Fractional flow, the flow that shapes our future.

Archive for June 2016

Oil, Interest Rates and Debt

At first glance it is hard to see how oil, interest rates and debt are connected. Two of them are human constructs while oil (fossil sunlight), a gift from Mother Nature, took tens of millions of years to process. Oil is an endowment extracted from a confined underground stock and is now the most dense and versatile energy source known to man.

Figure 1: Chart that shows the development of [extraction] cost of oil and interest rates (US 10 Year Treasuries) has developed since 2000 and a likely trajectory for oil extraction costs.

Figure 1: Chart that shows the development of [extraction] cost of oil and interest rates (US 10 Year Treasuries) has developed since 2000 and a likely trajectory for oil extraction costs.

Both lines are SIGNALS, and most likely plan their future based on only one of them.

The 10 Year Treasury (or similar) rate is the reference used for amongst other things to set interest rate for mortgages. Most now, aware of it or not, base their future plans on the expectations to developments of the 10 Year Treasury.

What is now playing out in the oil market may be described as below;

Low interest rates [stimulates debt growth] => Pulls demand forward => Oversupply => Deflation

How will the interest rate develop in the future?

This is important as the present huge global debt overhang weighs heavily in the consumers’ balance sheets and their affordability for costlier oil. It is also important for oil companies’ long term planning to bring costlier oil to the market.

A lasting, low rate makes higher debt loads manageable. Interest rates works both sides of the demand/supply equation.

A higher interest rate will have serious implications for highly leveraged consumers and oil companies.

The dynamics may be described as below:

Higher interest rate => lowers demand => downward pressure on price [deflation] => makes it harder for [highly leveraged] consumers/oil companies to service their debt overhang => lowers investments to develop costlier supplies

At some point in time the present oil supply overhang will come to an end. This will become reflected in a higher price.

The timing of these events creates uncertainties and the agile and financial strong oil companies will sweat out a lasting low oil price.

Few are aware of that the costs of accessing our real capital (like oil) that runs our economies are rapidly increasing.

What is different this time is that the oil price may remain lower for longer than the estimated full cycle break even costs for new developments.

The suggested path for costs is believed in the near term to come down as oil service companies have reduced their prices to shoulder the burden from the recent price collapse. Over time, the capacities of the service companies will become aligned with the demand for their services and products. At some point, as the oil price recovers and investments pick up, the market mechanisms will bring the prices from the service companies up as the service companies also need to make a profit to stay in business.

In figures 4 and 5 are shown how the combination of lower interest rates and a lasting, high oil price encouraged the oil companies to rapidly take on more debt to develop costlier oil on the expectations that consumers had remaining ability to take on more debt/credit to pay for this, thus allowing the oil companies to retire their debts.

The oil companies’ behavior in the recent decade is reminiscent of group think. Few expected the oil price to collapse, though the oil industry itself repeatedly point out the cyclical nature of the oil price.

The aggregate of developments (primarily driven by an amazing growth in the extraction of light tight oil [LTO]) gradually resulted in a supply overhang that made the oil price collapse.

The costs of extracting real capital, like oil, has been rapidly increasing, yet we are making decisions for the future as if it were decreasing, based on the price of capital (money). This is a short term phenomenon that will last until supply and demand become balanced.

The present situation with an apparent oil glut and low prices is a temporary false signal.

This may also be the case with the low interest rates.

The near future will reveal how the competition for available funds to service a still growing huge global debt overhang fare towards the need to fund developments of costlier oil.

Can an increasingly leveraged global economy handle both higher oil prices and interest rates and still remain on its growth trajectory?

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