Friday, February 27, 2015

In Which Bloomberg's Matt Levine Goes All "Let's Use Words Correctly, Class" On Us

Not that there's anything wrong with that.*
Following up on this morning's "Meet The Dumbest Insurance Company In The World And the 68.6% Annual Return".

From Bloomberg:

Arbitrage Discovered
Webster's New World College Dictionary defines "arbitrage" as "a simultaneous purchase and sale in two separate financial markets in order to profit from a price difference existing between them," but who reads dictionaries, come on.   The practical definition of "arbitrage," at least in the marketing of financial products, is "a thing we think we can make money doing, keep your fingers crossed." So when someone comes to you and offers you a thing called a "Fixed Price Arbitrage Life Insurance Contract," he's not actually offering you the ability to buy and sell the same thing at different prices, locking in a risk-free profit. It's not actually an arbitrage.

Life insurance is a popular savings product in France, and typically the customer allocates their money among different investment funds offered by the insurer. But this contract was not typical: prices for the funds were published each Friday, and clients were allowed to switch funds at those prices anytime before the next price was published, even if markets moved in the meantime.
L’Abeille Vie called this an arbitrage, but really it was a gift. Is the stock market up this week? Just call your broker to buy it at last week’s price and pocket the difference.
That's from Dan McCrum at FT Alphaville, and while I suspect that most of my readers who enjoy a good derivatives-mispricing yarn also read Alphaville, I figured I'd point it out here because it is the best of all derivatives-mispricing yarns, and I would hate for anyone to miss it. So go read him, and/or the French magazine -- aptly named "Challenges" -- that first reported this....MUCH MORE, including four footnotes:
  1. Webster's is a little weird on this point. I quoted definition 1 in the text, but definition 2 is "a buying of a large number of shares in a corporation in anticipation of, and with the expectation of making a profit from, a merger or takeover." That normally goes by the name "merger arbitrage," or the delightfully paradoxical "risk arbitrage"; in my idiolect you can't just call it "arbitrage." But you see why Webster's would put it there, because otherwise "merger arbitrage" becomes incomprehensible.
*I've been known to go off on this issue myself:

1. 2013's "My Second-to-Last Comment on Izabella Kaminska at Tyler Cowen's Marginal Revolution":

 ....steve May 3, 2013 at 12:28 pm
I was taking the article half seriously when I read the “end of arbitrage”. All I can say is this marks it as quackery. Oh sure, arbitrage may end up being primarily the domain of computers working at lightning speeds. But, the end? Hogwash, there will never be perfect markets.
People, people, people arbitrage opportunities have been disappearing for the past 150 years!

I guessing the two commenters didn't have the definition: "The simultaneous purchase and sale of the same instrument in different markets at different prices" pounded into their head so often their ears bled.
I did.
How many arbitrages do they think present themselves each year?

Spotting and acting on an arb is pure alpha and here is a dirty little secret:
The entire amount of alpha available to the entire hedge fund industry is only $30 billion per year.
As reported by a hedge fund maven via Investment News back in 2006:
...PHILADELPHIA - Everyone in the crowd assembled for the CFA Institute's hedge fund conference took notice when David S. Hsieh said that the amount of alpha available in the hedge fund industry each year is $30 billion.

Mr. Hsieh, a professor of finance at the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University in Durham, N.C., presented a synopsis of his ongoing research, which focuses on the style, risk and performance evaluation of hedge funds, at the Feb. 16 conference here. As part of his work, Mr. Hsieh questioned whether flows into hedge funds are causing a decline in hedge fund returns and what might happen if the high rate of inflow continues.

Because of difficulties in obtaining reliable hedge fund data, Mr. Hsieh used fund-of-hedge-funds data and broke down returns into alpha and beta sources. He said the research led him to "feel comfortable" determining that there is a finite amount of alpha - conservatively, $30 billion - managed by the approximately $1 trillion hedge fund industry. And even if capital invested in hedge funds were to rise, the amount of alpha would remain the same.... 
Got that? All alpha not just arbitrage but all alpha was just $30 bil. in '06.
Here's CBS MoneyWatch in March 2013:
Hedge funds are too big to beat the market
This is probably just a definitional problem so let's say it plainly:

In so called risk (merger) arbitrage the emphasis is on the first word.
Cash-and-carry, buying physical and shorting a derivative is not arbitrage.
When people use the term "arbed away" when talking about market anomalies the are not talking about an arbitrage.
Shorting an ETF and buying the component equities is not an arb, it's just a hedged trade.
Same for Index Arbitrage.

The total pool of arb opportunities may be as small as $1 billion.
Even the old Royal Dutch and Shell Transport trade was not an arb, just a fairly good pair trade.....MORE

2. 2012's "Arbitrage: Historical Perspectives"

3. 2014's "Gold and Backwardation or: Why to Hate Izabella de Alphaville"
The faux-eastern-European sounding sub-head is to honor one of her commenters at Dizzynomics who thought that, because of her last name (technically feminine adjectival surname, I looked it up), she was an English-as-a-second-language émigré from points east.*
That's pretty funny.

The hate terminology comes from the fact that I was dithering whether to link to the piece that is the basis for her post "The time value of gold and anything" while she was using it as a take-off for some fancy commodities-and-more writing. From Dizzynomics.....
4. 2014 again: "As John Paulson Discovers Once Again: Risk-arbitrage Is Pronounced with the Accent On the First Syllable"

5. 2011 "Glencore: The Perfect Arbitrageur"
6. 2011 "Mispricing of Dual-Class Shares: Profit Opportunities, Arbitrage, and Trading"
7. 2007 "How Buffett Made a Killing in Chocolate, And Warren's Letters to Shareholders":
Warren on arbitrage:
Some offbeat opportunities occasionally arise in the
arbitrage field. I participated in one of these when I was
24 and working in New York for Graham-Newman Corp.
Rockwood & Co., a Brooklyn based chocolate products
company of limited profitability, had adopted LIFO
inventory valuation in 1941 when cocoa was selling for
50 cents per pound.In 1954 a temporary shortage of cocoa caused the price to
soar to over 60 cents. Consequently Rockwood wished to
unload its valuable inventory - quickly, before the price
dropped. But if the cocoa had simply been sold off, the
company would have owed close to a 50% tax on the proceeds.

The 1954 Tax Code came to the rescue. It contained
an arcane provision that eliminated the tax otherwise due
on LIFO profits if inventory was distributed to shareholders
as part of a plan reducing the scope of a corporation’s business.
Rockwood decided to terminate one of its businesses, the sale
of cocoa butter, and said 13 million pounds of its cocoa bean
inventory was attributable to that activity. Accordingly, the
company offered to repurchase its stock in exchange for the
cocoa beans it no longer needed, paying 80 pounds of beans
for each share.

For several weeks I busily bought shares, sold beans, and
made periodic stops at Schroeder Trust to exchange stock
certificates for warehouse receipts. The profits were good
and my only expense was subway tokens....
And many more.
And apparently, for some reason the FT Alphaville journalist Izabella Kaminska makes me think of  arbitrage.
All together now: "The only perfect hedge is at Sissinghurst":

El-Erian: "10 Things to Know About Negative Bond Yields"

From Bloomberg:
As yields on German bonds plunged further yesterday, with some maturities closing at record negative levels, the worldwide trend toward ultra-low interest rates remains largely intact. Yet the causes and implications of this movement are quite complex. Here are 10 things to know, from the well understood to the speculative.
Less Than Zero
  1.  Although German bond markets are leading this historical phenomenon -- more than 30 of the 54 securities in the Bloomberg Germany Sovereign Bond Index are at negative yields -- other European government markets also are increasingly seeing ultra-low yields dip into negative territory. JPMorgan has estimated that as much as 1.5 trillion euros ($1.7 trillion) of euro-zone debt trades with negative yields in a growing number of countries, including Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Moreover, this isn't limited to the secondary market; some countries have issued debt at negative yields.
  2. “High quality” European fixed income markets aren't unique in experiencing an extraordinary period of ultra-low yields. Peripheral government bonds, such as those issued by Italy and Spain, have been trading at record low yields, as have corporate securities issued by companies such as Nestle and Shell.
  3.  The seemingly illogical willingness of investors to pay issuers to borrow their money is neither irrational nor driven by just noncommercial considerations (such as regulatory requirements or forced risk aversion). As the European Central Bank prepares to start its own large-scale purchasing program next week, some investors believe they could make capital gains on such negative yielding investments.
  4. There are many immediate reasons to justify this investor optimism. The impact of the ECB’s quantitative easing program (whose scheduled purchase of government bonds is likely to run into a relative scarcity of supply) is amplified by still-sluggish growth, “low-flation” and the threat of deflation. Geopolitical developments also play a role, along with messy national and regional politics in Europe....

The Brent/WTI Spread Makes Saudi Arabia Smile

Refiners too.
From Reuters:
Watch the shale spread: Brent vs WTI crude oil prices
U.S. shale oil is deepening the discount of U.S. crude prices to global benchmarks, with the price gap turning into the de facto indicator of the health of American shale supply, a shale spread of sorts.

The gap between West Texas Intermediate (WTI) and Brent expanded to its biggest in a year at almost $12 a barrel as U.S. oil stocks hit records while global demand supported Brent. The surging U.S. production and inventories point to an "oversupplied market which is hard to ignore," ANZ Bank said in a report on Friday.

Prior to the rise of U.S. shale oil production more than half a decade ago, the spread between WTI and Brent had moved very little for 20 years, largely hovering around zero.

The emerging U.S. glut has since weighed on WTI, which is increasingly a more domestic price gauge than a global one, while non-U.S. benchmarks rise up and down according to demand from Asia and geopolitics in the Middle East.

One factor that could narrow the spread would be a dramatic cutback in shale production as weaker crude prices challenge the economics of shale oil. The spread could shrink further if, or when, the United States adds to world supply with crude exports, which are banned for reasons of protecting national resources for domestic consumption.

And from, Feb. 26:

Opec's blueprint?
The spread between Brent crude and WTI has widened to a 12-month plus high of $10.78/barrel and someone very high up in Opec is probably enjoying the wryest of smiles as we speak.

Far be it for from the floor to suggest a masterplan has been at work here, but with the global oil cartel's pricing linked to the Brent benchmark, the hold market share at-all-costs strategy embarked upon at its November meeting is starting to pay dividends.

"This is a really nice situation for Opec and its members with their profitability going up while WTI stands still and that means there is very little support for the shale sector in the US," says Saxo Bank's head of commodities, Ole Hansen.

Demand is on the rise for Brent, according to a senior Opec official yesterday from Saudi Arabia, helping to propel it to $61.45/barrel at 0755 GMT today, a stark contrast to WTI's laboured $50.73/b.
Yet another huge increase in US oil inventories in yesterday's EIA report is stymieing any hopes WTI has of joining Brent on its upward trajectory with inventories at main US storage hub Cushing rising to 48.6 million barrels.

That has also seen the contango between the front-month WTI price and the second-month widen to $2/b leaving the US benchmark seemingly marooned in "rangebound territory for a while," says Hansen.
Hansen suggests that while there may be a selloff this morning, Brent crude could yet go higher to test the $63/b and even the $65/b area while WTI "is going nowhere fast".

So, What's Up With Liliane Bettencourt And The L’Oréal Billions?

From NY Mag's Daily Intelligencer:

Here’s What’s Going on With the L’Oréal Fortune
One of the biggest trials in French history is wrapping up: At its center is 92-year-old Liliane Bettencourt, France's richest woman and the heiress to the L'Oréal fortune. (Her father, Eugène Schueller, founded the beauty giant.)

The proceedings drew comparisons to the Brooke Astor trial (or Downton Abbey, in yesterday's New York Times), and they captivated the French public despite their confusing nature — hence the spate of explainers in the French press geared toward "les nuls," or dummies.

The case concerns Bettencourt's $41.2 billion fortune (as estimated by Forbes) and her ability to manage her affairs. Bettencourt lives on an estate in Neuilly-sur-Seine, outside Paris, and until recently owned a private island in the Seychelles. Her poor health has prevented her from attending the trial, where it is being determined whether she was taken advantage of by various figures in her life — or whether she was in control of her own faculties and gave them money and gifts willingly.

Bettencourt has given much of her fortune, including artworks by Matisse, Picasso, and Man Ray, to the photographer François-Marie Banier — an estimated 1 billion euros over the course of their long friendship. She even changed her will to make Banier her sole heir. Banier's camp insists that Bettencourt was of sound mind when she gave him money and gifts, while the opposition has suggested that her dementia and the fact that she was on 56 different medications clouded her intentions....MORE
56 meds?

"Oil rebounds, with Brent set for biggest monthly gain since 2009"

ICE Brent $61.23 up $1.18.
NYMEX April's $48.89 up 72 cents.
From MarketWatch:
Crude-oil futures rebounded Friday, with Brent crude set for its biggest monthly gain in nearly six years, ahead of U.S. rig-count data due later in the trading day, and Chinese official manufacturing numbers expected over the weekend.

On the New York Mercantile Exchange, light, sweet crude futures for delivery in April CLJ5, +1.47%  rose $1.07, or 2.3%, to $49.24 a barrel in the Globex electronic session. April Brent crude LCOJ5, +1.98%  on London’s ICE Futures exchange rose $1.26, or 2.1%, to $61.31 a barrel.

Oil bounced back after dropping sharply in the last trading session, with Brent crude better supported than Nymex West Texas Intermediate, but prices are likely to remain volatile in the near-term.

The premium of Brent crude to Nymex WTI crude remains wide at almost $12 a barrel, its widest in more than a year. On a monthly basis, Brent is headed for a gain of nearly 14% for the active April contract, the biggest monthly gain for an active monthly contract since May 2009, when Brent tacked on nearly 29%.

This week’s U.S. rig-count data will be released by oil-field-services firm Baker Hughes Inc. later Friday.
“It is pretty obvious that a fall in rig count does not translate immediately to a drop in oil output. But both the time lag as well as the extent to which a declining rig figure translates into lower production, are tricky to project,” JBC Energy said in a report....MORE

Meet The Dumbest Insurance Company In The World And the 68.6% Annual Return

From FT Alphaville:

Meet the man who could own Aviva France
When he was seven years old, Max-Hervé George was given a magic ticket by his father. It lets him turn back the clock, to invest with perfect hindsight week after week, steadily accumulating a fortune.
The ticket is a life insurance contract and Mr George, now 25, has fought for years in the French courts to preserve its magic. He could be a billionaire by the end of this decade and, by the end of the next, his contract would be worth more than the insurance company which stands behind it, Aviva France.
There is no mystery to the financial magic, however. Instead it is a story of grand stupidity, of how a French insurer wrote the worst contract in the world and sold it to thousands of clients.

The company was L’Abeille Vie. In 1987 it began to offer a special deal to its richer clients, a Fixed Price Arbitrage Life Insurance Contract.

Life insurance is a popular savings product in France, and typically the customer allocates their money among different investment funds offered by the insurer. But this contract was not typical: prices for the funds were published each Friday, and clients were allowed to switch funds at those prices anytime before the next price was published, even if markets moved in the meantime.

L’Abeille Vie called this an arbitrage, but really it was a gift. Is the stock market up this week? Just call your broker to buy it at last week’s price and pocket the difference.

In a world where the price of everything is now a mouse click away, offering a hindsight investment service seems incredible, if not suicidal. Yet thirty years ago prices for funds were published infrequently. Trading involved calling your broker, visiting him person, or maybe sending a fax. It could take days for the trade to be processed, during which time the market could move again.....READ ON

EIA Natural Gas Supply/Demand Report: Told Ya

Long suffering time readers know our pitch for this heating season: Average temperatures overwhelmed by natural gas supply.
We expect the trend to continue at minimum into the spring and will try to stave off the boredom that comes from guessing correctly by designing exotic shoulder season spreads to get widowmaker trapped in.
From the Energy Information Administration:

In the News:
As record setting cold blasts the East, western temperatures warmer than normal
When looking at the nation as a whole, since the start of the year, natural gas consumption has remained relatively flat and temperatures, on average, have been close to normal. Regionally, however, there is a stark difference between the eastern and western halves of the country.

Nationally, natural gas consumption from January 1 through February 20 was 2% higher this year compared to last year, with 6 of the top 20 U.S. natural gas consumption-days occurring during that period, according to data from Bentek Energy. Driven by regional weather patterns, consumption was up 4% in the eastern half of the country (Northeast, Southeast, and Midwest) over last year, but was down 9% in the West (Northwest, Rockies, and Southwest) during that period. In particular, Texas and the Southeast saw increasing demand, mostly due to power burn for space heating, of more than 10% during this period over the year-ago period.

Since the start of the year, record cold temperatures and significant snowfall have occurred in the eastern half of the country. Long-standing temperature records tumbled east of the Rockies, and cumulative heating degree days from January 1 through February 20 equaled 2,220, 11% more than normal. This is in contrast to the western half of the nation where daily temperatures have often been above average. Seven states — California, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Wyoming — have reported average temperatures for the month of January in the top 10 warmest on record, with cumulative HDD since the beginning of the year totaling 922, 25% under normal.

With lower demand, spot volumes in the West have traded this year near or below that of the Henry Hub price, the U.S. natural gas benchmark, which averaged $2.88 per million British thermal units (MMBtu) January 1 to February 20. Average spot pricing for PG&E Citygate in California, Opal in Wyoming, and Northwest Sumas in Washington were $3.10/MMBtu, $2.64/MMBtu, and $2.54/MMBtu, respectively, for that period and much less than the key Northeast trading hubs, which have been trading four or more times higher than the West....MUCH MORE

Reinsurance: "Global insured catastrophe losses lowest for five years"

From Artemis:
Despite intense snowstorms in Japan, severe hail and windstorms in Europe, major flooding in parts of the UK and several aviation tragedies, global insured losses for 2014 were the lowest for five years, at roughly $33 billion, according to Guy Carpenter & Company, LLC.

The international risk and reinsurance broking specialist’s annual ‘Global Catastrophe Review’ report has recently been published, highlighting a significant drop in insured losses throughout 2014 from natural and man-made disasters.
Significant natural catastrophe insured losses 2011 to 2014
Significant natural catastrophe insured losses 2011 to 2014 - Source: Guy Carpenter

The Americas, which includes the U.S. and Canada, contributed around 57% of the global insured loss figure, while Europe, the Middle East and Africa comprised roughly 21%, and Asia, Australasia regions fronted approximately 23% of the losses, according to Guy Carpenter’s study.

“Although insured losses for 2014 were among the lowest recorded in years, we still observed powerful impacts and significant losses from both natural and man-made catastrophes,” advised James Waller, Research Meteorologist at GC Analytics.

Interestingly, Artemis reported at the end of last year that Swiss Re’s sigma research unit had estimated 2014 global insured losses would reach $34 billion, while reinsurer Munich Re provided a global catastrophe insured loss figure for 2014 of just $31 billion.

Similarly, and again differing from Guy Carpenters review, Aon Benfield’s Impact Forecasting division recently reported that catastrophe insured losses for 2014 were 38% below the ten-year average, at $39 billion, also discussed by Artemis.

Regardless of varied totals from several of the world’s leading brokers and reinsurers it’s clear to see that whether at the high or low-end of estimates, 2014 was someway below previous years and long-term averages.

The low-level of catastrophe losses has of course been exacerbating the softening of catastrophe reinsurance pricing. With traditional reinsurers and insurers finding the levels of loss manageable, excess has built up which alongside growing alternative capital results in ongoing pressure on rates.

Of course, this is not a bad thing for anyone, except perhaps for traditional reinsurers who are more accustomed to higher margins on this catastrophe exposed business. Lower reinsurance costs ultimately benefit insurance consumers and force capital to be more efficient, something that ILS excels at....MUCH MORE

Chartology: Oil Exploration and Production (XOP)

The  SPDR S&P Oil & Gas Explore & Prod. (ETF) closed yesterday at $51.54. The home of the larger oils, the Energy Select Sector SPDR (ETF), closed at $79.35.
We expect both to trade lower before all is said and done.
Meanwhile, more is said than done.

From Slope of Hope:
When Springheel referred to One More Heave in his post this morning, I had something like this in mind. Anyway……..
My obsession with crude oil and energy stocks is well-documented. I wanted to talk a bit about this daily chart of the oil & gas explorers ETF. I see it going through these phases:
+ Magenta – a very well-formed head and shoulders top; the bulls didn’t have any idea what was about to happen to them;
+ Yellow – the initial plunge, prompted by the magenta pattern, with some stabilization;
+ Cyan – after the Saudis said they weren’t going to curtail production, all bets were off. After Thanksgiving, things went into another free-fall, double-bottoming in late December and early January;
+ Grey – this is what I’ve been stomaching all month – – a blinkered recovery

In spite of crude oil weakening quite clearly, the energy stocks seem to be giving me the bird and not budging. I think they’re going to budge sooner or later, and to the downside. At a minimum, I think they’ll challenge the lows we saw last month. If deflation really grabs hold, we could conceivably see oil in the 30s this year, with energy stocks following it south.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Market Wrap: Oil Hammered As Analysts Say Storage Space Running Out; NatGas Plunges; Gold Up"

I think Izabella Kaminska was the first journo to seriously raise the possibility, last week, which post we linked to in Monday's "Oil: Cushing Storage Capacity Should Be Maxed Out By May".
After trading down to $47.80 the April futures have reversed a bit and are trading at $49.02.
Natural gas did not reverse and is changing hamds at $2.691.
We expect both to be lower a month from now.

From Hard Assets Investor:
Energy underperformed, while other commodities advanced.

Most cost commodities rallied today, shrugging off a big spike in the U.S. dollar. However, energy prices were the exception as both oil and natural gas were hammered. Meanwhile, stock markets retreated amid profit-taking after running up to record highs earlier this week.

In today's economic news, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported that the Consumer Price Index in the United States fell by 0.7 percent in January, slightly more than the expected 0.6 percent decline. At the same time, the core CPI, which excludes food and energy, increased by 0.2 percent in January, faster than the anticipated 0.1 percent increase. On a year-over-year basis, the headline CPI was down by 0.1 percent, the first negative reading since 2009, while the core CPI was up by 1.6 percent....
  • Crude oil fell as traders focused their attention on the record inventory levels in the U.S. That pushed WTI to an $11.79 discount to Brent, the highest level in more than a year. The U.S. benchmark was last trading lower by $2.29, or 4.49 percent, to $48.70, while the European benchmark lost $1.14, or 1.85 percent, to $60.49.

    "We're going to see pretty fast inventory builds over the next few weeks," Francisco Blanch, head of commodity research at Bank of America-Merrill Lynch, told CNBC. "If you run out of  [inventory] space, prices tend to react a lot more violently to adjust that supply and demand imbalance and that's what we expect over the next few weeks," he said, forecasting both WTI and Brent will fall toward $30 a barrel.

    "Within around two months, [onshore storage will] be completely exhausted," Ivan Szapakowski, a commodity strategist at Citigroup, added. "The only remaining storage globally will then be floating storage, tankers."
  • Natural gas plunged $0.20, or 6.88 percent, to $2.70/mmbtu after the EIA reported that operators withdrew 219 billion cubic feet from storage last week, less than the 233 to 238 bcf that most analysts were expecting.

    "Everyone, myself included, over-estimated the cold," said Stephen Schork, President of Schork Group Inc. "From the mid-Atlantic, up to New England and through the Midwest it was cold, but it was relatively warm out West and you had the President's Day weekend. Those two factors were hard to gauge."

    "The market appears to be discounting the overall impact of the end-of-season reduction in inventories, electing instead to look beyond the winter to the possible record-breaking injection season ahead," added Teri Viswanath, director of commodities strategy at BNP Paribas....MORE

"Tesla Motors Inc Rumors Drive Bullish Betting" (TSLA)

$206.77 up $3.01.
From Schaeffer's Investment Research:
After hovering around breakeven for the first hour of trading, Tesla Motors Inc (NASDAQ:TSLA) shot higher on rumors out of China that Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) -- which is reacting to its own buzz -- intends to invest in the electric vehicle maker. As a result, TSLA options are flying off the shelves, especially on the bullish side, with traders placing last-minute bets.

The equity's 30-day at-the-money implied volatility has edged 2.5% higher to 38.2%, reflecting the growing popularity of near-term contracts. In fact, the 10 most active TSLA options expire at tomorrow's close, and calls are crossing the tape at twice the average intraday pace.

Most active is the weekly 2/27 210-strike call, which bulls are once again buying to open to bet on a move north of $210 by the end of the week....MORE

"Natural gas futures fall despite frigid temperatures"

Following up on "Natural Gas: In The Face Of Another Cold Spell, Prices Head South".
Front futures down another 11 cents since the above was posted, $2.706, down 0.156.

From the Houston Chronicle's Fuel Fix blog:
HOUSTON — Not even powerful cold could save natural gas Wednesday.

Traders sent the price down on the benchmark futures market in spite of chilling temperatures and a winter front that has blanketed much of the country in snow.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration’s weekly report on natural gas inventories showed a higher-than-normal withdraw of natural gas for the week ending Feb. 20, but even that strong draw didn’t measure up to analysts’ expectations.

The EIA data released Thursday showed inventories at 1.94 trillion cubic feet, down 219 billion cubic feet from the prior week.

A survey of 25 analysts had projected that cold weather would drive about 241 billion cubic feet of gas from inventories, according to data compiled by Bloomberg....MORE
Here's the EIA report.
Platts' analyst survey came in at between 239 billion cubic feet and 243 billion cubic feet.
Today's action via FinViz:

UPDATED--Why Google Gave Up On Their Renewables-For-Less-Than-Coal Program (RE < C )

Update: I forgot the link to IEEE Spectrum, now fixed.

Following up on "Google Partners With SolarCity On $750 Million Residential Solar Fund (SCTY; GOOG)" where we reiterated, the money is in the finance, not the manufacturing.

Since 2007 I've been recommending Professor David J.C. MacKay, who used to hang his hat at Cambridge's Cavendish Laboratory, where as best as I can tell, they manufacture physics laureates for the Nobel folks. (29 at last count).
He has a bunch of letters after his name. 

Mackay left the lab in 2013 to be the University's first Regius Professor of Engineering but remains Chief Scientific Advisor to Great Britain's Department of Energy and Climate Change
Here's his Cambridge website.
When people want to talk energy with me I usually ask if they have read his book.  

Finally, here is the new download page

If you've read the book you understand some of the challenges.
Alternatively here are a couple of the engineers who helped spearhead the GOOGs efforts writing for the brainiacs at IEEE Spectrum:

What It Would Really Take to Reverse Climate Change
 Ross Koningstein and David Fork are engineers at Google, who worked together on the bold renewable energy initiative known as RE < C .
They dedicate this article to the memory of Tim Allen, who led the project. Allen inspired them to question their assumptions about what it would take to reverse climate change. “He wasn’t married to one approach,” Koningstein says. “He was intent on solving the problem.”
Google cofounder Larry Page is fond of saying that if you choose a harder problem to tackle, you’ll have less competition. This business philosophy has clearly worked out well for the company and led to some remarkably successful “moon shot” projects: a translation engine that knows 80 languages, self-driving cars, and the wearable computer system Google Glass, to name just a few.

Starting in 2007, Google committed significant resources to tackle the world’s climate and energy problems. A few of these efforts proved very successful: Google deployed some of the most energy-efficient data centers in the world, purchased large amounts of renewable energy, and offset what remained of its carbon footprint.

Google’s boldest energy move was an effort known as RE, which aimed to develop renewable energy sources that would generate electricity more cheaply than coal-fired power plants do. The company announced that Google would help promising technologies mature by investing in start-ups and conducting its own internal R&D. Its aspirational goal: to produce a gigawatt of renewable power more cheaply than a coal-fired plant could, and to achieve this in years, not decades.


Natural Gas: In The Face Of Another Cold Spell, Prices Head South

Ahead of today's storage report, some pretty pictures.
There is a lot of gas around.

From WXMaps, cooler than average for the next week:

And from FinViz, $3.04 to $2.81 in 72 hours:


What if it had been warm?

Google Partners With SolarCity On $750 Million Residential Solar Fund (SCTY; GOOG)

The money to be made will be in financing and financialization, not solar manufacturing.
But you knew that.
From GigaOm:
Solar installer and financier SolarCity announced on Thursday that it plans to raise a $750 million fund to invest in installing solar panels on the rooftops of home owners, and $300 million of that fund will come from tech giant Google. While Google has put over $1 billion into clean energy projects over the years, the commitment to the SolarCity fund is Google’s largest to date, and the entire fund will be the largest one ever created for residential solar projects.

The deal shows the momentum behind the booming solar panel industry in the U.S. Solar energy represented over a third of all new electricity in the U.S. in 2014, and that could grow to 40 percent in 2015, which would be a new record. The solar industry is now a major U.S. employer, employing twice as many workers as the coal industry; SolarCity employs more workers in California than the state’s three large utilities combined, said SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive at the ARPA-E Summit earlier this month....MORE
The writer, Katie Fehrenbacher, has been on this beat for quite a while and is pretty sharp but falls into the industry's PR machine when she  repeats the "twice as many as the coal" industry chestnut.

The reason it takes more people is that the solar industry is so darn inefficient. In a comment at Environmental Capital's December 2008 post "Green Jobs: Are They Just a Myth?" I tried to explain the problem as it related to energy:
The key to greencollar jobs is inefficiency. The more labor intensive the energy production the more people you will employ.

Doing a reductio ad absurdum, you would construct a human powered generator.
At a spacing of one meter, a 950 mile diameter wheel would employ five million people.
At 1/10 horsepower per person you would generate 3 million kWh/day.
Of course paying even the minimum wage gets your cost up to the $90.00 kWh range (i.e $80,000/month for the average home’s usage) but you’ve put 5mm folks to work.

This is an extreme example but the concept is pretty well fleshed out in the literature.
Comment by Climateer - December 10, 2008 at 11:49 am
We'll have more as details come out.
See also:
Why Google Gave Up On Their Renewables-For-Less-Than-Coal Program (RE < C )

Nun with a Switchblade: Julie Andrews and The Fiftieth Anniversary Of The Sound Of Music

From MetaFilter:
As she and Plummer munched their respective fractions of peanut-butter bar, they recalled A Royal Christmas. “We played every awful hockey rink all the way from Canada to Florida,” Andrews said. “We had huge buses we could sleep in. It was with the London Philharmonic and the Westminster Choir and the Somebody Bell Ringers and the Something Ballet. And Chris and me doing our bit. It turned out to be great fun under awful circumstances, didn’t it?” “The bus was the most fun,” he said. “We had our own bar, so we couldn’t wait to get there.”
If you have not yet read this Vanity Fair article about Julie Andrews, Christopher Plummer, their lifelong cranky friendship, and the 50th anniversary of The Sound of Music, doing so will probably make your day at least 50% better.
posted by Stacey (1 comment total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
"It would surprise no one, perhaps, to learn that Julie Andrews travels with her own teakettle."

No. No it would not.

Warren Buffett's 50th Anniversary Letter to Berkshire Shareholders and Some Thoughts on the Early Years

We've been following the Omaha insurance salesman since passing on BKHT at $800.

One of the things to note about the partnership and early Berkshire days is that Warren was a bit wilder than subsequent hagiography would have one believe. Some of our posts after the Financial Times links.
From FT Alphaville:

A portrait of the takeover artist as a young man: Warren Buffett’s 1965 letter
No doubt readers have set aside a few hours this coming Saturday to digest Warren Buffett’s annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway shareholders, which this year weighs in at a record 20,000 words.

It is the Golden Anniversary edition, with musings not just on the past year but also on what the next 50 might hold. We are promised a little reminiscing, too — which prompted us to look back to the time when Mr Buffett assumed control of an ailing New England textile manufacturer and set out on his most extraordinary journey.

Fifty years ago, the Omaha oracle was running an investment fund, the Buffett Parternship, for which Berkshire was just the latest in a number of positions. The annual letter covering 1965 is recognisably Buffett; you can tell from the LBJ joke at the very beginning.
The partnership had been buying shares in Berkshire for more than two years before the 34-year-old Mr Buffett resolved to take control of the company, getting himself elected to the board on May 10, 1965 and installing new management. This is how he first described Berkshire to his investors (there are points for identifying the “West Coast philosopher” mentioned below)....MORE

Some of our posts on the early Warren:
Oct. 2010
"Warren Buffett: Buying Berkshire Hathaway Was $200 Billion Blunder" (BRK.B; BRK.A)
Oct. 2010
"Warren Buffett, Mr. Market and the Buffett Partnership Letters, 1959-1969 (BRK.A; BRK.B)"
We first posted the partnership letters in September 2007 when it was one of our most popular offerings.
This is a repost from Sept. 2008 with the special bonus feature of a few of the early Berkshire Letters to Shareholders.
But Wait, there's more! The link to Warren's Mr. Market quote....
Nov. 2012
Buffett Redux: How Would the Oracle Do It If He Was Starting Over Today? (BRK)
Buffet's partnership days were more akin to hedge fund behavior than they were to deep value investing.
So, for that matter, were some of the Graham-Newman trades. See for example the cocoa bean/common stock arbitrage in "Living La Vida Cocoa: Warren Buffett, Berkshire Hathaway and the Chocolate Wars (BRK.A; BRK.B; CBY; KFT; HSY)", it pretty much puts the lie to the Efficient Market Hypothesis.
Feb. 2013
Warren Buffet's Columbia University Talk Upon the 50th Anniversary of 'Security Analysis' (he doesn't seem to have much use for EMH)

May 2013
The Question Most Asked of Warren Buffett in 1961 (Warren Buffett, Mr. Market and the Buffett Partnership Letters, 1959-1969 )

July 2014
"Warren Buffett’s Early Investments" (BRK.b)
Much closer to gunslinger than the current iteration.
And a slightly different take:
Warren Buffet: The King of Leveraged Low Beta (BRK.B)

In addition we have around 500 other Buffett and/or Berkshire posts, use the search blog box, top left, if interested.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

"Why You Won't Be Able To Buy An Apple Car"

From Jalopnik:

 ​Why You Won't Be Able To Buy An Apple Car
Apple probably isn't getting into the car business. At least not in the way we know it today. It's getting into the mobility business, where you dial up a ride on your smartphone, Uber-style, get to where you're going and move on with your life. No monthly payments, no insurance, no maintenance and repairs. That's what Apple could bring to the game, and it's obviously not alone.

After the last two weeks of news, exclusively composed of "leaks" and unnamed sources, Apple is obviously doing something big with Project Titan, the codename of its car-related project. It's poached battery and automotive engineers and executives, and put an estimated 200 people working on the project in an undisclosed location in the Valley.

That's led to a string of analysis and speculation about exactly what Apple is doing and how a company known for PCs, phones, and tablets could possibly survive in the traditional automotive space. It can't because it doesn't need to.3

Ex-GM CEO Dan Akerson's comments about Apple having "no idea" what it's getting into were actually prescient, because he doesn't have a clue. Akerson is looking at building and selling cars from the traditional standpoint of an industry that's been optimizing, iterating, and churning them out for over 100 years. Unlike an iPhone, the profit margins are slim and the cost of doing business is massive. It doesn't matter Apple has nearly $180 billion in the bank, a market cap that's triple the size of Toyota, and is spending money any way it can.4
​Why You Won't Be Able To Buy An Apple Car


Greek Banks: Doin' It Iceland Style

[insert Björk joke here]

From A Fistful of Euros:

The good, the bad and the foreign: Icelandic lesson for stabilising the Greek banks*
Ever since 2010, when Greece first turned to the IMF for assistance, the crisis handling has been characterised by too little too late, which is why Greece is still grabbing the headlines. The Greek banks are a serious part of the problem with liquidity crunch and non-performing loans at 33.5% 2010-2014 according to World Bank data. Banks with such numbers can hardly perform their role of stimulating the economy with sustainable lending. Whatever measures Greece will use to tackle its problems the banks have to be dealt with.

In October 2008 the three largest banks in Iceland experienced liquidity problems due to a series of mistakes, fickle foreign funding, outright fraud, bad luck and a weak lender of last resort.
The Greek banks are in a less dire situation than their Icelandic counterparts in 2008. However, if Athens, Brussels and Frankfurt do not soon present a credible plan for Greece a bank run (compared to the recent trot of €100-200m a day) unavoidably ensues at some point: depositors, distrusting the deposit insurance system, take out their savings and stash them at home rather than waiting for a bail-in, as in Cyprus or bankruptcy proceedings.

Here is a lesson from Iceland. In October 2008 the Icelandic government acted on a bank run by forcing the dysfunctional banks, by then lacking liquidity, into receivership, splitting their operation in two. Instead of the classic split into a good bank/bad bank the domestic operations were consolidated in a New bank with the foreign operations left in the estate of the Old failed bank; in effect a split into a good domestic bank and a bad foreign one. Some weeks later, capital controls were put in place, forcing investors to stay put and shoulder the risk.

An aside on the Icelandic capital controls: they came into being with full support of the International Monetary Fund, IMF because the foreign currency reserves were not enough to meet demand. This is a very different situation from Cyprus where capital controls were put in place for the banks to hold on to deposits, as would be the case if capital controls were used in Greece.

The Greek banks do now rely on both domestic and foreign funding: domestic deposits and European Central Bank, ECB, funds (through various mechanisms) amounting to 20-25% of the balance sheet.  The assets are mostly domestic: performing and non-performing loans, cash, real estate etc. Hence, a clean domestic/foreign split is not possible – but a mixed split is....MORE

Oil Chartology: Holy Crap!

This move isn't real.
At least not until the nice lady says she'd like to see some more variation margin.

From ZeroHedge:

How To Trade Oil For HFT Idiots
While we previously exposed the 1430ET NYMEX Close Ramp trade, it appears a new algo-idiot trade has made an appearance. "Sell API Inventory data, Buy DOE Inventory Data"

On both of these occasions, the DOE build was much higher than expected BUT the spin, of course, was that it wasn't as bad as the API build the prior evening...

Stocks even gave up on it...

Don't forget - today's DOE data showed record production, record inventories, and the biggest inventory build in 5 weeks... but apart from that it all makes perfect sense.
From the linked piece:

Crude Oil Inventories Surge For 7th Week In A Row To Record Highs Amid Record Production
...US Oil Production hit a new record high... (despite the declining rig count - perhaps finally putting a nail in that meme)...

"Why ETF Creation Halts Are Dangerous, in Two Charts"

Following up on "PowerShares ‘Temporarily’ Halts Creations in 11 Commodity/Currency ETFs (DBC; UUP)".

From Barron's Focus on Funds:
Exchange-traded funds can jump off the rails and trigger higher trading costs when disruptions hit their normal trading mechanism.

A good example cropped up on Wednesday, just hours after PowerShares announced that it “temporarily” suspended new creation units for 11 ETFs. Normally, specialized dealers work to create and destroy the number of ETF shares on the market. These dealers (called authorized participants) work with ETF companies to hammer an ETF’s price in line with the value of its holdings. This process keeps share prices for, say, the SPDR S&P 500 ETF (SPY) closely aligned with the S&P 500 index.

But look what can happen when there’s no way to expand the share count: the ETF can trade at a big premium. The $481 million PowerShares DB Oil Fund (DBO) is among the ETFs affected by PowerShares creation halt.

Soon after the opening bell, DBO’s price jumped way above its NAV. As illustrated below, it also rose well above prices for United States Oil Fund (USO) and the iPath S&P GSCI Crude Oil Total Return Index ETN (OIL).

The white line at the top is the price of DBO just before 11:00 a.m. Eastern, more than 2% above the other oil funds:
That premium quickly collapsed. Some traders appear to have gotten wise to DBO’s artificially high price and sold shares short, traders said. At the same time, oil prices rose. Less than an hour later, prices for the three funds had converged.

Predict Putin's Next Moves By Tracking Crony Insider Trading

From Bloomberg:
At first glance, President Vladimir Putin's Russia may seem like a traditional rogue dictatorship whose actions are impossible to predict. In reality, it's a crony capitalist state with relatively open markets. That means you can always know what's going to happen slightly in advance by following the financial dealings of insiders.

Two Ph.D. students at Cornell, Felipe Silva and Ekaterina Volkova, recently confirmed that after analyzing Russian stock trades ahead of Russia's annexation of Crimea. In a yet unpublished paper, they show that insiders began selling stocks while outside observers, even sophisticated ones, were still struggling to accept the possibility of an armed Russian attack on Ukraine.

Silva and Volkova's research is based on the concept of probability of informed trading, originally developed in the mid-1990s by David Easley and Maureen O'Hara, also of Cornell. The researchers developed a way to track something they call Volume-Synchronized Probability of Informed Trading (VPIN). Essentially, it's the share of trading orders that are likely made by informed participants or insiders, based on their ability to correctly anticipate a move in prices. If the VPIN value for a stock or index rises sharply compared to an historical benchmark, it means insiders have become a lot more active. That suggests a momentous event is probably coming. The VPIN model predicted the Flash Crash of 2010 two hours before it took place.

Silva and Volkova applied the model to trading in 161 Russian stocks and the RTS index futures between Jan. 6 and April 4, 2014. For the RTS futures, the typical VPIN is 34 percent, compared with 22.5 percent for the E-Mini S&P 500 futures. (That doesn't mean a third of the orders are usually placed by criminals using illegal insider information; VPIN broadly defines "insiders" as people with better information than others.)...MORE

Larry Summers' Feb. 19 Speech: "Reflections on Secular Stagnation"

From the blog of Lawrence H. Summers:
Summers gave the keynote address at Princeton University’s Julius-Rabinowitz Center for Public Policy 4th Annual Conference on February 19, 2015. In his remarks, Summers gave his perspective on the “profound macroeconomic challenge of the next 20 years in the industrial world: secular stagnation.”

Lawrence H. Summers
Speech at Julius-Rabinowitz Center, Princeton University
February 19, 2015

Thank you for those generous words. I am glad to be here, glad to see so many old friends, my former Treasury colleague Josi Chapmen, from whom I learned much of what little I know about the international economic interactions relating to Europe. My former student, and then government colleague, Alan Krueger, whose work has illuminated so much to do with the working, or the non-working, of labor markets. My friend David Wessel, who’s covered my activities in government for many, many years at the Wall Street Journal. I can now tell you that on any occasion when I looked good, it was because he was reporting accurately. On any occasion when I looked bad, it was because he did not have an accurate rendering.

I just want to say, before I launch into my topic, that as someone who has spent his life, in a way, shuttling back and forth between government and university, I think that conferences like this one, and centers like the one that it’s convened in, are really profoundly important. If, for example, the United States has had a more successful response for financial crisis than Europe or Japan, it is importantly because of the kind of close connections between the worlds of thought and the worlds of action, that the American system makes possible. I believe the cultivation and support of worldly academic research in economics is something that is very, very important. I also believe that economic ideas, when either right or wrong, spur change and spur progress. When right, they make an important contribution. When wrong, they provide important clarification that ultimately proves to contribute to public policy.

What I’d like to do today is talk about my perspective, and I’ll try to recognize that there are multiple perspectives, on what seems to me to be the profound macroeconomic challenge of the next 20 years in the industrial world, and that is a problem of what I like to call secular stagnation, following Alvin Hansen.
I’m going to talk about six things. I’m going to talk about why we’re talking about secular stagnation, the dismal performance of the industrial world in recent years. I’m going to talk about the secular stagnation hypothesis, as Hansen framed it. Talk about what’s the central element in that, the low level of real interest rates. Reflect on some of the challenges that have been posed to the hypothesis, and then discuss what is it to be done.

This shows you US economic performance since 2007, measured relative to what we aspired to in 2007. What you see is that the economy went off a small cliff between 2007 and 2009 and that relative to what we aspired to in 2007, there has been no catch-up. The GDP gap is indeed smaller than it was in 2009, but that is entirely because our judgments about potential has been revised downwards, in the face of dismal performance. If anything, the picture is worse. In Europe, where there’s been essentially no progress, and where the gap relative to potential as we had assumed it would be, has steadily increased, and is continuing to increase. Of course, this is all reminiscent of the Japanese experience, and it would be be a rough summary of macroeconomics in this decade to say that Japan is the old Japan, and Europe is the new Japan. Europe today looks very much like Japan did seven or eight years post-bubble. Demographically challenged, incipiently deflating with severe financial strains, with dysfunctional politics, and ineffective decision-making....MORE

PowerShares ‘Temporarily’ Halts Creations in 11 Commodity/Currency ETFs (DBC; UUP)

From Barron's Focus on Funds:
Fund company PowerShares “temporarily suspended” share creations in nearly a dozen commodities and currency exchange-traded funds on Wednesday as it assumes full responsibility for those funds’ management.

The suspension affects 11 ETFs including the $4 billion PowerShares DB Commodity Index Tracking Fund (DBC) and the $1.2 billion PowerShares DB Dollar Index Bullish Fund (UUP), and curtails the ability of specialized dealers to create new ETF shares, possibly increasing investors’ trading costs.

PowerShares said it will “work quickly” to file necessary paperwork with Securities and Exchange Commission and National Futures Association to allow for normal functioning. PowerShares is the fourth largest U.S. ETF provider and a unit Invesco (IVZ). In October, the company said it would take over complete responsibility for the funds, which had been run jointly with Deutsche Asset & Wealth Management. PowerShares had previously been in charge of the ETF suite’s marketing and distribution.
In the ETF market, so-called authorized participants work continuously to create and destroy shares to align an ETF’s market price with the value of its underlying securities. If no mechanism exists to create new shares exists, the funds’ prices have potential to veer away from their net asset values, like a closed-end fund. In other words: beware....MORE

"Be Calm, Robots Aren’t About to Take Your Job, MIT Economist Says"

I'm open to a convincing argument but I don't think this is it.
From Real Time Economics:
MIT economics professor David Autor says, “If we automate all the jobs, we’ll be rich.”
David Autor knows a lot about robots. He doesn’t think they’re set to devour our jobs.
As an economics professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who focuses on the impact of automation on employment, he’s in a good position to know. He’s surrounded by people creating many of the machines behind the latest wave of techno-anxiety.

His is “the non-alarmist view,” he says.

The 50-year-old believes automation has hurt the job market—but in a more targeted way than most pessimists think. He also doesn’t see the automation wave killing a wider array of jobs as quickly as many predict. Machines are invading the workplace, but in many cases as tools to make humans more productive, not replace them.

His research—presented in August to a packed audience of international central bankers in Wyoming—shows middle-skill jobs like bookkeeping, clerical work and repetitive tasks on assembly lines are being rapidly gobbled up by automation. But higher-paying jobs that require creativity and problem-solving—often aided by computers—have grown rapidly, as have lower skilled jobs that are resistant to automation, resulting in a polarized labor market and stagnant wages.

But many other economists and tech-watchers are ringing a louder bell.

“We’re entering an era where human beings are becoming dispensable in more parts of the economy and at a faster rate than ever before,” said Vivek Wadwa, a futurist at the Rock Center for Corporate Governance at Stanford University.

A recent Pew survey found just under half of technology experts said automation would displace “significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers” over the next decade. Some said it would leave “masses of people who are effectively unemployable.” But the other half said it will create more jobs than it destroys.
Mr. Autor—who always sports a single gecko-shaped silver earring, his trademark symbol also pasted on his iPhone—says the fear has outpaced reality. Automation is advancing, but we are still far from the day when machines can do complex physical and mental tasks that are easily and cheaply done by humans.

He encourages people to watch online videos of robots developed for the Pentagon, some built by his MIT colleagues. “They’ll put them in the field and if a gust of wind unexpectedly nudges a door open, they tip over,” he says with a chuckle....MORE

Chartology: Crude Oil

WTI has been bouncing between $54 and 48 (approx) I had thought that might change when April became the new front mont but nothing yet.
$49.27 down a penny. We're going lower but it may take until the end of the quarter, futures appear to be levitated at present.

From Nifty Charts:

Descending Triangle and support levels of CRUDE OIL


Rule Britannia: FTSE Finally Sets a New Record, Now Wot?

Yeah, yeah, never, never, never shall be slaves is wot.
From FT Alphaville:

How to play Footsie
Now the FTSE 100 has broken through to a new high, there are a lot of myths about what it means peddled by people who should know better – including the grand old BBC.
Myth 1: The Footsie’s been really slow to get back to its peak because British shares have done so much worse than those of other countries
The Footsie took 15 years to get back to its high last seen at the end of 1999, which is a long time. Germany’s Dax index, people keep pointing out, made a new post-Lehman high two years ago. The problem is the Dax includes dividends, while the FTSE 100 doesn’t. Calculate the Footsie on the same basis, and it made a new post-crisis high in December 2010.
Here’s what the FTSE 100 and the Dax look like when dividends are excluded: the Dax has recently made a new post-Lehman high, but is still about 10 per cent below its dotcom peak. I added in Japan’s Topix, to make British investors feel good.
Capital-only indices
Much more relevant for investors of course is how much they would have made including dividends, since over the long run it is reinvested dividends which provide most of the gain:
Total return
Even this is misleading, though. Currency moves have a huge impact, and can’t be ignored. For a British investor who didn’t hedge their currency risk, these are the (sterling-denominated) total returns. I’ve added in the US and France, for a broader comparison: Since the Footsie peaked, US blue-chip shares have done best, then German, British and French, with Japanese stocks almost back up to where they started, in sterling terms. But the US outperformance is really quite recent....MORE
I think he's calling Americans upstarts.
Reminds one of the time Kinsley Amis said about F. Scott Fitzgerald:

"...brings a whiff of the parvenu." 

Amis ended up living with his first wife's third husband. 


Roman Abramovich Invests $15M In New US Fracking Technology

Do not buy this stock.
I'm posting this as a lead in to some stuff on the oil service companies, NOT as a recommendation of any sort.
Bulletin board stock, away from the market financing, kindly old Russian men, 20 roubles says the smart thing to do is run.


Why is Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich Investing in Texas in a New Fracking Technology? 
Are the Russians coming to Texas riding the tailwinds of fracking? That depends on who you ask, as some believe Russian forces were behind the anti-fracking vote in Denton, while a $15 million investment in new Texas fracking technology by Roman Abramovich perhaps tells another story.

When the anti-fracking campaign started to heat up late last year in Denton, Texas—the heart of the shale revolution—conspiracy theories were spread from within the pro-fracking community that the Russians were behind the whole thing. The logic was that the American shale revolution threatened Russia’s market share.
Yet just months after a successful vote to ban fracking in Denton, Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich has invested $15 million in Houston-based Propell Technologies Group, Inc. (OTC:PROP) and its new fracking technology from wholly owned subsidiary Novas Energy. Significantly, this new enhanced oil recovery (EOR) technology enables ‘clean’ hydraulic micro/nano fracturing of oil reservoirs—that is, without water, without polluting chemicals and without earthquakes.

According to Propell, the Plasma Pulse patented downhole tool creates a controlled plasma arc within a vertical well, generating a tremendous amount of heat for a fraction of a second. The subsequent high-speed hydraulic impulse wave emitted is strong enough to remove any clogged sedimentation from the perforation zone without damaging steel. The series of impulse waves/vibrations also penetrate deep into the reservoir causing nano fractures in the matrix which increase reservoir permeability for up to a year per treatment....MORE
HT: Economic Policy Journal

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

"First Solar, Inc. Announces Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2014 Financial Results" (FSLR)

The after-hours reaction is muted, down 7 cents at $54.63.
Conference call at 4:30 PM EST, more to come.

From the company:
  • Net sales of $1.0 billion for the fourth quarter and $3.4 billion for 2014
  • GAAP earnings per fully diluted share of $1.89 for the fourth quarter and $3.91 for 2014
  • Cash and marketable securities of $2.0 billion, net cash of $1.8 billion
  • 2014 full year bookings of 2.5GWdc; 2015 year-to-date bookings of 311MWdc
TEMPE, Ariz.--(BUSINESS WIRE)-- First Solar, Inc. (Nasdaq: FSLR) today announced financial results for the fourth quarter and year ended December 31, 2014. Net sales were $1,008 million in the quarter, an increase of $119 million from the third quarter of 2014. The sequential increase in net sales resulted from the sale of the Solar Gen 2 project, initial revenue recognition on the Silver State South project and other projects under construction. Revenue recognition from the Desert Sunlight and Topaz projects were lower as the projects reached completion.

The Company reported a fourth quarter GAAP earnings per fully diluted share of $1.89, compared to earnings of $0.87 in the prior quarter. The increase in net income compared to the prior quarter was due to higher profit from the sale of the Solar Gen 2 project and project cost improvements.

Cash and marketable securities at the end of the fourth quarter were approximately $2.0 billion, an increase of approximately $876 million compared to the prior quarter. Cash flows from operations were $928 million in the fourth quarter. The increase in cash and marketable securities during the quarter was due to the sale of the Solar Gen 2 project and the collection of retention payments on the Topaz and Desert Sunlight projects....MORE

"Wait For the ‘Second Low’ Before Buying Energy Stocks" (XLE; XOP)

After touting the hydrocarbon equities for the last six months, Barron's may have caught on to the fact that the decline in prices is a sea-change and that listening to some hipster analyst, whose long-term frame of reference maybe goes back to 2009 and who may not have the intellectual chops to figure it out, might prove dangerous to their readers.
XLE $80.34; XOP $51.69; WTI $49.17.
Good on Ben Levisohn for posting this, the first cautionary piece I can remember.

From Barron's:
Should investors be betting in a bottom on energy-sector stocks like ExxonMobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX) and ConocoPhillips (COP)? Not if some recent observations are correct.
Sure, oil seems to have bottomed. But Evercore ISI’s Ed Hyman notes that energy stocks usually lag the recovery in oil prices. He explains:
In the Past, Shares of Oil Companies Have Tended to Lag the Lows In Oil - The six previous V-shaped bottoms in oil started out U-shaped and double-bottomed. The bottoms took roughly two months to form. In every case, shares of oil companies bottomed coincident with or after the second low in oil. That is, you could have waited to see the second low in oil before buying the shares.
Cumberland’s David Kotok explains why he remains underweight Energy in client portfolios:
We are underweight the Energy sector in the US stock markets and the rest of the world. We hold this underweight position because we are not convinced that a bottom has occurred in the oil price. In the scenarios that we envision, we see more downside risk to the price than upside potential. That said, there are some scenarios with a strong upside, but they are event-driven, and the events are not predictable as to time or magnitude.....