Have nothing to do with the [evil] things that people do, things that belong to the darkness. Instead, bring them out to the light... [For] when all things are brought out into the light, then their true nature is clearly revealed...

-Ephesians 5:11-13

Tag Archives: Cartel

Collapse in Oil and Natural Gas Prices Hitting OPEC the Hardest

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, December 29, 2014: 

On November 17, gas prices had dropped to $1.9...

As prices for crude oil and natural gas continued their precipitous fall over the last five weeks, most commentators have been focusing on the impact — real or predicted — on the oil and gas industry in the United States. Little noticed, however, was the report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) about how those declines are likely to affect OPEC.

OPEC’s total revenues, which hit an all-time high of $900 billion in 2012, are expected to decline by half next year, to just $446 billion. And that projection is based on the assumption that oil prices will average

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Crude Oil Price Declines Reveal Who’s Swimming Naked

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, December 3, 2014: 

Ali Al Naimi

Ali Al Naimi

One of the most famous homespun quotes Warren Buffett ever uttered is this: “Only when the tide goes out do you discover who’s been swimming naked.” With the decline in crude oil prices of nearly 50 percent since June, more and more people are finding themselves swimming naked, or they’re about to.

Consider the formerly invincible oil cartel, OPEC, which seems to be suffering from delusions of its former glory by taking on oil producers in America. Instead of cutting production in order to “stabilize” oil prices, the cartel, led by the aging big kahuna, Saudi Arabia, has decided to

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Lower Crude Oil Prices Already Pinching Producers

This article first appeared online at TheNewAmerican.com on Tuesday, December 2, 2014:

Coat of Arms of Saudi Arabia

Coat of Arms of Saudi Arabia

As crude oil prices continued their breathtaking drop, the CEO of Canadian Natural Resources, Canada’s largest oil company, Murray Edwards (the 14th wealthiest Canadian) was asked on Friday just how much further crude oil prices could decline. His response:

On a given day you can have market fluctuations where prices fluctuate far more than the underlying economic value of the unit. Prices could spike down to $30, $40. It got down to $35 in 2008, for a very short period of time.

On Monday crude oil prices briefly stabilized and then dropped further on Tuesday, hitting new four-year lows.

This pronouncement is at odds with an oil production estimate by the seemingly eternal oil optimist and economist Mark Perry, who rejoiced on Monday that

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George Mitchell: the one man most Likely Missing from Thanksgiving Day lists

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, November 28, 2014:

English: "The First Thanksgiving at Plymo...

English: “The First Thanksgiving at Plymouth” (1914) By Jennie A. Brownscombe (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s a safe bet that Americans, in compiling their list of blessings for which they were most thankful on Thanksgiving Day, didn’t put George Mitchell at the top. It’s even safer to bet that most Americans don’t even know who he was, or how his life has made life better for nearly every American today.

The Economist had it right: “Few businesspeople have done as much to change the world as George Mitchell.” The founder of Mitchell Energy & Development Company located in Galveston, Texas, Mitchell was responsible for drilling more than 10,000 natural gas wells and, in the process, resetting the world’s energy equation.

Although he passed away over a year ago at the age of 94, Mitchell’s advances in fracking technology are continuing to delight American drivers with

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Oil Market: Lower Gas Prices not the Only Reason to be Thankful

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, Thanksgiving Day, November 27, 2014:

When news from Vienna arrived on Wall Street early Thanksgiving morning that OPEC wasn’t going to cut its production quotas to stabilize crude oil prices, those prices immediately fell even further, touching lows not seen in four years. West Texas Intermediate briefly touched $70 a barrel while Brent crude was close behind, at $73.

Oil hit a high of $147 a barrel in July 2008, so Thursday’s drop represents an astonishing 52-percent decline in just over six years. This coincides with an 80-percent increase in crude oil production by the United States over that same period. As economies around the world struggle to regain their footing, thanks to failing Keynesian policies, the demand for crude remains about where it was 10 years ago. With flat demand and increasing supply, it was only a matter of time before prices started to fall.

American consumers are benefitting enormously,

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Taxi Union Flexes Its Muscle, Shuts Down San Francisco International Airport

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Thursday, November 20, 2014: 

International Terminal of San Francisco Intern...

International Terminal of San Francisco International Airport

Stung by increasing competition from ride-sharing services such as Uber and Lyft, independent taxi drivers in San Francisco — where Uber got its start in the summer of 2010 — decided to do something about it: They joined a union. And the first thing that union did was what unions always do: They conducted a “work stoppage” — right in front of San Francisco International Airport (SFO) — with more than 600 taxis blocking traffic, honking their horns and flashing their lights from 9 to 11 p.m. Monday night, while refusing to pick up passengers.

Most unions are wont to picket employers, hoping to blackmail them into

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OPEC’s Hegemony is over

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, October 27, 2014:

English: Saudi Arabia

Saudi Arabia

Tim Treadgold, a Forbes contributor who watches the world’s energy markets, decided to break the journalist’s unspoken rule: never forecast the demise of an individual (or an institution) until he is holding the coroner’s report (or bankruptcy judgment) in his hand:

At grave risk of committing [that] cardinal sin … this time it might be different because OPEC is steadily losing control of the oil market….

The irony, he said, was staggering:

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The Inevitable Demise of the OPEC Cartel

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Sunday, October 26, 2014: 

English: Flag of the Organization of Petroleum...

Flag of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries

Following the death of Total SA’s CEO, Christophe de Margerie, on October 20, OPEC sent this letter to the board of the multinational oil and gas company expressing sorrow over the loss:

It is with the deepest regret that the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) learned of the tragic death of Christophe de Margerie, Chairman and Chief Executive Office of French oil major, Total SA, who died when his corporate jet struck a snow plough on a runway at Moscow’s Ynukovo airport late on Monday 20 October.

Missing from the letter was any mention of the demise of OPEC, which has been slowly imploding for years. Recent events have significantly speeded up the process, which

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OPEC Continues to Unravel

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Monday, October 13, 2014:

With oil production from the Bakken formation in North Dakota now exceeding one million barrels a day and the Eagle Ford and Permian Basin oil fields in Texas producing more than three million barrels per day, prices for crude are dropping worldwide and pushing gasoline prices down along with them.

Crude oil prices on the New York Mercantile Exchange hit a 52-week low of $83.59 a barrel last Friday, while Lundberg just reported average prices for gasoline across the country have dropped to $3.26 per gallon. As recently as May 2, gas in the United States cost $3.72 a gallon.

In response to these falling prices, Saudi Arabia, the largest producer in OPEC, earlier this summer

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Saudi Arabia Capitulates, Cuts Oil Prices

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Monday, October 65, 2014:

Saudi Arabia’s announcement last week that it was cutting prices to its Asian, European, and US customers by between $.40 and $1.00 a barrel represents a major capitulation and recognition of reality. It also represents a major departure in its role as the leading member of the OPEC cartel, proving once again that every cartel eventually blows up as its members seek their own interests over those of the cartel.

For decades, the role of the OPEC cartel has been to protect the cash flow of its members by manipulating oil prices through changes in production levels. If prices got too high and demand started falling as a result, the cartel would increase the supply of crude to the world markets. If prices got too low, on the other hand, it would gladly restrict those supplies to bring prices back up to a level acceptable to the cartel.

Those days now appear to be over.

By bringing its prices down below prices charged by OPEC member Qatar and non-OPEC member Oman, Saudi Arabia is setting the stage for an international oil price war. Futures traders, who have gotten hammered as crude oil prices have dropped almost 20% since June, are holding their collective breath to see if Qatar and Oman jump ship and reduce their prices as well. Energy analysts like John Kilduff with Again Capital are estimating that crude oil prices will consequently drop to the low $80s, while Fadal Gheit at Oppenheimer is predicting prices dropping into the low $70s. Gheit explained:

It’s both supply and demand. It’s basically the perfect storm that brought all these prices down. You have plenty of supply, which you never thought possible, and all of a sudden demand is shrinking: China is slowing down [and] Europe never recovered.

Gheit is a realist. He stated what every observer already knows: the OPEC cartel “is held together by scotch tape. They hate each other.” Now that the leader of the pack has decided to leave the pack, it’s going to be much easier for other OPEC members to join the fray and drive prices down even further.

Part of that perfect storm is the shale oil fracking revolution that has driven crude oil production in the United States to levels not seen in 50 years. Part of it is Russia’s increase in crude oil production to nearly post-Soviet era records as well. In addition, production from Kurdistan over the next 15 months is expected to more than provide China’s increased demands for energy, thus assuring that world supply will continue, in the short run at least, to outpace world demand.

Saudi Arabia’s admission of reality is already having welcome impacts. Gas prices in the United States have fallen to $3.32 a gallon on average, with more than half the states having at least one gas station selling gas for less than $3 a gallon. It’s also pulling the legs out from under the foreign policy justification of adventurism abroad in order to protect the supply of energy which America is now almost capable of providing all by herself.

As prices decline, consumers are able to redirect spending into other areas, helping along the modest economic recovery from the Great Recession. It may also prove to skeptics that, once again, Warren Buffett is right. His much ballyhooed announcement of his purchase of Van Tuyl Group, the nation’s largest US auto dealership chain, should help his company, Berkshire Hathaway, ride the wave of cheaper gas and the consequent willingness of customers to replace their aging fleet of vehicles with new ones.

It is possible, however, that prices may drop too far, causing capital that is currently flooding into the energy exploration business to go elsewhere where it will be treated better in the years to come. As Stephen Leeb, a writer at Forbes, put it: “It takes energy to get energy.” In the early 1950s, it took the energy from one barrel of oil to harvest five barrels. Today, because of improvements in technology, it takes about one barrel to produce nine in conventional fields.

But in unconventional fields – i.e., shale oil fracking – it takes the energy of one barrel of oil to discover, develop, and lift just four barrels, which, according to State University of New York Professor Charles Hall, isn’t enough to keep America’s modern industrial society operating at peak efficiency. The proper ratio, according to Hall, is that one barrel of energy must generate at least five barrels of new production, preferably more.

If the Old Farmers Almanac’s prognostications are correct, the US should enjoy another relatively mild winter, reducing chances of a spike in demand that would drive crude oil prices higher. For the time being then, Saudi Arabia’s capitulation and potential blowing up of OPEC will be enjoyed by American drivers and consumers. In the longer run, however, capital may be redirected away from the oil patch to more profitable areas if the price of crude stays too low, too long. In the meantime, America will once again enjoy the view from the catbird seat.

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Sources:

Commerzbank: ‘OPEC Appears to Be Gearing Up for Price War’

CNBC: Saudi signals price skirmish as oil heads to bear market

Bloomberg: Brent Oil Falls to Lowest Since June 2012 on Ample Supply

The Old Farmers Almanac: 2014–2015 Winter Weather Forecast Map (U.S.)

Forbes: Dangerous Times As Energy Sources Get Costlier To Extract

Auto Blog: Warren Buffet buys largest private US car dealership chain

Saudi Arabia Cuts Oil Prices, Could Spark Price War

This article first appeared at TheNewAmerican.com on Friday, October 3, 2014:

In a surprise move this week, Saudi Arabia cut the price of its flagship Arab light oil, which it sells mostly to its Asian customers, by one dollar a barrel. It also cut prices to its customers in the United States and Europe by $.40 a barrel. This brings Saudi Arabia’s prices below those offered by OPEC member Qatar and non-OPEC member Oman. Oil futures traders are holding their breaths, waiting for Qatar and Oman to cut their prices in response, setting off a full-scale oil price war.

The simple economics of supply and demand have already driven the price of oil down by almost 20 percent since June, and a number of traders and other observers are suggesting those prices have

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Uber: The Smartphone App That Eats Taxis

 

iPhone apps

iPhone apps (Photo credit: ilamont.com)

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, June 4, 2014:

When software inventor and now venture capitalist Marc Andreessen looked at investing in Uber just after its launch, he said “Uber is the software [app that] eats taxis.” At the end of its fourth year, Uber is not only eating taxis, but providing thousands of new jobs for people every month. Last week Uber’s founder, Travis Kalanick said:

Just four years ago we set out to build a better option for people to move around cities: to make getting a ride safer, easier and affordable.

But Uber’s positive impact goes further. Hundreds of thousands of entrepreneurs are using the platform to build their own small business, resulting in a huge job growth engine….

The first rule to making a startup successful is to determine precisely and exactly who its customers are. With Uber, it’s both the customer needing a lift, and the driver providing it. The service is predicated on a simple premise:

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The Rise of “Saudi America”

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Friday, December 6th, 2013:

 

Back in early February Citigroup apologized for missing the huge explosion of oil and natural gas occurring in Texas, North Dakota, and elsewhere. Its report, entitled “Energy 2020: Independence Day” began:

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“Saudi Texas” is changing the world’s economic and political landscape

The virtual explosion in Texas’ production of natural gas and oil, thanks to fracking, caught even Citigroup off-guard. In February it apologized for so widely missing the mark in its report the previous year entitled “Energy 2020: Independence Day”:

Momentum toward North American energy independence accelerated last year [2012] well beyond the wildest dreams of any analyst and

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Drug Cartel Is Being Pushed Back by Fuerzas Autodefenses – Self-Defense Forces – In Mexico

This article was first published at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, November 13th, 2013:

 

For Hipolito Mora, the owner of a lime plantation in Michoacán, one of Mexico’s 32 states, the final straw was the refusal of a packing company to buy his fruit because he wouldn’t pay a 10% kickback to the drug cartel that owned it. For Miguel Patino Velaquez, it was the sight of others in his town taking up arms and joining forces to fight the cartel. For Leticia, a lime picker, her tipping point came when she and her two children witnessed the

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Mexican citizens are forming self-defense groups against drug cartels

Exasperated at failed attempts by the Mexican government to neutralize the drug cartel that virtually owns the Michoacán state and especially its principal city, Apatzingán, farmers and lime growers and other citizens are banding together into fuerzas autodefensas – self-defense forces – to accomplish the task.

Recruiting for those forces has accelerated thanks to

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Treasury Refuses to Sell Its Gold Even in the Event of Default

It took more than six months for the Department of the Treasury to answer Utah Republican Senator Orrin Hatch’s questions about how the Treasury would respond to a government shutdown or the failure of the Congress to raise the debt limit. But its response is revealing:

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The Delicious Irony of Obamacare – The Law of Unintended Consequences Kicks In

This article first appeared at The McAlvany Intelligence Advisor on Wednesday, August 21st, 2013:

 

As Obamacare’s implementation draws ever closer, so does the law of unintended consequences. Promoted as a way to provide healthcare coverage for millions of presently uninsured individuals, the real impact is exactly the opposite:

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Proposal to Allow States to Tax Internet Sales Passes Senate

On Friday, March 22nd, a proposal to allow states to tax internet sales passed the Senate overwhelmingly, 75-24. 26 Republicans joined Democrats in passing the non-binding resolution. The proposal was designed to

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Student Loan Consequences: Real, Costly and Personal

The consequences of making low-interest loans to unqualified buyers created the real estate bubble that popped in 2007, resulting in the Great Recession. According to Gary Jason at the American Thinker, it’s about to happen again only this time over student loans. He wrote: “This bubble has been fueled by the federal government’s lavish subsidization of the student loan program … in a way similar to how the housing bubble was fueled by government agencies pushing subprime mortgages.”

Under the Student Aid and Fiscal Responsibility Act (SAFRA) signed into law as part of Obamacare in March, 2010, students may borrow money directly from the federal government regardless of their credit score or any other financial “issues” they may be facing. They are not priced according to any “individualized measure of risk” nor are the loan limits. They are instead politically determined by Congress with undergraduates receiving lower interest rates than graduate students, but graduate students allowed to borrow more than undergrads.

This forced entry by the government into what was once a private market transaction has numerous consequences, nearly all of them negative, and most of them predictable.

First, private lenders disappeared from the market as they could not compete with taxpayer funds and taxpayer guarantees and the resulting below-market interest rates that became available.

Second, the growth in the education industry expanded far beyond what was normal as college administrations saw their opportunity to dip into the “honey bucket” of federal funds, with the consequent growth in administration overhead and higher tuition fees. According to a study by Bain & Company (yes, Mitt Romney’s Bain), “operating expenses are getting higher [at major colleges and universities like Cornell, Harvard and Princeton] and they’re running out of cash to cover it.” According to that study, the growth in those colleges’ debt and rate of spending on new buildings and equipment rose far faster than did their spending on actual education itself. Said Bain,

Boards of trustees and presidents need to put their collective foot down on the growth of support and maintenance costs.

In no other industry would overhead costs be allowed to grow at this rate – executives would lose their jobs.

Thirdly, this growth in the cost of obtaining what was one a coveted possession, a college degree, makes any mathematical justification or cost-benefit analysis highly questionable. Many students are entering a job market with degrees that over qualify them for what the market is able to provide. According to Jason, “over half of all recent college grads are unemployed (or employed only at jobs not requiring a college education).”

The unnatural increase in the flow of funds into the education industry has predictably driven prices higher. As Jason Bower pointed out at The Freeman,

Since 2000, tuition at public, four-year colleges has risen by an inflation-adjusted 72 percent, and over the past 25 years it has increased at an annual rate 6 percentage points higher than the cost of living. (emphases added)

Fourth, when the deferred payments on these loans start, the newly-minted grads without work cannot make them and they go into default. In a recent Department of Education study, loan default rates have risen in each of the last five years, and at an increasing rate, now touching almost one in every seven students with a loan.

Fifth, those loans cannot be dissolved or forgiven in bankruptcy except in extreme circumstances, leaving students in “debtors’ prison” interminably. As Charles Scaliger wrote at The New American,

Inasmuch as the student borrowers are uniquely required by law to repay under [nearly] any circumstances, the student loan business is the closest thing … to debtor prison in modern society.

With such a debt burden, students are forced to make, or avoid making, life choices, such as getting married or buying a home. Who would want to take on a partner who owes tens of thousands to the federal government on the day of the wedding?

And then there is the issue of bribery and insider-dealing. Lenders found ways to entice school officials to direct students needing money to them in exchange for incentives. In addition administration officials found it profitable to support candidates willing to enhance the loan programs for the benefit of the schools. Peter Wood, executive director of the National Association of Scholars, put the matter succinctly:

 The ‘free market’ in this case was never anything close to lean and efficient. To the contrary, it was (and still is) inefficient and frequently corrupt, dominated by players who found it easy to bribe college officials, wring favors from politicians by means of campaign contributions, bilk the Department of Education, and live off generous    subsidies.

All of these consequences come from first causes: the belief that the government has the right to impose its ideological position onto students and then force taxpayers to pay for those consequences when they inevitably arrive. As Kevin Villani, former chief economist at Freddie Mac, wrote in the American Banker, the progression from ideology to practice is fraught with danger. First, he says, the government must

declare that the opportunity to … go to college, is a basic right. Then [it sets] a goal for … college attendance well above private individual demand. When budgets become tight, have government lenders replace private lenders…

This cements into place the “moral hazard” that provides government loans to students without concern about how they might be paid back, because ultimately all government promises are backed by the taxpayer.

The ultimate consequence is borne by the student himself. Once he realizes his predicament – like a lobster trap – it’s too late.

For 36-year-old Nick Keith, it’s too late.

When he decided to go to culinary school, he was persuaded that he could indulge his interest in food by learning the food service industry. The school provided him with all the answers to his questions (for which the school later was successfully sued for making false statements but far too late to help Keith), and pointed him to the sources to lend him the money. Said Keith, “I should have seen all the signs. [The campus tour guide] had a used car salesman’s answer for everything,” including the lie that 99 percent of all graduates found work after graduation. It turned out later – much later – that the real number was closer to 48 percent, and that counted graduates who had to find work outside of food service. Keith’s first job upon graduation was working on a meal assembly line, making $10 an hour.

But that’s when his student loan payment program kicked in. He had to make a choice: pay the rent, or his student loan, but not both.

It’s now nearly a decade since his graduation. His debt, with interest compounded upon interest, is $142,000, at a 17 percent interest rate. He can’t get out:

I get my groceries at the local food bank. I have sold or lost 99 percent of everything I ever owned.

He can’t get work because his bad credit turns off prospective employers. He lives in an aged minivan, relies on the Salvation Army for meals, and parks his van at highway truck stops. For all intents and purposes, he is homeless.

Solutions abound, at least in theory. The government should get out of the student loan business altogether and let the private market take over. And congress should allow students to declare bankruptcy over their loans when necessary. Even there, however, the consequences are towering. There is more than $1 trillion in student loan debt. Almost 15 percent of loans are already in default. The Department of Education would have to receive special funding from congress – the taxpayer – to be able to write off the bad loans that would result.

The costs of college education would rise to more normal, market-driven levels, no doubt keeping some qualified students away. Colleges and universities would have to make massive, perhaps draconian, cuts in their overhead. It would take years for some semblance of balance between supply and demand to return to the education industry. And changing the laws would have precious little immediate impact on people like Keith.

Restoring freedom through private markets, however, is worth the effort despite the pain. The alternative – a continuing debtors’ prison for students and a continuing of the corrupt educational cartel and its incestuous relationship with politicians – is unthinkable.

 

 

 

 

 

Many of the articles on Light from the Right first appeared on either The New American or the McAlvany Intelligence Advisor.