Last year I published a report with the (justifiably) bombastic title, “$500 per barrel: could oil price rise tenfold?” One of my central claims was that producing oil requires investment of real capital including materials, equipment and highly skilled labor, and that, “as more and more resources are required to generate the same amount of liquid fuels, energy production is becoming ever more expensive to society in real terms.” Thus, as it becomes more expensive in real terms (as the deteriorating EROEI figures indicate), the fact that energy has recently become cheaper in nominal (dollar) terms can only be a temporary abberation. EROEI stands for energy return on energy invested; in the early 1900s, we obtained 100 barrels euqivalent of oil per barrel invested (EROEI of 100 to 1); today we are at about 15 to 1 globally and at 11 to 1 in the USA. Continue reading
Category Archives: Economics
The illusion of expertise in financial markets
Participants in financial markets have to deal with uncertainty on a daily basis. Their need to research and understand markets has given rise to a massive industry delivering security prices, reports and expert analyses to traders and investors seeking to make sense of the markets and predict how they might unfold in the future.
The need to understand stuff is innate to our psychology: when something happens, we almost reflexively want to know why it happened. But the compulsion to pair an effect with its cause sometimes gets us jumping to conclusions. If such conclusions turn out to be mistaken or irrelevant, they could prove useless – or something worse. Consider two recent titles from the ZeroHedge blog, published 89 minutes apart: Continue reading
Meet the riff-raff Trump supporters!
Donald Trump and his administration have been at the receiving end of passionate denounciations and scorn from many opinion leaders in the media. At the same time Trump’s approval rating among American voters has ranged between 50% and 60%. Here’s a statistical sketch of this American riff-raff and why they may support Trump.
Fully 35% of Americans do not have enough money to live comfortably (english: they can’t make ends meet). That’s more than 110 million people. These Americans have to supplement their cost of living with credit card debt. The Urban Institute reports that this same proportion of Americans (35%) have debt in collections (180 or more days past due). On average, the households that carry credit card debt are over $16,000 in the hole, paying an average interest rate at 16.1% (that’s $2,600 per year just in interest). Continue reading
Saudis to unveil the big secret? Not likely.
Over at OilPrice.com Nick Cunningham wrote that Saudi Arabia might finally reveal one of its closest kept secrets as they prepare to sell some 5% of its oil monopoly, Saudi Aramco, to the public. The Saudis and their Wall Street bankers expect Aramco to be valued at $2 to $3 trillion, which would generate north of $100 billion for the Saudis and massive underwriting fees for Wall Street Banks.
Since both the Saudis and Wall Street hope for the highest possible valuation for Aramco, we should not expect that they’ll “unveil” anything less than the rosiest plausible figure for their oil reserves. Continue reading
Greenspan: Fed balance sheet is a tinderbox of explosive inflation looking for a spark!
In June 2011 Carmen Reinhart wrote a paper for the IMF titled “Financial Repression Redux.” She suggested that the current policy of financial repression could ultimately lead to high levels of inflation. Today, five years later it seems like she couldn’t have gotten it more wrong. In spite of the unprecedented monetary expansion, monetization of public debt and swelling central bank balance sheets, deflation seems entrenched. So why worry about inflation at all? In short, because deflation could actually give rise to inflation. Continue reading
Stock markets might not crash. Investors might still lose big.
Our future is being shaped by an unprecedented monetary experiment run by our central bank mandarins, but a happy ending is a mathematical impossibility. The economic imbalances that resulted in the last, 2008 financial crisis are now much worse and we are facing two possible routes of their resolution. One is a full-blown deflationary depression that could see asset prices drop by 50% or more. The other is a strong and sustained decline in the US Dollar (and other major currencies) with an accelerating commodity price inflation that might span a full decade.
Central banks’ overt commitment to supporting asset prices at all costs suggests that the second scenario may be more probable. In this case, a major stock-market crash could be averted; instead, we could see a significant and sustained rise in equity markets, as was the case most recently during the Zimbabwean and Venezuelan inflations, as well as the Argentinian, Brazilian, Israeli and German inflations before that. Below is the chart showing the appreciation of Israel All Share index during the country’s inflationary crisis in the 1980s: Continue reading
The biggest scam in history of mankind
“The issue which has swept down the centuries and which will have to be fought sooner or later is the people versus the banks.” – Lord Acton
Well over a century ago, Lord Acton had understood the problem that’s been well obscured from students of economics, history and politics over the more recent generations. The role of money in our society is not sufficiently well understood today. Its importance was underscored by Thomas Paine when he said that, “Money, when considered as the fruit of many years’ industry, as the reward of labor, sweat and toil, as the widow’s dowry and children’s portion, and as the means of procuring the necessaries and alleviating the afflictions of life, and making old age a scene of rest, has something in it sacred that is not to be sported with, or trusted to the airy bubble of paper currency.” Continue reading
Economic forecasting is exercise in futility
“Economists can’t forecast for a toffee… They have missed every recession in the last four decades. And it isn’t just growth that economists can’t forecast; it’s also inflation, bond yields, unemployment, stock market price targets and pretty much everything else.” – James Montier
Forecasting commodity prices and economic indicators is demonstrably an exercise in futility. Our markets and economies are complex systems and as such, their future unfolding is impossible to predict with any degree of certainty. Concretely, let’s take a look at how the leading economic analysts did at predicting oil prices, GDP growth, unemployment and stock market indices. Continue reading
The crucial importance of trends
In Berkshire Hathaway annual report (1985), Warren Buffett wrote the following:
When a management with reputation for brilliance tackles a business with reputation for poor fundamental economics, it is the reputation of the business that stays intact. 
My wife and I recently spent some time in Egypt. For a few days we sailed up the Nile from Luxor to Aswan on a cruise ship that counted nearly 70 crew members serving the total of five guests. The manager of the vessel was Mr. Khaled, an impeccably polite and always well dressed man in his 40s who, in spite of running a nearly empty ship managed to keep the crew’s morale high and ran the ship’s operations admirably well. Unfortunately, even if Mr. Khaled were the world’s best cruise ship manager, this particular situation was a good illustration of what Warren Buffet was talking about in his 1985 annual report. Continue reading
We’re heading for stagflation!
Last week we learned that U.S. federal debt passed the $19.5 trillion, adding $1.36 trillion during this fiscal year. Just last month, it added $151.5 billion. By now we have all gone a bit tone-deaf with all the billions and trillions tossed about in the news, so let’s put this into a bit of perspective. In August, the U.S. government added $475 per man, woman and child, or $1,206 per household living in the U.S. We are talking one month’s time here! The annual clip is $5,700 per man woman and child!! This is very far from sustainable, but it’s quite a bit worse actually. Continue reading