Iran Sanctions And OPEC's Deliberations Have Failed To Lift Oil Prices

OPEC+ members met over the weekend to discuss the oil market and the possible actions they may take at the next OPEC meetings scheduled for June 25th and 26th. OPEC’s press release reported:

Following its 14th Meeting, which took place on 19 May 2019, in Jeddah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the Joint Ministerial Monitoring Committee (JMMC) has reaffirmed its commitment to achieving a balanced market and working towards oil market stability on a sustainable basis with solid fundamentals.”

After the meeting, ministers spoke with reporters. According to reporting by CNBC:

Saudi Arabia’s influential oil minister, Khalid al-Falih, warned that global crude stockpiles are rising, threatening to swamp the world in oil and cause prices to collapse. Overall, the market is in a delicate situation. On the one hand, there is a lot of concern — and we acknowledge it — about disruptions and sanctions and supply interruptions. But on the other hand, we see inventories rising. We see plentiful supply around the world, which means we think, all in all, we should be in a comfortable situation in the weeks and months to come.” Continue reading "Iran Sanctions And OPEC's Deliberations Have Failed To Lift Oil Prices"

Can't Get No Satisfaction

President Trump has already won his argument for loosening Federal Reserve policy. While Fed Chair Jerome Powell can boast all he wants about the sanctity of the Fed’s independence, the fact is he and his FOMC followers knuckled under to the pressure Trump – and the financial markets – exerted on them to call a halt to any more interest rate increases for a while. Indeed, the discussion has since moved to cutting interest rates, a thought that seemed unimaginable just a few months ago.

Back in October, we were talking about how many rate increases we could expect this year. Now that any rate hikes are basically off the table for the foreseeable future, according to the Fed, the talk has shifted to a potential rate cut, possibly before the end of this year.

So why can’t Trump be satisfied with that? Instead, he’s sabotaging his chance to fill the two remaining seats on the Fed’s board of governors by publicly considering two people – Herman Cain and Stephen Moore – both of whom have way too much political baggage to hope to be confirmed, never mind actually nominated (remember, Cain was never formally nominated before he withdrew, nor has Moore).

While Fed independence is certainly a noble idea, the fact is that every person considered for the board has some political taint to them, expressed or not. Otherwise, they wouldn’t have been nominated in the first place. We all need to realize that and not try to pretend otherwise. Jerome Powell was nominated by Trump because he’s a Republican, while his predecessor, Janet Yellen, was nominated by President Obama because she’s a Democrat. Simple and reasonable. Continue reading "Can't Get No Satisfaction"

Easy Money vs. Free Money - Choose Your Poison

When I was in high school, one of my political science teachers explained to us that the political spectrum wasn’t so much a straight line – with the liberals on the left and the conservatives on the right – but was really shaped like a horseshoe, with the far left and the far right moving closer together at the outer fringes to the point where they almost meet. That the name-calling and the accusations – and the behavior – are most vehement at the outer edges doesn’t change the fact that the things they say they believe in are virtually indistinguishable from each other, only the labels are different.

President Trump’s plan to nominate Herman Cain and Stephen Moore to the Federal Reserve is a good example. These two men have undisputed conservative credentials and are also in sync with the president’s demand that the Fed adopt an easy money policy so as not to undermine U.S. economic and stock market gains. Not surprisingly, that makes them completely unacceptable to the left.
There’s been the obligatory hand-wringing and phony outrage by their opponents decrying that Trump “means to remake the 105-year-old agency into a partisan tool” (the Washington Post) and “trample over the Fed’s independence” (the Financial Times). We got the same blather when Trump nominated someone to the Supreme Court – which, we’ve been told, is completely independent and never, ever takes politics into consideration when it decides cases, and justices are never, ever chosen because of their perceived political views.

Already, even before they’ve been formally nominated by the White House, Trump’s opponents have started to dredge up all the dirty laundry they can about Cain – alleged sexual harassment eight years ago – and Moore – all the juicy details about his divorce. Whether or not those past sins will be enough to torpedo their nominations remains to be seen. But it’s likely their personal peccadillos – not their actual monetary and economic philosophies – will be the main focus of their nomination hearings, should they even get that far. Continue reading "Easy Money vs. Free Money - Choose Your Poison"

Round 2: Trump Vs. OPEC

With oil prices having staged a recovery during the first quarter of 2019, primarily due to the withholding of oil supplies from Saudi Arabia, President Trump has once again entered the oil market as a threat. Not since OPEC’s founding in 1960 has an American president been as vocal or involved as Trump.

Trump’s intervention in “Round 1,” summarized below, shocked the market, causing a massive price collapse. However, with close scrutiny of the president’s views, both before taking office and over the past year, the market should not have been so surprised.

Saudi Arabia is in a delicate position. On the one hand, it needs oil prices in the $80s to support it's country’s budget, even if lifting costs are $10 or less. It also knows that a “high price” is not the best price longer-term, due to cutbacks in demand and the increasing availability of substitutes, such as U.S. shale.

But possibly most importantly, it depends on the U.S. for its security. And looking forward, it wants U.S. investment to help diversify its economy as the oil age wanes.

Simply put, it cannot afford to ignore this U.S. president, whose first international trip was to KSA. There is an important political and economic link to the U.S. that it did not have even one president ago (Obama). And its arch-nemesis, Iran, at the same time is being severely harassed by President Trump. Continue reading "Round 2: Trump Vs. OPEC"

The Fed's New Dual Mandate

As most of us probably know by now, the Federal Reserve operates under a “dual” mandate from Congress to “promote effectively the goals of maximum employment, stable prices, and moderate long-term interest rates.” (Leave it to the federal government to give a “dual” mandate three goals. But I digress).

Since the Fed effectively gets its mandate from Congress, it stands to reason that Congress can also change the mandate if it wants. Forthwith, I am humbly suggesting that it do just that. Namely, the word “moderate” should be replaced by the words “zero percent,” while the Fed will be given a new directive to ensure that stock prices rise by at least 8% a year. Given this new command, the “stable prices” mandate may have to go, but I’m sure reasonable people can agree that’s a small price to pay (no pun intended) for a guarantee against any investor losing money.

I’m confident that this is one thing that President Trump, who says he’s a “low-interest person,” and the Democrats in Congress, who need lots of wealthy people to support their socialist agenda, can wholeheartedly embrace. I’m sure Fed chair Jerome Powell and his successors will be happy, too, since it will forever protect them from any political criticism. Continue reading "The Fed's New Dual Mandate"