Category Archives: Energies

Energy Fork in the Road

One economic topic that isn’t getting the attention it deserves is the energy policy. The drought of 2012 along with the expiration of subsidies paid to ethanol blenders will make it nearly impossible to reach the Renewable Fuels Standards (RFS) as early as next year. The standards that were put in place to increase this country’s energy independence were based on protectionist interests and were only viable as long as ethanol produced by the U.S. was subsidized while Brazilian ethanol was simultaneously taxed.

The difference between U.S. ethanol and Brazilian ethanol is the source of their primary inputs. We use corn, which is slower to grow, harder to use and more expensive than the cane sugar Brazil uses as the feedstock for their ethanol production. It will be very interesting to hear how the Presidential candidates debate their renewable energy policies, especially as 40% of our primary crop is diverted from food to energy production. This year’s drought has created a political collision course between food costs and the Renewable Fuels Mandate as well as the Energy Independence and Security Act.

The corn market is about as American as you can get. The U.S. produces as much corn as the next two largest producers, China and Brazil, combined. Unfortunately, production will fall nearly 15% short of 2011’s 314 million tons. The current Renewable Fuels Mandate allotted 40% of last year’s corn to produce 13.95 billion gallons of renewable fuel and 2012 will require an additional 8% increase over 2011. This brings total renewable fuel sources to 15.2 billion gallons on total consumption of 134 billion gallons in 2012.

The drought has pushed corn prices to an all time high of $8.43 per bushel. While the market is now 14% lower at  $7.25, the rally has been more than enough to shatter the profit margins of ethanol blenders. The combination of expiring refining subsidies along with higher input costs is leading to the shut down of major ethanol blenders. This raises the capital market question of who’s going to be responsible for meeting the aforementioned production targets? Ethanol distillers are losing more than $.40 per gallon at the current prices.

The idea of diverting 4.7 billion bushels of an estimated 11 billion bushels in total U.S. production towards an inferior yet, more expensive product seems silly in the face of rising global food prices. This is exactly what would be required to happen to meet next year’s Mandate. Furthermore, reaching next year’s goals using the current 10% ethanol blend is nearly impossible given the current mix of gasoline and diesel motors. Diesel biofuels and biodiesels are given a 50% bonus in RFS for their lower greenhouse gas emissions as measured by the EPA. The friction this creates in meeting the Renewable Fuels Mandate is called the, “blend wall.” The blend wall is the physical limitation of production and blending facilities based on the most common 10% ethanol blend. The mandate calls for 13.8 billion gallons, 10% of expected 2013 US consumption. However, current facilities, assuming they were all open and operating at full capacity, can only produce 13.3 billion gallons of ethanol.

The candidates will have to address the subsidies that farmers and blenders are paid as well as their plan on handling imports. These are most likely, the easy issues to address. Developing a complete energy plan will also include a discussion on the much more economically friendly topic of our vast natural gas reserves which have the capacity to place us on a much more sustainable path.

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk of loss in investing in futures.

Global Glut Going Nowhere

The drop in gas prices over the last month has been a relief to us all. The economic sanctions placed by the European Union, Canada and the U.S. on Iran has simply shifted the flow of Iranian crude oil from west to east. The net result has been more oil on the global market with China, India and Russia picking up cheaper oil from Iran due to the lack of competition from western buyers. One would think that cheaper oil to the BRIC countries would be just the catalyst needed to help them develop their own internal demand for goods and services through the creation and evolution of their own middle class. Unfortunately, we are in an economic phase of global deleveraging and even the stimulus of low fuel prices will not keep their engines turning fast enough to save us from a second half slowdown here in the U.S.

The thesis of those who run our economy has been: If we can just provide enough economic grease to keep our own wheels turning the development of BRIC economies will, eventually, create demand for our goods and services. This is still probably true in the long run and the forward demand projection can be used to our advantage through tracking commercial trader purchases via the commitment of traders report. What a different world it has become when our economic horse has become hitched to someone else’s wagon.

China has been trying to engineer a soft landing for their economy through government expenditures on infrastructure and the attraction of foreign direct investment. The struggle can be seen in their manufacturing output, which has declined for seven straight months. They’ve also lowered their lending reserve requirement to stimulate financing which has dropped by 19% year over year and is at its slowest pace since Q1 of 2007. This may simply add further capacity to an already slack market in the wake of China’s 15-year building boom. This is also a futile attempt to increase home ownership, as home ownership is one of the few ways Chinese people have been allowed to invest their newfound prosperity and therefore, already represents an outsized portion of their personal portfolios. The Chinese result will sacrifice its citizens as the high water mark buyers and lead to further class separation between the builders who profited and the people who got stuck with the bill. This will leave them with little disposable income to buy our Apple computers and Fords.

The Chinese situation looks hopeful compared to India. The trouble in India is as much political as it is structural. Indian politics are confusing even to the Indian newspapers. It’s easy to go from the Times of India to India Press or any one of their nearly 2,000 daily publications and find contradictory information. Foreign businesses find it nearly impossible to find the right agencies for the right permits. Even if one does, it is quite possible that the rules will not only change but, be made retroactive thus, invalidating the entire business plan of the entity that just put the whole package together. This is exactly what happened to Wal-Mart between December of 2011 and February of this year. Permits were voided and taxes created by the new policy were made retroactive. Foreign direct investment is drying up rather than fighting its way through the bureaucratic red tape.

This still leaves Brazil and Russia to save us. Brazil just passed England to become the sixth largest global economy. However, Brazil’s balance of trade slipped into negative territory early this year for the first time since the economic crisis and once again ten years prior to that. Furthermore, their latest GDP readings were just positive enough, 0.34% to escape the technicality of recession. They are battling the decline by cutting interest rates for the seventh time in a row. This easing cycle has seen their rates decline by more than 400 basis points, including May’s cut.

Finally, Russia’s economy is shepherded by the fluctuations of natural resource prices on one hand and Vladimir Putin’s political inclinations on the other. The Russian shadow economy remains one of the largest physical cash exchanges in the world. The government recently limited official cash transactions to approximately $20,000 U.S.  Dollars. The political confusion has led to a flight of foreign capital out of the country. Putin’s sincerest desire seems to be the development of a quasi socialist Russia in which the natural resources are shipped abroad by governmentally monitored, semi state controlled companies. Putin then wants access to these revenues to fund his own programs and basically, become the Arab peninsula of natural resources while triangulating politically with Iran and China.

It doesn’t matter whose horse we hitch our wagons to if we’re all headed down the same path. The global balance sheet expansion experiment that hasn’t worked worth a darn in Japan is now being replicated in Europe just as it has been put to work here in the U.S. The world will pull through it and those countries that have been willing to make the tough choices, either through an enlightened electorate body or, the tight fisted hand of an autocratic leader will be the first ones to rebound. Our future, I’m afraid, looks more like the path of Japan’s lost generation than ever.

Is the Commodity Pullback Over?

This blog is published by Andy Waldock. Andy Waldock is a trader, analyst, broker and asset manager. Therefore, Andy Waldock may have positions for himself, his family, or, his clients in any market discussed. The blog is meant for educational purposes and to develop a dialogue among those with an interest in the commodity markets. The commodity markets employ a high degree of leverage and may not be suitable for all investors. There is substantial risk in investing in futures.

The last two weeks have brought considerable pullbacks in major trends including, the stock indexes, metals, grains and energies. We’ve also seen the most convincing U.S. Dollar rally in a year. This seems like a good place to take a step back and assess our positions on the broader markets.First, let’s break down the numbers and the correlations. The march of the commodity rally has been timed by the Dollar’s decline for nearly a year. Over the last month, we’ve seen the Dollar rally about 4% off of its lows. The rally became news over the last three weeks. Looking at a weekly chart, one can see that this is the first time the Dollar has taken out a previous week’s high and not immediately, closed lower the following week. Fortunately, we were able to see that the commercial trader’s momentum by using the Commitment of Traders Report had turned bullish on the Dollar beginning around Christmas time and we finally published a buy signal on January 19th’s COT Signals.The issues facing the commodity markets are twofold. First, the Dollar’s decline made our raw materials cheaper to purchase on the world markets. Secondly, as the commodity markets rallied, Commodity Index Traders, (CIT’s), are forced to buy more futures contracts as the value of their index rises. They are required to maintain a certain percentage of their indexes value allocated to the markets as stated in their prospectus. Consequently, as the commodity markets have declined, they’ve been forced shed contracts to maintain their waiting. Their influence on the markets can be seen in the disproportionate moves in the commodity markets – both on the way up, and on the way down. This is one of the reasons why the Dollar’s 4% rally has created the following declines:6.5% – 8% in the stock market15% give or take, in the grain markets15% in silver10% in platinum5% in gold14% in crude oil13% in unleadedOak, so where do we stand? Throughout this decline, the Commitment of Traders Report has seen commercial traders increasing their rate of buying in the raw materials markets and increased their selling in the stock indexes to correspond with their buying of the Dollar. We have watched the momentum of their purchases increase in the raw materials just as the Commodity Index Traders positions have declined and watched the opposite hold true in the negatively correlated U.S. Dollar vs. stock indexes. This is the classic example of why we follow the momentum of buying or selling within the commercial trader category. We’ve been patiently waiting and waiting with relatively few trading opportunities. As of Friday, we reached oversold levels in many of the markets that still maintained bullish momentum. Beginning on Tuesday’s trade, our proprietary indicator began ticking out buy signals in the energies and metals. This was followed immediately with buy signals 9 other markets. This means that our methodology has kicked out 16 buy signals in the last two days. That’s 16 buy signals out of 36 markets tracked. Finally, I would like to briefly note the background themes over the last month as this has built. We have the Dollar devaluing concerns of the health care bill which were mitigated by Brown’s victory. The equity market concerns over earnings realized through labor market cost savings and finally, the governmental budget issues which are beginning to kick out inflationary signals in our own programs. Our end of January position leaves us with reasonable demand for raw materials and inflationary concerns over the bond market leading to weakness in the stock indexes.


CFTC vs. Commodity Index Traders

High grain and energy costs have finally generated enough momentum for the politicians to get involved. This past week, a paper was presented to Congress by Michael Masters of Masters Capital Management. He attributes the current price levels to creating an artificially high floor price due to the asset class categorization of commodities. The long only money that has poured into the markets is creating, “demand shock from a new category of speculators: institutional investors like
corporate and government pension funds, university endowments, and sovereign
wealth funds. He also, matter of factly states, “Index speculators are the primary cause of the recent price
spikes in commodities.”

One statistic that is being roughly, though widely, quoted, is the assumption that demand for exchange traded commodities over the last five years has increased equally between China and Commodity Index Funds. The CFTC is prepared to overhaul its system of reportable trading categories and players to try and pinpoint who is trading what and how much. The purpose is to differentiate between true physical price discovery and speculative froth.

Congress is prepared to assist the CFTC in outing the institutional speculative money by closing the swaps loophole that has allowed the billion dollar funds to enact futures transactions as swaps through their securities brokers (Merril, Goldman, etc.) who then hedge the swap in the futures market. This is how every individual fund has managed to stay off of the CFTC’s Commitment of Traders reports. The commodities are held assets with their broker while the broker executes the hedge and reports the position as their own.

The CFTC and Congress working hand in hand could bring an end to this bubble far quicker than peace in the Middle East or a bountiful global harvest.

Please, feel free to comment or, question. This is a small picture painted in broad brush strokes.

Have a wonderful weekend, Andy.


Competitive goods at the margin

As petroleum prices climb, alternative energy sources become more useful. So it is with biodiesel and soybeans. Look at the correlation during yesterday’s sell off and today’s rally.

Now, look at the 25 day correlation chart between the two markets.