Friday, December 19, 2014

Crude Oil, Employment, and Growth

By John Mauldin


Last week we started a series of letters on the topics I think we need to research in depth as we try to peer into the future and think about how 2015 will unfold. In forecasting U.S. growth, I wrote that we really need to understand the relationships between the boom in energy production on the one hand and employment and overall growth in the US on the other. The old saw that falling oil prices are like a tax cut and are thus a net benefit to the US economy and consumers is not altogether clear to me. I certainly hope the net effect will be positive, but hope is not a realistic basis for a forecast. Let’s go back to two paragraphs I wrote last week:

Texas has been home to 40% of all new jobs created since June 2009. In 2013, the city of Houston had more housing starts than all of California. Much, though not all, of that growth is due directly to oil. Estimates are that 35–40% of total capital expenditure growth is related to energy. But it’s no secret that not only will energy related capital expenditures not grow next year, they are likely to drop significantly. The news is full of stories about companies slashing their production budgets. This means lower employment, with all of the knock on effects.

Lacy Hunt and I were talking yesterday about Texas and the oil industry. We have both lived through five periods of boom and bust, although I can only really remember three. This is a movie we’ve seen before, and we know how it ends. Texas Gov. Rick Perry has remarkable timing, slipping out the door to let new governor Greg Abbott to take over just in time to oversee rising unemployment in Texas. The good news for the rest of the country is that in prior Texas recessions the rest of the country has not been dragged down. But energy is not just a Texas and Louisiana story anymore. I will be looking for research as to how much energy development has contributed to growth and employment in the US.

Then the research began to trickle in, and over the last few days there has been a flood. As we will see, energy production has been the main driver of growth in the US economy for the last five years. But changing demographics suggest that we might not need the job creation machine of energy production as much in the future to ensure overall employment growth.

When I sat down to begin writing this letter on Friday morning, I really intended to write about how falling commodity prices (nearly across the board) and the rise of the dollar are going to affect emerging markets.

The risks of significant policy errors and an escalating currency war are very real and could be quite damaging to global growth. But we will get into that next week. Today we’re going to focus on some fascinating data on the interplay between energy and employment and the implications for growth of the US economy. (Note: this letter will print a little longer due to numerous charts, but the word count is actually shorter than usual.)

But first, a quick recommendation. I regularly interact with all the editors of our Mauldin Economics publications, but the subscription service I am most personally involved with is Over My Shoulder.
It is actually very popular (judging from the really high renewal rates), and I probably should mention it more often. Basically, I generally post somewhere between five and ten articles, reports, research pieces, essays, etc., each week to Over My Shoulder. They are sent directly to subscribers in PDF form, along with my comments on the pieces; and of course they’re posted to a subscribers-only section of our website. These articles are gleaned from the hundreds of items I read each week – they’re the ones I feel are most important for those of us who are trying to understand the economy. Often they are from private or subscription sources that I have permission to share occasionally with my readers.

This is not the typical linkfest where some blogger throws up 10 or 20 links every day from Bloomberg, the Wall Street Journal, newspapers, and a few research houses without really curating the material, hoping you will click to the webpage and make them a few pennies for their ads. I post only what I think is worth your time. Sometimes I go several days without any posts, and then there will be four or five in a few days. I don’t feel the need to post something every day if I’m not reading anything worth your time.

Over My Shoulder is like having me as your personal information assistant, finding you the articles that you should be reading – but I’m an assistant with access to hundreds of thousands of dollars of research and 30 years of training in sorting it all out. It’s like having an expert filter for the overwhelming flow of information that’s out there, helping you focus on what is most important.

Frankly, I think the quality of my research has improved over the last couple years precisely because I now have Worth Wray performing the same service for me as I do for Over My Shoulder subscribers. Having Worth on your team is many multiples more expensive than an Over My Shoulder subscription, but it is one of the best investments I’ve ever made. And our combined efforts and insights make Over My Shoulder a great bargain for you.

For the next three weeks, I’m going to change our Over My Shoulder process a bit. Both Worth and I are going to post the most relevant pieces we read as we put together our 2015 forecasts. This time of year there is an onslaught of forecasts and research, and we go through a ton of it. You will literally get to look “over my shoulder” at the research Worth and I will be thinking through as we develop our forecasts, and you will have a better basis for your own analysis of your portfolios and businesses for 2015.

And the best part of it is that Over My Shoulder is relatively cheap. My partners are wanting me to raise the price, and we may do that at some time, but for right now it will stay at $39 a quarter or $149 a year. If you are already a subscriber or if you subscribe in the next few days, I will hold that price for you for at least another three years. I just noticed on the order form (I should check these things more often) that my partners have included a 90 day, 100% money-back guarantee. I don’t remember making that offer when I launched the service, so this is my own version of Internet Monday.  

You can learn more and sign up for Over My Shoulder right here.

And now to our regularly scheduled program.

The Impact of Oil On U.S. Growth
I had the pleasure recently of having lunch with longtime Maine fishing buddy Harvey Rosenblum, the long-serving but recently retired chief economist of the Dallas Federal Reserve. Like me, he has lived through multiple oil cycles here in Texas. He really understands the impact of oil on the Texas and U.S. economies. He pointed me to two important sources of data.

The first is a research report published earlier this year by the Manhattan Institute, entitled “The Power and Growth Initiative Report.” Let me highlight a few of the key findings:

1. In recent years, America’s oil & gas boom has added $300–$400 billion annually to the economy – without this contribution, GDP growth would have been negative and the nation would have continued to be in recession.

2. America’s hydrocarbon revolution and its associated job creation are almost entirely the result of drilling & production by more than 20,000 small and midsize businesses, not a handful of “Big Oil” companies. In fact, the typical firm in the oil & gas industry employs fewer than 15 people. [We typically don’t think of the oil business as the place where small businesses are created, but for those of us who have been around the oil patch, we all know that it is. That tendency is becoming even more pronounced as the drilling process becomes more complicated and the need for specialists keeps rising. – John]

3. The shale oil & gas revolution has been the nation’s biggest single creator of solid, middle-class jobs – throughout the economy, from construction to services to information technology.

4. Overall, nearly 1 million Americans work directly in the oil & gas industry, and a total of 10 million jobs are associated with that industry.

Oil & gas jobs are widely geographically dispersed and have already had a significant impact in more than a dozen states: 16 states have more than 150,000 jobs directly in the oil & gas sector and hundreds of thousands more jobs due to growth in that sector.

Author Mark Mills highlighted the importance of oil in employment growth:



The important takeaway is that, without new energy production, post recession U.S. growth would have looked more like Europe’s – tepid, to say the least. Job growth would have barely budged over the last five years.

Further, it is not just a Texas and North Dakota play. The benefits have been widespread throughout the country. “For every person working directly in the oil and gas ecosystem, three are employed in related businesses,” says the report. (I should note that the Manhattan Institute is a conservative think tank, so the report is pro-energy-production; but for our purposes, the important thing is the impact of energy production on recent US economic growth.)

The next chart Harvey directed me to was one that’s on the Dallas Federal Reserve website, and it’s fascinating. It shows total payroll employment in each of the 12 Federal Reserve districts. No surprise, Texas (the Dallas Fed district) shows the largest growth (there are around 1.8 million oil related jobs in Texas, according to the Manhattan Institute). Next largest is the Minneapolis Fed district, which includes North Dakota and the Bakken oil play. Note in the chart below that four districts have not gotten back to where they were in 2007, and another four have seen very little growth even after eight years. “It is no wonder,” said Harvey, “that so many people feel like we’re still in a recession; for where they live, it still is.”



To get the total picture, let’s go to the St. Louis Federal Reserve FRED database and look at the same employment numbers – but for the whole country. Notice that we’re up fewer than two million jobs since the beginning of the Great Recession. That’s a growth of fewer than two million jobs in eight years when the population was growing at multiples of that amount.



To put an exclamation point on that, Zero Hedge offers this thought:

Houston, we have a problem. With a third of S&P 500 capital expenditure due from the imploding energy sector (and with over 20% of the high yield market dominated by these names), paying attention to any inflection point in the U.S. oil producers is critical as they have been gung-ho “unequivocally good” expanders even as oil prices began to fall. So, when Reuters reports a drop of almost 40 percent in new well permits issued across the United States in November, even the Fed's Stan Fischer might start to question [whether] his [belief that] lower oil prices are "a phenomenon that’s making everybody better off" may warrant a rethink.

Consider: lower oil prices unequivocally “make everyone better off.” Right? Wrong. First: new oil well permits collapse 40% in November; why is this an issue? Because since December 2007, or roughly the start of the global depression, shale oil states have added 1.36 million jobs while non shale states have lost 424,000 jobs.



The writer of this Zero Hedge piece, whoever it is (please understand there is no such person as Tyler Durden; the name is simply a pseudonym for several anonymous writers), concludes with a poignant question:

So, is [Fed Vice-Chairman] Stan Fischer's “not very worried” remark about to become the new Ben “subprime contained” Bernanke of the last crisis?

Did the Fed Cause the Shale Bubble?

Next let’s turn to David Stockman (who I think writes even more than I do). He took aim at the Federal Reserve, which he accuses of creating the recent “shale bubble” just as it did the housing bubble, by keeping interest rates too low and forcing investors to reach for yield. There may be a little truth to that. The reality is that the recent energy boom was financed by $500 billion of credit extended to mostly “subprime” oil companies, who issued what are politely termed high yield bonds – to the point that 20% of the high yield market is now energy production related.

Sidebar: this is not quite the same problem as subprime loans were, for two reasons: first, the subprime loans were many times larger in total, and many of them were fraudulently misrepresented. Second, many of those loans were what one could characterize as “covenant light,” which means the borrowers can extend the loan, pay back in kind, or change the terms if they run into financial difficulty. So this energy related high yield problem is going to take a lot more time than the subprime crisis did to actually manifest, and there will not be immediate foreclosures. But it already clear that the problem is going to continue to negatively (and perhaps severely) impact the high-yield bond market. Once the problems in energy loans to many small companies become evident, prospective borrowers might start looking at the terms that the rest of the junk-bond market gets, which are just as egregious, so they might not like what they see. We clearly did not learn any lessons in 2005 to 2007 and have repeated the same mistakes in the junk bond market today. If you lose your money this time, you probably deserve to lose it.

The high yield shake out, by the way, is going to make it far more difficult to raise money for energy production in the future, when the price of oil will inevitably rise again. The Saudis know exactly what they’re doing. But the current contretemps in the energy world is going to have implications for the rest of the leveraged markets. “Our biggest worry is the end of the liquidity cycle. The Fed is done. The reach for yield that we have seen since 2009 is going into reverse,” says Bank of America (source: The Telegraph).

Contained within Stockman’s analysis is some very interesting work on the nature of employment in the post recession U.S. economy. First, in the nonfarm business sector, the total hours of all persons working is still below that of 2007, even though we nominally have almost two million more jobs. Then David gives us two charts that illustrate the nature of the jobs we are creating (a topic I’ve discussed more than once in this letter). It’s nice to have somebody do the actual work for you.

The first chart shows what he calls “breadwinner jobs,” which are those in manufacturing, information technology, and other white collar work that have an average pay rate of about $45,000 a year. Note that this chart encompasses two economic cycles covering both the Greenspan and Bernanke eras.



So where did the increase in jobs come from? From what Stockman calls the “part time economy.” If I read this chart right and compare it to our earlier chart from the Federal Reserve, it basically demonstrates (and this conclusion is also borne out by the research I’ve presented in the past) that the increase in the number of jobs is almost entirely due to the creation of part time and low wage positions – bartenders, waiters, bellhops, maids, cobblers, retail clerks, fast food workers, and temp help. Although there are some professional bartenders and waiters who do in fact make good money, they are the exception rather than the rule.



It’s no wonder we are working fewer hours even as we have more jobs.

To continue reading this article from Thoughts from the Frontline – a free weekly publication by John Mauldin, renowned financial expert, best selling author, and Chairman of Mauldin Economics – please click here.



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German Chancellor Merkel Won’t Let Ukraine Get in the Way of Business

By Marin Katusa, Chief Energy Investment Strategist

The Ukraine crisis has moderated for now, but it should have awakened the world to the new “great game” being played in Eastern Europe. Vladimir Putin is positioning Russia to control the global energy trade, knowing that he holds the trump card: Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas.

This epic struggle between the US and Russia could change the very nature of the Euro-American trans Atlantic alliance, because Europe is going to have to choose sides.

The numbers in Putin’s OIL = POWER equation are only going to keep getting bigger as Russia’s control and output of energy continues to grow and as Europe’s supply from other sources dwindles—as I outline in my new book, The Colder War. Finland and Hungary get almost all their oil from Russia; Poland more than 75%; Sweden, the Czech Republic, and Belgium about 50%; Germany and the Netherlands, upward of 40%.

Cutting back on energy imports from Russia as a means of pressuring Moscow is hardly in the EU’s best interest.

Germany, the union’s de facto leader, has simply invested too much in its relationship with Putin to sever ties—which is why Chancellor Angela Merkel has blocked any serious sanctions against Russia, or NATO bases in Eastern Europe.

In fact, Germany is moving to normalize its relations with Russia, which means marginalizing the Ukrainian showdown. Ukraine is but a very small part of Moscow’s and Berlin’s plans for the 21st century. Though the U.S. desperately wants Germany to lean Westward, it has instead been pivoting East. It’s constructing an alliance that will ultimately elbow the US out of Eastern and Central Europe and consign it to the status of peripheral player. (The concept of the “pivot “ in geopolitics was advanced by the celebrated early 20th century English geographer Halford Mackinder with regard to Russia’s potential to dominate Europe and Asia because it forms a geographical bridge between the two.

Mackinder’s “Heartland Theory” argued that whoever controlled Eurasia would control the world. Such a far flung empire might come into being if Germany were to ally itself with Russia. It’s a doctrine that influenced geopolitical strategists through both World Wars and the Cold War. It was even embraced by the Nazis before Russia became an enemy. And it may still be relevant today—despite the historical animosities between the two countries. After all, the mutually beneficial alliance of a resource-hungry Germany with a resource-rich Russia is a logical one.)

Considering the deepening ties between Russia and Germany in recent years, the real motive for the US’s stoking of unrest in Ukraine may not have been to pull Ukraine out of Russia’s sphere of influence and into the West’s orbit—it may have been primarily intended to drive a wedge between Germany and Russia.

The US almost certainly views the growing trade between them—3,000 German companies have invested heavily in Russia—as a major geopolitical threat to NATO’s health. The much-publicized spying on German politicians by the US and the British—and Germany’s reciprocal surveillance—shows the level of mutual distrust that exists.

If sowing discord between Russia and Germany was America’s goal, the implementation of sanctions might look like mission accomplished. Appearances can be deceptive, though.

Behind the scenes, Germany and Russia maintain a cordial dialogue, made all the easier because Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel get along well on a personal level. They’re so fluent in each other’s languages that they correct their interpreters. They often confer about the possibility of creating a stable, prosperous and secure Eurasian supercontinent.

Despite the sanctions, German and Russian businessmen are still busy forging closer ties. At a shindig in September for German businesses in the North-East and Russian companies from St. Petersburg, Gerhard Schröder—former German prime minister and president, and friend of Putin—urged his audience to continue to build their energy and raw-material partnership.

Schröder’s close personal relationship with Putin is no secret. He considers the Russian president to be a man of utmost trustworthiness, and his Social Democratic Party has always been wedded to Ostpolitik (German for “new Eastern policy”), which asserts that his country’s strategic interest is to bind Russia into an energy alliance with the EU.

Schröder would have us believe that they never talk politics. Yet in his capacity as chair of the shareholders’ committee of Gazprom’s Nord Stream—the pipeline laid on the Baltic seabed which links Germany directly to Russian gas—he continues to advocate for a German-Russian “agreement.”

That’s a viewpoint Merkel shares. In spite of her public criticism of Putin’s policy toward Ukraine, Merkel has gone out of her way to play down any thought of a new Cold War. She’s on the record as wanting Germany’s “close partnership” with Russia to continue—and she’s convinced it will in the not-so-distant future.

Though Merkel has rejected lifting sanctions against Russia and continues to publicly call on Putin to exert a moderating influence on pro-Russian Ukrainian separatists, it looks like Germany is seeking a reasonable way out. That makes sense, given the disproportionate economic price Germany is paying to keep up appearances of being a loyal US ally.

Politicians in Germany are alert to the potential damage an alienated Russia could inflict on German interests. Corporate Germany is getting the jitters as well, and there are a growing number of dissenting voices in that sector. And anti-American sentiment in Germany—which is reflected in the polls—is putting added pressure on Berlin to pursue a softer line rather than slavishly following Washington’s lead in this geopolitical conflict.
With the eurozone threatened by a triple dip recession, expect Germany and the EU to act in their own interests. Germany has too much invested in Russia to let Ukraine spoil its plans.

As you can see, there’s no greater force controlling the global energy trade today than Russia and Vladimir Putin. But if you understand his role in geopolitics as Marin Katusa does, you’ll know how he’s influencing the flow of the capital in the energy sector—and which companies and projects will benefit and which will lose out.

Of course, the situation is fluid, which is why Marin launched a brand new advisory dedicated to helping investors get out in front of the latest chess moves in this struggle and make a bundle in the process.
It’s called The Colder War Letter. And it’s the perfect complement to Marin’s New York Times best-seller, The Colder War, and the best way to navigate and profit in the fast changing new reality of the energy sector. When you sign up now, you’ll also receive a FREE copy of Marin’s book. Click here for all the details.




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Monday, December 15, 2014

Seven Questions Gold Bears Must Answer

By Jeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst

A glance at any gold price chart reveals the severity of the bear mauling it has endured over the last three years. More alarming, even for die hard gold investors, is that some of the fundamental drivers that would normally push gold higher, like a weak U.S. dollar, have reversed.

Throw in a correction defying Wall Street stock market and the never ending rain of disdain for gold from the mainstream and it may seem that there’s no reason to buy gold; the bear is here to stay.
If so, then I have a question. Actually, a whole bunch of questions.

If we’re in a bear market, then…..

Why Is China Accumulating Record Amounts of Gold?


Mainstream reports will tell you Chinese imports through Hong Kong are down. They are.
But total gold imports are up. Most journalists continue to overlook the fact that China imports gold directly into Beijing and Shanghai now. And there are at least 12 importing banks—that we know of.
Counting these “unreported” sources, imports have risen sharply. How do we know? From other countries’ export data. Take Switzerland, for example:


So far in 2014, Switzerland has shipped 153 tonnes (4.9 million ounces) to China directly. This represents over 50% of what they sent through Hong Kong (299 tonnes).

The UK has also exported £15 billion in gold so far in 2014, according to customs data. In fact, London has shipped so much gold to China (and other parts of Asia) that their domestic market has “tightened significantly” according to bullion analysts there.

Why Is China Working to Accelerate Its Accumulation?


This is a growing trend. The People’s Bank of China released a plan just last Wednesday to open up gold imports to qualified miners, as well as all banks that are members of the Shanghai Gold Exchange. Even commemorative gold maker China Gold Coin could qualify to import bullion. Not only will this further increase imports, but it will serve to lower premiums for Chinese buyers, making purchases more affordable.

As evidence of burgeoning demand, gold trading on China’s largest physical exchange has already exceeded last year’s record volume. YTD volume on the Shanghai Gold Exchange, including the city’s free trade zone, was 12,077 tonnes through October vs. 11,614 tonnes in all of 2013.

The Chinese wave has reached tidal proportions—and it’s still growing.

Why Are Other Countries Hoarding Gold?


The World Gold Council (WGC) reports that for the 12 months ending September 2014, gold demand outside of China and India was 1,566 tonnes (50.3 million ounces). The problem is that demand from China and India already equals global production!

India and China currently account for approximately 3,100 tonnes of gold demand, and the WGC says new mine production was 3,115 tonnes during the same period.

And in spite of all the government attempts to limit gold imports, India just recorded the highest level of imports in 41 months; the country imported over 39 tonnes in November alone, the most since May 2011.

Let’s not forget Russia. Not only does the Russian central bank continue to buy aggressively on the international market, Moscow now buys directly from Russian miners. This is largely because banks and brokers are blocked from using international markets by US sanctions. Despite this, and the fact that Russia doesn’t have to buy gold but keeps doing so anyway.

Global gold demand now eats up more than miners around the world can produce. Do all these countries see something we don’t?

Why Are Retail Investors NOT Selling SLV?


SPDR gold ETF (GLD) holdings continue to largely track the price of gold—but not the iShares silver ETF (SLV). The latter has more retail investors than GLD, and they’re not selling. In fact, while GLD holdings continue to decline, SLV holdings have shot higher.


While the silver price has fallen 16.5% so far this year, SLV holdings have risen 9.5%.

Why are so many silver investors not only holding on to their ETF shares but buying more?

Why Are Bullion Sales Setting New Records?


2013 was a record-setting year for gold and silver purchases from the US Mint. Pretty bullish when you consider the price crashed and headlines were universally negative.
And yet 2014 is on track to exceed last year’s record-setting pace, particularly with silver…
  • November silver Eagle sales from the US Mint totaled 3,426,000 ounces, 49% more than the previous year. If December sales surpass 1.1 million coins—a near certainty at this point—2014 will be another record-breaking year.
  • Silver sales at the Perth Mint last month also hit their highest level since January. Silver coin sales jumped to 851,836 ounces in November. That was also substantially higher than the 655,881 ounces in October.
  • And India’s silver imports rose 14% for the first 10 months of the year and set a record for that period. Silver imports totaled a massive 169 million ounces, draining many vaults in the UK, similar to the drain for gold I mentioned above.
To be fair, the Royal Canadian Mint reported lower gold and silver bullion sales for Q3. But volumes are still historically high.

Why Are Some Mainstream Investors Buying Gold?


The negative headlines we all see about gold come from the mainstream. Yet, some in that group are buyers…..

Ray Dalio runs the world’s largest hedge fund, with approximately $150 billion in assets under management. As my colleague Marin Katusa puts it, “When Ray talks, you listen.”

And Ray currently allocates 7.5% of his portfolio to gold.


He’s not alone. Joe Wickwire, portfolio manager of Fidelity Investments, said last week, “I believe now is a good time to take advantage of negative short-term trading sentiment in gold.”

Then there are Japanese pension funds, which as recently as 2011 did not invest in gold at all. Today, several hundred Japanese pension funds actively invest in the metal. Consider that Japan is the second-largest pension market in the world. Demand is also reportedly growing from defined benefit and defined contribution plans.

And just last Friday, Credit Suisse sold $24 million of US notes tied to an index of gold stocks, the largest offering in 14 months, a bet that producers will rebound from near six-year lows.

These (and other) mainstream investors are clearly not expecting gold and gold stocks to keep declining.

Why Are Countries Repatriating Gold?


I mean, it’s not as if the New York depository is unsafe. It and Ft. Knox rank as among the most secure storage facilities in the world. That makes the following developments very curious:
  • Netherlands repatriated 122 tonnes (3.9 million ounces) last month.
  • France’s National Front leader urged the Bank of France last month to repatriate all its gold from overseas vaults, and to increase its bullion assets by 20%.
  • The Swiss Gold Initiative, which did not pass a popular vote, would’ve required all overseas gold be repatriated, as well as gold to comprise 20% of Swiss assets.
  • Germany announced a repatriation program last year, though the plan has since fizzled.
  • And this just in: there are reports that the Belgian central bank is investigating repatriation of its gold reserves.
What’s so important about gold right now that’s spurned a new trend to store it closer to home and increase reserves?

These strong signs of demand don’t normally correlate with an asset in a bear market. Do you know of any bear market, in any asset, that’s seen this kind of demand?

Neither do I.

My friends, there’s only one explanation: all these parties see the bear soon yielding to the bull. You and I obviously aren’t the only ones that see it on the horizon.

Christmas Wishes Come True…..


One more thing: our founder and chairman, Doug Casey himself, is now willing to go on the record saying that he thinks the bottom is in for gold.

I say we back up the truck for the bargain of the century. Just like all the others above are doing.

With gold on sale for the holidays, I arranged for premium discounts on SEVEN different bullion products in the new issue of BIG GOLD. With gold and silver prices at four-year lows and fundamental forces that will someday propel them a lot higher, we have a truly unique buying opportunity. I want to capitalize on today’s “most mispriced asset” before sentiment reverses and the next uptrend in precious metals kicks into gear. It’s our first ever Bullion Buyers Blowout—and I hope you’ll take advantage of the can’t-beat offers.

Someday soon you will pay a lot more for your insurance. Save now with these discounts.
The article 7 Questions Gold Bears Must Answer was originally published at casey research.


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Saturday, December 6, 2014

Russia and China’s Natural Gas Deals are a Death Knell for Canada’s LNG Ambitions

By Marin Katusa, Chief Energy Investment Strategist

In recent years, a number of Asian companies have been betting that Canada will be able to export cheap liquefied natural gas (LNG) from its west coast. These big international players include PetroChina, Mitsubishi, CNOOC, and, until December 3, Malaysian state owned Petronas.

However, that initial interest is decidedly on the wane. In fact, while the British Columbia LNG Alliance is still hopeful that some of the 18 LNG projects that have been proposed will be realized, it’s now looking less and less likely that any of these Canadian LNG consortia will ever make a final investment decision to forge ahead.

That’s thanks to the Colder War—as I explain in detail in my new book of the same name—and the impetus it’s given Vladimir Putin to open up new markets in Asia.

The huge gas export deals that Russia struck with China in May and October—with an agreed-upon price ranging from $8-10 per million British thermal units (mmBtu)—has likely capped investors’ expectations of Chinese natural gas prices at around $10-11 per mmBtu, a level which would make shipping natural gas from Canada to Asia uneconomic.

At these prices, not even British Columbia’s new Liquefied Natural Gas Income Tax Act—which has halved the post payout tax rate to 3.5% and proposes reducing corporate income tax to 8% from 11%—can make Canadian natural gas globally competitive.

These tax credits are too little, too late, because Canada is years behind Australia, Russia, and Qatar’s gas projects. This means there’s just too much uncertainty about future profit margins to commit the vast amount of capital that will be needed to make Canadian LNG a reality.

Sure, there are huge proven reserves of natural gas in Canada. It’s just been determined that Canada’s Northwest Territories hold 16.4 trillion cubic feet of natural gas reserves, 40% more than previous estimates.

But the fact is that Canada will remain a high-cost producer of LNG, and its shipping costs to Asia will be much higher than Russia’s, Australia’s, and Qatar’s. So unless potential buyers in Asia are confident that Henry Hub gas prices will stay below $5, they’re unlikely to commit to long-term contracts for Canadian LNG—or US gas for that matter—because compression and shipping add at least another $6 to the price.

Shell has estimated that its proposed terminal, owned by LNG Canada, will cost $40 billion, not including a $4 billion pipeline. As LNG Canada—whose shareholders include PetroChina, Korea Gas Corp., and Mitsubishi Corp.—admits, it’s not yet sure that the project will be economically viable. Even if it turns out to be, LNG Canada says it won’t make a final investment decision until 2016, after which the facility would take five years to build.

But investors shouldn’t hold their breath. It seems like Korea Gas Corp. has already made up its mind. It’s planning to sell a third of its 15% stake in LNG Canada by the end of this year.

And who can blame it? The industry still doesn’t have clarity on environmental issues, federal taxes, municipal taxes, transfer pricing agreements, or what the First Nations’ cut will be. And these are all major hurdles.

Pipeline permits are also still incomplete. The federal government still hasn’t decided if LNG is a manufacturing or distribution business, which matters because if it rules that it’s a distribution business, permitting is going to be delayed.

And to muddy the picture even further, opposition to gas pipelines and fracking is on the rise in British Columbia and elsewhere in Canada. While fossil fuel projects are under fire from climate alarmists the world over, Canadian environmentalists are also angry that increased tanker traffic through its pristine coastal waters could lead to oil spills.

Canada is now under the sway of radical environmental groups and think tanks like the Pierre Elliot Trudeau Foundation, which take as a given that Canada should shut down its tar sands industry altogether. For these people, there’s no responsible way to build new fossil fuel infrastructure.

Elsewhere, investors might expect money and jobs to do the talking, but Justin Trudeau’s Liberal Party, which has called for greenhouse gas limits on oil sands, is now leading the conservatives in the polls. (Just out of curiosity, does Trudeau plan on putting a cap on the carbon monoxide concentration from his marijuana agenda? But I digress.) If a liberal government is elected next year, it might adopt a national climate policy that would cripple gas companies and oil companies alike.

Some energy majors are already shying away from Canadian LNG. BG Group announced in October that it’s delaying a decision on its Prince Rupert LNG project until after 2016. And Apache Corp., partnered with Chevron on a Canadian LNG project, is seeking a buyer for its stake.

Not everyone is throwing in the towel. Yet. ExxonMobil—which is in the early planning phase for the West Coast Canada LNG project at Tuck Inlet, located near Prince Rupert in northwestern British Columbia—has just become a member of the British Columbia LNG alliance.

But Petronas was a key player. It was thought that the company would be moving ahead after British Columbia’s Ministry of Environment approved its LNG terminal, along with two pipelines that would feed it.

Instead, Petronas pulled the plug. We can’t know how many things factored into that decision nor whether it’s absolutely final. All the company would say is that projected costs of C$36 billion would need to be reduced before a restart could be considered. (That $36B figure includes Petronas’s 2012 acquisition of Calgary based gas producer Progress Energy Resources Corp., as well as the C$10 billion proposed terminal, a pipeline, and the cost of drilling wells in BC’s northeast.)

This latest blow leaves Canadian LNG development very much in doubt. In fact, most observers believe that Petronas’s move to the sidelines probably sounds the death knell for the industry, at least for the foreseeable future.
For more on how the Colder War is forever changing the energy sector and global finance itself, click here to get your copy of Marin’s New York Times bestselling book. Inside, you’ll discover more on LNG and how this geopolitical chess game between Russia and the West for control of the world’s energy trade will shape this decade and the century to come.



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Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Investors That Do Not Understand The Power Of Seven Will Lose Money in 2015

Investors and traders around the world continually search to find or increase their edge in the financial markets to boost profits. The next few months are going to be critical for investors because the number seven is now in play for the stock market.
In magical lore seven is a magical number., While all numbers are ascribed certain properties and energies, seven is a number of power, a lucky number, a number of psychic and mystical powers, of secrecy and the search for truth. Seven is used 735 times in the bible and if you total up all words including “sevenfold” and “seventh” there is a total of 860 references.
The origin of seven’s power lies in the lunar cycle. The moon has four phases lasts about seven days. The Sumerians gave the week seven days. Life cycles on earth also have phases demarcated by seven, and there are seven years to each stage of human growth, seven colors to the rainbow, seven notes in the musical scale, seven petitions in the Lord’s Prayer, and seven deadly sins.
More importantly for investors the number seven and multiples of seven have a powerful influence on money. The U.S. stock market is now trading in the seventh year window and it should not be taken lightly. While I could go into a lot more detail about how I use seven in my algorithmic trading strategy to swing trade the S&P 500 index. This article focuses on the investing outlook.
I am fortunate enough that I have been trading since 1997 and have seen the how the stock market cycles affect human behavior and businesses specifically the financial newsletter industry which I have been involved in since the first day my trading career. The stock market appears to be nearing a critical turning point that will change the lives and behaviors of investors for years to come.
The good news is that I have experienced four of these turning points and human behavior shifts in my career before and we currently entering the fifth turning point. I feel obligated to share this valuable insight with those of you who read my work. The next major market move could have a dramatic impact on your wealth and retirement years.
Insight on Investor Behavior and Business
Being heavily involved in the financial newsletter industry I have not only seen but survived several of these major cycles which forced many newsletters to go out of business. The cycles at play here are the market trend and the behavior of traders and investors.
The combined forces of these two cycles are what cleanse the newsletter industry of poor quality services. It becomes almost impossible to obtain new clients without word of mouth/referrals from happy users and if the quality of the newsletter is poor, eventually they lack enough users to make it feasible to operate. Unfortunately it’s the brutal truth, and over the last couple years I am seeing newsletters and even to top trading magazines that have been around for decades closing their doors.
The business cycle can easily be explained by observing the chart below of the SP500 index. In short, when the stock market has been rising for six or more months investors start to become confident in that they can make money on their own. And in fact they can if they buy and hold during a bull market.
But what happens as the market continues to rise for many years is that more and more investors and traders realize they can make money on their own.  The longer the uptrend remains intact the less will need the help of a trading and investing newsletter making it difficult to get new customers in this highly competitive industry.
Currently investors are behaving almost identical to what I saw during 1999 – 2001, from 2006 – 2007, and now 2014 – 2015 market tops.
Let’s now take a look at the best times in the business cycle where traders and investors are in desperate need of help and start subscribing to multiple paid financial newsletter services. The strongest times for business took place during 2002 – 2003, and again in 2008 – 2010. This is when investor not only lost most of their wealth, but their faith in how they invest, who they invest with, and the stock market as a whole.
Did you notice any these also? They are 7 years apart also…
spx-7
 Investors 7 Year Financial Outlook
Those of you who follow me know that I do not pick market tops or bottoms. Rather I focus on identifying trends and cycles in the market and only trade and invest with the active confirmed trend.
You also know that trying to pick market tops and bottoms is a suckers game and a sure fire way to lose a lot of money and build a serious complex that the market is manipulated, not tradable, and that it may be time for you to give up on trading all together.
Well, I am here to say that the market is tradeable, and can generate traders and investors a boat load of money once you understand how and why it moves. Most importantly you need to understand money/position management and be patient for consistent long term gains.
Take a look at the chart below for a clear visual of 7 year cycle highs and lows at play.
 seven

While I do not invest based on this major seven year cycle I do actively trade a smaller market cycle which provides roughly 35 – 65 trades per year. This strategy allows me to profit during these major bull markets and also during the multi-year bear markets when the majority of investors are losing boat loads of their hard earned money.
The reason I do not invest in the seven year cycle is because the market can still have 30+% price swings within bull and bear markets and that type of volatility is beyond what I am comfortable with. Also because I can actively invest with my automated trading system so I don’t need to lift a finger or watch the stock market each day, week or month.
I hope you found this report useful in some way, and I ask that you share it with others.


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Monday, December 1, 2014

Using Stock Buybacks to Mask Deep Business Problems

By Tony Sagami


Stock buybacks are always a good thing… right? That’s what the mass media has trained investors to believe, but there are times when stock buybacks are a horrible strategy.

Let’s take a look at Herbalife, which has had very visible news items as billionaires like Carl Icahn, George Soros, Daniel Loeb, and Bill Ackman publicly debate the future of the company.



Herbalife shares have lost more than half their value in 2014 because of a Federal Trade Commission investigation and a big drop in profits. 50% is a huge haircut, but I believe Herbalife is poised for even more pain.

Rapidly Disappearing Profits


Herbalife recently reported its third-quarter results and they were just awful. Herbalife earned $0.13 per share in Q3, but that was a whopping 92% decline from the $1.32 it earned last year.

That’s awful, but Herbalife says business will be even worse going forward. The Wall Street crowd expected Herbalife to grow revenues by 7% in 2015, but the company said that its revenues will fall by -1% to -2% instead.

Part of that lower guidance is from the impact of the strong US dollar. Guidance for Q4 includes an unfavorable impact of $0.31 from currency conversions. If you remember, I previously wrote that the strong dollar was going to kill the 2015 profits of companies that do lots of business overseas.

I have to admit, I am skeptical of all the multilevel marketing businesses, but Herbalife is reinforcing that preconceived notion.

FTC and FBI Investigation


The Federal Trade Commission is investigating Herbalife for what could ultimately result in charges that Herbalife is operating an illegal pyramid scheme.

In March, the FTC sent Herbalife a civil investigative demand (CID), which is a subpoena on steroids because all the evidence produced by a CID can be used by other agencies in other investigations, such as the FBI, which is also investigating Herbalife.

The FTC outcome is unknown. Heck, Herbalife could eventually be declared innocent and pure… but I wouldn’t bet on it.

Board Members Gone Bad!


When your company is in the middle of FTC and FBI investigations, the last thing you want is for your company officers to get in trouble with the law. A current Herbalife board member, Pedro Cardoso, has been charged with illegal money laundering by Brazilian prosecutors. Time will tell if the charges are true… but it looks very bad.



That’s not the only problem with the Herbalife board of directors. Longtime Herbalife Board Member Leroy Barnes announced that he is leaving. Board members leave for legitimate reasons all the time, but Barnes is the fourth Herbalife board member to leave in 2014. Talk about rats jumping the ship!

The Smoke and Mirrors of Stock Buybacks


The above issues are all serious and enough to stay away from Herbalife, but the biggest red flag I see is the abusive financial engineering that Herbalife is using to prop up its stock.

Example: In Q2, Herbalife spent over $500 million to buy back its own stock for the purpose of propping up its earnings-per-share ratio. Fewer shares translates into higher earnings per share.



The root of the problem is that Herbalife is using up all its cash AND borrowing money like mad to finance the stock buyback.



In the last year, Herbalife’s debt has exploded by over $1 billion. Herbalife is using every penny of operating cash flow and taking on new debt just to buy back its stock.



Moreover, since Herbalife’s stock has plunged by 50% this year, Herbalife wasted hundreds of millions of dollar of shareholder money by buying stock at much higher prices.

And now that revenue, profits, and free cash flow generated by operations are shrinking, Herbalife is on a collision course with insolvency.



Carl Icahn, who is certainly a much better investor than I will ever be, is a big Herbalife fan and even went as far as to call the shares undervalued. “I would tell you I do believe Herbalife is quite undervalued and it is still a good business model.”

Ahhhh… Carl… sorry, but I think you couldn’t be more wrong.

George Soros, by the way, appears to agree with me because he reduced his Herbalife holdings by 60% after the company reported those disastrous third quarter results a few weeks ago. I’m not suggesting that you rush out and buy put options on Herbalife tomorrow morning. As always, timing is everything, but I have very little doubt that Herbalife’s stock will be significantly lower a year from now.

Moreover, the real point isn’t whether Herbalife is headed higher or lower, but that good, old fashioned fundamental research can help you make money in any type of market environment.

Even during bear markets.

30-year market expert Tony Sagami leads the Yield Shark and Rational Bear advisories at Mauldin Economics. To learn more about Yield Shark and how it helps you maximize dividend income, click here.

To learn more about Rational Bear and how you can use it to benefit from falling stocks and sectors, click here.



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Thursday, November 20, 2014

Cut Trading Risk and Increase Reward with a Strategy I Know You're not Using

"Amazing insights...THANKS!"

"Whoa, completely changed my mindset on ETFs"

Those are two quotes from people who watched John Carter's latest video on trading options on ETFs: John's Favorite Ways to Trade Options On ETFs

He shows you how his strategy allows you to cut risk, increase rewards, and grow your account [of any size we might add] using options on ETFs.

Don't worry...it's VERY clear and easy to apply (Watch Video)

John also shows you....

   *  Why trading options on ETFs cuts your risk so you can sleep at night

   *  How you can profit with ETFs from the unexpected move in the dollar

   *  Why you avoid the games high frequency traders play by trading ETFs

   *  Why most analysts have the next move in the dollar wrong and how to protect your investments

   *  What are some of the markets that will be impacted by the dollars next move

This is crucial information that I highly recommend you take the time to review...it's FREE after all.

Stream the video HERE

See you in the markets putting this to work,
Ray's Stock World


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Breakfast with a Lord of War

By David Galland, Partner, Casey Research

For reasons that will become apparent as you read the following article, I was quite reluctant to write it.
Yet, in the end, I decided to do so for a couple of reasons.

The first is that it ties into Marin Katusa’s best selling new book, The Colder War, which I read cover to cover over two days and can recommend warmly and without hesitation. I know that Casey Research has been promoting the book aggressively (in my view, a bit too aggressively), but I exaggerate not at all when I tell you that the book sucked me in from the very beginning and kept me reading right to the end.

The second reason, however, is that I have a story to tell. It’s a true story and one, I believe, which needs to be told. It has to do with a breakfast I had four years ago with a Lord of War.

With that introduction, we begin.

Breakfast with a Lord of War

In late 2010, I was invited to a private breakfast meeting with an individual near the apex of the U.S. military’s strategic planning pyramid. Specifically, the individual we were to breakfast with sits at the side of the long serving head of the department in the Pentagon responsible for identifying and assessing potential threats to national security and devising long term strategies to counter those threats.

The ground rules for the discussion—that certain topics were off limits—were set right up front. Yet, as we warmed up to each other over the course of our meal, the conversation went into directions even I couldn’t have anticipated.

In an earlier mention of this meeting in a Casey Daily Dispatch, I steered clear of much of what was discussed because frankly, it made me nervous. With the passage of time and upon reflection that it was up to my breakfast companion, who spends long days cloaked in secrecy, to know what is allowed in daylight, I have decided to share the entire story.

During our discussion, there were four key revelations, each a bit scarier than the last.

Four Key Revelations


Once we had bonded a bit, the military officer, dressed in his civvies for the meeting, began opening up. As I didn’t record the discussion, the dialogue that follows can only be an approximation. That said, I assure you it is accurate in all the important aspects.

“Which country or countries most concern you?” I asked, not sure if I would get an answer. “China?”
“Well, I’m not going to say too much, but it’s not China. Our analysis tells us the country is too fractured to be a threat. Too many different ethnic and religious groups and competing political factions. So no, it’s not China. Russia, on the other hand…” He left it at that, though Russia would come up again in our conversation on several occasions.

As breakfast was served, the conversation meandered here and there before he volunteered, “There are a couple of things I can discuss that we are working on, one of which won’t surprise you, and one that will.”
“The first is precision guided weaponry.” Simply, the airplane and drone launched weaponry that is deployed so frequently today, four years after our breakfast conversation, that it now barely rates a back-page mention.

“The second,” he continued,” will surprise you. It’s nuclear armaments.”

“Really? I can’t imagine the US would ever consider using nuclear weapons again. Seriously?”

“Yes, there could be instances when using nukes might be advisable,” he answered. “For example, no one would argue that dropping atomic bombs on Japan had been a bad thing.” (I, for one, could have made that argument, but in the interest of harmony didn’t.)

“Even so, I can’t imagine a scenario that would warrant using nukes,” I persisted. “Are there any other countries doing the same sort of research?”

“Absolutely. For example, the Russians would love to drop a bomb that wiped out the people of Chechnya but left the infrastructure intact.”

“So, neutron bombs?”

“Yeah, stuff like that,” he added before turning back to his coffee.

“Okay, well,” I continued, “you at least have to admit that, unlike last century when hundreds of millions of people died directly or indirectly in world wars, pogroms, and so forth—most related to governments—the human race has evolved to the point where death on that scale is a thing of the past. Right?”

I kid you not in the slightest, but at this question the handsome, friendly countenance I had been sitting across from morphed as if literally a mask had been lifted away and was replaced with the emotionless face of a Lord of War.

“That would be a very poor assumption,” he answered coldly before the mask went back on.

I recall a number of thoughts and emotions coursing through my brain at his reply, most prevalently relief that I had moved with my family to La Estancia de Cafayate in a remote corner of Argentina. We didn’t move there to escape war, but after this conversation, I added that to my short list of reasons why the move had been a good idea.

Recapping the conversation later, my associate and I concurred that Russia was in the crosshairs and that if push came to shove, the US was fully prepared to use the new nuclear weapons being worked on.

Four Years Later


As I write, four years after that conversation, it’s worth revisiting just what has transpired.

First, as mentioned, the use of precision-guided weaponry has now firmly entered the vernacular of US warmaking. Point of fact: there are now more pilots being trained to fly drones than airplanes. And the technology has reached the point where there is literally no corner on earth where a strategic hit couldn’t be made. Even more concerning, the political and legal framework that previously caused hesitation before striking against citizens of other countries (outside of an active war zone) has largely been erased. Today Pakistan, tomorrow the world?

Second, instead of winding back the US nuclear program—a firm plank in President Obama’s campaign platform—the Nobel Prize winner and his team have indeed been ramping up and modernizing the US nuclear arsenal. The following is an excerpt from a September 21, 2014 article in the New York Times, titled “U.S. Ramping Up Major Renewal in Nuclear Arms”…,,

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — A sprawling new plant here in a former soybean field makes the mechanical guts of America’s atomic warheads. Bigger than the Pentagon, full of futuristic gear and thousands of workers, the plant, dedicated last month, modernizes the aging weapons that the United States can fire from missiles, bombers and submarines.

It is part of a nationwide wave of atomic revitalization that includes plans for a new generation of weapon carriers. A recent federal study put the collective price tag, over the next three decades, at up to a trillion dollars.

Third, the events unfolding in Ukraine, where the US was caught red handed engineering the regime change that destabilized the country and forced Russia to act, show a clear intent to set the world against Putin’s Russia and in time, neutralize Russia as a strategic threat.

So the only revelation from my breakfast four years ago remaining to be confirmed is for the next big war to envelope the world. Per the events in Ukraine, the foundations of that war have likely already been set. Before I get to that, however, a quick but relevant detour is required.

The Nature of Complex Systems


Last week the semiannual Owner’s & Guests event took place here at La Estancia de Cafayate. As part of the weeklong gathering, a conference was held featuring residents speaking on topics they are experts on.
Among those residents is a nuclear-energy engineer who spoke on the fragility of the US power grid, the most complex energy transmission system in the world.
He went into great detail about the “defense-in-depth” controls, backups, and overrides built into the system to ensure the grid won’t—in fact, can’t—fail. Yet periodically, it still does.

How? First and foremost, the engineer explained, there is a fundamental principle that holds that the more complex a system is, the more likely it is to fail. As a consequence, despite thousands of very bright people armed with massive budgets and a clear mandate to keep the transmission lines humming, there is essentially nothing they can do to actually prevent some unforeseen, and unforeseeable, event from taking the whole complex system down.

Case in point: in 2003 one of the largest power outages in history occurred. 508 large power generators were knocked out, leaving 55 million people in North America without power for upward of 24 hours. The cause? A software defect in an alarm system in an Ohio control center.

I mention this in the context of this article because, as complex as the U.S. power grid is, it is nothing compared to the complexities involved with long-term military strategic planning. This complexity is the result of many factors, including:
  • The challenges of identifying potential adversaries and threats many years, even a decade or more, into the future.
  • New and evolving technologies. It is a truism that the military is always fighting the last war: by the time the military machine spins up to build and deploy a new technology, it is often already obsolete.
  • The entrenched bureaucracies, headed by mere mortals with strong biases. Today’s friend is tomorrow’s enemy and vice versa.
  • The unsteady influences of a political class always quick to react with policy shifts to the latest dire news or purported outrage.
  • The media, a constant source of hysteria making headlines masquerading as news. And let’s not overlook the media’s role as active agents of the entrenched bureaucratic interests. In one now largely forgotten case, Operation Mockingbird, the CIA actually infiltrated the major US media outlets, specifically to influence public opinion.

    All you need to do to understand the bureaucratic agenda is to take a casual glance at the “news” about current events such as those transpiring in the Ukraine.
  • And, most important, human nature. We humans are the ultimate complex system, prone to a literally infinite number of strong opinions, exaggerated fears, mental illnesses, passions, vices, self-destructive tendencies, and stupidity on a biblical scale.
The point is that the average person assumes the powers-that-be actually know what they are doing and would never lead us into disaster, but quoting my breakfast companion, that would be a very poor assumption.

Simply, while mass war on the level of the wholesale slaughter commonplace in the last century is unimaginable to most in the modern context, it is never more than the equivalent of a faulty alarm system away from occurring.

Those history buffs among you will confirm that up until about a week before World War I began, virtually no one in the public, the press, the political class, or even the military had any idea the shooting was about to start. And 99.9% of the people then living had no idea the war was about to begin until after the first shot was fired.

Back to the Present


It is a rare moment in one’s life when the bureaucratic curtain falls away long enough to reveal something approximating The Truth. In my opinion, that’s what I observed over breakfast four years ago. That, right or wrong, the proactive military strategy of the US had been turned toward Russia.
Knowing that and no more, one can only guess what actual measures have been planned and set into motion to defang the Russian bear.

Based on the evidence, however, the events in Ukraine appear to be a bold chess move on the bigger board… and to be fair, a pretty damn effective move at that. The problem for the US and its allies is that on the other side of the table is one Vladimir Putin, self made man, black belt judo master, and former KGB spy master.

And that’s just scratching the surface of this complicated and determined individual. One thing is for sure: if you had to pick your adversary in a global geopolitical contest, you’d probably pick him dead last.
Which brings me to a quick mention of The Colder War, Marin’s book, which was released yesterday.
I mentioned earlier that the book had sucked me in and kept me in pretty much straight through until I finished. One reason is that while you can tell Marin has a great deal of respect for Putin’s capabilities and strategic thinking, he doesn’t shy away from revealing the judo master’s dark side. As you will read (and find quoting to your friends, as I have), it is a very dark side.

But the story is so much bigger than that, and Marin does a very good job of explaining the increasingly hostile competition between the US and Russia and the seismic economic consequences that will affect us all as the “Colder War” heats up.

Before signing off for now, I want to add that it is not Marin’s contention that the Colder War will devolve into an actual shooting war. In my view, however, due to the complexities discussed above, you can’t dismiss a military confrontation, even one involving nukes. Every complex system ultimately fails, and the more the US pushes in on Putin’s Russia, the more likely such a failure is to occur.

I recommend Marin’s book, The Colder War; here is the link.

We’ll leave the lights on down here in Cafayate.

Casey Research partner David Galland lives in La Estancia de Cafayate (www.LaEst.com).
The article Breakfast with a Lord of War was originally published at casey research.com.


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Monday, November 17, 2014

Free Webinar: Why you Should Trade Options on ETFs

Our trading partner John Carter of Simpler Options is back with another one of his wildly popular free trading webinars. His focus this time is "Why you should trade Options on ETFs". John took the time to give us idea what he'll be walking us through step by step in this weeks webinar by producing this great video [just click here to watch]  that included how we can play the next big move in the dollar. A move that John predicts most traders will miss.

Just Click Here to get your Reserved Seat for the Webinar

This weeks webinar is Tuesday evening November 18th at 8 p.m. est

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  *  Why trading options on ETFs are perfect for newbies, retirees, part time traders, and full time traders

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See you Tuesday evening!

Ray's Stock World


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The Return of the Dollar

By John Mauldin


Two years ago, my friend Mohamed El-Erian and I were on the stage at my Strategic Investment Conference. Naturally we were discussing currencies in the global economy, and I asked him about currency wars. He smiled and said to me, “John, we don’t talk about currency wars in polite circles. More like currency disagreements” (or some word to that effect).

This week I note that he actually uses the words currency war in an essay he wrote for Project Syndicate:

Yet the benefits of the dollar’s rally are far from guaranteed, for both economic and financial reasons. While the US economy is more resilient and agile than its developed counterparts, it is not yet robust enough to be able to adjust smoothly to a significant shift in external demand to other countries. There is also the risk that, given the role of the ECB and the Bank of Japan in shaping their currencies’ performance, such a shift could be characterized as a “currency war” in the US Congress, prompting a retaliatory policy response.

This is a short treatise, but as usual with Mohamed’s writing, it’s very thought provoking. Definitely Outside the Box material.

And for a two-part Outside the Box I want to take the unusual step of including an op-ed piece that you might not have seen, from the Wall Street Journal, called “How to Distort Income Inequality,” by Phil Gramm and Michael Solon. They cite research I’ve seen elsewhere which shows that the work by Thomas Piketty cherry-picks data and ignores total income and especially how taxes distort the data. That is not to say that income inequality does not exist and that we should not be cognizant and concerned, but we need to plan policy based on a firm grasp of reality and not overreact because of some fantasy world created by social provocateur academicians.

This weeks new video "How you can Profit from ETFs on the Unexpected Move in the Dollar".....Just Click Here

The calls for income redistribution from socialists and liberals based on Piketty’s work are clearly misguided and will further distort income inequality in ways that will only reduce total global productivity and growth.
I’m in New York today at an institutional fund manager conference where I had the privilege of hearing my good friend Ian Bremmer take us around the world on a geopolitical tour. Ian was refreshingly optimistic, or at least sanguine, about most of the world over the next few years. Lots of potential problems, of course, but he thinks everything should turn out fine – with the notable exception of Russia, where he is quite pessimistic.

A shirtless Vladimir Putin was the scariest thing on his geopolitical radar. As he spoke, Russia was clearly putting troops and arms into eastern Ukraine. Why would you do that if you didn’t intend to go further? Ian worried openly about Russia’s extending a land bridge all the way to Crimea and potentially even to Odessa, which is the heart of economic Ukraine, along with the Kiev region. It would basically make Ukraine ungovernable.

I thought Putin’s sadly grim and memorable line that “The United States is prepared to fight Russia to the last Ukrainian” pretty much sums up the potential for a US or NATO response. Putin agreed to a cease-fire and assumed that sanctions would start to be lifted. When there was no movement on sanctions, he pretty much went back to square one. He has clearly turned his economic attention towards China.

Both Ian Bremmer and Mohamed El Erian will be at my Strategic Investment Conference next year, which will again be in San Diego in the spring, April 28-30. Save the dates in your calendar as you do not want to miss what is setting up to be a very special conference. We will get more details to you soon.

It is a very pleasant day here in New York, and I was able to avoid taxis and put in about six miles of pleasant walking. (Sadly, it is supposed to turn cold tomorrow.) I’ve gotten used to getting around in cities and slipping into the flow of things, but there was a time when I felt like the country mouse coming to the city. As I walked past St. Bart’s today I was reminded of an occasion when your humble analyst nearly got himself in serious trouble.

There is a very pleasant little outdoor restaurant at St. Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church, across the street from the side entrance of the Waldorf-Astoria. It was a fabulous day in the spring, and I was having lunch with my good friend Barry Ritholtz. The president (George W.) was in town and staying at the Waldorf. His entourage pulled up and Barry pointed and said, “Look, there’s the president.”

We were at the edge of the restaurant, so I stood up to see if I could see George. The next thing I know, Barry’s hand is on my shoulder roughly pulling me back into my seat. “Sit down!” he barked. I was rather confused – what faux pas I had committed? Barry pointed to two rather menacing, dark-suited figures who were glaring at me from inside the restaurant.

“They were getting ready to shoot you, John! They had their hands inside their coats ready to pull guns. They thought you were going to do something to the president!”

This was New York not too long after 9/11. The memory is fresh even today. Now, I think I would know better than to stand up with the president coming out the side door across the street. But back then I was still just a country boy come to the big city.

Tomorrow night I will have dinner with Barry and Art Cashin and a few other friends at some restaurant which is supposedly famous for a mob shooting back in the day. Art will have stories, I am sure.
It is time to go sing for my supper, and I will try not to keep the guests from enjoying what promises to be a fabulous meal from celebrity chef Cyrille Allannic. After Ian’s speech, I think I will be nothing but sweetness and light, just a harmless economic entertainer. After all, what could possibly go really wrong with the global economy, when you’re being wined and dined at the top of New York? Have a great week.

John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
subscribers@mauldineconomics.com

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The Return of the Dollar

By Mohamed El-Erian
Project Syndicate, Nov. 13, 2014

The U.S. dollar is on the move. In the last four months alone, it has soared by more than 7% compared with a basket of more than a dozen global currencies, and by even more against the euro and the Japanese yen. This dollar rally, the result of genuine economic progress and divergent policy developments, could contribute to the “rebalancing” that has long eluded the world economy. But that outcome is far from guaranteed, especially given the related risks of financial instability.

Two major factors are currently working in the dollar’s favor, particularly compared to the euro and the yen. First, the United States is consistently outperforming Europe and Japan in terms of economic growth and dynamism – and will likely continue to do so – owing not only to its economic flexibility and entrepreneurial energy, but also to its more decisive policy action since the start of the global financial crisis.

Second, after a period of alignment, the monetary policies of these three large and systemically important economies are diverging, taking the world economy from a multi-speed trajectory to a multi-track one. Indeed, whereas the US Federal Reserve terminated its large-scale securities purchases, known as “quantitative easing” (QE), last month, the Bank of Japan and the European Central Bank recently announced the expansion of their monetary-stimulus programs. In fact, ECB President Mario Draghi signaled a willingness to expand his institution’s balance sheet by a massive €1 trillion ($1.25 trillion).

With higher US market interest rates attracting additional capital inflows and pushing the dollar even higher, the currency’s revaluation would appear to be just what the doctor ordered when it comes to catalyzing a long-awaited global rebalancing – one that promotes stronger growth and mitigates deflation risk in Europe and Japan. Specifically, an appreciating dollar improves the price competitiveness of European and Japanese companies in the US and other markets, while moderating some of the structural deflationary pressure in the lagging economies by causing import prices to rise.

Yet the benefits of the dollar’s rally are far from guaranteed, for both economic and financial reasons. While the US economy is more resilient and agile than its developed counterparts, it is not yet robust enough to be able to adjust smoothly to a significant shift in external demand to other countries. There is also the risk that, given the role of the ECB and the Bank of Japan in shaping their currencies’ performance, such a shift could be characterized as a “currency war” in the US Congress, prompting a retaliatory policy response.

Furthermore, sudden large currency moves tend to translate into financial-market instability. To be sure, this risk was more acute when a larger number of emerging-economy currencies were pegged to the U.S. dollar, which meant that a significant shift in the dollar’s value would weaken other countries’ balance of payments position and erode their international reserves, thereby undermining their creditworthiness. Today, many of these countries have adopted more flexible exchange-rate regimes, and quite a few retain adequate reserve holdings.

But a new issue risks bringing about a similarly problematic outcome: By repeatedly repressing financial-market volatility over the last few years, central-bank policies have inadvertently encouraged excessive risk-taking, which has pushed many financial-asset prices higher than economic fundamentals warrant. To the extent that continued currency-market volatility spills over into other markets – and it will – the imperative for stronger economic fundamentals to validate asset prices will intensify.

This is not to say that the currency re-alignment that is currently underway is necessarily a problematic development; on the contrary, it has the potential to boost the global economy by supporting the recovery of some of its most challenged components. But the only way to take advantage of the re-alignment’s benefits, without experiencing serious economic disruptions and financial-market volatility, is to introduce complementary growth-enhancing policy adjustments, such as accelerating structural reforms, balancing aggregate demand, and reducing or eliminating debt overhangs.

After all, global growth, at its current level, is inadequate for mere redistribution among countries to work. Overall global GDP needs to increase.

The US dollar’s resurgence, while promising, is only a first step. It is up to governments to ensure that the ongoing currency re-alignment supports a balanced, stable, and sustainable economic recovery. Otherwise, they may find themselves again in the unpleasant business of mitigating financial instability.

How to Distort Income Inequality

By Phil Gramm and Michael Solon
Wall Street Journal, Nov. 11, 2014

The Piketty-Saez data ignore changes in tax law and fail to count noncash compensation and Social Security benefits.

What the hockey-stick portrayal of global temperatures did in bringing a sense of crisis to the issue of global warming is now being replicated in the controversy over income inequality, thanks to a now-famous study by Thomas Piketty and Emmanuel Saez, professors of economics at the Paris School of Economics and the University of California, Berkeley, respectively. Whether the issue is climate change or income inequality, however, problems with the underlying data significantly distort the debate.

The chosen starting point for the most-quoted part of the Piketty-Saez study is 1979. In that year the inflation rate was 13.3%, interest rates were 15.5% and the poverty rate was rising, but economic misery was distributed more equally than in any year since. That misery led to the election of Ronald Reagan, whose economic policies helped usher in 25 years of lower interest rates, lower inflation and high economic growth. But Messrs. Piketty and Saez tell us it was also a period where the rich got richer, the poor got poorer and only a relatively small number of Americans benefited from the economic booms of the Reagan and Clinton years.

If that dark picture doesn’t sound like the country you lived in, that’s because it isn’t. The Piketty-Saez study looked only at pretax cash market income. It did not take into account taxes. It left out noncash compensation such as employer-provided health insurance and pension contributions. It left out Social Security payments, Medicare and Medicaid benefits, and more than 100 other means-tested government programs. Realized capital gains were included, but not the first $500,000 from the sale of one’s home, which is tax-exempt. IRAs and 401(k)s were counted only when the money is taken out in retirement. Finally, the Piketty-Saez data are based on individual tax returns, which ignore, for any given household, the presence of multiple earners.

And now, thanks to a new study in the Southern Economic Journal, we know what the picture looks like when the missing data are filled in. Economists Philip Armour and Richard V. Burkhauser of Cornell University and Jeff Larrimore of Congress’s Joint Committee on Taxation expanded the Piketty-Saez income measure using census data to account for all public and private in-kind benefits, taxes, Social Security payments and household size.

The result is dramatic. The bottom quintile of Americans experienced a 31% increase in income from 1979 to 2007 instead of a 33% decline that is found using a Piketty-Saez market-income measure alone. The income of the second quintile, often referred to as the working class, rose by 32%, not 0.7%. The income of the middle quintile, America’s middle class, increased by 37%, not 2.2%.

By omitting Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid, the Piketty-Saez study renders most older Americans poor when in reality most have above-average incomes. The exclusion of benefits like employer-provided health insurance, retirement benefits (except when actually paid out in retirement) and capital gains on homes misses much of the income and wealth of middle- and upper-middle income families.

Messrs. Piketty and Saez also did not take into consideration the effect that tax policies have on how people report their incomes. This leads to major distortions. The bipartisan tax reform of 1986 lowered the highest personal tax rate to 28% from 50%, but the top corporate-tax rate was reduced only to 34%. There was, therefore, an incentive to restructure businesses from C-Corps to subchapter S corporations, limited liability corporations, partnerships and proprietorships, where the same income would now be taxed only once at a lower, personal rate. As businesses restructured, what had been corporate income poured into personal income-tax receipts.

So Messrs. Piketty and Saez report a 44% increase in the income earned by the top 1% in 1987 and 1988—though this change reflected how income was taxed, not how income had grown. This change in the structure of American businesses alone accounts for roughly one-third of what they portray as the growth in the income share earned by the top 1% of earners over the entire 1979-2012 period.

An equally extraordinary distortion in the data used to measure inequality (the Gini Coefficient) has been discovered by Cornell’s Mr. Burkhauser. In 1992 the Census Bureau changed the Current Population Survey to collect more in-depth data on high-income individuals. This change in survey technique alone, causing a one-time upward shift in the measured income of high-income individuals, is the source of almost 30% of the total growth of inequality in the U.S. since 1979.

Simple statistical errors in the data account for roughly one third of what is now claimed to be a “frightening” increase in income inequality. But the weakness of the case for redistribution does not end there. America is the freest and most dynamic society in history, and freedom and equality of outcome have never coexisted anywhere at any time. Here the innovator, the first mover, the talented and the persistent win out—producing large income inequality. The prizes are unequal because in our system consumers reward people for the value they add. Some can and do add extraordinary value, others can’t or don’t.

How exactly are we poorer because Bill Gates, Warren Buffett and the Walton family are so rich? Mr. Gates became rich by mainstreaming computer power into our lives and in the process made us better off. Mr. Buffett’s genius improves the efficiency of capital allocation and the whole economy benefits. Wal-Mart stretches our buying power and raises the living standards of millions of Americans, especially low-income earners. Rich people don’t “take” a large share of national income, they “bring” it. The beauty of our system is that everybody benefits from the value they bring.

Yes, income is 24% less equally distributed here than in the average of the other 34 member countries of the OECD. But OECD figures show that U.S. per capita GDP is 42% higher, household wealth is 210% higher and median disposable income is 42% higher. How many Americans would give up 42% of their income to see the rich get less?

Vast new fortunes were earned in the 25-year boom that began under Reagan and continued under Clinton. But the income of middle-class Americans rose significantly. These incomes have fallen during the Obama presidency, and not because the rich have gotten richer. They’ve fallen because bad federal policies have yielded the weakest recovery in the postwar history of America.

Yet even as the recovery continues to disappoint, the president increasingly turns to the politics of envy by demanding that the rich pay their “fair share.” The politics of envy may work here as it has worked so often in Latin America and Europe, but the economics of envy is failing in America as it has failed everywhere else.

Mr. Gramm, a former Republican senator from Texas, is a visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute. Mr. Solon was a budget adviser to Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell and is a partner of US Policy Metrics.

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Important Disclosures

The article Outside the Box: The Return of the Dollar was originally published at mauldineconomics.com.


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