Oil still can’t find a bottom…

As Dispatch readers know, the oil market is in crisis. Since June 2014, oil has plunged 69%. It dropped 31% in 2015 alone.

So far, 2016 has been even worse. The price of oil has fallen every day this year. On Friday, it closed at $32.88 a barrel, its lowest price since February 2004. Oil is already down 11% this year.

In October, Doug Casey predicted lower oil prices at the Casey Research Summit in Tucson, Arizona.

I don't know how long [oil prices] will stay low. But they're going lower for the time being. Production is stable to up, but consumption is headed down with a slowing economy.

…I'm still short oil at the moment.

•  The world has too much oil…

As you likely know, new technologies like “fracking” have unlocked billions of barrels of oil that were impossible to extract before.

U.S. oil production has nearly doubled since 2008. In June, U.S. oil production hit its highest level since the 1970s. Global oil output hit an all-time high in 2014.

•  Falling oil prices have slammed the world’s largest oil companies…

The world’s five largest publicly traded oil companies – Exxon Mobil (XOM), Chevron (CVX), Royal Dutch Shell (RDS-A), BP (BP), and Total S.A. (TOT) – lost $205 billion in value last year, according to The Wall Street Journal. Shell, the worst performer of the five, dropped 24% in 2015. Total, the best performer, dropped 3%.

Oil services companies, which sell “picks and shovels” to the oil industry, have also tanked. The Market Vectors Oil Services ETF (OIH), which holds 26 oil service companies, has plunged 59% over the past 18 months. Schlumberger (SLB) and Halliburton (HAL), the two largest oil services companies, are down 39% and 44% in the same period.

Eventually, this cycle will end with absurdly low prices for oil stocks. We’ll get an amazing opportunity to buy oil stocks at fire-sale prices. But, for now, we recommend staying away until the world works through some of its oversupply of oil.

•  Saudi Arabia is in crisis…

Saudi Arabia depends more on oil revenues than any other country. Oil makes up 83% of its exports. And about 80% of the country’s government revenue come from oil sales.

Last year, the Saudi government spent $98 billion more than it took in…its first budget deficit since 2009. The International Monetary Fund (IMF) expects the Saudi government to post a budget deficit as high as -19% of GDP in 2016. For comparison, the U.S. government has not posted a deficit higher than -9.8% since World War II.

The IMF says Saudi Arabia could burn through its $650 billion cash reserve by 2020 if oil prices stay low. Since oil crashed in the summer of 2014, the country has already withdrawn at least $70 billion from its cash reserve.

•  To raise cash, the Saudi government may sell its crown jewel…

Saudi Aramco is Saudi Arabia’s government-owned oil company. As the world’s largest oil company, it owns the biggest oil fields in the world, and produces 13% of the world’s oil. The Saudi government has controlled the country’s oil industry since the 1970s.

Last week, Financial Times reported that Saudi Arabia is considering an initial public offering (IPO) for Aramco. An IPO is when a company sells shares to the public.

According to Financial Times, an IPO would likely value the company “in the trillions of dollars.” To put that in perspective, Apple (AAPL), the world’s largest publicly traded company, is worth just $538 billion. Some estimates put the value of Saudi Aramco at more than 10 times that of Exxon Mobil – the world’s largest publicly traded oil company.

•  Switching gears, the U.S. automobile industry is setting record highs…

U.S. automakers sold an all-time record 17.5 million vehicles in 2015. The industry sold 5.7% more vehicles last year than it did 2014. Auto sales have now grown six years in a row.

Despite record sales, U.S. automaker stocks are struggling. Ford (F) was down 9.1% in 2015, and has only gained 17% since the beginning of 2012. General Motors (GM) was down 2.6% in 2015, and has gained 46% since the beginning of 2012. Both stocks have performed worse than the S&P 500, which has gained 53% since the beginning of 2012.

Companies that sell parts and services in the auto industry have done much better. Tire maker Goodyear (GT) has climbed 99% over the past four years. Repair and parts shop AutoZone (AZO) is up 119%.

•  Cheap credit has fueled the boom in the auto industry…

Forbes reported last month:

During the third quarter of 2015, Experian determined the average amount financed for a new vehicle was $28,936, which is up $1,137 from the same period in 2014. What’s more, 44 % of buyers are now taking out loans for between 61 and 72 months, with 27.5% extending their new-vehicle indebtedness to between 73 and 84 months, with the latter representing an increase of 17.1 percent over the past year.

As Casey readers know, the Federal Reserve has made it incredibly cheap to borrow money. In 2008, the Fed cut its key interest rate to effectively zero to fight the financial crisis. It has held its key rate at extremely low levels ever since. Today, its key rate is just 0.25%…far below the historical average of 5%.

The average interest rate on a car loan is just 4.3% today. In 2007, the average car loan rate was 7.7%.

•  E.B. Tucker, editor of The Casey Report, isn’t surprised by the auto industry’s record year…

Here’s E.B.:

Of course the auto industry had a record year…how could it not?

I've seen auto rates as low as 0% for 84 months. When money is free, people buy now and think later.

The U.S. auto loan market has grown 18 quarters in a row. Last year, it topped $1 trillion for the first time ever. There is now 47% more auto debt outstanding than credit card debt in the U.S.

E.B. says this will end badly.

The auto leasing market is also booming because of easy money. Leasing made up 27% of car sales during the first quarter of 2015. Those leases will expire 40 months from now. And someone has to buy those vehicles.

This year, over 3 million leased cars will hit the market. Even more will hit the market next year and the year after. All these used cars will create a huge glut. If the free money dries up at the same time, things will get ugly fast.

That’s how booms built on easy money come to an end.

Chart of the Day

Oil has plunged to its lowest level in 12 years.

Today’s chart shows the price of oil going back to 2004. As you can see, oil has sunk to its lowest level since February 2004. It’s now down 77% from the all-time high it set in 2008.

As we’ve explained, the world simply has too much oil. Oil is now cheaper than it was during the worst of the global financial crisis in 2008-9.


Justin Spittler
Delray Beach, Florida
January 11, 2016

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