Posts tagged ‘oil’

Wiping Your Financial Slate Clean

slate

This article is an excerpt from a previously released Sidoxia Capital Management complimentary newsletter (January 3, 2017). Subscribe on the right side of the page for the complete text.

The page on the calendar has turned, and we now have a new year, and will shortly have a new president, and new economic policies. Although there is nothing magical about starting a fresh, new year, the annual rites of passage also allow investors to start with a clean slate again and reflect on their personal financial situation. Before you reach a desired destination (i.e., retirement), it is always helpful to know where you have been and where are you currently. Achieving this goal requires filtering through a never-ending avalanche of real-time data flooding through our cell phones, computers, TVs, radios, and Facebook accounts. This may seem like a daunting challenge, but that’s where I come in!

Distinguishing the signals from the noise is tough and there was plenty of noise in 2016 – just like there is every year. Before the S&P 500 stock index registered a +9.5% return in 2016, fears of a China slowdown blanketed headlines last January (the S&P 500 fell -15% from its highs and small cap stocks dropped -26%), and the Brexit (British exit) referendum caused a brief 48-hour -6% hiccup in June. Oil was also in the news as prices hit a low of $26 a barrel early in the year, before more than doubling by year-end to $54 per barrel (still well below the high exceeding $100 in 2014). On the interest rate front, 10-Year Treasury rates bottomed at 1.34% in July, while trillions of dollars in global bonds were incomprehensibly paying negative interest rates. However, fears of inflation rocked bond prices lower (prices move inversely to yields) and pushed bond yields up to 2.45% today. Along these lines, the Federal Reserve has turned the tide on its near-0% interest rate policy as evidenced by its second rate hike in December.

Despite the abbreviated volatility caused by the aforementioned factors, it was the U.S. elections and surprise victory of President-elect Donald Trump that dominated the media airwaves for most of 2016, and is likely to continue as we enter 2017. In hindsight, the amazing Twitter-led, Trump triumph was confirmation of the sweeping global populism trend that has also replaced establishment leaders in the U.K., France, and Italy. There are many explanations for the pervasive rise in populism, but meager global economic growth, globalization, and automation via technology are all contributing factors.

The Trump Bump

Even though Trump has yet to accept the oath of Commander-in-Chief, recent investor optimism has been fueled by expectations of a Republican president passing numerous pro-growth policies and legislation through a Republican majority-controlled Congress. Here are some of the expected changes:

  • Corporate/individual tax cuts and reform
  • Healthcare reform (i.e., Obamacare)
  • Proposed $1 trillion in infrastructure spending
  • Repatriation tax holiday for multinational corporate profits
  • Regulatory relief (e.g., Dodd-Frank banking and EPA environmental reform)

The chart below summarizes the major events of 2016, including the year-end “Trump Bump”:

16-sp-sum

While I too remain optimistic, I understand there is no free lunch as it relates to financial markets (see also Half Trump Full). While tax cuts, infrastructure spending, and regulatory relief should positively contribute to economic growth, these benefits will have to be weighed against the likely costs of higher inflation, debt, and deficits.

Over the 25+ years I have been investing, the nature of the stock market and economy hasn’t changed. The emotions of fear and greed rule the day just as much today as they did a century ago. What has changed today is the pace, quality, and sheer volume of news. In the end, my experience has taught me that 99% of what you read, see or hear at the office is irrelevant as it relates to your retirement and investments. What ultimately drives asset prices higher or lower are the four key factors of corporate profits, interest rates, valuations, and sentiment (contrarian indicator) . As you can see from the chart below, corporate profits are at record levels and forecast to accelerate in 2017 (up +11.9%). In addition, valuations remain very reasonable, given how low interest rates are (albeit less low), and skeptical investor sentiment augurs well in the short-run.

16-eps

Source: FactSet

Regardless of your economic or political views, this year is bound to have plenty of ups and downs, as is always the case. With a clean slate and fresh turn to the calendar, now is a perfect time to organize your finances and position yourself for a better retirement and 2017.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com 

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in FB and certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing had no direct position in TWTR or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

January 3, 2017 at 12:17 pm Leave a comment

Shoot Now, Ask Later

940614_83408820[1]

Since the start of 2016, investor sentiment has led to a shoot now, ask questions later mentality. In the court of economic justice, all stocks have been convicted guilty of recession despite the evidence and defense that proves the economy innocent. Even the Federal Reserve Chair Janet Yellen did not prove to be a great public defender of the economy with her comments that negative interest rates are on the table.

With large cap stocks down -13% and small cap stocks losing -25% from 2015, there are a mixture of indicators suggesting a looming recession could be coming. For example, banking stocks, the beating heart of the U.S. economy, saw prices collapse almost -30% from the 2015 highs this week. As CNBC pointed out, “American Airlines (AAL), United Continental (UAL), General Motors (GM) and Ford (F) all sell for five times 2016 earnings” – about a 70% discount to the average S&P 500 stock. As a group, these economically sensitive cyclical stocks grew earnings per share greater than 50%, while their stock prices are down by more than -30% from their 52-week highs. In general, the cyclicals are serving jail time, even though growth has been gangbusters and the current valuations massively discounted.

On the flip side, defensive stocks with little-to-no revenue growth like “Campbell Soup (CPB) trade at 20 times earnings, Kimberly-Clark (KMB) is at 21 times earnings, Procter & Gamble (PG) is at 22 times earnings and Clorox (CLX) is at 25 times earnings. All of these stocks are near 52-week highs.”

Confused? Well, if we are indeed going into recession, than this valuation dichotomy between cyclicals and staples makes sense. Stocks can be a leading indicator (i.e., predictor) of future recessions, but as the famed Nobel Prize winner in economics Paul Samuelson noted, “The stock market has forecast nine of the last five recessions.”

On the other hand, if this current correction is a false recession scare, then now would be a tremendous buying opportunity. In fact, over the last five years, there have been plenty of tremendous buying opportunities for those courageous long-term investors willing to put capital to work during these panic periods (see also Groundhog Day All Over Again):

  • 2011: Debt Downgrade/Debt Ceiling Debate/European PIIGS Crisis (-22% correction)
  • 2012:Arab Spring/Greek “Gr-Exit” Fears (-11% correction)
  • 2013: Fed Taper Tantrum (-8% correction)
  • 2014: Ebola Outbreak (-10% correction)
  • 2015: China Slowdown Fears (-13% correction in August)
  • 2016 (1st Six Weeks): Strong Dollar, Collapsing Oil, interest Rate Hikes/Negative Rates, Weakening China (-15% correction)
  • 2016 (Next 46 Weeks): ??????????

Today’s threats rearing their ugly heads have definite recession credibility, but if you think about the strong dollar, collapsing oil prices, Fed monetary policies, weakening Chinese economy, and negative global interest rates, all of these threats existed well before stock prices nose-dived during the last six weeks. If the economic court is judging the current data for potential recession evidence, making a case and proving the economy guilty is challenging. It’s tough to find a recession when we witness a low unemployment rate (4.9%); record corporate profits (ex-energy); record car sales (17.5 million); an improving housing market; a positively sloped yield curve; healthy banking and consumer balance sheets; sub-$2/gallon gasoline; and a flattening U.S. dollar, among other factors.

Could stock prices be clairvoyantly predicting Armageddon? Sure, anything is possible…but this scenario is unlikely now. Even if the U.S. economy is headed towards a recession, the -20% plunge in stock prices is already factoring in most, if not all, of a mild-to-moderate recession. If the economic data does actually get worse, there is still room for stock prices to go down. Under a recession scenario, the tremendous buying opportunities will only get better. While weak hands may be shooting (selling) first and asking questions later, now is the time for you to use patience and discipline. These characteristics will serve as bullet proof vest for your investment portfolio and lead to economic justice over the long-term.

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) and non-discretionary positions in PG, and KMB, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in AAL, CLX, CPB, F, GM, UAL,  or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

February 13, 2016 at 1:09 pm Leave a comment

Going Shopping: Chicken vs. Beef

Meat Department II

The headlines haven’t been very rosy over the last week, but when is that ever not the case? Simply put, gloom and doom sells. The Chinese stock market is collapsing; the Yuan is plummeting; there are rising tensions in the Middle East; terrorism is rising to the fore; and commodity prices are falling apart at the seams. This is only a partial snapshot of course, and does not paint a complete or accurate picture. Near record-low interest rates; record corporate profits (outside of energy); record-low oil prices; unprecedented accommodative central bank policies; and attractive valuations are but a few of the positive, countervailing factors that rarely surface through the media outlets.

At the end of the day, smart long-term investors understand investing in financial markets is a lot like grocery store shopping. Similarly to stocks and bonds, prices at the supermarket fluctuate daily. Whether you’re comparing beef (bonds) and chicken (stocks) prices in the meat department (stock market), or apple (real estate) and orange (commodities) prices in the produce department (global financial markets), ultimately, shrewd shoppers eventually migrate towards purchasing the best values. Since the onset of the 2008-2009 financial crisis, risk aversion has dominated over value-based prudence as evidenced by investors flocking towards the perceived safety of cash, Treasury bonds, and other fixed income securities that are expensively priced near record highs. As you can see from the chart below, investors poured $1.2 trillion into bonds and effectively $0 into stocks. Consumers may still be eating lots of steaks (bonds) currently priced at $6.08/lb while chicken (stocks) is at $1.48/lb (see U.S. Department of Labor Data – Nov. 2015), but at some point, risk aversion will abate, and consumers will adjust their preferences towards the bargain product.
Equity-Fixed Income Flows 2007-2015-2

Some Shoppers Still Buying Chicken

While the general public may have missed the massive bull market in stocks, astute corporate executives and investment managers took advantage of the equity bargains in recent years, as seen by stock prices tripling from the March 2009 lows. As corporate profits and margins have marched to record levels, CEOs/CFOs put their money where their mouths are by investing trillions of dollars into share buybacks and mergers & acquisitions transactions.

Despite the advance in the multi-year bull market, with the recent sell-off, panic has once again dominated rational thinking. We see this rare phenomenon (a few times over the last century) manifest itself through a stock market dividend yield that exceeds the yield on Treasury bonds (2.2% S&P 500 vs 2.1% 10-Year Treasury). But if we are once again comparing beef vs. chicken prices (bonds vs stocks), the 6% earnings yield on stocks (i.e., Inverse P/E ratio or E/P) now looks even more compelling relative to the 2% yield on bonds. For example, the iShares Core U.S. Aggregate Bond ETF (AGG) is currently yielding a meager 2.3%.

For a general overview, Scott Grannis at Calafia Beach Pundit summarizes the grocery store flyer of investment options below:

Yield Menu 2016

While these yield relationships can and will certainly change under various economic scenarios, there are no concrete signs of an impending recession. The recent employment data of 292,000 new jobs added during December (above the 200,000 estimate) is verification that the economy is not falling off a cliff into recession (see chart below). As I’ve written in the past, the positively-sloped yield curve also bolsters the case for an expansionary economy.

Jobs Jan 2016

Source: Calafia Beach Pundit

While it’s true the Chinese economy is slowing, its rate is still growing at multiples of the U.S. economy. As a communist country liberalizes currency and stock market capital controls (i.e., adds/removes circuit breakers), and also attempts to migrate the economy from export-driven growth to consumer-driven expansion, periodic bumps and bruises should surprise nobody. With that said, China’s economy is slowly moving in the right direction and the government will continue to implement policies and programs to stimulate growth (see China Leaders Flag More Stimulus).

As we have recently experienced another China-driven correction in the stock market, and the U.S. economic expansion matures, equity investors must realize volatility is the price of admission for earning higher long-term returns. However, rather than panicking from fear-driven headlines, it’s times like these that should remind you to sharpen your shopping list pencil. You want to prudently allocate your investment dollars when deciding whether now’s the time to buy chicken (6% yield) or beef (2% yield).

investment-questions-border

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs) including AGG, but at the time of publishing had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

January 9, 2016 at 6:53 pm Leave a comment

“Patient” Prick Proves More Pleasure than Pain

Needle

I will be the first one to admit I hate needles. In fact, I’ve been known to skip my annual flu shots out of cowardice simply to avoid the harmless prick of the syringe. The mere thought of a long needle jabbing into my arm, or other fleshy part of my body, has had the chilling effect of generating irrational decisions (i.e., I forgo flu shot benefits for no logical reason).

For months the talking heads and so-called pundits have speculated and fretted over the potential removal of the term “patient” from the periodically issued Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC) statement. Since the end of 2014, the statement read that the Fed “can be patient in beginning to normalize” monetary policy.

For investors, the linguistic fear of the removal of “patient” is as groundless as my needle fears. In the financial markets, the consensus view is often wrong. The stronger the euphoric consensus, the higher the probability the consensus will soon be wrong. You can think of technology in the late 1990s, real estate in the mid-2000s; or gold trading at $1,800/oz in 2011. The reverse holds true for the pessimistic consensus. Value guru, extraordinaire, Bill Miller stated it well,

“Stocks do not get undervalued unless somebody is worried about something. The question is not whether there are problems. There are always problems. The question is whether those problems are already fully discounted or not.”

 

Which brings us back to the Fed’s removal of the word “patient”. Upon release of the statement, the Dow Jones Industrial index skyrocketed about 400 points in 30 minutes. Considering the overwhelming consensus was for the Fed to remove the word “patient”, and given the following favorable factors, should anyone really be surprised that the market is trading near record highs?

FAVORABLE FACTORS:

  • Queen Dove Yellen as Fed Chairwoman
  • Declining interest rates near generational low
  • Stimulative, low oil prices that are declining
  • Corporate profits at/near record highs
  • Unemployment figures approaching cyclical lows
  • Core inflation in check below 2% threshold

While the short-term relief rally may feel good for the bulls, there are still some flies in the ointment, including a strong U.S. dollar hurting trade, an inconsistent housing recovery, and a slowing Chinese economy, among other factors.

Outside the scandalous “patient” semantics was the heated debate over the Fed’s “Dot Plot,” which is just a 3rd grader’s version of showing the Fed members’ Federal Funds rate forecasts. While to a layman the chart below may look like an elementary school dot-to-dot worksheet, in reality it is a good synopsis of interest rate expectations. Part of the reason stocks reacted so positively to the Fed’s statement is because the “Dot Plot” median interest rate expectations of 0.625% came down 0.50% for 2015, and by more than 0.60% for 2016 to 1.875%. This just hammers home the idea that there are currently no dark clouds looming on the horizon that would indicate aggressive rate hikes are coming.

Source via BusinessInsider

Source via BusinessInsider

These sub-2% interest rate expectations over the next few years hardly qualify as a “hawkish” stance. As I’ve written before, the stock market handled a 2.5% hike in stride when the Fed Funds rate increased in 1994 (see also 1994 Bond Repeat or Stock Defeat?). What’s more, the Fed Funds rate cycle peaked at 5.0% in 2007 before the market crashed in the Great Recession of 2008-2009.

Although volatility is bound to increase as the Federal Reserve transitions out of a six-year 0% interest rate policy, don’t let the irrational fear of a modest Fed hike prick scare you away from potential investment benefits.

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients hold positions in certain exchange traded funds (ETFs), but at the time of publishing, SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

March 21, 2015 at 9:15 am Leave a comment

Supply & Demand: The Lesson of a Lifetime

Solutions

Between all the sporting events, road trips, and parties, I had a difficult time balancing my academic responsibilities just like any other college student. Nonetheless, after a few jobs and a few decades post my graduation, it is refreshing to see my economics college degree was able to teach me one valuable lesson…”supply & demand” actually works.

Emotions and animal spirits can separate fact from fiction in the short-run, but over the long-run, the economic forces of “supply & demand” will ultimately determine the direction of asset prices. If you can think of any bubble market, ranging from tulips and tech stocks (see Bubbles and Naps) to commodities and houses, sooner or later new supply will enter the market, and/or some other factor, which will prick the demand side of the bubble equation.

The same economic rules apply to currencies. Gut-based, day-traders may be skeptical, but economics’ longest enduring axiom shined last week when we saw the Swiss franc spike +20% against the euro in a single day. On the heels of a weakening euro currency and heightened demand for the franc, the Swiss National Bank (SNB) decided to remove its artificial peg to the euro. Effectively, the SNB has been selling francs and buying $490 billion in reserves (the majority of which is in euros and U.S. dollars). As a result, exports of Swiss army knives, watches, and industrial equipment will be more expensive now, which could potentially crimp demand for the country’s goods and services. The SNB, however, could no longer afford to buy euros and dollars to artificially depress the franc. Swiss bankers were very worried about the possible amplified costs of a currency war in the face of this week’s expected European Central Bank (ECB) announcements on quantitative easing (QE) monetary stimulus, so they decided to allow the franc to free-float versus global currencies.

Another asset class heavily impacted by volatile supply-demand dynamics has been the oil market. Weaker demand from Europe/Russia combined with the higher supply from U.S. shale has created a recipe for a crude price collapse (> -50% declines over the last year). Thus far, OPEC (Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) has remained committed to maintaining its supply/production levels.

Interest Rates and Supply-Demand

Not every asset price is affected by direct supply-demand factors. Take for example the stock market. I have been writing and commentating about the fascinating persistence and accelerated decline in global interest rates recently (see Why 0% Rates?). Near-0% rates are important because interest rates are just another name for the “cost of money” (or “opportunity cost of money”). When the Prime Rate was 20% in the early 1980s, the cost of money was high and a 16% CD at the bank looked pretty attractive relative to rolling the dice on volatile/risky stocks. Any economics, finance, or accounting student knows through their studies of the “time value of money” that interest rates have a tight inverse correlation to asset values (i.e., lower interest rates = higher asset values, and vice versa).

More practically speaking, we see stock prices supported by the lower borrowing costs tied to low interest rates. Just look at the $500,000,000,000+ conducted in share buybacks over the past 12 months (chart below). Economics works quite effectively when you can borrow at 3% and then purchase your own stock yielding 6% (the inverse percentage of the current 16x P/E ratio). What makes this mathematical equation even more accretive for corporate CFOs is the 6% rate earned today should double to 12% in 10 years, if a company resembles an average S&P 500 company. In other words, S&P 500 earnings have historically grown at a 7% annual clip, therefore the 6% earnings yield should double to 12% in about a decade, based on current prices. This basic arbitrage strategy is a no-brainer for corporate execs because it provides instantaneous EPS (earnings per share) growth with minimal risk, given the current bullet proof status of many blue-chip company balance sheets.

Source: Financial Times

Source: Financial Times

I have provided a few basic examples of how straightforward supply-demand dynamics can be used to analyze market relationships and trends. Although supply-demand analysis is a great rudimentary framework at looking at markets and various asset classes, unanticipated exogenous factors such regulation, terrorism, politics, weather, and a whole host of other influences can throw a wrench into your valuation conclusions. Until rates normalize, the near-0% interest rates we are experiencing now will continue to be a significant tailwind for stock prices. As interest rates have been declining for the last three and a half decades, it appears I still have time before I will need to apply the other important concept I learned in college…mean reversion.

Investment Questions Border

 

www.Sidoxia.com

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own a range of positions, including positions in certain exchange traded funds positions , but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC Contact page.

 

January 19, 2015 at 7:11 pm 1 comment

Lent: Giving Up the Gold Vice

Source: Photobucket

When it comes to Lent, most Christian denomination followers give up a vice, such as food, alcohol, or now in more modern times…Facebook (FB). Since Lent began on Ash Wednesday this year (February 22, 2012), investors have given up something else – gold (GLD). As a matter of fact, the shiny metal has declined by about -8% since Lent began. Stocks, on the other hand, as measured by the S&P 500, have outperformed gold by more than 10% over this period (the Lent period damage is even worse, if you look at the NASDAQ).

If you go back further in time, the underperformance is more extreme, once you account for dividends, which gold of course does not provide. For example, since the peak of the financial crisis panic in March of 2009, S&P 400, S&P 600, and NASDAQ stocks have outperformed gold by more than +40%. Yet, I am still waiting for the sign-spinning guy at the corner of First St. & Main St. to advertise stock trade-in opportunities. Contrarians may also get a kick out of the top investment CNBC survey too.

Source: Orlando Sentinel

Last Friday’s jobs data was nothing to write home about, so gold cheerleaders might wait for more fiat currency debasement to come in the form of QE3 (i.e., quantitative easing or printing press). But once again, while this potential added monetary stimulus may not be bad for gold, let’s not forget that stocks still outperformed gold under QE1 & QE2.

As I have always stated, I can’t disagree with the inflationary pressures that are brewing. Stimulative monetary and fiscal policies, coupled with emerging market expansion and undisciplined government spending don’t paint a pretty inflationary picture. So if that’s the case, why not focus on other commodities that provide real utility besides just shininess (e.g., agricultural goods, copper, aluminum, oil, and even silver).

The gold bugs may still have a little post-Lent party, until rates start going up and panic insurance premiums go down, but once the Fed’s easing policy stance changes (see Paul Volcker Fed Chairman era) and fiscal sanity eventually returns to Washington, investors may look to another vice to gorge on.

See also some other items to gorge on: CLICK HERE

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds (including small cap ETFs, mid cap ETFs, energy ETFs, commodity ETFs) , but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in GLD, FB, or any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

April 7, 2012 at 10:32 pm 1 comment

Spreading the Seeds of Democracy

Excerpt from Free March Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)

As we bathe ourselves in petroleum products, it is moments like these that highlight our deeply engrained addiction to oil. The flames of fundamental human rights, freedom, and democracy are spreading like wildfire throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result, the cost of living and doing business has gone up. What started as a random plea by a Tunisian fruit merchant in response to insidious corruption (26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself to death in revolt to continuous crooked government bribes) has resulted in a broad wave of protesters removing two authoritarian, autocratic Arab leaders. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have been swiftly cast out by energized protesters, and other repressive leaders are likely bound to topple as well.

Who’s next and when? You’ll have to stay tuned, but Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, is on the short list. Leaders in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Algeria are among the other countries that are feeling the heat too. Even though Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and other aforementioned countries remain relative oil lightweights, fear over a political contagion spreading to more substantive countries like Saudi Arabia has gotten speculators frothing at the mouth, which pushed oil prices above $100 per barrel and gasoline prices to an average of $3.37 per gallon (about $3.60 in California according to AAA motor club).

Source: FT.com - The U.S. population is a fraction of the size of China and India, but we continue guzzling dramatically more crude.

While the bloodshed on the streets has created fodder for great sensationalist headlines for the media outlets, the fact of the matter is that the spread of democracy is nothing new, and the innate desire for basic human rights has never died. Going back to 1900 the world housed about 10 practicing democracies, and today there are arguably more than 100 democratic (and quasi-democratic) countries (see blue line in chart below).

Source: The Financial Times.com

In the U.S., our standard of living has exploded for more than a generation. The internet – and applications like Facebook and Twitter – have flattened the planet and connected the rest of the world to the pleasures available to free, transparent, and open societies. As we have experienced firsthand in Iraq, however, regime changes and moves towards democracy can be messy and costly. Ultimately, the native populations must spearhead the drive toward democratic, political change. Regime change solely rammed through by the U.S. will only create temporary change, and with our fiscal wallets empty, we frankly cannot afford it (see Global Babysitter­).

Embracing Alternatives

We didn’t run out of stones in the Stone Age, and we did not run out of steel in the Industrial Revolution. When it comes to oil, the same principle applies. As globalization accelerates the expansion of democratic, emerging middle classes around the world, other oil-rich countries, like Saudi Arabia, understand the havoc that $100-$125 dollar a barrel has on demand destruction. Just like a drug dealer does not want to scare its addicted users, so too oil producers do not want to price consumers out of the market with high prices. Oil may be the lubricant for global commerce, but unlike the empty promises offered by the Jimmy Carter era in the 1970s, technology advancements in the alternative energy industry have reached critical mass. If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the $17 billion the Chinese are pouring into electric vehicle technology (see Electrifying Profits), or the 20% total energy mandate from renewable sources being instituted in Europe by 2020. Even if we choose to watch from the sidelines and pick our noses, our foreign competitors will wave with delight as they embrace alternative energy resources and race past us. Even if political turmoil temporarily worsens in the Middle East, any additional oil price increases will only make alternative energy resources more economical, and thereby accelerate adoption and make disciples of alternative energy less dependent on some of these oil-rich, corrupt regimes.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

March 1, 2011 at 3:49 am 2 comments

Clashing Views with Dr. Roubini

Sword-Fight

The say keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer. Nouriel Roubini, professor of economics and international business at the NYU Stern School of Business, is not an enemy, but I think his fluctuating views (see previous story) and Armageddon expectations are off base. Perma-bears like Roubini and Peter Schiff (view article) have gloated and danced in the media limelight due to their early but eventually right calls. Over the last seven months or so, their forecasts on the U.S. economy and markets have been off the mark. With that said, even those with competing views at times can find common ground. For Nouriel and I, we currently share similar beliefs on gold (see my article on gold).

Here’s what Professor Roubini has to say:

I don’t believe in gold. Gold can go up for only two reasons. [One is] inflation, and we are in a world where there are massive amounts of deflation because of a glut of capacity, and demand is weak, and there’s slack in the labor markets with unemployment peeking above 10 percent in all the advanced economies. So there’s no inflation, and there’s not going to be for the time being.
The only other case in which gold can go higher with deflation is if you have Armageddon, if you have another depression. But we’ve avoided that tail risk as well. So all the gold bugs who say gold is going to go to $1,500, $2,000, they’re just speaking nonsense. Without inflation, or without a depression, there’s nowhere for gold to go. Yeah, it can go above $1,000, but it can’t move up 20-30 percent unless we end up in a world of inflation or another depression. I don’t see either of those being likely for the time being. Maybe three or four years from now, yes. But not anytime soon.”

 

My thoughts on oil are less bearish, but nonetheless more cautious given the massive price bounce to around $80 per barrel. Could I see prices coming down to $50 like Roubini feels is appropriate? Certainly. With the $100+ per barrel swing we saw last year, I cannot discount completely the possibility of that scenario. However, unlike gold, oil has a much stronger utility value, and based on the slow adoption of more expensive alternative energies, this commodity will be in strong demand for many years to come. The pace of global economic recovery, especially in countries like China, India, and Brazil provide an underlying demand for the petroleum product. In order to understand the underlying bid for this economic lubricant, all one has to do is look at the appetite of emerging economies like China when it comes to this black gold (see my article on China).

And where does Roubini think markets go from here?

“If the recovery of the economy is going to be anemic, sub-par, below-trend and U-shaped, there is going to be a correction. And therefore my view is to stay away from risky assets. Stay in liquid assets. I don’t know when the correction is going to occur, it could be a while longer, but eventually it will be a pretty ugly correction, across many different asset classes.”

 

Perhaps Roubini’s “double dip” fears will eventually come true – and he leaves himself plenty of room with vague loose language – however, I follow the philosophy of Peter Lynch: ‘‘If you spend more than 14 minutes a year worrying about the market, you’ve wasted 12 minutes.” Great companies don’t disappear in challenging markets – they become cheaper – and new innovative companies emerge to replace the old guard.

As much as I would like to be right all the time, that’s not the case. In order to learn from past mistakes and continually improve my process, it’s important to get the views of others…even from those with clashing perspectives.

Read IndexUniverse.com Interview  with Nouriel Roubini Here

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and client accounts do not have direct long or short positions in gold positions, however accounts do have long exposure to certain energy stocks and ETFs. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

October 29, 2009 at 2:00 am 6 comments

From Pond Scum to the Pump

Algae

The “Green” movement got a shot in the arm recently when a $600 million joint venture between Craig Venter, the critical man behind mapping the human genome, and ExxonMobil the oil company (XOM) was formed to engineer oil from green algae. More than half of the money will be directed to Dr. Venter’s La Jolla, California-based biotech firm Synthetic Genomics.

On the surface the announcement is very appealing because it marries the biggest brains in genetic engineering (Venter) with the biggest brains in energy/oil (ExxonMobil). Add hundreds of millions of dollars to this powerhouse dream team and perhaps something miraculous can be commercialized in the next 5 – 10 years. Environmentalists appear to be on board too, if the hype turns to reality, because not only will cleaner fuels be created but the algae production will reduce harmful CO2 (carbon dioxide) emissions from the air. ExxonMobil’s grand scheme is to build algae farms near power plants and other major CO2 emitters –the farms will feed the algae and by doing so will help curb long-term fuel costs for the businesses.

ExxonMobil and Craig Venter are not the only game in town. A scientific article written by Molika Ashford claims there are more than 50 companies trying to affordably squeeze oil  from slime, including a creative way of squeezing oil from algae-eating fish.  

Although the “Greenies” seem to buy into the algae-oil process, the environmentalists are not the only constituency the genetic engineers must appease. The ethical debate over manipulating life forms is already percolating – just think, Frankenstein meets algae. In a newer Bloomberg article, Alison Smith, a professor of plant sciences at the University of Cambridge in England commented on the state-of-the-art research: “It is an untested technology, and there needs to be extensive debate about the ethics and environmental consequences of generating these new organisms.” 

More recently, Dr. Venter performed a  pioneering ‘gene swap’ on a simple species of bacteria called Mycoplasma mycoides, which raised optimism levels even higher that a green, bio-engineered fuel solution is indeed possible. Dr. Venter effectively created a new form of bacteria by swapping DNA from one form of bacteria into another.  Researchers and scientists around the globe are searching for solutions to our worsening global energy problems, however time is required. I will anxiously watch from the sidelines to see if big brains and big oil can come together to make “green gold.”

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper.

Sidoxia Capital Management and its clients did not have any direct position in XOM at the time the article was published. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

September 9, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

Green Loses to Greenback

Dollar

We are currently in a political environment that sees no gray, but rather only sharp contrasts in black and white. As it turns out, these three colors are not the winners or losers – the winner is the almighty “greenback” and the loser is the “green” movement. The so-called environmentally friendly Obama administration recently approved the Alberta Clipper project – a 1,000 mile pipeline being built by Endbridge Energy that is designed to carry 800,000 barrels of fuel from Canada to the U.S.

As our reliance on what New York Times journalist Tom Friedman calls the “petro dictators” has not gone away, the recent decision seems very rational in securing supplies from friendlier neighbors. However, environmental constituents like the Sierra Club feel differently:

“At a time when concern is growing about the national security threat posted by global warming, it doesn’t make sense to open our gates to one of the dirtiest fuels on earth.”
-Carl Pope (Executive Director of the Sierra Club)

 

As far as I’m concerned, we still import about 2/3 of our oil and until alternative energies become more cost effective, we have little choice but to explore a multitude of strategic supply agreements. Canada is a neighbor and ally, therefore the U.S. should not walk away from any similar future agreement that will bring a stable and reliable source of supply. The scarcity of the critical resource and other commodities is evident by strategic deals and acquisitions being made by China and its government (See previous Investing Caffeine article, “The China Vacuum, Sucking Up Assets”).

 As economic hungry emerging markets seek expansionary policies, I expect to see even more of these international types of deals.

The oil-sands region in the Athabasca region (about the size of Florida) of Alberta holds great promise. If you believe famous oil investor/speculator T. Boone Pickens and other pundits, the oil-sands region holds the equivalent amount of reserves as world supply leader Saudi Arabia – about 250 billion barrels.

 Oil-Sands

I concur with recent comments Financial Times article that says the Endbridge Energy deal meets a number of U.S. strategic interests, including:

“Increasing the diversity of oil supplies for the U.S., amid political tension in many major oil-producing regions; shortening the transportation path for crude oil supplies; and increasing crude oil supplies from a major non-Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries producer.”

 

I am not a believer in damaging our environment for the pure sake of profits, however in this competitive global economy I think we need to seek an aggressive dual-source supply of energy (alternative energy AND traditional petroleum/coal products). The fact of the matter is that we have been pursuing solar, wind, nuclear, and other alternative energy resources for decades with very limited success. More financial resources and subsidies must be thrown at these alternative resource possibilities, while we simultaneously seek strategic supplies like this Canadian oil-sands deal.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP®

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management and its clients have direct investment exposure in companies investing in Canadian oil-sand projects (SU) at the time the article was published. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

September 2, 2009 at 4:00 am Leave a comment

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