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When Every Country Wants to Sell, Who Buys?

The world is trapped in a quest for 'Demand'
Tuesday, April 22, 2014, 1:14 PM

Understandably for the US, which sustained a consumption supercycle for several decades, the post-financial crisis period has kicked off a new trend: Americans want to consume less, and make more.

Americans want to own less stuff, use less energy, and produce their own goods. In short, Americans want to sell» Read more

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Peak Cheap Oil Rears Its Head

Oil majors throw in the towel
Monday, March 24, 2014, 8:31 PM

This is a critical update on the Peak Cheap Oil front. 

Yes, I am talking about that tired old concept that was allegedly slain by American drilling ingenuity. It's back in the news... if you know where to look.

I remain steadfastly interested in the oil outlook because everything, and I do mean everything, in our exponential monetary and associated economic system is hinged upon there being more cheap oil next year than last. » Read more

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We're All Turning Japanese

Japan is the proxy for our future
Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 1:40 PM

Executive Summary

  • As goes Japan's efforts to rescue it's economy, so will go the U.S. and E.U.
  • Japan's options:
    • Outsource its manufacturing base
    • Replace as much human labor with automation as it can
    • Rush to trade its depreciating currency for hard assets around the world
  • What Japan is telling us about the Keynesian endpoint

If you have not yet read Part I: Abenomics' Dismal Anniversary, available free to all readers, please click here to read it first.

Japan Is Reflecting the Future of Western Economies

While many observers continue to follow Europe as the proxy for post-growth dynamics in the OECD, it's actually Japan that merits the closest analysis.

Much farther along in its post-growth phase, bloated with government debt and having tried a number of big-bang initiatives over the decades, Japan not the U.S. or Europe is leading the way. The country has never really recovered from the gigantic property and stock bubble over twenty years ago.

As proof, just consider the biggest trading story of the past 12 months. Was it the Federal Reserve's intention to taper? How about the chaos in emerging market currencies in countries like India and Indonesia? Or perhaps the continued economic depression in peripheral Europe, as countries like Spain, Portugal, and Greece re-run the 1930s, with mass unemployment and people burning wood from forests to say warm? No, not even such dramatic suffering in Europe was enough to move markets or the EUR currency much this past year.

Instead, it was Abenomics and the front-running (and then chasing) of wildly huge moves in both the Nikkei and JPY that helped drive liquidity and speculative juices across all markets. It is not a coincidence that the peak of this frenzy in May heralded the peak in many markets.

But Japan has more than a financial problem. Despite the hand-wringing about Japan's debt, the world has ignored for some time now Japan's debt-to-GDP, GDP on an absolute basis, and Japan's low cost of capital. Japan borrows. Japan prints. Japan devalues. But the world doesn't care.

An issue the world may finally begin to care about, however, is that Japan has failed to launch itself out of deflation and is making very little progress in its struggle now. Indeed, Japan has a demographics problem and a resources problem that far outweigh its financial problems. To this point, instead of launching into recovery, Japan is running with the resources Red Queen, as every step of its currency devaluation is met with rising costs to import the raw materials Japan uses to make its goods... » Read more

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Abenomics' Dismal Anniversary

Why we need to care about Japan's continued decline
Tuesday, September 10, 2013, 1:39 PM

Abenomics, the radical set of reflationary policies designed to (air)lift Japan out of its multi-decade slump, is approaching its first anniversary. Don't expect a joyful celebration. » Read more

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The Dead Weight of Sluggish Global Growth

Weighing heavier each year
Tuesday, July 9, 2013, 1:04 PM

Global Slowdown

The U.S. economy weakened appreciably in the first quarter of 2013. But what if this weakness persists into the second quarter just completed, and worsens still in the second half of this year? Q1 GDP, as reported on June 26th, was revised lower to just 1.8%. And various indications suggest that Q2 could come in slightly lower still, at 1.6%. Might the U.S. economy be guiding to a long-term GDP of 1.5%? That’s the rate identified by such observers as Jeremy Grantham the rate at which we combine aging demographics, lower fertility rates, high resource costs, and the burdensome legacy of debt. Well, after a four-year reflationary rally in just about everything, and now with an interest-rate shock, the second half of 2013 appears to have more downside rather than upside risk. Have global stock markets started to discount this possibility? » Read more

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Europe is Drowning Under Too Much Government

Its banks are being increasingly propped up by the U.S.
Monday, March 4, 2013, 3:52 PM

The Christmas and New Year's break, when Europe shuts down and stops thinking, is now well and truly over, and we are reawakening to the same old problems: Greece, Spain, Cyprus, Portugal, Italy, France…all with their hands out for money from Germany, Holland, Finland, and Austria.

The holiday from the banking crisis, which was the result of the determination of the ECB to put a lid on it, is also over, with yields on the supplicant countries’ debt rising again.

However, joining the bad news list is the United Kingdom. Ominously, the pound is sliding in the foreign exchange markets, providing a very tricky background for Chancellor Osborne’s budget on March 20th. I shall examine the UK’s position later, but first let’s update ourselves on developments in the Eurozone.

The reality is that all the problems of the Eurozone are still with us, despite the fall in bond yields and their modest subsequent recovery. There is now the likelihood that we are about to enter the final phase of the end of the Eurozone experiment, with far wider consequences. So we need to pick up the story where we left off. » Read more

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The Repricing of Oil

Traditional pricing dynamics no longer apply
Thursday, September 6, 2012, 7:01 PM

Now that oil’s price revolution – a process that took ten years to complete – is self-evident, it is possible once again to start anew and ask: When will the next re-pricing phase begin?

Most of the structural changes that carried oil from the old equilibrium price of $25 to the new equilibrium price of $100 (average of Brent and WTIC) unfolded in the 2002-2008 period. During that time, both the difficult realities of geology and a paradigm shift in awareness worked their way into the market, as a new tranche of oil resources, entirely different in cost and structure than the old oil resources, came online. The mismatch between the old price and the emergent price was resolved incrementally at first, and finally by a super-spike in 2008.

However, once the dust settled on the ensuing global recession and financial crisis, oil then found its way to its new range between $90 and $110. Here, supply from a new set of resources and the continuance of less-elastic demand from the developing world have created moderate price stability. Prices above $90 are enough to bring on new supply, thus keeping production levels slightly flat. And yet those same prices roughly balance the continued decline of oil consumption in the OECD, which offsets the continued advance of consumption in the non-OECD.

If oil prices can’t fall that much because of the cost of marginal supply and overall flat global production, and if oil prices can’t rise that much because of restrained Western economies, what set of factors will take the oil price outside of its current envelope? » Read more

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When Quantitative Easing Finally Fails

Expect more radical action from Capitol Hill as the Fed prov
Wednesday, August 1, 2012, 9:23 AM

While markets await details on the next round of quantitative easing (QE) -- whether refreshed bond buying from the Fed or sovereign debt buying from the European Central Bank (ECB) -- it's important to ask, What can we expect from further heroic attempts to reflate the OECD economies?

The 2009 and 2010 QE programs from the Fed, and the 2011 operations from the ECB, were intended as shock treatment to hopefully set economies on a more typical, post-recession, recovery pathway. Here in 2012, QE was supposed to be well behind us. Instead, parts of Southern Europe are in outright depression, the United Kingdom is in double-dip recession, and the US is sweltering through its weakest “recovery” since the Great Depression.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

Recently-released data from all these regions now confirm that previous QE, at best, merely bought time against even more grueling outcomes. » Read more

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Coal: The Ignored Juggernaut

The most likely fuel for a world in decline
Thursday, June 28, 2012, 10:46 AM

Oil, natural gas, and alternatives dominate the headlines when it comes to energy. But there's a big and largely-overlooked revolution occuring with the energy source likey to become the most preferred fuel for a world in ecomomic decline: coal.

The United States coal sector has been hit very, very hard this spring. Demand has been crushed by over 10%, as warm weather and bountiful supplies of cheap natural gas have induced power plant operators and all other users where possible to switch away from domestic coal. The rapid change in fortune has sent the stock prices of big, listed names such as Peabody and Arch down by double digit percentages, as the Dow Jones US Coal Index has fallen below 160 from above 225 at the start of 2012. » Read more