Are we on the road to a US $100 oil price?

As Easter ends – and one which was simply glorious in London – those of us reacquainting ourselves with financial markets will see one particular change. That is the price of crude oil as the Financial Times explains.

Crude rose to a five-month high on Tuesday, as Washington’s decision to end sanctions waivers on Iranian oil imports buoyed oil markets for a second day.  Brent, the international oil benchmark, rose 0.8 per cent to $74.64 in early European trading, adding to gains on Monday to reach its highest level since early November. West Texas Intermediate, the US marker, increased 0.9 per cent to $66.13.

If we look for some more detail on the likely causes we see this.

The moves came after the Trump administration announced the end of waivers from US sanctions granted to India, China, Japan, South Korea and Turkey. Oil prices jumped despite the White House insisting that it had worked with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to ensure sufficient supply to offset the loss of Iranian exports. Goldman Sachs said the timing of the sanctions tightening was “much more sudden” than expected, but it played down the longer-term impact on the market.

 

So we see that President Trump has been involved and that seems to be something of a volte face from the time when the Donald told us this on the 25th of February.

Oil prices getting too high. OPEC, please relax and take it easy. World cannot take a price hike – fragile! ( @realDonaldTrunp)

After that tweet the oil price was around ten dollars lower than now. If we look back to November 7th last year then the Donald was playing a very different tune to now.

“I gave some countries a break on the oil,” Trump said during a lengthy, wide-ranging press conference the day after Republicans lost control of the House of Representatives in the midterm elections. “I did it a little bit because they really asked for some help, but I really did it because I don’t want to drive oil prices up to $100 a barrel or $150 a barrel, because I’m driving them down.”

“If you look at oil prices they’ve come down very substantially over the last couple of months,” Trump said. “That’s because of me. Because you have a monopoly called OPEC, and I don’t like that monopoly.” ( CNBC)

If we stay with this issue we see that he has seemingly switched quite quickly from exerting a downwards influence on the oil price to an upwards one. As he is bothered about the US economy right now sooner or later it will occur to him that higher oil prices help some of it but hinder more.

Shale Oil

Back on February 19th Reuters summarised the parts of the US economy which benefit from a higher oil price.

U.S. oil output from seven major shale formations is expected to rise 84,000 barrels per day (bpd) in March to a record of about 8.4 million bpd, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said in a monthly report on Tuesday……..A shale revolution has helped boost the United States to the position of world’s biggest crude oil producer, ahead of Saudi Arabia and Russia. Overall crude production has climbed to a weekly record of 11.9 million bpd.

Thus the US is a major producer and the old era has moved on to some extent as the old era producers as I suppose shown by the Dallas TV series in the past has been reduced in importance by the shale oil wildcatters. They operate differently as I have pointed out before that they are financed with cheap money provided by the QE era and have something of a cash flow model and can operate with a base around US $50. So right now they will be doing rather well.

Also it is not only oil these days.

Meanwhile, U.S. natural gas output was projected to increase to a record 77.9 billion cubic feet per day (bcfd) in March. That would be up more than 0.8 bcfd over the February forecast and mark the 14th consecutive monthly increase.

Gas production was about 65.5 bcfd in March last year.

Reinforcing my view that this area has a different business model to the ordinary was this from Reuters earlier this month.

Spot prices at the Waha hub fell to minus $3.38 per million British thermal units for Wednesday from minus 2 cents for Tuesday, according to data from the Intercontinental Exchange (ICE). That easily beat the prior all-time next-day low of minus $1.99 for March 29.

Prices have been negative in the real-time or next-day market since March 22, meaning drillers have had to pay those with pipeline capacity to take the gas.

So we have negative gas prices to go with negative interest-rates, bond yields and profits for companies listing on the stock exchange as we mull what will go negative next?

Economic Impact on Texas

Back in 2015 Dr Ray Perlman looked at the impact of a lower oil price ( below US $50) would have on Texas.

To put the situation in perspective, based on the current situation, I am projecting that oil prices will likely lead to a loss of 150,000-175,000 Texas jobs next year when all factors and multiplier effects are considered.  Overall job growth in the state would be diminished, but not eliminated.  Texas gained over 400,000 jobs last year, and I am estimating that the rate of growth will slow to something in the 200,000-225,000 per year range.

Moving wider a higher oil price benefits US GDP directly via next exports and economic output or GDP and the reverse from a lower one. We do get something if a J-Curve style effect as the adverse impact on consumers via real wages and business budgets will come in with a lag.

The World

The situation here is covered to some extent by this from the Financial Times.

In currency markets, the Norwegian krone and Canadian dollar both rose against the US dollar as currencies of oil-exporting countries gained.

There is a deeper impact in the Middle East as for example there has been a lot of doubt about the finances of Saudi Arabia for example. This led to the recent Aramco bond issue ( US $12 billion) which can be seen as finance for the country although ironically dollars are now flowing into Saudi as fast as it pumps its oil out.

The stereotype these days for the other side of the coin is India and the Economic Times pretty much explained why a week ago.

A late surge in oil prices is expected to increase India’s oil import bill to its five-year high. As per estimates, India could close 2018-19 with crude import bill shooting to $115 billion, a growth of 30 per cent over 2017-18’s $88 billion.

This adds to India’s import bill and reduces GDP although it also adds to inflationary pressure and also perhaps pressure on the Reserve Bank of India which has cut interest-rates twice this year already. The European example is France which according to the EIA imports some 55 million tonnes of oil and net around 43 billion cubic meters of natural gas. It does offset this to some extent by exporting electricity from its heavy investment in nuclear power and that is around 64 Terawatt hours.

The nuclear link is clear for energy importers as I note plans in the news for India to build another 12.

Comment

There are many ways of looking at this so let’s start with central banks. As I have hinted at with India they used to respond to a higher oil price with higher interest-rates to combat inflation but now mostly respond to expected lower aggregate demand and GDP with interest-rate cuts. They rarely get challenged on this U-Turn as we listen to Kylie.

I’m spinning around
Move outta my way
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this
I’m breaking it down
I’m not the same
I know you’re feeling me
‘Cause you like it like this

Next comes the way we have become less oil energy dependent. One way that has happened has been through higher efficiency such as LED light bulbs replacing incandescent ones. Another has been the growth of alternative sources for electricity production as right now in my home country the UK it is solar (10%) wind (15%) biomass (8%) and nukes (18%) helping out. I do not know what the wind will do but solar will of course rise although its problems are highlighted by the fact it falls back to zero at night as we continue to lack any real storage capacity. Also such moves have driven prices higher.

As to what’s next? Well I think that there is some hope on two counts. Firstly President Trump will want the oil price lower for the US economy and the 2020 election. So he may grow tired of pressurising Iran and on the other side of the coin the military/industrial complex may be able to persuade Saudi Arabia to up its output. Also we know what the headlines below usually mean.

Podcast

Trade what is it good for?

Yesterday brought news which financial markets have received warmly this morning. From the Financial Times.

The US has stepped back from the brink of a trade war with China after Washington halted plans to impose tariffs on up to $150bn of imports, according to the US Treasury secretary.  “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Steven Mnuchin said in a television interview on Sunday.

My first thought is one of simple relativity which is how important numbers for the world economy get dwarfed these days when we look at central bank balance sheets. Moving back to the trade issue we have been facing this situation.

 Chinese negotiators resisted a Trump administration push to make a commitment to increase purchases by $200bn annually.

Such numbers fascinate me as in the nice round number mostly seems to ignore what will be bought and what would be done with them as the detail falls rather short.

Mr Mnuchin said. But he said the US side had very specific “industry by industry” targets in mind, raising the possibility of a 35-40 per cent increase in agricultural imports this year and an additional $50bn-$60bn in annual US energy exports over the next three to five years.

For example the agricultural numbers are a “possibility” even in the rhetoric. Whilst we could see more shale oil production how much more food can the US grow and produce? This seems much more a nod to the support base for President Trump that a real plan. If we move on the real issue is driven by this though.

Critics in the US are also concerned that its main emphasis appears to be on meeting Mr Trump’s goal of reducing the US’s annual $337bn trade deficit with China rather than tackling more difficult structural issues in the Chinese economy, such as Beijing’s subsidisation of key industries and systemic theft of US intellectual property.

Yes the trade deficit as we get a reminder that one of the global imbalances which the so-called great and the good told us needed fixing has not been fixed. Or as the Bureau for Economic Analysis puts it for the first three months of 2018.

Year-to-date, the goods and services deficit increased $25.5 billion, or 18.5 percent, from the same period in 2017. Exports increased $39.2 billion or 6.8 percent. Imports increased $64.7 billion or 9.1 percent.

Trade is good

It is not often put this way but let me point out that there are good elements here. For example the United States is boosting economic output in the rest of the world both with its purchases and its larger deficit. Most countries are of course poorer than the US but some more so and thereby benefit. The numbers below are the deficits for March

China ($35.4),Mexico ($7.0),India ($1.4)

Trade is very badly measured

Numbers are bandied about in this area implying far more accuracy than in fact exists. As I looked at the numbers I noted for example that the US had a small deficit with Canada in March whereas I recall a while back both thought they were in surplus. From Bloomberg.

Canadian officials tend to use U.S. data to make their case and the Bureau of Economic Analysis has calculated the U.S. had a $7.7 billion surplus in 2016. But Statistics Canada data show it’s Canada with the surplus in goods and services, totaling C$18.8 billion ($14.6 billion) last year.

As Hot Chocolate put it “Everyone’s a Winner” except of course they cannot be in a zero-sum game. Actually you might think it would make everyone happy in the mirage but of course we do not seem to be. An example of the problems and issues here was provided by the UK statistical office on the 8th of this month.

The £9.8 billion upward revision to the total trade deficit in 2016 means the deficit has been revised from £40.7 billion to £30.9 billion (Table 2). The main driver of the revision in 2016 came from improvements made to methods used to estimate net spread earnings, which feed into exports of services. The net spread earnings improvement revised trade in services exports back to 2004.

The good part is that they are working on the data and there is specific good news for the UK. But the catch is that it opens a window onto matters which are missed or badly measured. I have long argued on here that this is a serious issue for the UK as we have little detail on our services exports which is an important factor in our economy and seems likely to be something which would reduce our trade deficit it it was measured properly. These are difficult areas for statisticians as numbers from financial markets are unreliable as for example if you had a “good thing” you would want to keep it quiet in the way that the Prudential rather famously wrong-footed the rest of the UK Gilt market back in the early days of my career. Also this is true.

This collection of NSE has proved challenging as it is not something the reporting units are required to report under financial regulations.

World Trade Growth

Last year was a good year. From the World Trade Organisation.

Trade volume growth in 2017, the strongest since 2011, was driven mainly by cyclical factors, particularly increased investment and consumption expenditure. Looking at the situation in value terms, growth rates in current US dollars in 2017 (10.7% for merchandise exports, 7.4% for commercial services exports) were even stronger, reflecting both increasing quantities and rising prices.

In general world trade growth is around 1.4/1.5 times world GDP growth although of course even here we hit trouble. From Luis Martinez of the University of Chicago

The results indicate that yearly GDP growth rates are inflated by a factor of between 1.15 and 1.3 in the most authoritarian regimes. Correcting for manipulation substantially changes our understanding of comparative economic performance at the turn of the XXI century.

The catch is that we in the west have been getting more authoritarian and of course there is the possibility that they do not leave their lights on all night as some do in the west.

I show that the elasticity of official GDP figures to nighttime lights is systematically larger in more authoritarian regimes.

Comment

There is a lot to consider here and the headline comes from Trump Town with a protectionist agenda based on America First. Of course before that came other moves such as the way China subsidises industries to crowd out competition and the way that Germany got a lower exchange-rate via membership of the Euro.

Next comes the issue of whether it will provide yet another signal of an economic slow down? So far the outlook seems good as the Harpex shipping index has been rising and is now at 657.

As to trade itself the issue is complex as the issue of US energy production reminds us. This is because whilst the US Energy Information Agency reports the quote below the issue is not that simple.

The United States has been a net energy importer since 1953, but AEO2018 projects the United States will become a net energy exporter by 2022 in the Reference case.

You see that is different from self-sufficiency as the US will export more than it imports but due for example to the different types of crude oil will still be importing. In a way that is a reminder of the intricate links in trade these days as few products are now entirely from one country as so many have lots of links in their chain.

Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows)
Chains keep us together (run into the shadows) ( Fleetwood Mac)