April 22, 2019

Oil Surges As Washington Prepares To End Iranian Crude-Export Waivers

Expectations that the Trump administration would extend export waivers on Iranian oil have been dashed after the Washington Post reported late Sunday that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was preparing to announce on Monday that the US would move to end the exemptions early next month, when the initial 180-day waivers offered to eight countries are set to expire. The news sent oil prices surging in early Easter Monday trade.

Unsurprisingly, crude futures for May delivery climbed as much as 74 cents to $64.74/bbl in New York on the news the US would end the practice of allowing certain countries to import Iranian oil without facing sanctions. Meanwhile, front-month Brent futures topped $74 a barrel, their highest level since Nov. 1.

On Monday morning, Pompeo plans to announce that as of May 2, the State Department will no longer grant sanctions waivers to any country importing Iranian crude or condensate, WaPo said. WSJ, Reuters and others later confirmed the WaPo report.

The decision to end the waivers will impact recipients in different ways: Three of the eight countries that were granted the 180-day waivers back in November - Greece, Italy and Taiwan - have already reduced their Iranian oil imports to zero.

The other countries that will need to cut off imports or face serious repercussions include China, India, Turkey, Japan and South Korea. As of now, China and India are the largest importers of Iranian oil, and if they don't swiftly act to cut down on their imports, bilateral relations with the US could suffer.

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April 19, 2019

Nearly Everyone Is A Socialist Now - Just The Way The Elites Want It

The expansionary phase of the global economy is almost certainly ending. A combination of excessive debt and trade protectionism is likely to become economically and politically destabilising. If, as seems increasingly likely, the world is destined for another credit and economic crisis, the colour of the political establishment will shape outcomes. This article examines the political scene and concludes that socialist puppet-masters will use the opportunity in an attempt to crush capitalism.

In 1975, I watched from the Strangers’ Gallery the debate in the House of Commons when the Referendum Act for membership of the Common Market was in its second reading. It was to be the first referendum ever held in the UK, and as one would imagine was contentious for that reason. The Labour government of the day had laid an act before Parliament for a referendum to ratify the European Communities Act of 1972, in other words, the UK’s membership of the Common Market.

The debate was not about membership, but the precedent of holding a referendum and its potential to undermine parliament’s sole right to take decisions on behalf of the people. In those days, MPs made proper speeches, not the time-limited five or so minutes permitted by Mr Speaker. A debate of this sort was worth listening to.

I was struck by the similarities of argument put forward by the two greatest parliamentary orators of the day. Michael Foot was the doyen of the extreme left in the Labour Party, and Enoch Powell was said to be on the extreme right (he wasn’t – he was a staunch free marketeer: more on this to follow). From their different perspectives their arguments were almost identical, and both spoke eloquently without notes.

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April 18, 2019

Huawei CEO Compares 5G To "Nuclear Bomb", Warns US Against Tech Cold War

Huawei CEO Ren Zhengfei has lashed out at the United States and specifically President Trump in interviews with Germany's Wirtschaftswoche and Handelsblatt newspapers at a key moment that Germany is mulling whether to allow the Chinese company's ultra-high speed 5G internet technology under a proposed "no spy agreement"

Zhengfei likened Trump's recent remarks delineating 5G as a threat that requires to US to stay "guarded from the enemy, and we do have enemies out there" as full of exaggerated fears akin to a "nuclear bomb".  Zhengfei said in an interview that “Unfortunately, the US sees 5G technology as a strategic weapon,” and added, “For them it is a kind of nuclear bomb.”

Currently, the US, Australia, New Zealand, and even Japan have issued blanket bans on the Chinese company's technology from being sold or implemented in their countries. And other so-called "Five Eyes" intelligence sharing countries the UK and Canada are reportedly strongly considering a ban.

Germany this week has indicated there are no plans in place to prevent the Chinese telecommunications giant from participating in building Germany's ultra-high speed 5G internet.

Zhengfei told German news outlets that he's assured the country’s telecommunications regulator that no surveillance "backdoors" on its 5G equipment in the country would be possible. 

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April 17, 2019

It’s Only April, And U.S. Retailers Have Already Closed More Stores Than They Did ALL Of Last Year

If the U.S. economy is in good shape, why have retailers already shuttered more stores than they did in all of 2018?  Not only that, we are also on pace to absolutely shatter the all-time record for store closures in a single year by more than 50 percent.  Yes, Internet commerce is growing, but the Internet has been around for several decades now.  It isn’t as if this threat just suddenly materialized.  As Internet commerce continues to slowly expand, we would expect to see a steady drip of brick and mortar stores close, but instead what we are witnessing is an avalanche.  If the U.S. economy really was “booming”, this wouldn’t be happening.  But if the U.S. economy was heading into a recession, this is precisely what we would expect to see.

Last year, U.S. retailers closed 5,864 stores.

That was a rather depressing number, but here we are in April 2019 and we have already surpassed it.  The following comes from CNN

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March 25, 2019

A Different View Of Venezuela's Energy Problems

It would be easy to write a story about Venezuela’s energy problems and, in it, focus on the corruption and mismanagement that have taken place. This would make it look like Venezuela’s problems were different from everyone else’s. Taking this approach, it would be easy to argue that the problems wouldn’t have happened, if better leaders had been elected and if those leaders had chosen better policies.

I think that there is far more behind Venezuela’s financial and energy problems than corruption and mismanagement.

As I see the story, Venezuela realized that it had huge oil resources relative to its population, back as early as the 1920s. While these oil resources are substantial, the country misestimated how high a standard of living that these resources could support. To try to work around the issue of setting development goals too high, the country chose the path of distributing the benefits of oil exports in an almost socialistic manner. This socialistic approach, plus increased debt, hid the problem of a standard of living that could not really be supported for many years. Recent problems in Venezuela show that these approaches cannot be permanent solutions. In fact, it seems likely that Venezuela will be one of the first oil-exporting nations to collapse.

How the Subsidy from High-Priced Exported Oil Works 

Oil is a strange resource. The cost of oil production tends to be quite low, especially for oil exporters. The selling price is based on a world oil price that changes from day to day, depending on what some would call “demand.” The difference between the selling price and the cost of extraction can make oil exporters rich. In a sense, this difference might be considered an “energy surplus” that is being distributed to the economies of oil exporters. The greater the energy surplus being distributed, the greater the quantity of goods and services (made with energy products) that can be purchased from outside the country with the hard currency that is made available through the sale of oil.

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November 9, 2018

Here are all the ways inflation is happening today

Something strange happened in the markets last month that signals trouble ahead…

When stocks fell from their September highs, you would have expected investors to run for cover in the world’s safe-haven asset – US Treasurys.

But that’s not what happened.

While stocks were plunging, Treasurys also fell. Yields on 30-year Treasurys increased to 3.4% from 3.22% (and yields have already more than doubled from their 2016 lows).

It’s a sign that the market is worried about the US government’s ability to pay its exploding debts and that inflation is creeping back into the market. That makes me a bit nervous because we haven’t seen inflation in a decade.

We’ve seen an increase in oil prices, food prices, rent and many other things that eat into people’s savings. Unemployment is low and US wages increased 3.1% in September (the highest in nine years). And core inflation is already running above the Fed’s target of 2%.

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November 8, 2018

Wall Street Seems To Believe That Endless Gridlock And Political Turmoil Will Be Good For America

It is difficult not to admire the relentless optimism on Wall Street.  A divided Congress is going to guarantee two years of gridlock and political turmoil in Washington, but many in the financial community are choosing to interpret the election results as a positive sign.  They remember the “gridlock” during the Obama years, and they are hopeful that the next couple of years will be at least somewhat similar.  The Dow Jones Industrial Average shot up 545 points on Wednesday, and that was the largest post-midterm rally that we have seen in 36 years.  Stock prices normally go up the day after midterm elections, but Wednesday’s rally was definitely unusual

Wednesday’s post-midterms rally was larger than the average gain that follows the contests. Goldman Sachs noted the S&P 500 has averaged a gain of 0.7 percent from the day before the elections to the day after midterms. Wednesday marked the biggest post-midterms gain for both the Dow and S&P 500 since the day after the 1982 contests, when the indexes surged 4.3 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively.

To a certain extent, it is likely that investors were greatly relieved that the worst case scenario did not play out.  As I noted on Monday, a blue wave that would have resulted in Democrats taking control of both houses of Congress would have meant big trouble for Wall Street, and many are very thankful that we were able to avoid that outcome

Investors also avoided the most-feared Wall Street outcome, a so-called “blue wave,” or Democratic sweep of both chambers of Congress. That could have put the president’s economic policies under assault and boosted the odds of a Democratic House pushing for Trump’s impeachment.

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November 7, 2018

Why Oil Prices Will Fall In 2019 And Beyond

The decision by the U.S. to grant waivers to eight countries, allowing them to continue to import oil from Iran, has helped ease the tension in the oil market. No longer are oil traders talking about $100 oil.

Iran’s oil exports stood at 1.7 million barrels per day in October and won’t fall to zero anytime soon. But that may not be the end of the story. “While consistent with our expectations, the granting of waivers does not imply that Iran exports will stabilize near current levels,” Goldman Sachs said in a research note on November 1. As more Iranian supply goes offline, the market will continue to tighten. Iran could lose nearly 600,000 bpd of exports by the end of the year, relative to October levels, the bank predicts.

“As a result, we still expect that the global oil market will be in deficit in 4Q18, leading to a strengthening in Brent time spreads,” Goldman said.

In fact, while everyone focuses on the short-term movements in oil prices, Goldman says it’s important to look at the futures curve.

“In our view, the most interesting takeaway from today’s oil price sell-off is the parallel shift in the crude forward curve. This is consistent with a move down on the oil cost curve as recent supply news (less Iran losses, more US and Saudi production) point to fewer high-cost marginal barrels needed in 2019,” the bank said.

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November 6, 2018

The One Election Scenario That Would Be A “Disaster” For The Financial Markets

On Tuesday night all of the speculation about the midterm elections will mercifully be over, and there is one potential outcome that is being called a “disaster” for the financial markets.  Over the past couple of years, stock prices have soared to unprecedented levels, and Wall Street has seemed to greatly appreciate the pro-business environment that President Trump has attempted to cultivate.  Regulations have been rolled back, corporate taxes have been reduced significantly, and many corporate executives no longer fear that the federal government is out to get them.  But after Tuesday, everything could be different.

The most likely outcome appears to be that the Democrats will take control of the House of Representatives and the Republicans will remain in control of the Senate.  For what it is worth, Nate Silver is currently projecting that the Democrats have an 88 percent chance of winning the House and only a 19 percent chance of winning the Senate.

But of course he was also projecting a huge landslide victory for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

In any event, a divided Congress would create gridlock in Washington, and according to Wedbush Securities managing director Steve Massocca that would produce “some negative fallout” for the financial markets…

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November 5, 2018

Mortgage Bonds Suffer Worst Month In 2 Years As 'Marginal Buyer' Fed Pulls Out

Mortgage bond investors are about to become reacquainted with 'moral hazard' and its inevitable consequences.

As the Federal Reserve continues to pull out of US Treasury's and mortgage bonds (the Fed entered its "peak" monthly unwind phase in Q4, where it will allow up to $30 billion and $20 billion in MBS to roll off and on Oct. 31 its balance sheet declined by more than $33 billion, the largest one-week drop since the start of QE), holders of housing bonds who had grown accustomed to steady returns in a rigged market endured their biggest shellacking in 2 years, as Bloomberg pointed out in a story published Friday.

And while at least one prominent bond investor pointed out that Bloomberg's warnings about a "bloodbath" in MBS may have been exaggerated...

...the story's central premise that the retreat of the bond market's 'marginal buyer' is creating headaches for complacent bond bulls is certainly valid, as we've said before. It only takes a quick glance at the 10-year-yield vs. the Fed's balance sheet expansion/unwind to spot the dangers that could lie ahead.

Now, as the Fed-generated tidal wave of liquidity slows to a trickle and the central bank looks to unwind some $1.7 trillion in MBS holdings, "savvy" bond bulls are stuck asking themselves: who the hell is going to step in and stop the bleeding once liquidity dries up further and mortgage bonds continue to fall?

The answer isn't immediately clear.

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November 2, 2018

Trump Asks Cabinet To Draw Up Trade Deal After Conversation With China's Xi: BBG

Is a harmonious conclusion to the six-month-long US-China trade battle finally within reach? Or this just a ploy to push US stocks higher ahead of an election that will decide which party controls Congress for the balance of Trump's term?

That's the question that traders will be asking themselves as they try to suss out the implications of a Bloomberg report claiming that President Trump has asked his cabinet to begin drawing up the terms of a deal following a "long and very good" conversation with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Thursday - the first phone call between the leaders of the world's two largest economies in months. According to Bloomberg, Trump has asked key cabinet secretaries to have their staff draw up a draft deal that he hopes will signal an end to the trade conflict, BBG's anonymous sources said. What remains unclear is whether Trump will drop the list of demands that have reportedly been a sticking point in negotiations since the spring. Among those demands are that China scale back state support for its 'Made in China 2025' initiative, drop policies that support the siphoning of intellectual property from foreign companies and reduce the country's trade surplus with the US.

Predictably, the news ignited a torrid rally in Asian shares, with the Hang Seng Index rising 4.2%, the biggest gain since 2011, while the Shanghai Composite Index climbed 2.7% to cement its first four-day winning streak since February. The Chinese yuan, meanwhile, traded back below 6.9 to the dollar, while US stock futures moved higher, signaling that shares could be on their way to a fourth straight day of gains.

Analysts were split on their interpretation of the news. Some believed that the rash of downbeat forward guidance that helped trigger the 'Shocktober' market rout had finally inspired the president to try and quash the trade beef.

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November 1, 2018

The $80 Trillion World Economy In One Chart

The latest estimate from the World Bank puts global GDP at roughly $80 trillion in nominal terms for 2017.

As Visual Capitalist's Jeff Desjardins notes, today’s chart from HowMuch.net uses this data to show all major economies in a visualization called a Voronoi diagram – let’s dive into the stats to learn more.

In nominal terms, the U.S. still has the largest GDP at $19.4 trillion, making up 24.4% of the world economy.

While China’s economy is far behind in nominal terms at $12.2 trillion, you may recall that the Chinese economy has been the world’s largest when adjusted for purchasing power parity (PPP) since 2016.

The next two largest economies are Japan ($4.9 trillion) and Germany ($4.6 trillion) – and when added to the U.S. and China, the top four economies combined account for over 50% of the world economy.

MOVERS AND SHAKERS

Over recent years, the list of top economies hasn’t changed much – and in a similar visualization we posted 18 months ago, the four aforementioned top economies all fell in the exact same order.

However, look outside of these incumbents, and you’ll see that the major forces shaping the future of the global economy are in full swing, especially when it comes to emerging markets.

Here are some of the most important movements:

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October 31, 2018

China's Debt Bomb Is Ready To Explode

The great Chinese growth slowdown has been proceeding in stages for the past two years. The reason is simple. Much of China’s “growth” (about 25% of the total) has consisted of wasted infrastructure investment in ghost cities and white elephant transportation infrastructure.

That investment was financed with debt that now cannot be repaid. This was fine for creating short-term jobs and providing business to cement, glass and steel vendors, but it was not a sustainable model since the infrastructure either was not used at all or did not generate sufficient revenue.

China’s future success depends on high-value-added technology and increased consumption. But shifting to intellectual property and the consumer means slowing down on infrastructure, which will slow the economy.

In turn, that means exposing the bad debt for what it is, which risks a financial and liquidity crisis. China started to do this last year but quickly turned tail when the economy slowed. Now the economy has slowed so much that markets are collapsing.

But doesn’t China have over $1 trillion of reserves to prop up its financial system?

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October 30, 2018

China's Economic Slump Accelerated In October, Early Indicators Show

As corporate defaults surge, forcing a desperate PBOC to reverse its deleveraging efforts and threaten more interventions to stave off a more serious retrenchment in growth in the world's second largest economy, it seems like not a day goes by without another warning sign that China's economic precarious situation is even worse than we thought.

The impact this has had on the mainland investors' psyche has been obvious to all. Repeated interventions by China's 'National Team' have done little to arrest the inexorable decline in mainland stocks in October, leaving the Shanghai Composite, the country's main benchmark index, on track for one of its worst months since the financial crisis, and its worst year since 2011. Meanwhile, a flood of FX outflows has pushed the Chinese yuan dangerously close to the 7 yuan-to-the dollar threshold which, if breached, could unleash another wave of chaos across global markets.

And as Chinese policy makers are probably already scrambling to pad the official stats, Bloomberg has released its own proprietary preliminary gauge of Chinese GDP in October which showed that the slowdown unleashed by the US-China trade war worsened in October.

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October 29, 2018

In Desperation Move, IBM Buys Red Hat For $34 Billion In Largest Ever Acquisition

In what can only be described as a desperation move, IBM announced that it would acquire Linux distributor Red Hat for a whopping $34 billion, its biggest purchase ever, as the company scrambles to catch up to the competition and boost its flagging cloud sales. Still hurting from its Q3 earnings, which sent its stock tumbling to the lowest level since 2010 after Wall Street was disappointed by yet another quarter of declining revenue...

... IBM will pay $190 for the Raleigh, NC-based Red Hat, a 63% premium to the company's stock price, which closed at $116.68 on Friday, and down 3% on the year.

In the statement, IBM CEO Ginni Rometty said that "the acquisition of Red Hat is a game-changer. It changes everything about the cloud market," but what the acquisition really means is that the company has thrown in the towel on organic growth (or lack thereof) and years of accounting gimmicks and attempts to paint lipstick on a pig with the help of ever lower tax rates and pro forma addbacks, and instead will now "kitchen sink" its endless income statement troubles and non-GAAP adjustments in the form of massive purchase accounting tricks for the next several years.

While Rometty has been pushing hard to transition the 107-year-old company into modern business such as the cloud, AI and security software, the company's recent improvements had been largely from IBM’s legacy mainframe business, rather than its so-called strategic imperatives. Meanwhile, revenues have continued the shrink and after a brief rebound, sales dipped once again this quarter, after an unprecedented period of 22 consecutive declines starting in 2012, when Rometty took over as CEO.

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