Monday, June 30, 2014

Minimum Wage, Maximum Stupidity

By Doug French, Contributing Editor

The minimum wage should be the easiest issue to understand for the economically savvy. If the government arbitrarily sets a floor for wages above that set by the market, jobs will be lost. Even the Congressional Budget Office admits that 500,000 jobs would be lost with a $10.10 federal minimum wage. Who knows how high the real number would be?

Yet here we go again with the “Raise the minimum wage” talk at a time when unemployment is still devastating much of the country. The number of Americans jobless for 27 weeks or more is still 3.37 million. And while that’s only half the 6.8 million that were long term unemployed in 2010, most of the other half didn’t find work. Four fifths of them just gave up.

So, good economics and better sense would say, “make employment cheaper.” More of anything is demanded if the price goes down. That would mean lowering the minimum wage and undoing a number of cumbersome employment regulations that drive up the cost of jobs.

But then as H.L. Mencken reminded us years ago, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Which means the illogical case made by Republican multimillionaire businessman Ron Unz is being taken seriously.

We Don’t Want No Stinkin’ Entry Level Jobs

 

Unz says the minimum should be $12 and recognizes that 90% of the resistance is that it would kill jobs. So what’s his answer to that silver bullet to his argument? America doesn’t want those low paying jobs anyway. In his words, “Critics of a rise in the minimum wage argue that jobs would be destroyed, and in some cases they are probably correct. But many of those threatened jobs are exactly the ones that should have no place in an affluent, developed society like the United States, which should not attempt to compete with Mexico or India in low wage industries.”

He doesn’t think much of fast food jobs either. But he knows that employment can’t be shipped overseas, so Mr. Unz’s plan for those jobs is as follows:

So long as federal law requires all competing businesses to raise wages in unison, much of this cost could be covered by a small one time rise in prices. Since the working poor would see their annual incomes rise by 30 or 40 percent, they could easily afford to pay an extra dime for a McDonald’s hamburger, while such higher prices would be completely negligible to America’s more affluent elements.

The Number of Jobs Isn’t Fixed

 

He believes that if all jobs pay well enough, legal applicants will apply and take all the jobs. This is where Unz crosses paths with David Brat, the economics professor who recently unseated House Majority Leader Eric Cantor.

Brat claims to be a free-market sympathizer and says plenty of good things. However, in his stump speeches and interviews, Brat says early and often, “An open border is both a national security threat and an economic threat that our country cannot ignore. … Adding millions of workers to the labor market will force wages to fall and jobs to be lost.”

That would make sense if there were a fixed number of jobs, but that’s not the case. An economics professor should know that humans have unlimited wants and limited means, which, as Nicholas Freiling explains in The Freeman, “renders the amount of needed labor virtually endless—constrained only by the economy’s productive capacity (which, coincidentally, only grows as the supply of labor increases).”

An influx of illegal immigrants may or may not drive down wages, but even if it does, that’s a good thing. Low wages allow employers to invest in other things. More efficient production lowers costs for everyone, producers and consumers, allowing for capital creation. In the long run, it is capital investment that creates jobs.

Employers Bid for Labor Like Anything Else

 

Mr. Unz claims that low-wage employers are being subsidized by the welfare state. “It’s a classic case of where businesses manage to privatize the benefits of their workers—they get the work—and socialize the costs. They’ve shifted the costs over to the taxpayer and the government,” writes Unz.

It makes one wonder how the businessman made millions in the first place. Wage rates aren’t determined by what the employee’s expenses are. “Labor is a scarce factor of production,” wrote economist Ludwig von Mises. “As such it is sold and bought on the market. The price paid for labor is included in the price allowed for the product or the services if the performer of the work is the seller of the product or the services.”

Mises explained that a general rate of wages does not exist. “Labor is very different in quality,” Mises wrote, “and each kind of labor renders specific services. each is appraised as a complementary factor for turning out definite consumers’ goods and services.”

Not every job contributes $12 an hour in production benefits toward a finished good or service. And many unskilled laborers can’t generate $12 an hour worth of output. The Congress that created the minimum wage knew this and carved out the 14(c) permit provision in the Fair Labor Standards Act of 1938, allowing an exemption from minimum wage requirements for businesses hiring the handicapped.

That Congress included in the act this language:

The Secretary, to the extent necessary to prevent curtailment of opportunities for employment, shall by regulation or order provide for the employment, under special certificates, of individuals ... whose earning or productive capacity is impaired by age, physical or mental deficiency, or injury, at wages which are lower than the minimum wage.

Entrepreneurs must purchase all factors of production at the lowest prices possible. No offense to labor—that’s what customers demand. All cuts in wages pass through to customers. If a business pays more than the market wage rate, the business “would be soon removed from his entrepreneurial position.” Pay less than the market, and employees leave to work somewhere else.

Who Picks Up The Tab?

 

First, Unz says, “American businesses can certainly afford to provide better pay given that corporate profits have reached an all-time high while wages have fallen to their lowest share of national GDP in history.” So, instead of taxpayers supporting the poor, Unz wants business to pay. No, wait: later he writes that consumers will support the poor by paying higher prices.

“McDonald’s and fast food places would probably have to raise their prices by 8 or 9 percent, something like that. Agricultural products that are American-grown would go up by less than 2 percent on the grocery shelves. And those sorts of price increases are so small that they would be almost unnoticed in most cases by the consumer.” Walmart would cover a $12 minimum wage with a one time price increase of 1.1%, he says, with the average Walmart shopper paying just an extra $12.50 a year. So it’s consumers—who are also taxpayers—who get to be their brother’s keeper either which way with Unz’s plan.

Walmart Must Be Offering Enough

 

Fortune magazine writer Stephen Gandel appeared on Morning Joe this week, making the case that Walmart should give its employees a 50% raise (his article in Fortune on the subject appeared last November). According to him, the company is misallocating capital by not paying higher wages. He says investors are not giving the company credit for the lower pay in the stock price, so they should just do the right thing and pay their employees more.

But Walmart does pay more when it has to compete for employees. In oil rich Williston, North Dakota, the retail giant is offering to pay entry level workers as much as $17.40 per hour to attract employees.
Walmart isn’t alone. McDonald’s is paying $300 signing bonuses to attract workers. The night shift at gas stations in Williston pays $14 an hour.

By the way, whatever Walmart is paying, it must be enough, because it has plenty of applicants to choose from. In 2005, 11,000 people in the Bay Area applied for 400 positions at a new Oakland store. Three years later near Chicago, 25,000 people applied for 325 positions at a new store.

Last year a new Walmart opened in the DC area. Again, the response was overwhelming. Debbie Thomas told the Washington Post, “It’s hard to live in this city on $7.45 or $8.25 an hour. I’ve lived here all my life, and I want to stay here. In the end, I’m just glad Walmart’s here. I might get a job.”

Throughout history, people have had to relocate to find work. Today is no different.

In the long run, as the minimum wage increases, capital will be invested to replace labor. We’ve seen it for years. Machines don’t call in sick, sue for harassment, require health insurance, or show up late. Now patrons pour their own drinks. Shoppers scan their own groceries and pump their own gas. Soon we’ll be ordering from electronic tablets at our tables in sit down restaurants to cut down on wait staff, and the cooks will be replaced by automated burger makers.

Unz may well believe what he proposes would be doing good; however, it means kids and the unskilled go unemployed and in the end, are unemployable.

You read an excerpt from the Daily Dispatch, Casey Research’s wildly popular e-letter. Stay in the loop on big-picture trends, precious metals, energy, technology, and more. Sign up Here to receive the Daily Dispatch free of charge in your inbox.

The article Minimum Wage, Maximum Stupidity was originally published at Casey Research


Check out our "Beginner's Guide to Trading Options"....Just Click Here!

 


-->

Sunday, June 29, 2014

Thomas Edison’s Dream Smashed

By Adam J. Crawford, Analyst

The incandescent light bulb was invented in the very early 1800s, but at that time was a device too crude and impractical for mass adoption. Over the next 80 years, at least 20 inventors contributed to its improvement, until, in 1880, Thomas Edison developed and patented a bulb that would last a miraculous 1,200 hours. Edison’s product was the first to offer the levels of functionality, durability, and affordability necessary for widespread commercial appeal. That’s why he gets credit for inventing the light bulb, even though he was decades late to the party.


Some 130 years after Edison’s patent was approved, the incandescent light bulb has basically the same features… a filament inside a glass bulb with a screw base. And for all those years, it’s been doing yeoman-like work providing clean, quality lighting (compared to the candles and oil lanterns of the 19th century), in millions of homes and offices. Today, however, the incandescent light bulb is on its way out… and a multibillion-dollar industry will be forever changed.

Done In by Inefficiency

The incandescent bulb, though very effective, is notoriously inefficient. To understand why, one need only understand how it produces light. The filament (or wire) inside a bulb is heated by an electric current until it becomes so hot it glows.

The problem: only about 10% of the energy used by an incandescent bulb is converted into light; the rest is dissipated as usually unwanted heat.

This is a problem, not just for the homes and businesses using these bulbs, but also upstream at the power plants that produce the required energy. In an era when producers are wondering how they’re going to keep up with the surging demand amidst rising fuel costs and concern about the environmental impact of energy production is running high, such inefficiencies are frowned on.

Governments, of course, have the ability to put muscle behind their frowns… and they’re doing just that. In 2013, it became illegal in the United States to manufacture or import 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs. 40 and 60 watt bulbs were added to the ban in January of this year. The U.S. isn’t the only government actively limiting the use of incandescent bulbs. The European Union, Canada, Brazil, Australia, and even China are among many that have phase out programs aimed at forcing users to convert to an alternative technology.

For household applications, that primarily means a switch to those twisty shaped compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), or the newest competition in town, light emitting diodes (LEDs).

A CFL’s spiral tube contains argon and mercury vapors, and they are far more efficient than the old Edison bulb. When an electrical current is passed through the vapors, invisible ultraviolet light is produced. The ultraviolet light is transformed into visible light when it strikes a fluorescent coating on the inside of the tube.. all at about one fourth the electrical cost for an equivalent amount of light from an incandescent lamp.

LEDs, in contrast, don’t use commonplace materials. Rather, they’re made from somewhat exotic semiconductor materials, like indium and gallium nitride. When an electrical current is passed through these semiconductors, energy is released in the form of particles called photons—the most basic units of light in physics, i.e., light’s equivalent of individual electrons. In the process, little is lost to heat and the materials take minimal wear, making for another very efficient light source, and one that lasts far longer than its competitors.

Comparing the Alternatives

Right now, LED bulbs are relatively expensive to produce. That’s because a bulb is not just a bulb when it comes to LEDs—it can’t be made brighter by just putting in a thicker filament or tube. Instead, each bulb is a complex web of up to dozens of small diodes, each roughly the size of a pinhead, wired together and to a ballast that regulates the electricity flowing through them.

When compared head to head with incandescent and CFL light bulbs, LEDs come out the clear winner in operating costs. But even with millions of these bulbs now shipping to Home Depot, they still fall down on initial cost:

60-WATT
Equivalent
Incandescent
CFL
LED
Lumen 880 800 800
Life (hours) 1,000 8,000 25,000
Initial cost $1.19 $5.00 $9.98
Yearly operating cost $7.23 $1.81 $1.45


However, when you add up those advantages over that 25,000 hour lifetime, then the advantages start to become clear:


60-WATT
Equivalent
Incandescent
CFL
LED
Yearly
operating cost
$7.23 $1.81 $1.45
Years 23 23 23
23-year
operating cost
$166.29 $41.63 $33.35
Initial cost $1.19 $5.00 $10.00
Replacement
cost
$28.56 $10.00 $0.00
Total cost $196.04 $56.63 $43.35

As you can see, to produce roughly the same lumens (a measure of the amount of visible light emitted by a source), both CFLs and LEDs are hands-down more economical than incandescent bulbs.

Of course, in a residential scenario where a bulb is run for maybe three hours a day, it would take about 23 years to realize that big a savings. But put them in place in a commercial or industrial setting like the hundreds of lights running 24 hours a day in the local Walmart, and the savings add up quickly.

Still, why are we so bullish on the prospects for LEDs if they barely edge out their CFL competitors over tens of thousands of hours?

The first difference is environmental. CFLs have the inherent disadvantage of containing mercury, a toxic metal that poses health and environmental risks. Break one of these bulbs and you have a biohazard on your hands. There’s a real cost to recycling these bulbs and containing the mess from those that are just tossed in the trash heap. It’s a cost that will certainly be shifted back to consumers of the bulbs if environmental legislation continues on its same path.

Further still, over its life, an LED bulb is already 25% more economical than a CFL. When compared to an incandescent bulb, either is a huge cost winner. But when it comes down to dollars and cents, the LED wins today. The only reason not go that route is the big upfront cost difference, which when buying tens of thousands of bulbs at a time (as many commercial companies do) can be a hard pill to swallow.

However, the cost of LEDs has been falling fast in recent years and will continue to do so. In 2011, a 60 watt equivalent LED bulb retailed for about $40. In 2012, the price fell below $20. Today, it’s less than $10.

As volumes increase and competition among manufacturers and retailers intensifies, prices will continue to fall. Some industry analysts see a $5 LED on the near horizon. We wouldn’t bet against it.

The price could go even lower if manufacturers can successfully implement a cost-reduction break through. Specifically, LED devices are built on expensive aluminum oxide substrates. But manufacturers are working on ways to build on substrates made of silicon, which would substantially reduce defects and thus costs. As prices drop, and if environmental law hits mercury laced CFLs next, LED’s cost advantage will start to widen significantly.

Inflection Point

This all means that the LED’s time has arrived. According to IHS, a global market and economic research firm, unit shipments of LED lighting devices will grow at a compounded annual rate of 40% between now and 2020.


In 2011, the size of the global lighting market was about $96 billion, and LED devices accounted for about 12% of that amount. By 2020, McKinsey & Company projects, the size of the market will be $136 billion, of which 63% will be attributable to LEDs.

With the LED bulb, we have a trend that’s been in the making for several years… and it’s now ready to surge. How should an investor play it? Certainly not with a blindfold and a dartboard, or a whole sector buy like an ETF, because not all participants in this market will prosper.

Some will not be a pure enough play to benefit, or will be cannibalizing their own incandescent and CFL business… like GE and Phillips. Others will find themselves producing a commodity with ever thinning margins… like Cree. And others still already have much of the anticipated growth priced into their shares.
However, we scanned the field and found a company that is well positioned to benefit from the growth of the LED market while, at the same time, actually improving its margins.

We believe this company’s stock is undervalued. That’s why we’re recommending it in the next issue of BIG TECH

For access to this recommendation and many more, simply sign up for a risk free trial of BIG TECH. 

If you decide to keep your subscription, it will only cost a mere $99, nothing compared to the profits just this one investment should bring. But, if for any reason you’re unsatisfied, simply cancel to receive a prompt, courteous, and complete refund of the entire subscription price. You have 3 full months to make up your mind.

The article Thomas Edison’s Dream Smashed was originally published at Casey Research




Check out our "Beginner's Guide to Trading Options"....Just Click Here!


Thursday, June 26, 2014

The Four Horsemen of the Geopolitical Apocalypse

By John Mauldin


Ian Bremmer, NYU professor and head of the geopolitical consulting powerhouse Eurasia Group, consults at the highest levels with both governments and companies because he brings to the table robust geopolitical analysis and a compelling thesis: that we are witnessing “the creative destruction of the old geopolitical order.” We live, as his last book told us, in a “G-0” world. In today’s Outside the Box, Ian spells out what that creative destruction means in terms of events on the ground today. As Ian notes, the most prominent feature of the international landscape this year has been the expansion of geopolitical conflict. That expansion is gaining momentum, he says, creating larger-scale crises and sharpening market volatility. Hold on to the reins now as Ian take us for a ride with the “Four Horsemen of the Geopolitical Apocalypse.”

We’ll follow up Ian’s piece with an excellent short analysis of the Iraq situation from a Middle East expert at a large hedge fund I correspond with. Pretty straightforward take on the situation with regard to ISIS. This quagmire has real implications for the world oil supply. (It appears that the Sunni rebel forces are now in complete control of the key Baiji Refinery, which produces a third of Iraq’s output.)

Back in Dallas, it’s a little hard to focus on geopolitical events when seemingly all the news is about ongoing domestic crises. But the outrageous IRS loss of emails doesn’t really affect our portfolios all that much. What happens in Iraq or with China does. There’s just not the emotional impact.

One domestic humanitarian crisis that is brewing just south of me is the massive influx of very young children across the U.S.-Mexican border. When this was first brought to my attention a few weeks ago, I must admit that I questioned the credibility of the source. We have had young children walking across the Texas border for decades but always in rather small numbers. The first source I read said that 40,000 had already come over this year. I just found that to be non credible, but then with a little reasonable research it not only became believable but could be a bit low – it looks as many as 90,000 children will cross the border this year.

What in the name of the Wide Wide World of Sports is going on? First of all, how do you cover up something of this magnitude until it is a true crisis? When the administration and other authorities clearly knew about it last year? (The evidence is irrefutable. They knew.)

I am the father of five adopted children. In an earlier phase of my life, I was somewhat involved with Child Protective Services here in Texas. It was an emotionally difficult and heartrending experience. (One of my children came out of that system and three from outside of the United States). I have no idea how you care for 90,000 children who don’t speak the language and have no connection to their new locale. Forget the dollar cost, which could run into the tens of billions over time. These are children, and they are on our doorstep and our watch. You simply can’t ignore them and say, “They are not supposed to be here, so it’s not our responsibility.” They are children. Someone, and that means here in the U.S., is going to have to figure out how to take care of them, even if it is only to learn why they try to come and figure out where to send them back to. And frankly, trying to to send them back is going to be a logistical and legal nightmare, not to mention psychologically traumatic to the children.

Maybe someone thought that waiting until there was a crisis to let this information slip out (and we found out about it because of photos posted anonymously of children packed together in holding cells) would create momentum for immigration reform. And they may be right. But I’m not certain it’s going to result in the type of immigration reform they were hoping to get.

I have to admit that I’ve been rather tolerant of illegal immigrants over the course of my life. There are a dozen or so key issues that I think this country should focus on, but I’ve just never gotten that worked up about illegal immigration. The simple fact is that everyone here in the US is either an immigrant or descended from immigrants. It may be, too, that I’ve hired a few undocumented workers here and there in my life. As an economist, I know that we should be trying to figure out how to get more capable immigrants here, not less. What you want are educated young people who are motivated to create and work, not children as young as four or five years old who are going to need housing, education, adult supervision, health care, and most of all a loving environment where they can grow up.

It is one thing for undocumented workers to come across the border looking for jobs or for families to come across together. It is a completely different matter when tens of thousands of preteen children come across the border without parents or supervision. They didn’t get across 1500 miles of desert without significant support and a great deal of planning. This couldn’t be happening without the awareness of authorities in Mexico and the Central American countries from which these children come, and if this is truly a surprise to Homeland Security, then there is a significant failure somewhere in the system.

And if it was not a surprise? That begs a whole different series of questions.

This is a major humanitarian crisis, and it is not in the Middle East or Africa. It is on our border, and we need to figure out what to do about it NOW!

I don’t care whether you think we need to build a 20 foot high wall across the southern border of the United States or give amnesty to anyone who wants to come in (or both), something has to be done with these children. It is a staggering problem of enormous logistical proportions, and we have a simple human responsibility to take care of those who cannot take care of themselves.

And on that note I will go ahead and hit the send button, and let’s focus on the critical geopolitical events happening around the globe. Iraq is a disaster. Ukraine is a crisis. What’s happening in the China Sea is troubling. It just seems to come at you from everywhere. Even on a beautiful summer day.

Your stunned by the magnitude of it all at analyst,
John Mauldin, Editor
Outside the Box


(From Ian Bremmer)

Dear John,
We're halfway through 2014, and the single most notable feature of the international landscape has been the expansion of geopolitical conflict. why should we care? what's the impact; what does it mean for the global economy? how should we think about geopolitics? My thoughts on the topic, looking at the four key geopolitical pieces "in play"–in Eurasia, the middle east, Asia, and the transatlantic.

Geopolitics

 

I've written for several years about the root causes of the geopolitical instability the world is presently experiencing. a new, g-zero world where the united states is less interested in providing global leadership and nobody else is willing or able to step into that role. that primary leadership vacuum is set against a context of competing foreign policy priorities from increasingly powerful emerging markets (with very different political and economic systems) and a Germany-led Europe; challenges to the international system from a revisionist Russia in decline; and difficulties in coordination from a proliferation of relevant state and non state actors even when interests are aligned. all of this has stirred tensions in the aftermath of the financial crisis: instability across the middle east after a stillborn Arab spring; a three-year Syrian civil war; a failed Russia "reset"; rising conflict between china and japan; fraying American alliances with countries like Brazil, Germany, and Saudi Arabia.

And yet geopolitical concerns haven't particularly changed our views on global markets. each conflict has been small and self contained (or the spillover wasn't perceived to matter much). Geopolitics has been troubling on the margins but not worth more than a fret.

That's about to change. though perceived as discrete events, the rise of these geopolitical tensions are all directly linked to the creative destruction of the old geopolitical order. it's a process that's gaining momentum, creating in turn larger-scale crises and broader market volatility. we've now reached the point where near to mid-term outcomes of several geopolitical conflicts could become major drivers of the global economy. that's true of Russia/Ukraine, Iraq, the east and south china seas and U.S./Europe. in each, the status quo is unsustainable (though for very different reasons). and so, as it were, the four horsemen of the geopolitical apocalypse.

Russia/Ukraine

 

The prospect of losing Ukraine was the last straw for a Russian government that has been steadily losing geopolitical influence since the collapse of the soviet union over two decades ago. Moscow sees NATO enlargement, expanded European economic integration, energy diversification and the energy revolution as direct security threats that need to be countered. Ukraine is also an opportunity for the Kremlin...for president Putin to invigorate a flagging support base at home.

Putin intends to raise the economic and military pressure on Kiev until, at a minimum, southeast Ukraine is effectively under Russian control. the Ukrainian government's latest effort in response, a unilateral week long cease fire in the southeast, was greeted with lukewarm rhetoric by Putin and rejected by Russian separatists in the region, who escalated their attacks against the Ukrainian military. meanwhile, thousands of Russian troops recently pulled back from the Ukrainian border have now been redeployed there, bolstered by Putin ordering 65,000 Russian troops on combat alert in the region.

The choices for Kiev are thankless. if they press further, violence intensifies and Russian support expands, either routing the Ukrainian military, or taking serious losses and requiring direct "formal" intervention of Russian troops. if they back off, they lose the southeast, which is critical for their internal legitimacy from the Ukrainian population at large. all the while the Ukrainian economy teeters with much of their industrial base off line, compounded by Russian disruptions on customs, trade, and gas supply.

The growing conflict will lead to further deterioration of Russia's relationship with the united states and Europe: gas flow disruptions, expansion of defense spending and NATO coordination with Poland and the Baltic states, turbulence around Moldova and Georgia given their European association agreements this week...and "level 3" sectoral sanctions against Russia. that in turn means a serious economic downturn in Russia itself...and knock-on economic implications for Europe, which has far greater exposure to Russia than the united states does.

For the last several years, the major market concern for Europe was economic: the potential for collapse of the euro zone. that's no longer a worry. the primary risk to Europe is now clearly geopolitical, that expanded Russia/Ukraine conflict hurts Europe, in worst case pushing the continent back into recession.

Iraq

 

Like so much of the world's colonial legacy, many of the middle east's borders only "worked" because of the combination of secular authoritarian rule and international military and economic support. that was certainly true of Iraq–most recently under decades of control by the Baath party, beginning in 1963. Saddam Hussein's ouster forty years later by the united states and Great Britain, combined with the dismantling of nearly all of the military and political architecture that supported him (in dramatic contrast to, say, the ouster of Egypt's hosni Mubarak) undermined Iraq's territorial integrity. since then, Iraqi governance could still nominally function given significant American military presence and military and economic aid. once that was removed, there was little left to keep iraq functioning as a country.

Sectarianism is the primary form of allegiance in iraq today, both limiting the reach of prime minister nouri al maliki's majority shia government and creating closer ties between iraq's sunni, shia and kurdish populations and their brethren outside Iraq's borders. extremism within iraq has also grown dramatically as a consequence, particularly among the now disenfranchised sunni population--made worse by their heavy losses in the war against bashar assad across the largely undefended border with syria. the tipping point came with the broad attacks by the islamic state of iraq and syria (isis) over the past fortnight, speeding up a decade-long expansion of sectarian violence and ethnic cleansing between iraq's Sunni and shia. the comparatively wealthy and politically stable Kurds have done their best to steer clear of the troubles, seizing a long sought opportunity for de facto independence.

The American response has been cautious. domestic support for military engagement in Iraq diminished greatly as the war in Iraq continued and the economic and human costs mounted. obama repeatedly promised an end to the occupation and considered full withdrawal a major achievement of his administration. there's little domestic upside for taking responsibility in the crisis. obama's position has accordingly been that any direct military involvement requires a change in governance from the Iraqis--initially sounding like a unity government and increasingly evolving into the replacement of prime minister maliki. the pressure on maliki has gained momentum with shia grand ayatollah ali al-sistani calling on the iraqi prime minister to broaden the government to include more kurds and sunnis.

But Maliki, having successfully fought constitutional crises and assassination attempts, to say nothing of decisively winning a democratic election, is unlikely to go. isis poses a threat to the unity of the iraqi state, but not to maliki's rule of iraq's majority shia population, which if anything now stands stronger than it did before the fighting. and maliki's key international sponsor, iran, has little interest in forcing maliki into compromise as long as there's no threat to baghdad: they see themselves in far better strategic standing with a maliki-led iraqi government where they exert overwhelming influence, than over a broader government where they're one of many competing international forces. further, even if maliki were prepared to truly share power with iraq's kurds and sunni (something made more likely by the informal "influence" of 300 us military advisors now arriving in baghdad), he's unlikely to see much enthusiasm responding to that offer. the kurds are better off sticking to nominal (and a clearer road to eventual formal) independence; and sunni leaders that publicly find common cause with maliki would better hope all their family members aren't anywhere isis can find them.
absent american (or anyone else's) significant military engagement, the iraqi government is unlikely to be able to remove isis from leadership and, accordingly, reassert control over the sunni and kurdish areas of the country. that will lead to a significant increase in extremist violence emanating from the islamic world, a trend that's already deteriorated significantly in recent years (and since obama administration officials announced that cyberattacks were the biggest national security threat to the united states--a claim president obama overturned during his west point speech last month). since 2010, the number of known jihadist fighters has more than doubled; attacks by Al Qaeda affiliates have tripled.

The combination of challenging economic conditions, sectarian leadership, and the communications revolution empowering individuals through narrowing political and ideological demographic lenses all make this much more likely to expand. that's a greater threat to stability in the poorer middle eastern markets, but also will morph back into a growing terrorist threat against western assets in the region and more broadly. that creates, in turn, demand for increased security spending and bigger concerns about fat tail terrorism in the developed world, particularly in southern and western europe (where large numbers of unintegrated and unemployed islamic populations will pose more of a direct threat).

The broader risk is that sunni/shia conflict metastasizes into a single broader war. isis declares an islamic state across sunni iraq and syria, becoming ground zero for terrorist funding and recruitment from across the region. the saudi government condemns the absence of international engagement in either conflict and directly opposes an increasingly heavy and public iranian hand in iraqi and syrian rule. the united states completes a comprehensive nuclear deal with iran and declares victory (but doesn't work meaningfully with teheran on iraq), steering clear of the growing divide between the middle east's two major powers. the gulf cooperation council starts to fragment as members see opportunity in economic engagements with Iran. Iranian "advisers" in Iraq morph into armed forces; Saudi Arabia publicly opposes isis, but Saudi money and weapons get into their hands and an abundance of informal links pop up. militarization grows between an emboldened Iran and a more isolated, defensive Saudi Arabia. that's when the geopolitical premium around energy prices becomes serious.

East/South China Sea

 

Ukraine and Iraq are the two major active geopolitical conflicts. but there are two more geopolitical points of tension involving major economies that are becoming significant.

In Asia, it's the consequences of (and reactions to) an increasingly powerful and assertive china. the growth of china's influence remains the world's most important geopolitical story by a long margin. but, at least to date, china's growth is mostly an opportunity for the rest of the world. for the middle east, it's the principal new source of energy demand as the united states becomes more energy independent. for Africa, it's the best opportunity to build out long-needed infrastructure across the continent. for Europe and even the united states, it's a critical source of credit propping up currency, and a core producer of inexpensive goods. that's not to argue that there aren't significant caveats in each of these stories (or that those caveats aren't growing--they are), but rather that overall, china has been primarily perceived as an opportunity rather than a threat for all of these actors, and so it remains today.

for asia, a rising china has been seen more clearly as a double-edged sword. the greater comparative importance of the chinese economy has translated into more political influence (formal and informal) for beijing, at the expense of other governments in the region. meanwhile, china's dramatic military buildup has fundamentally changed the balance of power in asia; it's had negligible interest elsewhere.
china's military assertiveness has also grown in its backyard. in other regions, china continues to promote itself as a poor country that needs to focus on its own development and stability. in east and southeast asia china has core interests that it defends, and it is increasingly willing to challenge the status quo as its influence becomes asymmetrically greater.

that's been most clear with vietnam, where china first sent one oil rig to drill in contested waters directly off vietnam's shore--accompanied by several hundred chinese fishing vessels. they announced last week that they are repositioning four more. unsurprisingly, the vietnamese response has been sharp--anti-chinese demonstrations, violence, increased naval presence in the region, and coordination with the philippines.
none of that creates significant political risk on its own: vietnam isn't an ally of the united states and so engenders less support and response from washington than the philippines or japan...which is precisely why beijing has decided that's the best place to start changing the regional security balance.

but tokyo feels differently. the japanese government understands that a rising china is longer term a much more existential threat to its own security position in asia, and it isn't prepared to wait to raise concern until its position weakens further. so prime minister shinzo abe has declared his security support for vietnam. for america's part, obama has jettisoned the official "pivot" to asia. but the administration continues to believe that america's core national security interests, now and in the future, are in asia; and if china significantly escalates tensions in the east and south china seas, the united states is not likely to sit as idly by as they have on syria or ukraine.

the good news here is that--unlike with the countries driving the tensions in eurasia and the middle east--china has solid political stability and isn't looking for international trouble. but the realities of chinese growth, coupled with strong leadership from japan and (over time) india, along with the persistence of a strong american footprint are contributing to a much more troublesome geopolitical environment in the region.
the principle danger to the markets is what happens if the chinese government no longer holds that perspective. president xi jinping's commitment to transformational economic reform has been strong over the first year of his rule, and he has gotten surprisingly little pushback from the country's entrenched elites. but the uncertainty around china's near- to medium-term trajectory is radically greater than that of any of the world's other major economies. should significant instability emerge in china, very plausible indeed, china's willingness to take on a far more assertive (and risk-acceptant) security strategy in the region, promoting nationalism in the way putin has built his support base of late, would become far more likely. and then, the east and south china seas move to the top of our list.

U.S.-Europe

 

finally, the transatlantic relationship. advanced industrial economies with consolidated institutions and political stability, there's none of the geopolitical conflict presently visible in the middle east, eurasia, or asia.

geopolitical tensions have long been absent from the transatlantic relationship, the great success of the nato alliance. for all the occasional disagreement in europe on us military and security policy both during the cold war and since (the war in iraq, israel/palestine, counterterrorism and the like), european states never considered the need for broader security ties as a counterbalance for nato membership.

but the changing nature of geopolitics is creating a rift between the united states and europe.
american global hegemony had security and economic components, and it was collective security that had been the core element holding together the transatlantic alliance. that's no longer the case--a consequence of changing priorities for the americans and europeans, and an evolving world order (russia/ukraine a major blip, but notwithstanding). the transatlantic relationship is much less closely aligned on economics.

it's not the conventional wisdom. most observers say that, after bush, american policy looks more european these days--less militarist, more multilateralist. but actually, us foreign policy isn't becoming more like europe, it's becoming more like china. it's less focused on the military, except on issues of core security concern (in which case the united states acts with little need to consult allies), while american economic policy tends to be unilateralist in supporting preferred american geopolitical outcomes--which is seen most directly in us sanctions behavior (over $15bn in fines now levied against more than 20 international banks--mostly european) and nsa surveillance policy (with no willingness of the us to cooperate in a germany requested "no spying" mutual agreement)

transatlantic economic dissonance is also in evidence in a number of more fundamental ways: america's "growth uber alles" approach to a downturn in the economy, compared to germany's fixation on fiscal accountability. europe's greater alignment between governments and corporations on industrial policy, as opposed to a more decentralized, private-sector led (and occasionally captured) american policy environment. a more economy-driven opportunistic european approach to china, russia and other developing markets; the us government looking focused more on us-led/"universalist" principles on industrial espionage, intellectual property, etc.

as the g-zero persists, we will see the united states looking to enforce more unilateral economic standards that the europeans resent and resist; while the europeans look to other countries more strategically as counterbalances to american economic hegemony (the german-china relationship is critical in this regard, but that's also true of europe's willingness to support american economic policies in russia and the middle east). all of this means a much less cooperative trans-atlantic relationship--less "universalism" (from the american perspective) and less "multilateralism" (from the european perspective). more zero-sumness in the transatlantic relationship is a big change in the geopolitical environment; a precursor to true multipolarity, but in the interim a more fragmented and much less efficient global marketplace.

* * *

so that's where i see geopolitics emerging as a key factor for the global markets--much more than at any time since the end of the cold war. there's some good news and bad news here.

the good news is none of these geopolitical risks are likely to have the sort of market implications that the macro economic risks did after the financial crisis. there are lots of reasons for that. a low interest rate environment and solid growth from the us and china--plus the eurozone out of recession--along with pent up demand for investment is leading to significant optimism that won't be easily cowed by geopolitics. the supply/demand energy story is largely bearish, so near-term geopolitical risks from the middle east won't create sustained high prices. and markets don't know how to price geopolitical risk well; they're not covered as clearly analytically, so investors don't pay as much attention (until/unless they have to).

the bad news...that very lack of pressure from the markets means political leaders won't feel as much need to address these crises even as they expand, particularly in the united states. this is another reason the world's geopolitical crises will persist beyond a level that a similar economic crisis would hit before serious measures start to be taken to mitigate them. these geopolitical factors are going to grow. now's the time to start paying attention to them.

* * *
every once in a while, it's good to take a step back and look at the big picture. hope you found that worthwhile. i'll surely get back in the weeds next monday.

meanwhile, it's looking like a decidedly lovely week in new york.
very best,
Ian

From intel sources:

Dislodging ISIS Will Be a Difficult Task

 

The ISIS advance toward Baghdad may be temporarily held off as the government rallies its remaining security forces and Shia militias organize for the upcoming Battle for Baghdad. There is a rather clear reason why the ISIS leader has renamed himself Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, meaning the Caliph of Baghdad . ISIS will at a minimum be able to take control of some Sunni neighborhoods in Baghdad shortly and wreak havoc on the city with IEDs, ambushes, single suicide attacks, and suicide assaults that target civilians, the government, security forces, senior members of government, and foreign installations and embassies. Additionally, the brutal sectarian slaughter of Sunni and Shia alike that punctuated the violence in Baghdad from 2005 to 2007 is likely to return as Shia militias and ISIS fighters begin to assert control of neighborhoods and roam the streets.

Even if Iraqi forces are able to keep ISIS from fully taking Baghdad and areas south, it is unlikely the beleaguered military and police forces will be able to retake the areas under ISIS control in the north and west without significant external support, as well as the support of the Kurds.

ISIS and its allies are in a position today that closely resembles the position prior to the US surge back in early 2007. More than 130,000 US troops, partnered with the Sunni Awakening formations and Iraqi security forces numbering in the hundreds of thousands, were required to clear Anbar, Salahaddin, Diyala, Ninewa, Baghdad, and the "triangle of death." The concurrent operations took more than a year, and were supported by the US Air Force, US Army aviation brigades, and US special operations raids that targeted the jihadists’ command and control, training camps, and bases, as well as its IED and suicide bomb factories.

Today, the Iraqis have no US forces on the ground to support them, US air power is absent, the Awakening is scattered and disjointed, and the Iraqi military has been humiliated badly while surrendering or retreating in disarray during the lightning fast jihadists' campaign from Mosul to the outskirts of Baghdad. This campaign, by the way, has been remarkably and significantly faster than the U.S. armored campaign advance to Baghdad in 2003 . The US government has indicated that it will not deploy US soldiers in Iraq, either on the ground or at airbases to conduct air operations.  Meanwhile, significant amounts of US made advanced armaments, vehicles, ammunition, and diverse military equipment have fallen into ISIS jihadists’ hands .

ISIS is advancing boldly in the looming security vacuum left by the collapse of the Iraqi security forces and the West's refusal to recommit forces to stabilize Iraq. This has rendered the country vulnerable to further incursions by al Qaeda-linked jihadists as well as intervention by interested neighbors such as Iran. Overt Iranian intervention in Iraq would likely lead any Sunnis still loyal to the government to side with ISIS and its allies, and would ensure that Iraq would slide even closer to a full-blown civil war and de facto partition, and risk a wider war throughout the Middle East.

Like Outside the Box?
 
Sign up today and get each new issue delivered free to your inbox.


It's your opportunity to get the news John Mauldin thinks matters most to your finances.





Get our "Beginner's Guide to Trading Options"....Just Click Here!


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Only PGM Stock You Should Buy

By Jeff Clark, Senior Precious Metals Analyst

It’s quite the dilemma.

One of the major reasons my colleagues and I are so bullish on platinum group metals (PGM)—palladium, in particular—is because of the intractable problems with supply. But most of the producers are backed into corners, with few options for improving their outlook. There’s simply no way for these metals to avoid a long-term production deficit due to the deep seated problems with the companies that produce them.

So, how to invest?

Since we’re talking about profiting from a metals bull market, we could just buy bullion—and we have indeed recommended doing so to our readers. But to really maximize your leverage to the upside (and avoid more risky futures and options), a stock in a company that produces the metal is normally the way to go. Unfortunately, as above, the pickings are slim.

For us to invest in a PGM producer, the company would have to be:
  • Outside of South Africa and Russia. The problems with miners in both countries are numerous and difficult.
  • Making money. Many producers are not profitable at current prices because production costs are so high. And they won’t come down just because the strikes ended—they’ll go up, due to higher wages.
  • Have a strong growth profile. We want a company that can capitalize on burgeoning demand, which would add further leverage to our investment.
  • Have strong management (of course!). The last thing we want is a team with no experience navigating a volatile market such as this.
Does such a stock exist?

It’s a tall order, but the answer is yes. The company we recommend in this area meets all the criteria above—and is the safest speculation in this space. We consider it so safe, in fact, that we just “graduated” it from the International Speculator to BIG GOLD.

How’s This for Leverage?

 

This profitable mid-tier producer is perfectly positioned: it’s not so small that we’re purely speculating on some uncertain game changing event, and yet it’s small enough to generate much larger share price gains than would be possible for one of the major mining companies. On the other hand, it’s big enough to catch the attention of mainstream investors.

Here are seven reasons why we’re excited about this company and the leverage we think we’ll get by owning shares…...

#1: Large, High-Grade Assets

The company has two distinct but closely related mine sites. These alone will support the company’s growth for many years. However, only nine miles of an estimated 28 miles of known mineralization has been developed between them—essentially one third of one giant mineralized structure. Management thinks it has an additional 102 million tonnes of undeveloped resources waiting to be dug up.

And get this: the average grade of their proven and probable reserves is 0.45 ounces per tonne, the world’s highest grade PGM deposit. Of these, 78% is palladium, a very attractive figure since we’re even more bullish on it than platinum. At the right metals prices, this company could double or triple production and still maintain a very long mine life.

#2: Growing Production and Low Costs

The company grew 2013 production by 10,000 ounces, but has yet to use all its milling capacity. It currently uses about 3,600 tonnes per day (tpd) of its 6,000 tpd total capacity. The company is working to increase ore production this year, which is good timing for us.

With a much cleaner balance sheet and a forecast of $800-$850 per ounce for all-in sustaining costs (AISC) in 2014, the company looks poised to make money in the current price environment—and a lot of money in the supply squeeze we anticipate.

#3: Recycling Business

In addition to mining, this company recycles depleted catalyst materials to recover palladium, platinum, and rhodium at its smelter and base metal refinery. It’s been doing this since 1997, and business is booming. Pre-tax earnings last year rose a whopping 233% over 2012. And management says it will expand this end of their business over the next few years.

#4: Strong Financial Performance

This company reported over a billion dollars of revenue last year, up nearly 30% from 2012. It finished the year with a very strong working capital position of almost a half billion dollars.

#5: Unique North American Operations

The company is one of only a few PGM producers in North America. Nearly all other PGM mines operate in South Africa (Impala, Amplats, Lonmin, etc.) or Russia (Norilsk). Therefore, this company is more stable than most that mine in other jurisdictions.

#6: Upgraded Management

A prior management team made a poor investment in Argentina a few years back, which led to major changes in the board of directors and top management last year. The new president and CEO is a 21-year industry veteran and has experience in both M&A and mine optimization. He’s already corrected past mistakes, and we’re happy with the direction he’s taken the company. The technical people on the ground seem competent and are getting admirable results.

And finally…...

#7: We’ve Been There!

Our Chief Metals Investment Strategist Louis James, who conducted a due diligence trip to the company’s operations last year, says:

I liked the story when I visited and considered it to be the company to buy in a safe mining jurisdiction. But I didn’t want to bet on the team in place at the time. Flash forward and now it’s under new management, which is very focused on cutting costs and expanding the core business. The company’s results for 2013 were quite impressive, and I expect them to get better going forward. I’m convinced this company is uniquely positioned to benefit from potential supply shortages. Coupled with a likely rise in demand from the global auto industry in the years ahead, this stock is a very attractive play.

Here’s a picture from his visit.

Pay dirt: this is what the company’s palladium-platinum mineralization looks like before blasting. You can see the closely spaced holes that will be blasted a fraction of a second before the surrounding ones—in successive waves—so the ore is blasted inward. This high-grade resource in a safe and stable jurisdiction is the heart of our speculation.

 

The Only Stock to Buy, in a Market Backed into a Corner

 

Johnson Matthey, the world’s leading authority on PGMs, estimates the platinum market will register a deficit of at least 1.2 million ounces this year. This would be the largest shortfall since it first compiled data in 1975.

While it will take an enormous amount of time and expense to recover from the strikes in South Africa, that’s only the first layer of problems for the industry:
  • According to consultancy GFMS, 300,000 ounces of platinum and 165,000 ounces of palladium could be lost after the strikes end, as it will take time and money to ramp up to full capacity—if that’s even possible since some mines have been damaged. The Implats CEO said it will take his company at least three months to return to full production, and they’ve already put the development of three new replacement shafts in the Rustenburg area on hold. Anglo American announced just last week that it plans to sell its platinum operations.
  • Holdings of physically backed palladium ETFs continue to hit record highs. In less than two months, a half million ounces were added to ETFs. Fund holdings will likely continue to climb and push the palladium market further into deficit.
  • The Russian government has been reportedly buying palladium from local producers, since it appears its stockpiles are near exhaustion. Exports ticked higher last month, but that was likely in anticipation of potential sanctions.
  • Some recyclers announced they are holding back on sales, as they believe prices will move higher.
  • Platinum demand in India is expected to grow 35% this year.
  • Reports have surfaced that tout replacements to platinum and/or palladium. However, these are mostly research projects and are at least two to three years away from commercial viability (some will never make it).
  • Auto sales in the US, China, and Europe, the three biggest regions by consumption, were up 12% through May over 2013.
  • Existing stockpiles of these metals have dwindled. Based on prior estimates from Citigroup, only nine weeks of palladium and 22 weeks of platinum supplies remain—and half of those are in Russia. Standard Bank projects that stockpiled material from South African producers will run out in a month or less.
The key point is that platinum and palladium supply is in a structural deficit. Prices will pull back now that the strikes have ended—and that is your opportunity. The bull market in these metals is really just getting underway.

And we have the primo pick in the space. The shares of this stock would have to climb 50% just to match its 2011 highs—and that’s without the platinum/palladium supply crunch we’re speculating on. As you’ve surmised by now, I can’t give away the name of this stock in fairness to paid subscribers. But you can get it by giving BIG GOLD a risk free try. You’ll receive our full analysis and specific buy guidance, along with an exclusive discount on a popular gold coin in the June issue. And, if you want the absolute safest way to invest in PGMs, check out the options recommended in the May issue.

If you’re not 100% satisfied with the newsletter, simply cancel during the 3-month trial period for a full refund—no questions asked. Whatever you do, though, don’t miss out on the best stock pick in the PGM bull market. Click Here to learn more about BIG GOLD or Click Here to go straight to the order form.

The article The Only PGM Stock You Should Buy was originally published at Casey Research


Check out our "Beginner's Guide to Trading Options"....Just Click Here!
 


Friday, June 20, 2014

WTI Crude Oil on the Move $112 Next Stop

The energy sector has surged during the last two months which can be seen by looking at the XLE Energy Select Sector Fund. If crude oil continues to climb to the $112 level, XLE will likely continue to rally for another few days or possibly week as energy stocks are considered a leveraged way to play energy price movements.

Another way to look at this info is through the USO United States Oil Fund. This tracks much closer to the price of oil. The only issue is that many ETFs that “try to track” an underlying commodity is in how the funds are built. They own multiple contracts further into the future which does not exactly provide us with the short term news/event driven price movements in the current front month contract as they should.

What does this mumbo jumbo mean? Well, it means funds like USO and the highly respected UNG, and VIX ETFs… (just joking about the highly respected part), fail to track the underlying commodity or index very well when it comes to short term price movements. This means, you can nail the timing of a trade, and the commodity or index will move in your favor, yet your fund loses money, or goes nowhere...

Let’s Focus on the Technicals Now….

 

WTI crude oil has formed a bullish ascending triangle pattern from March to May of this year. The breakout to the upside is bullish and should be traded that way until the chart says otherwise. This breakout and first pullback must hold, or I will consider it a failed breakout. So if price dips and closes 2 days below the breakout level, it will be a major negative for oil in my opinion.

The range of the ascending triangle provides us with a measured move to the upside which is $112. Typically the first pullback after a breakout can be bought. The first short term target to scalp some gains would be $109, and at that point moving your stop to breakeven is a wise decision. Trading is all about managing capital and risk, if you don’t, then the market will take advantage of your lack in discipline.

Looking further back on the chart, you can see the double bottom formation also known as a “W” formation. Once the high of the “W” formation is broken the trend should be considered neural or up.

Also note that the RSI (relative strength) has been trending higher for some time now. This means money is rotating into this commodity. This is in line with my interview this week with Kerry Lutz and my recent article talking about the next bull market in commodities and the TSX (Toronto Stock Exchange).

clfutures

 

WTI Crude Oil Trading Conclusion:

 

In short, oil has some extra risk around it. The recent move has been partly fueled by news overseas. So at any time oil could get a lift or take a hit by news that hits the wires. I tent to trade news related events with much less capital than I normally do because of this risk.

Happy Trading,
Chris Vermeulen

WANT MORE TRADE IDEAS? GET THEM HERE: THE GOLD & OIL GUY.COM

 


Thursday, June 19, 2014

Commodities Are Building Bases and About To Rally – Steel Market

Commodities in general have been under pressure for the last couple years. This can be seen by looking at the GCC Greenhaven Continuous Commodity ETF which holds a basket of resources. The weekly chart has formed a bullish bottom pattern, and as of last January it looks as though it’s now building a basing pattern. Overall commodities are in the very early stages of a stage 1 basing pattern and it looks as though it will be a few more months before any significant breakout will occur. But there could be some early entry points if you know what to look for…

A few days ago I talked about how commodities tend to perform well near the end of a bull market in the United States stock market. I also pointed out which hot index was going to benefit from this. In this article I want to bring your attention to the steel market. Using the SLX Steel ETF you can clearly see the bottoming pattern and basing pattern for this commodity. Currently steel is underperforming the stock market and is vulnerable to lower prices. But if we see a few things come together in the coming days or weeks, this could be a screaming buy.

My technical take on steel is this:

 

SLX has formed a bottoming pattern from January – mid March. It has since put in a strong impulse rally to make a higher high, and is now consolidating above key support. The RSI (Relative Strength) remains in a down trend, but if this starts to rise and SLX breaks above its recent highs around the $47.75 level I feel steel will start to rally with $50 being the next major whole number and previous high for steel to find some resistance.

Also price has been riding along the 200 day moving average which is acting as support. If price closes a couple of days below the 200 moving average I would consider this to be a bearish sign.

SLX

 

Steel Trading Conclusion:

 

In short, we are looking for the relative strength to start making new highs. Also we want to see a reversal bar on the SLX chart to the upside which we got on Tuesday. Or you can wait for a breakout and close above $47-48 area. Stop would be somewhere around the $45.75 area to start, then raise it as price rallies using intraday pivot lows on the 30 minute chart.

GET THESE REPORTS DELIVERED TO YOUR INBOX FREE > The Gold & Oil Guy.com


Sign up for one of our Free Trading Webinars....Just Click Here!


Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Solar Energy Sector ETF Breaking Out – How to Trade It

During the past couple months several indexes, sectors and commodities have sold off more than 10 – 20%. But now some are looking like new buying opportunities. Over the next week I will bring a few of these trades to your attention as they start to unfold.

Today we are looking at the TAN solar ETF. This sector recently had a 23% hair cut in price. A 20-25% correction in price is a typical intermediate correction for a fast moving sector. The price correction has pulled the sector down to its 150 and 200 simple day moving averages. These levels tend to act as long term support for investors, a buying point.

Many of the individual stocks within this sector are starting to pop and breakout of bullish price patterns. These individual stock prices point to higher prices for TAN going forward. Be aware of crude oil…. I do think that as long as the price of crude oil stays up solar stocks will continue to rise overall. But if oil starts to roll over and break down, TAN will struggle.

My Technical Take on The Chart:
 
Big picture analysis shows a powerful uptrend with bullish consolidation.

Intermediate analysis shows a falling bullish wedge, test of moving averages, and a reversal breakout pattern.

tan

Short term analysis shows we are at a resistance level and we will likely see a pause of pullback over the next few days before it goes higher.

TANshortterm

TAN Trading Conclusion:
 
If price closed back below the $39.00 I would consider this bounce/rally failed.

Get My Trade Ideas Delivered To Your Inbox FREE: Gold & Oil Guy.com


See you in the markets,
Chris Vermeulen
Founder of  Technical Traders Ltd. - Partnership Program


Get our "Beginner's Guide to Trading Options....Just Click Here!
 


Monday, June 16, 2014

I Owe My Soul—Why Negative Interest Rates Are Only the First Step

By Jeff Thomas, International Man

In 1946, an American singer, Merle Travis, recorded a song called "Sixteen Tons." The song told the story of a poor coal miner in Kentucky, who lived in a small coal mining town. The town's economy revolved entirely around the mine.

The mining company owned a "company store," which had a monopoly on the sale of provisions. It charged rates that were designed to use up the weekly paycheque of the miner, so that the miner, in effect, was a slave to the mining company. As the song states,

You load sixteen tons, what do you get
Another day older and deeper in debt
Saint Peter don't you call me 'cause I can't go
I owe my soul to the company store

Negative Interest Rates

 

Let's put the song aside for the moment and have a look at a concept that has been bandied about by the European Central Bank (ECB) for a while now. Since the collapse of the central banks would doom the world (their claim, not mine), it is essential that the banks be saved no matter what else must be sacrificed. Efforts to "save" the situation have been implemented through quantitative easing (QE) and the setting and continuation of low interest rates.

Unfortunately, in spite of record profits by banks and staggering bonuses handed out to senior bank executives, somehow the QE and low interest rates have not created the prosperity desired. The economy is still in the tank. What to do?

A solution being considered is to create "negative interest rates." Sounds logical, doesn't it? If low interest rates have kept the economy from crashing but haven't fixed it, surely, negative interest rates can only be more positive.

And what are negative interest rates? Well, it simply means that, if you keep your money in a bank, instead of the bank paying you interest, you pay the bank to hold your money.

No central bank has ever done such a thing, so, not surprisingly, it sounds like a bitter pill to swallow. However, the ECB will present it as an "unfortunate necessity."

Electronic Currency

 

Let's once again change subjects for the moment. If the fiat currencies, such as the euro and the dollar, collapse (as I believe is all but inevitable), the EU and US are likely to immediately come up with an alternate currency (or currencies), since if an alternative is not made readily available, people will turn to whatever currency is handy in order to be able to continue to purchase goods and to trade.

We are in the electronic age. We are also seeing the EU and U.S. heading in a direction that is marked with increasing controls on the capital held by their citizens. Therefore, the ideal currency would be an electronic one. No more paper notes in the wallet, no more coins in the pocket; just a plastic debit card to take care of all purchases.

All purchases. Whether the purchaser buys something as major as a car or as insignificant as a Cadbury bar, the card would be used for every monetary transaction.

This, of course, is a handy solution to the fuss of dealing with what was formerly regarded as money. But there is an extra advantage—quite a major one, in fact—to the government. It now has a record of every single transaction that you make. There could be no "under the table" transactions, as only the debit card would represent currency.

Of course, a bank would be needed to handle the transactions. The bank would receive your electronic paycheck directly from your employer, and you would spend what you had in your account. The bank would be the central clearing house though which all your financial transactions took place.

An extra advantage to the government would be that they would no longer need to chase their citizens for taxation. Since they had a full record of every penny you earned and spent, they could advise you of the amount of your tax obligation and simply deduct it periodically. If you presently pay tax annually, the deductions could be broken up—say, monthly, or even weekly.

And the tax need not be under one heading. Just as your bank now lists a host of confusing charges on your credit card, so the government may have a wide variety of confusing and even redundant taxes that it deducts on a regular basis. Just as with the bank, the rates for each tax might go up or down (but mostly up) without explanation. (The more numerous the tax categories and the greater the frequency of deductions, the more confusion and, therefore, the fewer the complaints.)

How Does All This Fit Together?

 

Let's go back to the ECB. If a negative interest rate exists, the bank no longer pays you interest to encourage you to keep your money with them. They now control all your monetary transactions, and you cannot function without them. The servant has become the master. Therefore, it would not be possible to cease to use the bank for your transactions, should their "negative interest rates" start to climb.

At this point, the government and the bank would, between them, control your money totally. You would find yourself, in effect, "owned by the company store." It's even possible that bank fees and tax rates could be increased as your income increased, so that you might never be able to truly save money, invest, or indeed, act independently of your "owners." The flow of your money would have become centralized, and you could not function without them.

Of course, this is all theory. Surely, this could not come to pass, because people inherently do not wish to be enslaved.

And yet it happened on a wholesale basis in Kentucky and other mining areas in the US. So the question really is, "How did it become possible that people in mining towns volunteered for their own slavery?"
First there was a depression. Many people lost their jobs and their incomes and were prepared to do anything in order to feed their families. So they signed up for the only game in town: the mines. It was dangerous work, there were no benefits, and the coal dust would kill a miner after a time. But as long as he lived, his family had enough to eat. He accepted the deal, because (again) it was the only game in town.

So, back to the present day, where the Greater Depression will soon be on us in full force. A large percentage of jobs will be destroyed, but in addition, this time around, the currency will also be destroyed. In order to pay for goods, particularly food, people will do whatever they have to, to obtain currency. Desperate times, indeed.

But there's a light at the end of the tunnel! The government has chosen to eliminate bank notes and coins, as they ultimately proved to be so destructive. Never again will this be allowed to happen. The new Electronic Currency System will ensure that all money is centrally managed.

The press will declare the new system brilliant, and the harder an individual has been hit by the Greater Depression, the more quickly he will jump on board. The greedy rich have all but destroyed his life, and his government, like a knight in shining armour, has come to save him. Like the miner, he will not be musing on how this will all play out over the decades; he will opt for the promise of relief for his family now.
If this all plays out as described above, it will not be just Kentucky, but entire nations.

Editor's note: The day after this article was written, the ECB announced the introduction of a negative interest rate: 0.1% on deposits. As predicted, the media have already begun to the praise the measure.

To see what the consequences of economic mismanagement can be, and how stealthily disaster can creep up on you, watch the 30-minute documentary, Meltdown America. Witness the harrowing tales of three ordinary people who lived through a crisis, and how their experiences warn of the turmoil that could soon reach the US. Click Here to Watch it Now.



"How the 'World's Worst Trader' Went from Crippling Loss to Consistent Daily Profits...And How You Could Do It Too!"


Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Age of Transformation

By John Mauldin


One of the many luxuries that my readers have afforded me over the years is their willingness to allow me to explore a wide variety of topics. Not all writers are so blessed, and their output and responses to it tend to stay focused on specific, often quite narrow topics. While this approach allows them to dig very deep into particular subject matter, it can reduce the total scope of their research, vision, and advice. But don’t get me wrong; these types of letters are very important. I benefit greatly from being a subscriber to a number of letters that give me detailed analysis for which I simply don’t have the time to do the research. There’s just too much going on in the world today for any of us to be an expert in more than a few areas.

I seem to find the most enjoyment and elicit the best response when I try to give my readers the benefit of my broad scope of reading and research as I try to figure out how all the various and sundry pieces of the puzzle fit together. For me, the world is just that: a vast and very complex puzzle. Trying to discern the grand themes and detailed patterns as the very pieces of the puzzle go on changing shape before my eyes is quite a challenge.

To try to figure out which puzzle pieces are going to have the most influence and impact in our immediate future, as opposed to languishing in the background, can be a frustrating experience. I often find myself writing about topics (such as a coming subprime crisis or recession) long before they manifest themselves. But I think it is important to see opportunities and problems brewing as far in advance as we can so that we can thoughtfully position ourselves and our portfolios to take advantage.

Today I offer some musings on what I’ve come to think of as the Age of Transformation (which I have been thinking about a lot while in Tuscany). I believe there are multiple and rapidly accelerating changes happening simultaneously (if you can think of 10 years as simultaneously) that are going to transform our social structures, our investment portfolios, and our personal futures. We have had such transformations in the past. The rise of the nation state, the steam engine, electricity, the advent of the social safety net, the personal computer, the internet, and the collapse of communism are just a few of the dozens of profound changes that have transformed the world in which we live.

Therefore, in one sense, these periods of transformation are nothing new. I think the difference today, however, is going to be the simultaneous nature of multiple transformational trends playing out within a very short period of time (relatively speaking) and at an accelerating rate.

It is self evident that failure to adapt to transformational trends will consign a business or a society to the ash can of history. Our history and business books are littered with thousands of such failures. I think we are entering one of those periods when failing to pay close attention to the changes going on around you could prove decidedly problematical for your portfolio and fatal to your business.

This week we’re going to develop a very high-level perspective on the Age of Transformation. In the coming years we will do a deep dive into various aspects of it, as this letter always has. But I think it will be very helpful for you to understand the larger picture of what is happening so that you can put specific developments into context – and, hopefully, let them work for you rather than against you.

We’re going to explore two broad themes, neither of which will be strange to readers of this letter. The first transformational theme that I see is the emerging failure of multiple major governments around the world to fulfill the promises they have made to their citizens. We have seen these failures at various times in recent years in “developed countries”; and while they may not have impacted the whole world, they were quite traumatic for the citizens involved. I’m thinking, for instance, of Canada and Sweden in the early ’90s. Both ran up enormous debts and had to restructure their social commitments. Talk to people who were involved in making those changes happen, and you can still see some 20 years later how painful that process was. When there are no good choices, someone has to make the hard ones.

I think similar challenges are already developing throughout Europe and in Japan and China, and will probably hit the United States by the end of this decade. While each country will deal with its own crisis differently, these crises are going to severely impact social structures and economies not just nationally but globally. Taken together, I think these emerging developments will be bigger in scope and impact than the credit crisis of 2008.

While each country’s crisis may seemingly have a different cause, the problems stem largely from the inability of governments to pay for promised retirement and health benefits while meeting all the other obligations of government. Whether that inability is due to demographic problems, fiscal irresponsibility, unduly high tax burdens, sclerotic labor laws, or a lack of growth due to bureaucratic restraints, the results will be the same. Debts are going to have to be “rationalized” (an economic euphemism for default), and promises are going to have to be painfully adjusted. The adjustments will not seem fair and will give rise to a great deal of societal Sturm und Drang, but at the end of the process I believe the world will be much better off. Going through the coming period is, however, going to be challenging.

“How did you go bankrupt?” asked Hemingway’s protagonist. “Gradually,” was the answer, “and then all at once.” European governments are going bankrupt gradually, and then we will have that infamous Bang! moment when it seems to happen all at once. Bond markets will rebel, interest rates will skyrocket, and governments will be unable to meet their obligations. Japan is trying to forestall their moment with the most breathtaking quantitative easing scheme in the history of the world, electing to devalue their currency as the primary way to cope. The U.S. has a window of time in which it will still be possible to deal with its problems (and I am hopeful that we can), but without structural reform of our entitlement programs we will go the way of Europe and numerous other countries before us.

The actual path that any of the countries will take (with the exception of Japan, whose path is now clear) is open for boisterous debate, but the longer there is inaction, the more disastrous the remaining available choices will be. If you think the Greek problem is solved (or the Spanish or the Italian or the Portuguese one), you are not paying attention. Greece will clearly default again. The “solutions” have so far produced outright depressions in these countries. What happens when France and Germany are forced to reconcile their own internal and joint imbalances? The adjustment will change consumption patterns and seriously impact the flow of capital and the global flow of goods.

This breaking wave of economic changes will not be the end of the world, of course – one way or another we’ll survive. But how you, your family, and your businesses are positioned to deal with the crisis will have a great deal to do with the manner in which you survive. We are not just cogs in a vast machine turning to powers we cannot control. If we properly prepare, we can do more than merely “survive.” But achieving that means you’re going to have to rely more on your own resources and ingenuity and less on governments. If you find yourself in a position where you are dependent upon the government for your personal situation, you might not be happy. This is not something that is going to happen all of a sudden next week, but it is going to unfold through various stages in various countries; and given the global nature of commerce and finance, as the song says, “There is no place to run and no place to hide.” You will be forced to adjust, either in a thoughtful and premeditated way or in a panicked and frustrated one. You choose.

I should add a note to those of my readers who think, “I don’t have to worry about all this because I am not dependent on Social Security.” Wrong. A significant majority of the retiring generation does depend on Social Security and also on government controlled healthcare, and their reactions and votes and consumption patterns will have an impact on society. Ditto for France, Germany, Italy, and the rest of Europe. The Japanese have evidently made their choice as to how to deal with their crisis. If you are a Japanese citizen and are not making preparations for a significant change in your national balance sheet and the value of your currency, you have your head in the sand.

There’s no question that the reactions of the various governments as they try to forestall the inevitable and manage the crisis will create turmoil and a great deal of volatility in the markets. We have not seen the last of QE in the U.S., but Japan is going gangbusters with it, and it is getting fired up in Europe and China.

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.



Sign up for one of our Free Trading Webinars....Just Click Here!


ShareThis