Why Energy Investors Will Get Crushed If They Fail to Look Towards Dubai
The way I see it, U.S. and European energy traders will be lucky if the door doesn't hit them in the backsides as everybody heads for the doors.
Like so many Western investors, they still have their blinders on.
They think that if demand in the U.S. and the European Union (EU) begins to slide that oil prices will fall into the toilet right along with it.
But what they don't see is that Asian oil demand is what actually "drives" the global oil market.
This is why today's investors need to adopt an energy investment strategy focused on what is happening on the other side of the Pacific.
Because what happens there is critical to higher prices and profits here.
First, consider Asian demand.
In the fourth quarter alone, Asian demand increased by 400,000 barrels per day even as consumption in the rest of the world fell by 700,000 barrels a day, according to the International Energy Agency (IEA).
Meanwhile, Chinese demand in particular is so strong that the Red Dragon is set to import more oil than the United States within two years, according to my projections.
And don't take my word for it. Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS) thinks the U.S. will be overtaken by China this year, while the IEA believes it will happen in 2020.
I think that's splitting hairs frankly.
What matters is that Asian oil demand growth is likely to represent a staggering 70% of the world's total oil demand growth this year. Or more depending on which studies you believe.
The Markets or the Mattress: I Know Where My Money is Going
The next 1,000 points on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in either direction are going to be determined by what happens in two cities thousands of miles from our own shores…
Athens and Berlin.
What's more, the risks associated with Europe's redemption, or its failure, are more concentrated now than they were before the crisis began.
There are two reasons: a) Europe won't help itself and b) Wall Street may still have $1 trillion or more in exposure to European problems.
What makes me crazy right now is that European chatter is what's driving the markets.
Every sound bite from Europe is critical these days. Not because there is anything relevant in the political babbling from financial ministers tasked with fixing this mess, but rather that there is a cascade of events that could take us in either direction.
Fix this mess and the markets will take off for a 1,000 point gain that will leave anybody who is on the sidelines hopelessly behind.
Fail and the markets could tank.
It certainly fits the pattern established in recent months. News leaks suggesting solutions have brought on rallies, while negative leaks have caused a ripple effect that has quickly dumped stocks into the hopper.
Yet, it's not really the numbers that matter at the moment – even with the Fed rumored to be considering another $1 trillion stimulus and reports that the European Central Bank (ECB) and International Monetary Fund (IMF) may be seeking as much as $600 billion each.
No. The market swings we are seeing are all about confidence or, more specifically, the near complete lack thereof.
The Mattress vs. The Markets
A recent report from TrimTabs shows that checking and savings accounts attracted eight-times the money that stock, bond and mutual funds did from January to November 2011.
That is a whopping $889 billion that went under "the mattresses" versus only $109 billion that went into the markets.
In fact, CNBC is reporting that the pace of money headed for plain-Jane savings and checking accounts from September to November accelerated to nearly 13-times the average monthly flow rate of the preceding nine months from September to November.
What's significant about this is that the money has headed for the sidelines when the markets have rallied. Usually it's the other way around. Normally money floods into the markets when they move higher.
The other notable thing here is that, generally speaking, up days this year have had thinner volume than down days. This means that most investors just can't handle the swings. In other words, every time the markets dip, they're packing it in.
Pessimism is the Breeding Ground of Opportunity
Bottom line: Investors are making a gigantic mistake – especially those with a longer-term perspective.
Why Weak Earnings Today Could Turn the Bulls Loose Tomorrow
Everybody is hoping for a swell earnings season on the assumption that it will help the markets move higher.
However, if history is any guide, weaker earnings may be just what the doctor ordered.
Obviously we don't want a disastrous set of numbers, but downbeat earnings and guidance actually creates the possibility of more positive surprises that will encourage money to move into the markets instead of away from them.
Think of it this way: When things shift from good to bad there's a distinct aversion to risk and assets flee like they did following the "dot.bomb" blowup in early 2000 and at the onset of the financial crisis in 2007.
But when they go from bad to less-bad, it's human nature to assume things are improving. And that sentiment brings out the bargain hunter in all of us while also drawing money into the markets. That was the case in mid-2002 and just after March 2009, when people were hoping for something – anything really – to get the juices flowing again.
Winning the Expectations Game
Wall Street understands this psychology better than you might imagine. That's why m anipulating earnings and analyst expectations is a science in and of itself.
Everybody denies it happens, but ask nearly any seasoned Wall Streeter and you'll get a sideways glance and a knowing smile.
The wall that supposedly separates the research, investment banking, brokerage and trading functions of any given firm is a plumber's worse nightmare, depending on your perspective.
Former analyst Stephen McClellan notes in his book "Full of Bull" that this is how the game is played.
He says that's why it's important to do what Wall Street does rather than what it says as a means of securing your personal profits.
I couldn't agree more.
Having spent more than 20 years closely involved with the markets, I've learned that Wall Street's blinders, miscues, set-ups and secrets are often more telling than the "telling" itself.
Consider what's happening right now.
According to Standard & Poor's, analysts have raised projections for 366 companies while lowering those associated with another 534 companies. In other words, lowered expectations out number rising expectations by almost 2:1. Bespoke Investment Group notes that all ten S&P sectors have had more negative revisions than positive.
That's in stark contrast to two years ago when analysts were positive at the onset of 2010 for roughly 80% of the market with the exception of healthcare and utilities. Both were viewed as little more than bastard children and cast as negative performers.
As you might expect, many investors bailed out of the latter while rushing into the former. But that turned out to be a mistake — healthcare and utilities were the best performing sectors in 2011.
This doesn't always happen, but it's well documented that Wall Street often says one thing and does another. You'd think at this stage of the game things would be different, but they're not.
Five Stocks to Avoid Like the Plague
There's no better time to take a good hard look at your portfolio than the beginning of a new year.
I know this may not be your first rodeo and chances are you've already done at least a little thinking about how your investments came through 2011, and what you'd like to achieve in 2012.
If not, there's no time like the present.
Especially when it comes to something I call "Ditching the Dogs," which is a variant of the well-known and very popular "Dogs of the Dow." You've probably already guessed from the name that I'm talking about unloading those investments that have underperformed, or which are likely to hold my portfolio back in the next twelve months.
Obviously this is a highly personal process and every investor is different, but here are five stocks I'd avoid like the plague right now (and the reasons why):
1. Sears Holdings Corp. (Nasdaq: SHLD) - Long a bastion of American retailing success, I've been leery of the company for a long time. In fact, I've steered clear of it since hedge fund investor Eddie Lampert used more than a little financial wizardry to create Sears Holdings. At the time, his goal was to tap into the vast real estate empire underlying Sears and subsequently K-mart when that company emerged from bankruptcy and he snapped up shares. The stock hit $190 a share in early 2007 on the assumption that it would.
Now, though, it's a very different story. With real estate in the toilet and the value of his "collateralized" debt circling the drain, he plans to fire employees, cut more than 120 stores and sell property. Same store sales are down sharply as is profitability. Fitch Ratings Inc. has cut the company's bond to junk status, and it's likely to have hundreds of millions in writedowns ahead. I think the company is going to restructure, and net income is going to fall to the tune of billions when now-litigation conscious accountants have their day.
2. Research in Motion Ltd. (Nasdaq: RIMM) – Once the darling of connectivity and a status symbol for the cognoscenti, RIMM's share of the smartphone market continues to evaporate like fog on a hot morning. I recommended shorting the company a few years back but was early to the party on several occasions; somehow the stock seemed to fight back. The stock is down 89.52% from its peak of $144.56 in early 2008 and up a creek without a paddle…and you know which creek I am talking about.
Why China's "Blindside" Could Be A Great Buying Opportunity
There's not a day goes by that I don't see some variation of the theme that China is going to crash, or that somehow that nation will blindside us, and that its markets may fall 60%.
This is like saying the U.S. markets were in for a hard landing in March of 2009 after they had fallen more than 50%. Folks who bit into this argument and bailed not only sold out at the worst possible moment, but then added agony to injury by sitting on the sidelines as the markets tore 95.68% higher over the next two years.
People forget that the U.S. stock market – as measured by the Dow Jones Industrial Average using weekly data – fell more than 89% from 1929 to 1932, more than 52% from 1937 to 1942, and more recently experienced a decline of more than 53% from 2008 to 2009 – and that doesn't even account for four 40+% declines beginning in 1901, 1906, 1916, and 1973.
Each was a great buying opportunity, and following those meltdowns, our markets rose more than 371% from 1929 to 1932, more than 222% from 1949 to 1956, more than 128% from 1937 to 1942, and more than 95.68% in just over two years starting in March 2009 – one of the fastest "melt-ups" in market history.
People forget that world markets dropped 40%-80% in 1987. And as legendary investor Jim Rogers noted earlier this month, that was not the end of the secular bull market in stocks, either.
People forget that our nation endured two world wars, a depression, multiple recessions, presidential assassinations, the near complete failure of our food belt, not to mention the deadliest terrorist attacks the world has ever seen, and more.
And guess what? It's still been the best place to invest for the last 100 years.
So what if China backs off or slows down?
The Asian currency markets blew up in 1997. Mexico's market fabulously went up in smoke during the great tequila crisis of 1994. And Argentina failed to the tune of a 76.9% crash starting in 1997 only to give way to a 1,724.56% rally from 2001 to 2011.
Gold rose by more than 600% in the 1970s, then fell by 50%, which terrified investors at the time. It subsequently rose by more than 850%, something else Mr. Rogers noted in recent interviews, as have I.
China is undoubtedly going to have several hard landings in our lifetime. Despite the fact that China is thousands of years old, modern China is a mere 40 years old, if you consider its opening following the historic Nixon-Kissinger visit in 1972.
And today's China has 1.3 billion people — all of whom want to live the way you do.
It's growing by an average of 9% a year or more and has done so every year for the last 41 years straight. We've just poured an estimated $7.7 trillion into our economy and the best we can do is 2.5%. The European Union (EU) is on track for 0.2% growth in 2012 after trillions in euro backing there.
How Banks Are Using Your Money to Create the Next Crash
In 2008, reckless credit default swaps nearly obliterated the global economy. Now comes the next crisis – rehypothecated assets.
It's a complicated, fancy term in the global banking complex. Yet it's one you need to know.
And if you understand it, you will get the scope of the risks we currently face – and it's way bigger than just Greece.
So follow with me on this one. I guarantee that you'll be outraged and amazed – and better educated. You'll also be in a better position to protect your assets at the end of this article, where I'll give you three important action steps to take. So follow along…
Their Profits on Your Money
Few people know this, but there's a process through which banks and trading houses are leveraging your money to increase their profits – just like they did in the run-up to the last financial crisis. Only this time, things may be worse, as hard as that is to imagine.
Consider: In 2007 the International Monetary Fund (IMF) estimated that this form of "leverage" accounted for more than half of the total activity in the "shadow" banking system , which equates to a potential problem that would put this insidious little practice on the order of $5 trillion to $10 trillion range. And this is in addition to the bailouts and money printing that's happened so far.
Wall Street would have you believe this figure has gone down in recent years as regulators and customers alike expressed outrage that their assets were being used in ways beyond regulation and completely off the balance sheet. But I have a hard time believing that.
Wall Street is addicted to leverage and, when given the opportunity to self-police, has rarely, if ever, taken actions that would threaten profits.
Further, what I am about to share with you is one of main the reasons why Europe is in such deep trouble and why our banking system will get hammered if the European Union (EU) goes down.
And w hat makes this so disgusting – take a deep breath – is that it's our money that's at stake. Regulators like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) and their overseas equivalents are not only letting big banks get away with what I am about to describe, but have made it an integral part of the present banking system.
Worse, central bankers condone it.
As you might expect, the concept behind this malfeasance is complicated. But it's key to understanding the financial crisis and to avoiding a possible global recession in 2012 and beyond.
What we're talking about is something called "rehypothecation."
Most people have never heard the term, but trust me, you will shortly. Let me explain what this is, and why you need to know about it. Then, I'll offer three ideas to trade around it.
Why Mark Mobius is Betting Millions on this Acronym
You may be surprised to learn that some of the world's best investors are buying heavily right now – not because they think we've hit a bottom, or even the bottom, but because they're setting themselves up for the next big run.
Take Mark Mobius, for example.
Long regarded an emerging markets pioneer, Mobius is in charge of more than $50 billion worth of assets on behalf of Franklin Templeton. Lately, he's snapping up Romanian real estate, Nigerian banks, Kazakhstani oil companies and more.
There are many reasons, but basically it comes down to this: Despite the fact that emerging markets returned almost 250% from 2001 to 2010, the old playbook no longer works.
And I have to be careful when I say that because many investors will blithely assume that emerging markets are dead. They're not – it's just time to redraw the map because the best opportunities are no longer where you'd expect.
It's no longer about the BRICs (Brazil, Russia, India, and China), for example. Sure these countries remain great places to stake your claims on the wealth of newly found purchasing power and consumerism, but it's the so-called MINTs (Mexico, Indonesia, Nigeria, and Turkey) that may offer a faster route to riches.
Or the Next 11, or N-11, as Jim O'Neill, the economist who coined the term "BRICs" a decade ago, calls them. The N-11 is basically the MINTs plus Bangladesh, the Philippines, and Pakistan plus a few more countries on the fringe of "civilized" thinking.
Then there's the VISTA (Vietnam, Indonesia, South Africa, Turkey, and Argentina) nations and the CIVETS (Colombia, Indonesia, Vietnam, Egypt, Turkey, and South Africa).
Yes. For the first time in modern history, emerging markets are no longer completely dependent on Western economies nor demand, a point you've heard me make repeatedly in the past. At the risk of sounding like a broken record, this gives them an unprecedented range of options largely independent of the political, financial, and economic swamp the developed markets have become.
This is not the kind of thing you're going to pick up on in the mass media, but every single one of those nations is set for a runaway investment boom because they are advancing faster than almost everybody expects.
In fact, many of the big investing houses like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), Fidelity, HSBC Holdings PLC (NYSE ADR: HBC) and others feel the same way I do – that the MINTs and N-11 have the potential to be every bit as profitable over the next 10 years as the BRICs were over the past 10 years.
Should You Worry About Europe's Back Door Bank Run?
On Wednesday, Fitch Ratings Inc. downgraded its credit ratings on five of Europe's biggest banks, and while that decision made headlines, it's not the most important story to come out of Europe this week.
The real story, which the mainstream media is neglecting, is that there are signs of an underground run on Europe's banks.
Almost nobody's talking about it, but there are indications money is already moving out of the European Union (EU) faster than rats abandoning a sinking ship.
Not through the front door, mind you. There are no lines, no distraught customers and no teller windows being boarded up – not yet, anyway.
For now the run is through the back door, and there are four things that make me think so:
- Italy's planned ban on cash transactions over 1,000 euros, or about $1,300.
- French, Spanish, and Italian banks have run out of collateral and are now pledging real assets.
- Swiss officials are preparing for the end of the euro with capital control measures.
- Europe's CEOs are actively preparing for the end of the euro despite governmental reassurances.
Signs of a Run
Let's start with Italy and Prime Minister Mario Monti's plans to restrict cash transactions over 1,000 euros (down from the current limit of 2,500 euros, or about $3,200).
Ostensibly the move is about reducing tax evasion by prohibiting the movement of large sums of cash outside the official transactional system, but I think it speaks to something far more sinister – namely that the Italian government knows things are going to get far worse than they're publicly admitting.
Consider: Cash is a stored value mechanism. There's not a lot of it because at any given point in time, most of it is on deposit with banks in any country. That's as true in Italy as it is here in the United States when real interest rates are positive during "healthy" times.
But when real interest rates turn negative, people are likely to withdraw cash and stuff it quite literally under mattresses or in coffee tins. (Real interest rates are the official lending interest rates as adjusted for inflation.)
In such an environment, holding cash in a bank becomes nothing more than an imputed tax and a disincentive for deposits. It's also a significant thorn in the side of central bankers who want to control their country's money supply, because cash can operate outside the system and, specifically, logjam reform efforts.
The reason is really pretty simple. If you have negative real interest rates, and cash transactions are largely restricted or removed altogether, then the only way to effectively use cash is to withdraw it and spend it… immediately.
In other words, by limiting cash transactions to 1,000 euros or less, Italy is putting into place a punitive financial control fully intended to keep money moving in a system lest it become worthless or worse – hoarded and worthless.
Now let's move on to banks.
Many investors have never thought about it before, but there are really only three sources of funding for a bank:
- Money that's effectively "lent" to the bank by customers placing their assets on deposit;
- Short-term money market funds;
- And long-term bonds or securitized products based on long-term paper sold to bond investors.
Together, the three funding sources are like the legs on a stool – lose any one of them and the stool will topple over because it is no longer balanced. Cut the legs down and the stool collapses – that's what is happening now.
Maverick Judge Jed Rakoff Stares Down The Street
One of the biggest problems with Wall Street's malfeasance is how the ruling elite view legal settlements – as little more than an acceptable cost of doing business.
Well, no more.
Thanks to Judge Jed Rakoff we may see some real regulatory action leading to good old-fashioned investigations, perp walks, and even jail for the guilty.
Judge Rakoff recently rendered a 15-page decision rejecting the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) $285 million settlement with Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) over toxic mortgages, calling it "neither reasonable, nor fair, nor adequate, nor in the public interest."
This is important because settlements like these have been a farce for years – little more than the financial equivalent of a parking ticket and having about as much impact.
In fact, in a world where banking secrecy is paramount and investment firms like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (NYSE: GS), JPMorgan Chase & Co. (NYSE: JPM), Bank of America Corp. (NYSE: BAC) and others rule the roost, they're little more than obfuscations of the truth.
The investigations into these banks are toothless or highly secretive at best. Rarely does the public see anything even remotely resembling full disclosure.
Instead we're supposed to be placated by headlines insinuating that the SEC, the National Futures Association (NFA) and more than 20 other regulatory agencies are looking out for our best interests.
Who are they kidding?
A Drop in the Bucket
Remember the $550 million fine Goldman was forced to pay for its role in toxic credit default swaps (CDOs)? At the time it was the largest ever levied.
SEC officials couldn't stumble over themselves fast enough nor get enough sound bites. I recall lots of PR shots with earnest-looking people evidently proud of themselves for having made Goldman pony up at the time.
And the mainstream press loved it. But there was one tiny problem.
The firm booked $13.3 billion that year. Paying off the SEC in a settlement that neither admitted nor denied wrongdoing was an acceptable cost of doing business that amounted to a mere 4% of revenue.
The proposed Citi settlement was much the same. It would have required Citi to give up $160 million of alleged ill-gotten profits, $30 million of interest, and a $95 million kicker for negligence.
Bear in mind, Citi reported full-year net income of $10.6 billion on revenue of $60.5 billion in 2010 which means that, like the Goldman fine, the settlement is a drop in the bucket at a mere 1.50% of net income.
I think Judge Rakoff's ruling has been a long time coming. [To continue reading, please click here...]
Why the Fed's Latest Rescue Effort is Doomed
World markets got a nice tailwind yesterday (Wednesday) on news that the U.S. Federal Reserve is stepping into the fray along with other central banks to boost liquidity and support the global economy.
Of course it's nice to see stocks get a hefty boost, but to be honest I'd rather see them rising on real news.
Not that this isn't a good development in terms of stock values – but come on, guys. When things are so bad that the Fed has to step into global markets and bail out the other bankers in the world who can't wipe their own noses, we have serious problems.
Think about it.
The Fed is going to collaborate with the European Central Bank (ECB), the Bank of England (BOE), the Bank of Japan, the Swiss National Bank and the Bank of Canada (BOC) to lower interest rates on dollar liquidity swaps to make it cheaper for banks around the world to trade in dollars as a means of providing liquidity in their markets.
Put another way, now our government is directly involved in saving somebody else's bacon at a time when, arguably, we don't have our own house in order.
The Fed is cutting the amount that it charges for international access to dollars effectively in half from 100 basis points to 50 basis points over a basic rate.
The central bank says the move is designed to "ease strains in financial markets and thereby mitigate the effects of such strains on the supply of credits to households and businesses and so help foster economic activity."
Who writes this stuff?
Businesses are flush with more cash than they've had in years. The banks are, too. But the problem is still putting that cash in motion — just as it has been since this crisis began.
From Bad to Worse
I've have written about this many times in Money Morning. You can stimulate all you want with low rates, but if businesses cannot see a reason to spend money to turn a profit, they won't. And there's going to be little the government can do to encourage them to spend the estimated $2 trillion a Federal Reserve report estimates they're sitting on.
Similarly, if banks cannot see a reason to lend with reasonable security that loans will be repaid, they won't. And there's nothing the central bank can do about it, either. Neither low interest rates nor low-cost debt swaps will change the fact that companies and individuals are shedding debt as fast as they can despite the cost of borrowing being almost zero.
If anything, the Fed's newest harebrained scheme is going to make things worse. Absent profitable lending, many banks are already turning to bank fees and – like the airlines that are widely perceived to be nickel-and-diming passengers – this is understandably irking customers. Many are changing banks as a result, further fueling a negative feedback loop.
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