It’s unimaginable that governments and central banks that have coordinated and committed trillions of dollars in guarantees, backstops, commitments and outright bailouts will stand by and let weak oil prices (rigged by OPEC) undo everything they’ve done over the past seven years to create stability and manufacture a global economic recovery.
Oil represents a systemic threat to the global economy. Just as housing created a cascade of trouble, through the global financial system, then through countries, the oil price crash can do the same.
When you see forecasts of $20 oil or lower, and some of it is coming from Wall Street, these people should also follow by telling you to buy guns and build a bunker, because that’s what you would need if oil went there and stayed there.
Not to mention, if they believe in that forecast, they should be formulating a plan for what they will do to make a living going forward, because their employers will likely go bust in that scenario.
The persistence of lower oil, especially less than or equal to $20 oil, would financially ruin the U.S. energy sector. Oil producing countries would be next, starting with Russia (and ultimately reaching the big OPEC nations). A default in Russia would create tremors in countries that hold Russia sovereign debt and rely on trade with Russia. Remember the fallout from the Asian Crisis? A default in Russia was the catalyst. Oil driven sovereign defaults would create a massive flight of global capital to safety and global credit/liquidity would dry up, again. All of this would put the world’s banks back on the brink of failure, just as we experienced in 2008. The only problem is, this time around, the global economy cannot absorb another 2008. Governments and central banks have fired their bullets and have nothing left to fend off another near global economic apocalypse.
With that, we have to believe that this crash in oil prices will not persist, especially when it’s being rigged by OPEC. Intervention now (or soon) is easy (relatively speaking) and returns the world to the recovery path. Intervention too late will require more resources than are available.
What’s the solution? An OPEC cut in production has a way of swinging oil in the other direction dramatically. Back in 1986, just a hint of an OPEC cut swung oil by 50% in just 24 hours. This assumes that the pressure builds on OPEC and they realize that the game of chicken that they are playing with U.S. producers has put themselves, also, precariously close to an endpoint.
Alternatively, we made the case last week that either China, the Bank of Japan or the European Central Bank could step in and outright buy commodities as a policy response to their ailing economies. Both the ECB and the BOJ in the past two weeks have said that there are “no limits” to what they can buy as part of their respective QE programs. That would immediately put a floor under crude, and likely global stocks, commodities and put in a top in sovereign bonds. Remember, when China stepped in, bought up and hoarded dirt cheap commodities in 2009, oil went from $32 to above $100 again.
So what’s the latest on oil?
This morning, the threat intensified. Oil dropped 5%, trading below the very key level of $30 per barrel. It was driven by an earnings report from the huge oil and gas company, BP. It reported a $6.5 billion loss. The company followed with an announcement of 7,000 job cuts by the end of 2017. Shares of BP stock are now trading back to 2010 levels, when the company was facing the prospects of bankruptcy after the fall–out from its gulf oil spill. This is one of the largest oil and gas companies in the world trading at levels last seen when people were speculating on its demise.
With the move in oil this morning, global stocks took another hit. Commodities were hit and sovereign debt yields were hit (with U.S. 10–year yields falling below 1.9%).
While there is a lot of talk about China and concerns there, clearly oil is what is dictating markets right now.
Take a look at this chart of oil vs. the S&P 500…
You can see the significant correlation historically in the price of oil and stocks. And you can see where oil and stocks came unhinged back in July 2014. The dramatic disconnect started in November 2014 (Thanksgiving Day) when an OPEC meeting concluded. The poorer members of OPEC called for production cuts. Saudi Arabia blocked the requests. That set off the plunge in oil prices.
You can see clearly in this chart where the price of oil is projecting the S&P. And stocks at those levels suggest the scenario we described above (global apocalypse round 2).
Again, a capitulation from OPEC is probably less likely. More likely, a central bank steps in to become an outright buyer of commodities (especially cheap oil). For those that have been shorting oil (and remain heavily short), either scenario would put them out of business quickly.
At this stage, OPEC is not just in a price war with U.S. shale producers, but it’s playing a game of chicken with the global economy. We’ve had plenty of events over the past seven years that have shaken confidence and have given markets a shakeup – European sovereign debt, Greece potentially leaving the euro, among them. In Europe, we clearly saw the solution. It was intervention. Oil prices are creating every bit as big a threat as Europe was; it’s reasonable to expect intervention will be the solution this time as well.
Bryan Rich is co-founder of Billionaire’s Portfolio, a subscription-based service that empowers average investors to invest alongside the world’s best billionaire investors. To follow the stock picks of the world’s best billionaire investors, subscribe at Billionaire’s Portfolio.