GLOBAL ECONOMICS AND POLITICS

Leo Haviland provides clients with original, provocative, cutting-edge fundamental supply/demand and technical research on major financial marketplaces and trends. He also offers independent consulting and risk management advice.

Haviland’s expertise is macro. He focuses on the intertwining of equity, debt, currency, and commodity arenas, including the political players, regulatory approaches, social factors, and rhetoric that affect them. In a changing and dynamic global economy, Haviland’s mission remains constant – to give timely, value-added marketplace insights and foresights.

Leo Haviland has three decades of experience in the Wall Street trading environment. He has worked for Goldman Sachs, Sempra Energy Trading, and other institutions. In his research and sales career in stock, interest rate, foreign exchange, and commodity battlefields, he has dealt with numerous and diverse financial institutions and individuals. Haviland is a graduate of the University of Chicago (Phi Beta Kappa) and the Cornell Law School.


 

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OIL’S TROUBLED WATERS © Leo Haviland May 18, 2015

Where will petroleum prices voyage over the next several months? Although it is a difficult call benchmark NYMEX and Brent/North Sea crude oil prices probably are establishing a broad range. For NYMEX crude oil (nearest futures continuation), the range is roughly between $40-$45 and $65-$75 per barrel. On balance, crude oil prices probably will venture more to the middle to lower section of that range.

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Petroleum’s supply/demand scene appears especially unsettled and uncertain. Navigating through that territory is challenging. However, “by itself (all else equal)”, the oil picture nowadays and for the near term looks bearish. Is OPEC’s new policy of reducing high-cost (non-OPEC) production succeeding? Not much so far. Despite the dive in drilling rig counts, OECD days coverage levels and the worldwide supply/demand balance for 2015 reveal plentiful petroleum.

Worldwide petroleum inventories generally are lofty and likely to remain so for the next several months. Though global oil consumption will edge up alongside rather modest economic growth, supply probably will exceed demand. Suppose benchmark Brent/North Sea prices (spot; or nearest futures continuation) sustain levels over $50 (and perhaps even $45) per barrel. Suppose non-OPEC production remains relatively high. Then OPEC, led by Saudi Arabia, probably will not alter its current output policy aimed at capturing market share and reducing actual and planned high-cost production in the United States and elsewhere.

Within OPEC, and apart from the policies of Saudi Arabia and its Gulf States allies, production developments from several important nations remain conjectural. Consider Iran, Iraq, and Libya. For example, predicting the outcome of the Iranian nuclear negotiations is hazardous. But even if the talks drag out beyond the end of June 2015, they probably will have a relatively successful conclusion resulting in increased Iranian crude oil production. Iraqi output, despite its civil strife, probably will keep rising. Due to the Libyan civil war, production there currently has little room to fall further. Might it spout higher if a peace agreement is reached? Will Nigeria and Venezuela maintain their current production levels?

Noncommercial participants in petroleum playgrounds also influence oil price trends. Over the past several months, a substantial increase in the net noncommercial long position has helped to propel petroleum prices upward. However, given the oversupply situation in the petroleum battlefield, the net noncommercial length arguably is vulnerable. Its liquidation consequently will pressure oil prices lower.

Uncertainties for marketplace variables “outside” the oil patch of course intertwine with those inside it. These factors appear particularly tumultuous and complicated nowadays, making it especially difficult to forecast petroleum price trends and levels. Petroleum supply/demand and prices are hostage not only to economic growth trends, but also to movements in interest rates, stocks, and foreign exchange. Policies of the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank (currently engaged in massive money printing) and other major central banks matter. Will the Fed ever raise interest rates? What if American stocks ever slump more than ten percent? US dollar weakness in the past few weeks probably has supported oil prices. What if the broad real trade-weighted dollar renews its bull move?

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Oil's Troubled Waters (5-18-15)

US SHARE BUYBACKS: OFF TO THE RACES © Leo Haviland May 3, 2015

How best to explain the monumental ascent in key United States stock benchmarks such as the S+P 500 that began in March 2009? What factors should guide marketplace handicappers in their opinions as to whether or not that bull climb will continue? Marketplace guides select between and evaluate assorted and intertwining variables. Their perspectives and arguments differ. However, considerations such as corporate earnings, sustained highly accommodative monetary policy (interest rate yield repression and money printing), and deficit spending stand out on many lists. In today’s global scene, numerous clairvoyants extend their horizons to include other nations to help understand US equity price levels and patterns. Analysts of American stock movements may also rely on interest rate, US dollar, and commodity price levels and trends. Many players harness technical analysis of marketplace phenomena (for example, picture bar charts and moving averages) to their review.

Some gurus include share buybacks by US corporations in their inventory of bullish factors. Such marketplace observers typically focus on the last several years (or recent calendar quarters) and the billion dollar programs of noteworthy firms.

However, to better assess the influence of share buybacks by US companies, investigators should review them primarily from the standpoint of net, rather than gross, buybacks. The focus should be on whether or not there are net share buybacks (in other words, negative net issues) over a given time span. After all, some firms issue new stock. Moreover, explorers should review buybacks over a long run history as well as in relation to after-tax corporate profits and nominal GDP. Let’s concentrate on the Federal Reserve Board’s nonfinancial corporate business category. When reviewed in the context of corporate profits, but also (and especially) from the standpoint of nominal GDP, US net share buybacks in this domain in recent years have been very substantial. This inquiry reveals not only that net share buybacks (negative net issues) have played a particularly prominent role within that US equity arena in recent times. The noteworthy net buybacks (negative net issues) situation has persisted for a few decades. This longstanding accumulation of shares via net buybacks probably has reduced the amount of shares and thereby probably has had increasingly bullish consequences for US stocks in general.

Even if net share buybacks persist, a significant slowdown in their pace (reduction in their level) probably would be a bearish warning sign for equity signposts such as the S+P 500.
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The sustained yield repression scheme of the Federal Reserve Board and its central banking allies not only has helped to encourage many fortune hunters seeking reasonable (good) returns (yields) to purchase equities. It also has lowered corporate borrowing costs. To what extent do net share buybacks, arguably often financed by corporate debt issues, reflect a widely-embraced management opinion that investment opportunities are relatively unattractive? In this context, remember that many corporations nowadays have large cash hoards not being directly invested in their business.

Everyone knows that corporations can raise funds via issuing stock or debt securities, or by borrowing from banks or similar entities. Diverse motivations surely explain share buybacks. Yet at some companies, executive compensation links to the firm’s share price and earnings per share. So perhaps some undoubtedly altruistic corporate leaders nevertheless have an alluring incentive spurring them to reduce the number of shares outstanding.

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US Share Buybacks- Off to the Races (5-3-15)

ROLLIN’ AND TUMBLIN’ IN US NATURAL GAS © Leo Haviland April 20, 2015

In all marketplace battlefields, a wide variety of storytellers select between (and emphasize differently) an array of variables. They thereby generate diverse bullish and bearish arguments that heatedly compete for allegiance and action. And analysis and trading always are difficult enterprises. However, in the United States natural gas universe nowadays, the noise, smoke, and uncertainty produced by these diverse variables and conflicting perspectives and recommendations make it especially challenging to boldly swear unquestioning loyalty to a particular marketplace viewpoint.

What does historical analysis of major United States natural gas bear marketplace moves (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) in the context of days coverage reveal regarding the ending of the major bear trend that emerged in late February 2014? Perhaps 4/13/15’s 2.475 low was an important trough; however, several days of course remain in April and many key bottoms have occurred around contract expiration. If a noteworthy bottom is not established in calendar April 2015, the most probable time for a major low is in late August/calendar September 2015. NYMEX natural gas reached many important bottoms in late calendar August and September. However, a final low in late summer 2015 would stretch out the February 2014 bear marketplace trend substantially longer than the historical average.

In any case, if NYMEX natural gas prices pierce 4/13/15’s low (nearest futures continuation), that level probably will not be broken by much. Substantial support lurks around 2.40 and 2.20/2.15.
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End March 2015’s 20.0 days of coverage (1471bcf divided by about 73.5bcf/day of full calendar year 2014 consumption), though way up from March 2014’s 12.0 days coverage, dips slightly under the 21.8 days end March 1990-2014 average. It also falls a notable, though not extreme, 4.1 days beneath the nine year 2006-14 average. Thus despite the notable arithmetic stock increase during calendar 2014 build season, the national days coverage inventory picture at the end of winter 2014-15 draw season is slightly bullish.

What’s the bottom line in regard to the natural gas bear trend that began in February 2014 if one concentrates on the natural gas inventory variable? With the NYMEX nearest futures natural gas price currently well under 4.00, this end winter 2014-15 inventory factor “taken by itself”, looks neutral to supportive for gas prices. This fundamental consideration should be interpreted alongside the marketplace history relating to price and time factors.

End October 2015’s 49.5 days coverage level slides 6.3 days beneath the 2006-14 end October average of 55.8 days and 4.1 days under 1990-2014’s 53.6 days. This end October 2015 days coverage total therefore is bullish (even if not wildly so given prospects of increased natural gas production).

Look further out in the murky future to March and October 2016. Although much of course can happen between now and then, potential days coverage nevertheless does not suggest notable oversupply relative to historic averages.

The EIA forecasts end March 2016 inventory at 1704bcf and end October 2016 stocks at 3923bcf. Days cover at end March 2016 will be around 22.3 days (1704bcf/76.3bcf/d). Though this is slightly (.5 day) above the 21.8 day 1990-2014 average, it is 1.8 day less than 2006-14’s 24.1 day average. October 2016’s hypothetical days coverage is 51.7 days (3923bcf/75.8bcf/d. This is about 1.9 days under the 1990-2014 average for that calendar month and 4.1 days beneath 2006-14’s 55.8 day average.

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Rollin' and Tumblin' in US Natural Gas (4-20-15)

AMERICA’S DEBT CULTURE © Leo Haviland April 6, 2015

America continues to have a love affair with debt. The nation has achieved remarkably little progress in improving its comprehensive (all-inclusive) debt situation since 2009’s very elevated debt relative to nominal GDP percentage. Increasing federal indebtedness has substantially though not entirely outweighed modest improvements in the consumer and state and local government domains. As the national government is a representative (democratic; “We, the People”) one, the country has not significantly mended its troubling overall debt problem.

A review of total American credit marketplace debt portrays the development and entrenchment of a national culture of debt. The long run trend toward greater debt holdings (and tolerance of debt) probably indicates and intertwines with a growing bias toward consumption and spending rather than saving. The increasing borrowing and massive debt accumulation arguably in part also probably reflect an increasingly widespread sense of entitlement to American Dream goals of the “good life” and a “better life”.
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Total United States credit marketplace debt at end 2014 stood at about $58.7 trillion (Federal Reserve Board, “Financial Accounts of the United States”, Z.1 data; 3/12/15). The total includes US household, financial and non-financial business, and government debt, plus the relatively small foreign/rest of the world category. Compare 2001’s $29.2tr. Thus America’s credit marketplace debt has doubled in roughly a dozen years, and there has been no yearly fall in the sum since 2001.

What does a long run examination of total United States credit marketplace debt as a percent of nominal GDP reveal? Review the post-World War Two landscape. For over five decades, from the early 1950s up through the glorious Goldilocks Era that ended in 2007, and for a couple of years thereafter, total US indebtedness as a percentage of nominal GDP climbed steadily and substantially.

The bottom in overall US credit marketplace debt as a percent of GDP was 1951’s 129.5 percent. It inexorably edged up for about thirty years. It then started to accelerate from 1981’s 164.1pc. In 1985, it reached 200.3pc, with 1998’s 257.4pc, and 2001’s 275.1pc. In 2003, that measure attained 298.2pc. As debt became increasingly popular, it joyously soared during the blissful Goldilocks period to 346.1pc in 2007. As the gloomy American (and global) financial crisis emerged and proceeded, total US credit marketplace debt peaked at 362.0pc in 2009.

Despite pillow talk from many pundits about improving American debt conditions, that gigantic percentage has fallen only modestly since 2009. It slipped to 349.7pc of nominal GDP in 2010, and 340.6pc in 2012. However, it has diminished very little since then, with 2013 at 338.0pc and 2014 at 337.1pc. Significantly, 2014’s percentage remains not far from the heavenly Goldilocks Era 346.1pc height of 2007.

Another statistic further underscores the growth and persistence of America’s debt culture. Not only is the current credit marketplace debt as a percent of GDP level still historically high and close to the Goldilocks plateau. The arithmetic drop of 24.9 percentage points from the five years 2009 to 2014 (362.0pc less 337.1pc) is only about half the 47.9 point increase over the four years from 2003-07 (298.2 versus 346.1).
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The Federal Reserve’s long-running extraordinary and very easy monetary policy (notably money printing/quantitative easing and interest rate yield repression) seek not only to ignite and sustain economic recovery and buy time for serious action in the federal and other debt realms. The Fed has battled to boost inflation to a supposedly sufficient level, while it has simultaneously repressed debt securities yields. Its artful strategies reflect the central bank’s ardent devotion on behalf of the constituency of debtors (borrowers) relative to the one of savers (creditors).

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America's Debt Culture (4-6-15)