Friday, July 31, 2009
Thursday, July 30, 2009
Wednesday, July 29, 2009
Tuesday, July 28, 2009
By Bud Conrad and David Galland, Editors, The Casey Report
Many of those in the deflation camp largely, or entirely, ignore the potential role these foreign holders may play in the drama now unfolding. But in fact, foreigners have, over the last decade, been by far the single most important source of buying for U.S. Treasuries.
Given the Treasury’s need to flog on the order of $3 trillion worth of its unbacked paper this year just to keep the government’s doors open – and that is a four- or fivefold increase over 2008 – the foreign buyers not only have to show up for the Treasury auctions, they have to show up in droves.
In mid-July, the Associated Press reported that “Foreign demand for long-term U.S. financial assets dropped by the largest amount in four months in May, as Japan and Russia trimmed their holdings of Treasury securities . . . foreigners actually sold $19.8 billion more long-term U.S. securities than they purchased in May. That compared with net purchases of $11.5 billion in April.”
Below you see the big picture of all cross-border flows in May as published by the U.S. Treasury. It shows both foreign investment in the U.S. and U.S. investment abroad. It includes Treasuries, agencies, corporate bonds, equities, and short-term instruments like T-bills. Foreigners bought a lot of T-bills when the credit crisis became acute.
This should be a serious situation with a big drop in foreign investible funds for meeting U.S. borrowing needs. The borrowing by households and business has dropped close to zero, decreasing demand, while government borrowing has jumped but is still smaller than the private borrowing drop. The Fed has added some lending.
A look at just the longer-term Securities (not T-bills) is even more convincing of the slowing of lending by foreigners:
And here is the breakdown of foreign investment into the U.S. Foreigners only continued to buy Treasuries, shunning new investment and selling off agencies in the riskier real estate market.
It’s not for nothing that the Goldman Sachs Secretary of the Treasury Timothy Geithner is hotfooting it around the world lately, last week to Saudi Arabia and the UAE… last month to China.
The purpose of his trip, Geithner told reporters in Paris, he was doing this tour ”to make sure we keep working with governments around the world to continue to provide enough support to lift this global economy back to a sustained pattern of growth."
But the fact remains that the foreign holders of U.S. dollars have it within their ability – either deliberately or inadvertently as the result of a panic setting in – to literally destroy the U.S. currency.
The latest report shows Russia and longtime monetary ally Japan edging toward the door. China and the oil-exporting nations continue to convert an increasingly moderate amount of their trade surplus into Treasury bills – but not on a nearly large enough scale to meet the inflated (and inflating) borrowing needs of the utterly bankrupt U.S. government. And how long will they continue to show up, when an increasing number of other foreign buyers start selling their Treasuries? No one likes to be the last one to leave a party, especially when the bananas flambé has tipped over on the floor and the curtains are on fire.
Put simply, the only thing now standing between the U.S. dollar holding its own and an almost overnight debasement (and history has shown us that when things go wrong with a currency, they can go wrong very quickly) is the willingness of foreigners to play nice. This was never a threat that the Japanese had to deal with during the worst of their recent dark days, but it’s a very real risk here and now in the United States.
That that risk sits on top of the monetary inflation that has been the steady response of the U.S. government so far – and will continue to be its response as the economy further erodes – is not something to be sniffed at.
On July 17, Bloomberg reported that “China’s finance ministry failed to meet its debt-sale target for a third time in two weeks at a 182-day bill sale, according to traders at Galaxy Securities Co. and China Citic Bank in Beijing. The ministry had tried to sell 20 billion yuan of bills and only sold 18.51 billion yuan, traders said. The average yield for the bills sold was 1.6011 percent, they said.”
Here’s our take on this news item: The problem from the Chinese government's point of view is that they were not able to borrow as much money as they wanted, in the light that they are now spending at a very fast clip with a big stimulus program to keep their own economy (bubble?) growing. So how can they fund the spending? They can sell off the stash of foreign-currency-denominated holdings they are sitting on. That could mean Treasuries dumped on the world market.
There are other alternatives, like getting the People's Bank of China to print up some new money for the government, which would inflate the renminbi (RMB) and decrease its international price and attractiveness. They might like to let the RMB fall to encourage exports and keep relative worker pay low on the world competitive scene. But they are also trying to make the RMB a world currency by itself, so they don't want it to look weak and at risk.
Our guess is that they are selling Treasuries and not telling.
[Ed. Note: In latest news this week, Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao said China “will use its foreign exchange reserves to support and accelerate overseas expansions and acquisitions by Chinese companies.” Jiabao called it China’s “going out” strategy. Going out (with a bang), though, may be a better description of what the U.S. will ultimately do.]
This is what The Casey Report, Casey Research’s flagship publication, does: spotting budding trends in the economy and the markets, and then devising ways to profit from them. A strategy that – as thousands of happy subscribers can vouch for – is paying off... and paying off big. Right now, one of our favorite plays, and surest bets, on the economic quagmire we’re in is an investment that is almost guaranteed to be a winner. Let Casey Chief Economist Bud Conrad tell you all about it in his free report. Click here to learn more.
Monday, July 27, 2009
Rogers is investing in commodities in lieu of equities as a way to play the China story.
Here's a video of his interview on Bloomberg (click the Video tab to view)
Great comments from Jim, as always - he's fired up!
More recent insights from Rogers:
CBM: I’d love to hear a little about your evolution as an investor…what led you to develop this outlook on the investment world?
CBM: OK very cool. That’s a perfect lead-in to MarketFolly, your blog…what inspired you to start it?
CBM: When you started blogging, did you ever imagine you’d develop such a large following? Your readership is huge!
CBM: That's amazing - good for you. So now tell us a little about how you gear MarketFolly towards your readers. Especially as it pertains to your personal research and investment philosophy.
July 27, 2009
By Jeffrey Kennedy
The following is an excerpt from Jeffrey Kennedy’s Trader’s Classroom Collection. Now through August 10, Elliott Wave International is offering a special 45-page Best Of Trader’s Classroom eBook, free.
Methodology. The first phase is that all-too-familiar quest for the Holy Grail – a trading system that never fails. After spending thousands of dollars on books, seminars and trading systems, the aspiring trader eventually realizes that no such system exists.
Money Management. So, after getting frustrated with wasting time and money, the up-and-coming trader begins to understand the need for money management, risking only a small percentage of a portfolio on a given trade versus too large a bet.
Psychology. The third phase is realizing how important psychology is – not only personal psychology but also the psychology of crowds.
But it would be better to go through these phases in the opposite direction. I actually read of this idea in a magazine a few months ago but, for the life of me, can’t find the article. Even so, with a measly 15 years of experience under my belt and an expensive Ph.D. from S.H.K. University (i.e., School of Hard Knocks), I wholeheartedly agree. Aspiring traders should begin their journey at phase three and work backward.
I believe the first step in becoming a consistently successful trader is to understand how psychology plays out in your own make-up and in the way the crowd reacts to changes in the markets. The reason for this is that a trader must realize that once he or she makes a trade, logic no longer applies. This is because the emotions of fear and greed take precedence – fear of losing money and greed for more money.
Once the aspiring trader understands this psychology, it’s easier to understand why it’s important to have a defined investment methodology and, more importantly, the discipline to follow it. New traders must realize that once they join a crowd, they lose their individuality. Worse yet, crowd psychology impairs their judgment, because crowds are wrong more often than not, typically selling at market bottoms and buying at market tops.
Moving onto phase two, after the aspiring trader understands a bit of psychology, he or she can focus on money management. Money management is an important subject and deserves much more than just a few sentences. Even so, there are two issues that I believe are critical to grasp: (1) risk in terms of individual trades and (2) risk as a percentage of account size.
When sizing up a trading opportunity, the rule-of-thumb I go by is 3:1. That is, if my risk on a given trading opportunity is $500, then the profit objective for that trade should equal $1,500, or more. With regard to risk as a percentage of account size, I’m more than comfortable utilizing the same guidelines that many professional money managers use – 1%-3% of the account per position. If your trading account is $100,000, then you should risk no more than $3,000 on a single position. Following this guideline not only helps to contain losses if one’s trade decision is incorrect, but it also insures longevity. It’s one thing to have a winning quarter; the real trick is to have a winning quarter next year and the year after.
When aspiring traders grasp the importance of psychology and money management, they should then move to phase three – determining their methodology, a defined and unwavering way of examining price action. I principally use the Wave Principle as my methodology. However, wave analysis certainly isn’t the only way to view price action. One can choose candlestick charts, Dow Theory, cycles, etc. My best advice in this realm is that whatever you choose to use, it should be simple. In fact, it should be simple enough to put on the back of a business card, because, like an appliance, the fewer parts it has, the less likely it is to break down.
For more trading lessons from Jeffrey Kennedy, visit Elliott Wave International to download the Best of Trader’s Classroom eBook. It’s free until August 10.
Jeffrey Kennedy is the Chief Commodity Analyst at Elliott Wave International (EWI). With more than 15 years of experience as a technical analyst, he writes and edits Futures Junctures, EWI's premier commodity forecasting service.
Paper trading doesn't get you any "live fire" training on overcoming your emotions. It's like trying to learn how to hit a baseball by swinging an imaginary bat. So what's the new trader to do?
Sunday, July 26, 2009
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Saturday, July 25, 2009
Friday, July 24, 2009
By David Galland, Casey Research
At the height of its late 2005 rally, natural gas in the U.S. was selling for just over $16/MMBtu, 350% higher than today’s price of $3.56. The oil/gas ratio, now over 18, is an all-time high… suggesting that natural gas is dirt cheap. So, it’s a buy, right?
In a phrase, not exactly.
According to a recent report by Natural Gas Intelligence, U.S. natural gas available for production “has jumped 58% in the past four years, driven by improved drilling techniques and the discovery of huge shale fields in Texas, Louisiana, Arkansas and Pennsylvania, according to a report issued Thursday by the nonprofit Potential Gas Committee (PGC).”
According to the report, the increase in gas discoveries and production improvements means that North America shouldn’t have to be concerned about gas supplies for up to 100 years!
Dr. Marc Bustin provided an overview of the situation in the May edition of Casey Energy Opportunities.
The numbers currently kicked around are that something around 2,000 trillion cubic feet of gas are technically recoverable in the United States. At current production rates, this supply would last about 90 years.
Some analysts are predicting that even if the U.S. economy recovers in the next year, the amount of gas discovered to date in gas shales will severely dampen any increase in gas price for some time. According to a new study by energy consulting firm CERA (Cambridge Energy Research Associates), new technologies for unconventional gas fields are being applied so successfully that supply is essentially no longer a driver in either production or price in the North American gas market – whatever the market wants, North American gas fields can supply. CERA reports that natural gas production in the Lower 48 states has risen a startling 14% from 2007 to 2008, for example.
Given the increase in production and the small slide in demand, the price of natural gas has fallen to around $3.50-$4.00 per MMBtu (down from $13 per MMBtu last summer). At these prices, many gas prospects are uneconomic, and thus there has been a marked decline in the number of wells being drilled. Rig activity (how many rigs are operating) is down about 50% in North America.
But here is where an interesting feedback mechanism kicks in. One of the characteristics of unconventional shale gas wells, and to a lesser extent natural gas wells in general, is that the production rate declines through time. Most shale wells’ production rates decline 60 to 90% in the first year. If you were a gas company trying to survive amidst today's low prices, the rate of return on your capital investment would also be painfully low for a significant amount of gas if this were your initial year of production.
Another complementary fact is that over 50% of natural gas consumed in the United States today is from wells drilled less than three years ago, and 25-30% of the gas produced today comes from wells drilled last year (Figure 2).
Hence it follows that if there are 50% fewer wells drilled this year (from the drop in rig activity), new production will decline about 35-40% by the end of the year, so there will be gas shortages. Those will in turn lead to higher North American prices, which in turn should lead to additional drilling.
Everything else being equal (which it's not, this being the real, not the mathematical world), gas prices and drilling will see-saw until an equilibrium is reached. In detail, of course, things are more complicated, but it is pretty clear that gas prices will have to rise within the year, and the big losers will remain the more expensive plays that require higher gas prices to be economic.
Where will the gas price end up in the short term? A poll of analysts by Reuters suggests $6 MMBtu in 2010 (Daily Oil Bulletin, May 4, 2009), but I don’t think I would bet on a gas price based on a vote by analysts. At the same time, it's an interesting coincidence (or not – coincidence, that is) that many prospects become economic at around the $6 MMBtu range. Among them are the Haynesville and Marcellus shales – and it's no large leap from there to see their tremendous gas production potential acting as a buffer to gas prices going much higher in the near term.
Marin Katusa, who heads the Casey Research energy team, answers the question by, correctly, cataloging the opportunities according to geography.
In North America:
- Geothermal -- the most interesting of the alternative energy sources, by a wide margin.
- Unconventional gas has, by far, the most upside.
- Unconventional oil.
- Small hydro (such as run of river).
First and foremost, you want to avoid infrastructure plays (pipelines, refineries, etc). Then you want to look for areas with huge oil potential, which have been held off the market by concerns over political risk. I like what Lukas Lundin is doing in Ethiopia, Somalia, and Kenya, hunting for “elephants” with the idea of eventually selling the discoveries off to the Chinese.
- Liquid Natural Gas (LNG)
- Coal Bed Methane (CBM)
Lessons to Learn
There are a couple of useful lessons to be derived by investors looking to tap into the virtually unlimited opportunities in energy.
First, just because something is “cheap” doesn’t mean it can’t stay cheap, regardless of historical ratios -- if there has been a fundamental shift in the supply/demand equation. Which is very much the case with North American natural gas.
Secondly, geological and transport considerations make much of the energy complex a “local” market.
For example, while North America enjoys an abundance of natural gas, Europe is forced to rely on the heavy-handed Russians for the bulk of supplies. As you read this, there are companies looking to break the Russian grip by applying the same unconventional gas technologies that have so successfully built gas supplies in the U.S. -- technologies that are only just now being applied in Europe. Early investors could reap huge profits.
In short, the real opportunities are not found by simply “investing in energy” but rather by taking the time to understand the structural differences within the energy complex and cherry picking the special situations that invariably exist in a sector this large.
David Galland is the managing director of Casey Research, LLC., a private research firm providing independent analysis and investment recommendations to individual and institutional investors in North America and over 100 other countries around the globe. To learn more about the monthly Casey Energy Opportunities advisory, including a special three-month, fully guaranteed trial subscription, click here now.
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