The Crash of 2015: Vultures vs. Jackals

So. How have you frackers been feeling, lately? Just checking. (Photo by docentjoyce/Flickr)

So. How have you frackers been feeling, lately? Just checking. (Photo by docentjoyce/Flickr)

The crash of 2015 has been paused temporarily by a curious circumstance: a brawl among the financial scavengers who by now should have carted away the body parts of the great American fracking boom. Against all logic, financial vultures are fighting with financial jackals for possession of the corpse, and while doing so are pumping transfusions into it even though decomposition is already well under way. Here’s what’s happening:

The Vultures believe the decline of American oil fracking is only temporary, a product of the sudden decline in oil prices that struck last fall, and that with the inevitable return to $100-a-barrel oil, the frackers will return to profitability. Continue reading

Forbes: “Shale Oil Boom Goes Bust”

This happy fracker -- a Halliburton employee at a site in North Dakota’s Bakken play -- obviously hasn’t got the memo yet. It’s over. (Wikipedia photo)

This happy fracker — a Halliburton employee at a site in North Dakota’s Bakken play — obviously hasn’t got the memo yet. It’s over. (Wikipedia photo)

Yes, Forbes, the magazine of the Masters of the Universe has uncharacteristically published some discouraging words about the only good news the American economy has had to celebrate in many decades.

Oil output from the most productive U.S. shale fields is expected to drop off next month by 57 million [sic — they mean thousand] barrels of crude daily from April to May, the U.S. Energy Information Administration said Monday. That would represent the first monthly decline in more than four years, according to Reuters.

And then there’s Bloomberg Business, a more objective reporter of what’s going on in American industry, with the headline: “Shale Oil Boom could End in May After Price Collapse.”

Output from the prolific tight-rock formations such as North Dakota’s Bakken shale will decline 57,000 barrels a day in May, the Energy Information Administration said Monday. It’s the first time the agency has forecast a drop in output since it began issuing a monthly drilling productivity report in 2013.

Yet even after admitting that it’s over in the shale patch, the Pollyannas insist that it’s only for a while, until reduced supply brings prices back up and everybody starts doing exactly what they were doing before. How shall we put this? Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: Reckoning Day

You have a perfect plan. Then things begin to go south and before you know it, a day of reckoning. (Photo by motorkid.com/google images)

You have a perfect plan. Then things begin to go south and before you know it, a day of reckoning. (Photo by motorkid.com/google images)

 

The next phase of the Crash of 2015 begins today. The first quarter of the year is now complete, and that means two things for the debt-logged companies trying to stay alive in the U.S. oil fracking patch: it’s time to report the value of their assets to the issuers of their lines of credit; and it’s time to repay or roll over a bunch of the debt with which they are logged.

That first one is the killer. These companies, virtually every one of which has had negative cash flow from the beginning of the so-called “oil revolution, have sustained themselves first with stock issues, then with junk-bond issues, then with subprime loans. As slack as the underwriting of those loans has been, they do actually require the existence of assets whose value at least approaches the amount of the loan. Continue reading

Old King Coal Stricken; Prognosis Grave

A coal train once supplied the city of Holland, Michigan with fuel for its electric generating plant. They converted the plant to natural gas. Their costs are down, their emissions are down, and coal is down for the count.  (Photo by wsilver/Flickr)

A coal train once supplied the city of Holland, Michigan with fuel for its electric generating plant. They converted the plant to natural gas. Their costs are down, their emissions are down, and coal is down for the count. (Photo by wsilver/Flickr)

After bestriding the mountains of Appalachia, among many other places, like the proverbial Colossus for a century and more, the U.S. coal industry has been taken to hospice, a pathetic wasted shadow of its former self, its physical condition terminal, its thought processes derailed by dementia. It’s not a pretty sight (except perhaps to the survivors of the ruin, destruction and death it has brought to thousands upon thousands of helpless people) and there are those who say its fate foreshadows that of the oil fracking  industry, which is now in the ICU, and the legacy oil bidness, which has started to have dizzy spells and occasional sudden hemorrhaging. Continue reading

The Glad News Bears

The Glad News Bears are cute and entertaining, but should not be mistaken for financial advisers or life coaches. (Painting by Frederick Stuart Church [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

The Glad News Bears are cute and entertaining, but should not be mistaken for financial advisers or life coaches. (Painting by Frederick Stuart Church [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

This week, the U.S. Energy Information Agency forecast that oil production in the country’s two largest fracking patches — Bakken in North Dakota and Eagle Ford in Texas — will actually decline this month. To those who have been watching the agony of the oil patch with clear eyes, this had all the shock value of a soaked weather forecaster, standing in a downpour, predicting rain. But it had no effect at all on the Glad News Bears, the relentless chanters of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and “Ain’t Gonna Rain No More, No More.” Continue reading

The Crash of 2015, Day 49: Hell to Pay

You have this perfectly good structure, and then you kick out a few of the supporting pillars, and the next thin you know the SEC is on the phone.

What do you mean, Uncle Clarence didn’t believe they were going to do it, and stayed in his room?

I know, it’s old news. If I stop by on Monday and tell Oscar Oblivious that his house appears to be on fire, he is of course concerned. But when I stop by on Wednesday to say it’s still burning, has consumed most of the structure, and collapse appears to be imminent, he demands to know why I am bothering him with old news. The Crash of 2015, the burn and crash of the economies of much of the world into — at least — serious recession for a very long time, is well under way. It is of course no news at all for the mainstream media, transfixed as they are with simpler stories of happier, imaginary times. But for you who come here from time to time, it’s old news. How is it then that you are still in the burning house? Continue reading

Oil Prices: A Simple Explanation

graph graph

A glance at this simple chart shows how oil prices are determined, and by whom. To the best of our knowledge.

To paraphrase an old saying: For every event there is an explanation that is simple, obvious and wrong. For example, ask why oil prices started to plummet last fall and the simple, obvious answer is: too much supply, mainly because of the American fracking boom, and too little demand because of weak and weakening economies. I have ever been suspicious of people, such as weather forecasters and stock brokers, who have no idea what’s going to happen 24 hours from now but once it happens can immediately explain why it happened, in excruciating detail. Thus on January 7th in this space, I asked a question about this simple and obvious explanation, offered by people who had no clue ahead of time that it was going to happen. The question was this: On what planet does an oversupply of two percent for a machine burning 90 million barrels a day lead to a 50% drop in prices? Continue reading

Grid Lock and Load Shedding: Why the Lights Are Going Out

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. They’re going out more often, for longer, in more places. Are you ready? (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

The lights went out in Hoboken in 2012. Thank goodness we don’t live in one of those backward countries where it happens all the time. (Photo by Alec Perkins/Flickr)

[Irony alert; avoid reading if allergic.] 

It is amusing to see — from the vantage point of the world’s number one economy, soon-to-be-number-one oil-and-gas producer, number one military power and just all around exceptional nation — the rest of the world struggling to keep the lights on. The poor beggars don’t seem to have the capacity to understand what it takes to run large enterprises and be Number One.  Examples abound: Continue reading

The Crash of 2015: Day 29 [UPDATE Day 30]

You have this perfectly good structure, and then you kick out a few of the supporting pillars, and the next thin you know the SEC is on the phone.

Maybe we could still live in the top floor? If we could just slow it down a little?

A couple of things to keep firmly in mind as we watch the Crash of 2015 unfold, pretty much on the schedule I’ve been writing about here for six months. First, the drop in oil prices is not the cause of this disaster, merely an accelerant. The fracking industry is succumbing to its inherent high expense, toxicity, rapid depletion rates and over-reliance on junk financing. Similarly, the stock market crash we expect to follow the fracking collapse would have come anyway because of its inherent instability, and indeed may yet occur before the chain reaction in the fracking fields has run its course. And finally, what is happening to fracking is also happening to the legacy oil business, only slower. Continue reading

The “Worst News of 2015” Just Got Worse

Just a garden-variety protest in some Middle Eastern county, you say, nothing to be afraid of here? Wait till you find out where these people are. (BBC Photo by Safa Al-Ahmad)

Just a garden-variety protest in some Middle Eastern county, you say, nothing to be afraid of here? Wait till you find out where these people are. (BBC Photo by Safa Al-Ahmad)

The news photo I labeled the scariest of 2014, back in August, and the news story I called the worst of 2015 a few weeks ago, just got scarier, and worse. The photo was of demonstrators who have managed to keep an insurgency alive in the Eastern Province of Saudi Arabia for three years despite everything a boundlessly wealthy state can do to snuff it out. Bad for us, because the Eastern Province is where the Saudi oil is. The worst news of the year for us was that the Saudi king was in hospital with a terminal illness. Now the king is dead, and the difficulties faced by his successor just became worse by at least an order of magnitude. Continue reading