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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“(All down the line.) We’ll be watching out for trouble, yeah.”
The Rolling Stones, “All Down the Line”
NYMEX natural gas (nearest futures continuation) probably will remain in a sideways trend between 2.40/2.50 and 3.20/3.45 over the next few months. However, United States natural gas inventories from the days coverage perspective (stocks relative to consumption) are much lower than the historical average. Suppose economic growth remains moderate and that commodity prices in general (and those in the petroleum complex in particular) do not collapse. This natural gas inventory situation, assuming it persists, makes it probable that the marketplace eventually will ascend over 3.20/3.45 toward major resistance around 4.00/4.10. The most likely achievement of a flight to 4.00/4.10 is around winter, whether that of winter 2018-19 or thereafter. A colder than normal winter (or even belief such will occur) boosts the chances of such a spike. If widespread expectations of upcoming massive US natural gas production increases are disappointed, that also likely will rally prices above 3.20/3.45 and toward 4.00/4.10.
Over the past year or two, the natural gas industry probably has shifted toward a lower level of desired (“appropriate”, “reasonable”, “normal”, “prudent”, “sufficient”) stock holding relative to historical averages. Why? One factor probably is faith that calendar 2018 (and subsequent) gas production will remain far over that of calendar 2017. So many players probably believe there “always (or almost always) will be enough gas around”. Another variable likely encouraging lower inventory in days coverage terms is the substantial expansion of America’s pipeline infrastructure. Thus it has (will) become easier to move sufficient gas to many locations where it is needed. Moreover, the growing share of renewables in total US electricity generation arguably to some extent reduces the amount of necessary natural gas inventories.
These structural changes in the US natural gas marketplace apparently have shifted the natural gas inventory management approach to more of a “just in time” (lower inventories) relative to a “just in case” (higher stockpiles) method.
However, the natural gas inventory situation nevertheless appears somewhat bullish. Even if the “reasonable” level of industry holdings of natural gas inventories has tumbled relative to historical benchmarks in days coverage by a few days, prospective levels for October 2018 and October 2019 nevertheless appear “low” relative to “normal” totals, particularly from the perspective of the winter stock draw period.
Arguably many natural gas marketplace participants are overly complacent regarding the availability of supplies, particularly in periods of high demand. Imagine a colder than normal winter. Emerging worries that available supply (whether in days coverage or arithmetical terms) is or may be tight can inspire heated scrambles to procure it.
Energy Information Administration (“EIA”) statistics indicate that calendar 2019 US liquefied natural gas (LNG) net exports will be substantial (notably higher than net LNG exports in 2017 and 2018). This net foreign demand for LNG will tend to tighten the US inventory situation. Also note that in calendar 2017 and 2018, America was a net importer of natural gas via pipeline; in calendar 2019, the US becomes a net exporter via pipeline.
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US Natural Gas- Waiting for Fireworks (7-3-18)
Not long after July 2008’s major peak in crude oil prices, the European Central Bank President, Jean-Claude Trichet, declared that “predictions of the future prices of commodities are probably the most difficult exercise you can imagine.” (“Introductory Remarks with Q&A”, 8/7/08)
OPEC, finally fearful of sustained low petroleum prices and renewed price slumps, troubled by elevated oil production and lofty inventories, formally met 9/28/16 in Algiers. The ministers established a crude oil production target range of 32.5 to 33.0 million barrels per day, beneath estimated September 2016 production of around 33.5mmbd. This agreement reflects a Saudi Arabian policy shift. That nation and its allies apparently will no longer countenance (risk) benchmark Brent/North Sea crude oil prices under around $35 to $40 per barrel for an extended period. OPEC ministers have engaged in dialogue with non-OPEC oil producers regarding output schemes. OPEC gathers 11/30/16 in Vienna. Output apparently will not be cut prior to the November meeting (Financial Times, 9/30/16, p20).
OPEC’s rhetoric and general policy approach likely will help support Brent/North Sea at prices around a $35-$40 range. However, for the near term, OPEC’s actions thus far in the context of the global supply/demand picture probably make it challenging for petroleum prices to sustain elevations more than a few dollars above their mid-October 2016 levels (on a nearest futures continuation basis, Brent/North Sea crude oil around $54, NYMEX around $52). Why? First, OPEC has not adopted specific country-based output reductions. Moreover, given ongoing quarrels within the organization, whether it will do so in November 2016 or even implement them in practice is uncertain.
In addition, actual OPEC crude production of 32.5/33.0mmbd probably will begin cutting oil stockpiles only by sometime around mid-2017.
Ongoing serious dialogue with crucial non-OPEC producers such as Russia represents a victory for OPEC. Suppose production cuts by notable non-OPEC nations combined with genuine OPEC discipline; that probably would help to rally prices above recent highs. The Saudi Arabian oil minister claimed that many nations will join OPEC in cutting production (Bloomberg, 10/19/16). However, he did not name names. If non-OPEC countries support OPEC measures, it is not nearly as clear as the Saudi minister claims that non-OPEC lands will slash output. A production freeze by Russia (and perhaps Mexico and other emerging marketplaces) is more likely, but even that is not certain. Russia’s President suggests his country is “ready to join the joint measures [freeze or production cut] to cap production” (Financial Times, 10/11/16, p20). Recall the 2/16/16 output freeze conversation between Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Venezuela, and Russia did not result in a production cut.
THE PETROLEUM RALLY: IS AN INTERMISSION APPROACHING?
Key resistance for NYMEX crude oil (nearest futures continuation) is the $51 to $52 band. The recent high was 10/19/16’s $51.93. This inched over 6/9/16’s $51.67 and represents nearly a 100 percent rally from February 2016’s $26.05 bottom. Brent/North Sea’s (nearest futures) high was 10/10/16 at $53.73 (6/9/16 top $52.86). Although petroleum and American natural gas do not always travel in similar fashion (“move together”), this crude oil timing parallels 10/13/16’s NYMEX natural gas top around 3.37. Although NYMEX crude oil prices have not fallen far from 10/19/16’s elevation, a five percent drop gives about $49.35, a ten pc one around $6.75.
Remember that OPEC, despite its enthusiastic September 2016 wordplay, and despite its making progress in dialogue with some non-OPEC members, does not have a well-defined (specific) production agreement (with specific quotas) yet. Its current crude oil output remains high.
A weaker US dollar arguably assists petroleum price rallies. But although the broad real US TWD (monthly average, Federal Reserve, H.10) is moderately weaker than its January 2016 pinnacle, the TWD remains strong. At 97.9 in September 2016, it stands above March 2009’s 96.8 major top (S+P 500 major low in March 2009).
The new record high in the S+P 500, 8/15/16’s 2194, surpasses 5/20/15’s noteworthy pinnacle at 2135, but not decisively (only by 2.8pc). The MXEF (emerging stock marketplaces) remains beneath its 4/27/15 top at 1069 (as well as previous highs in its downtrend: 1212 on 4/27/11 and 1104 on 9/4/14).
There are some signs of rising government interest rates, at least in the United States. The UST 10 year note is around 1.75 percent, up from 7/6/16’s 1.32pc. See “Running for Cover: Foreign Official Holdings of US Treasury Securities” (10/13/16). Although the Fed probably will not raise the Federal Funds rate in its 11/1-2/16 meeting (prior to the 11/8/16 US election), it may elect to do so in its 12/13-14/16 gathering.
Global economic growth remains relatively sluggish. Significant sovereign or corporate debt problems exist in many important countries.
Sometimes significant patterns and heights in net noncommercial petroleum positions can be in rhythm with important oil price trends. The current net noncommercial long position in petroleum is extremely substantial and probably is vulnerable to liquidation. A widespread run for the exits by such noncommercial longs likely would undermine petroleum prices.
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Playing in the Band- OPEC and Oil Prices (10-25-16)
OVERVIEW AND CONCLUSION
Cultural viewpoints (including variables selected, organized, and assessed) regarding the past and present or focused on an anticipated future reflect opinions, not science. Moreover, marketplaces “themselves” are not unchanging or Natural phenomena. In any case, marketplace history does not necessarily repeat itself, whether entirely, partly, or at all.
The United States natural gas build season spans roughly from the end of calendar March to the end of calendar October. America’s natural gas 2016 inventory build season, including its price trends, although it has several more months to run, nevertheless presents several parallels with 2012’s build season. Assuming inventory forecasts for the balance of the 2016 build season come true, one crucial similarity between 2012 and 2016 will be substantially diminishing US natural gas oversupply over the course of build season.
The winters of 2011-12 and 2015-16 not only ended with massive supplies, but also completed long-running major bear trends. In commodity arenas, all else equal, and absent some revolutionary developments on the supply or demand side, there is some tendency for gigantic oversupply (mammoth inventories) accompanied by sustained depressed prices eventually to be reversed by falling production, increasing demand, or both. In natural gas, if prolonged bullish weather patterns appear (such as a torrid summer or frigid winter), they obviously can help to minimize the bearish oversupply situation or transform it to a bullish one.
Also, although natural gas price trends do not always closely intertwine with those of the petroleum marketplace (or commodities “in general”), or with other financial playgrounds such as stocks, currencies (especially the US dollar), and American government and other benchmark interest rates, they can entangle with them. In second half 2012, important stock and commodity marketplaces rallied and the dollar paused in its appreciation. In mid-first quarter 2016, a similar “overall” phenomenon occurred. In both time periods, ongoing or anticipated (eventual) monetary easing by key central banks likely assisted the bull moves in stocks and commodities, including natural gas.
Finally, at times the CFTC’s Commitments of Traders reveals patterns for noncommercial participants (investors, speculators) in natural gas relevant for assessing price trends. The net noncommercial positions in the later stages of the bear trends which ended in 2012 and 2016 present roughly similar patterns.
From the historical distance (price move) perspective, ten major NYMEX natural gas bear moves prior to 2014-16’s tumble traveled an average of 65.9 percent. For the seven collapses beginning with the December 1996 one, the average downturn is 70.4pc. From the time parameter, the average decline for the 10 big bear moves was about nine and three-quarter months. For the most recent seven major bear moves preceding the one that began in February 2014, the duration averages about eleven and one-quarter.
The collapse from 2/24/14’s 6.493 major high to 3/4/16’s 1.611 low was 75.2 percent and just over 24 months. Thus the price move traveled moderately farther than average. Significantly, the two year decline since February 2014’s summit was more than twice as long as average major bear trends, surpassed only by the January 2010 to April 2012 crash (during which the price fell 68.9pc). Thus from the interrelated price and time variables (nearest futures continuation basis), and though history is not destiny, a major change from the long-running bear trend that commenced in February 2014 probably occurred following 3/4/16’s low.
Also note that March 2016’s 1.611 level stands within a range of other important support. Recall not only 4/19/12’s major low at 1.902, but also the double bottom of 1.85 (1/28/02)/1.76 (9/26/01), a trough at 1.735 on 9/5/96 alongside a low at 2/24/97 at 1.68, and 1998-99’s bottom (8/27/98 at 1.61/2/26/99 at 1.625). Also, the March 2016 trough did not break 12/18/15’s interim low at 1.684 by much.
Moreover, from a calendar day viewpoint, March 4 is within several days of the February dates for the important late February bottoms of 1997 (2/24/97 at 1.68) and 1999 (2/26/99 at 1.625). In addition, the March 2016 low is a two year diagonal time move relative to the late February 2014’s pinnacle.
“US Natural Gas: Traveling Forward” (6/13/16) emphasized: “The United States natural gas (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) major bear trend that followed 2/24/14’s major peak at 6.493 ended with 3/4/16’s 1.611 bottom. What if a torrid summer 2016 dramatically reduces the stock build total and thus helps containment fears for end build season 2016 to disappear? Then prices likely will not revisit the 1.60/1.90 range, but instead will maintain their ascent toward [the significant resistance range of] 3.10/3.45… The US natural gas supply/demand perspective over the so-called long run is moderately bullish. Assuming normal winter 2016-17 weather, moderate US economic growth, and no renewed collapse in the overall commodities complex (particularly petroleum), gas prices probably will march higher.”
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Parallels in US Natural Gas- 2012 and 2016 Build Seasons (7-4-16)
Bob Dylan’s song “All Along the Watchtower” states:
“’There must be some way out of here,’ said the joker to the thief
“’There’s too much confusion, I can’t get no relief’”.
The United States natural gas (NYMEX nearest futures continuation basis) major bear trend that followed 2/24/14’s major peak at 6.493 ended with 3/4/16’s 1.611 bottom. For the next several months, however, natural gas likely will remain in a sideways pattern. The probable range for the United States natural gas marketplace remains a relatively broad avenue between major support at 1.60/1.90 and significant resistance at 3.10/3.45. This sideways outlook partly results from two currently contending marketplace stories.
For the near term, substantial natural gas oversupply exists, weighing on prices. Containment risks still loom for end of build season 2016. If noteworthy containment problems erupt, March 2016’s bottom may be attacked, even though current prices hover significantly above 1.60/1.90 and even if an assault on that support does not last for much time. What if a torrid summer 2016 dramatically reduces the stock build total and thus helps containment fears for end build season 2016 to disappear? Then prices likely will not revisit the 1.60/1.90 range, but instead will maintain their ascent toward 3.10/3.45.
The US natural gas supply/demand perspective over the so-called long run is moderately bullish. Assuming normal winter 2016-17 weather, moderate US economic growth, and no renewed collapse in the overall commodities complex (particularly petroleum), gas prices probably will march higher.
NATURAL GAS: (PARTLY) DANCING IN STEP WITH OTHER MARKETPLACES
Natural gas prices often travel substantially independently of both petroleum (and commodities “in general”) and so-called “international” or “financial” marketplaces and variables. Trend changes in NYMEX natural gas need not roughly coincide with one in the petroleum complex or commodities in general, or currency, stock, or interest rate playgrounds.
However, especially since mid-to-late June 2014 (NYMEX natural gas nearest futures interim high 6/16/14 at 4.886) and into calendar 2015 (gas interim top 5/19/15 at 3.105), bearish natural gas price movements intertwined with those in the petroleum complex (and commodities in general) and the bull move in the broad real trade-weighted US dollar. Such natural gas retreats to some extent paralleled slumps in emerging marketplace stocks. Note also the timing coincidence between May 2015’s natural gas top and the S+P 500’s 5/20/15 peak at 2135. In regard to the timing of the S+P 500’s May 2015 high, the nominal broad trade-weighted dollar (Federal Reserve, H.10, which has daily data) made an interim low at 112.8 on 5/15/15 before appreciating further.
The recent low in NYMEX natural gas nearest futures, 3/4/16’s 1.611, occurred fairly close in time to the first quarter 2016 peak in US dollar and an assortment of notable intertwined 1Q16 lows in other important marketplaces. The trend shifts (price reversals) in first quarter 2016 in various marketplaces assisted the upward move in natural gas that emerged in early March 2016.
**The broad real trade-weighted United States dollar (monthly average) peaked at 101.2 in January 2016; the nominal TWD (which has daily data) established a top 1/20/16 at 126.2 (Federal Reserve, H.10).
**NYMEX crude oil (nearest futures continuation): bottoms $26.19 on 1/20/16 and $26.05 on 2/11/16.
**Broad Goldman Sachs Commodity Index (GSCI): 268 on 1/20/16. January 2016’s GSCI low occurred midway between the calendar month times of its 2008-09 bottom (12/24/08 at 308 and 2/19/09 at 306).
**S+P 500: Note the sharp rally from lows of 1812 on 1/20/16 and 1810 on 2/11/16.
**MXEF (MSCI emerging stock markets index; Morgan Stanley): 687 on 1/21/16, 708 on 2/12/16.
**Ten year US Treasury note: 1.53 percent yield low 2/11/16.
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US Natural Gas- Traveling Forward (6-13-16)