Thursday, December 31, 2009
If you are an investor, odds are that you will be using a hedge fund or Registered Investment Advisor to help manage your money. The Broker/Dealer model as it existed at Smith Barney (history) or Merrill Lynch (history) has gone the way of the dinosaurs.
Investors are understandably concerned about the security of their assets, but if you follow a few simple rules odds are you will be OK - after all there are 8000 hedge funds and only a couple of Ponzi schemes.
1: A fund that uses an outside custodian will have great difficulty in pulling off a multi year scam. That's because the custodian sends a 1099r report to the IRS. When your fund files its tax return those trades have to match up, or every investor in the fund is going to get audited by the IRS. Of course, an intra year rip off is still entirely possible.
2: Get to know the fund's CPA. Call him up, make nice. Ask questions.
3: Get to know the fund's custodian. Some are well known, brand name shops like Fidelity or Goldman Sachs. Those names always give me that warm and fuzzy feeling I need to have about my money, but there are many smaller shops that are equally as secure. KNOW WHERE YOUR MONEY IS BEING HELD!
4: I don't let my investors send me all of their money. I tell them they need to have at least 1 other manager, and if they are really rich, as many as are necessary. If your fund wants every last dime you have... well, they are not considering your best interests (IMHO).
5: Desperate people do desperate things, so its best not to tempt desperate people. I can't emphasize this one enough. Is your manager a high flier? Fancy Schmancy? Have a history of litigation or unpaid bills? Signs of drug or alcohol abuse (we all know what they are)? Weekends in Vegas, showgirls, private jets, and Bentley cars? These are BAD signs. Used to be folks knew their banker and his family. Get to know yours. I am not saying the guy has to be Jimmy Stewart, but grounded, family-type-guys, living modestly are usually rational enough to understand the consequences of violating their fiduciary responsibilities (going to prison).
Just thinking out loud...
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:47 AM
Wednesday, December 30, 2009
This is the 3rd week in a row with the U.S. experiencing BIG draw downs in Oil inventory.
In 2005 I said there was NO WAY that the U.S. would produce 1mm bpd of ethanol before a decade.... famous last words. The last 4 weeks' ethanol production in the U.S. was 787k bpd... I am willing to concede that ethanol production will crack 1mm before 2014. The significance of this cannot be understated.
The increase in domestic production in 2009, to which I earlier credited "drill, baby, drill", came ALMOST ENTIRELY from the Thunderhorse field in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico (about 300k of the 350k bpd increase in 2009). So much for "drill, baby, drill". Still, the point is that there is not another Thunderhorse out there, nor another million bpd of ethanol. These were "one offs". In 3 years, net Oil imports into the U.S. have fallen from 12.5 million bpd to 9.8 million bpd - and the decline accelerated this year, down 1.3 million bpd in 2009 alone.
Said another way, the market required nearly $73 per barrel on average to clear and balance the market - that does not argue for a declining demand issue as much as a supply constraint issue... but I am a glass half full kind of guy.
It should be readily apparent to ANY Obama-phile of last year that our issues are systemic - no presidential personality can effect the kind of change as promised in any campaign or hoped for in the most fervent camps of believers. I do NOT believe all politicians are crooks, or all government employees evil... I believe the system takes good folks with better intentions... and then the system fails them - an it fails us, The People.
The system I am talking about is the "something for nothing" social programs that cannot now be stopped and that will absolutely cause our system to hit the "reset" button. Wasting breath on how to "fix" them is an exercise in futility - and such exercises are a bore.
Not to worry though... REAL change you can believe in is coming.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 11:30 AM
The Chess World has a New King! Congrats to 19 year old Norwegian Magnus Carlson.
I am a recovering Chess fanatic. I know Chess lacks the popularity of Golf, Tennis, or Football (American and International)... but I can't help but wonder how much different/better our political policies would be if political leaders were trained in chess.
Chess is the ultimate meritocracy - which is probably why American presidential candidates avoid it like the plague. Every time I hear how "Brilliant" Barak Obama or Bill Clinton is, or how "brainy" Bill Bradley was (I know I am dating myself here), I want to sit them down at a chess tournament. Ah, but lawyers are the only folks bright enough to do in the American political and economic system...
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:22 AM
Monday, December 28, 2009
U.S. Oil Imports for 2009 are going to come in down 11.5% or so from 2008.
Total products supplied is going to come in down 4.5% or so.
You can thank Corn Ethanol and "Drill, Baby, Drill". Domestic Oil production is up 350k bpd, and ethanol is absolutely ROCKING, coming in for the past 4 weeks at 731k bpd (649k bpd for all of 2009)! With an average production increase of 150k bpd for the year.
This is a do or die year for Peak Oil, Peak Imports, and Deflation - and I am betting on all 3 for 2010. While Oil imports have peaked, I am not sure that that means Oil won't be heading down in US$ terms.
All eyes on the bond market.
Treasuries are getting their a$$ handed to them, and that has brought 30 year mortgages back over 5% (if you can actually GET a mortgage) and over 7.5% for jumbos (but no one can get a jumbo mortgage so I guess it does not matter). At these levels, housing is being seriously challenged again, and if rates were to head 50 basis points (.5%) higher - stand back! Timber!!!
I have changed my ultimate outcome from: 55% hyper-inflation, 35% deflation, 10% don't worry/be happy, to: 60% deflation, 30% hyper inflation, 10% don't worry be happy.
I won't bore you with predictions for 2010 other than to say "the truth will out".
My sincere wish for a happy, healthy, and prosperous New Year to all!
Posted by The Short Story Man at 7:08 AM
Tuesday, December 22, 2009
My favorite curmudgeon, James H. Kuntsler, was at it again:
The other current embodiment of national character failure, Tiger Woods, golfer, has also dazzled the American public. Personally I find it much more interesting to learn that he was a really lousy tipper than that he got a lot of action on the side with opportunistic bar girls, porn stars, and other denizens of the sports-entertainment netherworld. Is it not also amusing that golf is even taken seriously as an athletic pursuit? I mean, why not pancake-flipping? Or dice? Or shooting rats at the landfill? This is the kind of knucklehead culture we have become after six decades of the softest life imaginable. Anyway, I'm not shedding any tears for Tiger. Even if all his endorsements dry up and his ex-wife takes him to the cleaners for a hundred million or so, he'll still be left with enough cash to pay for porn stars and lobster tails until the end of time, especially if he keeps his tipping policy at its current level. - James Kuntsler
I have been wanting to comment on the Tiger Woods thing, silly as it is, but I just LOVE the way Kuntsler writes...
Earth to the world's most disgusting individual - Nancy Grace:
"Men are as faithful as their options." - Chris Rock
"Women are as loyal as their options" - yours truly
Give a young man testosterone, wealth, fame, and thousands of young beautiful women willing to destroy a family for a couple of bucks.... mix thoroughly... and... Viola! Double digit mistresses (small change compared to Wilt Chamberlain) . Give a young woman a husband that fails to deliver to expectations, or delivers too much (with no pre-nup)... and Viola! A divorce attorney will magically appear and a family down the tubes.
Welcome to America.
Like it, don't like it, approve, disapprove, understand, disbelieve... the world does not give a good fart WHAT you think. The rules are the rules. The fact that Tiger has pissed so many people (women that is, come on... do you really think MEN watch Nancy Grace and Oprah?) off is just another example of misdirected energies...
1 in 8 Americans are receiving FOOD ASSISTANCE FROM THE GOVERNMENT! And a young man's inability to say "No" to temptation is the biggest story in our primary Media?
The cost of the Food Stamps Program will reach $65 Billion in 2010... Wanna bet we see $100 Billion in a couple years? We can't afford Medicare and Social Security, and here comes the third leg to complete the stool.
The crazy thing is this: Women and children make up the vast majority of those receiving food assistance. Maybe these single mothers would be better served working a garden patch with the baby in a papoose and having their cable disconnected so that they can't watch Nancy Grace and Oprah Winfrey. OMG! Did I JUST SAY THAT??!!
Our society is coming apart, and not because hard working folks get rich as a result of their efforts or because of the Oil crisis (it ain't even happened yet). We are breaking down because 70% of Americans think it is acceptable to be &*^&%!! OBESE (hey, why not? Health care is a "right"). What does that say about personal responsibility? We are breaking down because 90% of black kids will need food stamps - what does that say about black fathers? We are breaking down because women have a "right" to divorce their husband without cause, holding him in a life of involuntary servitude (and now no one wants to get married), and to terminate the life of an unborn child - what ever happened to the fairer sex? We are breaking down because our politicians are willing to look the other way as the survivors of Wall Street's cluster f*ck empty the tax payers pockets with bonuses that would have made Mike Milken blush. Everybody is a victim, and nobody is responsible - but we have 10X the number of lawyers per capita the next largest industrial economy has, all too willing to get these victims their day in court... so we got that going for us. I could go on and on. The American Left has taken a shovel full of dirt out from under the foundation of America for over 70 years - and now that we are about to tip over their cronies in the Media pander to them with their claim that they "inherited" this mess. Don't get me wrong. The "Right" were anything but once they got in office.
"The first casualty of War is Truth."
Posted by The Short Story Man at 10:10 AM
Monday, December 21, 2009
It is what it is, and we are where we are.
If 3 or 4 years ago, you were a believer and made your moves... out of equities and into metals, Oil, farmland, and bonds... out of debt, and into a low over head lifestyle... learned some new skills, etc... good for you. 99% of the doomers reading my stuff (as well as Mish, Archdruid, LATOC, Sharon Astyk, Dmitri Orlov, Gene Logsdon, Jim Kuntsler, etc...) took ZERO action. ZERO. Why'd they bother to read? Cheap entertainment? I guess they call it "doomer porn" for good reason.
Anyway, where ever you are, that's where you are likely/going to be. So make your adjustments in place.
What little the governments could do, they have done. They put an airbag up in front of the crash, but the unwinding of debt worldwide will continue apace for the next several years, and Oil imports into the Western Industrial nations, particularly the U.S., will continue their decline. Whether the first REAL oil shock hits in 2012 or 2015 (it won't be any later) isn't really that important, is it? (Wanna know why almost ALL forecasts on Oil production and/or imports you find anywhere on the Web usually have a 3 year window as a margin of error? Because the distribution of production, and this is magnified for imports, is distributed on a bell graph, and 3 years worth of data is roughly 100 Billion barrels of Oil... if Hubbert's theory is even remotely correct, that 100 Billion barrels is all the margin of error any model needs.)
Not long ago I though the rate of change would be manageable - now I don't think so. I think my rate of change interpretation was far too anecdotal and too much of my personal experience - and I think ethanol's role, as well as increased domestic production of Crude and NG softened the blow in the U.S.. It follows then that since I think these were a "one off", a one time event, at the conclusion of the event the rate of change will once again take on its prior characteristics.
While inventories of Oil in the West might be very high at this moment... that does NOT change the export capacities of the exporting nations in the future. NOT ONE LITTLE BIT. Prices CAN go lower in the short term, and that event has nothing to do with future capacities.
Oil exports can either flat line, continue their rate of decline, or hit an air pocket over the next 18 months to 3 years. It won't matter, within 3 years I give it a 75% probability that the U.S. is rationing gasoline and heating oil, 90% within 5 years.
The next 5 to 10 years are going to be surreal for Americans, although for those that have already been broken in the first waves of this things likely appear surreal right now.
Unfortunately, you ain't seen nothing yet.
So far, the consequences have ONLY been economic. In the future there will be political consequences in the West, and especially in the U.S., that I cannot begin to fathom (actually I can, but I think Dmitri Orlov has covered this very nicely and I prefer to let the other guy sound shrill).
Here is a link to the Financial Sense News Hour for this week. Skip to the 3rd interview, about 29 minutes into the MP3 download, and listen to Larry Ortega from Logi Management, the hedge fund shop that Jeffrey Brown has associated himself with. He makes an EXCELLENT point that whet we are seeing in the markets and economy are business models that are breaking down as Oil constrains them. He then goes on to point out the likelihood of business models in the food distribution system breaking down. I used to poke fun at the doomers because I always felt there would be enough Oil to run tractors and NG for fertilizer (for several generations)... I HADN'T thought about the business model, capital requirements, energy distribution, etc... of the long range trucking of farm product. That is not a question of ALL or NONE, but a question of enough to support the model. After reflecting on this for the evening, I think he is very correct. I am getting warmer and fuzzier about farmland investment near metro centers east of the Mississippi the more I think about this...
If you have the means, there are opportunities in all of this. If you don't, the best thing you can do is adjust in place and try to enjoy your life. I think back to regular commenter "Kathy" and her take on life in or near the inner cities... very poignant...
Posted by The Short Story Man at 7:01 AM
Friday, December 18, 2009
The $1+ Million home. It used to be what Americans aspired to.
Now, those million $ homes are a noose around people's necks (the link is to an article about a professional, single mother from Westchester County, NY living in a former multi million dollar home and working in Manhattan, and just scraping by on $300,000 per year... I wish it were a cautionary tale... now it is merely standard circumstances). The banks, the homeowners, Wall Streets economists, the Fed, etc... are all in denial about this simple fact: The securitization market that funded these silly consumer items is down for the count, and will not be back in my life time (if ever).
(A brief explanation of the securitization market: The banks are nothing more than servicers of these mortgages - they accept payment and make sure that that payment is divided up amongst the suckers that bought bonds backed by trauches of these mortgages. These suckers WERE the securitization market - and they have been demolished financially. Once bitten, twice shy as it were.)
There is ZERO financing available for these properties - and we built gazillions of them - the supply/demand circumstances could not be worse. I listen patiently (and with no small amount of sadness) when I listen to folks speaking of the "equity" they believe they have left in these "White Elephants". The sad fact is that they are upside down - they owe more than the house is worth - and many of these homes actually have ZERO or negative value. Sound preposterous? 5 years from now, these properties will remain unsold, and many will be abandoned, if I am correct. I think that that is pretty much the definition of "ZERO or negative value". But the outrageous property taxes will continue to wipe out the inhabitants.
This is the tidal wave that is still to come, the tidal wave that will absolutely, positively wipe the floor with those holding the paper. As of yet, no one has marked these to market - because THERE IS NO MARKET. Measuring the number of HOUSES is silly... measuring the amount of aggregate mortgages defaulted is the issue. 25, $200,000 houses = 1, $5,000,000 house as far as the system is concerned. The number of Mansions and McMansions that are going into default is truly fantastic. Did I say "going to default"? Sorry, many have already defaulted, and the banks and mortgage holders are not foreclosing because they KNOW that there is no one out there to sell the property to.
Here in South Florida, home of the mortgaged mansion, we have thousands upon thousands of these properties that have not seen a mortgage payment in years - yet the mortgages are being carried on the books of the servicing companies at full value. This is also true in commercial mortgages.
The credit crisis is still very much with us. Just try and get a $1 Million+ mortgage. Fannie and Freddie won't do it. Bank of America, JP Morgan Chase, and Citi (HAHAHA!!) won't do it. GMAC won't do it. AIG (LOL!!) won't do it... I think you get the idea.
Mortgage rates might be cheap - if you could get a loan. But the only loans getting done are being backed by FHA, and they are not guaranteeing $1 Million+ mortgages (and they are the next bailout in any event).
The stimulus monies found their way easily into liquid markets like commodity and equities. Small business? Where 2/3's of America's new jobs come from? Not so much.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 6:07 PM
Thursday, December 17, 2009
Goods are transported across the U.S. on trucks and rail cars, so keeping an eye on rail traffic and diesel fuel consumed gives you a good luck at actual, and very accurate, data.
The rail car data for crushed stone stinks...
As does the data for Lumber...
Whatever stimulus that made its way out of Washington did not go to "shovel ready" projects. I'll give you 2 1/2 guesses where they went...
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:32 PM
Sunday, December 13, 2009
Just when you thought inventories of petroleum products were almost overflowing, you get data this week that 12.7 million barrels of petroleum products & crude were drawn down. Still, consumption of product, other than gasoline, is down big. This does not support the goldilocks scenario portrayed by the U.S. equity market, and a warm winter would likely portend a significant decline in distillate, and crude Oil, prices - or at least I think so... that is, unless you have a few more inventory reports like today... that would be a game changer.
I want to be long Oil for delivery out a couple years, but I really think that the probability is with lower, not higher prices, in the near term (not calculating the effects of a dust up with Iran).
Imports continue south in a big way, and demand for petroleum products is just awful here in the U.S.. That does not speak well for the near term economic picture. On the other hand, China has increased imports faster than we lost them... but, I would not put a great deal of stock in the "Chinese Miracle" just yet. They do, however, seem more interested in buying Oil than Gold.... and they have the cash....
It is no secret that I am a Right of Center Libertarian type, and a Registered Republican - and I am COMPLETELY opposed to ANY (further) involvement in Afghanistan and Iraq.
I am not alone (from Jack Hunter at American Conservative):
For eight long years under George W. Bush, conservatives endorsed a don’t ask, don’t tell foreign policy–they did not really ask why their country was at war and Republican leaders did not tell, or bother, Americans with any of the gory details. Missions were accomplished, we fought them over there so we didn’t have to fight them here and troops were supported by simply supporting the wars they fought, with little to no dissent. But why were we fighting? What was “victory?” How many had to die? What was the cost? Conservatives did not ask-Republican politicians did not tell.But some Republicans are finally asking. Regarding President Obama’s decision to escalate the war in Afghanistan, columnist Reihan Salam writes: “Rep. Jason Chaffetz, a Utah Republican known for his independent streak, has made a conservative case for withdrawal.” Says Chaffetz: “Our military is not a defensive force for rough neighborhoods around the world. They are trained to be an offensive, mission-driven military force to protect the United States of America. They are not trained to be nation builders or policemen… If our mission in Afghanistan is simply to protect the populace and build the nation, then I believe the time has come to bring our troops home.”Is Chaffetz’s position on Afghanistan a sign of things to come? Salam thinks so, writing: “my guess is that by the 2010 congressional elections, dozens of Republican candidates will be doing the same across the country.”We can only hope. As a conservative, I have long found it perplexing that to a large extent the American Right has been defined by its enthusiasm for going to war virtually anywhere, for virtually any reason and often for no good reason.
How's that for a candid assessment?
This would be an excellent time to start bringing service folks back from all points on the globe.
The U.S. wealth and elite class, DOMINATED BY THE LEFT (Wall Street is NOT REPUBLICAN! It is DOMINATED by GOLDMAN SACHS, the ANTI-CHRIST, and they don't get more liberal-democrat than GOVERNMENT SACHS!), has never been so blind (IMHO) as to how bad conditions are for the "Reagan Democrats" and Small Biz Republicans on Main Street (they pretend to give a good fart about the people that are so far down and out there is no shot in h*ll of improving their lot in less then 3 generations, but the people that actually get up every morning and try to do the right thing? They dismiss them as a "bunch of nose picking, gun toting" rednecks, white trash, rubes...) and I fully expect over the next 5 years or so that economic conditions will deteriorate badly. As I have often said, I can't time my toaster oven, so don't expect me to give you any kind of firm time line - I will demure - but I give the outcome a virtual certainty. (I give it a 55% probability of a hyper-inflationary blow off, a 35% probability of a deflationary collapse, and 10% Armageddon/No problem/standard stagflation.)
I do not for 1 SECOND believe that the U.S. will reduce its spending profile - neither for social programs NOR the military budget. It then follows that the system will go Chernobyl at some point... and if you really want to time that point? Follow Oil imports, inventories, and production.
I am not hoping for or wishing for this... this is just what the data says to me.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 3:25 PM
Saturday, December 12, 2009
The municipal bond market blew up a couple of years ago. That blow us was a fart compared to the windstorm coming to that market place.
The big states, New York, California, Florida, Illinois, are in deep doo-doo. No, states cannot file for bankruptcy, but most other municipal entities can, and they make up most of the debt in the muni bond market.
I can't give specific advice in this forum (actually, that is about to change. I have withdrawn my membership in FINRA in order to concentrate on my proprietary investments - soon I will have A LOT to specifically say). I can say that, in general, Treasuries are safer than Muni's at this time.
I am in the camp that a currency crisis will happen some time in the next year or two - but it won't be the US$. My bet is that now is the time to hold US$, and that the currency crisis (Greece, Ukraine, United Kingdom, Venezuela... are all very good candidates, much better than the US$ at the moment). I have no idea of WHEN, exactly. You will know it when you see it. In that scenario, the US$ will be the beneficiary of a flight to safety - and everything else will get hurt in US$ terms, with the exception of the U.S. Treasury market.
I reserve the right to change my mind on a dime if the data comes in differently, but I can say with great confidence that the Muni market is very, very challenged at the moment.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail (d0t) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 10:32 AM
Although a sad state of affairs, I was thrilled to see the American "Child Hunger" issue make the front page of MSNBC today.
I get a bit of ribbing from some of my associates that the sky hasn't fallen yet... maybe not for Wall Street professionals benefitting from "Bailout Nation", but for working class families the collapse is past tense. When you can't put enough food on the table, the next step is no roof over your head.
This issue has to be attacked from all angles. 25% of all children, and 90% of African-American children will receive food stamps before adulthood! The children are innocent. The parents? Not so much. Where the h*ll is President Obama, a black man that has the political cover to call black fathers "on to the carpet" - and take responsibility. Too afraid of offending his constituency? Folks who cannot provide for themselves certainly cannot provide for their children. How do we break this cycle? If it is this bad now, when food is "cheap", what will happen if food gets "expensive"?
Our country is falling apart from within. The Taliban? Small potatoes. 17 million American children living in homes without enough food? BIG POTATOES.
Look, I was never an Obama fan... but where is the outrage from his supporters?
Posted by The Short Story Man at 6:39 AM
Thursday, December 10, 2009
I was more than a little off in my guestimate of how much ethanol the U.S. can produce from corn.
It is estimated that in 2009 4.2 Billion bushels of corn will be consumed in the manufacture of ethanol, while projected 2009 exports are 2.05 Billion. If the U.S. ceased to be a corn exporter, and we took the 2 Billion bushels and converted it to ethanol at 2.7 gallons per bushel... hmmm... 5.4 Billion gallons... divided by 42 (gallons per barrel)... 128 million barrels/365 = 352,000 additional barrels per day.
So I was off by half. Or 100%. Depending on which way you look at it. Max production of ethanol is somewhere around 1 million barrels per day. Said another way, with 9 million barrels of "blended gasoline" consumed each day, the U.S. might have the ability to replace 4% any future import decline with corn ethanol.
Of course, more corn production could be diverted toward ethanol at the expense of livestock feed, which would certainly have a deleterious effect on meat, milk, eggs, and foods processed from corn, though I doubt this will come to pass. Somewhere in there either the price of fuel brings down demand or the price of food brings down everything. Just kidding. I need to think on that some more, but there are certainly some unintended consequences.
I was off a little on the export percentage, too. The U.S. is 61.4% of the world corn export market, not 2/3's (I was close). If the U.S.'s contribution to the world grain market for corn evaporated this list of importers would be most impacted.
In other words, ethanol has saved our bacon in 2008 and 2009 (with help from increased domestic production of crude in 2009), and it was a one off. There is little room in the system to increase ethanol production. This also explains why gasoline consumption did not decline year over year, while vehicle miles traveled is down almost 3% from the peak in 2006 (because ethanol has only 65% of the energy, and hence miles-per-gallon, of gasoline).
So which came first? The chicken, or the egg? Did the economy contract from lower petroleum availability, or did availability decline because the economy did not require it? Does it really matter? Nope. Not even a little bit. What matters is the Oil import picture for 2010-2011.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 4:09 PM
Wednesday, December 9, 2009
Ah, wednesday! I love the smell of data in the morning... it smells like, like... victory.
U.S. crude oil imports averaged 8.1 million barrels per day last week, down 264 thousand barrels per day from the previous week. Over the last four weeks, crude oil imports have averaged 8.5 million barrels per day, 1.4 million barrels per day below the same four-week period last year. Total motor gasoline imports (including both finished gasoline and gasoline blending components) last week averaged 750 thousand barrels per day. Distillate fuel imports averaged 185 thousand barrels per day last week.
The four week period of '09 vs '08 had imports down 16.5% year over year. For the YEAR to date vs. the same period last year, imports are down 11.1%.
If it were not for the 643,000 bpd of ethanol produced in the U.S. and blended with gasoline, I believe we would be having some real trouble. I also think that ethanol is a very permanent guest at the table, and that within a few years the U.S. will be unable to export corn (the U.S. is now somewhere between 66.6% and 75% of the world export market of corn). Boy, are the Japanese gonna be p*ssed off when that comes to pass. Japan is the world's biggest corn importer, using the grain for domestic meat production. Since meat is roughly 3x the price in Japan as it is in the U.S., this should get really, really interesting.
But I digress...
How much more ethanol could we produce at a maximum? Good question. I will have a firm answer shortly, but I'll throw a guestimate out there - 2 million bpd (triple current production). The unintended consequence of which would be unacceptable, IMHO. On the other hand, had the 643k bpd of ethanol failed to show up, the consequences of that would not be so hot, either.
Ethanol and increased domestic production of crude has kept our feet out of the fire given the decline in imports. 2010 is the year in which the truth is likely to prevail. Or not. The plot thickens...
It is very much worth watching, if you have the time. If not, the first 30 minutes gets the point across. I would say it is 75% accurate, and 25% agenda, though whose agenda I know not. Still, I liked it, and I think the documentarian makes a good case while only slightly abusing facts and truth. Like I said, it is at least 75% accurate, and that's 100% more than what you get from the media.
I regularly beat up the Liberal Elite on this sight. I should save some of my fire for the non- working poor. I got some street cred in this area of study, a PhD., as it were. There are some good reasons poor people are poor. We all know what they are, I'll spare you the lecture. But here we are. We have created a significant portion of of Americans who believe in a "free lunch".
In case they are feeling smug, I would like to point out to the American elite that all revolutions eventually eat their young.
That ethanol number keeps coming back to me. Something not right in the inventory data of gasoline blending components... I need to sleep on it.
libertariananimal (at) gmail (d0t) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 3:35 PM
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Jeffrey Brown, also known as "Westexas", of "Export Land Model" fame, stopped by the AEC earlier this weekend and left the following comment:
Saudi Arabia, the US & China (EIA Data)The cumulative shortfall in Saudi net oil exports, between what the they would have (net) exported at the 2005 rate and what they actually (net) exported was 840 million barrels (mb), from 2006-2008 inclusive, as US oil annual oil prices went from $57 in 2005 to $100 in 2008.On the import side, the US and China are respectively prime examples of the OECD and non-OECD responses to rising oil prices.The cumulative shortfall between what the US would have (net) imported at the 2005 rate and what we actually (net) imported from 2006-2008 inclusive was 687 mb.The cumulative increase between what China would have (net) imported at the 2005 rate and what they actually (net) imported from 2006-2008 inclusive was 839 mb.So, China not only offset our cumulative decline, their increase exceeded our cumulative decline.This pattern is what I expect to see in the future--OECD and non-OECD countries battling it out for a share of declining net oil exports, with OECD countries generally being forced to reduce their consumption. I had been expecting more of a short term decline in US demand, primarily because of large anticipated reductions in government payrolls and government services (initially local & state, with the feds joining in later), but the stimulus spending is apparently postponing that day of reckoning. But I do think that the longer it takes for another downward leg in US consumption to occur, the less impact that it will have on global net demand.Most companies, most governments, and most individuals are essentially basing their economic decisions on what I call the FIM--the Fantasy Island Model. On Fantasy Island, oil fields don't deplete.In my opinion, a more realistic scenario is that oil importers worldwide, in just the past four years, have already burned through 20% to 25% of our post-2005 global cumulative supply of net oil exports.In any case, based on our export models, governments worldwide are doing precisely the wrong thing at precisely the wrong time--by encouraging consumption, when we should be doing everything possible to discourage consumption.
(For those of you outside of the "Peak Oil" debate, Jeffrey Brown is probably the most well known Geologist on the planet with the exception of M. King Hubbard. I encourage you to Google Jeffrey Brown's stuff.)
In other words, the supply of exported Oil making its way onto the world's oceans is falling at 5 - 7% per year, but the fall in imports into the U.S. is declining faster. Given the currency and car fleet growth in Asia this makes a lot of sense.
It also means that the probability of an Oil shock and double dip recession is so high as to be near certainty sometime in the next 3 years. That does not mean Oil could not decline in price prior to that, but I don't see how another Oil shock does not harm the equity and housing markets and rough up the banks.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 1:10 PM
G.M.'s Whitacre says that he is promoting young executives and women to overcome that company's in bred culture.
America's elite are all one big, happy family of group-think jag offs.
Take a look at the U.S. Supreme Court over the past 30 years. The vast majority of justices come from 5 Law Schools - Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Stamford.
Are there really no other smart people from any other walk of life?
Take a run down the Managing Director list at Goldman Sachs (and the former Bear Stearns and Lehamn Brothers). Same universities (business school rather than law school). I have some experience in the matter - once upon a time I worked for Bear Stearns.
(By luck and happenstance I got hired, though I was nothing more than a self educated wise guy. Actually Bear liked to promote the idea that they hired guys like me, they called us PSD's (Poor, Smart with a Deep desire t be rich. The Chairman coined the term and nobody wanted to argue with him) and to their credit there were a few smart, token working class guys floating around. I don't want to sound ungrateful - I was extremely well paid, and the experience I got and the connections I made I could not have recreated elsewhere - but there was still a glass ceiling of sorts for guys like me. I was the number one producer of new clients in private client services (PCS) in the firm. Numero Uno. No one even close. I knew how to make it RAIN. But you were limited in earnings potential in PCS, the big dough was in mortgage backed securities (MBS) trading and sales, and I was an ambitious young man. When I went down to see the folks in MBS, they told me I was "Not Qualified". I said "how much more qualified can I be? I produce more new business than the other 500 guys in PCS." To which Craig S. said: "I have 20 guys with MBA's from Harvard". And there it was. I was a proven rainmaker and producer, but I never summered on the Cape, I played football and boxed instead of tennis and golf, and washed dishes at the local Country Clubs instead of being a Member... Not that I expected another outcome, after all I was taking a long shot at a job EVERY Wall Street maniac wanted. The worker bees in that department were making $3 million+ per year, and the big cheese, Warren S., $20 - $30 MILLION (he eventually got fired and had to get by with $400 million or so). Not an easy position to land. But his dismissal of my accomplishments in favor of glorified, part-time group training irked the sh*t out of me. On the way out I told Craig I couldn't think as slow as him if I tried, not if I were drugged, not if I was asleep, and I would wipe the floor with his minions in chess, cross word, concentration, any intellectual competition he could think up; I never worried about "burning bridges"... I was only too willing to walk around with a can of napalm and a blow torch... and I don't think these guys were used having someone talk to them like I did.... When my boss up in PCS heard that I was trying to catch on with MBS he was furious... but when he heard what I told Craig on the way out he laughed hysterically, and all was "sort of" forgiven. I moved on to a firm that let me run the show, but without Bear's capital the opportunity was not quite the same. A few years later it seemed to me that if I wanted to be the big cheese I would have to give the job to myself and I opened my own shop. Little did I know that the MBS group at Bear Stearns were the very guys that eventually blew up the world financial system. Funny how things work out.)
Our system, corporate, legal, political, "educational" favors an entrenched ruling class in ways innumerable to count, "but the group-think" thing going on at the U.S. Supreme Court is nothing short of APPALLING. Especially since these are APPOINTED positions.
There is also no Constitutional requirement that a Supreme Court Justice must be a lawyer. Have you ever read the U.S. Constitution? It is just not that long or complicated. Perhaps you would argue about precedent and decisions. Like what? The Dred Scot case?
But what do I know. I MUST be dumb. After all, I didn't go to Harvard.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail
Posted by The Short Story Man at 6:05 AM
Saturday, December 5, 2009
Saudi Arabia’s Al-Naimi Says Oil Price Is ‘Perfect’
Yes, Mr. Al-Naimi, the price of Oil is perfect - for OPEC.
With Oil prices trading between $70 and $80 per barrel, OPEC feels that the political will necessary to develop alternative transportation infrastructure and energy supplies simply will not be there in the developed nations. "Perfect".
Trade surpluses into the Oil exporting nations are sufficient to maintain the position of the elite and placate their masses. "Perfect".
Oil prices are such that the exporting nation's elite can continue to triangulate the political pressures on them from the importing nations, and these nice folks can continue to fund all sorts of "kooks, loonies, and squalid criminals" (Ronald Reagan). "Perfect".
And if all involved would just maintain the status quo, forever, things will continue to be: "Perfect".
The sad fact is our leadership here in the U.S. and the West is simply hopping to extend the status quo until the next administration takes office, which the current one hopes is 2017, to which I answer:
Libertariananimal (at) gmail
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:48 AM
Friday, December 4, 2009
Regular commenter, "Lenny D" calls the early calls for the demise of the US$ the "Elvis Trade". As he said to me: "What's going to replace the US$? The Euro? The Yuan? Give me a break. The U.S.$ is a lot like Elvis.... Fat, sweaty... but still "The King".
Is this the beginning of the long awaited US$ rally? Maybe. Maybe not. It certainly bears watching.
Besides... I love calling it the "Elvis Trade"... Fat, sweaty... but still "The King" (but not for much longer).
Libertariananimal (at) gmail
Posted by The Short Story Man at 8:56 AM
Tuesday, December 1, 2009
Today's quote from my favorite curmudgeon...
"Grown men swarm in the unemployment offices wearing sideways hats and butt-crack trousers. Why not just tattoo a message on your forehead that says: "Moron For Hire"? - James Howard Kuntsler
You gotta love Kuntsler. He's one of the few folks on the Left that I can read without going apoplectic. Well, he describes himself as a Liberal, but I think he is a Libertarian in Sheep's Clothing.
And speaking of love... My favorite "Progressive Libertarian", Gerry Celente, was interviewed on the Financial Sense News Hour this past weekend (hit the link and skip the first interview. Celente is very much worth listening to). Celente is THE MAN, the guy folks like me hold in awe given his track record as a forecaster... but it is the interviewer, Jim Puplava that brings up what REALLY destroyed the family farm in the U.S.
ESTATE TAXES. No, not factory farms, thought they certainly did some damage, it was the f^&%%ing U.S. (estate) tax code that destroyed the backbone of the small farming communities in the American South, Midwest, and West.
Matt Simmons (they don't get more Republican and establishment as Simmons, he was an important energy advisor, and contributor, to GWB), of Simmons International, in his most recent presentation at the ASPO conference published that "BEST CASE 2020, World Crude production would be 55mm to 60mm bpd" - that's down from 73 million bpd. Given that only 35 mm of world oil production is exported currently, and the exporters are increasing their domestic consumption... My bet is ZERO oil imports, outside of Canada, into the U.S. in 2020 or so.
Barak Obama is now a full fledged War Time president. I have no idea if he is doing the right thing or not, but I look back at the disgusting treatment GWB received by the opposition and the media, and I refuse to do likewise. Much as I oppose most of the president's policies, I support a sitting president doing what he is charged by the Constitution to do - protect us. I am glad that I am not the one making that decision.
Gasoline demand dropped out of the bottom last week according to the EIA (inventories of gasoline increase 5.7% in a week). Of course, this might be a "catch up" increase in inventories... though the EIA says demand increased .1% from this time last year...Nothing in the data supports the view that the U.S. industrial economy is expanding, and the Oil imports decline rate remains alarmingly high.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 3:56 PM
Sunday, November 29, 2009
I use the "food stamp metric" as a primary gauge of American politics and the economy. "Politics" because every nation is only 3 meals from revolution (and 9 meals from the abyss - not that I think America is that close on this regard). "Economics", because food is a basic necessity - if one can't afford food its a safe bet they are destitute.
Although 1 in 8 Americans now receives "nutritional assistance", that ratio swells to 1 in 4 when measuring the number of American children.
While the numbers have soared during the recession, the path was cleared in better times when the Bush administration led a campaign to erase the program’s stigma, calling food stamps “nutritional aid” instead of welfare, and made it easier to apply. That bipartisan effort capped an extraordinary reversal from the 1990s, when some conservatives tried to abolish the program, Congress enacted large cuts and bureaucratic hurdles chased many needy people away.
Seems GWB, a Republican, overturned a number of initiatives of the 1990's that limited access to the program (this is no criticism of then President Clinton who also worked to expand the program, but it was GWB that did the heavy lifting).
The next program we desperately need will be installing greenhouses, mini-dairies, gardens, and chicken coops in housing projects and poor neighborhoods (and similar help to the rural poor) to help these people help themselves. I have traveled fairly extensively in Central and South America's Third World countries. The people there have no "government safety net". But they did have plenty of food. My son and I did a 2 week hiking and camping trip through the Peruvian Andes a few years back. We stayed a couple days in an Indian town where they spoke Quechuan, a native language, rather than Spanish. The locals lived in small, 1 room houses that were surrounded by their gardens and livestock. The men and boys played soccer every night (we played, too, but the 8000 foot altitude was a little tough on my then 43 year old legs), and the women socialized together while working cloth. Our guide told us that there was nearly no divorce or crime. The people were, by our standards, poor but they looked healthy and happy. There was no TV, even in the Inn where we stayed (speaking of which... the Inn was something out of the Flintstones - the rooms where mortared fieldstone and the beds mere platforms to keep you off the fieldstone floor. Though there was no heat or AC, we were comfortable under inch thick Alpaca wool blankets. There were 2 lightbulbs per room, and one was in the bathroom. Hot water could be had for a shower by appointment only). There was music. Everywhere, there was music.
It just wouldn't be that difficult to plant an orchard, dig raised beds, keep chickens and dairy animals. In raising and maintaining this, the people would learn useful skills that they then might use in commerce. It has to start somewhere. Unless we want another generation coming of age thinking that food comes from a government "credit card". A credit card that might not be there for them.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail (dot) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:49 AM
Saturday, November 28, 2009
Well, The People have spoken - and they are not particularly worried about Oil shortages, the economy, saving money, etc...
They are interested in flat screen T.V.'s and video games. (This reminds me of an email I received a couple of years ago from a good friend of mine, a former Marine Corps. artillery officer complaining that "America is NOT at war. The Marines are at war. America is at the Mall".)
I know its just one article, but the data does support that point of view. Not that folks are out there buying like its 1999, but they are not saving and reorganizing their lives. It seems we are content with end of the world movies like 2012 and The Road. Hence the Flat Panel T.V.'s?
In the final analysis this is as much a Libertarian Blog as it is about energy. Our politics have been so ordered here in the U.S. and the West during the past 75 years or so because of cheap and plentiful energy, and that order is coming apart.
I get comments and emails railing me about my distaste for the Left in America. Be careful what you ask for, because you may just get it. Libertarians like me do not object to "community lifeboats", "cooperative communities", "religious sects" living out in the desert, or any other communal social structure that floats your boat. What we object to is being forced into it ourselves. Libertarians have no interest in stopping socialists from socializing themselves in anyway they wish, but we really, really, really want you to leave us out of it.
From our point of view, and with a couple of glaring exceptions, the Right is simply closer in spirit to Libertarianism than the Left is - and for better or worse, the funding is simply not going to be there for the Left's destructive social programs nor the Right's military budget. Both sides are going to have to get used to it, but in the death throws of this some very unfortunate political consequences are highly probable.
For my part, it is my sincere hope that Americans will seek out a path to re-embracing our freedoms and responsibilities rather than seeking out more government interference in our lives.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail (dot) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 4:50 AM
Thursday, November 26, 2009
I received this email tonight from one of my partners. While the sender is himself educated as an attorney, he does not make a living in the Law but owns and operates a substantial manufacturing company.
You may or may not like the politics of the non-lawyers listed below, but that does not diminish the larger point...
His email goes on to say:
Subject: Perhaps this is THE Problem
Do you think there is any substance in this analysis?
Herewith the analysis:
This is very interesting! I never thought about it this way.
The Democratic Party has become the Lawyers' Party.
* Barack Obama is a lawyer.
* Michelle Obama is a lawyer.
* Hillary Clinton is a lawyer.
* Bill Clinton is a lawyer.
* John Edwards is a lawyer.
* Elizabeth Edwards is a lawyer.
Every Democrat nominee since 1984 went to law school (although Gore did not graduate).
Every Democrat vice presidential nominee since 1976, except for Lloyd Bentsen, went to law school.
Look at leaders of the Democrat Party in Congress:
* Harry Reid is a lawyer.
* Nancy Pelosi is a lawyer.
The Republican Party is different.
* President Bush is a businessman.
* Vice President Cheney is a businessman.
The leaders of the Republican Revolution:
* Newt Gingrich was a history professor.
*Tom Delay was an exterminator.
* Dick Armey was an economist.
* House Minority Leader Boehner was a plastic manufacturer.
* The former Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist is a heart surgeon.
Who was the last Republican president who was a lawyer? Gerald Ford, who left office 31 years ago and who barely won the Republican nomination as a sitting president, running against Ronald Reagan in 1976. The Republican Party is made up of real people doing real work, who are often the targets of lawyers.
The Democrat Party is made up of lawyers. Democrats mock and scorn men who create wealth, like Bush and Cheney, or who heal the sick, like Frist, or who immerse themselves in history, like Gingrich.
The Lawyers' Party sees these sorts of people, who provide goods and services that people want, as the enemies of America . And, so we have seen the procession of official enemies, in the eyes of the Lawyers' Party, grow.
Against whom do Hillary and Obama rail? Pharmaceutical companies, oil companies, hospitals, manufacturers, fast food restaurant chains, large retail businesses, bankers, and anyone producing anything of value in our nation.
This is the natural consequence of viewing everything through the eyes of lawyers. Lawyers solve problems by successfully representing their clients, in this case the American people. Lawyers seek to have new laws passed, they seek to win lawsuits, they press appellate courts to overturn precedent, and lawyers always parse language to favor their side.
Confined to the narrow practice of law, that is fine. But it is an awful way to govern a great nation. When politicians as lawyers begin to view some Americans as clients and other Americans as opposing parties, then the role of the legal system in our life becomes all-consuming. Some Americans become "adverse parties" of our very government. We are not all litigants in some vast social class-action suit. We are citizens of a republic that promises us a great deal of freedom from laws, from courts, and from lawyers.
Today, we are drowning in laws; we are contorted by judicial decisions;
We are driven to distraction by omnipresent lawyers in all parts of our once private lives.
America has a place for laws and lawyers, but that place is modest and reasonable, not vast and unchecked. When the most important decision for our next president is whom he will appoint to the Supreme Court, the role of lawyers and the law in America is too big.
When lawyers use criminal prosecution as a continuation of politics by other means, as happened in the lynching of Scooter Libby and Tom Delay, then the power of lawyers in America is too great. When House Democrats sue America in order to hamstring our efforts to learn what our enemies are planning to do to us, then the role of litigation in America has become crushing.
We cannot expect the Lawyers' Party to provide real change, real reform or real hope in America Most Americans know that a republic in which every major government action must be blessed by nine unelected judges is not what Washington intended in 1789. Most Americans grasp that we cannot fight a war when ACLU lawsuits snap at the heels of our defenders. Most Americans intuit that more lawyers and judges will not restore declining moral values or spark the spirit of enterprise in our economy..
Perhaps Americans will understand that change cannot be brought to our nation by those lawyers who already largely dictate American society and business. Perhaps Americans will see that hope does not come from the mouths of lawyers but from personal dreams nourished by hard work. Perhaps Americans will embrace the truth that more lawyers with more power will only make our problems worse.
The US has 5% of the world's population and 66% of the world's lawyers!
Tort (Legal) reform legislation has been introduced in congress several times in the last several years to limit punitive damages in ridiculous lawsuits such as 'spilling hot coffee on yourself and suing the establishment that sold it to you' and also to limit punitive damages in huge medical malpractice lawsuits. This legislation has continually been blocked from even being voted on by the Democrat Party. When you see that 97% of the political contributions from the American Trial Lawyers Association goes to the Democrat Party, then you realize who is responsible for our medical and product costs being so high!
End of letter.
Here we are with the most difficult issue to face the World in Centuries, one that will take the best mathematical, scientific, and ethical minds our society has to offer... and who do we have a bat? A bunch of argumentative wordsmiths.
So we got that going for us.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail (d0t) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 4:57 PM
It is 6:30am as I write this, sitting at the kitchen table as my wife hustles the kitchen for the big day. A fat turkey headlining the event, with family and friends joining in the festivities.
When I was a kid, Thanksgiving was my second favorite holiday after Halloween. I am amazed that today we still have a holiday centered around a slaughtered, roasting bird. How very politically incorrect.
Some of the insanity of the climate change/vegan folks (especially given the outing that the Climate Research Unit received last week for falsifying data, along with the fact that there are not enough carbon fossil fuel deposits left to inject CO2 in the atmosphere to meet the projections. You can't have it both ways, if we have limited Oil, NG, and Coal, then by mathematical necessity we DO NOT have unlimited carbon entering the atmosphere).
The paranoia so rampant in society right now stems at least partly from the fact that so many people lead a life sheltered from the reality of nature. They don’t see life the way it really is: the entire food chain sits at a huge banquet table, eating and being eaten. Such people begin to entertain strange ideas. For instance, if we would just quit eating meat, some of them think, many of our problems could be solved including not having livestock exhaling and emitting carbon dioxide. I think most of us eat too much meat too, but it is impossible to solve any carbon dioxide problems by getting rid of livestock, as some people seem to believe. Nature abhors a vacuum. Take the domesticated animals away, and the land no longer used to raise livestock would fill with wildlife. It already is happening and eventually something will have to be done about it.Herds of deer, sometimes thirty or more in number, are now roaming at will over the farmlands where I live. If they were cows, people would be having fits. Eventually, if we quit eating meat, there would be just as many wild animals burping and farting as there are livestock now. I ask people affected by carbon-phobia how much carbon emission comes from squirrels, rabbits, groundhogs, geese, deer, bears, elk, rats, birds, not to mention dogs, cats and horses etc. etc. etc. No one seems to know. The only concern at the moment is about getting rid of cows, as if these are the only animals that belong in the equation.I have another question: how much less carbon emission would follow if the 6.5 billion human beings on earth would all just quit eating beans. The carbon phobic society doesn’t seem to have thought of that. They are too busy worrying about death from cow breath.
Is that a scream, or what? Gene, you can't debate with "true believers"...
Gold and Silver have had a "melt up". The market has spoken, and it does not approve of the management of the U.S. currency. Before you do anything rash, just consider the "Gold/Cow" ratio. A decent Angus cow (yes, I mean livestock) sells for $1,200 to $1,500 per head. Let's go with the lower number. An ounce of Gold buys 1 Cow. In 2000, it took 4 or 5 ounces of Gold to buy 1 Cow. I can do this same trick with Soy Beans, Corn, Natural Gas...
You know what happens when you put 1 Bull in a field of 40 Cows (with a little mood music and candlelight)? Right, the next year you have 80 cows (steers) and 1 bull. Try that trick with 40 Krugerrand's and a Canadian Maple Leaf in safe deposit box.
That does not mean that a panic into Gold could not drive the price of Gold MUCH HIGHER, or that Asian Central Banks do not try to diversify their way out of US$'s into Gold. You are going to have to draw your own conclusions.
Right now, the Dairy market is in the dumps. Farmers are slaughtering dairy cows to cut costs and bring production in line with demand (which has been cut by the decline in restaurant meals served, because many dishes have a high cheese content). That is certainly affecting the price of Meat in the market place.
The U.S. is actually a net IMPORTER of Beef (see Figure 3)
Given the U.S. natural advantages in Agriculture, this often comes as a surprise. But a cow can only bear 1 calf per year or so (twins are born occasionally, but rarely do both survive), so the supply constraints are obvious. This is not the case with Chicken or Pork, the price and supply of which is driven primarily by feed costs, as each can produce many offspring each year. Given that, it surprises me to see how small of a net exporter of Pork the U.S. is, especially given Asia's preference for Pork.
It will interesting to see how any decline in trade caused by lower Oil availability for transport affects this in the future.
A happy and blessed Thanksgiving to you and yours!
Posted by The Short Story Man at 4:01 AM
Tuesday, November 24, 2009
I posted Tom Whipple's excellent article for the AEC community because I was thrilled to see the WSJ eating a little crow, and because I think Whipple is an extremely competent analyst.
Analysis is boring. Financial and economic analysis is even more boring than the analysis they do at Whipple's former employer, the CIA. My game is hours of tedious boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror (when your bets in the market are getting creamed) or pleasure (when you get it right, its the best feeling you can have with your clothes on). Last year's financial collapse was an interesting time for us. Anybody thinking that the American Energy Crisis that this blog is named after is always going to be so entertaining is going to be disappointed.
The WSJ article is just another "dot" in a collage of dots that I am trying to connect - that article measures "sentiment", the closing of refiners measures the "commercials" view of the future, the EIA data I report on measures the past.
The empirical facts support peak Oil imports have already happened to the U.S. If "Plateau Oil", as the WSJ refers to Peak Oil, is here for the world, by mathematical necessity peak imports are here for the importing nations - SIMPLE LIKE THAT. I write this blog to contribute to the debate about how to best prepare and adjust to a very different environment - business, economic, political, educational, etc... - here in the U.S. as well as the West's Liberal Democracies. I started writing to alert folks, but I think we are well past needing to be alerted now. I think from this point forward IDEAS are needed far more than alarms. I implore those reading here to contribute micro solutions (spare me the macro sh*t, if The Powers That Be can't make a dent in this... well, let us accept that we are less empowered than they to affect the macro outcome) on how best to organize our lives.
Too much discussion centered on which exact month, rather than discussions on how to begin the adjustment process, just isn't very productive. As a matter of fact, too much discussion - instead of DOING stuff - is a big part of the problem. We learn by doing. You can read a repair manual until h*ll freezes over, but get a tool set and fix something and you are on to something. So many folks in the doomer web site community talk about gardening that I suspect its mostly talk - if you ever raised a serious garden you'd know that gardening happens all by itself... its WEEDING that takes 80% of your efforts, and preserving what you have grown the other 20%. G-d and nature take care of the garden. If you can fix, sharpen, shape, carve, knit, fish, build, cook, soothe, brew, clean, butcher, dig, design, maintain.... stuff, well you have already made the adjustment away from specialization. Because that's what serious energy shortages mean - it means the end of specialization.
(PLEASE - I do not speak in absolutes! There will be a certain percentage of the population that will still be specialists - but this subset will be far fewer in number.)
I try to "practice what I preach", because what we face is a fundamental issue - how we live our lives. On my farm, in addition to growing a great deal of our food, I have outfitted a workshop, and have learned the all important HOW TO, that can accomplish most of the tasks I am likely to face. It took me several years and I would guess $10k (and I bought everything used, table saw, miter saw, drill press, air compressor, solar panel to charge battery set, generator, etc... from sources like craigslist and flea markets...this includes a decent inventory of parts and pieces in addition to tools, otherwise it might have been $20k), and now I can repair the barns, our house, tractors, and vehicles (parts will always be available for the creative home engineer - just look at how they keep cars running in Cuba), I can care for the animals (foot trimming, shoeing, vaccinations, milking, slaughtering and butchering), save seeds, preserve food, etc... Getting there takes TIME - years, not months or weeks. Now for a small business within the community.
Not that my, or your, solution works for everyone. Perhaps my solution won't even work for me. Energy crisis or no, we will still have to engage in commerce for a living. Union gigs and high paying government jobs with oodles of bennies are going to shrivel up like a Boca Raton trophy wife in the Florida sun. Somebody has to fish, somebody else is going to cut bait. If I am right about the Oil import situation, there will be no place to hide out in the Corporate world. This is the time to find another gig. Small business will once again, by absolute necessity, be the way most folks earn a living. It won't pay as much as that big corporate job, but that's the way it is going to be.
So let the debate come to an end, and let the good ideas roll.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 1:51 PM
Monday, November 23, 2009
The following is an article written recently by Tom Whipple. Tom is a 30 year veteran of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (yea, THAT CIA), and publishes a good deal of great work at the Falls Church News Press (should you want to see his other stuff).
Without further ado:
"The day was a long time in coming. For many months now, world oil production has remained essentially flat and world oil exports have fallen while world oil prices just climbed and climbed. Poor country after poor country was priced out of the market and world oil stockpiles started to melt. Yet as the world lurched towards the mother of all economic crises, the major media of the country led by Wall Street’s own Journal remained strangely silent.
From time to time they would report some good news such as “billions of barrels found 25,000 ft under the Gulf” or “steaming out sticky oil will save us.” However, they never got around to asking what is involved in extracting oil from deepwater wells or just where all that tar melting steam was coming from. Anyone who questioned that oil production could keep on growing for the foreseeable future was castigated as lunatic fringe.
This make believe world finally came crashing down on Monday when the Wall Street Journal published a front page story admitting there was a big, big problem with oil production just ahead. Now the flagship of economic journalism does not come to such a decision lightly. To admit that you have been dead wrong in ignoring the most important economic issue the world is likely to face in the next century certainly strains your journalistic credibility.
There must have been hours of agonized meetings in the offices of senior Journal editors as they hashed out just how to break the news that world oil production was about to peak without admitting that the world is arriving at peak oil.
The solution turned out to be rather ingenious. Write a story about a new kind of “plateauing oil” that has just been recognized while continuing to bash the old “peak oil.” Sophistry? Of course, but it enables the Journal to maintain that all important face.
The title of the Journal’s story sets the stage “OIL OFFICIALS SEE LIMIT LOOMING ON PRODUCTION.” The first sentence carries the message “A growing number of oil industry chieftains are endorsing an idea long deemed fringe: The world is approaching a practical limit to the number of barrels of crude oil that can be pumped every day.”
There you have it. The story is not portrayed as “evidence is growing that world oil production will soon go into decline.” It turns out that the real news is that an increasing number of oil-industry leaders are afraid that the world is approaching “a practical limit” on oil production. “Practical limit” is a nice touch which sweeps a number of issues under the rug.
To give the Journal its due, right up front they lay out the magnitude of the problem: “The world certainly won't run out of oil any time soon. And plenty of energy experts expect sky high prices to hasten the development of alternative fuels and improve energy efficiency. But evidence is mounting that crude-oil production may plateau before those innovations arrive on a large scale. That could set the stage for a period marked by energy shortages, high prices and bare-knuckled competition for fuel.”
After so much honesty the Journal, unfortunately, falls back into its old ways by attempting to make a distinction between what it is telling us as news and the old “peak oil theory.” The following paragraph from the Journal’s story is a gem.
“The current debate represents a significant twist on an older, often-derided notion known as the peak-oil theory. Traditional peak-oil theorists, many of whom are industry outsiders or retired geologists, have argued that global oil production will soon peak and enter an irreversible decline because nearly half the available oil in the world has been pumped. They've been proved wrong so often that their theory has become debased.”
“Proved wrong so often?” “Debased”? As could be expected, peak oil adherents were apoplectic at these words. The web was instantly populated with reasoned refutations and charts which ask, “What on earth are they talking about?”
The answer probably is in the way large institutions such as the Journal pass important stories through layers of editors – not just to get the commas right but to insure political correctness from the paper’s perspective. The “debased” paragraph plays such a discordant note, it can only be a political afterthought from management.
The story then goes on to explain “plateauing” oil. “The new adherents...don't believe the global oil tank is at the half empty point. But they share the belief that a global production ceiling is coming for other reasons: restricted access to oil fields, spiraling costs and increasingly complex oil field geology. This will create a global production plateau, not a peak, they contend, with oil output remaining relatively constant rather than rising or falling.”
Once the story gets beyond the “face saving” it does a credible job in explaining why the world will soon be facing a major shortfall in oil production: “The emergence of a production ceiling would mark a monumental shift in the energy world.” The “expanding pool of oil, most of it priced cheaply by today's standards, fueled the post-World War II global economic expansion.” “Since 1990, despite billions in new spending, the industry has found only one field with the potential to top 500,000 barrels a day.” “Some of the most promising geological formations are in locations that are inhospitable, for reasons of geography or, especially, politics and strife.” “Labor and construction bottlenecks also are making it difficult to develop proven fields.”
The Journal’s story marks an important turning point in the public’s understanding of peak oil. Now that the ice has been broken by the flagship of the financial press, it will not be long before others muster the courage to explore and discuss the ramifications of “plateauing” oil. This cannot be a bad thing for as the notion that we are entering the greatest paradigm shift of the last 100 years sinks in, people can start preparing for it."
End of essay by Tom Whipple.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 8:20 AM
Saturday, November 21, 2009
Mortgages in arrears and already in foreclosure are 14.1% of the market.
Some "experts" are saying that this will peak next year. I guess that depends on how one defines "peak" in this context.
Allow me to fold my "Oil imports are in terminal decline" argument in with Real Estate is not done getting trashed just yet. While Oil imports are down 10.4% this year from 2008, imports during the most recent 4 week period are down 19.3% when compared to the same 4 week period from last year.
Maybe that is a one off, an outlier, a sigma 6 event... or maybe it isn't. In fact, the last 4 weeks Oil imports have been lower than I posted would be the worst case for 2010... that is, if the rate of decline remained unchanged. If total petroleum supplied to the US economy does in fact fall by 30%+ from 2006 to 2014, said supply constraint would bite deeply into gasoline supplies necessary for commuting - something that has not happened yet (while total petroleum supplies have fallen over 10% peak-to-date, the effects have been felt almost entirely in distillate fuels for commercial applications such as trucking, air travel, and industrial consumption). In other words, both residential AND commercial properties at either end of the commuting distribution model would go to ZERO value. After all, what is the value of a property you can't get to?
It then follows that a significant write down on the mortgages on these properties is in the offing, over and above the mainstream consensus of write downs coming due to the slow pace of loss recognition. This also means that the need for ANY new construction, as well as the need for a single new car, is ZERO - which does not bode well for "job growth", now does it?
This is where it gets tricky. The above described scenario is very deflationary. Maybe. Yes, the contraction in debts written off is certainly deflationary - but does the money supply contract faster than the GDP contraction? If not, that would be inflationary, wouldn't it? See why you can't get a straight answer from anybody on this issue? And I am giving you the simple version.
In the 1930's people did not have enough money for food while farmers were dumping milk, slaughtering pigs, and sowing grain into the dirt in an effort to force prices high enough so that they could farm profitably. This was due to the extreme contraction in credit and money supply. This is no exaggeration.
While "Tech" has diversified the U.S. economy somewhat, the chant "Housing-Autos, Housing Autos, Housing Autos" still plays in the collective head our economy. We built our economic system based on the expansion of debt to fund these 2 industries, industries that will not exist as we knew them in an era of Oil supply contraction. So what are the banks going to lend against? Will we once again wind up with folks without enough money to buy food while farmers cannot earn enough to keep farming? Wait! Isn't that what is happening RIGHT NOW?
Its all about Oil imports. Either they continue to decline, or they do not.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 4:18 PM
A comment was posted on this blog from a long time (and thoughtful) commenter - "Kathy".
Those who expect we will all just crank along as we adapt to 30% less oil are not taking into account the impact on state coffers and what a breakdown of safety nets will mean to our inner cities. We have an entire society that exists on the largess of state and federal "programs" If we can't fund WIC and Head Start and food stamps and medicaid and fuel assistance and food stamps and AFDC and welfare and SSI (this is a huge one) then we will have an enormous group of angry, hungry people in a tight mass. Talk about a long, hot summer. Is it doomer to chose to live in a place that keeps one well away from large cities, in an area with reliable rainfall and good soil? I think it's nuts to be in a place without a strong social fabric and a way to provide food to it's citizens. I am still hoping that riots and civil unrest are confined to the big population centers but they may not be. I don't call myself a doomer. I call myself a realist.
I must admit that I was not fully considering the issues facing our inner cities in a budget/currency/funding crisis. Please keep in mind that I have no training in social work or policy - but the point cannot be overstated: Our cities are have all of the ingredients for a Katrina like disaster, only played out in 50 cities at once. If my vision of a 30% decline in total petroleum products in the 2006-2014 time period is correct, I think Kathy's vision is probable enough to be avoided like the plague. And no, Kathy, I would not call you a doomer. Your ability to calculate the probabilities is self evident.
The problem is that 50 million people living in and around Newark/Camden/Trenton/New York/Philidelphia/D.C./Baltimore... cannot do much about the circumstance they find themselves in.
Life will go on, even if major unrest breaks out. Just take a look at the suicide bombings that seem to occur daily over at the Middle East Nut House. Car bombs go off killing 50 here, 13 there, another 123 over there and the locals still have to go food shopping, kids gotta go to school, people gotta use the facilities... life goes on. People must accept the consequences of their actions and inactions alike. If I were an Iraqi I wouldn't keep my family in Baghdad under any circumstance, even if I had to live on a Camel Caravan or join up with the Bedouin tribes and wander the desert. Living with the real possibility that one of my kids would be killed by a suicide bomber would be enough motivation for me - but obviously not for everyone living in Baghdad. "Kathy" has made her decision, and "Bureaucrat" has made his decision. The outcomes of the myriad decisions we make in our lives casts the die as to whether you make old bones, leave descendants, live well or scrape by, etc...
In life, timing is everything. Are we 2.5 years into the 10+ year slide to zero Oil imports? Or is this just a head fake?
That, my friends, is the $64,000 question.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 9:32 AM
Friday, November 20, 2009
Last month, Sunoco shut down a major Oil refining plant. Just 3 weeks later Valero announces it is shutting down a whopper of a refining plant as well.
Remember just 2 years ago when Wall Street was blaming the energy crisis on those pesky environmentalists who just wouldn't let Big Oil build more refining capacity? As I said then, and will repeat ad nauseum, the U.S. has refining capacity coming out of its ears - because we don't have enough Oil to keep all of the refiners busy.
But read the article... the nit wit that wrote it blames the problem on:
Meanwhile, biofuels, hybrid cars and a deep economic recession have cut into demand. Fuel inventories have risen steadily, especially in the Northeast, protecting consumers from any sudden kinks in the supply chain.
Go that? Biofuels and hybrid cars! Not the fact that Oil imports are down 2.5 million bpd in only 3 years!
Propaganda is everywhere.
The refiners cannot pay the bills with propaganda. Never before in the history of the Age of Oil has the the American refining industry cut such capacity. My bet is they have a couple of sharp guys who can think as well as count.
This is just another Dot that I am connecting that supports my "The Oil Import Crisis is Here and Now" thesis.
Libertariananimal (at) gmail (d0t) com
Posted by The Short Story Man at 5:29 PM
Societies in the West, while functioning liberal democracies (small "L"), still carry the vestiges of their monarchical past in our view of our political leaders. We view our political "leaders" as divine merchants that could, if they were only competent enough, deliver the "goods" - however you define that.
In turn, our candidates plug into this silly belief by making promises and pledges during campaigns that defy credulity - yet their constituents actually believe these obfuscations and untruths (lies).
Think back to the 2008 campaign: "You can't tell me we can put a man on the moon but we can't solve America's energy crisis." - then candidate Obama speaking to the uninformed... and taking advantage of their ignorance.
Dear Mr. President: "Can you hear me know?" Obama (and McCain) knew full well that there is no comparison in American History for what we are confronted with.
The political will necessary to put a man on the moon is chump change next to the coming Oil shortage - not least of which is that our political leaders view this as a "problem" to be "solved" when it is more likely a "condition" that needs to be managed gracefully - its kind of like getting older... in that this "condition" is inevitable.
Getting back to why politics will fail us, and why this is entirely a "self rescue event"... nobody in Washington is concerned with anything other than the mid-term elections. The Republicans smell blood, and will likely take at least one house back and end the Democratic dominance in Senate. The Dems? Their leaders want to hold on to their chairman posts. In a political environment like that who is looking out to 2020 to figure out the best policy responses?
Answer: No One In Politics.
So, its up to you to take care of you and yours - just as it has been since man emerged from caves and dug his plow into the dirt. For a little over 50 years we have had a "safety net". Did it help? Perhaps on the individual level, certainly not on the macro level, and in the final analysis the safety net that was the family became eviscerated by the government run safety net(s) that were funded by cheap Oil... talk about your unintended consequences.
Now, the doomers will tell you that this means we are all going to starve to death, society is going to break down, yada, yada, yada. Of course there will be protests and unrest and maybe a riot or 2. Big deal. Life will go on (with some casualties along the way. After all, life is a contact sport), and because people have to eat they are going to be too busy trying to scratch out a living to be protesting too much. The big question is: How fun/secure/satisfying is your life? Most of that is up to your own ideas and your own enlightened self interest, and some of it will be decided by the political outcomes that arise AFTER Oil shortages decimate our economy - because during that time we will be far more interested in affixing blame.
OK, so we have established that "its all up to you". What is all up to you? That, is for you to decide. For me, it means establishing myself and my family in small city, with agreeable weather, in a home that we can afford to live in come hell or high water, in an area with rainfall, rail service, a hospital, a university, etc... in a state that has low property and income taxes. To engage in commerce (I have a wife and family to provide for), as well as my hobbies, and stay the heck out of politics.
I bring this up because IF Oil imports decline at the pace of the past 3 years, 2010 imports will be 9,157,500 barrels per day ("bpd"), 2011 imports will be 8,333,405 bpd, 2012 will come in at 7,583,398 bpd, 2013 - 6,900,892 bpd, and 2014 - 6,279,812 bpd.
Said another way: From 2006 to 2014 total petroleum products available to the U.S. will have declined a little over 30%, and if it were not for ethanol being included in that number, 35%+.
No rational person can believe that the outcome for the economy will not be earth shaking if the above mentioned rate of change remains constant. (Actually, Jeffrey Brown's models show that the rate of change would dramatically accelerate in the 2011-2016 period, if memory serves.)
Its all about Oil available for import. There is no "alternative" in the time frame discussed that is going to add a single NET kilo/cal to equation. There is NO WAY TO KNOW if this is it - as far as the rate of change in the volume of imported Oil. If I were sure of anything, I would not need my day job. Still, given the data, the most probable outcome is that over the next 5 years the U.S. is going to experience a significant decrease in the supply of petroleum... not that it will end in 5 years... its just that that should be the most profound adjustment period. Of course, given the time frame, being off by 5 years wouldn't be that hard, either. But there are only 60 months in a 5 year time frame. As each month ticks off the data should make the outcome more and more clear.
Posted by The Short Story Man at 6:28 AM