Consumers

US 2015 Oil Production and Future Oil Prices

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Published on the Our Finite World on April 18, 2016

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Oil production can be confusing because there are various “pieces” that may or may not be included. In this analysis, I look at oil production of the United States broadly (including crude oil, natural gas plant liquids, and biofuels), because this is the way oil consumption is defined. I also provide some thoughts regarding the direction of future world oil prices.

Figure 1. US Liquid Fuels production by month based on EIA March 2016 Monthly Energy Review Reports.

 

 

Figure 1. US Liquid Fuels production by month based on EIA March 2016 Monthly Energy Review Reports.

US oil production clearly flattened out in 2015. If we look at changes relative to the same month, one-year prior, we see that as of December 2014, growth was very high, increasing by 18.0% relative to the prior year.

Figure 2. US Liquids Growth Over 12 Months Prior based on EIA's March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

 

 

Figure 2. US Liquids Growth Over 12 Months Prior based on EIA’s March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

By December 2015, growth over the prior year finally turned slightly negative, with production for the month down 0.2% relative to one year prior. It should be noted that in the above charts, amounts are on an “energy produced” or “British Thermal Units” (Btu) basis. Using this approach, ethanol and natural gas liquids get less credit than they would using a barrels-per-day approach. This reflects the fact that these products are less energy-dense.

Figure 3 shows the trend in month-by-month production.

Figure 3. US total liquids production since January 2013, based on EIA's March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

 

 

Figure 3. US total liquids production since January 2013, based on EIA’s March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

The high month for production was April 2015, and production has been down since then. The production of natural gas liquids and biofuels has tended to continue to rise, partially offsetting the fall in crude oil production. Production amounts for recent months include estimates, and actual amounts may differ from these estimates. As a result, updated EIA data may eventually show a somewhat different pattern.

Taking a longer view of US liquids production, this is what we see for the three categories separately:

Figure 4. US Liquid Fuel Production since 1949, based on EIA's March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

 

 

Figure 4. US Liquid Fuel Production since 1949, based on EIA’s March 2016 Monthly Energy Review.

Growth in US liquid fuel production slowed in 2015. The increase in liquid fuels production in 2015 amounted to 1.96 quadrillion Btus (“quads”), or about 59% as much as the increase in production in 2014 of 3.34 quads. On a barrels-per-day (bpd) basis, this would equate to roughly a 1.0 million bpd increase in 2015, compared to a 1.68 million bpd increase in 2014.

The data in Figure 4 indicates that with all categories included, 2015 liquids exceeded the 1970 peak by 16%. Considering crude oil alone, 2015 production amounted to 98% of the 1970 peak.

Figure 5 shows an approximate breakdown of crude oil production since 1945 on a bpd basis. The big spike in production is from tight oil, which is another name for oil from shale.

Figure 5. Oil crude oil production separated into tight oil (from shale), oil from Alaska, and all other, based on EIA oil production data by state.

 

 

Figure 5. Oil crude oil production separated into tight oil (from shale), oil from Alaska, and all other, based on EIA oil production data by state.

Here again, US crude oil production in 2015 appears to amount to 98% of the 1970 crude oil peak. Thus, on a crude oil basis alone, we have not yet hit the 1970 peak.

Prospects for an Oil Price Rise

Most recent analyses of oil prices have focused on the amount of mismatch between supply and demand, and the need to craft a temporary agreement to reduce oil production. The thing that is missing in this discussion is an analysis of buying power of consumers. Is the problem a temporary problem, or a permanent one?

In order for oil product demand to keep rising, the buying power of consumers needs to keep rising. In other words, some combination of consumer wages and debt levels of consumers needs to keep rising. (Rising debt is helpful because, with more debt, it is often possible to buy goods that would not otherwise be affordable.)

We know that in many countries, wages for lower-level workers have stagnated for a number of reasons, including competition with wages in lower-wage countries, computerization, and the use of automation (Figure 6). Thus, we know that low wages for a large share of consumers may be a problem.

Figure 6. Chart comparing income gains by the top 10% to income gains by the bottom 90% by economist Emmanuel Saez. Based on an analysis IRS data, published in Forbes.

 

 

Figure 6. Chart comparing US income gains by the top 10% to income gains by the bottom 90% by economist Emmanuel Saez. Based on an analysis IRS data, published in Forbes.

Figure 7 shows that world debt has been falling since June 30, 2014. This is precisely the time when world oil prices started falling.

Figure 6. Total non-financial world debt based on Bank for International Settlements data and average Brent oil price for the quarter, based on EIA data.

 

 

Figure 7. Total non-financial world debt based on Bank for International Settlements data and average Brent oil price for the quarter, based on EIA data.

One reason for the fall in world debt, measured in US dollars, is the fact that the US dollar started rising relative to other currencies about this time. Oil is priced in dollars; if the US dollar rises relative to other currencies, it makes oil less affordable to those whose currencies have lower values. The big rise in the level of the dollar came when the US discontinued quantitative easing in 2014. World debt, as measured in US dollars, began to fall as the US dollar rose.

Figure 7. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

 

 

Figure 8. World Oil Supply (production including biofuels, natural gas liquids) and Brent monthly average spot prices, based on EIA data.

As long as the US dollar is high relative to other currencies, oil products remain less affordable, and demand tends to stay low.

Another issue that struck me in looking at world debt data is the way the growth in debt is distributed (Figure 9). Debt growth for households has been much lower than for businesses and governments.

Figure 8. World non-financial debt divided among debt of households, businesses, and governments, based on Bank for International Settlements data.

 

 

Figure 9. World non-financial debt divided among debt of households, businesses, and governments, based on Bank for International Settlements data.

Since March 31, 2008, non-financial debt of households has been close to flat. In fact, between June 30, 2014 and September 30, 2015,  it shrank by 6.3%. In contrast, non-financial debt of both businesses and governments has risen since March 31, 2008. Government debt has shrunk by 5.6% since June 30, 2014–almost as large a percentage drop as for household debt.

The issue that we need to be aware of is that consumers are the foundation of the economy. If their wages are not rising rapidly, and if their buying power (considering both debt and wages) is not rising by very much, they are not going to be buying very many new houses and cars–the big products that require oil consumption. Businesses may think that they can continue to grow without taking the consumer along, but very soon this growth proves to be a myth. Governments cannot grow without rising wages either, because the majority of their tax revenue comes from individuals, rather than corporations.

Today, there is a great deal of faith that oil prices will rise, if someone, somewhere, will reduce oil production. In fact, in order to bring oil demand back up to a level that commands a price over $100 per barrel, we need consumers who can afford to buy a growing quantity of goods made with oil products. To do this, we need to fix three related problems:

  • Low wages of many consumers
  • World debt that is no longer rising (especially for consumers)
  • A high dollar relative to other currencies

These problems are likely to be difficult to fix, so we should expect low oil prices, more or less indefinitely. Lack of oil supply may bring a temporary spike in oil prices, but it cannot fix a permanent problem with consumer spending around the world.

RANK BAD SCIENCE

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Published on the The Slog on January 3, 2016

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Uncontrollable Shanghai panics, wealth that won’t trickle down & consumers who can’t consume.

From San Diego to Shanghai, measurable human behaviour is teaching anyone who’ll listen that you can’t base an economic system on skitty narcissists

The collapse of the Shanghai index in China was artificially halted this morning as Beijing’s automatic closedown system came into effect to stop a 7% slump. Commentators are fingering poor economic data for the near-tank, but I don’t buy that. I think three other factors are at work.

The first is that traders have been trade-starved and had time to absorb just how bad things are economically and geopolitically; the second is the Saudi Arabia vs Iran relations meltdown which, if it gets any hotter, does threaten to affect energy supplies. And yes, I know that in a global slump when nobody wants oil anyway that doesn’t make sense, but my view for decades has been that bourses very rarely make sense. Exchanges don’t like instability, and the Middle East now is starting to look like underwater rugby without the ball. The Eurostoxx, Dax and FTSE are all well off, and I’d say its that situation among Muslim sects and energy gangsters that lies behind it.

But looking only at China, I’d say that the third (for me, anthropological) factor is that this new circuit breaker – including a trading suspension clause – only came in this morning: I suspect a lot of traders decided to get out of positions before it was too late. In other words – like most State interventions – it was self-defeating…designed to patch a crack in the dam, it evoked a major attack from 617 Squadron.

°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°°

The Chinese are still novices at this game, but I’ve been saying for years now that neoliberalism in general and an overdependence on bourse-raised funds for business are about the best way dreamed up thus far to destroy genuinely entrepreneurial capitalism forever. Having said that, a new study has just emerged adding grist to the commonsense arguments against neolib growth mania and its privileged megamillionaires.

Far from being put out by some obscure Hard Left University in Venezuela, the study is a major feature in the current issue of Time Magazine. Written up with engaging prose by Maia Szalavitz  (a neuroscience journalist), it adds greatly to the arsenal trying in vain to bomb the nonsense put out by the Greedies.

When Scott Fitzgerald told Hemingway and others that “the rich are different”, Irish author Mary Colum responded by saying “Yes they are, they’ve got more money”. But in the ninety years since then, lots of us have wondered whether they got rich because they’re different….or they got rich and then became different”.

Ms Szalavitz tackles the question head on in the best way – by bringing to light cleverly designed fieldwork to monitor the attitudes and behavioural patterns of the rich. This work and that of others is particularly germain to the myth of ‘trickle-down wealth’, in that recent studies suggest wealthier people are more likely to cut people up in traffic, and behave unethically in simulated business and charity scenarios.

Further, last year, statistics on charitable giving revealed that the poor donate a far higher percentage of their meagre incomes to charity than the rich do. Far from giving them a sense of duty to give back and help, the new study suggests, the rich feel they deserve the level of privilege they enjoy. In fact, five separate experiments led researchers to record much higher levels of both narcissism and entitlement among those of a higher income and social class.

I turns out not to be clinical narcissism disorder (from which I’m sure Julian Assange suffers) because this gets in the way of success, given such people positively repel cooperation rather than attracting it. But it does suggest a kind of overweening confidence which becomes more insufferable still once they’re rich….and once their offspring have in turn chosen to decide they must be special too. It is pretty clear I think that Cameron, Osborne, Hunt, Hannan and Fallon all display this outcome to a tee. And so too, of course, do Tony Blair and Harriet Harman.

Ultimately, it all comes back to my Page One pet-hate: privilege. The attitude and behaviour it engenders I would describe as “Well, I’m here so I must be good….and people treat me as somehow special, so obviously I am”. This can apply equally to the Lord Snooties of this world as it does to the Dianne Abbotts. Wealth, rank, special treatment, private education and the ability to jump every queue while evading any law merely solidify the delusion. See also Rupert Murdoch, Rebekah Brooks, Piers Morgan, and Boris Johnson.

The good news is that, when forced by the piercing of their bubble to listen to those with other lives, developing narcissists do very rapidly begin to behave rather more sensibly: Szalavitz concludes:

‘Psychologists emphasize, however, that being able to see the world from other people’s perspectives — empathy — is critical to fighting narcissism…..The wealthier certain segments of society become, then the more vulnerable communities may be to selfish tendencies — and the less charity the least among us can expect’.

In other words, Friedmanism, Reaganism, Thatcherism and Camerlot’s Big Society are complete and utter bunk. But – and it’s a very big but indeed, not say a pain in the butt – this change in their behaviour from uncaring materialist self-styled Superman isn’t going to “just happen”. Only the likes of Peter Jukes hammering away at Newscorp, Jan Cunliffe fighting to bury the law of Joint Enterprise, Nicholas Wilson refusing to drown the HSBC’s bottomless ocean of lies, and WASPI’s refusal to accept that they should pay for the elite’s broken promises will make a difference.

Doing nothing will still be the default position for most citizens. If that continues, it will be too late to do something….because by then, the trail of violence will be globally viral: and the real extremists will take charge.

There is no such thing as NVE – non-violent extremism. But there desperately needs to be a lot more NVRR – non-violent radical realism.

Joint digital action and the abandonment of ideological tribalism is absolutely central to achieving this: Socialists and crypto-Marxists still stuck in ‘One More Heave’ mode need to get real, do their psephological sums, and join others of decently socialised bent.

Only then can we make life peacefully impossible for those who act as paymasters to the Greedies….and bring down a Government still supported by only a quarter of those entitled to vote.

The Consumers who can’t consume: How neoliberalism destroys its own food supply

 

 

 

 

The Oil Crash: it is happening now!

Off the keyboard of Ugo Bardi

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Published on Resource Crisis on November 4, 2014

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James Schlesinger said once that humans have only two modes of operation: complacency and panic. This bimodal kind of functioning seems to be applied also to the oil market, where everything is judged on the base of a simple binary rule: high prices: bad; low prices: good. So, with oil prices falling rapidly during the past few days, the general attitude seems to be mostly of rejoicing. All worries about peak oil are being swept under the carpet and SUV owners seem to be happily expecting the fall of gas prices that will allow them to fill up their tanks on the cheap.

Unfortunately, the bimodal perception of the world makes people blind to the fact that nothing happens in isolation in the world. It is the basic law of complex systems: you can’t do just one thing. If something changes in a complex system, it is because something else has made it change. And if something changes, then something else will have to change. Complex systems work in this way. And changes are unavoidable and not always for the good of those experiencing them.

That’s true also for the crude oil producing system, which is not an isolated system. Changing some of its features reverberates all over the world. So, bringing down oil prices has an effect on other parameters. Look at this figure (from an article by Hall and Murphy on The Oil Drum)

Of course, these data are to be taken with some caution – they are only estimates. But there are other, similar, estimates, including a 2012 report by Goldman and Sachs where you can read that most recent developments need at least 120 $/barrel to be profitable. So, you see what is the problem? Prices under 80 $/barrel destroy the profitability of about 10% of the oil presently produced. If prices were to go back to values considered “normal” just 10 years ago, around 40 $/barrels, then we would lose around half of the world’s production. Anyone saying “peak oil”? Well, yes, this is the mechanism that generates peak oil: an irreversible decline of the world’s oil production. But it is not just a question of reduced oil production: if oil demand collapses, then the whole world plunges into deep recession, as it happened already in 2009, when prices briefly collapsed down to about 40 $/barrel.

Maybe this is just a temporary fluctuation; maybe things will go back to “normal” in a few months. After all, the market worked some magic during the past 4-5 years that kept oil prices high enough to generate profits high enough to make the industry able to keep producing at the usual levels (and even increase them a little). And these prices seemed to be not so high to destroy demand (not too much, anyway). But, in the long run, it is a no-win game. Depletion makes extraction progressively more expensive and not even the mighty market can work the magic needed to keep selling something that customers can’t afford to buy. The oil crash takes time to unfold, but it is happening, and it is happening now.

In the Debtrix, there is no Red Pill

A new Diner, Tao Jonesing contributed his thoughts on the “Debtrix”, a version of the Matrix that Neo was subsumed in for 3 Feature Films.

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In the last forty years, Americans have gone from citizens to consumers, from consumers to consumables. As citizens, we existed to participate in society by producing goods. As consumers, we existed to proclaim our individuality by consuming more goods than our neighbor (who we didn’t know then, and still don’t know now). As consumables, we exist solely to incur debt and be consumed by it.

We are trapped in the Debtrix, coppertops, and there is no escape. There is no Morpheus in this debt matrix (he’s been rebooted as an actor), there is no Neo (another actor), and there is no red pill.

For the vast majority of us, those of us in what used to be called the middle class, our value to the Debtrix is measured by the size of our credit line and our propensity to use it. So make sure to leverage up and spend borrowed money on things you don’t really need or want. But, whatever you do, don’t lose your job because you are unlikely to find it (especially if you damage your credit score).

For those of us without credit, well, our value to the Debtrix is measured by our ability to provide a pool of cheap, temporary labor, primarily to incentivize those with credit lines to produce more in order to keep them. The middle class coppertops will have to increase productivity or end up like you, eating cake.

For those of us at the top of the pecking order, our value to the Debtrix is measured by our complacency in allowing it to persist. The longer we are in the Debtrix, the more time it has to consume our wealth and our humanity (it’s already too late for Charles Munger and this guy, too).

Although the Debtrix cannot be escaped, it can be destroyed through the very means it uses to consume us: debt.

First, stop taking on new debt. This alone will prevent the Debtrix from growing and will even force it to shrink as it fails to maintain the illusion of perpetual exponential growth.

Second, start retiring old debt. If that means selling some of your possessions to pay the debt off, do it. Many of us don’t use or need a lot of what we own. If that means defaulting on non-recourse mortgages, do it. The bottom 90% of households owes roughly 80% of the outstanding household debt, which is about $11 trillion total, of which $8 trillion is mortgage debt. When you include the leveraged side bets the architects of the Debtrix placed on us coppertops paying that $8 trillion back, you’re looking at as much as $88 trillion in total losses for the Debtrix, which would break it. TBTF would become TBTB (“Too Big To Bail”).

The Debtrix cannot be escaped, but it can be destroyed, and when it is, we’ll be citizens again.

Knarf plays the Doomer Blues

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