Here’s how that list has performed since we pulled it on Jan. 5:
|Company||Ticker||Industry||Total return - Jan. 5, 2015 through Dec. 18, 2015||Total return - 2014|
|Freeport-McMoRan Inc,||FCX, -9.08%||Precious Metals||-71%||-36%|
|Nabors Industries Ltd.||B, -3.60%NBR, -6.68%||Contract Drilling||-33%||-23%|
|QEP Resources Inc.||QEP, -4.40%||Oil and Gas Production||-37%||-34%|
|Range Resources Corp.||RRC, +0.29%||Oil and Gas Production||-59%||-36%|
|EQT Corp.||EQT, +4.72%||Oil and Gas Production||-33%||-16%|
|Noble Energy Inc.||NBL, -2.52%||Oil and Gas Production||-26%||-30%|
|Wynn Resorts Ltd.||WYNN,-9.41%||Casinos/ Gaming||-55%||-21%|
|Newfield Exploration Co.||NFX, -2.10%||Oil and Gas Production||27%||10%|
|Williams Cos. Inc.||WMB,-10.00%||Oil and Gas Pipelines||-47%||21%|
|Quanta Services Inc.||PWR, -2.67%||Engineering and Construction||-28%||-10%|
SAUDI ARABIA is thinking about listing shares in Saudi Aramco, the state-owned company that is the world’s biggest oil producer and almost certainly the world’s most valuable company. Muhammad bin Salman, the kingdom’s deputy crown prince and power behind the throne of his father, King Salman, has told The Economist that a decision will be taken in the next few months. “Personally I’m enthusiastic about this step,” he said. “I believe it is in the interest of the Saudi market, and it is in the interest of Aramco.”
What is Arabic for Thatcherism?
The plunge in the price of oil, from $110 a barrel in 2014 to less than $35 today, was partly because Saudi Arabia seems determined to protect its share of the oil market. Nevertheless, low prices are a time-bomb for a country dominated by oil and a government that relies on it for up to 90% of its revenues. The budget deficit swelled last year to a staggering 15% of GDP. Although the country has $650 billion of foreign reserves, they have already fallen by $100 billion.
When oil prices fell in the 1990s, the Saudis simply borrowed heavily. They were saved when China’s boom sent commodity prices soaring again in the 2000s. This time no one, including the Saudi rulers, expects a return to triple-digit oil prices. Instead, they acknowledge that the economy must change. Speaking to The Economist this week (seeBriefing), Prince Muhammad laid out a blueprint for reform that amounts to a radical redesign of the Saudi state.
The first step is fiscal consolidation. The goal is to eliminate the budget deficit in the next five years, even if the oil price stays low. Though there is much flab to cut, that is still a perilous undertaking which means dismantling the system according to which petro-cash, not taxes, pay for free education and health care as well as highly subsidised electricity, water and housing. More than money is at stake: this largesse has disguised how far the economy is chronically unproductive and dependent on foreign labour. It has been too easy for Saudis to avoid working, or to snooze away in government offices.
The new leadership has made a start. Spending cuts in the last months of 2015 stopped the deficit from soaring to more than 20% of GDP. The 2016 budget includes steep rises in the prices of petrol, electricity and water (though they remain heavily subsidised). The prince pledges to move to market prices by the end of the five-year period. He is also committed to new taxes, including a value-added tax of 5%, sin taxes on sugary drinks and cigarettes, and levies on vacant land.
Recalibrating taxes and subsidies is only the first step. Roughly 70% of the 29m-plus Saudis are under 30. At the same time, two-thirds of Saudi workers are employed by the government. With the workforce projected to double by 2030, the country will prosper only if the sleepy statist economy is turned on its head, diversifying from oil, boosting private business and introducing market-driven efficiencies.
Talking late into the night with the news left on throughout, Prince Muhammad discusses his country’s interventionist foreign policy and its uncompromising response to terrorism and sedition. Asked whether the kingdom’s actions were stoking regional tensions, he said that things were already so bad they could scarcely get any worse. “We try as hard as we can not to escalate anything further,” he says; and he certainly does not expect war. But for his entourage, Saudi Arabia has no choice but to stop Iran from trying to carve out a new Persian empire.
If his defence of Saudi foreign policy was unrepentant, even more striking was his ambition to remake the entire Saudi state by harnessing the power of markets. No economic reform is taboo, say his officials: not the shedding of do-nothing public-sector workers, not the abolition of subsidies that Saudis have come to see as their birthright, not the privatisation of basic services such as education and health care. And not even the sale of shares in the crown jewel: Saudi Aramco, the secretive national oil and gas producer that is the world’s biggest company.
Iran, the Shia power that has long alarmed Sunni Arabs, has spread its influence across the region, particularly through the militias it grooms—in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria and most recently in Yemen, Saudi Arabia’s underbelly. The Arab world is confronted not just by a Shia Crescent, “but by a Shia full moon”, says one confidant of the prince. As well as Shia militants, Saudi Arabia also faces resurgent Sunni jihadists: a revived al-Qaeda in Yemen to the south, and Islamic State (IS) in Iraq and Syria to the north. Both seek to lure young Saudis raised on the same textbooks and homilies that the jihadists use.
Pillars of the House of Saud
The Al Sauds have survived by making three compacts: with the Wahhabis to burnish their Islamic credentials as the custodians of the holy places of Mecca and Medina; with the population by providing munificence in exchange for acquiescence to absolutist rule; and with America to defend Saudi Arabia in exchange for stability in oil markets.
But all three of these covenants are fraying. America is semi-detached from the Middle East. The plummeting price of oil, which provides almost all of the government’s revenues, means the old economic model can no longer sustain the swelling and unproductive population. And the alliance with obscurantists brings threats, because they provide intellectual sustenance to jihadists, and form an obstacle even to modest social reforms that must be part of any attempt to wean the country off oil and create a more productive economy.
Not surprisingly, Saudi Arabia’s many critics have dusted off their obituaries of the House of Saud. But for Prince Muhammad the lesson of the Arab spring, and of history, is that regimes that lack deep roots are doomed to be swept away; by implication the Al Sauds are here to stay.
Yet he knows that change must come, and fast. He has injected new energy into government, and is taking huge gambles. What he lacks in experience and foreign travel, he compensates for with confidence, focus and a battery of consultants’ reports. He reels off numbers and policies with ease, pausing only to take a call from John Kerry, America’s secretary of state. He speaks in the first person, as if he were already king even though he is only second in line. Over five hours King Salman is mentioned once; his cousin, the crown prince, Muhammad bin Nayef, does not figure at all, though he is in charge of internal security and may be biding his time.Prince Muhammad’s most dramatic moves may be at home. He seems determined to use the collapse in the price of oil, from $115 a barrel in 2014 to below $35, to enact radical economic reforms. This begins with fiscal retrenchment. Even after initial budget cuts last year, Saudi Arabia recorded a whopping budget deficit of 15% of GDP. Its pile of foreign reserves has fallen by $100 billion, to $650 billion. Even with its minimal debt of 5% of GDP, Saudi Arabia’s public finances are unsustainable for more than a few years (see chart).
|Security Name||Last||Days to Cover|
|Athabasca Oil Corporation||1.05||30.12|
|Copper Mountain Mining Corporation||0.29||21.97|
|Crew Energy Inc.||2.92||20.47|
|CARBO Ceramics Inc.||15.87||17.26|
|Energy XXI Ltd||1.02||15.23|
|Cliffs Natural Resources Inc.||1.83||14.64|
|Delphi Energy Corp.||0.58||14.08|
|Coeur Mining, Inc.||2.38||10.64|
|Fortress Paper Ltd. Class A||3.35||10.52|
|Comstock Resources, Inc.||1.51||9.87|
|Cloud Peak Energy Inc.||1.98||9.82|
|Chesapeake Energy Corporation||4.68||9.46|
|Peabody Energy Corporation||7.34||8.84|
|AK Steel Holding Corporation||2.52||8.06|
|Alacer Gold Corp.||1.9||7.91|
|Goodrich Petroleum Corporation||0.26||7.8|
|C&J Energy Services Ltd.||4.09||7.7|
|Canadian Oil Sands Limited||5.3||7.5|
|Detour Gold Corporation||10.89||7.27|
|CVR Energy, Inc.||37.73||6.74|
|Denbury Resources Inc.||1.71||6.53|
|Birchcliff Energy Ltd.||2.68||6.18|
|First Quantum Minerals Ltd.||3.38||5.59|
|Gerdau S.A. Sponsored ADR Pfd||1||5.16|
|Bill Barrett Corporation||3.69||5.01|
Byron R. Wien, Vice Chairman of Multi-Asset Investing at Blackstone, today issued his list of Ten Surprises for 2016. This is the 31st year Byron has given his views on a number of economic, financial market and political surprises for the coming year. Byron defines a “surprise” as an event that the average investor would only assign a one out of three chance of taking place but which Byron believes is “probable,” having a better than 50% likelihood of happening.
Byron started the tradition in 1986 when he was the Chief U.S. Investment Strategist at Morgan Stanley. Byron joined Blackstone in September 2009 as a senior advisor to both the firm and its clients in analyzing economic, political, market and social trends.
Byron’s Ten Surprises for 2016 are as follows:
1. Riding on the coattails of Hillary Clinton, the winner of the presidential race against Ted Cruz, the Democrats gain control of the Senate in November.
The extreme positions of the Republican presidential candidate on key issues are cited as factors contributing to this outcome. Turnout is below expectations for both political parties.
2. The United States equity market has a down year. Stocks suffer from weak earnings, margin pressure (higher wages and no pricing power) and a price- earnings ratio contraction. Investors keeping large cash balances because of global instability is another reason for the disappointing performance.
3. After the December rate increase, the Federal Reserve raises short-term interest rates by 25 basis points only once during 2016 in spite of having indicated on December 16 that they would do more. A weak economy, poor corporate performance and struggling emerging markets are behind the cautious policy. Reversing course and actually reducing rates is actively considered later in the year. Real gross domestic product in the U.S. is below 2% for 2016.
4. The weak American economy and the soft equity market cause overseas investors to reduce their holdings of American stocks. An uncertain policy agenda as a result of a heated presidential campaign further confuses the outlook. The dollar declines to 1.20 against the euro.
5. China barely avoids a hard landing and its soft economy fails to produce enough new jobs to satisfy its young people. Chinese banks get in trouble because of non-performing loans. Debt to GDP is now 250%. Growth drops below 5% even though retail and auto sales are good and industrial production is up.
The yuan is adjusted to seven against the dollar to stimulate exports.
6. The refugee crisis proves divisive for the European Union and breaking it up is again on the table. The political shift toward the nationalist policies of the extreme right is behind the change in mood. No decision is made, but the long-term outlook for the euro and its supporters darkens.
7. Oil languishes in the $30s. Slow growth around the world is the major factor, but additional production from Iran and the unwillingness of Saudi Arabia to limit shipments also play a role. Diminished exploration and development may result in higher prices at some point, but supply/demand strains do not appear in 2016.
8. High-end residential real estate in New York and London has a sharp downturn. Russian and Chinese buyers disappear from the market in both places.
Low oil prices cause caution among Middle East buyers. Many expensive condominiums remain unsold, putting developers under financial stress.
9. The soft U.S. economy and the weakness in the equity market keep the yield on the 10-year U.S. Treasury below 2.5%. Investors continue to show a preference for bonds as a safe haven.
10. Burdened by heavy debt and weak demand, global growth falls to 2%. Softer GNP in the United States as well as China and other emerging markets is behind the weaker than expected performance.
Added Mr. Wien, “Every year there are always a few Surprises that do not make the Ten either because I do not think they are as relevant as those on the basic list or I am not comfortable with the idea that they are ‘probable.’”
11. As a result of enhanced security efforts, terrorist groups associated with ISIS and al Qaeda do NOT mount a major strike involving 100 or more casualties against targets in the U.S. or Europe in 2016. Even so, the United States accepts only a very limited number of asylum seekers from the Middle East during the year.
12. Japan pulls out of its 2015 second half recession as Abenomics starts working. The economy grows 1%, but the yen weakens further to 130 to the dollar. The Nikkei rallies to 22,000.
13. Investors get tough on financial engineering. They realize that share buybacks, mergers and acquisitions, and inversions may give a boost to earnings per share in the short term, but they would rather see investment in capital equipment and research that would improve long-term growth. Multiples suffer.
14. 2016 turns out to be the year of breakthroughs in pharmaceuticals. Several new drugs are approved to treat cancer, heart disease, diabetes, Parkinson’s and memory loss. The cost of developing the breakthrough drugs and their efficacy encourage the political candidates to soften their criticism of pill pricing. Life expectancy will continue to increase, resulting in financial pressure on entitlement programs.
15. Commodity prices stabilize as agricultural and industrial material manufacturers cut production. Emerging market economies come out of their recessions and their equity markets astonish everyone by becoming positive performers in 2016.
Hopes for a capital expenditure (capex) boom remain on hold.
Morgan Stanley's Capex Plans Index fell to 13.4 in December, the lowest reading since July 2013.
"Continued softness in capex plans echoes the declining trend in capital equipment orders and a heavy inventory correction that has weighed on the manufacturing sector. The effects of dollar strength and uncertainty over falling energy prices have been persistent themes in regional manufacturing surveys in 2015," Morgan Stanley's Ellen Zentner said in a note to clients on Tuesday titled "Damage lingers."
After what can only be described as a horrific year for metals and bulk commodity prices, market attention is now quickly turning to what the new year will bring.
Some believe that the worst is now over while others think the bear market that has gripped the commodities complex this year is only getting started.
In a note released earlier this week, analysts at Macquarie research have pondered that very question and it doesn’t make for pleasant reading for commodity bulls.
They suggest 2016 will be about the three Ds – destocking, divestment and desperation. Unfortunately for commodity bulls, another D – demand – is unlikely to feature in their opinion. As a result, they’ve made aggressive price downgrades across the vast majority of commodities they cover on the back of “the weaker demand outlook and general cost curve deflation”.
Here’s a snippet from the report explaining their view. Our emphasis is in bold.
For us, 2016 will be the year of the three D’s for commodities: destock, divestment and desperation. Unfortunately not demand, as it is very hard to see where strong, co-ordinated demand acceleration could come from. We are currently projecting 2016 demand for all major metals and bulk commodities remaining well below the 10-year norms. With financial markets taking an increasingly negative view on the long-term health of the industry, pressures on metals and bulk commodity producers seem set to get worse.
In their opinion, the chief cause behind the subdued demand outlook for commodities remains weakness from their largest consumer: China.
The Chinese government used to be like the best company out there – they would give you five-year forward guidance through their five-year plans (backed by a managed political cycle). Now however, the 13th five year plan has little to hang your hat on with few solid targets. Meanwhile, the economy itself has developed a two-speed nature, with the service sector continuing to grow at a fast pace but the old school industrial economy at best stagnating.
This has clearly added to the uncertainty among Chinese commodity consumers, with a knock-on effect back up the chain to producers. Chinese industry, pretty much across all sectors, has built capacity for demand which has not emerged at the same place.
What the researchers at Macquarie are pointing out is that investment decisions from miners and industry made in the past were based on the premise that Chinese demand would continue to grow at astronomical rates for the foreseeable future.
The pork cycle is to economics what the law of gravity is to physics. You can count on it. Every single time. The only thing that makes economics the trickier science, is timing. Because you never know when the market hits peak or bottom. But economics is not an exact science. Investors don't need to get the cycle exactly right to make money. About right cuts it.
The key to understanding the broad commodity cycle, which functions just like the pork cycle, is the time lag between the investment decision and the creation of new supply. What would happen in case there wouldn't be a time lag? An uptick in demand causes a price increase. The price increase causes additional investment. And the surplus demand would immediately be filled by new supply. Same thing on the downside: demand drops, price drops, investment falls, and production would be cut instantaneously. Our hypothetical result: steady prices.
Of course, reality is different. Breeding the hog takes time. When the price of oil or copper rises, companies can probably squeeze out some extra output. But to substantially increase production to fill the new demand, they need to increase exploration budgets. That means hiring new geologists, given that companies probably fired those when prices were low - if they are still around. The geologists need time to search for the treasure. When they find something, engineers need time to figure out how to drill the well or build the mine. Permits need to be arranged. The company might also need to raise capital. And only then, construction would commence.
By the time the whole new enterprise is up and running, demand starts to drop. Due to the price mechanism, users increased efficiency or switched to substitutes. Or a recession hits. At that point, the commodity producers will be holding the bag. And anyone who invested in commodities lately will know exactly what that means.
Our current cycle started in December 2001, when China joined the WTO. That event marked the beginning of the greatest commodity boom the world ever witnessed. The hungry Chinese giant craved commodities. Commodity producers were throwing everything at it, but it never seemed saturated. Then the global financial crisis hit in 2008. After a commodity collapse, prices bounced quickly and forcefully. This strengthened the China hypothesis even further. We were now in a new era.
Except we were not, of course. Multi-billion dollar mines with long lead times came online just as China started slowing down. The law of gravity took commodity prices down to levels not seen since 1974. Continuing our science metaphor, we are witnessing Newton's Third Law applied to economics: the large upward force caused a force equal in magnitude, but opposite in direction. After the Great Boom, we're now in the Great Collapse.
There even seems to be another new paradigm, which is sort of the mirror image of the boom: China switches its economy from industry to services. With the flip of a switch, every factory worker becomes an app developer. Nobody needs stuff anymore, as everything is now 'in the cloud'. China's pace of growth will continue to fall. Commodity prices will extend their tailspin.
Well, maybe the pundits are right. We don't have a crystal ball. But just allow us to add some balancing facts to the China discussion. China is ramping up government spending, just as it did after the financial crisis.
We're not sure how this will end, but the business cycle is also a cycle. China has been slowing down for four years already. No matter what, these measures will provide additional Chinese demand.
Now, more importantly, back to the commodity supply side. The table below shows an extract from a recent Americas Metals & Mining report by Deutsche Bank. Commodity producers are cutting their CAPEX in a huge way. Globally, we see the same picture across the board. That's your pork cycle at work right there. We are once again setting ourselves up for future commodity shortages.
What will cause commodity prices to turn? Well, increased demand and reduced supply of course - nothing new here. But the specifics will be hard to predict. For example, in 2011, nobody was yet aware of fracking. We now know this new technology turned the oil market upside down. There will probably again be some factor we're currently not expecting. An example could be rapidly accelerating growth in India, which is now where China was decades ago. China has 1.36 billion inhabitants. India has 1.25 billion.
It's just a guess. But the commodity cycle will turn. We will know what made it turn only after the fact. But that's not even relevant to you as a shrewd investor. The only thing that matters is that you need to act now if you're serious about making serious money. And gradually expand your exposure to commodities. As the legendary trader Stan Druckenmillernoted:
"The first thing I heard when I got in the business....was bulls make money, bears make money, and pigs get slaughtered. I'm here to tell you I was a pig. And I strongly believe the only way to make long-term returns in our business that are superior is by being a pig."
But equities, the vehicle most investors use to bet on energy prices, may not be as close. Consider, for example, the widely held Energy Select SPDR exchange-traded fund. Down 43% from its June 2014 peak, it fetched a similar price as recently as October 2011 and is some 50% above its recession low. In other words, a steep loss, but hardly panic territory.
Analysts at Deutsche Bank estimate that North American exploration-and-production stocks now factor in a long-term oil price of under $65 a barrel. That is low relative to the $110 hit 18 months ago, but that was in a world of seemingly insatiable emerging-market demand. Today, that is in doubt, particularly when it comes to China.
Energy stocks probably present an attractive buying opportunity since the average Brent crude price of the past decade was a little above $80 a barrel. But those with the willingness, and ability, to hang on to realize a profit must be aware that we are a long way from there—and perhaps even a good distance from the bottom.
We’ve previously discussed opportunities to use liquified natural gas (LNG) in vehicles including apilot program in the Pittsburgh area for towboats. Ms. Trillanes was able to provide insight into how LNG could be used in our rail systems, including the five major segments required. Her explanation highlights one of the possible benefits of the towboat pilot program: locating an LNG filling station near the rivers would also put it in close proximity to railroad lines in the area.
Please note, all photos below come directly from her presentation and are property of GE Transportation.
Obviously there are several factors to determining if LNG is an economical fuel source for locomotives. The reduced cost of LNG compared to diesel is a driving factor, but operators must also include the cost of operations, training, maintenance and securing a gas supply (or building a filling station).
Another consideration is the replacement rate of diesel by LNG. There are several options when it comes to dual fuel technologies available. Ms. Trillanes explained that GE Transportation had decided the port injection method of using the two fuels as detailed in the chart below.
Currently, GE has three different retrofit kit programs based on the engine technology of the locomotives and they estimate continued testing of the technology in North America throughout 2016.
Egypt is going through a foreign currency crisis and is struggling to pay it debts to international trading partners, among them LNG suppliers, Reuters has reported.
The currency crisis follows the blow Egypt suffered following the downing of a Russian jetliner on 31 October when flying over the Sinai Peninsula from the Sharam el Sheikh resort to St. Petersburg, Russia. All 224 onboard the flight were killed. Following the incident, tourism to Sharm el Sheikh suffered a sharp decline as European airlines curtailed flights and governments increased security arrangements. ISIS, the terror group which controls large swathes of Iraq and Syria and has an affiliate organisation in the Sinai Peninsula, claimed responsibility for the attack.
Egypt, according to the Reuters report, is obliged to pay for LNG shipments within 15 days of a shipment's unloading. Now the Egyptian authorities are looking to extend that timeframe. Egypt used to get financial support from the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries and probably will still get it. However, due to lower energy prices, the support now is more limited. Egypt buys six to eight LNG cargoes monthly, each worth $20-$25 million. It is now in arrears of $350 million for that energy, one source estimated.