resource conservation. There is no other solution, only evasions: to do nothing or to attempt more of the same waste means conservation will occur ‘by other means’. See ‘Cyprus’ as the latest example.

Hope…Change…

Off the keyboard of Steve from Virginia

Published on Economic Undertow on November 7, 2012

Discuss this article at the Epicurean Delights Smorgasbord inside the Diner

President Obama easily won re-election yesterday: Where do we go from here?

– look for ‘Brand X’ opponent Romney to retreat into what Edward Gibbon called, ‘a well-deserved obscurity’. Smarmy Romney lacks the kooky charisma and media horsepower of a Sarah Palin or Paul Ryan, his TV days are done. He has nothing to say and says it with less conviction than just about anyone in public life. There is little left for Mr. Romney to do but to go back to Wall Street where he can reassure his own customers he is not stealing their money … while he steals their money.

The Tea Party has unraveled as a political phenomenon. The ultra-libertarian/Austrian/liquidationist faction within GOP politic has discredited itself: the public won’t buy social Darwinism no matter how much religion and patriotic moralizing are spackled over it.

– The GOP has no one to blame for the election outcome but themselves. Their primary process — dominated by petroleum industry stooges and ‘missionary evangelists’ — prevented the Republicans from fielding a candidate able to challenge the vulnerable Obama. Who could have beaten him? An ordinary human being … that is, a non-radical Republican automatically excluded from the candidacy … by the extremist-filtering primary process and funding structure.

– From the ‘Welcome to the ironic universe’ department: this is the end of Ron Paul and his son, while there is no end in sight for Ben Bernanke. Gone: Palin, Santorum, Allen (in Virginia), Akin, Mourdock, Perry, Mack. Lost in influence: Bachmann, Ryan, Cantor, Gingrich.

– Libertarian economics do not appeal to Americans who do not want to be thrown to the ‘free-market’ wolves any more than they already have been. Americans want a level playing field with big business. Disappointment with Obama is that he is unwilling to hold powerful interests accountable, not that they are too accountable. The intrusive, overbearing government doesn’t do its job or it does so in ways that protect private interests at the expense of the public.

– A big winner of the election is Occupy movement. They won by not embarrassing themselves and by helping out in New York City with the hurricane relief … where the reactionaries were notably absent. The crumbling Tea Party has left a political vacuum … if the Occupy group has the wit to seize the moment.

– The clock is ticking on the tycoons. They couldn’t buy this election and won’t get a better chance in any conceivable future. The shift is underway … from tycoons being admired and emulated to being loathed. The step after is for tycoons to be hunted down like rats. Credit the timely hurricane Sandy and a rising public awareness of tycoon-driven climate change.

– If I wuz a tycoon I would make like French and get the hell out of Dodge …

– Having fixed his footnote in history at the cost of a billion-plus US dollars look for the president to retreat with some dispatch from the public stage. ‘Hope and Change’ have morphed into hopelessness on one hand and an establishment death-grip on the status quo with the other. The establishment has few choices that allow it to remain the establishment! Conventional economics have run aground. The austerity camp and the stimulus factions both insist their policies will propel the USA waste-monetizing economic machine forward. None of the factions acknowledge that the operation of the machine itself … is what undermines it. The present devours the future faster and faster: the cost of each fill-up becomes more crushing as the machine annihilates with constantly greater scope and efficiency what it needs to run. The only returns are ‘money’ for the despised tycoons while the rest must be satisfied with the thin gruel of ‘We’re Number One’ and other inconsequential generalities. Meanwhile, the life support on our space ship is fed into the furnace.

– Obama is clever enough to know there is nothing conventional policies can do to remedy our current situation: he has access to the ‘input’ of at least a dozen intelligence services. At the same time, he never has to pay for a round of golf for the rest of his life. He can loiter with tycoons which clearly pleases him, he can start writing the obligatory post-presidential memoirs, he can secure places in corporate boardrooms/in places of tycoon exile. When the time comes in 1,515 days he can become a petit-tycoon himself. The office of Lincoln and Roosevelt has devolved into a running-board or ramp to commercial success. Obama is now a ‘Brand’: one day after the election the president has one foot out-the-door, he is a lame duck.

– Obama the Ironic: no doubt airports across the country will be renamed for the president just as the airline industry collapses due to fuel shortages … that are denied by Obama.

– Obama the Ironic part two: sometime within the next four-plus years the president is going to have to tell the American public the truth about energy supplies: we’ve run out and cannot afford to burn any more for endeavors that don’t pay for themselves — which means fuel for agriculture and some basic services and nothing else! Here is something to live for … and watch on live TV.

Goofiness is not confined to America, the Europeans have similar problems facing reality:

 


Worst of the Eurozone Crisis Is Not Over Yet
 Megan Greene (Economonitor)Greece released its 2013 budget last week, indicating that public debt will surge to 189 per cent of GDP by the end of next year. If Greece’s debt burden cannot be deemed to be on a sustainable path, the IMF cannot release more money.

The only way to reduce Greece’s debt burden effectively and sufficiently is to write down some of its debt. So far, Germany, the ECB and the IMF have all indicated they would refuse to take a hit on their Greek government bond holdings.

… even if Germany wants to give Greece more time and money to achieve a swingeing fiscal adjustment, Greece might not have any interest in doing so, particularly not after five years of economic recession.

A model student

In contrast to Greece, Ireland has been identified by creditor countries as a shining example of how Europe will emerge from the crisis.

It is true that Ireland has stood apart from the other bailout countries in a few important ways. For starters, Ireland has dipped a toe back in the bond markets, despite being in a bailout programme. Investors also seem relatively confident that Ireland will not default, as exhibited by lower, long-term Irish bond yields than its Greek, Portuguese, Spanish and Italian counterparts.

According to the Purchasing Manager’s Index (PMI), Ireland has seen its manufacturing activity expand over the past eight months. This is in sharp contrast with the eurozone, which has, on average, seen manufacturing activity contract for 15 consecutive months.

Ireland’s PMI data is encouraging, with new foreign orders particularly buoyant in recent months. This is a positive indicator for Ireland’s export sector, which should keep expanding.

But here’s the big problem in Ireland: there is no economic growth.

 

It’s hard not to come away from articles like this perplexed. What are the Irish or the Greeks supposed to do over the longer term … like 1000 years or so? How about 100 years? How about 10 years? Where is the ‘reality plan’?

There is the usual ‘growth’ mantra but what is supposed to grow? More auto sales? More vacation ‘villas’ around more miles of Mediterranean coast? More McDonald’s and Tescos? Right now the European auto industry is collapsing. Real estate is a bust. Retail margins are narrowing or gone. The European fuel consumption is almost 15 million barrels per day … most of this is imported from Africa and the Middle East. It is paid for with massive and unaffordable borrowing. The waste-based machine has been backfiring since 2008, the complete breakdown is heaving into view.

From whom are the Europeans borrowing? Ireland and the rest cannot borrow against their own accounts — they are shackled to the euro — they must borrow from financiers in City of London and Wall Street. Currently, credit terms are onerous … what comes next? If Europe cannot pay its bills its fuel consumption is exportable to the United States which can borrow against its own account at all levels. There is a reason why the US president is claiming the country is ‘energy independent’.

How is Ireland supposed to cope with the current state of affairs for more than a few months? Ireland has no domestic fuel production to speak of. It MUST borrow or go onto a severe — and permanent — energy diet. Can Ireland borrow for another year? It must, obviously. How deep a the hole will creditors allow Ireland to dig? How can the country repay- or service its debts when it cannot borrow more fuel? The Irish corporate tax shelter is not very useful to corporations that aren’t earning much. Eire can be the gateway for flight capital to exit Europe but that lasts only until the euro is done away with. At that point Ireland descends toward failed-state status like Serbia … or Yemen.

Figure 1: Irish oil consumption plummets because Ireland cannot afford to borrow. As it wastes more it falls further into debt. Even if the Irish gain new credit today, they certainly cannot do so forever.

This is the debt-energy trap that has enmeshed all the world’s modern nations. The idea is that something magical will turn up in the next decade or so and ‘solve all the problems’ in the meantime, the entire European Enterprise hinges on whether the ECB can keep offering rear-guard actions: making loans … that are more dubious every month! At some point, organic returns are needed … these never arrive. Sadly, there are no returns on consumption … simple waste for its own sake. The West has nothing in the way of real goods or services to offer in exchange for the petroleum they burn up … except for petroleum burning gadgets! Here is the most vicious of all vicious circles.

One outcome of this dynamic is fuel poverty … something that occurring right now across the euro-zone and in the UK. What the Europeans need to do pronto is to rethink the ‘business as usual’ concept and ditch growth. Cheap natural resource capital does not exist any more. What remains is worth too much to waste. The economy built around monetizing waste is a loser. Europe needs to power down and figure out how to provide decent lives for citizens without consumption. Unfortunately, there is little time remaining to figure out how to do this. The ongoing Euro-calm is an eye in the hurricane, the next phase will see Europe cut off from fuel supplies and structural shortages that cannot be dealt with.

Conservation by other means …

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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NYC plans to undertake the swindle of the civilisation by suing the companies that have enabled it t [...]

MbS, the personification of the age-old pre-revolutionary scenario in which an expiring regime attem [...]

Daily Doom Photo

man-watching-tv

Sustainability

  • Peak Surfer
  • SUN
  • Transition Voice

Soft Paths to Zero"While reducing emissions should be a priority, it is morally questionable to focus on relative [...]

Last of the Naked Apes"That we are still cutting down forests and wrecking soils is what makes us the last of our kin [...]

Ihere spam is Igbo for “I love you”"Sitting there in the back, in plain sight, draped in his ceremonial Babar garb, squeezing into [...]

Pretty cool, right?"There's a magic machine that sucks carbon dioxide out of the air, costs very little, and [...]

A Tyranny of Time"“We will move to a low-carbon world because nature will force us, or because policy will guide [...]

The folks at Windward have been doing great work at living sustainably for many years now.  Part of [...]

 The Daily SUN☼ Building a Better Tomorrow by Sustaining Universal Needs April 3, 2017 Powering Down [...]

Off the keyboard of Bob Montgomery Follow us on Twitter @doomstead666 Friend us on Facebook Publishe [...]

Visit SUN on Facebook Here [...]

What extinction crisis? Believe it or not, there are still climate science deniers out there. And th [...]

My new book, Abolish Oil Now, will talk about why the climate movement has failed and what we can do [...]

A new climate protest movement out of the UK has taken Europe by storm and made governments sit down [...]

The success of Apollo 11 flipped the American public from skeptics to fans. The climate movement nee [...]

Today's movement to abolish fossil fuels can learn from two different paths that the British an [...]

Top Commentariats

  • Our Finite World
  • Economic Undertow

it always seems to be a "financial future time bomb" (or whatever) it isn't it's [...]

"Low interest rates are encouraging companies to take on a level of debt that risks becoming a [...]

Again, the second term for Donald seems as given now, the demographics has not changed much since la [...]

I'm increasingly of the suspicion that although the GFCv2 in some form seems imminent it will b [...]

Agreed on both counts. And indeed, re the latter, the journey here has already been fascinating. I a [...]

Hi Steve. I recently found what I believe is a little gem, and I'm quite confident you'd a [...]

The Federal Reserve is thinking about capping yields? I don't know how long TPTB can keep this [...]

As some one who has spent years trying to figure out what the limits to growth are. let me say that [...]

Peak oil definitely happened for gods sake. Just because it isn't mad max right now is no indic [...]

@Volvo - KMO says he made some life choices he regrets. Not sure what they were. And I don't th [...]

RE Economics

Going Cashless

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Simplifying the Final Countdown

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Bond Market Collapse and the Banning of Cash

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Do Central Bankers Recognize there is NO GROWTH?

Discuss this article @ the ECONOMICS TABLE inside the...

Singularity of the Dollar

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Kurrency Kollapse: To Print or Not To Print?

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SWISSIE CAPITULATION!

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Of Heat Sinks & Debt Sinks: A Thermodynamic View of Money

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Merry Doomy Christmas

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Peak Customers: The Final Liquidation Sale

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Collapse Fiction

Useful Links

Technical Journals

The assessment of the effect of the electricity price on energy production is important when studyin [...]

Anticipating seasonal climate anomalies is essential for defining short-term adaptation measures. To [...]

The population that lives in cities has surpassed the one that lives in the countryside. Cities are [...]

Concerns exists regarding natural disasters, but what about the resulting power outages? This study [...]