Did the nation heave a sigh of relief when BP announced that their latest gambit to "cap" the Deepwater Horizon gusher will result in hosing up fifty percent of the leaking oil? If so, the nation may be sighing too soon since the other half of the oil will still collect in underwater plumes and hover all around the Gulf Coast like those baleful mother ships in the most recent generation of alien invasion movies. I shudder to imagine the tonnage of dead wildlife flotsam that will wash up with the tide for years to come. It will seem like a "necklace of death" for several states, though even that may not be enough to distract them from the more gratifying raptures of Nascar and NFL football.
For the moment we can only speculate on what the still-unresolved incident will mean for America’s oil supply. The zeal to prosecute BP for something like criminal negligence has bestirred a Department of Justice comatose during the rape-and-pillage of the US financial system. BP may be driven out of business, but then what? The net effect of the oil spill, one way or another, will be the gradual shut-down of oil drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. New government supervision will make operations very costly, if not non-viable, and the surviving companies will probably pack up for the west coast of Africa where supervision is almost non-existent. Anyway you cut it, the US will produce less oil and import more — and have to rely on the political stability of places like Angola and Nigeria, not to mention the simmering Middle East.
So far, also, the US has done nothing in the way of holding a serious national political discussion about the the most important part of the story: our pathological dependency on cars. I don’t know if this will ever happen, even right up to the moment when the lines form at the filling stations. For years, anyway, the few public figures such as Boone Pickens who give the appearance of concern about our oil problem, end up down the rabbit hole of denial when they get behind schemes to run the whole US car-and-truck fleet on something besides gasoline.
This unfortunate techno-narcissism shows that almost nobody wants to think about living…
It’s good to see more focus on this issue of oil prices, which Phil addressed over the weekend.
As dismal as the pictures James Kunstler paints, his writing is so poetic:
…It’s like the quote oft-repeated these days (because it’s so apt for these times) by surly old Ernest Hemingway about how the man in a story went broke: slowly, and then all at once. In the background of last week’s reassuring torpor, one ominous little signal flashed perhaps dimly in all that sunshine: the price of oil broke above $81-a-barrel. Of course in that range it becomes impossible for the staggering monster of our so-called "consumer" economy to enter the much-wished-for nirvana of "recovery" — where the orgies of spending on houses and cars and electronic entertainment machines will resume like the force of nature it is presumed to be. Over $80-a-barrel and we’re in the zone where what’s left of this economy cracks and crumbles a little bit more each day, lurching forward to that moment when something life-changing occurs all at once.
I was plying the interstate highways of New England this weekend — there is no sane way to get from Albany, New York, to the vicinity of Middletown, Connecticut, by public transit — marveling at the vistas of normality all around me: the freeway lanes with their orderly streams of happy motorists, the chain stores floating like islands on the gray undulating landscape, the corporate towers of Springfield, Mass, and then Hartford, gleaming in the persistent pre-spring sunshine, as though they physically represented the wished-for dynamism of economies in recovery. "I see dead people…" said the kid in that horror movie. I see dying ways of life.
There was no denying the spectacular weather for us long-suffering northeasterners. A week ago, it was like living in a banana daiquiri around here. Now, it was sixty-two degrees in East Haddam, CT, along a very beautiful stretch of the Connecticut River somehow miraculously unmarred by the usual mutilations of industry or recreation. On a few hillsides facing south, daffodils were already up with blossom heads ready to pop. The mind could go two ways: into the past, when wooden sailing craft were built in yards along the river; or into the future, when it would be easy to imagine wooden sailing craft being
They also questioned whether the rescue of GMAC, achieved in part by making it a bank, had created a long-term situation in which the government guarantee of bank deposits was subsidizing sales at General Motors and Chrysler.
GMAC is the primary source of financing for GM and Chrysler dealers, and a major source of loans for buyers of their vehicles. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who chairs the panel, said she understood GMAC’s utility for GM and Chrysler.
"What I don’t understand," she said, "is what the justification is for being an independent bank that takes deposits that has a backup from the United States government."
Ron Bloom, a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, told the panel that the rescue of GMAC was necessary to save the automakers, and that the $17.2 billion price tag was a good deal for taxpayers. He said that no other lender or combination of lenders could have quickly replaced GMAC’s role in the marketplace.
Not much. At least not from an engineering, mechanical or even a quality point of view. You don’t reach the top gear in the global auto industry unless you make outstanding cars, which Toyota does — most of the time. Though cars are familiar machines, they are also highly complex ones. To create a modern car, a company has to design, engineer, build, buy and then assemble some 10,000 parts. Sell 7.8 million cars, as Toyota did worldwide in 2009 — a horrible year for the industry — and there are billions of new parts with the potential to go kerflooey. Inevitably, some do.
What makes the recall since November of nearly 9 million Toyotas that are susceptible to uncontrolled acceleration and balky brakes such a shocking story is not so much the company’s manufacture of some shoddy cars or even its dreadful crisis management — though those are errors that will cost it more than $2 billion in repairs and lost sales this year. It’s something more pernicious: the vapor lock that seems to have seized Toyota’s mythologized corporate culture and turned one of the most admired companies in the world into a bunch of flailing gearheads. Not only is Toyota producing more flawed cars than in the past, but an organization known for its unrivaled ability to suss out problems, fix them and turn them into advantages is looking clueless on all counts.
Although the recalls seemed sudden, the evidence has been piling up. Literally. According to a report from Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies (SRS), a consumer-advocacy group, there was a spike in the number of unintended-acceleration incidents in some Toyota vehicles in 2002, about the same time that Toyota introduced its electronic throttle control. The problem was initially blamed on a floor mat or vehicle trim that, if it came loose, could jam the accelerator pedal in an open-throttle position. That was followed by the first of several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations, in 2003, and two small recalls in 2005 and 2007. But accidents mounted, and last November the company had to take back nearly 3.8 million U.S. Vehicles — its biggest-ever recall — to address the problem.
Modifying the floor mats, though, didn’t fix things. Toyota at first refused to…
It’s the first business day of the new year and oil is trading above $80 a barrel, which means the price has re-entered the danger zone where it can crush industrial economies. This is a central element of the predicament we find ourselves in. The US economy is essentially a Happy Motoring economy. During the whole nervous period since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, American gasoline consumption hardly went down at all, though so many other activities collapsed, from house-building to trucking. Yesterday, The Seattle Times published a story with the idiotic headline: Oil Touches $80 on US Economy, Demand Optimism. Apparently, they think high oil prices are "a good sign."
How much can a nation not get it? Would $100 oil ignite a new orgy of "consumer" spending and another round of investment in commercial real estate? Welcome to the Futility Economy. This is the economy where Nature and its material companion, Reality, punish us for our stupidity and fecklessness. This is the economy that will tear the United States apart, after it bankrupts us at every level, and mercilessly drives the population down by one-third through starvation, homelessness, violence, disease, and sheer political cruelty.
Whatever you thought our economy was the past thirty years — whatever model of it you have in your head — that is definitely not what we are going back to. Like one of Dickens’s Yuletide ghosts, Reality is leading us by the hand into new circumstances. We resist like crazy. We throw our hands over our eyes. We don’t want to look. We want to return to the comfort of our dreary routines — living in places that aren’t worth caring about, weaving endlessly in freeway traffic, drawing a paycheck at the air-conditioned cubicle, inhaling Buffalo wings by the platterful, with periodic side-trips to the state-chartered casino where there’s always a chance of scoring a lifetime’s income on one lucky bet. And at the end of the day, you can retire with a simulated prostitute on your laptop screen! And not even have to fork over a dime — except perhaps for the Internet connection fee.
Reality is taking us out of that familiar, if sordid, realm, whether we like it or not. Our destination is an
Gluskin-Sheff economist David Rosenberg has some harsh words about the Cash For Clunkers program in his daily letter:
We couldn’t believe this when we saw this quote from the U.S. Transportation Secretary (Ray Lahood) in yesterday’s NYT (page B3) on the “Cash for Clunkers” program: “There obviously is a real pent-up demand in America … people love to buy cars, and we’ve given them the incentive to do that. I think the last thing that any politician wants to do is cut off the opportunity for somebody who’s going to be able to get a rebate from the government to buy a new vehicle.”
Are you kidding me? If there is pent-up demand for autos why do we need a rebate? If there are 20% more vehicles than there are licensed drivers, why the need to perpetuate this cycle of overspending? Why is it a politician’s job to create incentives to spend? Shouldn’t they be focusing their attention on health, education, defense, infrastructure, public safety, job skills and productivity growth (and perhaps the youth unemployment rate of around 20%)? We’re not exactly espousing an Ayn Rand libertarian view but at a time when the deficit is running at 13% of GDP, at what point is enough? These rebates are not manna from heaven — it’s a future tax liability to hasten a decision that the auto buyer would have made in any event. This is fiscal
policy short-termism at its best (we say this as we read the article on page B5 of the NYT — $2 Billion in Grants to Bolster U.S. Manufacturing of Parts for Electric Cars).
Too much mal-invested, Fed-fueled, hope-driven "if we build it, they will buy it" inventory... and not enough actual demand. This has never, ever, ended well in the past - so why is this time different?
At 1.32x, the December inventories/sales ratio is drasticallyhigher than at year-end 2014 and is back at levels that have always coincided with recessions...
And just in case you needed more convincing that all is not well - the current spread between sales and inventories is now at a record absolute high...
When assets reach prior highs, its time to pay attention from a Risk On & Risk Off basis.
The chart on the left is Silver, going back to the mid 1970’s. As you can see it reached $50 in the early 1980’s and then quickly reversed, losing over 90% of its value in the next 14-years. Then it embarked on a rally, starting in the early 1990’s. This rally took Silver back to the $50 level in 2011, which ended up being a “Double Top” nearly 30-years later. After hitting the $50 level again, buyers disappeared and sellers stepped forward....
It was another bloody week in the stock market (S&P 500 index dropped -3.1%), and any half-glass full data was interpreted as half-empty. The week was epitomized by a Citigroup report entitled “World Economy Trapped in a Death Spiral.” A sluggish monthly jobs report on Friday, which registered a less than anticipated addition of 151,000 jobs, painted a we...
Greg Ip had a piece in the Wall Street Journal yesterday discussing the debt burden in the USA and how low interest rates have “moved back” the “hands on the doomsday debt clock”. The article touches on the important topic of entitlement spending and whether it’s sustainable, but does so in a manner that misleads readers about why this might be a problem.
For instance, Ip says that “higher federal borrowing puts upward pressure on interest rates”. This is classic “crowding out”,...
Tech averages had the weakest start, Powerful gap downs had set things off, but buyers were able to make a comeback into the close. However, morning gaps remain. Volume climbed to register as distribution, which for the Nasdaq was the second day of distribution in a row.
The Nasdaq 100 is on the fiftth day of selling in a row. The August swing low wasn't fully tested. Bulls will be looking for a bullish 'morning star' where today's candlestick 'hammer' is followed by an opening gap, then a rally for the rest of the day. Should this emerge, then a move to test 4,300 is next. If there is a weak open, then any chance for a bullish 'hammer' based on today's action is signifi...
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Throughout the past 30 days of wild volatility, here’s what I didn’t do.
Panic. Worry. Sell.
In fact, the best I did was add to a couple of positions yesterday. The world was already in an uncertain state for the past 3+ years. It’s just that with the market rising, we pushed the issue to the back of our mind and ignored it.
A number of systemic, structural forces are intersecting in 2016. One is the rise of non-state, non-central-bank-issued crypto-currencies.
We all know money is created and distributed by governments and central banks. The reason is simple: control the money and you control everything.
The invention of the blockchain and crypto-currencies such as Bitcoin have opened the door to non-state, non-central-bank currencies--money that is global and independent of any state or central bank, or indeed, any bank, as crypto-currencies are structurally peer-to-peer, meaning they don't require a bank to function: people can exchange crypto-currencies to pay for goods and services without a bank acting as a clearinghouse for all these transactions.
Last year, the S&P 500 large caps closed 2015 essentially flat on a total return basis, while the NASDAQ 100 showed a little better performance at +8.3% and the Russell 2000 small caps fell -5.9%. Overall, stocks disappointed even in the face of modest expectations, especially the small caps as market leadership was mostly limited to a handful of large and mega-cap darlings.
Notably, the full year chart for the S&P 500 looks very much like 2011. It got off to a good start, drifted sideways for...
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Baxter Int. (BAX) is splitting off its BioSciences division into a new company called Baxalta. Shares of Baxalta will be given as a tax-free dividend, in the ratio of one to one, to BAX holders on record on June 17, 2015. That means, if you want to receive the Baxalta dividend, you need to buy the stock this week (on or before June 12).
Back in December, I wrote a post on my blog where I compared the performances of various ETFs related to the oil industry. I was looking for the best possible proxy to match the moves of oil prices if you didn't want to play with futures. At the time, I concluded that for medium term trades, USO and the leveraged ETFs UCO and SCO were the most promising. Longer term, broader ETFs like OIH and XLE might make better investment if oil prices do recover to more profitable prices since ETF linked to futures like USO, UCO and SCO do suffer from decay. It also seemed that DIG and DUG could be promising if OIH could recover as it should with the price of oil, but that they don't make a good proxy for the price of oil itself.
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at email@example.com with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
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