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The Elephant in the room

 

Mid-term elections are less than two weeks away. Issues, for the most part, have fallen bye the wayside as pure politics runs amuck. No wonder voter turnout is traditionally so poor in this midterm madness. read more…

So far, so good

 

This week’s behavior in the stock market went according to plan. We broke through several technical supports, reached a fairly critical level, and then bounced back. However, October isn’t over and the probability that we experience more downside remains high. Here’s my take on the week ahead. read more…

OPEC’s oil ploy

OPEC’s oil ploy

Over the last four months Americans have received an early Christmas present. The price of oil has dropped precipitously, benefiting both corporations as well as the consumer. But that could be a two-edged sword for this nation.

Brent crude, the global oil benchmark in the futures market, has declined 23% since its June price of $115/bbl. Today it is trading below $83/bbl. providing an enormous windfall in cost savings for all of us. The retail price of gasoline has dropped 15% during the same time period to a national average of $3.17/gallon. Every one-cent decline in gas prices equals about a $1 billion drop in energy spending, according to economists. So we have all just received what amounts to a tax cut that has gone directly into our pockets.

That’s the good news. The bad news is that many of the same economists believe the reason prices have fallen so quickly is the deteriorating state of the global economy. Slower growth equals less demand for oil, all things being equal. As such we find ourselves with an oversupply of oil.

Now usually, OPEC, which controls the lion’s share of oil production worldwide, would begin to throttle down the amount of oil produced per day. There would be meetings and all the disparate members of this energy cartel would decide what cut backs are necessary in order to prop up energy prices. This time around no such agreement is contemplated.

Instead, Saudi Arabia, the energy colossus, has been quietly telling the oil market that they would be quite comfortable with even lower prices for an extended period of time. Behind the scenes, they have said that $80/bbl. for a year or two would be just fine with them even though that level of pricing would hurt all OPEC members, and some more than others. Venezuela, for example, is in such bad shape that oil at that level would probably force the country into bankruptcy.

So what, you might ask, is the reason for this change in strategy?  OPEC recognizes that a new competitor is emerging in the form of United States energy independence. Readers may be surprised to learn that the U.S. has emerged as the number one oil producer in the world, even as it maintains the same spot in energy consumption. We can thank new technology, such as oil and gas fracking, for the turnabout in our energy prospects.

OPEC competitors would like to slow the rate of production here at home, thereby reducing our competitive edge. The best way to do that is by lowering prices. As prices drop certain sources of energy such as fracking and tar sands become less economical in comparison. Industry experts figure that a drop to $75/bbl. in oil would begin to curtail drillers and producers from developing additional fracking wells. The fracking industry has become much more cost sensitive since the early days of 2003. There has been so much capital sunk into the cost of expanding this output that any price change in oil impacts the bottom line much faster.

Investors are well-aware of that risk which explains why many energy stocks have dropped 25-30% over the last month. By keeping prices low for a year or two, OPEC could effectively gut much of the growth in energy production here at home.  I suspect that is their game plan going forward.

There are other negative implications if OPEC succeeds in their plan. The U.S. oil and gas sector has added over 400,000 jobs since 2003. Some estimate that another 1-2 million jobs have been created in construction, manufacturing and transportation to support our drive for energy independence. As a result, although the cost savings in energy consumption might contribute a 0.03% gain to GDP growth, the hit to Americas as a result of a decline in the energy sector could be far greater.

 

 

 

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A road to the future

 

There is a growing national buzz among scientists and engineers over a driveway in Idaho.  This green-hued stretch of hexagonal tiles of hardened glass in an Idaho suburb represents one prototype idea for revolutionizing the nation’s highways. It could be a road to the future.   read more…

The Last Hurrah

 

This holiday-shortened week saw all three market averages grind higher. At the same time, interest rates declined to levels not seen since the Fed announced their intent to taper stimulus last spring.  Welcome to the new world where both bond and stock investors make money. read more…

Holy Cow

 

While shopping for my Memorial Day cook-out last weekend, I experienced a lethal dose of sticker shock.  Steaks, roasts, spare ribs, pork loin, even ground beef were commanding prices that were a good five to nine percent higher than they were at the start of the year.  Unfortunately, it appears prices will go higher still in the months ahead. Here’s why. read more…

Flirting with record highs once again

You can’t keep a good market down, so why is everyone so darn worried about the stock market? Could it be that too much of a good thing may be dangerous to your financial health? If so, someone should tell the bulls.

Truly, no one should be complaining. Here we are at the end of May, normally a month where the markets come under selling pressure, and we are a mere five points away from the S&P 500 Index’s all-time high. The contrarian in me says that too many people are waiting for the shoe to drop right now, so it probably won’t.

Officially, it is the Memorial Day weekend that kicks off the herd migration from Wall Street’s gray canyons and valleys to more amenable vistas. Highly-polished Wing-tips are exchanged for Gucci sandals, as the high and mighty head for the over-crowded beaches and multi-million dollar “cottages” of Long Island and the Hamptons.

Those who remain are the young and ambitious. Without much trading authority, they will have a hard time moving markets. Nonetheless, they will attempt to make a killing for their bosses at the expense of the rest of us. As market volume dries up this summer, it is a toss-up on whether markets become even more volatile or simply wallow in apathy and neglect.

In my career, I have seen both during the summer doldrums. In recent years, the markets have tended to be more volatile with fairly large declines in June and July. In other periods, you could hear a pin drop for weeks at a time on New York trading floors. I’m betting we see more volatility than less.

While the markets continue to grind higher so does the short interest in the stock market. Short interest is the quantity of stock shares that investors have sold short but not yet covered or closed out. Many strategists use short interest as a market-sentiment indicator, since it indicates how many investors think a stock’s price (or market) is likely to fall. Both the short interest aggregate dollar amount of the S&P 500 Index and short interest ratio (days to cover or buy back these shorts) are at levels not seen since mid-2007. We all know how that ended for investors. The markets continued to make new highs until the end of the year and then subsequently crashed in 2008-2009.

Last week the markets touched my S&P 500 Index target of 1,900—briefly.
It was so quick that I half hoped we would make another stab at that level and possibly break it. It appears we are trying to accomplish that as I write this. Markets are never neat and tidy so if we break this level to the upside, I would expect a bout of short-covering which could propel the markets higher by another 20-40 points quickly. At the same time, I think too many people are bearish for a sell-off right here and now. If we were to see a fast jump higher and a panic stampede into the market at that time we just might be set up for a last hurrah.

Have a happy Memorial Day weekend. But while you are grilling, swimming or just plain having fun, do me a favor. Take a moment to remember our servicemen and women both past and present. I know I will be remembering my buddies in Vietnam that didn’t make it. Semper Fi.

 

 

 

 

Can it be this simple?

 

Financial gurus have come up short in explaining exactly why interest rates are going down, and not up, as everyone expected them to do. The same thing is happening overseas. What gives? read more…

Don’t buy the dips

 

The S&P 500 Index hit 1,900 this week. The Dow Jones Industrial and Transportation averages also reached new historical highs but the euphoria lasted about a minute and a half. That’s about as long as it took for traders to sell into the move. Not good. read more…

Potholes take center stage

 

Can you count the number of potholes you hit or narrowly avoid every day?  Do they make your blood boil, teeth clench and trigger a choice euphemism or two during your commute?   Unless the Highway Trust Fund (HTF) receives a $302 billion injection of funds this year, it could get a lot worse. read more…

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About Bill

Bill Schmick was born in a blue-collar neighborhood of Philadelphia, just a few blocks north of “Rocky Balboa” territory where most of his Catholic schoolmates grew up to be either cops or criminals. He narrowly escaped both professions by volunteering to fight in Vietnam as a U.S. Marine... Read More

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