It has been a busy day in Rome, doing the Vatican Museum, St. Peter's and the Trevi Fountain. But I have to find time to get you your Outside the Box and have I got a great one for you. David Galland of Casey Research was kind enough to let me use an interview he did with two of his energy research staff normally only available to his subscribers. A big thank you to David.
This is a special treat for Outside the Box readers, as they talk about the future of the energy markets. I have been following their work for some time and I think they are the real deal if you are looking for an energy letter to regularly read. You can subscribe at here.
I am going to sign off as the "kids" are waiting. One quick observation. Stop lights in Rome seem to be more of a suggestion than an actual statement. Oh, but what a city!
Your in the city of restaurants analyst,
A quick introduction for this week's Outside the Box. This is from my London Partner Niels Jensen, talking about the problems with long only commodity funds. This is something I discuss frequently but have not written about in some time. Quite simply, many of the commodity ETFs do not deliver what they promise and in fact many of the inverse funds can lose you money even when you make the right macro call.
Niels gives us a very good explanation of why this is so. So for those of you who have "diversified" into commodity ETFs (not actively managed funds!) or are thinking about it you might really want to read this.
Your running our the door for dinner in NYC analyst,
Today I'm sending you a piece on Ecuador's recent move to change the terms of its contracts with oil investors to keep more of the returns in the state. As we watch the world's energy market, political details like this are essential to know. The article explores the geopolitical implications of the move and the how key investors are likely to react.
This is nothing short of the real world with real consequences on the amount the meter reads to fill up your gasoline tank, your investments abroad and the overall worth of those dollar bills in your wallet right now. You don't get this kind of information on your typical media news networks. The truth is, this event is one you may not have heard about - not only do you have to keep your ears to the ground, you've got to know where to look.
For all things under the radar and overly important, my source is STRATFOR. They provide in-depth intelligence for those that need to know. Read their article, and join their email list to get weekly reports and special discounts on memberships.
With the current financial crisis, we have to be even more astute in locating worthy investment opportunities. I've written lately about choices we're facing as a country – but we have choices as individuals as well: choices that demand solid insight to make well-informed decisions and recognize opportunities at a time when they're not as plentiful as they used to be. It's not enough to know what's happening on Capitol Hill or Wall Street, we must expand our investigations to a global perspective.
I'm including an article by my friends STRATFOR, a global intelligence company, about a proposed law in Brazil to regulate the country's massive deep-sea oil reserves, which could make it a major oil exporter. It's just one example of the kind of event you need to be aware of if you're at all interested in global energy and investment. I recommend that you browse through the rest of STRATFOR's material, and check out their special offer for my readers. They provide just the kind of exclusive global insight you need.
I send you Outside the Box each week not to make you comfortable but to make you think. Usually it is on some financial topic, but life is more than investments. Economics is not an isolated discipline (more like an art form I think) so we have to have a real understanding of the world around us. This week I offer two essays which made me both think and reflect. We live in a world which wants easy solutions to complex problems, and wish as we may, will not get easy solutions which will work.
The first essay is by Pewter Huber on the reality of energy production. We all want to be able to "go green." How realistic is that? The second is by my friend George Friedman on torture and US intelligence failures.
Peter Huber is a Manhattan Institute senior fellow and the coauthor, most recently, of The Bottomless Well. His article develops arguments that he made in an Intelligence Squared U.S. debate in January. George is well known to OTB readers. He is president of Stratfor and was with the CIA (as was his wife Meredith) before they founded Stratfor, what I think of as the premier private intelligence agency in the world.
I suggest you put on your thinking caps and take some time to read both of these very important essays, and enjoy your week. I am off to Orlando and the CFA conference.
The hottest media topic of the New Year is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in Gaza. And as I was reading the New York Times on Tuesday, I came across this sentence in one of the articles that was staggeringly truthful and more than a little unsettling in its implications for me as an investor.
"There are other ways to construe the context of this conflict of course. But no matter what, Israel's diplomats know that if journalists are given a choice between covering death and covering context, death wins."
Now, I'm NOT trying to get into a debate about the rights and wrongs of either side, but if you're an investor, and you're trying to make decisions about where this conflict might drive oil prices, for example, then context is everything. And according to the New York Times, if you're relying on journalists for context, forget it.
But you do have an alternative: my friend George Friedman's company, Stratfor, is the unbiased source for insightful analysis of global events. George and his team are all about context - and they provide it without bias or an agenda. If you're my age, you remember "Just the facts, ma'am." Whether it's the conflict in Gaza, the war between Georgia and Russia, or the mayhem and violence in Nigeria, when I need to know how geopolitics is going to hit energy prices, I turn to Stratfor.
I'm including today one of their analyses on the conflict: Iran: Using Oil as a Weapon, But Only Rhetorically. In it, Stratfor showcases its strengths: unbiased analysis--and in this case, of a situation mainstream media has barely even registered. George has kindly arranged a special offer for my readers. Click here, and you'll get 2 years of Membership for the price of 1 for just $349. Plus George is including a free copy of his new book coming out later this month (I'll be reviewing it for you in a couple weeks.)
Your all-about-context analyst,
In this weekend's Thoughts from the Frontlines, I quoted from part of a very thoughtful, right-on-target analysis by David A. Rosenberg entitled "The Elusive Bottom." Over the weekend, I decided that you should read the whole piece, as Rosenberg makes some very solid points about how the markets and the economy may play out over the next few years. He has a non-consensus viewpoint, but that is what I like for Outside the Box. In fact, I think this is one of the more thought-provoking pieces I have used in OTB for some time.
Rosenberg is the North American Economist for Merrill Lynch. They were gracious to give me permission to send this letter out on such a short notice, and I believe you will well served to take the time to think through his analysis. And rather than try and give you a quick summary, let's just jump right in.
Kudos to my friend George Friedman and his crew at Stratfor. If you didn't see the article in this week's Barron's about Stratfor's analysis of the geopolitical risk premium built into oil prices, you missed a really good piece of work. You've probably heard Napoleon's quote that "Amateurs discuss strategy, and professionals discuss logistics." If you want a perfect example of how that quote plays out for the markets, take a look at Stratfor's article below. It's precisely the kind of sober, fundamental research that makes Stratfor my invaluable source for geopolitical intelligence.
No matter where you're looking at putting your money today, the impact of energy prices simply can't be overstated. The commodities trade, US and foreign equities, debt and interest rates, everything is being driven by energy prices right now. Whether you're trying to factor energy as a direct input into the price and consumption of manufactured goods or dealing with monetary policy's impact on the dollar and debt markets, you're implicitly making an energy trade.
I've said it before and I'll say it again, if you're trying to trade today's markets without geopolitical intelligence, it's like trying to trade the juice futures market without a weather forecast. You can do it, but good luck to you.
George has kindly passed me the article that was the basis of the Barron's story. You'll notice right away that unlike many of the so-called experts out there, Stratfor doesn't airily dismiss underlying logistics in favor of handwaving. But better than taking my word for it, click here to get your own Stratfor Membership at the discounted rate for my readers. Every day you'll receive the same forecasts and intelligence guidance that I use to shape my thinking on where the world is going - and especially on energy prices.
This week I want to share with you one of the more important tools in my arsenal for keeping up with what is going on in the world. As I've told you before, George Friedman and his team at Stratfor are my go-to guys for geopolitical intelligence. Their insights into this facet of the world are simply without peer. Now I want you to see their Intelligence Guidance which they publish each Friday for the upcoming week; last week's edition is below.
The Intelligence Guidance is an internal document that guides their intelligence team for the upcoming week. It's not a forecast of what's going to happen (more on that in a minute) but a list of potential inflection points that bear close scrutiny. On a short term basis, these are the critical items that can move policy in one direction or another. I put this side-by-side with my calendar of Fed meetings, statistics releases, and earnings announcements to get a holistic picture of what's going to be driving markets and plan tactics. I highly encourage you to click here for a Stratfor Membership, at special prices available to my readers, and add Stratfor's Intelligence Guidance to your weekly thinking.
Now about that forecast. Stratfor is just about to issue their third quarter forecast, and you definitely want to incorporate this thinking in your strategic planning. Stratfor's past calls on everything from the Asian currency meltdown to China's internal problems have proven to be eerily prescient. And I should point out that they also provide a scorecard that makes it very clear where their calls have been off, too. The Quarterly Forecast is included free as part of your Stratfor Membership, so click this link for the special deals available to my readers and make sure that you don't miss out on this important look ahead.
This week's Outside the Box will challenge a few of your base assumptions. Paul McCulley, the managing director at PIMCO, offers us a kind word for inflation and the reasons that the Fed will be on hold for a lot longer than the markets currently think. And part of that is to avoid a real recession or even a depression. Getting this debate right is important.
These are indeed interesting times we live in. I look forward to being with Paul at the end of July on our Maine fishing expedition, where he can defend his proposition to the group of economists and analysts gathered there. Have a great week.
The greyhairs among us remember the Arab Oil Embargo in 1973 and that economists of the time called it an "exogenous" shock to the system. For the first time, geopolitical events had a huge impact on world energy markets. All the financial models in the world got thrown out the window when OPEC simply said, "We won't sell at any price."
Since then, of course, geopolitics has been an integral topic for everybody that follows energy markets. And other commodities. And currencies. And debt and equity. In other words, the economists' distinction between "market factors" and "geopolitical events" has blurred into meaninglessness.
In this Special Edition of Outside the Box, we read an analysis from my friend George Friedman at Stratfor that I think you'll find very interesting on the geopolitical implications of oil at $130/bbl. George and his team are calling the beginning of a new era of global competition. The weapons now won't be the nukes of the Cold War or the suicide bombers of the post-9/11 world but rather exportable oil and food, and the huge piles of cash that come from exporting surpluses.
As a special consideration for my readers, you can follow this link to get a special Stratfor Membership package that includes several free books. The Stratfor team puts out what I consider the absolute best available geopolitical analysis for global markets, and I strongly encourage you to take advantage of this special offer. If you want to know more about China's economic muscle - and the major threats to their industrial base - or how Russia will be able to reassert its power via grains and oil, you need to become a Stratfor Member.
Goldman Sachs recently forecasted that oil would be at $141 a barrel by the end of the year, and rising to $200 a barrel in the not too distant future. I have seen other forecasts calling for oil to slip significantly under $100 a barrel before starting yet another bull market.
I have written for years that we are not going to run out of oil or energy, just cheap oil. I was just in South Africa, where much of their gas and diesel comes from coal gasification. At one time this was an expensive way to make gas, and South Africans had to pay more for their gas than the rest of the world. Now, it is getting close to "par" to the cost of gas in the US, and is cheaper than gas in Europe.
In this week's Outside the Box, my friend David Galland at Casey Research presents some very troubling thoughts on why oil may rise higher than we think in the next few years. Many of the countries from which the US gets its oil are seeing production fall, not rise. Some of it is political ineptitude, but much of it is from oil production peaking.
Yes, we can move to coal gasification, and the US has centuries of coal for such purposes, but building such plants takes time and capital and political will, the latter of which is in short supply. In the meantime, and until we get a full-blown crisis, oil is going to continue on its path to $200 and higher. But such a rise will not only make gasoline prices higher, it will make a host of new technologies competitive for the first time. The shift in how we make energy is inevitable.
As a quick aside, if we would start a project to build a massive nuclear infrastructure, such as in France, which produces 80% of its energy from nuclear, while at the same time pushing ahead in a Manhattan-type project the development of electric cars (or some hybrid), we could reduce our dependence on foreign oil and lower travel costs by the middle to the end of the next decade. And the environment would be cleaner and safer.
We are headed to such a future. It would be nice if we did it sooner rather than wait for a real crisis. But in the meantime, the price of oil is going to rise and opportunities for investors will rise along with it. My friends at Casey Research publish an excellent newsletter highlighting the opportunities not just in exploration companies but in all manner of energy-related firms. As David writes:
"The good news is that there are no shortage of high-quality energy-related investments available ... in coal, heavy oil, LNG, photovoltaics, natural gas consolidators, "run of river" hydroelectric, uranium and small to mid-cap oil companies with the potential for significant near-term gains in reserves or production."
They have agreed to give my readers a risk-free three-month trial to the Casey Energy Speculator. If you like the research you read below and want more of it, you can click on this link and subscribe.
And now let's see one of the main reasons why the price of oil is going up.
This is a Special Edition of Outside the Box from my friend George Friedman and Stratfor. You've heard me say before that these guys see the world in a different way, but this piece just makes it crystal clear. There are serious rumblings about a major war coming between Israel and its neighbors, and George has put what seems like innocent dots on the board and wonders if there is not a pattern emerging. I am especially looking forward to seeing George and his wife and partner Meredith at my conference this weekend.
The newspapers will do a wonderful job of telling you the bombs started falling yesterday, but that's like trading on yesterday's quotes. George's team is focused on what's coming, and their geopolitical insights are uncannily accurate.
If you've been reading my letters for a while, you know that George has offered a special rate to my readers. George and his colleague Fred Burton both have new books coming out soon, and they've very kindly extended a special offer on a Stratfor membership that includes autographed copies. Like all of us, I hope there's not going to be a new war in Israel, but hope is no more a geopolitical strategy than it is an investment strategy, so I encourage you to stay aware of what's coming by reading Stratfor.
I wouldn't recommend to you - via my emails or at my conference - someone that I didn't feel was the absolute best in the world at providing geopolitical insights to the private sector. If global events shape your investment decisions, and that's everyone these days, you need to complement your financial awareness with geopolitical intelligence. I hope you click here to take advantage of George's very kind offer.
This week in Outside the Box, Louis-Vincent Gave, Charles Gave, Anatole Kaletsky, and company of GaveKal Research delve into the underlying misconceptions that presumes money velocity is and will remain constant, in the equation that says MV = PQ (Money*Velocity = Prices*Quantity) when M is increased. GaveKal Research strive to show that in application this relationship does not hold, and that investors ought to look to velocity to rebound to gauge market recovery or further deterioration. This is an important concept and holds major implications for the inflation debate.
GaveKal venture on to address the Banking crisis in England, how Mervin King & Co. at the BoE responded to the Northern Rock debacle, and why the appropriate response was hindered by political malaise than by BoE incompetence, though mind you there was some to speak of. Furthermore, the Fed 50bps reduction is taken to light on account of the uncertainty of whether such (and potentially further) reductions will prevent the economy from falling into recession.
GaveKal further discusses how the dollar breaching record lows, will affect the inflationary pressures in China, and how the dollar is affecting the oil markets, which happen to be denominated in dollars. I have attached below graphs of the Euro/Dollar conversion rate, and the current (WTI) cost of oil.
Finally, my publisher is running an advertisement for my friends at International Living. I normally don't think abut the ads, but this one is interesting in that it is two years for the normal one year price for a publication that I enjoy. If you travel or think about living somewhere else, this is a good place for information, or to just dream. Enjoy your week.
This week in a Special Outside the Box we look at the discussion of alternative energy sources, specifically, ethanol derived from corn or sugarcane. The Stratfor piece discusses the economic implications of ethanol usage; geopolitical ramifications in terms of how current oil producers will be affected, comparable cost advantages between corn and sugarcane processing, and the advantages and disadvantages of ethanol production and consumption.
OPEC has expressed concern over capital allocated to alternative energy research, suggesting, implicitly threatening, that oil producers may be driven to lessen investment in vital infrastructure leading to supply constraints in the future and higher oil prices. If the assertions emanating from Brazilian government-funded researchers are confirmed to be true, the viability and time frame in which ethanol usage becomes economically feasible has made great strides, and shortened, respectively.
This Stratfor piece is an objective, thought provoking assessment of technology that will have drastic implications on our global economic and geopolitical landscape. Stratfor continues to provide insightful and pertinent research on economic and geopolitical events and their respective ramifications. Stratfor continues to provide significant savings to readers of Outside the Box, for further information please click here.
I hope you find this article enlightening and thought provoking as we continue to address the implications of alternative energy resources.
Today's "Outside the Box" will be one of the more controversial pieces that I have sent out over the past year. My long-term readers are well aware of my views on oil and energy, yet despite my beliefs, I find it valuable to read thoughts from those who have different views. These challenging view points come from my good friend, the very intelligent and always thought-provoking Charles Gave.
Charles is one of the co-founders of GaveKal, a global investment research and management firm that provides an array of financial services worldwide. They are best known for their study of monetary policy, fiscal policies, secular trends, technical analysis and asset class valuations which they use to form a unique perspective on the relationship between the financial markets and the global economy. In his article, "Oil: Will the Malthusian View Carry the Day?" Charles postulates that the price of oil could fall over the next several years. He defends his position with some teaching on the dynamics of energy, a review of historical cycles, and some thoughts on alternatives. I agree that there will be large energy substations, for which he makes a solid case, but I disagree with his conclusion that the price of oil will permanently drop. I think that the growth of the world GDP and thus the need for energy and oil will offset the energy substitution he outlines.
Charles goes on further to describe a commodity of which has been far less volatile than oil and has never had a down month since 2001 and one in which he thinks has great potential in the future. (I won't spill the beans on what it is just yet.)
My aim is that you will broaden your understanding and gain insight as a result of reading a contrarian's perspective. Enjoy this week's Outside the Box.
In my Friday letter, "Thoughts from the Frontline," I touched briefly on the Yen Carry Trade and its effects on asset prices. Just what should investors be concerned with and profit from in a market bent on volatility and anchored by a new seat at the Fed? My good friends at GaveKal have written an excellent and timely article on global liquidity and its implications for the markets.
Charles and Louis-Vincent Gave, along with Anatole Kaletsky, are each co-founders of GaveKal, a global investment research and management firm. Their expertise on monetary policy and global trends is often very insightful and highly sought after. In one of their more recent commentaries, The Leverage in the System and the Weak U.S. $$, they take an in-depth look at the Bank of Japan, Oil, the U.S. Dollar and the Euro. This is a very interesting take on the strength of the dollar and very much Outside the Box.
I trust that you will pay less attention to the manic noise of the markets and find this piece to be an enlightening perspective on the global economy.
This week's letter is once again from two of my favorite economists, Van Hoisington and Dr. Lacy Hunt of Hoisington Investment Management Company in Austin, Texas. They specialize in management of fixed income portfolios for large institutional clients by setting long-term investment strategies based on economic analysis. They have been one of the most successful bond managers in the country. (I have no affiliation with them.) I eagerly read all of their writing and analysis, and find it to be some of the most thought-provoking anywhere.
Their third quarter 2005 Quarterly Review and Outlook looks at the current economic situation in the US. Tighter monetary supply, a slowdown in housing and higher oil does not bode well for the US consumer. While many see economic strength and inflation worries, Hoisington still sees a flattening yield curve which could turn negative and lead to the next recession. This is not a consensus view, which is why I picked it for this week's "Outside the Box."
One of my favorite economists, Stephen Roach, of Morgan Stanley gives us an insight into what the latest economic shock may mean for the economy. Economic shocks often lead to a fairly predictable slowdown and recovery, but Roach argues that the Fed induced asset bubbles of the last few years may cause this current shock to prick "America's asset economy."
I hope Roach is wrong and that the imbalances in the economy work themselves out slowly rather than popping a bubble, but this makes for a thought provoking Outside the Box.
As long time readers know, I get a lot of newsletters sent to me from around the world. Many are from private sources. Among the best is the HCM Market Letter written by Michael Lewitt of Harch Capital in Florida. Michael is one smart guy with a deep understanding of the markets, especially the credit markets, and how they work. The firm manages domestic and offshore debt and equity hedge funds and separate accounts. I really look forward each month to getting Michael's insights. For this week's Outside the Box we will look at his letter from late last week which, given the continued drop in the dollar, is more pertinent than ever. He also touches on interest rates, the problems with Credit Default Swaps and oil. It is a wide-ranging essay and one that I think you will enjoy pondering.