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Week Ahead

Preparing for Economic Turbulence: The Fed’s Q2 Danger Zone and Russian Oil Cuts

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In this episode of “The Week Ahead,” host Tony Nash is joined by Brent Johnson, CEO of Santiago Capital, and Tracy Shuchart, a commodities trader at Hilltower Resource Advisors, to discuss the most pressing economic themes for the upcoming week.

One of the key topics of discussion is the Federal Reserve’s “Q2 Danger Zone,” which Brent believes could be a potentially scary time for the economy. He notes that we are still less than a year away from the first rate hike, and it often takes 12-18 months for rate hikes to show up in the economy. By the summer of 2022, we will be right in the heart of that time period, coinciding with YoY inflation numbers that should come down due to the crazy comparisons from the previous year. Brent warns that even if inflation remains somewhat sticky, we could see a bunch of disinflationary prints at the same time, which will make it challenging for the Fed. Moreover, by that time, Owner Equivalent Rents are expected to fall, adding to the Fed’s challenges.

Tracy then delves into the topic of oil production and cuts, specifically Russia’s decision to cut 500k barrels. She explains what this means for the market, how it could impact crude prices, and who will be hurt the most – Asia or the West. Tracy also raises an interesting point about Russia’s decision to smuggle oil through Albania despite the cuts, leaving us with questions about their motivations.

Finally, the discussion turns to commercial and industrial loan growth, which saw a sharp rise after rate hikes started. Tracy explores why this is happening, and what it means for the economy. She believes that companies are taking out loans to fund capital expenditures, which is good news for the economy as it indicates that businesses are investing in themselves and their future growth.

Key themes:
1. The Fed’s Q2 Danger Zone
2. Capex & C&I Loan Growth
3. 500k fewer Russian barrels

This is the 55th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

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Hi, everyone, and welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we’re joined by Brent Johnson and Tracy Shuchart. We may be joined by Albert Marko at some time, but we’re just going to focus on Brent and Tracy right now. Guys, thanks so much for taking the time to join us. I really appreciate it.

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We’ve got a few key things, themes we’re going to cover today. First is the Fed’s second quarter danger zone. There’s a lot setting up for Q2, and Brent’s going to talk us through that. Then we’re going to get into Capex and CNI, commercial and industrial loan growth. And then finally, we’re going to talk about those Russian barrels that are coming off the market this month, and Tracy will talk us through the impact there.

Okay. Guys, thanks a lot for taking the time. Brent, when I asked you what you want to talk about, you really want to talk about this kind of Q2, potentially Q3, these issues that we may see in markets in that time. Can you help me understand or help us understand what are you looking for there? Because there’s a lot going on, of course, and you can talk us through a number of items. But I have a tweet from Daniel Lacalle, who’s joined us a few times talking about the ECB under pressure for faster rate hikes.

We’re seeing similar stuff in the US. But markets keep going up. What are you thinking?


Well, I think there’s a couple of very, I guess, poignant and competing narratives fighting each other right now. And they’ve been fighting each other for a while. And I’ll explain why I think they’re fighting each other. But I’ll also explain a little bit about why I think Q2 and Q3 have the potential, again, there’s no guarantee. We’re all speculating here. But has the potential for one of these narratives to kind of come to the fore or something to change dramatically in Q2 or Q3. So I think the first narrative that has been around for a year now, so we’re almost still not yet, but very close to now, the one year anniversary from the first rate hike. And I think a lot of people forget that it hasn’t even been a year yet since they started raising rates. And typically when you raise rates, it doesn’t have an immediate impact in the economy. Sometimes it takes nine months, twelve months, 18 months for those rate hikes actually kind of work there through the economy and have the full effect of them show up. So we’re not even to a year yet, but in another three or four months we’ll be in the 12- to 18-month range when they typically start to show up.

Now, in the meantime, we continue to have inflationary prints that are stickier than some people have expected. Again, part of the reason markets have been pretty favorable for the last two, three, four months is the expectation that rate hikes would slow and potentially even reverse and maybe we even get to a cutting cycle. And as a result, the markets are front running that. But now in the last couple of weeks and so at the beginning of the year, we had a big rush up in bond prices as rate hike expectations came down, and stock prices and commodity prices. But for the last month, let’s call it since the, to the last week of January, 1 week of February, I’ve kind of turned it violently sideways. We’ve gone up and down and up and down and up and down, but kind of just treaded water. And actually if you look back two years, we’re kind of where we were a couple of years ago. We’ve gone up and we’ve gone down, but we’re kind of where we were two years ago. But because of the stickiness, the relative stickiness of the inflationary prints, this idea that rate hikes are now going to go the other way is starting to get a little queasy.

And maybe they’re going to have to go back to 50, maybe they’re going to have to go longer, maybe they’re going to have to go higher for longer. And so now markets are trying to figure this all out. And so the reason I think once we get into Q2 and Q3, it gets very important is for two reasons. One, if things stay sticky in the meantime, the Fed may have to either keep hiking or continue to message higher for longer. And then if at the same time all of the previous interest rate hikes start to show up in the economy and then at that point we are going to be in the heart of the year-over-year inflationary prints. And those will most likely show negative. Even if inflation is still high, it’s probably, you know, I think was it last June or last July we had the 9% print in inflation. So even if this year it comes in at 7%, it’s going to show a negative two year-over-year. And so that puts the Fed in the position, okay, inflation is starting to come down, we’re making progress. But you still have high inflation.

So does that mean that they stop or do they start? And it’s going to be at the same time where all the previous rate hikes are going to be showing up in the economy. Right.


Sorry, go ahead.


No, but my point is we’re getting to the point where a lot of the decisions that have already been made would naturally start showing up in the economy, but we’re not quite there yet. In the meantime, the Fed is in a tough spot as to whether to continue rate hikes or to slow them down because we are seeing some disinflationary pressures. Right. And so they’re in a tough spot right now.


Yeah. When Powell spoke, gosh, I think it was in the last meeting, he talked about the lag effects of Fed policy, and it was almost in a defensive way, saying, hey, it may not look like much is going on, but there are serious lag effects to our policies and you better watch out. And I think that’s when they rolled out the 25s or they started rolling out the 25s.

I’m not sure that at this point I see an end to 25s. Sam Rine’s on the show talks several times about how it’s at least 25s until mid-summer. Right.


I think so.


And I think we’re starting to get some nervousness from the pace of inflation in Europe. And I think that’s kind of bleeding over here a little bit because people are seeing the prints in Europe and saying, gosh, is that coming our way too? The ECB is going to have to hike faster. And so what’s that going to do to say, the dollar and other things as well? And when we have a relatively strong dollar, the impact that’s having on commodity prices, it mutes them. Right?


So now you just touched on something else that’s very important to understand. Okay. So if Europe is pressured to keep hiking, or at least hiking more than expected, that has the potential, again, no guarantee. Not everything trades on rates, but it has the potential for the dollar to fall more. That’s why the dollar has fallen for the last four months, is the pace of rate hike expectations. So if we already have sticky inflationary data and then the dollar starts to fall in price again, that can actually provide a tailwind for the inflation that the Fed is trying to counteract. Right. So again, it puts them in this tough spot. The other part that you just mentioned is, and this is where it gets tricky as well, is if you look over the last year, but not just last year, if you look over the last ten years, oil is about where it was a year ago and about where it was ten years ago. Natural gas is below where it was a year a you go. Huge drop off in about where it was ten years ago. Corn is about where it was ten years ago.

Wheat’s about where it would… Copper? You look at all these commodities, they’ve actually come down quite a bit from a year ago. But what has remained the stickiest is the wage data or sorry, wage inflation. Those costs, I know we’re going to talk about that at some point as well. And that could be more to do with a structural issue that the Fed has really no control over. Right. If people have, they’re retiring, they’re moving out of the workplace and they’re just not coming back. And so you have a demographic issue where there’s just not enough supply of labor. It pushes up the price of labor. That is something the Fed could influence, but not as easily as they can influence asset prices. And so, again, you get into this situation where I think everybody knows the further down the road we go, the higher the likelihood we have some kind of an event, right? Whether that’s a crash or just a volatility explosion or whatever it is, I think everybody knows that something down the road is not going to be good. Now, whether that’s six days or six months or six years from now, that’s the debate.

But I think we all know that there’s the potential for this great event. And again, if we get into Q2 or Q3 and it hasn’t happened yet, and you have this confluence of all these events that I’m talking about and in the meantime, asset prices have gone higher or at least held where they’re at, you have the potential for this bursting of this bubble, for lack of a better word.


Right? Go ahead, Tracy.


Sorry, I had a question. So we’re seeing that two-year and five-year inflation expectations start to rise again. So what do you make of that? And what does that mean for the Fed and the Fed’s decision? Right?


Yeah. Well, I think this gets to everything we’ve just been taught it puts them in a tough spot because they’ve already… They have very clearly started to slow, right? Now, they have said we’re going to maintain and we’re not cutting and we could be higher for longer. But there’s no question that they have, at least for the last four months, have not been hiking at the same pace that they were last summer. But the worst thing for the Fed is if they’re back at 25 basis points now, or if they were to indicate that maybe we’ll have one more hike of 25 and then we’ll be done. But then you get inflation starting to rise again. I mean, that’s horrible for that. That’s the worst possible thing for the Fed and it throws their whole object not objectivity. It’s not that their repu… Not that their reputation is great anyway, right? But after getting the last couple of years so wrong, for their credibility to be challenged again is a really tough thing. And I’ve mentioned this before, you cannot underestimate, in my opinion, you cannot underestimate the influence of getting it wrong would have on Powell’s legacy. And I think he’s been very clear that he doesn’t mind having asset prices lower.

In fact, I think he wants asset prices lower. And so while I completely understand the argument for they’re going to have to cut, I don’t think he can personally take the risk of stopping hikes too soon because the risk of stopping too soon is extremely high for him personally.


I want to go back to your wages point for a minute. So, you know, when we have a company like Walmart make their minimum wage $15 and then that cascades through the economy because it doesn’t hit everyone immediately, you know, there’s a lag to that hitting the economy too, right. What you talk about? And it doesn’t just hit people making below $15. Those people who are making $15 are like, wait, I was making 15. Now everyone’s making $15. So it cascades up a little bit, right. And it cascades out. And so that takes months to hit also. Right. So that just happened in January, this impact on wages, at least for the next couple of months, right, or do you think it happens?


I think so. And again, when we get to an event, let’s call it either a credit event or a contraction in the money supply or a bursting of an asset, whatever, when we get to an event and things turn the other way quickly, then that stuff can change quickly. But until that happens, there is a tailwind for them to get worse or for the structural wage inflation for them to work themselves through the economy. And the other thing that I think many people forget this is that and I got to be careful how I say this because… I don’t want to confuse people and I don’t want people to think that I’m just absolutely bullish, because I’m not. I do think we’re going to have one of these credit events, and I do think disinflation is more likely than runaway inflation. But until we get that event, there is an inflationary tailwind, not just because of the things we’ve already talked about, but because of the higher rates. And what I mean by that is, as long as the banking system doesn’t contract and there’s not a deflationary crash, the higher rates are actually pumping more money into the economy.

Right. It wasn’t that long ago you had to go out ten years on the yield curve to get anywhere close to 4% return on your money. Now you can put your money in the closest thing to cash and get 4% on your money. So the people who have the money in their accounts are getting more money pushed into it because the Treasury has to pay higher rates. And that’s just now, kind of, again, the federal funds rate has been slowly ticking up, but some of those rates that people receive are just now resetting higher or have just started to reset higher in the last couple of months. And the further we go along without this “event”, more money gets put into their account in the form of interest payments. And that’s a tailwind because now you have more money to spend.

Right. No, the point that I just want to make is that I believe that we’re going to have this event and I think we’re going to have it sometime this year. But until we have it, there’s a tailwind. So it’s almost like it’s going to be speeding up into the wall.


How much of that tailwind, Brent, is… People have put on pretty easy trades for the past few years? And how much of that tailwind is people who have a little extra money in their account who just want to make that one last trade, right?


I think there’s a lot of that. I think there’s a lot of that. And that’s typically why it ends badly, right. If you think about an exponential curve, it goes up and up and up and up and up and up, and then it crashes and it’s because those last people are trying to get that last little trade in. And the other thing that I’ll say is I think this is really important to understand and we were talking about it a little bit before, so it’s repetitive but for the people on the show. It was last summer Q3 of last year where the yield curve inverted. Actually, it inverted just slightly in Q2 of last year. But then the real inversion took place in Q3. And at the end of Q3, we had a point where the stocks were at their lowest level in two years. The VIX was at its highest level in two years. The dollar was at its highest level in two years. And I actually at that point, I even sent out a tweet that said to probably do for the dollar to pull back. And I bought, I took off all my equity hedges and I actually bought equity calls and people were like, why the hell are you doing this?

And I said, Because the yield curve is inverted. And they said, that means there’s going to be a recession. And I said, yeah, but usually that takes twelve to 24 months to show up. And historically in that twelve to 24 months, between the time the inversion happens and the recession arrives, you typically get a run in equities. And so that it kind of goes counter. Everybody thinks higher rates, you don’t want to own equities that’s bad for growth, but in actuality it ends up that way. But in the short term it’s actually typically, historically good for stocks. And so to be honest, and I fully admit it, that trade worked, but I sold it way too soon. I chickened out because I see this wall coming, right? But had I held it for this last six months. It would have been a monster trade, but I sold it after, like, one month because I chickened out on it, to be quite honest. But that’s something that’s very important to understand. And here’s the other thing, and I’ll give you some historical context and it’ll explain two things. It’ll explain the magnitude of the run that can happen, and it’ll also explain the horrendous result that can come up afterwards.

And that is it. From 1926 to 1929… Let’s call it, from 1920 to 1926, you had seen stock prices run very high. It was like the Roaring 20s, right? And then in 1926, the yield curve inverted and it stayed inverted until 1929. And in that time period, from 1926 to 1929, the long-term US Treasury fell 30%. So if you were invested in bonds during that yield curve inversion, you lost a lot of money, just like last year, right? But guess what stocks did over that three-year period? They more than doubled. They went up 150% with the yield curve inverted for three years. And now we all know what came after 1929, right? After that last trade, to your point, pushing that last trade into the market, then you had the huge fall. We could very easily have something like that again. Now, I personally am not in the camp that we’re going to go into another Great Depression. I don’t think it’s going to play out that way, but I can’t rule it out. But it’s all of these cross currents.

It’s because I understand the tailwinds and it’s because I see this massive wall that we’re racing towards that I think right now is the hardest environment I’ve ever seen to be an investor, or at least to be an investor with conviction, I think it’s very hard. The good news, and I would encourage people to think about this, the good news is that in the last ten years, if you didn’t have conviction, it was very hard to sit on the sidelines because you got no return in your account. Interest rates were zero, but you can now sit on the sidelines, wait for clarity and get paid 4 to 5%. That’s not a horrible idea. Right. So, anyway, that’s kind of my soapbox moment.


These are all great points for it. I guess it’s just time for people to be careful. I don’t think you’re saying the sky is falling today. I think you’re saying, just don’t hold the bag. Yeah.


And I’m not saying you can’t make money. I’ve used this analogy with clients a few times to explain what I mean, because I said, Couldn’t stocks run another 15 or 20%? And I say, yeah, absolutely they can. I said, It’s like when Evel Knievel jumps over the fountains at Caesars Palace and then his son does the same thing. Well, Evel Knievel  crashed and broke every bone in his body. Robbie Knievel landed the jump and was fine. Got a lot huge glory, but they did the same jump. So whether you landed well or land poorly, if you took the same amount of risk. So I’m not saying you can’t make money over the next six months by being in the stock market. I’m just saying you’re taking a lot of risk in order to do it. And if you don’t want to take that level of risk, you can sit in T bills and get 4.5%. That’s not a horrible that’s not a horrible sideshow. Right?


Right. Yeah. And just for people who aren’t familiar with Brent, I don’t know who isn’t? But he’s not a total doomer. Right. You’re not this, you know, permabear.


And I try not to be.


I just don’t want people to think you’re kind of a permabear coming on and try to spread kind of the permabear gospel. You do change your views as markets change, and this is just kind of a sober view on kind of where we are.


I own a lot of equities for my clients right now. We have participated in the run, but we have not been levered on it. And I’m not all in on that trade, but we own stocks in our portfolio. We think it’s time to be careful. We think you should have some hedges, we think you should have some cash. But we’re not sitting in our bunker just waiting for the sky to fall.


Great. Okay, that’s all good to know. Time to be very, very sober about things. You mentioned loans and interest rates, and Brent, you were mentioning some things about commercial and industrial loans. And Tracy, you’ve talked about capex, especially in energy, pretty regularly. And Brent, you were saying something about the CNI loans have risen over the past year, even as interest rates have gone up. Can you talk us through that?


Yeah. So this is kind of another part of the narrative. The combating narratives that I think people forget is many people didn’t think the Fed would ever be able to raise rates. But not only did they raise once, they’ve been raising them for a year now, and they’ve raised them aggressively. And the markets have not collapsed, to many people’s chagrin and many people said, well, as soon as the Fed starts raising rates, they’re no longer going to be increasing the money supply. Okay, that’s fair. And I know a lot of people think that the central banks just print money and flood the market with money. But where the real printing of money comes from, where the real creation of money comes from is when banks loan money. When you go down to your bank and you take out a loan, they don’t and let’s say you take out a million dollar loan, they don’t take somebody else’s million dollars and give it to you. They create it out of thin air. That’s rational.


Million dollars?


That’s right. That that’s a new million dollars that’s now in the economy that wasn’t there before. And so a year ago, loans had been coming down aggressively since COVID so they’ve been ramping up, I want to say, like in 2020, it was around $2.4 trillion. And then after COVID, they did all these PPP loans and it spiked to like $3 trillion. And then since the PPP loans, it’s just been steadily every month down, down, down. But I think it was last March or April, it stopped going down and it actually started to tick up. And now it’s been going up for a year, and so it’s up about 10% or 15% from the bottom. So that’s the creation of new money. And despite the fact that the higher rates have not yet caused anybody to go bankrupt, it’s starting to happen. And BlackRock had this happen to them with one of their funds recently. But despite the raising rates, you haven’t seen mass bankruptcies yet. And not only that, you see new loans being taken out. The existing supply of money is still there because we’re not getting the big credit contraction, and new money is being created through new loans.

And so again, you have this tailwind that’s actually speeding things up towards this wall that I believe we’re heading towards. It’s kind of part of the same thing we’ve already been talking about, but it’s just another facet of it.


No, it’s good. Some economists are going to ride in and say “that’s not technically new money.” But it is new money, right, because it’s circulating in the system and people are using it. Okay, so what drives that? I mean, it seems to me that when you have interest rates kind of steady for a long period of time, people tend to say, well, I can always put that investment off until tomorrow. But then when you see interest rates start to rise, people wake up and go, whoa, wait a minute, I better make that investment before it rises even more. Is that what’s happening?


I’m actually not an expert on this, and I don’t know for sure, but here’s my theory on it. And so I’m sure we’ll get a lot of people that tell me I’m wrong, but this is kind of how I think about it. I’ve been on record in the past as saying low rates are deflationary for the reason you just explained. If the market condition is so bad that the Federal Reserve has to resort to these extraordinary measures and pull interest rates to zero, is that really an environment where you want to go borrow a million bucks? Maybe, but that’s kind of scary, right? And so I kind of feel like low rates keep people from borrowing money and keep people and it’s borne out, if you look at these reports, that’s typically what’s happened. But if you are in an industry and you are competitive in that industry, and you want to remain in that industry, and you have not taken out that loan. But then let’s pretend as an example, you own a shoe store in Dallas, right? And you compete with a couple of the malls and a couple of the other independent sellers.

And a year ago, they took out a loan and bought more inventory and increased the size of their showroom or whatever it is. And you didn’t. But now we’re a year ahead. Market is holding up. Everybody’s going to those new stores to buy shoes. They’re not coming into your store as much. And in order for you to compete with them, you need to build a bigger showroom. You need to buy more, whatever it is. Well, now your loan costs two or 3% more than it did a year ago. And so now your question is, if I want to remain in this business and the crash doesn’t come in the next two months, if I wait another three or four months, our rate is going to be 2% higher? And so they’re kind of behind the eight ball. And so what I think happens is, as interest rates start to rise, if you need the money, you will borrow it. And we get into…


A friend who is doing a restaurant franchise who’s going who went through that exact process in terms of deciding when to take out money. It was extremely low. Interest rates started to rise and he felt urgency to get his loan locked in and got it locked in because of the change of rate, right? And the perception of the future change of rate made him so those expectations play.


I did the same thing. I bought a place in Puerto Rico last summer, and I think our mortgage is around 5%. It had been like 3%. If I’d have done it three years ago, we did it at five, and now I think they’re at six or seven. But that was part of my calendar calculation. It’s possible that rates will go higher. Now, it’s also possible that they’ll crash the three, in which case I refinance and I’ll be fine. But the point is, as money gets more expensive, if you’re going to stay in business, you need money. And so we get into this other theoretical thing where money is a gift. And I say money is a gift and good. And a gift and good is something that typically when something rises in price, the demand falls. But not with a gift and good, with a gift and good is as demand rises, price rises. Or as price rises, demand rises as well. And it’s because you just need it. It’s like this drug you just have to have. And as interest rates start to rise, you will pay more and more and more. And people say, well, if it gets too high, they won’t pay.

And I always say, okay, maybe but if high interest rates keep people from borrowing, then explain to me why Visa is in business and why loan sharks exist. They exist because even though they have rates, people need money and they will borrow at high rates. And so I think that’s kind of what we’ve seen as well. Again, I think this is all going to end, but all of this contributes to where we see markets at today.


Yeah, I think you’re exactly right. Tracy, can we change this focus of capex to energy? Because it’s pretty well known and you’ve talked about several times that energy hasn’t invested in the upstream since 2014 or something, right? So do you think that rising interest rates and there is some change in the tone of ESG speak in the US over the past couple of months? Do you think the rising interest rates may push some of these companies to start investing in the upstream, or is that just completely ridiculous?


I’d be hesitant to say, yeah, I think oil companies are going to jump on board with this because we still have this rhetoric in the west saying that we’re phasing you out in ten years. We want you gone. And so oil companies are therefore they just don’t want to spend the money. And it doesn’t really matter what rate it is at. It’s good news. We’ve seen Vanguard leave the Zero Alliance, and we’ve kind of seen a lot of these banks kind of push back and a lot of these investment funds kind of push back on this ESG narrative. But I just don’t think that’s quite enough until we see governments really focus more on ESG. And even though, say, for example, and it seems hypocritical, we’ve seen Germany, for example, their coal usage skyrocketed in 2022 as they’re closing nuclear plants. Meanwhile, they’re pushing this green initiative. The problem is that since natural gas prices have come back down to prices that they were pre-summer of 2022, I think that they’ve become very complacent. This is how natural gas prices will stay, and natural gas prices are going to stay low.

But that’s looking at the European economy, on the other hand, the damage has already been done. We’re already seeing some deindustrialization in Germany. You have BASF leaving forever. You have a lot of smelters across the whole of EU that are just not going to come back online when they had to. In fact, a lot of them started shutting down in fall of 2021 before the Ukraine invasion. And the thing is, you can’t just reignite those glass furnaces. It takes a lot of money. You have to keep them running 24 hours, 24/7. You know, we’re just not seeing that industry come back, unfortunately. And the ironic thing is if we go back to BASF in particular, they are moving to China, who is buying cheap Russian oil.


Crazy, right?


Because it’s cheaper to do business over there in general. But so I think at this point and we’ve also at one of that, we’re also seeing companies, oil and gas companies, in the UK, sort of because of their windfall taxes. That’s affecting business as well. And so they have decided to either leave the UK altogether we just had Suncor in Canada sell all their assets in their joint venture to BP. And we heard from Shell, Equinor, and BP all said that whatever we wanted to invest in UK, we’re not going to do that anymore because of these windfall taxes. I think that we’re running up against a lot of problems here that are more government-oriented, bureaucratic-oriented than our state central bank oriented, rates oriented.


We have had some state governments in the US push back on ESG. Right. And we did have a bill in Congress that passed that was pushing back on ESG, but there’s a veto coming or something on that bill, is that right? Governments are getting involved to some level.


Absolutely. We have 20 states right now, basically, that are pushing back on the ESG narrative, saying, we do not want our pension funds investing based on ESG. We want our pension fund, our state pension funds, investing on what we think is going to make us money.


That’s going to make money. Imagine that. Right?


That would be a good focus.


So there are 20 states involved in that. Texas is one of them. Florida is one of them. So that’s still kind of going through the court system at this point. And as far as this new, the amazing thing is this ESG legislation that will likely get vetoed was that it passed the House and the Senate. That’s huge. That’s a huge shift, right? Not by a small margin, I mean, relatively speaking, when we’re talking about other pieces of legislation. So the narrative is shifting in the US. So I think it’s too early to say where this is going to go, but it is definitely something worth keeping your eye on.


Great. Okay. All right, that’s good. Let’s talk about the Russian supply cuts going into this month. They’re going into this month, Tracy, what does that mean? Can you kind of put that in perspective of their overall supplies?


Yeah, I think in general, what people expected was when they announced this and they announced this in a month ago, that oil prices were going to skyrocket. But I don’t think they were doing that to raise oil prices and stick it to the west, right. And raise oil prices that they wanted to see. What they wanted to do is narrow that spread between urals and ESPO, which are their two main crude grades with respect to Brent, because that’s how the prices quoted, European oil prices are quoted in Brent minus whatever the spread is. Right. So what they wanted to do is they wanted, after the price caps and all of the sanctions, et cetera, they wanted to, we saw those prices, those front month prices in those particular grades fall dramatically. And so I think what they want to do is narrow the spreads. And so really, that’s what I think that whole thing, that whole decision was aired for.

And then you also have to understand that Russia includes condensates, which is those lighter oils within their total oil production, whereas the rest of the world does not. And so we don’t really know exactly where that 500K is coming from. Are they those like NAFTA, or is it pure crude? And where that really remains, just so people kind of understand the market over there.


I think Tracy and I might be wrong, but you’re the expert here, but I think another contributing reason that they cut production is, to your point, in order to get that spread closer, right? Because the discount was pretty significant. Right. And a month ago, I think they announced the production cuts, and a month ago, they announced that tax revenues were falling and as a result, they were going to have a budget deficit this year. But what I didn’t see until kind of a couple of weeks ago was that as a result of the production cuts and as a result of the tax revenues falling so severely in Russia that they are changing the way taxes are calculated on Russian producers.


Exactly. Exactly.


And they are doing and this is not going to be in favor of the Russian producers, they’re going to increase the taxes on the Russian producers to try to alleviate that budget deficit. So I don’t know that they were 100% correlated, but I don’t think that they’re unrelated. Right? In other words, if they’re going to tax Russian producers at a higher rate, and it is taxed on the difference of the spread between the west and Europe, they not only want to get the spread closer or the price higher, the discounted price higher, and then tax at a higher rate. So it’s kind of a double whammy on the producers.


It’s a double whammy on the producers, but it’s income for the government.


Right, exactly. No, exactly.


You know what I mean? And this is the same thing I was kind of talking about earlier on another podcast. What is interesting is that Russia is suddenly buying this huge fleet of vessels, right? So they own the vessels and they’re now insuring themselves. So the government’s making money no matter what. They’re just paying themselves. So Russia is not really losing money on this, even with the price cap and with that spread being lower. Now, if you look at and moving on to that, there was just an independent study done that assessed the international sanctions impact on Russian oil imports. And I think it was researchers from Columbia University, University of California, and the International Institute of Finance. And what they discovered is really that Russian crude oil is really selling for $74 right now, all is said and done, which is well above the $60 price cap. All we hear from mainstream media is they’re losing money, they’re losing money. But in reality and I read this paper, and I’ll post it on Twitter later if anybody wants to read this paper. It’s very interesting and it’s very well done. They essentially are selling oil above the price cap, and there’s no way to stop. There’s no way to stop.


Yeah, sanctions are great, but if there’s no enforcement mechanism, they don’t mean anything. And the Russians know that. Russia, Iran, China, they all know how to circumvent.


Iran is the most sanctioned country in the entire world as far as the oil industry is concerned, and they’re still making money, and they’re still able to export, so.


Shows you how powerful oil is.


Right, exactly. So, Tracy, who does the 500,000 cut hurt? Is it hurting Asia more, or does it hurt markets generally, globally, just because it’s crude oil?


Well, I think, again, it’s very hard to decipher because we don’t know what 100% is being cut. Is it all oil, or is it just these light condensates? And so I think in general, I don’t think it hurts anybody in particular, because if the markets were that worried about it, well, it would be at $100 right now, easy. Right? And so I don’t think markets are that worried about it. I also think markets are kind of let’s wait and see what this actually is. And that brings to a second point, is that right now what’s happening is that we’re having a bifurcated market, right? So the oil market, which did its thing for 30 years, 40, 30 years very nicely, trade routes were settled. We were in this crew. Now we have literally a gray market. I mean, we always had a black market in the gray market, but, I mean, now we’re talking 10 million barrels a day in the gray market, not a few million barrels wherever else. So we’re talking about a large 10 million barrels, which is approximately Russia. And this is a gray market right now, right, because they have their own vessels again, their own insurance. They’re doing ship-to-ship transfers. They’re doing all these shady stuff offline to kind of mitigate and get around Western sanctions in any way possible. And so we really are seeing this market where it’s going to be harder and harder if you’re a barrel comes here, it’s going to be harder and harder to actually track these barrels because that gray market has exploded in volume.


Interesting, you tweeted a story about some Russian crude being seized in Albania. So that’s one of the, I guess, paths to circumvent. Can you talk us through that and why that’s important?


Well, I think that it was interesting because this is not something that, you know, again, there are offshore ship-to-ship transfers going everywhere. You know, particularly if you look off, Spain is a very big on ship-to-ship transfers, right, in Greece. I just thought that was interesting because my first thought was five minutes later, it’s going to be on the black market via the Albanians.




But yeah, I mean, they just happened to get caught and too bad that Albert’s not here. He could probably better explain the Albanian relationship.


It was probably him.


Okay. I guess the message that I’m getting pretty consistently and tell me if I’m wrong, these are sanctions put on by Europeans, but through Albania, through Greece, through Spain and other places, they’re circumventing the sanctions. When I say “they”, I mean people in Europe are circumventing the sanctions that their own governments put on. Have I misread that?


No. I mean, I think that everybody’s trying to kind of find a way around the sanctions right now. And you have to remember, this only applies to seaborne Russian crude. I mean, we still have gas pipes into Europe and we still have oil pipes into Europe right now. So it’s really only seaborne crude.


So when it’s piped, it’s fine.




That’s amazing. Really amazing. Okay, great. Hey, guys, listen, let’s just take a quick look at what you guys are expecting in the near term. What are you guys looking for, say, for the next week? What’s ahead? Tracy it sounds like energy markets are kind of sideways for a while.


I think we’re kind of stuck in this $70-80 range right now in WTI. OPEC is very comfortable at $80-90 range for right now in Brent. And so, you know, I think that as we move closer to, say, high demand season and we get more clarity on China and what their domestic demand is going to really look like, I think we could definitely see a push to the upside. But for right now, I think markets are very comfortable where they are, and I think OPEC is very satisfied where markets are right now.


Okay, great. That’s what events happen, though, right?


When everyone’s coming, right? Exactly. You never know what could happen. You had what the story this morning from The Wall Street Journal say EU is leaving. I was like, what? No, they’re not. And they retracted the statement.


You leaving OPEC and all that stuff? Yeah. Crazy. Brent, what are you looking for in the next week or so?


I kind of think we’re going to continually have this violent sideways. I think markets are going to go up one day and they’re going to go down the next. And I think in general, I don’t think we’re going to get real clarity in one direction or the other until at least the Fed meeting. Possibly. We do have CPI that comes out a week before the Fed, so that will have a big impact, no doubt, unless it comes in right on the number, which in which case it will be violent sideways again. But I’m trying to just be nimble right now. Again, I don’t have any huge convictions either way right now. I kind of have my long term view while I understand the short term tailwinds, but I think it’s a time to be prudent rather than a time to try to be brave. So that’s kind of a cop out answer, but that’s kind of the truth right now.


No, I think that’s a great way to put it. Time to be prudent rather than time to be brave. I love it. Okay, guys, thank you so much for your time. I really appreciate it. This is great, great insights. So I appreciate it. Have a great weekend. And have a great weekend. Thank you, thank you.


Thank you.

Week Ahead

Widow-maker trading | Energy & Inflation | WTI & SPR [The Week Ahead – 19 Dec 2022]

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Gasoline prices have continued to decline in the US. Big Fed meeting. 50bps. JPow insists the terminal rate is 5.5. Markets seem to want a rosier picture. How do you trade this? Bob Iaccion shares his expertise.

We’ve seen some weakness in crude prices, of course, and consumers are seeing a bit of a break with energy prices. Jay Powell doesn’t see inflation abating soon – he seems to believe it’ll be persistent. Part of that must be with energy. Our Complete Intelligence US headline CPI forecast looks at a reacceleration in early Q2. Is that around the time Josh expects energy prices to re-accelerate or does he have a different expectation – and why?

Tracy posted a really interesting chart recently. We’ve been talking about the SPR releases for a long time, but this chart is super stark. She walks us through what this means.

Key themes
1. Widow-maker trading
2. Energy & Inflation
3. WTI & SPR

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Hi, and welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we’re joined by, by Bob Iaccino. Bob is with Path Trading Partners. We’re also joined by Josh Young. Josh is with Bison Interests, and Tracy Shuchart, who is with High Tower Resource Advisors. Guys, thanks for joining us today.

And Bob, I know this is your first time to join us and I really appreciate you taking your time. I’m always really shocked by the the quality of people who will talk to us, which is just amazing. So it’s, it’s great to have you here. And Josh, this is your second time and you have just hit a lot of home run since your fund started. I think you’re up 140% or something while the industry index is down like 20% or something. Is that right?


I can’t talk about my performance.


Okay. So I think you’re doing pretty well. So I’m just really grateful to have you guys here. We’ve got a few key themes here.

Of course, there’s been a lot of macro data out and some of that stuff has been classified by a few people as kind of widowmaker trades. So let’s get a little bit into that with Bob.

We’re going to look at energy and inflation and Josh is going to lead on that. And then we’ll look at WTI and the SPR with Tracy. So Bob, let’s start. You had sent this tweet out from Emma a few days ago where she says that markets kind of are believing what they want to believe and it’s really a trap and some of them are kind of widowmaker trades.

So can you talk us through that? Of course. We just had the big Fed meeting with a 50 bps rise and JPowell now insists that the terminal rate is 5.5 or somewhere around there. We saw PMIs come out today that were a lot lower than expected. We saw a downward revision in unemployment by over a million jobs sorry, of employment by over a million jobs. So why do markets continue to want to see a rosier picture or where are we right now and where is it going?


Well, it’s interesting, Tony, and again, thanks for having me. When you’re looking at equity markets specifically okay, let’s just talk when we talk about markets in a general sense, we’re usually talking about equities, which is one of the things I think the mainstream gets wrong. 

But when we’re talking about equities, you’re talking about just a natural upward bias. There’s many millions and billions of dollars that go into 401ks and long only mutual funds every single month that people don’t even look at. So when all else is equal, you have a slight upward bias in equities. 

And therefore it kind of stands to reason that people in general, investors, retail investors, want things to go up. And I suspect when somebody starts trading I remember I gave a speech pre COVID and somebody came up to me and said, I don’t understand how you trade the ES, which is S&P futures. I said, what do you mean? They said, well, stocks always go up, right? So sometimes you can be short ES. And I’m like, oh, my Lord, let me show you a chart. Stocks don’t always go up. If you take a look at an equity chart going back to 1920 or however long you want to be, yes, it is angled this way.

But when you see what’s going on right now, there’s a lot of old adages in the markets that I honestly can’t stand. But one of them gets repeated a lot is, you can’t fight the Fed. And most people are trying to fight the Fed. And Jerome Powell keeps coming out there and says, why are you guys fighting me? So the more and more stern Jerome Powell gets about interest rates, the more and more the markets get comfortable with what the Fed is doing and saying, sort of, and I’m paraphrasing what I think the market would be saying as a whole, “okay, we know what you’re doing now, so we’re comfortable with it, and we’re just going to buy stocks.”

And that seems to me to be troubling. It’s interesting because I’m bearish medium to long term, but I own the S&P Futures right now. I actually bought them on the first day of the fourth quarter with a mindset toward this type of activity. I said, okay, the fourth quarter is going to be higher than the third quarter, so I can go ahead and buy a small ES position within the context of my thesis that toward the end of the first quarter, beginning of the second quarter, I think equities dump again. I don’t think that the lows that we saw in October are the ultimate lows for this particular bear market.


So you’re saying that selling out of Trump’s NFT doesn’t mean we’ve hit the bottom yet or whatever.


I took screenshots galore of that Trump Superman thing with the laser. I’m like, if he could have a body like that, so can I, right? By eating McDonald’s and drinking Coke. I thought that was amazing.

No, I mean, again, these kinds of things a lot of people would think is peak bullishness just in any market overall. It certainly is probably peak bullishness, at least in the short to medium term and NFTs that that happened.


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Why do you think we’ll continue to see ES rise through, say, first quarter? Like, what are you seeing? Is it sentiment or is it some of the data coming out?


It’s the data being done and it’s the big events being finished. So, again, as I mentioned the beginning of this conversation, Tony, all else equal equities have an upward bias. And I said to myself, okay, we’ve got one more Fed meeting, one PCE, one CPI, a couple of small to medium sized business PMIs in the form of the S&P PMIs, and then not a whole lot. 

So given that backdrop, people say, okay, we’re still near enough to the lows, or this is probably the lows. Even some of the people that I respect a lot think that the October lows are the lows, and I just happen to disagree with them going into next year. But they’re probably, they’re likely this is not a bold statement, the lows for 2022. It’s not a very scary thing to say considering we’ve only got, what, ten trading days left, 20 trading days left at the most. 

So from that perspective, I feel very comfortable with the buy at the end of the third quarter and sell somewhere near the beginning of the first quarter position that I put on and I have a break even stop. I mean, I’m not going to lose money on this trade, which means I’m not going to pay a whole lot of attention to it anymore.


Right? Okay, very good. So, Josh, let’s talk about the data for a minute. Josh highlighted a chart that was sent out today looking at the difference, say, the divergence between hard and soft economic data. And hard economic data is still relatively positive, significantly more positive than the soft data.

So can you help us understand what’s the difference between hard and soft data and then what’s your view of the divergence between hard and soft data?


Yeah, so I focus more on sort of the energy side than the general broader market data side. But it is interesting. So the hard data and my understanding of this is the measures of actual activity and the soft data is more measures of sentiment or sort of modeled or forecast activity. And then I guess where I sit on it is I’m looking at actual oil and gas consumption data, and it looks a little weak. And so when I look at it looking a little weak, and that doesn’t mean I’m bearish I like the supply situation a lot. It’s very bullish, and that probably overwhelms. But from my perspective, tracking oil and gas consumption, it looks like maybe some of this ostensible hard data isn’t as hard as it’s represented. So that’s my take on that.


Let’s talk about that a little bit. Bob, you seem to be a little bit skeptical of some of the hard data.




What do you think is a little bit overstated right now?


Well, I’ll give you an example. This past non farm payrolls report. Negative 40,000 on retail jobs. When have we seen that going into a holiday season? It’s likely that a lot of it has to do with seasonal adjustments in my view, because how do you correctly adjust for seasonality that changes every season, along with technology changing every single season at a rapid pace what seasonality may or may not look like?

So I’m not a conspiracy theorist by any stretch of the imagination, but hard data produced by the government is where there is possible manipulation. I’m not accusing anyone of manipulating anything. I’m just saying that’s where it’s possible. In sentiment data, that is the survey respondent sentiment. That’s what it is. And that generally shows up in hard data. 

Josh mentioned in his tweet about this divergence between hard and soft. Right now we have a divergence between iron ore and crude oil prices, right. Which has a very positive correlation over time. We can look at the data. Josh can look at the data, and so can Tracy better than I can, and say, okay, I believe these will converge, and I think this one will leave because it’s data.

Sentiment, you can’t say, that’s not the respondent sentiment, whereas data coming out of the government, if you believed the government’s data isn’t manipulated, then the data is what it is. But when you look at something so strange as retail employment falling going into the holiday season, that’s either economically catastrophic. Is that a word? Economic catastrophe?


Sure. Catastrophe.


Economic catastrophe. Or it’s wrong. One of the two. Catastrophic. That’s what it’s right.


And we have all these huge revisions and the employment data every month, right. Going back, they’ll revise two, three months back.


They’ll revise two years back, Tracy. There are generally four revisions on OECD country data, and so they’ll go two years in and revise stuff. And whenever I see an initial kind of print of economic data, I always say, and you see this regularly on Twitter is I say, I’ll wait for the revision. And it’s not the first revision. It’s typically the second or third revision.

My view is that the first two say the initial print and the first revision are really PR for every macroeconomic print. Not just in the US. Globally. And then we start to kind of see back adjustments of what really happened. So I just don’t understand why initial prints of economic data move markets. I don’t understand why the financial media make a big deal about these initial prints of data because they’re wishful thinking. In the same way, Bob was talking about how investors have a rosy view of stocks always going up. Macro data typically has the bias of those government statisticians either too negative or too positive.

Okay, good. So is the view, guys, that the soft data will pull the hard data down? Is that kind of where we’re kind of falling on this?


It’s definitely my view. I mean, again, if that’s your sentiment, something has to happen to flip that sentiment. I always like watching the politicians. I don’t make political statements on shows like this. I make political statements, unfortunately, at the dinner table. But when you’re talking about political statements, you’ll see jobs are strong and you’re making enough money to pay for the inflation. That doesn’t change the reality on the ground for people. You’re not going to actually have somebody say, well, the President said, I have the money to pay for this, so everything is fine. So I always believe that the sentiment is much more reliable than the data, even though it shouldn’t be that way. It really should be the opposite.

Josh runs a fund and he can’t talk about his performance even though the performance is real data. That’s what his performance is. I was at a fund of funds years ago as part of the investment committee. We had nine full disclosure, was a low volatility fund. So our biggest up year was about 90 basis points. But we never had a down year. I’m sorry, 3.9 basis points, 390 basis points. But we never had a down year in nine years.

And our auditors and our regulators said we couldn’t publish that performance. And when we said why, they said, because it implies that you can’t have a down year. Well, yeah, if you’re stupid, it implies that.

But, you know, this was our actual performance, but we can’t put it forward. Josh has great performance and can’t talk about it. And this is the same kind of thing where to me, the sentiment will pull the actual data down and then you question whether that’s going to be manipulated for political gains or not by either side.


Right, exactly. Not one party or the other. It’s both parties.




We don’t figure that anybody individually.


I mean, I think the employment data has been wrong all year, for two years now. You just look at labor force participation rate and how many people are multiple jobholders, not single job holders. And we just had that huge revision of 1.1 jobs.


Yeah. So we saw jolts turn over a couple of weeks ago and then we have this downward revision of jobs. So if we look at the Fed’s mandate, they’re kind of not really doing either, right? Either they’re not doing either or they’ve already achieved the job stuff which they said six months ago that they hadn’t achieved and they continue to persist that they haven’t achieved. So is it fair to say that with the downward revision and employment data and the downward trend in jolts data that they’re kind of getting there already? So this is kind of a bad news is good news thing potentially?


Potentially if the market chooses to read it like that. I don’t think the algos know how to read it that way. But yeah, I mean, it’s possible. We already are at 4.5% with all these revisions on unemployment.


Right? Okay, very good. So we’re going to get off the macro data for a minute. We’re going to move to energy prices. Actually, we’re going to stay on some macro data for a little bit. I put on the screen our Complete Intelligence CPI forecast and what we’re looking at potentially is a gradual rise of CPI accelerates a bit in April and goes into the summer.

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So it’s possible, according to our forecast, that we do see a second bump in CPI. I have to say there is no human intervention in this. This is all machine driven. And so we’re reading things in the markets or the machines are reading things in the markets that are saying we could see a second bite of inflation coming in, say end of Q1 or early Q2.

So Josh, the question for you is we’ve seen some weakness in crude prices and consumers are seeing a bit of break with energy prices, gasoline prices and so on. But we saw from the Fed meeting that JPowell doesn’t see inflation abating anytime soon. So it seems like it’ll be fairly persistent. How do you expect energy prices to fit within that?

Are you seeing energy prices accelerate quickly or do you expect energy prices generally? Of course, I know there are different segments, but generally do you expect them to kind of accelerate quickly or do you see kind of a delayed acceleration of energy prices?


This is a great opportunity to run real briefly a potential economic analog to where we are in some respects. And the potential economic analog is the Asian financial crisis, the ’97 and ’98 scenario. And where that might be real similar to what we’re seeing now is one, we’re actually seeing consumer deposits start to fall with loans increasing. We’re seeing mortgage rates start to fall even though the Fed reset or keeps raising rates. And so we’re seeing the housing markets start to clear and then we have this very low labor force participation, sort of similar to what you saw in prior periods.

And you see this, they say, what is it that good times lead to weak men, and then weak men lead to bad times, and bad times lead to strong men. And sorry for the gender aspect of that, but just sort of the general idea. When I see all this, I think that there’s a real chance that we see much higher consumption of real goods and real inputs. And then when I tie that so that’s relevant for the inflation question as well as for oil and gas in particular, because there is this huge non participating aspect of the labor force that is increasingly likely to participate as NFTs and crypto and various day trading, tech stock and other sorts of speculative activity comes down.

And then there is this other aspect, which is that with oil and gas starting to come into China more, and other commodities potentially coming into China as they reopen and restimulate, there is the potential for inflation on raw materials and deflation on consumer goods and other stuff that China exports. And so it’s a sort of very weird, messy time. I’m not sure, I think that tech equities rebound like they did after that ’97, ’98 time frame. But other than that, it looks like sort of the most similar to maybe that plus 2003, something along those lines.

And I’m interested in your guys take on that, because it seems like we have room, actually, for significant uptake in demand, not just in China, for oil and gas, even in the US potentially, as employment potentially improves, just because you have all these people, you have all these open jobs still, especially in the low end, and you have a lot more people who maybe are relevant for those jobs and more interest in them now.


Yeah. So when you talk about uptake so if we look at China, for example, there were zero international flights going into China from, say, 2020 until, what, this month, right? Something like that. International tourist flights. And those are restarting. And so that’s just one kind of proxy indicator of, say, trade, the economy, travel, other things. Right. So do you have a view on that, on, say, passenger flights into China, tourism in China and how that would impact, say, crude?


So I have a better view on China to China flights than China to international. It actually does look like there’s a lot more bookings for international to China and vice versa flights, but there’s not a lot more actual flights yet. But there are way more China to China flights. We’re actually up from a low of two weeks ago or two and a half weeks ago. 

We’re up about 100%, actually, maybe even more than 100%. And again, the data is not perfect, but I’ve been posting daily seven day average lag data just to to sort of show a moving average, and the moving average is up over 100% for that. So just those China to China flights, it looks like, represent about 200,000 barrels a day of jet fuel consumption and jet fuel is very oil intensive. 

You use more than a barrel of oil to get a barrel of jet fuel because of the energy component and because of various other aspects of that refining process. And so also, jet fuel consumption historically has been a good proxy for oil and gas consumption in an economy. If you’re using more jet fuel, you’re using more gasoline, you’re using more diesel, you’re using more coal and natural gas and various other things.

It’s a great sort of real time economic proxy. And there’s lots of this is one of the places where I disagree on the sentiment surveys. I’m an economist by training and education. And the problem with surveys is that there’s no money in them, right? So people just tell you whatever they think, whereas consumption is actual money. It’s a buying decision. It’s not a speaking or a writing decision. 

And the consumption matters more. So these real time actual consumption indicators are very promising, it looks like, from China, even as there’s headlines of Beijing is totally shut. So the headline is that and then the consumption data is that the consumption is way higher. I’m going to go with the consumption data, and that looks very promising. Again, that’s only part of this theory, and I’m interested in your guys take on it to the extent that you’re.


Open to talking about bob was talking about iron ore earlier, and they came out overnight, actually, and said they have a state buying purchasing iron ore is how they purchase it now. They started about a year ago, and so they said they’re going to start buying iron ore again. So really, to me, that does say they are really getting ready to sort of push this stimulus, and they really want that 5% GDP for next year because of how much it has come down and how much has been lagging over the last two quarters, including this quarter. 

So to me, hint, not that just them saying no more COVID passenger. I’m looking for real things that they’re actually doing. So look for them to start buying hard assets and buying sort of in the material sector and that’s kind of to me, that, okay, we’re ready to stimulate this economy.


Okay, that’s fantastic for everyone, right? I don’t think anybody in the world wants China to fail because it hurts everyone. There’s such a big economy, and especially their Asian neighbors, but also their big trading partners like the EU and the US. So I hear a lot of kind of sour China sentiment and people kind of cheering China failing. And I don’t think anybody in reality wants that to happen because it would hurt all of us.

So since we have three energy experts on, I guess let me ask you about China’s position with their crude reserves. Are they pretty tight? Do they have a lot in storage? Do they have stuff contracted? Like, if they grow, how will that impact the spot price.


Well, they will have to buy more because when oil prices were at their peak just a few months ago, even though they were closed, and even into 2021, when oil prices really started to spike higher, they used a lot of their SPR, especially starting in summer of 2021. So they started using a lot of their SPR because they like cheap commodities and oil prices were Spiking. And so I do know that, you know, from what we can tell, you have to remember, we only know what’s above ground that we can see by satellite. We have no idea what’s underground for for what they have in storage. 

I just want to preface that, because a lot of people say you don’t know what time. So we do know some storage. So what we can see is that they have drawn down their SVR quite significantly. If they start opening up and they need to purchase more, especially with kind of these oil prices lower and then being able to strike deals with Russia right now, I do think we’ll start to see them purchasing a lot more, not just for consumption now, but to refill their SBR.


Again, I’ll defer to Josh and Tracy more about China. I’m actually much more knowledgeable about Japan than I am about China, but from a perspective of what they’re likely to do there’s, the interesting sort of component of Chinese culture can be quite monolithic. And if you have sort of spikes in COVID cases and it brings about this sort of I mean, they obviously protested Lockdowns, but there were reports overnight about Beijing looking like a ghost town today because cases were spiking again. 

And you could see this potential sort of spike in demand and then drop off in demand. And that would likely be the last drop off where I suspect that the demand that we saw here in the US. China’s demand, would increase three and four fold of the spike that we saw here in the US. Which is why I kind of agree with Josh’s overall bullish sentiment, even though we haven’t quite reached my downside WTI targets that Tracy and I talked about a couple of weeks ago. From that perspective, though, there is an interesting possibility of this downturn. But to Tracy’s point, I don’t think the Chinese government stalls their purchases because of their SPR usage.

It’s called an SPR globally, but they certainly use it quite a bit more than we do here in the US. To manage their it’s almost like a hedge account for them, where they sort of buy and sell much more rapidly in store. And they do the same thing with copper. And it’s interesting because when the copper market started really getting into the headlines and Spiking three years ago, there was all this talk about copper inventory and copper being used as a currency in China. You can store copper for quite a bit longer than you can store fresh crude oil. It’s got to be rotated.


So that’s a great point. That’s great. Okay, so speaking of SPR, Tracy, you punched out a chart this week on WTI versus SPR, WTI price versus SPR, and it looks like that divergence is pretty stark.

So you guys just mentioned China drawing down their SPR. The US. Has drawn down its SPR. So can you talk us through what this chart means and really what it means for crude prices?


I mean, really what it’s showing is it’s showing all of the times that we’ve pretty much needed to tap into the SBR because of an actual emergency. You can see the difference between when we had to tap the SDR and say war or Katrina or Libya, right, how little that was compared to a non emergency event, that we drew it all the way down. 

Now, Biden has said this really just showing the magnitude of this SPR draw for literally no reason. But if, you know, Biden did say that he was looking to refill it at 68 $72, we have gotten down on that in that area. We haven’t really been able to stay there. But it is possible that we could be looking at, by our calculations, Q2, they could possibly be looking to repurchase if oil prices are down there, which there’s no guarantees with China reopening and sort of seasonal tendencies and what have you. Generally, we see about mid February through summer really starts to kick in higher demand season, and you start refining for summer grades and things of that nature. But it is possible that we could see the US.

Kind of start at least thinking about repurchasing Q 223 again, that would buoy oil prices as well and kind of put a floor underneath it.


Okay, so that kind of reinforces the headline CPI data that I put out there saying, say, March, April, May, things really could tick up. I think it’s silly to expect crude to be down at that level, especially, as you guys say, if China is opening up, if they’re refilling their SPR, if the US. Is refilling SPR, that sort of thing. So that’s all super interesting. Is there anything on energy that we’re missing right now, guys? I just want to make sure going into the end of the year that we’re covering the areas we need to COVID on energy. What are we missing?


So I’ll jump in on this just real quick. On inventories, there’s a lot of uncertainty. Like Tracy was saying, we don’t really know how much oil is in storage in China right now. The way I approach it is just to assume the worst to some extent to to underwrite to that and then, you know, understand sort of upside. And the worst case is, is somewhat bad. Like it looks like for, for oil prices, it looks like there might be two or 300 million barrels of oil and storage in China. 

More than some of the most optimistic analytics services or whatever are showing. And it is, in theory, possible, right? They have big caverns. They could store it like we do. It’s possible. To the extent that that’s the case, it still might not matter, because as China reopens, to the extent on the low end, again, of Chinese consumption, maybe you get another 2 million barrels a day or so of consumption versus where it’s been. And maybe they were importing a million barrels a day to store up until this point. 

So you still have a delta of a million barrels a day. And so if you have 200 million in storage, 200 days from now you’re out of storage and you’ve been importing, you end up with this, like, million or 2 million barrel a day need to draw on world inventories.

But world inventories are really low ex China. So you end up with a situation where on the low end for recovery, you end up with an undersupplied situation. And that’s not assuming any Russia disruptions on the high end, if you end up with a sort of three or 4 million barrels a day. 

Again, what Tracy and Bob were saying about the imports of iron ore and some of these other indicators, if those are right, and we end up on that sort of higher end of demand, which we also saw in the US. As we reopened, I mean, things could get crazy real fast, and China could end up looking like the world leader in oil trading from having imported and stored all of this oil to the extent they have it. 

And then the last thing oil was in Biden’s buy target range, and they were selling from the SPR, not buying it in the last week or two. So that tells me it’s very unlikely that there’s repurchases of oil into the SPR anywhere close to these price levels and anywhere close to these economic circumstances.


I mean, I think most people agreed they probably won’t buy back in the SPR, but they say they will. But I think if that even happens, we won’t see that until at least three of 2023. But again, prices will probably be higher than where they want them to be to purchase it anyway. But I do lean towards the fact that it’s going to be a very long time before they actually start repurchases.


Okay, great.


I have a couple of closing things, if I could, because first of all, I like Josh until he told me he was an economist. But I think that’s more of a strategist. We’re like a strategist, and we’re like the little brother of economists, and we’re always jealous of that. They get to put the economists, find their name and strategists. I could just say I’m a strategist. No, I don’t have to show a degree to do that. But from a perspective of the SPR, I worry about the political, the future political implications of what the administration did. If you look at the exact somebody sent me the exact definition of what the SPR is supposed to be and I guess in that context he used it correctly, right? 

But I think I know at least Tracy and I agree that it was used incorrectly here because it was just a price increase. It wasn’t really an emergency. Prices were coming off on their own. Biden’s own. Treasury put out a report in July that said the SPR release only affect prices somewhere in the range of $13 to they revised that from about $28 to pump.

So it wasn’t even that big of an effect through Biden’s own. Treasury said this it’s not me saying this, but I worry about the future of prices are up, let’s dump a bunch because we’ve got midterms coming. And then next thing you know, there’s a massive outbreak of some sort of geopolitical problem in the Middle East and there’s a real emergency and we don’t have what we need. So that’s my concern about that. The last thing I’d like to say isn’t really energy based, it’s more about CPI. 

I was on a Twitter space yesterday waiting for the mic. I never got the mic, and I heard somebody who I won’t mention say prices are decelerating at an accelerating rate when the exact opposite is actually true. Prices are accelerating at a decelerating rate. They’re not decelerating an accelerating rate. People forget. First of all, I don’t like the Consumer Price Index, but that’s a whole nother podcast. CPI is exactly that. It’s the consumer price index. It’s an index. If you go to the St. Louis Fred website and you look at a chart of CPI, it’s basically always increasing, right? That’s why the Fed’s target is a 2% increase in prices.

If we’re in the midst of disinflation, not deflation. And I think sometimes the public doesn’t realize, they’re like, oh, prices are coming down. No, they’re actually not. The rise in prices is actually slowing down, but they’re still rising. It’s like if you went to buy a car for $22,000, I don’t know where you’d get that, but and you go the next month and it’s up $23,000, and then you go the next month, that’s up 23,100. Prices didn’t go down, they just increased at a slower rate. And I’m going to be saying this everywhere I appear from now because I think the public’s misunderstanding of what’s happening with inflation, maybe I’m going to affect sentiment if I say it too much. Josh, I don’t know. But that’s the issue I have in terms of CPI specifically, and energy is obviously a huge part of that.


Well, I tweeted out almost the exact same thing this week about CPI, about inflation, and inflation isn’t falling right. The rate of price rises is slowing and there’s just a huge misunderstanding of that. So before we close up, as we go into these last ten or so trading days of the year. What are you guys thinking about over the next couple of weeks? Is there anything that’s on the top of your mind as the year closes? Josh, let’s start with you.


Sure. So people have talked a lot about this. We haven’t talked about this yet. The divergence in between oil prices and oil and gas stock prices, especially on the large cap and mega cap side. And I think people forget that commodity prices other than the spot price are not predictive. The forward curve is not predictive. It’s terrible. It’s used as a hedging mechanism that’s used as a prediction mechanism. Equities are forward looking and they’re not perfect, but they’re one of the best prediction mechanisms that we have. 

And so energy stocks, oil and gas stocks are telling us that oil prices are likely to be higher, similar to your analytics software and the pundits and what. The sentiment is terrible in saying that oil prices will be lower and the price has deviated in the short run with the equities. So it does look like the more likely scenario, just even using that heuristic, is that oil prices go higher again, ignoring all the fundamentals and whatever. And so the interesting thing is, if that’s right and oil prices go higher, it might send those oil and gas stocks even higher.

There’s sort of this sort of soros reflexivity that happens with those sorts of things. So I think it’s worth touching on. Many people are posting about it, talking about how they need to converge. And actually I just think you got to understand what they are and what they are.


That’s a good point. Tracy, what are you thinking about going in last two weeks now?


That chart is everywhere. To be honest, I’m still looking very closely at open interest in the oil and gas mark, oil in particular. A lot of length has come out of that contract. People just aren’t interested. A lot of people took profits because it was one of the more profitable commodities. Right. Over the last year or two years, we haven’t really seen anybody actively short that market short. 

Open interest has actually declined a little bit, but not as much as length. So if people get interested in this market again, there’s a lot of room to the upside if people jump in because that length has been taken out of the market. So I’m watching that towards the end of the year in particular, see what happens after the beginning of the year. See if this market find some more interest.


Okay, all three of you are being pretty subtle about your expectations for energy prices. Bob, why don’t you close out? What are your expectations going into the last two weeks of the year?


First of all, I agree. I think there’s almost I shouldn’t say this, but I think there’s almost no way energy prices continue lower on the crude oil side and natural gas is doing what natural gas is going to do. So I think overall energy prices go up. Electricity prices are going up. And given that backdrop, if the three of us are right, by the way, if I mischaracterize what you two think, please jump in. If energy prices go higher, there’s very little chance in my view, that of the three possible scenarios for the Fed that the right one can come true in the Fed’s view. 

So I’m actually more looking at EPS estimates for equities need to come down, earnings estimates need to come down, and the Fed is either going to have to a admit to a higher inflation target or B accept a higher level of inflation without saying so, or equities have to make a new low. And when that low happens, if that low happens, I should say if it’s a very good opportunity for industrials and consumer staples to sort of get in and kind of ride the recession wave back up as the economy itself restrains inflation by us going into some sort of a shallow or deep recession.

The other two things I would say is there any way I can get an economist title without putting in the work that Josh did? If anyone knows how to do that, absolutely. Just put it on your bud, Josh, don’t let me do that. You actually worked for it. And then the last thing I would say, if anybody wants to send me a bottle of Blantons, I’m willing to give you a free trade that is guaranteed to either make or lose money.


Hey Bob, just kind of latch on to what you just said about energy prices rising and industrials. So we’ve seen through 2022, a lot of industrials and retail firms raise price. Okay. And consumers have accepted that price. But if you’re saying that commodities are generally going to rise yes. Does that mean that we’ll see margins compress for those industrials okay?


So in the short term, consumers are.


At a threshold where they can’t accept higher prices soon.


So if you guys remember, you look back to the Great Recession in 2008, the last thing people did was let their car be repossessed. That kind of shows you the inelasticity of energy demand in general. People were defaulting on their mortgages before they let their car payment go into default. So from that perspective, people might be overestimating how far demand for energy can drop even in a recession. I’m making a correlation that probably isn’t accurate, but just anecdotally that’s something that we’ve seen. And it’s the same thing with heating and cooling your home. 

People are probably less likely to stop heating their home. They’re probably more likely to accept cooling at a little bit hotter of a temperature. So going into summer it may not be as apparent, but I do think that when we come out of it, industrial utilities, energies and consumer staples are going to lead us as most times coming out of recession simply because of the first things that people start spending again on and they’re the last things that people stop spending on. So I like those things coming out of what I expect to be a fairly decent drop and end of the first quarter, beginning of second quarter next year.


Very good, guys. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. This has been fantastic. So have a great weekend. And have a great weekend. Thank you.

Week Ahead

The Week Ahead – 08 Aug 2022: Low energy prices, China tech & stimulus, equity upside?

Learn more about CI Futures here:

Energy has taken a huge downside hit this week, in the wake of the OPEC+ announcement, US refining capacity utilization declining, etc. What’s happening? Why are we seeing differences between physical and paper crude markets?

Also, there was talk months ago about a new energy supercycle. Is that real? With China-Taiwan-US tensions tighter than they’ve been for years, we’re seeing Chinese tech stocks just muddle through. We haven’t seen a major hit – as if China tech will see major fallout from these tensions – but we also haven’t seen a major bump – as if China is expected to stimulate out of this to win domestic hearts and minds.

Also, could possible government intervention to solve China’s mortgage credit crunch be holding back the broad stimulus we’ve all expected for a couple of quarters?

Key themes:

1. Low energy (prices)

2. China tech & stimulus

3. Equity upside?

4. What’s ahead for next week?

This is the 29th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

Follow The Week Ahead panel on Twitter:




Time Stamps

0:00 Start

0:30 Key themes for this Week Ahead episode

1:51 Moves we’re seeing in energy markets – why there’s a fall?

3:39 How much of the energy moves is seasonal?

6:58 EIA computer “glitch” problem

7:24 What happened in the refining capacity now at 91%?

8:30 Capacity utilization fall – is this a statement about the denominator or falling demand?

10:14 Is the commodities supercycle happening?

12:13 China and technology – KWEB is not falling or rising

14:00 Will the Chinese government help real estate developers? Will that take away from possible tech stimulus?

16:58 Viewer question: Is there still upside benefit to SPY?

22:18 How will be the start of the Fed pivot — 25 or 50 bps rise?

24:45 What’s for the week ahead? Listen to the podcast version on

Spotify here:


TN: Hi everyone. Welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash, and today we have Tracy Shuchart and Albert Marko joining us.

We’re going to walk through a number of topics today. First is energy prices, low energy prices. We want to understand why that’s happening and what’s around the corner. Next, we’re looking at China tech and potentially the stimulus in China and how that will impact tech.

Finally, we want to look at equities. What remaining upside is there in equities right now, given the environment we’re in? Before we get started, I would like to ask you to like and subscribe to the channel. Also give us your comments. We’re very active and respond to comments, so please let us know what you’re thinking. If there’s something else we should be covering, let us know.

Also, we have a promo for our subscription product, CI futures, right now for $50 a month. With CI futures, you get equity indices, commodities and currencies reforecast every week. And you get all of those, plus about 2000 economic variables for the top 50 countries reforecast every month. So please check it out on the link below. $50 a month for CI Futures.

Okay, so guys, we’ve had a really weird week with the Pelosi visit to Taiwan, geopolitics and the risk associated with geopolitics is kind of back on. We’re not really sure exactly how that’s going to resolve, but I’m really interested in the moves we’re seeing in energy, Tracy, and we’ve seen energy really fall throughout the week and I’m curious why we’re seeing that, particularly with crude, as we’ve seen geopolitics dial up. I know there’s not a perfect correlation there, but we typically see crude prices rise a bit with geopolitics. 

TS: I think, it’s a combination of a lot of things. First of all, we’ve had which is ramped up to 200 million barrels being released to the SPR, which is fine initially, but we’re looking at the cummulative effect of this. In fact, we’re releasing so much so fast that now those barrels are actually finding their way overseas because we have nothing else to do with them. We can’t process that much right now.

And so we’re looking at that which is putting a damper kind of on the front end. We’re also looking at the fact that open interest is almost at the lowest in a decade, which means there’s nobody participating in this market. People are just not participating in this market.

In addition, we have physical traders that are completely nonexistent in this market anymore. They’re all trading via clear port on the OTC market as I’ve talked to actual physical traders, they don’t even want to be involved in this volatility.

And so that’s also taken a lot of open interest out of this contract. So this contract is easily pushed around because there’s just not of liquidity.

TN: How much of that is seasonal? How much of that is because it’s early August, late July, early August?

TS: It is seasonal. I will give you that because this summer is the summer lag. We generally see more participants in getting in September, and we’ll have to see how that kind of plays out.

But in general, the market is, this whole dive started in, was this market was factoring, we’re going to have this huge recession. Right? It’s going to be low berry session. Demand is going to go up.

And then we have this EIA discrepancy. The discrepancy was on gasoline demand. Actual gasoline demand versus what the DOE is reporting. Right? And ever since they had that “glitch,” where we had two weeks of no reporting whatsoever, those numbers suddenly changed.

And now they’re putting gasoline demand at below 2020 numbers at the height of COVID, which is to me,

not to sound conspiratorial, but to me, there’s just no way that we are below 2020 numbers. Right. And if you look at Gas Buddy demand, which is they look at a kind of a different look. What they look at is how

many gallons are being sold per station across the nation. And that’s how they kind of factor in what demand is. DOE is at the midpoint, right? So it’s like the midstream level. But those numbers should

eventually correlate. That discrepancy should eventually get together.

TN: So Gas Buddy is showing demand still growing, and DOE has it kind of caving. Is that correct? You know what I’m saying?

TS: Okay, yes. First of all, I think we need to look at the 914 numbers, the monthly numbers, which are definitely lagging. They’re too much behind, but they have been correct on production. Right? So I think they have weekly production at 12.1 million. Last 914 monthly report was at 11.6 million. So it is lagging information. But we have to start really looking at these weekly numbers and what the DOE is reporting and what they’re not reporting.

TN: If anything, what I’m seeing just observationally traffic seems to continue to grow. Like, I’m seeing more people going back into the office. I’m seeing more people take drives where they wouldn’t have taken long drives before. So what we’re seeing out of DOE doesn’t really match with what I’m seeing observationally. I could have selection bias, but it just doesn’t seem to match what we saw in April, May

of 2020. 

AM: Tracy is absolutely spot on on that. I actually had a few people note that the EIA computer “glitch” problems set all this thing off in the DOE inventory shenanigans. It’s starting to gain more traction with everybody. It just doesn’t add up. When things don’t add up, bad data comes in, and it’s politically advantageous for the moment try to get gasoline down, going into midterms. I mean, Tracy is absolutely 1000% spot on that assessment.

TN: So, Tracy, I want to ask you a couple of questions. We’ve got a chart on refinery capacity utilization, and it shows capacity utilization at about 91%. So last month we were talking about being at 94%. Now it’s at 91%. What’s happened? Has the Denominator going? 

TS: Well, that’s not actually a bad thing. Let me tell you that. Refineries operating at 94% 95% leads to a lot of problems. You’re going to see problems with maintenance, you’re stretching that capacity. Personally, I love anything over 90, 91. I’m much more comfortable with than 94 95%, which we got to, which is very stressing to me because you’re stressing those refineries, right. And that’s going to lead

to problems down the road. So for that to come down, it’s not a big deal to me, to be honest. Anything above 90, great. We’re good.

TN: Okay, so we’ve seen gasoline prices fall as we’ve seen capacity utilization fall. And so is that a statement about the, say, the denominator meaning the available capacity, or is that a statement about falling demand?

TS: I don’t think it’s a statement about necessarily anything. Okay. To be honest. Is the expectations around say that the gasoline price falling, is it expectations maybe around recession, but given the job numbers we got? Expectations about being around recession right when we’re seeing these prices fall. And I think we have a lack of participants in this market, especially lack of participants in the physical markets. The physical guys, like guys that trade for BP and Shell, which is where they’re just not in this market anymore because it’s too volatile, it’s too pulled around, and they can’t deal with that right now. So there’s nothing structurally changed about the physical markets right now.

You have to understand, too, is that the paper markets far outweigh the physical markets, meaning that there’s far more paper barrels traded than there are actual available physical barrels on the market

to be traded.

And when we look at a contract like WTI, which is actually physically deliverable, and we look at the market participants that are involved in deliverability, that is shrinking, shrinking margin, and then you look at something like the Brent contract, is completely just a financial contract.

So there’s a lot of hanky panky goingon in that market.

TN: Okay, now one last question while we’re on crude. Months and months ago, we kept hearing about this emerging commodities super cycle. And as we’ve seen commodities fall over the past few months, there have been some questions about is that really happening? So where are you? Do you think we’re in the early stages of another super cycle or do you think we’re just kind of modelling through?

TS: I actually think we’re still in the early stages of a super cycle. I mean, I think we’re kind of like I think my best comparison sake would be like, let’s look at the 1970s, right? And everybody’s looking at that ’73, ’74 when the oil embargo happened. But I actually think we’re closer to the ’67, ’69 era where we saw inflation kind of hit. Right. They tried to hide us into a recession, and then we had another peak in ’73, ’74 because issues with the market and then we have a third wave. So I actually think we’re only in this first wave of an inflationary cycle as far as commodities are concerned, okay.

Because we’re still in a structural supply deficit across not just the energy sector, but base metals, agriculture, et cetera. but you have to think your input cost for metals and for agriculture, it’s all energy.

So if energy is high to see inflation in energy costs, then you’re going to see inflation across all

of these commodities. We’re at $90. We were at negative $37 two and a half years ago. So to think that we’re crashing? You know.

TN: Okay, let’s switch over to China and technology and kind of talk through a few things with Albert. Obviously. Albert, we spoke earlier about Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan and US. China Taiwan affairs, and I’d recommend anybody view that that we published on Tuesday night US time. But I’m curious, Albert, as we look at and we’ve got KWEB up on the screen, which is an ETF of Chinese technology companies, it’s kind of middling. It’s not really falling. It’s not really rising. It seems like people are a little bit uncertain about what’s happening with Chinese tech. We have the closures of different cities. We have one of the big manufacturing cities that’s going zero COVID now.

And we obviously have the China Taiwan issues. What are your thoughts on China tech right now? And what should we expect over the next, say, two to three months?

AM: Well, over the next two to three months, I think China is going to be forced to stimulate. Once they stimulate names like KWEB, Alibaba actually, I really like Alibaba. There’s some good things happening there. I mean, the delisting stuff is a risk and it’s always been a risk, mainly because Gensler and Yellen have been trying to suppress the Chinese to stop stimulus because it hurts the United States and their plans to fight inflation.

So, yeah, I’m really bullish on KWEB. I really like it at 25 26 level. It’s not that far from where we are right

now. For the Chinese tech, it’s like, I don’t really think domestically, there’s too many problems domestically for KWEB. For me, it’s just all the delisting risk and that shot, the warning shot across the bow from the US. 

TN: Okay, so when you talk about stimulus, I want to understand a little bit of the substitutionality of stimulus. So if we have this big mortgage crisis in China where owners aren’t paying their mortgages,

and that’s even worse on the property developers, and there are trillions of dollars at risk there, do you think the Chinese government will intervene  and help those property developers? And if they do, will that take away from stimulus that could help technology companies?

AM: They will step in, but they’ll step in selectively for the most systemically important property developers. Not just the best connected, but the ones that touch the most debt and whatnot. So they don’t want things getting out of control. So for sure they will step in. I don’t think it will take away from the tech

sector at all. I think that the Chinese have been pretty pragmatic and diversifying how they get money into the system, whether it be other Asian countries, the US, Europe and whatnot. But they’re definitely in line right now to stimulate the economy going into the fall.

TN: Okay, great. If you’re trying right now and you’re talking about stimulus, that is to make up for kind of the COVID Zero close downs, but it’s also, I would assume, kind of winning some of those hearts and minds going into the big political meetings in November. Right, so you’ve whipped up nationalism with the Taiwan thing over the last couple of weeks and now you need bridge to get you to November. So you’re going to put out a bunch of stimulus to keep people fairly nationalistic and obedient. Is that fair to say?

AM: Yeah, that’s definitely fair to say. I think going even a little bit further than that is keeping the circle around Xi happy. That nexus of connected families that make money off the tech sector manufacturers. They need to be able to solidify it economically and stimulus will be targeted like that. And so when you say keep those families happy. You’re talking about skimming, you’re talking about sweet deals on contracts and that sort of thing.

TN: And I just want to make clear that doesn’t only happen in China. That happens in every country, right?

AM: Oh, every country you can imagine that happens. How politically connected with the donors, the political parties and so on and so forth. I just want to make clear to viewers. Like everybody. 

TN: Yeah, I just want to clear to viewers, we’re not just picking on China. This happens everywhere. 

AM: No, this is nothing negative towards China whatsoever. This literally happens in every country in every single country. Yeah.

TN: We had a question come in from a regular viewer talking about one of Sam’s calls. He’s not here, so he can talk behind his back today. The question was, Sam had talked about risks being to the upside a while ago for SPY, for the S&P 500. Now that we have had a mini rally, does he still see higher as the path of least resistance or is the risk reward fairly balanced here? I mean, we’ve seen a really nice uptick in the S&P and equities generally. Do you think there’s still upside benefit, or would you be a little bit hesitant in terms of the broad market?

AM: I’m bullish for a week, basically going a week, maybe two. I think that the CPI number is probably going a little bit lower than people think. And then all the peak inflation people are going to come out the woodwork and then they’re going to talk about Fed pivot, whether it’s real or not. I don’t think the Fed actually pivots. I think they just build a narrative of a pivot, if that makes sense, to rally the market.

But going forward, the economy is not a good footing. The job numbers are just not accurate. It’s a purely political headline for Biden going into the midterms. CPI is going to follow the same suit. They’ll probably have a 50 basis point rate hike in September and say that they’re slowing down. And whether it’s real or not. 

TN: I want to question you just to push back a little bit. When you say the economy is not on a good footing, what do you mean? Help me understand how it’s done on a good footing? 

AM: Well, the whole jobs? Listen, 20% of people don’t have a job. 19% of people have two jobs or more. You’re sitting there making this glorified headlines thatBiden is great for the job market and the economy, but it’s just not accurate. We have people that are struggling paycheck to paycheck more than any time in the last 20 or 30 years. So the underlying economy, forget about the top half that are millionaires that are buying whatever, the bottom half of the country is an absolute recession. So that’s what I’m saying the economy is not good.

TS: I mean, I totally agree with Albert. I mean, I’ll make a case for the bullish side. Let’s put it this way. So not a single trades work this year. Average hedge fund scrambling on how to salvage this year. There’s no other choice, really, but to get long. I mean, we have long going girlfriends been shell shocked. Font, shitty year. Value guys waiting to buy the dip in cyclicals. So I think that until when November comes and we have redemptions and these guys are faced with losing money from clients, I think that right now they have no other choice than to buy the dip, which is really interesting because that coincides with midterms. But not to put on my tinfoil hat there. So that’s my case for we may see a little bit higher than people that anticipate.

Even though I agree we’re still in a bear market. Albert makes a ton of good points, totally agree with

him 100% on that. But for the next few months, we may be looking at different kinds of things, especially because we also have the CTAs that are still super short.

So we have the possibility that we could see a short squeeze now if hedgies start

eating up the market and… This is exactly what the administration wants to see, because they want to see the S&P higher going into Midterm electric if it makes them look great. Of course.

AM: And Tracy is right. And this goes back into the oil numbers from the DOE and the EIA Shenanigans. They lower gas, they try to get inflation lower. They rally the market going into Midterms. It’s just the way it is. Now, going back to the economy, real quick, Tony, I see across the street the US consumer credit was $40 billion. I mean, people are spending and collecting debt like it’s going out of stock.

TN: That’s not a good number. You saw my tweet this last week about the $15 grapes. I mean, that sounds ridiculous, but people are having to. I talked to people about their electricity bills and they’re doubling and tripling over the last few months. And so people are having to do this. Rents are doubling in New York and so on and so forth. So it’s hitting everybody. And people are having to tap into consumer credit just to make ends meet.

AM: Just for the viewers, Tony, the forecast was 27 billion. It came in at 40.

TN: Wow. That’s a slightly overestimate, I would say. Let me ask you a quick question about the Fed pivot. Okay. You say the Fed is going to kind of act like they pivot but not actually pivot. So would that mean and I know everyone’s been on Twitter today or on social media saying, oh, the job’s number puts 75 basis points in focus again, all this stuff. But would the start of a pivot be 50 or 25 basis point rise?

AM: The start of a narrative of a pivot would be 50. But let’s just be honest. Inflation is not going away. They can fake a CPI number, maybe one, maybe two months. But come October, December, January, and inflation is raging, nine point whatever, 9.5%, 10%. They are going to have to keep going 75 basis points. 

TN: So when you talk about a pivot, you’re talking about the beginning of a pivot, maybe a 50 basis point rise in September or something just to kind of ease nerves off a little bit?

AM: Yeah, that’s exactly what it is. It’s just the beginning of a narrative to move the market. It’s all it is. 

TS: Okay, if we went 50 instead of or even 25 instead of 75, which the market is expecting, the barn market would freak out. 

TN: Now what happens to commodities in that case, Tracy, if we’re in September and we go 50? You’re

going higher.

AM: Okay, this is the problem I keep telling screaming people and why I didn’t think that’s why I didn’t think this rally was a good idea is because all of a sudden now you’re going to create this stupid pivot narrative and do 25 or 50 basis points. But then, like Tracy just mentioned, commodities are going to rip. What’s that going to happen then? We’re going to have stage two of inflation coming around in 2023. That’s going to make this like nothing.

TN: Yeah, but as long as it happens after November, I think. Everything’s fine. Right. No, seriously, we have to think we’re in that. We’re in those closures.

TS: You have to think everything is political right now. So every decision is political right now and you have to factor that into kind of your investment thesis right now.

AM: Tracy’s absolutely right. I was just talking to a client. I said I don’t want to hear anything after November of this year. This era is this era right now. After November is a different era. We’ll talk about that accordingly in the next month. But until now it’s just a pure political game.

TN: What are you guys watching in particular for the week ahead?

AM: CPI. I think the CPI comes in a little bit lower than people expect and will rally the market for another 100 points. Like a seven handle or something? I think it’ll be a seven handle.

TS: I mean, everybody is watching CPI, I agree. I’m watching CPI as well. I think what’s really interesting going into this next week is I would start looking at Basin Industrial Metals and miners at this point because I think that they are lagging crude, they have been lagging crude oil. But we’re kind of starting to see a little bit of turnaround. So my focus really is going to be on base and industrial metals.

Week Ahead

The Week Ahead – 03 Aug 2022: Pelosi, China, & Taiwan

Learn more about CI Futures here:

There’s all this buzz around Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan. What is she doing there? Why all the stress? Why is China upset?

Also, Yellen got China to stop the stimulus. If China starts the stimulus, will that be a really good thing for Chinese equities? And what does that do for the CNY?

We also discussed the likelihood now with Pelosi’s visit that China will start stimulating. And what does that mean for oil and gas imports and Europe?

Will China try to hurt US companies that are in China? Do you think they could push against ex-pats in China and make life difficult for them? What are possible aggressive moves that China could take? Like cyberattacks?

There have been some potential whispers of China taking over some of Taiwan’s small islands to make a statement. Is that possible? And will they take it on other countries like India? What is the likelihood of China and the US in direct warfare engagement in the next twelve months?

Listen to Spotify here:

This is the 28th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.

Follow The Week Ahead panel on Twitter:





TN: Hi, everyone, and welcome to the Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash, and we’ve got a special Week Ahead right now. We’re joined by Albert Marko and Dr. Christopher Balding to talk about the Taiwan-China issues around Nancy Pelosi’s visit. 

Before we get started, I want to let you know about a special we’re having for CI Futures. We’re doing CI Futures for $50 a month. With CI Futures, we forecast about 2000 economic variables every month and about 900 market variables (currencies, commodities, equities) every week. That $50 deal is for the next couple of weeks. And you don’t even have to take a year-long commitment. For the next couple of weeks, you do it a month at a time, and it’s $50 a month. 

So let’s get onto the show, guys. Thanks again for joining. I appreciate it. 

I want to get into there’s all this buzz around Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, and I want to take a step back and go, why all the stress? Why is China upset? Because I think there are a lot of loaded assumptions in the discussions that are happening. So can you guys talk us through a little bit, maybe? Chris, if you want to start, why is China so upset about this?

CB: So there’s the full history of the claim of Taiwan as Chinese territory. They refer to it as a Chinese province. That’s the general background. I’m going to assume that most of your listeners or watchers already know that.

However, if we jump ahead to this specific visit, to be honest, I’m a little bit mystified as to why this

specific visit has turned into this small crisis. Trump was sending a cabinet secretary and undersecretaries. There’s been a steady stream of Congresspeople to Taiwan. So why this specific visit? I think there’s very reasonable speculation we can go through those. But why this specific visit has turned into what it has, I think there are probably only a couple of people that could answer that question. 

TN: Okay, Albert?

AM: Well, to expand on that, I can understand why the Chinese have a little bit more drama involved in this visit simply because the economic situation in China at the moment is so dire for Xi that they need a little bit of a distraction just to get the headlines out of the way at the moment.

TN: Yeah, I think that’s a good point. And when I think about this, it’s, yes, you can go back into all the history and the UNC, the 1971 and all of this stuff, but I think my view is democrats need a distraction for the midterms. You have the Afghanistan anniversary coming up, all of these things coming up. A bill was just passed that either does or doesn’t raise taxes on a lot of the population. There’s a lot of discussion around that. 

Are we in a recession? Not a recession. I think this is a convenient foreign policy issue for Democrats to grab onto before the Midterms to raise some external issues that are a little bit more mysterious for people, a little more exciting. Will there be a war? That sort of thing. 

And I think, Albert, you’re exactly right. With the November meeting coming up in Beijing, where Xi is supposed to be this golden boy and a lot more power and all this stuff, the new Mao or whatever, I think China’s economy is in a horrific state. I think the provinces and cities are not falling in line with Beijing, and I think politics in China is terrible. So I think this helps galvanize people in China, it helps galvanize people in the US. And I think it’s more of a convenient event than anything.

AM: It is a convenient event. Other issues are going on within China with the actual US.

Fed and Yellen are Yellen got them to capitulate to stop stimulus to fight inflation. So from the Chinese perspective, they’re a little bit they feel a little bit betrayed here. Seeing Nancy Pelosi

nude sunbathing on Taiwanese beaches, it’s like, what are you doing?

TN: Yellen got them to capitulate, to stop safely. So you’re saying Yellen got China to stop stimulus? 

AM: Yeah. I don’t know if it was direct or indirect, but Xi warned them to don’t stimulate while we’re trying to combat inflation. Look what happened to the Russians. And from the Chinese elite perspective, looking at the oligarchs in Russia, being completely isolated from the rest of the world, that’s just something that a pill that they didn’t want to swallow, and they were glad to hold off stimulus up until this event. Now, I don’t know, after this event, the Chinese might renege on that gentleman’s deal, but we’ll see at this point.

TN: Okay, let me pursue that in a minute because that’s interesting. So if you’re saying that the Chinese were holding back stimulus because of a quiet bargain, and they reverse on that and they start, as I’ve been expecting them to do for the last six months, just dump truckloads of cash on the squares in Chinese cities, if they start doing that, that could potentially actually be a perfect thing for Chinese equities, right? 

AM: Well, of course, but it’s negative for the US inflation and the commodities will start ripping. It’s an asymmetric shot against the US. So it’s something that they have in their toolbox and they haven’t used yet, but they certainly could after this.

TN: Okay, and so what does that do for the CNY, guys? If China starts stimulus, if it’s fiscal that appreciates CNY, at least from a textbook perspective, right? 

AM: Yeah, from the textbook perspective, sure. They control whatever they want to set the CNY at, so, I mean, I can’t see them allowing it to shoot up too far just because they are an export-dependent economy. 

TN: Okay, Chris.

CB: I just wanted to circle back to what we were talking about before jumping back to the CNY issue because this has been a real puzzle about they’ve been pretty restrained, and there are all kinds of questions as to why that is. 

And again, I wish we could provide good, solid answers about that. I think a lot of the issues, like with Taiwan and stuff like that, I think there’s like, Tony, you mentioned the economy. I think that’s distinctly possible. I think it’s also one of those issues. If you go back right after the first of the year, they changed the language about reunification and how they were going to solve that problem for the new era. 

What’s the new era? It’s Xi getting the third term. So is it possible that the economy is, like, pushing this along, egging it forward, so to speak? Yeah, I think that’s possible. I also think there’s much more like Xi has staked his credibility on, I’m making China great again, come hell or high water, if I have to drive it off a cliff to do it. That’s part of what you’re seeing.

AM: Yeah, I agree with Balding on that one. The only caveat that I would throw in there is that would be exactly the case up until the Ukraine situation where Russia got their butts handed to them. 30,000 troops lost, flagship battleship gone, sunk.

From the PLA perspective, it’s like, hey, what happens if we lose? Because it’s not a 0% chance, right? What happens if we get decimated? Our military could be set back 50 years, 100 years. And I think that at this point, it’s too much of a cost for them to take an adventure in Taiwan.

CB: Yeah. I will say you and I disagreed on this previously. Like, what were the risks? Let’s assume Ukraine had never happened. I would say there’s probably a not immaterial chance of something

happening with China and Taiwan in the next, let’s say six to 18 months.

At this point, I definitely would push that back a little bit. If something’s going to happen, I think, within the next few years. But absolutely. I think they’re going back to the drawing board because they see what’s happening to Russia in Ukraine, and they’re like, there’s absolutely no way in hell this can happen to us. 

AM: Yeah, they saw Afghanistan as a point where they could probably take some territory away from the US sphere of influence. But then again, Ukraine happened, and that threw everything through, wrenching all the plans. 

TN: Okay, so let’s talk about that a little bit. The Russia-Ukraine angle is interesting. So when sanctions were put on Russia, Russia can do okay without sanctions, not thrive, but can survive. But China is so intermingled in global trade that if sanctions are put on China, it could be very difficult for them. Right. Or what am I missing? 

AM: It could, but they’re the world’s manufacturing base, so it’s like, you put sanctions on them, they’ll put sanctions, they’ll do something asymmetric, and it’ll hurt the West more than the West can hurt China, to be honest. I mean, The US can handle it. The Europeans can’t. They’re already in dire rates. 

CB: The other thing that I would add to that is people make the sanctions argument. I don’t buy the sanctions argument for two specific reasons. One is basically what they import. The bulk of what they import from the rest of the world is raw materials. And that’s not coming from Western Europe, Japan, or other places like that.

Then the high-tech products that they do import, let’s say very high-grade chips, are going into things like iPhones and then being re-exported right away. Okay, so they’re not on an import basis highly dependent on the rest of the world. 

They’ve made two bets with that in mind. Number one is that they can convince people not to block their exports, meaning Chinese exports to their country. Number one. And then also that other countries are so dependent upon them that they can’t. Okay?

What would happen to Walmart during the Christmas season if they couldn’t buy from China? Okay.

It’s a simple example, but it does throw a monkey wrench in there. 

AM: Caterpillar is another one. The Chinese have done a marvelous job of using US agricultural companies against the US political system. So they’ve got a noose around them. Buick also. GM, Buick, Caterpillar. I can name half a dozen companies. Yeah.

TN: My main focus in terms of sanctions was food. These other things, of course, they’re importing goods, really, largely to be transformed and re-exported. Food is the main issue that I would think would be damaging to China, potentially. 

AM: Yeah, that was always one of my main points of contention about a war starting with Taiwan is those ports being shut down in the eastern part of China, it would be devastating. They would have food and security problems. The Chinese middle class has been growing. They don’t want rice anymore. They want noodles and dumplings. So they have a persistent food issue that just gets worse and worse every year.

TN: Right. Okay, so let’s go into this. I saw Pelosi kind of pull up into that. I think it was the Grand Hyatt she’s staying at in Taipei. And really, what is she doing there? Like official, non Official. What do you think she’s doing there?

AM: That’s a pure distraction from the midterms in the economy in the US at the moment. It’s an easy distraction. They know China is not going to do anything outlandish. They’re a pretty pragmatic country when everything is said and done anyway. So it’s like, what negative is there for them, for Pelosi and the Democrats at the moment?

CB: Here’s the only reason I’m going to disagree with you, and you said something very similar earlier, Tony. Here’s. The only reason I’m going to disagree with you is that this assumes a level of evil genius out of the White House and maniacal thinking that I just don’t think they’re capable of, okay? Okay. Again, I could be wrong.

AM: I just don’t see these guys as the evil genius that says, hey, we need a distraction, what can we do?

I don’t think it’s an evil genius. I think that’s a little bit too strong. The game of scapegoating and distractions in the beltway is as old as time itself. The professionals at it. They can see what they want to do to pull people’s eyes away from one issue onto another and they have the media under their grips so they can do anything. They want to distract people. So the evil genius part comes in what are, steps 2, 3, 4, and 5 after this? Because now the Chinese can retaliate and I don’t think the US is prepared for that.

TN: In what ways? 

AM: Well, I mean if the Chinese decide to start simulating next week and commodities start ripping, inflation in, the US is going to have a ten print, 10% print on CPI come October, November, then what? You’re in the smack middle of the midterms looking at 10% inflation and you’re losing 50, 60 seats in the House and you’re losing the Senate and then you have the Republican take over and start throwing out hearings against Joe Biden every week like they did Trump. It’s chaotic. 

TN: Okay, so that’s an interesting scenario. Okay, I want to ask about that and then I want to ask another question about a potential reason for visiting. But you’ve mentioned that a couple of times. So what’s the likelihood, since they’ve said that they’ll undertake serious pushback, is there a likelihood that they’ll do that? Do you put that at a 50, 60, or 70% likelihood or do you think they’ll continue to hold?

AM: I think after this visit by Nancy Pelosi, it’s a greater than 50% chance that the Chinese start stimulating a little bit earlier than scheduled with commodities ripping.

TN: Okay, so that means more oil and gas imports, more pressure on gas prices, and diesel prices. All this would hurt Europe too? 

AM: Oh, of course. Europe has got massive energy issues going forward and they’re unsolvable within six months. 

TN: Okay, so so far I’m hearing potentially bullish Chinese equities and potentially bullish commodities, particularly energy, commodities, and industrial metals, right?

AM: Oh, absolutely, yeah. Full discretion, I’m going into KWEB. I have Baba at this low with this Pelosi landing. So for me, it’s just like Chinese equities have been battered with no stimulus. We’re down to the point. Yeah.

TN: Okay, so on tech, you mentioned tech. Is it possible that with the chips act just passing in the US, this is the one that supports semiconductor companies for putting operations in the US? Is it possible that there is a message being passed to TSMC or any of the strategic industry guys in Taiwan by Pelosi and her staff? Is that a possibility? And if so, what do you think it would be? 

CB: Absolutely. I would say that that’s one of the things I don’t know if you caught this statement from the chairman of TSMC, but he gave an interview just a day or two ago and he said, “China, if you invade, like all of our plants on the island are dust, they’re worthless. There’s nothing there.” Because I can guarantee you that. I’m sure that the US Air Force would have the coordinates for every TSMC plant that it’s like, hey, we’re going to make sure that China doesn’t get them. I’m sure that TSMC, at this point, their reputation is being a pretty well-run company, very attuned to security issues. And so I’m sure that they have multiple redundancy plans and multiple security plans to address that if China is locked in. So you have to think that TSMC, all the way down to all their key suppliers and things like that, are in some type of meeting here with Nancy.

AM: Yeah. I’m not very keen on this chip sack bill. I think it’s just fireworks and stringers and ticker tape raid. But there are EPA issues to deal with when chip-making also. So no matter what, whatever they want to throw out for legislation, as long as the EPA is hampering manufacturing in the United States, manufacturing is going nowhere, at least for the next five to ten years in the United States. So this chip act, although it gives a little bit of pressure, don’t think it’s going to be that big of a driver in the next five to ten years. 

TN: Okay. I want to talk to you guys a little bit about the pushback that China may give to US companies. So China already blocked a $5 billion battery investment from a Chinese company in the US. That was just announced today, and those batteries were supposed to support Tesla and Ford, I believe. Do you think China may try to hurt US companies that are in China? Could they directly take action against, say, Tesla or GM or Ford or GE or any of the American companies that are sitting in China? Do you think they could push against, say, ex-pats in China, and US ex-pats in China and make life difficult for them? 

Because if we look, for example, at what happened in Russia, we have a lot of Western companies that have abandoned their operations in Russia over the last eight months. Right? Is it possible that American companies get pushback from the Chinese government? 

Because if I think of what the Chinese government did to Japanese companies in 2012 if you remember that. It was very aggressive. They were instigating protests against Japanese companies, Japanese expatriates, and Japanese government officials. Could they instigate that against the US? Companies? And could they push us Companies to just give up their operations in China? 

CB: Well, the only way I would rephrase that is how would that differ from normal standard operating practice? Even within the past couple of years, there’s been a massive flood of not just Americans, but all foreigners out of China. And these are everything from journalists to just basic school teachers, English teachers. Okay? So it doesn’t even matter if you’re a sensitive national or in the sensitive industry or what China deems is sensitive. 

This goes for businesses as well. You heard stories about companies saying, oh, well, I have 10 million, $50 million of profits I can repatriate. I’m going to close down my China plant and go to Vietnam. And basically what they do is they just freeze everything and said, oh, you have an unpaid tax bill, coincidentally, the same amount of money that you were going to repatriate. And so they just have to walk away from everything or sell it for one dollar or something like that. 

So when you talk about that, I think that’s entirely fair. I think that’s going to happen. I think the only people that are going to effectively remain there till the end are the Shells of the world that didn’t get out of Russia until the bombs and the missiles started flying. I think it’s going to be the same with China.

TN: Are you saying that you think some US companies will in the next, let’s say, two to three years, abandon their China operations? Do you think that’s feasible? 

CB: Oh, yeah.

TN: Okay. 

CB: I think it’s already been happening. It’s not announced. You see a couple of announcements here and there. You hear about many more talking to people that are still there. But yeah. 

TN: Albert, what do you think about that? 

AM: Yes, they will. There’ll be certain companies that they go after depending on whatever political calculations they can throw at the US, for sure, without question. They’ve done this. I mean, Christopher said they’ve done this in the past. Nothing new. 

TN: Right. So how would that start? Would they try to push aggressively to localize leadership? I know a lot of that leadership is already localized, but would they almost make it mandatory for leadership of, say, US companies to be Chinese and then kind of cascade that through? Or what would the early phases of that look like?

AM: I think the early phases would be phantom tax violations or some kind of fines or fees that just pop up out of Chinese mountains. Who knows? Do you know what I mean? So I think that’s the first thing you’d want to look at if they start doing it.

CB: Yeah. And again, what you’re talking about, I think, is basically what’s been happening for the past couple of years is whether it’s the phantom tax bill, whether it’s all senior leadership has to be Chinese or party members or all those kinds of things. I mean, when you’re asking about that in the future, it is like, well, how would that differ from the past two to three years?

TN: Right. It feels like we’re on the precipice of that. And some of us have been talking about kind of the end of the Asian century for probably the last five to eight to ten years. And China is what seems slow, but very rapid decline in terms of its ability to grow. Not the fact that it’s not already huge, but its ability to continue to accelerate growth. That’s gone. Those days are gone. Right.

And when growth stalls out, the opportunity becomes a zero-sum game. And it’s about market share. It’s about getting your piece of the pie. Not a growing pie, but a stagnant pie. And that’s when things get very difficult in authoritarian countries. Right?

CB: Well, I think to add upon that, they were following the Asian growth model of build, in simple terms, run large trade surpluses, controlled currency, build apartments. It’s a pretty tried, true path. But one of the things that are very different is if Malaysia runs a large fiscal surplus, nobody cares. If Taiwan runs a significant trade surplus, some people care, but whatever. 

For every percentage point of GDP in trade surpluses that China runs at this point when you’re the second largest economy in the world, that is a massive, massive number, not just against your economy, but against the global economy. And that’s going to create massive, massive dislocations elsewhere. 

And then the other thing is that when your only source of growth is basically building apartments, and now they’ve got like 20% to 25% of these apartments all over the country, empty and household debt that is significantly above the OECD average. It doesn’t make any sense, and this is what they’re running up against. Okay.

AM: To take that a step further, it’s like if you have low growth and your economy starts in the waiver, how do you fund a growing military to combat the United States on a global level? The math doesn’t add up. Very difficult.

TN: Okay, I want to move next on to things like cyberattacks. Chris, I know that you’re very focused on kind of the IT side of what the Chinese government is doing. Can you talk us through some of the potential, maybe aggressive moves that China could take in the wake of this?

CB: Sure. So there are all kinds of things. And one of the things, you saw today where they were looking at, they shut down the Taiwanese Prime Minister’s website. But that’s, to be honest, small potatoes. 

The type of thing that you would look at, and you’ve seen this a little bit in Ukraine is where they went after things like nuclear reactors and other things like that. So if you’re looking at this, one of the types of things that you would be looking at would be, for instance, Taiwan being an island, there’s a handful of spots where cables come ashore. So what would you be looking at? Because if you wanted to make it hard on Taiwan, that might be something that you would go after. 

If you had the capability, and they are very likely due to some capacity, you would be looking at putting bugs in the TSMC type of production capacity. So those would be the types of things to narrow it to Taiwan. But generally speaking, if you aren’t being hacked by China, that basically just renders your place in the universe irrelevant, almost, because they’ve pretty much gone after everybody.

TN: Right. Albert, what do you think? 

AM: Yeah, I mean, the Chinese are prevalent in the cyber terrorism space. They’re out there stealing trade secrets and corporate secrets all over the place, especially in the United States. And I don’t foresee that slowing down at all. If anything ramping up, and they’re good at it, and we have lacked security in the United States, and it needs to be tightened up.

TN: Right. And we intentionally, for the viewers, did not record this on Zoom. That’s an indication of some of the thoughts around there. 

Now, guys, there are some islands between Taiwan and China, and there have been some potential whispers of China taking over, say, some islands, some of Taiwan’s small islands to make a statement. Do you think that’s possible?

AM: It’s possible. I don’t understand why they would try even risking that. What if they lose a few ships?

What if they lose 1000 or 2000 troops? It’s like all of a sudden you look weak and then you’re going to be forced into a position to do something bigger. It would make no sense from my perspective.

CB: The only reason I kind of disagrees is that there’s a handful of some of these very small islands, so I doubt that they have any military hardware there. And some of them are literally, I think, as close as like 10 miles off the Chinese mainland like that. They’re just that close. And so just as a symbolic act, something like that wouldn’t surprise me at all.

AM: It won’t surprise me at all. I’m just saying anything closer to the Taiwanese actual island, I would be wary of seeing the Chinese try to take them. 

TN: I spent a week on one of those islands in 2009 waiting out of typhoon, and it was an experience, but I think it’s feasible. It’s an island off of Taidong, which is no, that’s on the southwest side. They wouldn’t do that. They would do it on the I was on the southeast side. They would do it on the southwest side or the northwest side. But there are lots of islands, very small islands off of Taiwan.

Okay, good. What else I think do we need to be thinking about here? There has been talking of the Biden administration removing trade tariffs and this sort of thing on China. Do you think that could be something that the administration aggressively goes after to kind of compensate China? Or do you think this would maybe solidify those tariffs? 

AM: I don’t think so. Honestly, I would rather see what the rhetoric is around the oil market price cap that they’ve been talking about with G7 and the China terrorists might fall into that realm in negotiations. I would want to see what China’s reaction is to the oil cap at the moment.

CB: I’d be very skeptical at this moment of some type of tariff rollback because for them to… The White House has very badly managed this entire situation where they created a situation where if she went or if she didn’t go, they were losers. They’re not looking bad. And so if they were to roll back tariffs at this point, I think they would get they would get slaughtered, even among the Democrats at this point. So I think that’s very unlikely. 

But look, Jake Sullivan is the guy that a decade ago was proposing, what do you say we walk up to China and give them back Taiwan in exchange for peace in our time? So with these guys, anything is possible.

AM: This is the worst foreign policy cabinet I have ever seen in my life. No one’s even close second at the moment. And that kind of commentary by Jake Sullivan is just unbelievable.

TN: Yeah. Okay, guys, so let me ask you kind of one final question, and you have to answer it with one of these two answers you can’t equivocate in between. Okay. The likelihood of China and the US in some sort of direct warfare engagement in the next, say, twelve months, is it closer to, say, 20% likelihood, or is it closer to 70% likelihood?

AM: 20% in my opinion. 

CB: 20%. 

TN: Oh, good. Okay, so do you think it’s greater than 20% or less than 20%?

AM: I’d say less than 20%. Okay. I would again say less than 20%,

CB: and I would say if you were to draw that out, 24, 36 months, I see it going up, probably steeper as time goes on.

TN: Okay, so that’s fair. So there’s a risk all around, right? We’ve got economic suffering globally. We’ve got inflation globally. We have whatever’s happening post-COVID trying to be figured out globally. We’ve got political uncertainty globally. So we’ve got risk and uncertainty everywhere. Adding a conflict to that mix would not be positive for anybody. 

CB: And the one thing I would say is, even though I say less than 20%, that’s not like a firmly, deeply held conviction. Because if you’re talking about risk, I would have what I would call wide error bands in a lot of these situations. Look, we talk about, like, what is Xi going to do? Xi could say, hey, America is distracted by Ukraine. They got extra troops there. They’re shipping all kinds of weapons. Now’s the time to go to Taiwan. I don’t think people do that. That’s also not crazy to speculate. Yeah,

AM: I would have to agree with that because I never thought that Putin would try to take Kyiv with so few troops, but here we are, him making a vital mistake. And sometimes leaders make bad mistakes because they have a bunch of yes men around them. Yeah. Let me ask you one very quick question.

TN: Do you think there’s a possibility that China kind of takes it out on somebody else? Do they have a dust-up maybe with India to show strength at home while avoiding it with the US? Or something like that? Do they lash out to somebody else so that they can kind of flex muscles at home? 

AM: Yeah, they could, but I mean, honestly, the Indians are not people to be trifled with, to be honest. They are itching to take on China if they show any kind of aggression. So I don’t see who they can pressure to say they’re big, bad China at the moment. I don’t even think they should be doing that. They should be figuring out their economic situation more than anything else. 

TN: Xi Jinping’s role model is Mao. And Mao ultimately was a failure and a pariah in his own country by the time he died. Right. So I don’t think Xi has the sense to understand that Mao was a pariah by the time he died. And so that’s his role model who killed 60 million people through starvation and other things. So this is a problem. We have a guy in the office in China whose role model killed 60 million people directly.

AM: Yes, I understand that, Tony. The problem is the difference is that the CCP has wealthy families now that have almost equal footing as Xi in terms of power, and they can of them if they wanted to. 

TN: Well, and that’s the reality, right? And that’s what nobody talks about. And that may be the backstop for a lot of this stuff.

CB: I’ll tell you this. The rumor mill among Chinese ex-pats, dissidents, et cetera, et cetera, are in hyperdrive this year. Look, it’s hard to know what to believe. It’s very hard to know what to believe. Okay? So I’m not about to push any theories, but there’s a lot of that discussion going around.

TN: Guys, this has been great. Thank you so much for doing this on such short notice. For anyone watching, please put comments below. We’ll take a look at them and we’ll watch them through the next week. If you have any additional thoughts, please let us know, and look forward to seeing how the next thanks a lot.