Category Archives: Global Economics

Current Oil Price Decline May Set Stage For Price Spike And Global Recession

oil supply+demandMy Comments: There are relatively high taxes on the sale of gasoline at the pump where I live. In spite of this, we are almost at the $2.00 per gallon level. As I’ve mentioned before, this is both a good thing and a potentially bad thing.

The bad is that money invested to bring us domestically produced fuel and money invested to develop fuel efficient cars and trucks will be diverted and will appear somewhere else. Long term that is not a good thing for us. The world is evolving, as it has forever, and anomalies like what we are now seeing will have consequences.

Zoltan Ban / Dec. 30, 2014

Summary
• Current oil price decline is likely to lead to significant investment cutback, which will affect supply for many years to come.
• When the price of oil starts to recover, it will very probably spike, as there will be no supply mechanism able to react fast enough.
• A price spike will only be broken by a recession. It could be the beginning of a period of repeating such cycles.

For a few months now, there has been a very spirited debate in regards to the net effect lower oil prices will have on the economy. There are some who point to lower prices potentially bankrupting a large number of oil & gas companies, especially those that are mainly reliant on high-cost unconventional resources, such as shale oil, therefore it is bad for the economy. Others point to consumer demand being stimulated by the lower price of oil, which effectively acts as a tax cut for most households.

My take on the entire argument is that it is not as relevant as the fierce debate surrounding it might suggest. The effect on the economy might be a slight positive and the longer the lower price lasts, the stronger the effect. But there is no denying the fact that there are many oil extraction projects around the world that are not profitable at current price levels, therefore it is only a matter of time before the current price decline will lead to a drop in global production. Furthermore, even countries where the oil industry is mainly dominated by state-owned enterprises and production costs may be lower than the current price level, there will be a significant cutback in capital spending, because many of these governments are very dependent on oil revenues for their budgets. It makes perfect sense for a country like Russia for instance to cut investments in new projects until prices recover, in order to free up revenue for other government needs.

The effect of some investment cuts will be more immediate as may be the case with oil sands and shale oil. In the case of other expensive projects such as deep-water, the effects may only be felt many years from now. We have no way of knowing yet how deep the cut in production potential will be over the next few years, in part because we don’t know yet how much capital will be cut next year. Goldman Sachs projects that there may be a need for as much as a 30% cut in non-government owned projects around the world in order for the industry to avoid collectively taking a loss. ConocoPhillips (NYSE:COP) announced it will cut spending by 20% next year and it should not come as a huge surprise if it will cut even more as the year progresses (link). Many companies involved in shale drilling already announced they will cut their drilling activities next year. The announcements of plans for lower oil & gas investment are now coming in at a fast pace.

We have to realize that it will in fact not take much of a cut in the rate of growth in global oil production in order to close the relatively small glut in oil supply. The gap between supply and demand will be only about 400,000 b/d in 2014. It would have increased to about a million barrels per day by next year, if the supply/demand forecasts for 2015 would have turned out to be more or less accurate.

Thing is however that many projects take years from beginning till completion, so the effect may be felt only a few years from now. There will also be a slowdown in global production growth, especially in North America, where much of the global increase in production comes from since 2008, which will have a more immediate effect. Oil sands and shale oil projects do not have such a long lead time. If there is to be a reduction in supply in order to bring the market back into balance, it will most likely start with a decline in North American production growth, or even a decline in production.

As we can see from the chart, the US and Canada provided all the growth in oil production that the world needed since 2008. If the current low oil price will persist, it is probable that the shale oil industry in particular may suffer significant and probably permanent damage. The industry is vulnerable in large part because to date there has been very little self-sustaining growth in the industry. In other words, revenue re-investment is not sufficient by itself to push production volumes up. The main ingredient in the shale revolution has been the availability of credit. One of the main outcomes of the shale revolution has been the accumulation of about $170 billion in junk debt by many companies which are rated below investment grade (link). If the market will cut the industry off from continuing to accumulate debt, production will eventually stagnate and possibly decline as companies will have no choice but to cut back on drilling.

The production decline should help to stabilize the price of oil and eventually work towards the old plateau established starting from 2010, as long as there will be no global economic slowdown. The main problem I see is that when the price of oil will start to move back up, in response to a tighter supply/demand situation, there will be no mechanism in place to prevent the price of oil from overshooting. In other words, it will not stop at the tolerable $100 level we learned to live within the past few years, but continue climbing until demand destruction will occur. That means we are most likely looking at a global economic slowdown.

The reason I believe that the price will overshoot, is because just as there has been very little to keep the price of oil from falling in 2014 as for the first time in years there is a significant level of over-supply, there will also be little to keep the price from spiking as prices will rise too fast for new supply to catch up. The cuts in investment we are seeing right now will affect supplies for the next five years and even beyond. The extra spending companies will engage in once prices recover may in fact provide extra supply only once it will be too late. The recession inducing price spike could happen within a period of just a few months once the upward trend is established, while new supply may take many years to come online in response to the higher prices. In fact, the new supplies may come online only once the price of oil crashes again as a new recession takes a bite out of demand.

Future nostalgia for $100 oil plateau.
At an average price of about $100/barrel in the 2010-14 period, it was not a pleasant situation by any means. That price range was much higher than historical trends and it took out a bite out of potential global economic growth, given an economy that was built around much cheaper oil in past decades. Now that the price of oil is at a level that is more in sync with the economic needs, most of us feel much better about things overall. Pimco recently upped its estimate for global economic growth, citing lower oil prices, which will stimulate more consumption of all goods.

Needless to say that even though the economy feels better with the current oil price levels, many of the oil companies involved in producing the oil are not feeling all that great right now. That is especially the case with shale oil producers. What is worse, their financiers are not feeling all that great about them either and probably will be more cautious of them even when the price of oil will increase. As I pointed out in a previous article, there can be no shale oil production growth without the backing of lenders, because the industry cannot sustain itself from production revenue, which was the case even when the price of oil was in the $100 range (link). This is a very important fact to keep in mind, because resources such as shale oil and Canadian oil sands are the resources which could be the fastest responders to the price signal sent once oil prices start rising again.

With the response to the price increase much delayed and insufficient, there will be nothing else to stop the price from rising, except demand destruction and as we well know, demand destruction of oil means a recession, because oil is a very inelastic product. A recession will in turn cause prices to go back down again, which means that oil producers will have no choice but to cut back on investment once again, just as they are increasingly doing now. It is possible that we will be caught up in a long period of repeated cycles of oil price spikes and plunges, with the price failing to stabilize as it did after the 2009 price drop. The resulting effect on the global economy can potentially be devastating.

There is only one potential factor which could help prevent such a situation and that is OPEC action. All indications are however that OPEC is no longer in the business of oil price stability. I will not speculate on the possible reasons why Saudi Arabia seems to be unwilling to stabilize the global oil market, because there has already been plenty of speculation in that regard already. We can only go on what we actually know right now, and what we do know is that OPEC is currently dysfunctional. As I pointed out many times in the past year and a half or so, the current WTI price range that is sustainable more or less from both the consumer and producer perspective seems to be $80-120, with the price ideally spending most of the time in the middle of that range. We are now obviously very far outside that range, and when prices will recover, there is a very good chance that the price will overshoot the ideal range. If we will be unable to once again stabilize within the range I suggested, we will be looking at a period of great economic upheaval for many years.

Division and Crisis Risk Sapping the West’s Power

My Comments: I make no apologies for having supported and voted for Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012. Much of the pressure from the right, in my opinion, is irrational and disguised racism.

Here is an opinion from England, my birthplace and true friend of America. It’s an interesting perspective and to the extent you are interested in understanding the dynamics of global economics, a helpful thing to read.

By Gideon Rachman / September 1, 2014

The people who prepare President Barack Obama’s national security briefing must be wondering what to put at the top of the pile. Should it be the Russian assault on Ukraine, or the advance of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (known as Isis) in Iraq and Syria? And what items should go just below that?

The violent anarchy in Libya, the dangerous stalemate in Afghanistan, the looming political crisis in Hong Kong, or a confrontation between Chinese and US planes, near Hainan island? The US president might reasonably ask why all these crises are breaking out at the same time.

His critics have a ready answer. They argue that the Obama administration has shown itself to be weak and indecisive. As a result, America’s adversaries are testing its limits and the US-led security order is under challenge in Europe, the Middle East and Asia.

There is no doubt that the US is war-weary after the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. However, the multiplication of security crises around the world is not just about Mr Obama and the US. In fact, the obsession with what the Americans are doing points to the underlying problem. Its allies have come to rely excessively on the US to guarantee their security.

As a result, the biggest weakness in the global security system is not a lack of resolve in Washington, but the learned helplessness of America’s regional allies. The Nato summit this week in Wales represents a crucial opportunity for America’s most important allies to start doing more to share the burden. If they fail, the inability of the US to police the world alone will become increasingly apparent, and the various global security crises will intensify.

The pattern of Nato spending reflects Europe’s increasing reliance on the US. At the height of the cold war, America accounted for roughly half the military spending of the alliance, with the rest of Nato accounting for the other 50 per cent.

Now, however, the US accounts for some 75 per cent of Nato spending. Last year, of the 28 Nato members, only the US, Britain, Greece and Estonia met the alliance’s target of spending at least 2 per cent of gross domestic product on defence. Even the UK may soon slip below 2 per cent, with the British army on course to shrink to about 80,000, its smallest size since just after the Napoleonic wars.

Even when it comes to the non-military side of security, the Europeans have lagged well behind. The US was quicker to push through sanctions on Russia, and its measures have been tougher, despite the fact that Russia’s undeclared war in Ukraine is a much more direct threat to Europe.

This same over-reliance on the US is evident in the Middle East. The rise of Isis is a massive threat to the dwindling band of stable regimes in the region, above all Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. In recent years, these countries have spent lavishly on their armies and air forces. And yet it has been left to the US to wage the bombing campaign against Isis, while the nations of the Gulf Co-operation Council keep their 600 combat planes on the tarmac and complain about American weakness.

A similar pattern is on display in Asia, where US allies such as Japan and the Philippines agitate for the US to increase its military commitment to the region in response to an increasingly assertive China. And yet, even as they call for US help, America’s allies in east Asia have been unable to present a united front, in opposition to China’s maritime claims.

This litany of allied weakness is dangerous precisely because America is indeed more reluctant to “bear any burden” (in President John F Kennedy’s famous words) to uphold the international order. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars have left their marks. So has the financial crisis of 2008. Mr Obama’s reluctance to deploy military force is not an aberration or a personal folly. It is an accurate reflection of the mood of the American people, with opinion polls showing the highest levels of isolationism in more than 50 years.

That mood could shift in response to Russian aggression and to the chaos in the Middle East. However, even if it does, the days when the US was capable of being the world’s super-cop – with relatively little assistance – are coming to a close.

The World Bank estimates that this year, China will probably become the world’s largest economy, measured by purchasing power. America’s defence budget is falling, as the US struggles to control its national debt. The gradual relative decline of the US is a much worse problem than it might otherwise be, because America’s closest allies in the EU are in the grip of severe economic crises, which are eroding their ability to exercise power.

Collectively, the west now accounts for a decreasing share of the world economy – as new sources of power and wealth rise up in Asia. A western-dominated world is therefore in danger of looking increasingly like an anachronism – and that is the proposition that, in their different ways, President Vladimir Putin of Russia, Isis and the Chinese military are testing.

The perception of declining western power now threatens to become a self-fulfilling prophecy. The only way for North Americans and Europeans to stop that happening is to work together with greater determination and purpose to combat the crises burning out of control on the fringes of Europe, in Ukraine and the Middle East. That work needs to start at this week’s Nato summit.

As Benjamin Franklin put it: “We must all hang together or, assuredly, we will all hang separately.”

The World Is Marching Back From Globalisation

question-markMy Comments: Those of you who know me well do not consider me a pessimist. But this is Monday. And while I can feel optimistic about the chances for a return to good times from Florida football, the rest of the news is essentially gloom and despair. I’d much rather bring you something uplifting and motivating. But as a very tiny piece of a very big wheel, I’m powerless to do more than share this with you, hoping one of you will lift me off the floor.

My life has been shaped by how the world changed for the better following World War II. Notwithstanding the conflicts in Korea, Viet Nam and the middle east, it felt like there was a steady progression across the planet in terms of rising standards of living, health, and happiness. My family today is a reflection of that.

According to this author, the crash of 2008 has stopped that flow. The maniacs in Iraq are not fundamental to this reversal, though it will help us all if they are simply put down, like one would do with a deranged dog. I expect civilization will survive and once again move in the direction I spoke of a minute ago, but for now, and perhaps for the rest of my life, there are likely to be more questions than there are answers.

As we move toward the elections in 2016, we need to find leaders who don’t need to blow smoke and promote their own egos at our expense.

By Philip Stephens September 4, 2014

There is a mood abroad that says history will record that sanctions against Russia marked the start of an epochal retreat from globalisation. I heard a high-ranking German official broach the thought the other day at the German Marshall Fund’s Stockholm China Forum. It was an interesting point, but it missed a bigger one. The sanctions are more symptom than cause. The rollback began long before Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president, began his war against Ukraine.

The case for calling a halt to business as usual with Moscow is self-evident to anyone who considers that international security demands nations do not invade their neighbours. The valid criticism of the west is that it has been too slow to react. At every step, the Russian president has ruthlessly exploited US hesitation and European divisions.

He will do so until Nato restores deterrence to the core of European security. Mr Putin’s irredentism demands tough diplomacy stiffened by hard power. He will stop when he understands that aggression will invite unacceptable retaliation. To make deterrence credible, the alliance must put boots on the ground on its eastern flank. The Baltics have replaced Berlin as the litmus test of western resolve.

Some, particularly though not exclusively in the rising world, have seen sanctions through a different prism. By punishing Russia economically, the US and Europe are undermining the open international system. Economics, this cast of mind says, must be held apart from the vicissitudes of political quarrels. Why should new powers sign up to a level international playing field if the US and Europe scatter it with rocks in pursuit of narrow interests?

These critics are right to say an integrated global economy needs a co-operative political architecture. Sanctions against Ukraine, though, fit a bigger picture of the unravelling of globalisation since the financial crash of 2008. They testify to a profound reversal in US attitudes. Washington’s steady retreat from global engagement reaches beyond Barack Obama’s ordinance that the US stop doing “stupid stuff”.

The architect of the present era of globalisation is no longer willing to be its guarantor. The US does not see a vital national interest in upholding an order that redistributes power to rivals. Much as they might cavil at this, China, India and the rest are unwilling to step up as guardians of multilateralism. Without a champion, globalisation cannot but fall into disrepair.

Not so long ago, finance and the internet were at once the most powerful channels, and visible symbols, of the interconnected world. Footloose capital and digital communications had no respect for national borders. Financial innovation (and downright chicanery) recycled the huge surpluses of the rising world to penurious homebuyers in Middle America and dodgy speculators on the Costa del Sol. The masters of the banking universe spun their roulette wheels in the name of something called the Washington consensus.

Then came the crash. Finance has been renationalised. Banks have retreated in the face of new regulatory controls. European financial integration has gone into reverse. Global capital flows are still only about half their pre-crisis peak.

As for the digitalised world, the idea that everyone, everywhere should have access to the same information has fallen foul of authoritarian politics and concerns about privacy. China, Russia, Turkey and others have thrown roadblocks across the digital highway to stifle dissent. Europeans want to protect themselves from US intelligence agencies and the monopoly capitalism of the digital giants. The web is heading for Balkanisation.

The open trading system is fragmenting. The collapse of the Doha round spoke to the demise of global free-trade agreements. The advanced economies are looking instead to regional coalitions and deals – the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Pact. The emerging economies are building south-south relationships. Frustrated by a failure to rebalance the International Monetary Fund, the Brics nations are setting up their own financial institutions.

Domestic politics, north and south, reinforces these trends. If western leaders have grown wary of globalisation, many of their electorates have turned positively hostile. Globalisation was sold in the US and Europe as an exercise in enlightened self-interest – everyone would be a winner in a world that pulled down national frontiers. It scarcely seems like that to the squeezed middle classes, as the top 1 per cent scoop up the gains of economic integration.

Much as the south has prospered within the old rules – China’s admission to the World Trade Organisation has been the biggest geopolitical event so far of the present century – yet the new powers show scant enthusiasm for multilateralism. The old order is widely seen as an instrument of US hegemony. India scuppered the latest attempt to reinvigorate the WTO.

Globalisation needs an enforcer – a hegemon, a concert of powers or global governance arrangements sufficient to make sure the rules are fairly applied. Without a political architecture that locates national interests in mutual endeavours, the economic framework is destined to fracture and fragment.

Narrow nationalisms elbow aside global commitments. Sanctions are part of this story, but Russia’s contempt for the international order is a bigger one. Sad to say, we learnt in 1914 that economic interdependence is a feeble bulwark against great power rivalry.

Guess Who’s Back? The Middle Class

My Comments: There is lots of handwringing about last Tuesdays election results. And lots of people looking for someone to blame if it didn’t meet hopes and expectations.

One of my long time concerns has been the growing inbalance between the haves and the have-nots. Statistically it’s very real with the middle class that evolved and grew after WW2 now faltering and fading. That has huge implications for all of us and the quality of our lives going forward.

This article has been on my post-it-someday list since this past summer. It suggests the middle class is making a comeback. What is so perverse for me about the election results is that while I understand why the “haves” are naturally Republican, I find it difficult to understand why so many of the “have-nots” vote Republican. They are the ones most likely to fall down the economic rabbit hole and yet they seem happy to do so.

posted by Jeffrey Dow Jones July 31,2014 in Cognitive Concord

This has been a very important week for economic data. I know everybody saw yesterday’s GDP report coming, but it’s great news nonetheless. It was a blowout, a 4% real increase in the second quarter.

There is no negative way to spin this one. Even personal consumption expenditures rose at a 2.5% rate. Housing bounced back in a big way, with a 7% increase in residential investment. The consumer is alive and well, and given the fact that inventories, durable goods, and other investment all shot much higher, the business world is betting he’ll stay healthy for a while longer.

What’s interesting is what happens when we marry that data to what we saw in the July consumer confidence report. Consumer confidence surged to yet another post-crisis high and is now officially back in the range that, before 2008, we would have called “normal”.
CONTINUE-READING

4 Lessons For Us From a Century Ago

My Comments: As a nation we are on the horns of a dilemma regarding our role as the sole surviving superpower from the last century. I embraced Obama’s assertion that our national focus should revert to what is in our best interest domestically. At the time we were embroiled in Iraq and other places and I was sick and tired of the cost in terms of lives and dollars.

This article, which appeared recently in The Financial Times, tells us this is not a new dilemma. That roughly 100 years ago Britain was caught in the same issues as we face today. The comment about “spending money and men to try and civilize those who don’t want to be civilized” rings a bell with me.

However, if I want to leave this planet with some assurance it will be a better and safer place for my grandchildren, I don’t want us to hide in the shadows and hope for a better outcome. Hope is NOT a global strategy for success.

America, Britain and The Perils of Empire, By Gideon Rachman / October 13, 2014 / The Financial Times / Middle East turmoil of 1919 offers important lessons for today

General Sir Philip Chetwode, deputy chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, warned in 1919: “The habit of interfering with other people’s business and making what is euphoniously called ‘peace’ is like buggery; once you take to it, you cannot stop.”

It is difficult to imagine any member of the Obama administration making such an eyebrow-raising comparison. But, as the US struggles to cope with turmoil across the Middle East, Sir Philip’s complaint – quoted in David Reynolds’s recent book, The Long Shadow – has a contemporary ring to it. Even more so the lament of his boss, Sir Henry Wilson, the chief of Britain’s Imperial General Staff, who complained in 1919 that -”we have between 20 and 30 wars raging in the world” and blamed the chaotic international situation on political leaders who were “totally unfit and unable to govern”.

Britain was directly or indirectly involved in the fighting in many of these wars during the years 1919-1920. Their locations sound familiar: Afghanistan, Waziristan, Iraq, Ukraine, the Baltic states. Only Britain’s involvement in a war in Ireland would ring no bells in the modern White House. The British debates, and recriminations of the time are also strongly reminiscent of the arguments that are taking place in modern America. And how events panned out holds some important lessons for today’s policy makers.

The British military effort in Iraq in 1920, like the allied effort today, was conducted largely through aerial bombing. Then, as now, there was strong scepticism about the long-term chances of achieving political stability in such an unpromising environment. AJ Balfour, the British foreign secretary complained – “We are not going to spend all our money and men in civilising a few people who do not want to be civilised.” In an echo of America’s current Middle East confusion, even British policy makers knew that they were pursuing contradictory goals. As Professor Reynolds points out – “The British had got themselves into a monumental mess in the Middle East, signing agreements that, as Balfour later admitted, were ‘not consistent with each other’.”

Then, as now, even the people making policy seemed confused about the motives for military intervention in the Middle East – was it “making peace” as Gen Chetwode suggested, was it the rich oil reserves of the area, was it the protection of another territory (India for the British, Israel for the Americans), or was it simply a vague sense that imperial prestige was at stake? The debates in London, almost a century ago, as in Washington today, suggested that all these motives were mixed together in ways that no one could completely disentangle.

Military leaders’ complaints about incompetent politicians also echo down the ages. Sir Henry’s lament about British political leaders who are “unable to govern” is matched by the increasing rumble of complaint about the leadership of Barack Obama. Even Mr Obama’s former defence secretary, Leon Panetta, has just complained that the US president “too often relies on the logic of a law professor rather than the passion of a leader”.

These comparisons between the British and American dilemmas, almost a century apart, are intriguing – but do they offer lessons? I would point to four.

First, while it is always tempting to blame political leaders, the problems often run far deeper than that. The British prime minister in 1919 was David Lloyd George, who most historians now regard as a decisive and dynamic leader. That did not prevent the imperial staff from complaining about the torpor and confusion of his administration. The real problem, however, was the intractable nature of the problems that Britain was facing, and the limits of the resources it could bring to bear.

Second, it is much harder to be a global policeman if your government’s finances are stretched and your country is war-weary. In 1919, after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire, British imperial possessions were more extensive than ever. But the UK was exhausted after the first world war and had little appetite for further conflict. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars of the past decade were small affairs, by comparison. But they left a similar reluctance in the US to get involved in further conflicts.

Third, the uncanny similarity between the trouble spots of a century ago and those of today suggests that there are some parts of the world where geography or culture create a permanent risk of political instability and war: the frontiers between Russia and the West, Afghanistan, Iraq. The idea that ‘twas ever thus’ may comfort contemporary policy makers in Washington, as they struggle to cope with multiple crises.

Yet the fourth lesson derived from Britain’s travails in 1919 is less comforting. Many of the conflicts that the Imperial General Staff were struggling with did get resolved fairly swiftly. The western allies’ involvement in the Russian civil war was over by 1920, as the Bolsheviks moved towards victory. An uneasy peace was also re-established in Iraq. But Britain’s ability to impose its will on the world was waning. The political turmoil of 1919 was, in retrospect, an early sign that the world was entering a new period of instability that – within a generation – would lead to another shattering world war. Once the dominant global power loses its grip, the world can quickly become much less orderly.

Washington’s Hawks Have Usurped the Huntsmen

My Comments: If you are unsure what is meant by the headline above, you are not alone.

However, a reading of the comments that appeared in the Financial Times tends to reinforce in my mind the discomfort all of us should feel about the US Government agency known as NSA or the National Security Agency and others whose responsibility it is to spy, as they say in the movies.

At some point someone has to take responsibility for this crap, put it in context, and then put people in charge that have a fundamental understanding that in this age of instant news and technology, ANYTHING and EVERYTHING you do might have public consequences.

Some of it is probably justified, but to simply say OK to all of it means we are already far down that ubiquitous slippery slope. Time for some new rules.

By Constanze Stelzenmüller / July 9, 2014

The unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable.” This was Oscar Wilde on fox hunting. Spying is hunting, of sorts. But in the latest instalment of the saga of US spying on the Germans, it is beginning to look more like the irresponsible in pursuit of the incompetent.

First, the prey. A low-level registry clerk at the Bavarian headquarters of the BND, the German federal intelligence service, offers his services to the Americans by mail. He sells them more than 200 documents over several years for a five-figure sum. His handlers are especially interested in the parliamentary committee investigating the US National Security Agency’s efforts to spy on Germany; according to Der Spiegel, a news magazine, they tell him to send everything he can find on the committee.

Then our man in Pullach sends another email, this time to the Russians. Would they be interested in his wares as well? To prove that he is not bogus, he attaches a handful of secret papers.

How could this have happened in a section of the federal intelligence service that has access to information about the Bundestag’s most sensitive committee? Susceptibility to greed or treason may be difficult to test for. But surely this man was either dim, lacking a survival instinct, or both. Who vetted him? Who hired him? Who watched him? Germany can guard the space between its goalposts as though it housed a nuclear bomb. Apparently, however, it cannot guard a parliamentary committee on intelligence.

Next: the pursuers. This was a tempting offer. But did no one in the US embassy say: “Hold it one second, guys. Remember how upset Angela Merkel was when we tapped her cellphone? What if this comes out, and the ambassador has to dine alone with his family for the rest of his tenure?” They might have reflected that, in his speech in Berlin in June last year, President Barack Obama sort of said the US would not resort to such tactics again.

They might have considered that Edward Snowden’s disclosures of NSA documents have made him a folk hero for many Germans. They might have done well to weigh the benefits of espionage against the potential costs. They could even have contemplated telling the German authorities that they had a little problem, in a bid to repair trust.

But evidently they thought none of these things. John Emerson, the US ambassador, was duly summoned to the foreign ministry in Berlin. And not on just any day; he was invited to a “conversation” on July 4, when the American community throws a party for Berliners, who munch on hot dogs while their children bury their noses in ice-cream cones, and gratefully remember the “Luftbrücke”, when the US Air Force flew in food and medicine to sustain the city during the Russian blockade of 1948-49. German displeasure might have been inferred.

All that was missing was news that Germany learnt of the leak through a friendly tipoff from Russian intelligence. This news reached the chancellor during a trip to Beijing (her seventh). Standing next to Premier Li Keqiang, she acknowledged grimly that this incident was “very serious”. Her host’s response was to say that Germany and China are “both victims of hacking”.

The large business contingent in Ms Merkel’s delegation will have taken note. The head of Germany’s domestic intelligence service, Hans Georg Maassen, had despatched them with a public warning that the country’s small and medium-sized Mittelstand firms are the “easy prey” of systematic cyberespionage by Chinese intelligence, which he called an “overpowering foe”. All that was missing was news that German authorities learnt of the leak through a friendly tipoff from Russian intelligence.

Cue wild harrumphing in Berlin, from justice minister Heiko Maas mulling criminal action, via interior minister Thomas de Maizière threatening “360-degree” counter-espionage, to mutterings about expelling US diplomats. The Americans, meanwhile, are issuing limp promises to “work with” the Germans.

Both reactions are off the mark. But they ought to serve as a warning. Just a year after the first revelations about NSA spying in Germany, resentment still runs high in Berlin; a rare case in which elites are in sync with the public mood. And Washington’s feeble response is not so much a sign of guilt – though it is probably that, too – as of helplessness in the face of a secret state that appears to have outgrown political judgment or control.

Yesterday, German media were reporting that a new espionage case was being investigated – this time in the defence ministry. Mr Emerson promptly made another visit to the foreign ministry.

There is no time to lose. A nasty US-German spat on Nato’s role in the Ukraine crisis is brewing. Negotiations on a US-European free- trade agreement face bitter public resistance. Add a breakdown of trust over espionage and you could have a transatlantic trifecta of disaster by the autumn.

The writer is a senior transatlantic fellow with the German Marshall Fund

World Weather Gone Haywire – Effects On… CRB Index and The Economy

My Comments: No, we are not doomed. But I can’t recall this much rain every day, some of it at night, when there wasn’t a hurricane. I’m sure it happened, but I don’t remember.

Does it have an effect on the economy? Experts agree last winters’ storms had an effect. So it’s worth paying attention to from time to time. If you are looking for solace, you won’t find it here. My cousin in England just wrote to tell me their weather is noxious and unpleasant. Have you thought about the price of vegetables and fruit in the coming months, stuff that we normally get from California? No rain there at all.

The people who give us economic data now say that the first quarter of 2014 saw really bad numbers. Early on it was an assumption that the economy was poised to enter another recession. Now, the powers that be say it was largely the weather. That’s a mixed blessing.

If you insist on keeping your head where the sun never shines, sooner or later it won’t matter how hot it is. Regardless of whether this is Gods’ plan, if the oceans continue to rise life is going to be more difficult for my grandchildren. But I guess if God hasn’t yet told you the plan can be changed by paying attention to CO2 levels, you don’t have to worry about consequences. And anyway, I’ll be dead by then and my Tea Party brethren can get all the credit.

James Roemer / Feb. 19, 2014

Cold U.S. Winter Affecting Nation’s Economy

You have heard it on your local news for weeks, read about it in dozens of newspapers around the world and if you live in the deep south, Midwest or Northeast, have “felt” it first hand—the most severe U.S. winter since 1982, at a time when much of the rest of the planet continues to see overall warmer than normal weather.

Look for another potential big storm in the east around February 26th and at the very least, record cold weather next week into early March.

You can hear a broadcast on Bloomberg a while back talking about natural gas prices possibly going over $6.00 and discussing global warming, the Brazilian drought, etc.

The adverse weather is having a multi-billion dollar affect on our nation’s economy. Pipes are bursting in the Northeast, salt companies are running out of supplies to remove snow, and various businesses are running into more economic hardship, as a result of the weather. Florists saw national revenues fall 60% during the Valentine’s Day period, unable to deliver flowers to tens of thousands of loved ones.

Our $16 trillion economy can usually ward off a couple of snowstorms, but NOT the incessant nature of 3 consecutive months of brutal cold and near record snowfall, in which tens of thousands of flights are being cancelled every other week. Other industries such as plastic and rubber products, auto sales, etc. are also being hurt.

The drought in California (one of the top 8 economies in the world), could also have a trillion dollar affect on our nation’s economy as food bills could soar without widespread rains and winter snow cover in the next winter or two. If El Nino forms, this could all change. It’s something I am arduously looking into.

TK – the balance of this article is full of charts and comments that may influence you if you are a short term trader. My primary interest is the long term performance of clients money (and mine) so I tend to ignore short term issues as they are largely noise. But global warming is going to have a long term influence on virtually everything, including our money. To get to the site where you can see the charts and read the rest…

http://seekingalpha.com/article/2032701-world-weather-gone-haywire-effects-on-brazil-natural-gas-crb-index-and-the-economy?source=email_macro_view_edi_pic_2_2&ifp=0