Friday, July 3, 2015

Weekly Crude Oil, Gold, Silver and Coffee Markets Recap with Mike Seery

Our trading partner Mike Seery is back this week to give our readers a weekly recap of the futures market. He has been a senior analyst for close to 15 years and has extensive knowledge of all of the commodity and option markets.

Crude oil futures in the August contract are up $.25 this Thursday afternoon in New York as this is the last trading day of the week due to the Fourth of July holiday currently trading at 57.22 a barrel while settling last Friday at 59.63 hitting a 10 week low as I’ve been recommending a short position for over a month and if you took that trade you’ve been very patient as prices have gone nowhere except for yesterday’s trade finishing down over $2 so continue to place your stop above the 10 day high which stands at 61.57 as the chart structure will start to improve next week as well.

Crude oil prices are right at major support as the $57 level is critical in my opinion and if prices do break that I think we could head much lower so continue to play this to the downside as large supplies continue to put pressure on this market as a build in crude oil inventories surprised the market yesterday as the U.S dollar also remains stubbornly strong. Currently we are in the strong demand season for gasoline as many drivers will be on the road this weekend, however the trend is your friend and the trend no matter how stubborn it has been in recent weeks is to the downside in my opinion as I remain bearish.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Improving

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Gold futures in the August contract settled last Friday at 1,173 an ounce while currently trading at 1,163 as I’ve been recommending a short position when prices broke the 1,170 level while placing your stop loss above the 10 day high which stands at 1,201 risking around $31 or $1,000 per mini contract plus slippage and commission. Gold futures are trading below their 20 and 100 day moving average breaking out to a 3 ½ month low as a possible retest of the contract low of 1,144 is in the cards in my opinion as I was recommending a short position a month ago getting stopped out so here I’m trying again to the downside as I’m a trend follower and the trend clearly in my opinion is lower.

Gold prices have been very weak despite a possible Greece exit while as I remain very pessimistic as I see no reason to own gold at the current time as the stock market still looks strong and if Greece cannot rally gold I don’t know what can so take advantage of any rallies as the chart structure will start to improve in the next couple of days as the stop will be lowered to 1,187 as the long-term downtrend line is also intact. As a trader you must forget about your previous trade’s winners or losers and stick with your trading system as sticking to the rules over the course of time is the way to go instead of constantly flip-flopping.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Improving

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Silver futures in the September contract settled last Friday in New York at 15.77 an ounce while currently trading at 15.70 in a very nonvolatile shortened trading week as I’ve been recommending a short position when prices broke 15.80 and if you took that trade continue to place your stop above the 10 day high which stands at 16.26 risking around $560 per mini contract plus slippage and commission as the chart structure is very solid at the current time.

Silver futures are right at a four month low trading below their 20 and 100 day moving average telling you that the trend is to the downside as the chart structure will improve next week and will be lowered in Tuesdays trade to 16.04 so be patient as the monthly unemployment number was released today basically pretty neutral sending gold slightly lower and having very little impact on silver prices as the volatility has slowed down tremendously.

Silver prices generally are one of the most volatile commodities in the world, however in recent months has been very quiet but something will happen in this market as I’m hoping it’s to the downside as I see no reason to own the precious metals at the current time as I still do believe all of the interest lies in the S&P 500 as money flows will continue to flow out of the precious metals and put into the stock market in my opinion.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Improving

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Coffee futures in the September contract are hitting a four week low continuing its grinding bearish trend settling last Friday at 133.45 a pound while currently trading at 127.25 down 600 points for the trading week looking to break the contract low of 126.30 as I’ve been sitting on the sidelines in this market for several months as the trend is lower to neutral at the current time.

As I’ve stated in previous blogs I think coffee is forming a bottoming pattern and if I was a producer I think prices are cheap enough to start accumulating, however as a speculator I see no reason to enter into this market at the current time. Coffee futures are trading below their 20 and 100 day moving average telling you that the short term trend is to the downside, however the 10 day high as over 1000 points away risking about $4,000 from today’s price levels as that does not meet my criteria to enter into a trade so I remain neutral on this as I think the downside is limited in my opinion.

Many of the agricultural markets have rallied including sugar which is also grown in Brazil but we have large supplies of coffee at the current time as I don’t see any large price movement here in the short term as volatility remains relatively low especially for such a historically volatile commodity.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Improving

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Thursday, July 2, 2015

Capital Controls and a Bank Holiday in Greece… Here’s How You Can Profit

By Nick Giambruno

For the unprepared, it happens like a mugging….


When you hear a central banker or politician deny that something is going to happen to bank depositors, you can almost be certain that it will happen. And probably soon. Coming from a government official, the real meaning of “No, of course not” is “Could be tomorrow.”

There’s a reason for the dishonesty. The government needs to take the public by surprise. Otherwise they won’t get the results they want from capital controls or a bank holiday. The term bank holiday is a politician’s euphemism. When one happens, you won’t be celebrating. You won’t be able to access your bank account, and you’ll be worried.

How will you get by, and how long will the lockout last? And when it ends, will all your money still be there? Will any of it remain? Calling the experience a bank holiday is like calling a street mugging a surprise party. Once the banks are closed - or on “holiday,” as the government puts it - the politicians are free to help themselves to as much of the customer deposits (including yours) as they want. It’s like an "all you can steal" buffet.

A bank holiday usually dovetails with capital controls, which are restrictions on the free flow of money out of the country. Capital controls make it hard for the country’s remaining wealth to dodge a future mugging.
Bank holidays and capital controls are all about the government maximizing the amount of money available for them to confiscate during a crisis. Pen up the sheep, and they’re easier to shear.

It’s a common pattern… 1) country in financial trouble, 2) government denials, 3) surprise bank holiday, 4) wealth confiscation, and 5) capital controls.

It’s a pattern we’ve seen repeated in many countries in economic crisis.

We saw it in Cyprus during their banking crisis of 2013. The trap slammed shut without warning on an otherwise ordinary Saturday morning. The government declared a surprise bank holiday. Capital controls and a bank deposit confiscation followed. It occurred despite repeated promises from the highest Cypriot politicians that bank deposits would be safe.

And now we are seeing the same pattern in Greece.

For the past month, Greece’s government has been denying that it intends to impose capital controls. Yesterday, Sunday morning, the Greek Finance Ministry repeated the denial yet again. Then on the same day - a few hours later - the Greek government declared a weeklong bank holiday. And they would impose capital controls after all.

But don’t worry. The Greek Prime Minister promised that bank deposits would be "completely safe.”
Rather than being “completely safe,” they are far more likely to be harvested by the Greek government, which is free to do as so many troubled governments have done… take the money and run.

Given Greece’s years of chronic financial weakness, none of this should come as a surprise.

There was ample time for any Greek citizen to protect himself from what the government is now doing. But now, with the bank holiday in place, it’s too late. Moving money into something that Greek politicians can’t steal with a couple taps on a keyboard - like a Greek bank account - would have bought a large measure of protection.

A bank account in another EU country like Austria, a piece of real estate in South America, some physical gold in Singapore or a brokerage account in Hong Kong would have been just what the doctor ordered. Most people understand that it’s foolish to keep all their eggs in one basket. Yet they fail to go far enough in applying the principle. Diversification isn’t just about investing in multiple stocks or in multiple asset classes. Real diversification - the kind that keeps you safe - means holding assets in multiple countries, so that you’re not overexposed to the economic and political risks that are present in every country.

The problem is, despite having options available to them, many Greeks had a “this can’t happen here” mentality. So they did nothing to prepare. The reality is, what happened in Greece can happen in any country, as it has happened throughout history.

But could it really happen in the US? According to Judge Andrew Napolitano, the troubling answer is YES. The judge is a legal expert. He knows all about bank holidays, capital controls, and other shenanigans politicians pull. The judge has said, “People who have more than $100,000 in the bank are targets for any government that’s looking for money to shore up its own inability to manage its finances.”

The whole ordeal in Greece is yet another example of why international diversification is so important. It’s a prudent strategy because it frees you from absolute dependence on any one country. Achieve that independence, and events or policies where you live can never dominate your life. Wealthy families have been doing it for centuries. Today, with modern communications, international diversification is within everyone’s reach.

International Man’s mission is to help you protect your personal freedom and make the most of financial opportunity around the world. Global diversification is at the heart of it. Discovering the best investment opportunities around the world is another. And, ironically, the best opportunities often show up after a government has done its worst to a country. For example, in places like… Greece.

Investor sentiment in Greece is nearing the point of maximum pessimism… the point at which almost nobody wants to buy. Prices of Greek stocks have already crashed headfirst into the pavement, so we may be getting close to the best time to buy. As Baron Rothschild advised: Buy when the blood is in the streets.

That’s what crisis investing is all about, and it’s enormously profitable.

Seeking out home runs in crisis markets is exactly what Doug Casey and I do in each monthly issue of Crisis Speculator. Back in 2013 there was another crisis in a Mediterranean country… Cyprus. Doug and I put our boots to the ground in Cyprus to search the rubble for investment bargains that would be too good to resist. And we found them.

Despite all the ugly headlines, sound, productive, and well run Cypriot businesses continued to produce earnings and pay dividends. Anyone with a little money and a cool head could have bought their stocks on the ultra cheap.

One of the Cyprus companies we recommended has more than tripled as of this writing. Another has more than doubled. Two others have come close to a double. Our readers have loved the experience.
We expect that even bigger bargains are emerging nearby, in Greece.

The financial crisis in Greece is not going to destroy the solid companies operating there. But it is going to make their stocks extremely cheap. And that could mean huge profits for you.

For full coverage of this rich profit opportunity, be sure to check out Crisis Speculator by clicking here.


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Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Shoot the Dog and Sell the Farm

By John Mauldin 

“If this were a marriage, the lawyers would be circling.”

The Economist, My Big Fat Greek Divorce, 6/20/2015

Greece is again all the buzz in the media and on the commentary circuit. If you’re like me, you are suffering terminal Greece fatigue. You just want Greece and its creditors to “do something already” rather than continually coming to the end of every week with no resolution, amid finger pointing and dire warnings from all sides about the End of All Things Europe – maybe even the world.

That frustration is a common human emotion. Perhaps the best and funniest illustration (trust me, it is worth a few minutes’ digression) is the story about one of my first investment mentors, Gary North, who was working in his early days for Howard Ruff in Howard’s phone call center before Gary began writing his newsletters and books. (Yes, I know I am dating myself, as this was the late ’70s and early ’80s, just as I was getting introduced to the investment publishing business. And for the record, I knew almost everyone in the publishing business in the ’80s. It was a very small group, and we got together regularly.)

Howard set up a phone bank where his subscribers could call in and ask questions about their investments and personal lives. One little lady had the misfortune to get Dr. Gary North on the line. (Gary was the economist for Congressman Ron Paul and went on to write it some 61-odd books, 13,000 articles, and more – all typed with one finger. He is a human word processing machine.)

This sweet lady lived way out in the country and was getting older. She asked Gary if he thought it would be a wise idea for her to move into the city (I believe it was San Francisco) to live with her daughter. Not knowing the answer, Gary helped her work out the pros and cons over the phone, and she decided to move. A few days later she called back and said that she couldn’t bring her dog with her because of the rules at her daughter’s apartment. It turns out she couldn’t live without her dog, so Gary helped her come to the conclusion that she could stay in the country.

A few days later she called him back asking whether she should change her mind, and Gary once again help her to come to a conclusion. This went on for several weeks, back and forth, move or not move, dog or no dog. Finally she called one last time. Gary, in utter exasperation and not being infinitely tolerant of indecisive people, said, “Look lady, just shoot the dog and sell the farm.” (For the record, I hope she didn't really shoot the dog. I like dogs.)

That is where most of us are with the Europeans and Greeks. I have devoted a great deal of space in this letter to Greece over the past five years and have visited the country and corresponded with many analysts and citizens about the situation. And while I want to briefly outline the Greek situation again today, as there are some subtle nuances to consider, I think this juncture is a teaching moment about the larger picture in Europe. In fact, watching this process, I have come to change my mind about the timing of what I see is the endgame for Europe and European sovereign debt. I think exploring that issue will make for an interesting letter.

Economic crises go through cycles. Here’s a chart from the clever folks at Valuewalk.com (via my friend Jonathan Tepper on Twitter).



https://twitter.com/valuewalk/status/612948290267688960

The Greek situation is presently caught in those two bubbles on the bottom. European leaders held summit meetings this week to consider new breakthrough concessions offered by Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras. Let the champagne flow. Except those concessions were rejected, and the Greeks rejected the counteroffer as of this afternoon. But it’s not quite midnight yet.

Unfortunately, the wheel of debt never stops turning. If this solution is like countless others floated in the last five years, we will soon learn that it has no substance or simply won’t work. We will then reenter the crisis phase.

Every cycle breaks eventually. If you forget everything that’s happened to this point and re-imagine the crisis as an economic standoff between Greece and Germany, you have to say Germany will win. It outweighs tiny Greece in every possible category. The real question is why Germany let the fight go on this long. We will deal with that in a minute.

Note that this observation isn’t about which country should win; it is about who will win. Greece has some legitimate grievances. Unfortunately, these grievances aren’t going to matter in the end.

Poster Children for European Profligacy

My friend David Zervos of Jefferies & Co. has no doubt who will win. He sent me this note on June 17.
The bell is tolling for Alexis [Tsipras]. European leaders from all sides have abandoned him as he burns through every last bridge that was once in place. His only meeting of importance during this crucial week of negotiation is with Putin – which clearly does not inspire any confidence for a near term resolution. 

It is actually amazing that we have not seen any of the left-leaning party leaders from the rest of Europe running to Tsipras’ side as he truculently engages his paymasters. Where are all these European anti-austarians? Of course they are hiding from the Germans, hoping not to receive the same fate as Alexis. So there he sits, alone and under his last Soviet held bridge, just like Hemingway's Robert Jordan. He is waiting to cause just a little more damage before his time is up. 

In the end, there is no question that the Germans have executed a near flawless plan to humiliate and vilify Greece. The Greeks now stand as poster children for European profligacy. And they are being paraded through every town square in the EU, in shackles, as the bell tolls near the gallows for their leader. And to be sure, making an example of Greece is a probably the greatest achievement for the fiscal disciplinarians of Europe. Maastricht never had any teeth. But this exercise is impressive. It shows that fiscal excess will be squashed in Europe. The Portuguese, Spanish, and Italians are surely taking notice. And in the days that lead up to a Greek default on 30 June, and then more importantly on 20 July, these disciplinarians will surely display their power for all to see.

Oddly enough, I actually think this has been the German plan all along. With no real way to ensure fiscal discipline through the treaty, they resorted to killing one of their own in order to keep the masses in line. It explains why Merkel took out Samaras when she knew a more hostile government would surely emerge in Greece. This was masterful political manipulation.

The 1992 Maastrict Treaty created the European Union and led a few years later to the euro currency. Which I said at the time would be a disaster. And it has been. Leaders have been wrestling with its fundamental flaw almost from the beginning. The EU has no way to enforce fiscal standards on its member nations. The member nations likewise have no way to devalue the currency in their own favor. This can’t go on forever – and it won’t.

Germany, by virtue of its sheer size and its favored position in the bureaucratic scheme of things, grew wealthy partly by exporting to the European periphery: Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal, and Ireland. (The rest of their 40–50% of exports of GDP come from exporting to the rest of Europe and the world. They have benefited massively from a currency that has been and continues to be weaker than it would be if it were just a German currency.)

The peripheral countries essentially exported all their cash to Germany (and to some extent northern Europe) in exchange for German goods. When they ran out of cash, not just because of their purchase of export goods but because of the uncompetitive nature of their bureaucratic and labor systems and the rather large unfunded government expenditures, they wanted yet more cash to continue to spend on government services.

Germany and the rest of Europe offered vendor financing. German and the rest of European banks loaned money to Greeks so the Greeks could buy German goods and perpetuate their government spending habits. In the early part of the last decade, tt was a deal that was seemingly made in heaven as Greece got to borrow money at German rates and Germany got to sell products in a currency driven by the valuation of the peripheral countries.

This arrangement left Greece and the other PIIGS deep in debt. Much like the American homeowners who lived beyond their means, Greece found itself overleveraged and undercapitalized. And here we are.
To continue reading this article from Thoughts from the Frontline – a free weekly publication by John Mauldin, renowned financial expert, best-selling author, and Chairman of Mauldin Economics – please click here.



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Saturday, June 27, 2015

Weekly Crude Oil, Gold, Coffee and Sugar Markets Recap with Mike Seery

Our trading partner Mike Seery is back this week to give our readers a weekly recap of the futures market. He has been a senior analyst for close to 15 years and has extensive knowledge of all of the commodity and option markets.

Crude oil futures in the August contract are trading lower for the 3rd consecutive trading session currently trading at 58.87 a barrel while settling last Friday in New York at 59.97 down about $1 for the trading week still stuck in nonvolatile sideways trend despite the fact that prices hit a two week low in today’s trade as I’ve been recommending a short position for over a month and if you took the original trade continue to place your stop loss above the 10 day high at 61.81 risking around $3 or $1,500 per mini contract plus slippage and commission. Crude oil is trading below its 20 day but still slightly above its 100 day moving average as I’ve traded crude oil for 20 years and I can’t remember such a nonvolatile stretch like we’ve had in the last several months consolidating the giant move to the upside. The next breakout level is below 57.00 and if that level is broken prices could move sharply lower but that’s a big if as volatility is extremely low at the current time. Next week is the 4th Of July holiday weekend as I think volatility will remain low until Friday’s monthly unemployment report which could dictate the short term trend.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Improving

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Gold futures in the August contract settled last Friday in New York at 1,202 while currently trading at 1,170 an ounce down about $30 for the trading week remaining incredibly choppy as I was recommending a short position getting stopped out in last week’s trade when prices bumped up against 1,200 as I’m sitting on the sidelines at the current time waiting for another breakout to occur and that could happen soon as prices remain very weak. Gold futures are trading below their 20 and 100 day moving average looking to break the critical 1,170 level and the second critical level is 1,160 if that level is broken I would have to think that the bear market is underway as I see no reason to own gold at the current time as all the interest is in the stock market which is right near all time highs. Gold only seems to rally due to the fact that Greece could possibly exit the Euro Zone and that’s why I got stopped out in last week’s trade. The chart structure in gold is outstanding but if prices do break I will be recommending a short position while placing my stop above the 10 day high which 1,205 risking around $35 or $1,200 risk per mini contract plus slippage and commission so be patient and wait for the breakout to occur.
Trend: Mixed
Chart Structure: Improving

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Coffee futures in the September contract are trading above their 20 but slightly below their 100 day moving average continuing its sideways trend settling last Friday in New York at 130 while currently trading at 136 as I do think prices have bottomed out around the 128 level, however prices have not hit a four week high so I’m waiting for a breakout to occur. The chart structure is improving dramatically as volatility remains relatively low as I do think a breakout to the upside is in the cards as prices hit a 2 week high in today’s trade as many of the agricultural markets have bottomed and are moving higher especially the grain market due to weather problems. The problem with coffee is the fact that we had huge production coming out of Brazil coupled with the fact that of a very weak Brazilian Real against the U.S dollar pushing many agricultural products that are grown in Brazil lower including orange juice, sugar and coffee in 2015, however everything comes to an end and it certainly looks to me that prices are going higher. I deal with many producers down in Brazil and in my opinion I would start to buy the actual cash coffee as I think prices are low enough but for speculators wait for the breakout which would be a 4 week high before entering which could happen in next week’s trade.
Trend: Mixed
Chart Structure: Excellent

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Sugar futures in the October contract settled last Friday at 11.55 a pound while currently trading at 11.92 up about 37 points for the week as I’ve been recommending a short position over the last month and if you took that trade continue to place your stop loss above the 10 day high which is just an eyelash away at 12.12 risking around 20 points or $220 dollars per contract plus slippage and commission as the chart structure is outstanding at the current time. Sugar prices hit a 6 year low as I remember in 2010 prices were trading around 35 rallying with many of the commodity markets due to quantitative easing as that’s how far prices have dropped as production numbers in Brazil are relatively high. Harvest is underway which generally creates a seasonal low at harvest time, however I’m a technical trader and I will continue to stick to the rules and place my stop at the 10 day high as overproduction over the last several years has sent prices to multi year lows and if we are stopped out then look at other markets that are beginning to trend.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Outstanding

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Thursday, June 25, 2015

Commodity Traders, the Environment and How Nature Rebounds

By John Mauldin


The common meme in today’s world is that we are slowly (or perhaps even rapidly in some instances) destroying our global environment. Not just by way of global warming, but pollution, over farming, water usage, and increasing use of all sorts of resources taken from the ground. Post apocalyptic movies and books are the rage, showing us living in a world where man has ravaged his environment and our lives have been degraded if not destroyed. Our failure to deal with global warming and the destruction of the environment are key components of the mantra repeated by the mainstream media, pundits, and politicians.

Technology is supposed to somehow save us from our dystopian future by creating new ways to clean the environment, feed us, and help us become more thrifty and less wasteful. But when? When will we see those breakthroughs, that light at the end of the tunnel?

A few years ago I met Jesse Ausubel, who ran a two week long think tank for the US Department of Defense at the Naval War College, tasked with thinking about the challenges of the next 20 years. The Office of Net Assessment brought in 15 futurists from a number of disciplines and personnel from each branch of the military who were the heads of future scenario planning for their respective branches. We sat for over a week, 10-12 hours a day plus dinners, thinking through the issues we might have to face. Andrew Marshall, who was 93 and had been running that department since he was appointed by Nixon in 1974, gathered this group of nonconsensus thinkers each summer to think about long range issues. I was fortunate enough to be part of the group for two years.

Jesse corralled this herd of cats into a cogent work group and kept us on track. The experience was exhausting but exhilarating. It was soon clear that Jesse was not only capable of organizing a group of eclectic minds, he was also a first rate thinker himself, knowledgeable on a wide variety of topics, a true Renaissance man.

Jesse is Director and Senior Research Associate of the Program for the Human Environment at Rockefeller University, a pure-research institution with more Nobel laureates than any other university. The work they do is astounding in its breadth. I recently spent an afternoon with Jesse talking over a number of topics and especially a paper he recently published which lays out serious research in an accessible way on the subject of how things in our beleaguered world might actually be getting better. It is called “Nature Rebounds,” and it’s today’s Outside the Box.

To get the import of this paper, you may need to know more about who Jesse is. You can read his wiki bio, which is extensive; but the short version is that he was integral to setting up the first (and then subsequent) conferences on climate change in Geneva in 1979. Later, he led the Climate Task of the Resources and Environment Program of the International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis, near Vienna, Austria, an East-West think tank created by the US and Soviet academies of sciences. Beginning with a 1989 book called Technology and Environment, Jesse was one of the founders of the field of industrial ecology. He also co-developed the concepts of decarbonization and dematerialization. He has more serious science attached to his name than most climate and ecological scientists do, and he has the awards and honors to prove it.

And what Jesse tells us is that for much of the world, in many ways, things are getting better. Nature is winning. Not everywhere, of course, and he documents the downside as well, notably the serious devastation of our oceans and fishing. There is still a lot to do, but the trends are positive (except, notably, for the oceans). He shows us that the effort to clean up the environment and expand the areas that are allowed to return to a more natural state has been worth it. This is a great summer read. The entire paper is included in today’s OTB, but if you would like to read it in its original format, you can download a PDF here.

I was recently in the wilds of New Hampshire and Vermont. I spent the weekend at the fabulous retreat compound of Gary Bahre, where some 15 people involved in his investments and businesses listened to Mark Faber, David Rosenberg, Ed Yardeni, Danny (David) Blanchflower, Peter Boockvar, Gary Shilling, and your humble analyst present and debate a series of economic topics. Trish Regan, now with Fox Business, moderated, kept things moving along, and displayed a very wide breadth of knowledge in her questioning. Those who know the characters involved will know that the event was, of course, cordial but also rather highly spirited. The theme song should have been “Hit Me With Your Best Shot!” I don’t get to be in many small group sessions like that, and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. My special thanks to Gary for being such a fabulous host. The place is now for sale, and I wish him the best, although I really would like to be a part of another conference like that again.

I have now moved to my temporary home base in the NoHo neighborhood of NYC, where I’ll be through mid July, in an apartment provided courtesy of AirBnB (I think). I have a business reason to be here, but on a personal level I have always wanted to spend an extended time in NYC. There is just so much to do and so many friends here. Randomly, I find myself in the same building with Nouriel Roubini. We’ve already scheduled to meet up in the next few days.

As a quick aside before hitting the send button, I was pleasantly surprised to find my photo in the New York Times. As I mentioned last week, I attended a small meeting with Governor Bobby Jindal. I wasn’t paying attention to whom the photographers were shooting as I talked with the governor. Somebody was evidently there to cover the event. New York has the potential for a lot of interesting dinners.
You have a great week.

Your happy to see the world getting better analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box
subscribers@mauldineconomics.com

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Nature Rebounds

Jesse H. Ausubel, Director, Program for the Human Environment

Trends in America may portend a global restoration of nature, a rebound. To understand, let’s go into the woods, not in a far off kingdom, but only about 45 miles northwest of New York City in New Jersey, where a scary side effect illustrates the American trend to expand nature. In September 2014 a bear killed Darsh Patel, 22, a senior at Rutgers University majoring in information technology, while hiking with friends. Patel’s death in the Apshawa Preserve was the first fatal bear attack recorded in New Jersey in 150 years. Five friends were hiking when they came across the bear, which they photographed and filmed before running in different directions. After regrouping, they noticed one was missing. State authorities found and euthanized the bear, which had human remains in its stomach and esophagus, and human blood and tissue below its claws.

Five years earlier, the state of New Jersey had restored its bear hunt. In 2010 wildlife ecologists estimated that 3,400 bears were living in New Jersey. After five years of hunting, the experts now estimate the population has fallen to 2,500. During the six day 2014 season, hunters killed 267 bears. Protesters have picketed and petitioned to stop the annual hunt.

Should the re-wilding of New Jersey shock us? I answer “no,” because about 1970 a great reversal began in America’s use of resources. Contrary to the expectations of many professors and preachers, America began to spare more resources for the rest of nature, first in relative and more recently in absolute amounts. A series of decouplings is occurring, so that our economy no longer advances in tandem with exploitation of land, forests, water, and minerals. American use of almost everything except information seems to be peaking, not because the resources are exhausted, but because consumers changed consumption and producers changed production. Changes in behavior and technology liberate the environment.

Farms

Consider first land. Agriculture has always been the greatest raper of nature, stripping and simplifying and regimenting it, and reducing acreage left. Then, in America, in about 1940 acreage and yield decoupled (Figure 1). Since about 1940 American farmers have quintupled corn while using the same or even less land. Corn matters because it towers over other crops, totaling more tons than wheat, soy, rice, and potatoes together (Figure 2).


Figure 1. Decoupling of US corn production from area farmed.
Data source: US Census Bureau (1975, 2012).


Figure 2. Domination by corn of US crops and meats produced in 2011.
Data sources: USDA; US Census Bureau.

Crucially, rising yields have not required more tons of fertilizer or other inputs. The inputs to agriculture have plateaued and then fallen, not just cropland but nitrogen, phosphates, potash, and even water (Figure 3). A recent meta analysis by Wilhelm Kl├╝mper and Matin Qaim of 147 original studies of recent trends in high yield farming for soy, maize, and cotton, funded by the German government and the European Union, found a 37 percent decline in chemical pesticide use while crop yields rose 22 percent. The story is precision agriculture, in which we use more bits, not more kilowatts or gallons.

Importantly, the average yield of American farmers is nowhere near a ceiling. In 2013, David Hula, a farmer in Virginia, not Iowa or Illinois, grew a US and probably world record 454 bushels of corn per acre, three times the average yield in Iowa. His tractor cab is instrumented like the office of a high speed Wall Street trader. In 2014 famer Hula’s harvest rose 5 percent higher to 476 bushels, while Randy Dowdy, who farms near Valdosta, Georgia, busted the 500 bushel wall with a yield of 503 bushels per acre and won the National Corn Growers Contest.


Figure 3. The transition to precision agriculture. Absolute US consumption of five agricultural inputs.
Data source: USGS2013.

Now one can ask if Americans need all that corn. We eat only a small fraction of corn on the cob or creamed or as tortillas or polenta. Most corn becomes beef or pork, and increasingly we feed it to cars (see Figure 4). An area the size of Iowa or Alabama grows corn to fuel vehicles.


Figure 4. US uses of corn. *Note: Includes production of high-fructose corn syrup,
glucose and dextrose, starch, alcohol for beverages and manufacturing,
seed, cereals, and other products.
Data source: USDA Economic Research Service.

Unlike corn that becomes beef or soybeans that become chicken, potatoes stay potatoes, and they conserve the scarce input of water in Idaho or California’s Kern County around Bakersfield. Ponder the rewards of success for the potato grower (Figure 5). Potato growers have also lifted yields, but their markets are saturated, so they remove land from production. This sparing of land—and water— is a gift for other plants and animals.


Figure 5. Sparing of land by potato growers: US potato yield, production,
and harvested area.
Data source: USDA 2013.

Steadily, the conversion of crops, mostly corn, to meat, has also decoupled, because the meat game is also one in which efficiency matters. From humanity’s point of view, cattle, pigs, and chickens are machines to make meat. A steer gets about 12 miles per gallon, a pig 40, and a chicken 60. Statistics for America and the world show that poultry, land’s efficient meat machines, are winning (Figure 6).


Figure 6. Chicken wins market share in US meat consumption.
Data source: USDA.

High grain and cereal yields and efficient meat machines combine to spare land for nature. In fact, we have argued that both the USA and the world are at peak farmland, not because of exhaustion of arable land, but because farmers are wildly successful in producing protein and calories. To prosper, farmers have allowed or forced Americans to eat hamburgers and chicken tenders, drink bourbon, and drive with ethanol, and they have still exported massive tonnages abroad.

Wasted food is not decoupled from acreage. When we consider the horror of food waste, not to mention obesity, then we further appreciate that huge amounts of land can be released from agriculture with no damage to human diet. Every year 1.3 billion tons of food are thrown away globally, according to a 2013 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN. That equates to one-third of the world’s food being wasted.

Some food waste results from carelessness, but laws and rules regulating food distribution also cause it. Germany, the UK, and other countries are changing rules to reduce food waste. In California the website Food Cowboy uses mobile technology to route surplus food from wholesalers and restaurants to food banks and soup kitchens instead of to landfills, and CropMobster tries to spread news about local food excess and surplus from any supplier in the food chain and prevent food waste. The 800 million or so hungry humans worldwide are not hungry because of inadequate production.

If we keep lifting average yields toward the demonstrated levels of David Hula and Randy Dowdy, stop feeding corn to cars, restrain our diets lightly, and reduce waste, then an area the size of India or the USA east of the Mississippi could be released globally from agriculture over the next 50 years or so (Figure 7).


Figure 7. Peak farmland? Global arable land 1961– 2009 and projections to 2060.
In the alternative scenario, the several favors (rising yields, diet, waste reduction,
cessation of using land to fuel cars) sum to a higher total.

Rebound is already happening. Abandonment of marginal agricultural lands in the former Soviet Union and Eastern Europe has released at least 30 million hectares and possibly as much as 60 million hectares to return to nature according to careful studies by geographer Florian Schierhorn and his colleagues. Thirty million hectares is the size of Poland or Italy. The great reversal of land use that I am describing is not only a forecast, it is a present reality in Russia and Poland as well as Pennsylvania and Michigan. I will discuss some consequences of this reversal later.

In America alone the total amount of corn fed to cars grows on an area equal to Iowa or Alabama, as mentioned. Think of organizations like the Long Now Foundation turning all those lands that are now pasture for cars into refuges for wildlife, carbon orchards, and parks. The area is about twice the area of all the US national parks outside Alaska.

Forests

Let’s now turn from farms to forests. Foresters refer to a “forest transition” when a nation goes from losing to gaining forested area. France recorded the first forest transition, about 1830. Since that time French forests have doubled while the French population has also doubled. Forest loss decoupled from population.
Measured by growing stock, the USA enjoyed its forest transition around 1950, and measured by area, about 1990. In the USA, the forest transition began around 1900, when states such as Connecticut had almost no forest, and now encompasses dozens of states. The thick green cover of New England, Pennsylvania, and New York today would be unrecognizable to Teddy Roosevelt, who knew them as wheat fields, pastures mown by sheep, and hillsides denuded by logging.

The forest transition, like peak farmland, involves forces of both supply and demand. Foresters manage the supply better through smarter harvesting and replanting. Simply shifting from harvesting in cool slow growing forests to warmer faster-growing ones can make a difference. A hectare of cool US forest adds about 3.6 cubic meters of wood per year, while a hectare of warm US forest adds 7.4. A shift in the USA harvest between 1976 and 2001 from cool regions to the warm Southeast decreased logged area from 17.8 to 14.7 million hectares, a decrease of 3.1 million hectares, far more than either the 0.9 million hectares of Yellowstone Park or 1.3 million of Connecticut.

Like farmed meat, forest plantations also produce wood more efficiently than unmanaged forests, and forest plantations meet a growing fraction of demand, predictably, and spare other forests for biodiversity and other benefits. The growth in plantations versus natural forests provides even greater contrast than the warm versus cool forests. Brazilian eucalyptus plantations annually provide 40 cubic meters of timber per hectare, about five times the production of a warm natural forest and almost 10 times that of a cool northern forest. In recent times about a third of wood production comes from plantations. If that were to rise to 75 percent, the logged area of natural forests could drop by half. It is easy to appreciate that if plantations merely grow twice as fast as natural forests, harvesting one hectare of plantation spares two hectares of natural forest.

An equally important story unfolds on the demand side. We once used wood to heat our homes and for almost forgotten uses such as railroad ties. The Iron Horse was actually a wooden horse—its rails rested on countless trees that made the ties and trestles. The trains themselves were wooden carriages. As president of the Southern Pacific and Central Pacific railroads in their largest expansion, Leland Stanford was probably one of the greatest deforesters in world history. It is not surprising that he publicly advocated for conservation of forests because he knew how railroads cut them. The US Forest Service originated around 1900 in large part owing to an expected timber famine caused by expansion of railroads.

Fortunately for nature the length of the rail system saturated, creosote preserved timber longer, and concrete replaced it. Charting the three major uses of wood—fuel, construction, and paper—shows how wood for fuel and building has lost importance since 1960 (Figure 8). World production has also saturated (Figure 9). Paper had been gliding upward but, after decades of wrong forecasts of the paperless society, we must now credit West Coast tycoons Steve Jobs and Jeff Bezos for e-readers and tablets, which have caused the market for pulp and paper, the last strong sector of wood products, to crumple. Where are the newsstands and stationers of yesteryear? Many paper products, such as steno pads and even fanfold computer paper, are artifacts for the technology museums. E-mail has collapsed snail mail. US first-class mail fell a quarter in just the five years between 2007 and 2012 (Figure 10). As a Rockefeller University employee, I like to point out that John D. Rockefeller saved whales by replacing sperm oil with petroleum. ARPANET and the innovators of e-mail merit a medal for forest rebound.


Figure 8. Declining favor of wood products:
Global forest products consumed per dollar of GDP.
Data sources: FAO 2013; World Bank 2012.


Figure 9. Saturation of world production of forest products, in tons; 1961 = 100%.
Data source: UN FAOSTAT.

Figure 10. Dematerialization in action: Falling US mail volume.
Data source: US Postal Service.


Global greening

So far I have described bottom-up forces relating to farms and forests that spare land. Top-down forces are also at work, and together the forces are causing global greening, the most important ecological trend on Earth today. The biosphere on land is getting bigger, year by year, by 2 billion tons or even more.

Researchers are reporting the evidence weekly in papers ranging from arid Australia and Africa to moist Germany and the northernmost woods (see text box, below). Probably the most obvious reason is the increase of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. In fact, farmers pump CO2 into greenhouses to make plants grow better. Carbon dioxide is what many plants inhale to feel good. It also enables plants to grow more while using the same or less water.

Californians David Keeling and Ralph Keeling have kept superfine measurements of CO2 since 1958. The increasing size of the seasonal cycle from winter when the biosphere releases CO2 to the summer when it absorbs the gas proves there is greater growth on average each year. The increased CO2 is a global phenomenon, potentially enlarging the biosphere in many regions.

In some areas, especially the high latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, the growing season has lengthened, attributed to global warming. The longer growing season is also causing more plant growth, demonstrated most convincingly in Finland. Some regions, including sub-Saharan Africa, report more rain and more growth.

More nitrogen here and there in the environment may also be causing global greening. A group of us led by Pekka Kauppi of Finland is trying to dissect the shares attributable to the various factors.

In any case, the numbers are huge, and satellite comparisons of the biosphere in 1982 and 2011 by Ranga Myneni and his colleagues show little browning and vast green expanses of greater vegetation (Figure 11). I repeat that global greening is the most important ecological phenomenon on land today.


Figure 11. Global greening: Corroborating satellite images, models simulate greening
1990–2011 with growing net primary production spanning tropical, temperate,
and boreal regions and all vegetation types but also of course some areas with losses.
Trend is measured in grams of carbon per square meter per year.
Source: Sitch et al. 2015, fig. 6.


Materials

In speaking about land, I have occasionally mentioned materials such as nitrogen and water. Let me now suggest that in addition to peak farmland and peak timber, America may also be experiencing peak use of many other resources. Back in the 1970s, we thought America’s growing appetite might exhaust Earth’s crust of just about every metal and mineral. But a surprising thing happened, even as our population kept growing. The intensity of use of the resources began to fall. For each new dollar in the economy, we used less copper and steel than we had used before. Figure 12 shows not just the relative but the absolute use of nine basic commodities, flat or falling for about 20 years. In the 1967 film The Graduate, a successful businessman tells the new college graduate played by Dustin Hoffman, “I just want to say one word to you. Just one word. Plastics” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PSxihhBzCjk). About 1990, Americans began even to use less plastic. America has started to dematerialize.

The reversal in use of some of the materials so surprised me that Iddo Wernick, Paul Waggoner, and I undertook a detailed study of the use of 100 commodities in the USA from 1900 to 2010. One hundred commodities span just about everything from arsenic and asbestos to water and zinc. The soaring use of many up to about 1970 makes it easy to understand why Americans started Earth Day in that year. I marched.


Figure 12. Use of nine basic commodities, US 1900–2010.
Note: Uses five-year moving average; legend is ordered top- down by value in 2010.
Data source: USGS National Minerals Information Center 2013.

Of the 100 commodities, we found that 36 have peaked in absolute use; Figure 13 shows a selection of these. Good riddance to asbestos and cadmium. Figure 14 shows some of the 53 commodities we consider poised to fall. These include not only cropland and nitrogen, which I have discussed, but even electricity and water, about which more soon.


Figure 13. Absolute use of peaked commodities, US 1900–2010.
Note: Uses five-year moving average; legend is ordered top-down by value in 2010.
Data source: USGS National Minerals Information Center 2013.


Figure 14. Absolute use of likely peaking commodities, US 1900–2010.
Note: Uses five-year moving average; legend is ordered top- down by value in 2010.
Data source: USGS National Minerals Information Center 2013.

Only 11 of the 100 commodities are still growing in both relative and absolute use in America. These include chickens, the winning form of meat. Several others are elemental vitamins, like the gallium and indium used to dope or alloy other bulk materials and make them smarter. We have titled our forthcoming report “Chickens and Gallium.”

Dematerialization is no surprise to San Franciscans, who make the devices that replace the big old clumsy hunks of metal and blobs of plastic pictured on the right in Figure 15.


Figure 15. The smart phone as dematerializer, one small device replacing many larger ones.
Credit: M. Tupy 2012.

Even Californians economizing on water in the midst of a drought may be surprised at what has happened to water withdrawals in America since 1970. Expert projections made in the 1970s sprayed rising water use to the year 2000, but what actually happened was a leveling off. While America added 80 million people, the population of Turkey, American water use stayed flat. In fact, as Figure 16 reports, data through 2010 just released by the US Geological Survey shows water use has now declined below the level of 1970, while production of corn, for example, has tripled. The largest reasons are more efficient water use in farming and power generation.


Figure 16. Total US water withdrawals: absolute (ABS) and relative to GDP (IOU).
Withdrawals have been flat since about 1975 while production of corn
and soybeans has grown 300%, wheat 60%, potatoes 25%.
Data sources: USGS 2013; Williamson 2014.

In the land of Lyft and Uber, I must speak about petroleum and mobility too. Until about 1970, per American petroleum use rose alarmingly. Most experts worried about further rises, but Figure 17 shows what actually happened—plateau and then fall. Partly vehicles have become more efficient. But partly, travel in personal vehicles seems to have saturated. America may be at peak car travel. If you buy an extra car, it is probably for fashion or flexibility. You won’t spend more minutes per day driving or drive more miles.


Figure 17. Rise, saturation, and decline of US per capita petroleum consumption,
1900– 2012.

Unlike the car companies, I would not bet on selling a lot more cars either. The beginning of a plateau in the population of cars and light trucks on US roads suggests we are approaching peak car. The reason may be that drone taxis will win. The average personal vehicle motors about an hour per day, while a car shared like a Zip Car gets used eight or nine hours per day, and a taxi even more. As venture capitalists here know, driverless cars can work tirelessly and safely and accomplish the present mileage with fewer vehicles. The manufacturers won’t like it, but markets do simply fade away, whether for typewriters or newsprint.

Moreover, new forms of transport can enter the game. According to our studies, the best bet is on magnetically levitated systems, or maglevs, “trains” with magnetic suspension and propulsion. Elon Musk has proposed a variant called the hyperloop that would speed between LA and San Francisco at about 1000 kilometers per hour, accomplishing the trip in about 35 minutes and thus comfortably allowing daily round trips, if the local arrangements are also quick.

The maglev is a vehicle without wings, wheels, and motor, and thus without combustibles aboard. Suspended magnetically between two guard rails that resemble an open stator of an electric motor, it can be propelled by a magnetic field that, let’s say, runs in front and drags it.

Hard limits to the possible speed of maglevs do not exist, above all if the maglev runs in an evacuated tunnel or surface tube. Evacuated means simulating the low pressure that an airplane encounters at 30–50 thousand feet of altitude. Tunnels solve the problem of permanent landscape disturbance, but tubes mounted above existing rights of way of roads or rails might prove easier and cheaper to build and maintain.

Spared a motor and the belly fat called fuel, the maglev could break the “rule of the ton,” the weight rule that has burdened mobility. The weight of a horse and its gear, a train per passenger, an auto that on average carries little more than one passenger, and a jumbo jet at takeoff all average about one ton of vehicle per passenger. The maglev could slim to 300 kilograms, dropping directly and drastically the cost of energy transport.

Will maglevs make us sprawl? This is a legitimate fear. In Europe, since 1950 the tripling of the average speed of travel has extended personal area tenfold, and so Europe begins to resemble Los Angeles. In contrast to the car, maglevs may offer the alternative of a bimodal or “virtual” city with pedestrian islands and fast connections between them. Maglevs can function as national and continental-scale metros, at jet speed.

Looking far into the 21st century, we can imagine a system as wondrous to today’s innovators as our full realization of cars and paved roads would seem to the maker of the Stutz Bearcat. Because the maglev system is a set of magnetic bubbles moving under the control of a central computer, what we put inside is immaterial. It could be a personal or small collective vehicle, starting as an elevator in a skyscraper, becoming a taxi in the maglev network, and again becoming an elevator in another skyscraper. The entire bazaar could be run as a videogame where shuffling and rerouting would lead the vehicle to its destination swiftly, following the model of the Internet. In the end, a maglev system is a common carrier or highway, meaning private as well as mass vehicles can shoot through it.

The city air can be clean, too, if the source of electricity is clean. In fact, Americans have been doing a good job of decoupling growth and air quality. We already see not only decoupling but absolute falls in pollution. Emissions of sulfur dioxide (Figure 18), a classic air pollutant, peaked about 1970 because of a blend of factors including better technology and stronger regulation. The arc of sulfur dioxide forms a classic curve in which pollution grew for a while as Americans grew richer but then fell as Americans grew richer still and preferred clean air.


Figure 18. Decoupling of US economic growth and sulfur dioxide emissions.
Note: the orange Environmental Kuznets Curve of sulfur emissions,
which peaked in 1970,contrasts with the blue straight line of growth of GDP.
Economic slumps as in 1929 and 1944 reverse growth for 5–10 years
but do not affect the longer-term trends for GDP or emissions.
Data source: EPA. Credit: Waggoner and Ausubel 2009.

American emissions of carbon dioxide (Figure 19) now similarly appear to be peaking. The data in the figure go through only 2007 while emissions have dropped since then to 1990 levels. These trajectories seem preset, not created by public policy or politicians. As the German politician Bismarck said in a speech in 1895, a statesman does not create the stream, he floats on it and tries to steer. In California terms, the best politicians are surfers, winning attention for riding waves.


Figure 19. Decoupling of US economy and carbon dioxide emissions.
2013 emissions were 10% below 2007. Carbon emissions seem around their peak,
especially by analogy with sulfur emissions.
Data sources: Carbon Dioxide Information Analysis Center, EPA. Credit: Waggoner and Ausubel 2009.


Population

I have spoken about farms, forests, materials including water, and mobility. Let me report briefly on human population as well. The US fertility rate declined six years in a row beginning in 2008, falling to 1.86 births per woman in 2013, well below the replacement level of 2.1. Immigration will continue to keep the US population growing, but globally it appears that Earth is passing peak child (Figure 20). Swedish statistician and physician Hans Rosling estimates that the absolute number of humans born reached about 130 million in 1990 and has stayed around that number since then. With fertility declining all over the world, the number of newcomers should soon fall. While momentum and greater longevity will keep the total population growing, technical progress can counter the likely mouths. A 2 percent annual gain in efficiency can dominate a growth of population at 1 percent or even less.


Figure 20. Peak child? Population growth slowing at all levels of development.
Source: The European Financial Review 2013.


Oceans

If only everything were trending in the right direction. I explore and observe the oceans a lot, and ocean life is getting a raw deal. Let’s think a bit about the form of meat called fish. Consider the change in the catch of a charter boat out of Key West between 1958 and 2007—no more large groupers (Figure 21). Or take a trip to the Tokyo fish market. Sea life is astonishingly delicious, and tastier and more varied in markets than ever, owing to improved storage and transport. An octopus from Mauretania ends in Japan.


Figure 21. Recreational fishing on the Greyhound charter boat,
Key West, in 1958 (left) and in 2007 (right).
Source: Census of Marine Life, History of Marine Animal Populations, and Loren E. McClenachan.

Before the advent of refrigeration, fresh sushi was a delicacy for the emperor of Japan. In January 2013 a 489-pound bluefin sold for $1.76 million. We may say that the democratization of sushi has changed everything for sea life.

Fish biomass in intensively exploited fisheries appears to be about one-tenth the level of the fish in those seas a few decades or hundred years ago. Diverse observations support this estimate. For example, the total population of cod off Cape Cod today probably weighs only about 3 percent of all the cod in 1815. The average swordfish harpooned off New England dropped in size from about 500 pounds in 1860 to about 200 pounds in 1930. To survive wild in the ocean, an unprotected species needs to enjoy juvenile sex and spawn before capture.

Earlier I spoke about land meat. How does world consumption of fish that depletes the oceans compare with the 800 million tons of animal products humanity eats? Fish meat is about one fifth of land meat. In 2012 about 90 million tons of fish were taken wild from salt and fresh water and a fast-growing 66 million tons from fish farms and ranches.

Americans in fact eat relatively little sea life, only about 7 kilograms per person in a year. Much of that 7 kilograms, however, is taken from the wild schools of the sea, and that fraction of total diet, though small, depletes the oceans. The ancient sparing of land animals by farming shows us how to spare the fish in the sea. If we want to eat sea life, we need to increase the share we farm and decrease the share we catch.

Fish farming does not require invention. It has been around for a long time. The Chinese have been doing very nicely raising herbivores, such as carp, for centuries. Following the Chinese example, one feeds crops grown on land by farmers to herbivorous fish in ponds. Much aquaculture of catfish near the Gulf Coast of the US and of carp and tilapia in Southeast Asia and the Philippines takes this form. The fish grown in ponds spare fish from the ocean. Like poultry, fish efficiently convert protein in feed to protein in meat. And because the fish do not have to stand, they convert calories in feed into meat even more efficiently than poultry. Let’s say 80 miles per gallon.

All the improvements such as breeding and disease control that have made poultry production more efficient can be and have been applied to aquaculture, improving the conversion of feed to meat and sparing wild fish. In most of today’s ranching of salmon, for example, the salmon effectively graze the oceans, as the razorback hogs of a primitive farmer would graze the oak woods. Such aquaculture consists of catching small wild fish, such as menhaden, anchovies, and sardines, or their oil to feed to our herds, such as salmon in pens. We change the form of the fish, adding economic value, but do not address the fundamental question of the tons of stocks. A shift from this ocean ranching and grazing to true farming of parts of the ocean can spare others from the present, ongoing depletion. So would persuading salmon and other carnivores to eat tofu, which should happen very soon.

Cobia, sometimes called kingfish, widespread in the Caribbean and other warm waters, grow up to two meters and 80 kilograms favoring a diet of crab, squid, and smaller fish. Recently, Aaron Watson and other researchers at the University of Maryland Institute of Marine and Environmental Technology turned this carnivore into a vegetarian. A mixture of plant-based proteins, fatty acids, and an amino acid like substance found in energy drinks pleased the cobia as well as another popular fish, gilt head bream. Conversion of these carnivorous fish to a completely vegetarian diet breaks the cycle in which fish ranchers plunder the ocean’s small fish to provide feed for the big fish.

I have described fish farming in ponds, and much the same applies for the filter feeders, the oysters, clams, and mussels. With due care for effluents, pathogens, and other concerns, this model can multiply sea meat many times in tonnage. Eventually we might grow fish in closed silos at high density, feeding them proteins made by microorganisms grown on hydrogen, nitrogen, and carbon. The fish could be sturgeon filled with caviar. In fact, much caviar now sold in Moscow comes from sturgeon farmed in tanks in northern Italy.

The point is that the high levels of harvest of wild fishes and destruction of marine habitat to capture them need not continue. The 40 percent of seafood already raised by aquaculture signals the potential for reversal. With smart aquaculture, life in the oceans can rebound while feeding humanity and restoring nature.


The vegan extreme

Because California is the world capital of experimentation in cuisine, let me offer an alternative more radical than vegetarian salmon.

We can understand that in a world of 7 billion human mouths aquaculture must largely replace hunting of the wild animals for many, maybe all forms of marine life. We are accustomed to the reality that even vast America does not produce enough wild ducks or wild blueberries to satisfy our appetite.

Back to basics, we depend on the hydrogen produced by the chlorophyll of plants. As my colleague Cesare Marchetti has pointed out, once you have hydrogen, produced for example by means of nuclear energy, a plethora of microorganisms are capable of cooking it into the variety of substances in our kitchens.

Researchers for decades have been producing food conceived for astronauts on the way to Mars by cultivating hydrogenomonas on a diet of hydrogen, carbon dioxide, and a little oxygen. They make proteins that taste like hazelnut.

A person consumes around 100 watts. California’s Diablo Canyon nuclear power park operates two 1,100-megawatt electric power plants on about 900 acres, or 1.5 square miles. The power of Diablo Canyon, a couple of gigawatts, is enough to supply food for a few million people, more than 2000 per acre, more than ten times what David Hula and Randy Dowdy achieve with corn.

A single spherical fermenter of 100 yards diameter could produce the primary food for the 30 million inhabitants of Mexico City. The foods would, of course, be formatted before arriving at the consumer. Grimacing gourmets should observe that our most sophisticated foods, such as cheese and wine, are the product of sophisticated elaboration by microorganisms of simple feedstocks such as milk and grape juice.

Globally, such a food system would allow humanity to release 90 percent of the land and sea now exploited for food. In Petaluma and Eureka, humanity might maintain artisanal farming and fishing to provide supreme flavorings for bulk tofu.


Conclusion

I do not expect 90 percent of exploited nature to be spared. But I do think that humanity is moving toward landless agriculture, progressively using less land for food, and that we should aim to release for nature an area the size of India by 2050. Overall I think the next decades present an enormous opportunity for what Stewart Brand and Ryan Phelan call Revive and Restore.

People will object that I have spoken little about China and India and Africa. I respond with a remark from Gertrude Stein, who came from Oakland. Stein said about 1930 that America is the oldest country in the world because it had been in the 20th century longer than any other country. In fact, as early as 1873 America became the world’s largest economy, and since then a disproportionate share of the products and habits that diffuse throughout the world have come from America, particularly California. My view is that the patterns described are not exceptional to the US and that within a few decades, the same patterns, already evident in Europe and Japan, will be evident in many more places.

Now, rebound is not without challenges. We considered the black bear and the college student to begin. Later in the Long Now seminar series you will discuss the challenges of a woolly mammoth. But consider the fox (back cover photos). Fox experts now estimate that about 10,000 foxes roam the city of London, more than the double decker buses. Foxes ride the London Underground for free. The mayor of London, Boris Johnson, became enraged when his cat appeared to be mauled by a fox, and perhaps because of the fare beating too. English snipers charge $120 to shoot a fox in your city garden.

Meanwhile in rural England, badgers are causing an uncivil war between farmers and animal protection groups. You know more about bobcats in California than I. So we have a new round of what journalist Jim Sterba has chronicled in a great book titled Nature Wars: The Incredible Story of How Wildlife Comebacks Turned Backyards into Battlegrounds.

I want to end not with complications but with inspiration, with examples of why we want rebound, re-wilding, why we want a rapprochement with nature, why the achievements of farmers David Hula and Randy Dowdy and aquaculturist Aaron Watson and their counterparts in forestry and water resources matter.

The incipient re-wilding of Europe is thrilling. Salmon have returned to the Seine and Rhine, lynx to several countries, and wolves to Italy. Reindeer herds have rebounded in Scandinavia. In Eastern Europe bison have multiplied in Poland. The French film producer Jacques Perrin, who made the films Winged Migration about birds and Microcosmos about insects, is working on a film about re-wilding. The new film, The Seasons, scheduled for release in December 2015, will open millions of eyes to Europe’s re-wilding.

As thrilling as Jacques Perrin’s films are, I propose the image of a humpback whale in New York Bight with the Empire State Building in the background as the most significant environmental image of 2014. Humpback whales and other cetaceans, perhaps even blue whales, are returning in large numbers to New York Bight. Recall the whale despair of the 1970s and consider that the Bronx Zoo has just announced a program together with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to monitor whale numbers and movements in sight of New York City. Many decades without hunting and improved Hudson River water quality have made a difference.


Whether into the woods or sea, the way is clear, the light is good, the time is now. A large, prosperous, innovative humanity, producing and consuming wisely, might share the planet with many more companions, as nature rebounds.

Back cover photos
Fox in the wild (photo: Galatee Films)
Foxes in London, Underground (photo: Kate Arkless Gray) and near St. Paul’s (photo: Carine Thomas)

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The article Outside the Box: Nature Rebounds was originally published at mauldineconomics.com.


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Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Tomorrow’s Oil from Yesterday’s Wells with Glori Energy’s Michael Pavia

Senior Analyst Phil Flynn discusses resurrecting old oil wells to bring them back to production life using AERO(TM) Technology with Michael Pavia, PhD of Glori Energy (GloriEnergy.com)

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Saturday, June 20, 2015

Weekly Gold, Silver and Sugar Markets Recap with Mike Seery

Our trading partner Mike Seery is back this week to give our readers a weekly recap of the futures market. He has been a senior analyst for close to 15 years and has extensive knowledge of all of the commodity and option markets.

Gold futures
in the August contract settled last Friday in New York at 1,172 an ounce while currently trading at 1,201 an ounce rallying sharply on rumors of a Greece exit possibly happening over the weekend sending prices sharply higher as I was recommending a short position from around the 1,170 level getting stopped out in yesterday’s trade losing around $30 or $1,000 per mini contract plus slippage and commission.

Janet Yellen and the FOMC committee did not raise interest rates earlier in the week sending gold sharply higher hitting a 3 week high but I still remain skeptical of this rally as a deal with Greece will occur in my opinion as the stock market still remains strong keeping money out of the gold market in the short term.

Gold prices have been trading sideways for quite some time breaking out a couple weeks back as this trade went nowhere until yesterday sending high volatility back into this market as I will sit on the sidelines and look at other markets that are beginning to trend as gold remains extremely choppy at the current time.

The U.S dollar is trading near a 6 month low and that’s propping up the precious metals in today’s trade as the next major level of resistance to the upside is 1,225 but I will wait for better chart structure to develop. Trend: Mixed
Chart Structure: Poor

What's Behind the "Big Trade"

Silver futures in the July contract settled last Friday at 15.82 an ounce while currently trading at 16.01 continuing its choppy trend right near critical support in my opinion as prices have not rallied much despite the fact that gold rallied $28 dollars in yesterday’s trade . I do believe if 15.40 is broken this market turns extremely bearish, however prices have rallied off that level many times so be patient and wait for the true breakout to occur as I’m sitting on the sidelines at the current time.

Silver futures are trading below their 20 and 100 day moving average telling you that the trend is to the downside, however I don’t like to trade choppy markets so be patient and wait for the chart pattern to improve while keeping a close eye on 15.40 because if that’s broken I think prices could head substantially lower as I don’t see any reason to own the precious metals at the current time.

The problem with the precious metals is the fact that U.S interest rates are on the rise coupled with the fact of a strong U.S dollar longer term as all the interest remains in the stock market which is still right near an all-time high so wait for the true breakout to happen.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Poor

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Sugar futures hit a fresh 6 year low this Friday afternoon in New York currently trading at 11.12 a pound after settling last Friday at 11.72 closing right at session lows as I’ve been recommending a short position from 12.00 & if you’ve been following any of my previous blogs you understand that this trend is getting stronger as prices are trading far below their 20 and 100 day moving averages.

Sugar prices have traded lower 4 out of the last 5 trading sessions and if you took the original trade continue place your stop loss above the 10 day high which currently stands at 12.25 as the chart structure is poor at the current time due to the fact that prices continue to head lower on a daily basis.

Sugar production has been massive over the last several years sending large supplies onto the market coupled with the fact that the Brazilian Real is historically weak against the U.S dollar which continues to put pressure on sugar prices as I’m looking to add more contracts to this position once the chart structure improves and the risk/reward meets criteria which could happen in the next couple of days.
Trend: Lower
Chart Structure: Poor

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Tuesday, June 16, 2015

The People’s Republic of Debt

By John Mauldin


It wasn’t that many centuries ago that China was the absolute economic center of the world. That center gravitated to Europe and then towards North America and has now begun moving back to China. My colleague Jawad Mian provided this chart showing the evolution of Earth’s economic center of gravity from 2000 years ago to a few years and into the future:



Most investors are well aware of the enormous impact China has had on the modern world. Thirty-five years ago China’s was primarily an agrarian society, with much of the nation trapped in medieval technologies and living standards. Today 500 million people have moved from the country to the cities; and China’s urban infrastructure is, if not the best in the world, close to that standard.

The economic miracle that is China is unprecedented in human history. There has simply been nothing like it. Deng Xiaoping took control of the nation in the late ’70s and propelled it into the 21st century. But now the story is changing. Those who think that all progression is linear are in for a rude awakening if they are betting on China to unfold in the future as it has in the past.

Among the most important questions for all investors and businessmen is, how will China manage its future and the problems it faces? There are many problems, some of them monumental – and at the same time there is an amazing amount of opportunity and potential. Understanding the challenges and deciphering the likely outcomes is itself an immense challenge.

A Brand-New Book Available Online

My colleague Worth Wray and I have been investigating and writing about China for some time now. Today I’m announcing a book that we have written and edited in collaboration with 17 well-known experts on China. The book is called A Great Leap Forward? Making Sense of China’s Cooling Credit Boom, Technological Transformation, High Stakes Rebalancing, Geopolitical Rise, & Reserve Currency Dream, and we think it will help you to a solid understanding of both China’s problems and its opportunities. I know, the subtitle is a tad long, but the book does really cover all those aspects of today’s China.

Notice that there is a “?” after the title “A Great Leap Forward.” The first Great Leap Forward, initiated by Mao Tse-tung in the early ’60s, was an utter disaster. It devastated the nation, bankrupted the economy, and caused the deaths of tens of millions of people. Let’s review a little history from the introduction to the book:
When Chairman Mao decided in 1958 to transform China’s largely agrarian economy into a socialist paradise through rapid industrialization, collectivization, and a complete subjugation of the market to Chinese Communist Party (CCP) central planners, the widespread misallocation of resources led to the worst famine in recorded history and the outright collapse of China’s economy.

With very little capital at China’s disposal after its long civil war and even longer subjugation to foreign colonialists in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Mao decided the best way to fund the country’s rapid industrialization was for his government to monopolize agricultural production, use the nation’s bounty to support industrializing urban populations, and finance fixed-asset investments with crop exports.


1959 –– “Prosperity brought by the dragon & the phoenix”

Seeing grain and steel production as the essential elements of China’s rapid development, Mao boasted in 1958 that China would produce more steel than the United Kingdom within fifteen years.


1959 –– “Smelt a lot of good steel and accelerate socialist construction.”

Mao had very limited knowledge of agriculture or industrial production, yet he ruled China with an iron fist and silenced even well-intentioned opposition. China’s rural peasants were forced into collectives; households were torn apart; and private property rights were completely abolished. Mao ordered agricultural collectives to produce more grain while forcing farmers to employ less productive methods; he mobilized farmers to kill off “pests” like mosquitos, rats, flies, and sparrows (a campaign that upset the ecological balance in China’s farmlands); and insisted on a doubling of steel production to be achieved by diverting farmers with no industrial skill into operating poorly supplied backyard furnaces (which could not burn hot enough to produce high-quality steel).


1959 – Unskilled workers smelt steel in China’s backyard furnaces.

Steel production surged, and the economy appeared to boom… but at least half of that new production was unusable. A proliferation of crop eating locusts (after the sparrows had been killed off) and the diversion of farm workers to industrial and public works projects led to a collapse in crop yields. Still, local officials all over China falsified their production figures in an effort to win favor with Beijing (and to spare themselves Mao’s wrath), which led to larger and larger grain shipments to China’s cities… and smaller and smaller rations for those living in its agricultural collectives.

Instead of taking a Great Leap Forward to a harmonious industrial society….


1959 –– “The commune is like a gigantic dragon, production is noticeably awe-inspiring.”

Mao’s command and control system dismantled the Chinese economy, ruined millions of lives, and left an enormous share of China’s population disillusioned.

Industrialization failed. From 1958 to 1961, millions died of starvation and exhaustion across China’s countryside (independent estimates range from 30 million to 70 million, while the CCP still insists the death toll was only 17 million), and the People’s Republic remained a net exporter of grain. As Harvard economist Dwight Perkins remembers it, “Enormous amounts of investment produced only modest increases in production or none at all.... In short, the Great Leap was a very expensive disaster.

As production and productivity collapsed along with the CCP’s social contract, Mao struggled to retain power as a number of influential officials sought to implement more market oriented policies in response to the Great Famine. Fearing that growing opposition could lead the Party to reject its Marxist spirit (as the Soviet Union had done under Nikita Khrushchev a decade earlier), in 1966 Mao and his Red Guards launched the Cultural Revolution – a decade long series of purges intended to root out enemies of Communist thought lurking within the Party, cleanse Chinese society of many of its traditional values, eliminate elitist urban social structures, and renew the spirit of China’s Communist revolution.


1967 – “Scatter the old world, build a new world.”

Under Mao’s leadership, the Party destroyed cultural artifacts, banned the vast majority of books, dismantled the educational system, and silenced millions for thought crimes against the Party. In a devastating blow to China’s human capital, Mao ordered children of privileged urban families – including current President Xi Jinping, when his father, Xi Zhongxun, was purged – to relocate far away from their families to be re-educated through manual labor in China’s countryside. What may have been the most promising youth of that “Lost Generation” were deprived of their educations and forced into hardship.


1972 –– President Xi Jinping during the Cultural Revolution

Considering the legacy of the Great Leap Forward, the Great Chinese Famine, and the Cultural Revolution, it is an understatement to say that Mao’s hardline policies devastated the economy and left deep scars at all levels of Chinese society. After Mao’s death in 1976, it didn’t take long for the pragmatic Deng Xiaoping to win control of the Party and take China in a new economic direction –– though with essentially the same repressive political system.

And now young XI Jinping has come from experiencing the Cultural Revolution, getting ready to embark upon what we believe is something as equally as revolutionary as the first Great Leap Forward. The question mark is whether it will be another disaster or a decisive leap into a new future, perhaps even a new world order.

My friend Woody Brock reminds us in his latest PROFILE that the theory of growth in emerging markets dates from 1960, with the publication of Walt Whitman Rostow’s book The Stages of Economic Growth. Rostow gave us a description of five different stages that “mark the transformation of traditional, agricultural societies and modern, mass-consumption societies.”

To continue reading this article from Thoughts from the Frontline – a free weekly publication by John Mauldin, renowned financial expert, best selling author, and Chairman of Mauldin Economics – please click here.



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