Tag Archives: oil

Oil, Gold, Grains – Was that It?

Has the commodity rally that began just before the New Year ran its course? We posed the argument in early January that the technical breakout in interest rates would point towards the general economic activity of 2016. The interest rate breakout higher, towards lower rates would ultimately show itself in the form of deflation, which would in turn, weaken the commodity sector. I believe we are at a major inflection point for the year’s trading.

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ISIS and the Price of Oil

Every market has built in fear premium. This shows up empirically through the skew of an option chain. The idea is that two strike prices with the same expiration date that are an equal distance away from the market’s current price should have the same value, everything else being equal. We can also measure this through common sense. The skew is aligned with a market’s fear. This is what creates the fat tails on index put options as well as call options in the grains. Historically, fear in the Middle East leads to higher oil prices as the possibility for supply disruptions increases in times of uncertainty. This week, we’ll examine how oil prices affect ISIS and how this could affect the oil market as a whole.

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Overheated Heating Oil Market

I was fortunate enough to be interviewed for a Wall Street Journal heating oil story last week. The primary question was, “How high can prices soar?”  Supplies have tightened up considerably during Mother Nature’s onslaught and another bout of cold weather is hitting us, pushing prices higher yet again. Short-term demand related issues like the ones we’re experiencing now due to the weather are never a reason to jump into a market. My less than sensational outlook on current prices pushed me to the closing section of the article. This week, I’ll expand on the topic by looking at the diesel and heating oil markets and formulating a trading plan for the current setup.

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Energy in the U.S. and China

The global energy market recently passed two milestones. First, China passed the US as the number one importer of crude oil in the world in September. Second, the US passed Saudi Arabia as the largest fossil fuel producer in the world last week. Neither of these incidents came as a surprise. Both trends have been progressing roughly as expected. However, now that we’ve reached critical mass in forcing the evolution of the global energy markets, it’s time to take a look at some of the longer-term changes that will arise as a result of these events.

China was destined to become the number one energy importer due to its population growth, economic growth and geography. While we are concerned about whether the effects of the government shutdown may trim two percentage points off of our third quarter GDP of less than 2%, the Chinese have been chugging along at GDP near 8% and haven’t seen their Gross Domestic Product drop below 6% since 1991. The economic boom in China is still in full swing. Speculative phases like warehouse space or production facilities may have been overbuilt just like their housing markets but the infrastructure buildup remains in full force. The governmentally sponsored projects continue to redefine the Chinese way of life through the addition of roads, bridges, trains and power plants.

The growth in China comes as we isolate ourselves here in North America. China is still our second largest trade partner. Most of our trade with them is at the cheap manufacturing level. Meanwhile our number one trade partner has become Canada. Our trade with Canada is much nearer to equal than our Chinese trading relationship. According to the July, 2013 US Census, our trade with Canada occurs at a 7% deficit while we import 280% more goods from China than we export to them. Our growing isolationism can be confirmed since Mexico is our third largest trade partner.

This brings us back to Saudi Arabia and energy production. There are two main reasons for our declining ties to Saudi oil. First of all, American vehicles have become more fuel-efficient. The University of Michigan tracks average fuel efficiency of all new cars sold on a monthly basis. There has been a 20% increase in the fuel efficiency since 2007. Furthermore, the, “Cash for Clunkers” program took approximately 700,000 inefficient vehicles off the market further adding to the overall efficiency of our current fleet. Secondly, fracking and tar sands production have vaulted the US into the leading petro-chemical producer in the world. Saudi Arabia and Russia still produce more oil but our total distillate output has surpassed them.

These major trends will continue for many years into the future. The US is expected to become fully energy independent by 2020. Meanwhile, China will become increasingly dependent on world supplies. We used the following example in describing the growth of the Chinese hog market a few years ago and the comparison still fits. The Chinese story is all about developing a new middle class and putting newly disposable income into new hands. The first new expenses are better food, clothing and shelter. Moving up the ladder, the new middle class expands into luxury goods like cars and vacation travel. The average Chinese person uses about 3 barrels of crude oil per year. The average US citizen use more than 21 barrels per year. Clearly, this gap has room to close as the new Chinese middle class continues to westernize.

The growing demands of the Chinese middle class will change the way China conducts itself in global politics. Energy analysts at Wood McKenzie expect China to claim as much as 70% of the global oil imports by 2020. Therefore, at the same time the US becomes energy self-sufficient, China will become even more energy dependent. This will place them in a different role regarding global peace, especially in the Middle East, as unrest there will affect their country more than anyone else. This should cause China to continue to grow their military, especially their naval power and should have the unintended benefit of allowing us to scale back our military investments. Hopefully, the politicians here won’t spin this into another cold war as an excuse to renew domestic military investment

China’s growing need to purchase oil on the global market will force their hand in freeing up their currency to float.  Trade partners will not do business in a currency that can be manipulated at the drop of a hat. Opening their markets and allowing their currency to float will encourage investment flows in both directions. Big picture analysis suggests that this could be the catalyst towards pushing China into the dominant super power role. They have the demographics and capital necessary to generate the need for currency reserves and open markets. The last thing to develop will be the political ties towards the Middle East oil producers and finally, armed services to guarantee their trade routes remain open.

The Rise in Crude is Temporary

The price of crude oil has risen by more than 13% in the last two weeks. The price has been driven up by a perfect storm of temporary factors including seasonal, environmental and political issues. We believe these will subside and return us to a fundamentally over supplied market causing it to fall back below the magic $100 per barrel mark.

Crude oil futures traded under $93 per barrel as recently as June 24th. This is also the day that flooding concerns began creeping into the news from Alberta, Canada, the largest exporter to the U.S. The flooding eventually shut down pipelines from Enbridge and Penwest Exploration beginning on June 25th. Uncertainty regarding future supplies created support for the market. Prices stabilized between $94 and $96 per barrel.

Meanwhile, unrest in Egypt began to grow. It started with the mob beating death of four Egyptian Shiites outside of Cairo. Civil protests calling for the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi fell on deaf ears while his primary support came from the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian citizens had finally lost their patience with Morsi as basic problems of infrastructure improvement and unemployment began to take a back seat to what was becoming a country ruled by Islamic law rather than the secular democracy that was fought for during last year’s Arab Spring.

The natural disasters and political unrest also came as the market was heading into the first of crude oil’s twin peaks of seasonality. The first peak is Independence Day. The second comes around Labor Day. The combination of all of these factors has forced the crude oil market rapidly higher in the face of weak fundamental data.

Crude oil inventories are well above their five-year average. This spring actually saw the highest inventories in the last five years, nearly touching 400 million barrels in May. This is more than 14% above the five-year average and 3.5% above last year’s inventory. The market remains oversupplied with inventories currently around 382 million barrels, still well above the current five-year average of 337 million barrels. In fact, inventories would be even higher had we not drawn down 10 million barrels last week to meet the temporary decline in Canadian imports.

Crude oil futures are currently trading near $105 per barrel. The technical pattern that has been forming on the daily charts is called an, “inverted head and shoulders.” While many people have seen tops referred to as a head and shoulders pattern, fewer are familiar with its bullish relative. Technically, the pattern is measured the same way. However, instead of subtracting from the neckline to find a target down below, we simply add the distance from the right shoulder to the neckline to generate an estimated high price for the move. In this case, the estimated target is around $106.50 in the September crude oil futures contract.

The situation in Egypt is the only wild card still in play. Mohamed Morsi has been ousted as President. The Egyptian military now appears to be running the country. Calls are already being made to host a new Presidential election along with proper monitoring of the voting process. The United States has remained curiously aloof through the recent unrest. President Obama appears unsure of which horse to back and is leaving our options open. Technically, not categorizing the uprising as a “military coup” allows us to potentially back the next ruling party, regardless of the outcome. This is far more palatable than stoking the unrest of a civilian uprising within the Middle East.

Trading the crude oil futures market during a period of Middle Eastern unrest is not for the faint of heart. While we expect the market to top out shortly, there is no telling exactly when the next news announcement may cause the top to be completed. This means we don’t know exactly what the risk may be to our account values. Therefore, a more conservative approach would be to use an option spread that allows us quantify our risk while accepting that our rewards will be limited. The first rule of trading is, “always know the risk.” We will continue to look for reversal chart patterns that would suggest the market is heading back towards its 90-day average price of $95 per barrel.

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.

Effects of Deflating the Yen

The Japanese economy has been on life support since their stock market peaked in late 1989. This is also when they began to lose their productivity gains in manufacturing and technology against their neighbors. Their immigration policy and small family sizes have shrunken the labor pool to a point that even with consistent per capita GDP growth, they continue to fall behind fiscally. Their new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe is attacking deflation in Japan in a way that makes Ben Bernanke look like a spendthrift. The obvious objective of deflating the currency is to make Japanese exports cheaper on the open market. This will grow GDP and spur new hiring thus, improving the domestic Japanese economy. The big questions are, how long can currency depreciation boost their economy, what are the side effects and lastly, will it work?

Japan is an interesting country in that they are a manufacturing country with very little in the way of raw materials or commodities to use in the production process. Therefore, Japan must import virtually, all of the raw materials they use. They’re becoming a high tech assembly country as opposed to their classic vertical production model. Their days of making the steel that goes into the car is over and so are many of the old jobs. It has become cheaper to import Chinese steel than to make it their selves. Currency depreciation will provide an initial rise in Japanese exports, as the inventory that has already been produced will be cheaper on the open market. However, these gains will be offset by newly purchased production inputs paid for in depreciated Yen.

The export market has been the key to Japan’s post WW2 growth. In fact, Japan’s balance of trade (exports-imports) had been mostly positive for 25 years before the tsunami hit in March of 2011. Prior to the Tsunami, Japan generated about 30% of its energy from nuclear power. They are currently running only 3 nuclear reactors out of 54. Manufacturing countries require large energy inputs and Japan uses more than 25% of their gross revenues to import energy and they are third in global crude oil consumption and imports. Depreciating the Yen will severely impact their energy costs. For example, the Yen has declined by 30% since November. That would be the equivalent of paying around $5.00 per gallon of gasoline, right now. This is what Japan will be paying to fuel their manufacturing centers.

This leads us to the effects of a depreciating currency on the local population. The Japanese private citizens are the ones bearing the brunt of this policy in two ways. First of all, Japanese citizens will be forced to pay more for everything that isn’t locally sourced and produced. This will trim their discretionary spending and put a crimp in local small businesses and service providers. Getting less for your money is never enjoyable. Secondly, the individual Japanese citizens are paying for the currency depreciation because the there is no international market for Japanese bonds selling at artificially low rates. The Japanese government is forcing their citizens with historically high savings to use it to buy underpriced Japanese Government Bonds. This transfers the debt from the government to the taxpayer.

I have no idea why the Japanese people haven’t revolted. I’m sure much of it has to do with culture. We tend to speak out in protest while they tend to tow the party line. It will be very interesting to see how this turns out as pensions go unfunded and taxes rise to pay for the massive social programs Prime Minister Abe has in store. Japan’s total debt (public + private) is now more than 500% of GDP according to The Economist (9/19/2012). The U.S. total debt to GDP ratio ranks 7th in the world at just under 300%.

The massive devaluation that is taking place will allow Japan to gain market share in the short term, especially against high quality German manufacturers. Continuation of this policy will put the European Union in a very uncomfortable spot. Germany is their economic leader and the country that would be hurt most in a competitive devaluation campaign. This may finally force the European Union to ease further in an attempt to remain competitive outside the Euro Zone. Easing euro Zone monetary policy may be the next link in the chain as the race to the currency bottom heats up. Finally, the pundits have coined a new phrase to help the guy on the street differentiate currency wars from fiscal policy. Welcome to, “coordinated global easing.”

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.

Third Stage Growth in Agri-Business

The run up in food prices this year has, hopefully, shined a bright light on the oligopoly that controls the world’s grain markets. An oligopoly is a market that is controlled by a small number of producers, which allows them to collaborate and set prices for the market as a whole. OPEC is the most common textbook example. The U.S., Brazil, Argentina and Australia dominate the grain industry. There is grain production in every country but these four control the vast majority of the export market. That may be about to change and bring new, long-term investment possibilities with it.

When crude oil topped $145 per barrel in 2008 it was a painful, but simple adjustment to the world’s lifestyle. When the grain market soared to all time highs this summer, forcing food inflation on the world’s population, the adjustments weren’t so simple. The mechanization of the global grain production process places more and more of the world’s food production in the hands of fewer and fewer people.

The global grain stores are running at multi year lows, just as they were at the beginning of this U.S. growing season. This summer’s drought was the worst in 50 years here. The weather pattern also knocked 13% off of Australia’s wheat crop and they’re the world’s largest wheat exporter. This also led to a nearly 60% decline in their ending stocks over the last three years. The only thing keeping prices in check at the moment is South America’s increasing efficiency. Brazil’s soy production may surpass the U.S. this year and thanks to their long growing season, double crops of corn are becoming normal.

The global demand growth for coarse grain production has been fueled by the Pacific Rim’s meat production industry, rather than by population growth. China’s population growth is less than one percent per year, yet their hog market is growing by an average of 3.5% per year. The growth in their agricultural markets for both grains and meats has been astounding, as production of both have shifted from individual farmers on their own land to the mechanized version of agri-business that is the model of the industrial world. Their soybean imports, which are used for feed, have grown from 3 million metric tons in 1997 to approximately 56 million tons this year.

These wheels have been set in motion and will not be derailed by a collapse in the Eurozone or a surprise in our elections. The trends in population growth and the move towards global improvements in diet are really just beginning. The United Nations and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) just reported that global wheat prices for 2012 were up 25%. They added further that source inputs have now caused the price of dairy to rise by 7% in just the last month.

The arguments over who gets their principal back on a Greek or Spanish Bond is far less important to Greeks and Italians than the ability to put food on the table. Food inflation, as a result of the commodity rallies of ’07 and ’12, was also a primary cause of the Arab Spring. It is far easier to control a population with a full belly than it is to placate a parent unable to stop the crying of a hungry child.

So, where’s the trade? The trade starts with slowing global growth and negative growth across Europe. Negative growth will increasingly put the pinch on Eastern European countries like Kazakhstan, Ukraine and Russia. This is the main breadbasket of Europe and North Africa. Bottom up analysis of these macro trends reveals very large growth potential in several African countries. The BRIC’s have received most of the attention over the last ten years and rightfully so. However, as more and more resources are pulled from African countries for global production, it becomes clear that these countries are also next on the open borders list to develop.

Therefore, using the pending global economic contraction as the setup, I’ll be using declines in the stock market to knock the valuations of agri-business stocks like ADM, Monsanto, Cargill, AgroSA, Bunge, Caterpillar, DeutzAG, down and for retail investors to get washed out. There are two important things to take away from this. First of all, I am not a stockbroker. These trades cannot be executed through me. I stand to gain nothing financially from anyone following this advice. Secondly, I believe that we will get an equity selloff similar to 2008 and I plan on being ready to put cash to work in companies that stand to profit the most from the commodity markets I know best in the coming decade.

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.

Fossil Fuel Fracking

The three-way balancing act between the environment, job growth and energy self sufficiency are all going to play out in earnest here in Ohio during the coming elections. The primary reason for the growing interest in our State is the fossil fuel production capabilities of the shale fields throughout Ohio, with a special emphasis on the Utica shale deposits east of Columbus. The process of fracking, which drills down on average, 4,000 feet in Ohio and just as far horizontally, pumps the well full of chemically treated, “slick water” to crack the shale deposits, displace the gas and force it to the surface. This has dramatically lowered the cost of production and is ushering in significant economic prosperity.

There are always unintended consequences when theoretical models face real world application in high volume. There were more than 400 fracking wells drilled in Ohio in 2010. The Bakken shale reserves in North Dakota employ more than 6,000 wells to produce twice as much natural gas while also producing enough oil to place them at number 10 on the OPEC production list ahead of Ecuador. The production of natural gas and oil through the fracking process is not limited to the United States. Qatar, Russia and Iran contain about 70% of the overseas, undeveloped supply. This is why environmentalists are sounding such an alarm. Here in the U.S., fracking, while regulated by the EPA, is blamed for everything from contaminated drinking water to the recent earthquake, measuring 4.0 on the Richter scale outside of Youngstown. In fact, the EPA just approved a 100% green replacement for the biocide, “slick water” industry standard. How many Russian state subsidized fossil fuel producers do you think are lining up to purchase SteriFrac to protect the environment?

The economic prosperity that fossil fuel production is bringing to our area cannot be ignored. Ohio is making waves on the international energy production scene due to the volume and quality of its reserves. France’s largest oil company, Total SA, just purchased the rights to drill 619,000 acres of the Utica Shale Field for a total of $2.32 billion dollars. This shale field is expected to produce not only natural gas but also enough crude oil to put Ohio in the top five U.S. producers. The production boom is expected to bring more than 200,000 jobs to Ohio by 2015 and provide an annual income of more than $12 billion to Ohioans. These numbers can be extrapolated to include the Bakken fields as well as the Eagle Ford field in Texas, which is expected to drill more than 3,000 wells in 2012 alone.

The last issue to address is energy independence. The most promising estimate comes from London’s Daily Telegraph, citing British Petroleum research, stating that the U.S. could become entirely energy independent by 2030. More realistic research points to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, which recently stated that we pay $4 in natural gas for the equivalent energy as $25 worth of oil. This is up from less than a 4 to 1 ratio just 18 months ago. The price gap between domestic and overseas natural gas is nearly as wide. Most of Europe pays upwards of $16 per mmbtu (million metric British thermal units) compared to $4 per mmbtu here in the U.S. This price differential makes exporting liquefied natural gas (LNG) a growing business opportunity while the world catches up.

Comparing the cost of electricity to the cost of gasoline clearly explains the efficiency of natural gas. Forty percent of our electricity comes from natural gas. Massachusetts’s Institute of Technology published a paper this summer showing that the price of electricity has remained stable as gas prices have sky rocketed. Barring the extraction of shale gas, they expect the price of oil to increase five fold over the next 20 years. Meanwhile, allowing the use of shale oil would only see crude double in price while electricity will climb by a mere 5-10% in the same timeframe.

The issues we’ve addressed are merely the broadest points of a discussion that requires much further debate on all fronts. The simple facts are that we have a global production advantage that we haven’t seen in at least a generation. However, as a natural resource, we must respect the ground from which it flows and treat it accordingly. Finally, all fossil fuels have a finite supply. We must not allow cheap access to a new source to stall the development money and efforts flowing into renewable energy sources.

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.

Setting of the Rising Sun

Japan’s economic crisis has been slowly trudging down a dead end road since their economy collapsed in the early 90’s. Their insistence on maintaining public programs as status quo has been financed by selling government debt to domestic corporations and private citizens. This has cannibalized both private citizen and corporate savings. This tacit deal has allowed Japan to artificially keep interest rates low based on their captive pool of treasury purchasers. This process of spending more than the government is collecting on an annual basis, combined with sales of treasuries to finance the difference has left them ill prepared to handle this disaster at a time of global economic uncertainty.

While some economists are taking the stance that Japan’s rebuilding is just what they need to get their economy back on the right track, I think it’s quite possible that their economy may be too far gone to save. Furthermore, the scale of their disaster will place a huge burden on developed nations who will be called upon to assist them in the process. Many of these nations, including the United States, have no room for error in their own economic policies. The end result could be a localized natural disaster that triggers a global recession.

Professor Ken Rogoff of Harvard School of Public Policy Research wrote a book in 2009 describing the historical relationship between banking crises and sovereign default. His research states that the average historical tipping point is approximately 4.2 times debt to revenue. Once a country is spending 4.2 times more than it is collecting, default is on its way. John Hayman and Lawrence McDonald, cite individually, that Japan’s expenses outpace revenues by more than 20 times annually. Their debt to GDP ratio, their total assets and earnings minus total debts and liabilities, is around 200%. The third largest economy in the world spends 20 times more per year than it earns and owes twice as much as it’s worth. One note of caution, the United States ranks third in the debt to revenue ratio, behind Japan and Ireland and we owe as much as we’re worth. We will be double negative in 2011 if we don’t change substantially.

Debt will surely rise even further as Japan borrows to rebuild. Standard and Poor’s downgraded Japan’s credit rating to AA in January, prior to the disaster. Japan will have to move to the open market to finance their reconstruction. Their domestic lenders will be busy financing their own rebuilding processes. This will force Japan to pay open market rates for most of their new debt. Open market rates will be AT LEAST 100 basis points and most likely, closer to 200 basis points higher.  The interest payments would total more than 25% of the country’s revenue. Japanese credit default swaps will sky rocket.

The strain of rebuilding Japan will affect us whether we lend financial assistance or not (which we will). The demand of replacing 30% of Japan’s energy source will show up in the price of fossil fuels. Japan currently consumes 5.2% of the world’s oil supply. Replacement of lost energy will add another 1.3 million barrels per day plus the added oil necessary for the reconstruction. Their added demands equal Italy’s total consumption. Add this to the global uncertainty of North African fuel supplies and the added fuel that goes into fighting a third global conflict and we have questionable supplies coupled with increasing demand.

Rising oil prices couldn’t come at a worse time for our economy, which had been gaining some traction. GaveKal research published a chart in which rapidly rising oil prices are overlaid with economies growing more than 2% above their leading indicators, which we are. This has happened 5 times in the last 70 years. Four of the five led directly to recession. The fifth was in 2005 and was ameliorated by the credit and housing booms, which may have delayed the recession until 2007. Rising fuel costs act as a tax on the economy.  The latest housing numbers, the worst ever, blame much of it on high gas prices. Furthermore, while the unemployment rate is stabilizing, the length of time people are unemployed is at an all time high of 37 weeks. Finally, the stock market has returned to its upper 10%, in normalized valuations. Japan’s natural disaster could very well mean this is the zenith of our economic recovery.

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.