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Week Ahead

The End of the USD Era? How Natgas Prices, The Fed, and a Multipolar World are Changing the Game?

⚠️ The Inflation Buster Sale is extended until Jan. 7th only! Learn more: 👈

Natgas is down 63% from its high in late August. The average price before Q2 ’21 was $2-3, so we only have 7% more to fall to below $3. While we saw Natgas rise – along with every other commodity – in 2021, prices had begun to fall until Russia invaded Ukraine.

Russia and Ukraine are still at war, but we have this issue with the restart of the LNG terminal. Tracy Shuchart tells us what’s behind the fall in Natgas prices and what she’d look for before expecting prices to stop falling.

The Fed pivot has been wishful thinking for quite a while and Sam Rines has been repeating this for months or so. As the Fed’s minutes were released last week, Sam pointed out that NO MEMBER saw the need for a rate rise in 2023. He stated many times that the Fed has been very clear about its indicators. We see this so often that it seems obvious. Why is this so difficult for some people to see? Sam Rines explains that in this episode.

This week, Sam also made the point that the Fed is maybe “stuck in the middle”. Literally, employment in the middle of the US could be a factor that keeps the Fed from slowing down. Sam explains why the middle is so important.

We’ve seen a lot of chatter in research notes, op-eds, and tweets over the last week stating that the future is a multipolar world. This seems largely based on a call for the decline of the USD and the rise of the petroyuan, etc. Albert Marko walks us through this.

Key themes:

1. Natgas sub $3?
2. The Fed Pivot is Dead
3. Multipolar, Post-USD World

This is the 48th 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. This week we are joined by Tracy Shuchart, Albert Marko, and Sam Rines. Thank you guys for taking the time to join us this week.

It’s been a pretty volatile short week, and there are a number of things we’re talking about. First is Natgas. We’ve seen Natgas come off pretty dramatically this week, and we’re going to talk to Tracy about whether or not we’re going to see Natgas below $3 soon. Also the Fed pivot. There’s been a lot of statements from the Fed, and Sam’s covered that in detail, so it looks pretty dead. But we want to find out from Sam what’s going on. And we’ve also seen a lot of coverage of or a lot of commentary about a multipolar world in the last week or two, which sounds like 2006 era rhetoric or something, but we’re seeing a lot of that kind of rear its head again, and we want to talk through that with Albert. Thanks, guys. Tracy, let’s jump into it with with Natgas. Natgas is down something like 63% from its high in late August. I’ve got a price chart on the screen right now.

The average price before Q two of 21 was in the two to $3 range, 260 or something like that. So I only have 7% more to fall below $3. So we’ve seen it rise with every other commodity in 2021. But of course, with Russia invading Ukraine, we saw that spike up. So Russia and Ukraine are obviously still at war. And then we have this issue with an LNG terminal in Texas with Freeport. So we’ve got that story from Bloomberg up on the screen right now.

Can you tell us what is behind that Nat gas price fall, and what are you looking for in that market for that to stop?


Well, first, again, Freeport, since you already put that up right, which went down in August, and people have been waiting for that facility to reopen because it’s an export facility. What happens is that since that facility is shut down, that landlocked US. Nat gas or that pushed downward pressure on US. Nat gas. Originally they were supposed to reopen in October. Then it was November, then it was December, and now it’s mid January. So that does contribute to a lot of problems. We’re also seeing warmer weather right now in the EU, and stocks are full in the EU. This market has become very complacent. That said, if we’re looking forward, there is a cold front coming in, I think January 22 to the EU. It’s supposed to be really cold for a few weeks. So what traders will be watching is to see how much does their build bring down during that time. But again, yes, the markets have become very complacent. They think that they’re indicative that this crisis is over, but that’s not necessarily true. We’ll have to see this winter how much stock is brought down in Europe due to cold weather.


And you have to remember that in 2022, half of their storage came from cheap Russian gas pipeline. Right. So looking forward to when we have to refill this, they’re going to have more expensive LNG coming in, and that takes longer and it’s more expensive. And then we look at US. Export capacity. It’s still not built out enough for the contracts that we actually signed with the EU. So that may put pressure on US. Nat gas, but that would put upward pressure on European nat gas.


So does that pressure, does it drive the price up or does it just hold the price steady? Is there a mean reversion at some point where we go to, say, 260 or 270 on average and kind of some of these weather issues and Restocking just kind of maintains it? Or do you expect things to go back up to $9 or whatever?


I think we could see a spike. Again, there’s a lot of mitigating factors in this market right now, and we really have to see how much is pulled from storage in Europe at this point. And hopefully Freeport is supposed to open mid January. We’ll see if that happens.




But that would really leave a lot of the downward pressure on prices in the US. Market because it would open us up to being able to export that.


We also saw the Japanese buying a US. Nacas company this past week. Right. Can you talk to us a little bit about that?


Yeah, which makes sense. I mean, Japan has been one of the largest natural gas importers in the world, and they’re very concerned right now about energy security, as most countries are, particularly in Asia. They’ve had some problems with their deal with Russia because they have a joint project together, and due to sanctions, there are some problems involved in that. And so I think that was a very smart move, again, for Japan to kind of secure energy. I mean, they’re looking forward, much more forward than I would say Europe is.


Okay. Very good. So it sounds to me that there’s not really anything decisive coming up in the near term to change the direction, but the magnitude may slow.


Is that yeah, technically speaking, we are very oversold at this point. That said, what we really are going to have to be looking at, or what traders should be looking at moving forward is do we have this reopening of Freeport mid January and this cold front coming in? If it does, traders will be looking at how much draw is is going to happen in in Europe or Bill stock? Okay.


Not to mention, Tony, that planting season for 2020, late 2023 and 2024 is coming up in Fertilizer. You need that gas fertilizer. So that’s that’s something else to look at. I’m not sure exactly how much it weighs on it or a bullish case from that gas by any means, but something will keep your eye on.




But we have had some fertilizer volatility over the past couple of years, right? Oh, yeah. Russian invasion.


Yeah, I’ve been a big mosaic fan, which is a phosphate play, but also nat gas is the other component on the other side for the fertilizers that they use.


Great. Tracy, what’s your thought on fertilizer?


Yeah, absolutely. I mean, I think we’ve seen that obviously pull back, but we’re heading into planting season again starting in the spring. So again, that’s going to be another factor as far as not gas is concerned. And the fertilizer analysts that I’ve talked to say they expect another price spike coming into about March.


Yeah, I believe also there’s going to be a price spike on the fertilizer front because the soil that the farmers haven’t used can’t sit as from what I’m told, can’t sit around not being used for too long. So 23,024 they’ll have to be replanting, those fields.


Interesting. Okay, well, good to know. Thanks for all of that. So let’s move on to the Fed. Sam, you’ve put out a few notes this week about the Fed and the Fed Pivot. Obviously, you’ve been saying for about nine months that the Fed Pivot is kind of wishful thinking. You’ve said it over and over and over again and there haven’t been hasn’t been a lot of kind of listening to it or people really haven’t heeded that necessarily as we see kind of run ups and and hope that we’ll see a pivot. But Fed minutes were released this week and you pointed out no member saw a need to raise rates in 2023. So that from your newsletter is on the screen right now.

So you’ve stated many times that the Fed has been very clear what their indicators are. And honestly, we’re seeing what you’ve said many times, that it’s vu and nominal wages. So vacancies and unemployment as well as nominal wages as well as core services, excluding shelter inflation.

And those have been very clearly stated by the Fed chair in his briefings. So why is it so difficult for people to see these things that seem to be very clearly stated by the Fed?


It’s personal preference. Right. The presuppositions and the initial conditions that you want based on the way you’re positioned. Right. So our brains really like to be correct. So if we can convince ourselves that the Fed is doing the wrong thing and should do something else and ignore the Fed will do something different, then it makes us feel a little bit better. So I think that’s part of it. But I do think that there’s something to be said for when no member of the FOMC sees the need to cut rates in 2023. That should be heated. That’s a pretty one sided trade. And you listen to some of the members of the Fed this week, bostic, who could be considered one of the more dovish individuals. He was still somewhat indeterminate between hiking 25 and 50 at the next meeting. When the most dovish member that I can kind of come up with or one of them doesn’t know if they’re going 25 or 50, that’s, that’s problematic. Right? That’s, that’s something that I think people are somewhat ignoring, particularly market participants, is that the Fed is not the Fed is not pivoting towards being dovish at this point.

Right. That the narrative that they have put out for the last six months has not changed. It has been very consistent and it has been very clear that vacancies to unemployment is a problem because one, when you poach people, you have to pay them a lot more money. So instead of call it the ADP report is really intriguing because they release what the pay rates are for people who aren’t switching jobs. It’s somewhere in the seven percentage range and the people who are switching jobs are getting 15% pay bumps. So the differential there is somewhat stark and somewhat shocking. I think that is somewhat underestimated by people when they look at what’s going on in the labor market. We have had a very good year for job creation and we just finished it off with a number that was well above expectations. And, you know, you can kind of nitpick and say, well, the average hourly wage was only up 30, basis points 0.3%. And you know, that’s that’s a positive for the Fed. Well, yeah, it’s only going to be up .3% because the vast majority of jobs were created in lower paying industries.

When you create jobs in leisure and hospitality, those are below the median. So you’re going to drag down the wage growth just naturally on that front. So I think a lot of it is going to be evolutionary for the Fed, right. They’re going to have to evolve their rhetoric at some point, but they’re not going to do it yet and they’re certainly not going to do it before the February FOMC meeting and they’re probably not going to do it until after the March 1. And that to me is probably not priced in at this point. And what’s really not priced in is the Fed just not really caring about the data until sometime in early 2024.


So you mentioned that in one of your newsletters, I think it was yesterday, talking about on Thursday most recent employment report. You talked about the Fed being stuck in the middle and literally you put some maps, which I put on screen.

Employment in the middle of the US could be a factor that keeps the Fed from slowing rate rises or at least from kind of pivoting. So why is the middle so important? We get so much coverage of what’s happening in Silicon Valley or New York or whatever, but why is the middle so important? And why is the Fed paying so much attention to the middle?


Sure, so the regions to the west were the only ones that lost jobs, according to the ADP report, which is pretty interesting. And the rest of the country made up for it and made up for it in spades. So while all the tech layoffs get a lot of headlines, you never really hear about the opening of XYZ plant in Kentucky or Tennessee, or the building of a plant in Tennessee, right? Those don’t get the headlines that Facebook laying off a few thousand people get. Quite frankly, who cares about a bunch of people getting laid off from Facebook? They probably shouldn’t have had jobs in the first place. Even say I’ll say it about alphabet. I’ll say it about all the tech companies. They overhired and they overhired in the wrong area, and now they’re laying them off. I mean, that’s what happens. It’s called the tech cycle. It’s not that difficult. But middle America is more than making up for it, and it’s making up for it in spades. And I think the Fed actually might be getting caught by the middle of the country. And it’s kind of the revenge of middle America, right?

Middle America always takes the brunt of the BS from the coast in terms of being dominated on monetary policy, being dominated on economic policy, and now they’re the ones kind of driving the ship. And I think that’s really underestimated within people’s frameworks that when we’re isolated to New York and California and see people getting laid off, that doesn’t really matter to the Fed as long as it’s being made up for by people in the middle. And people in the middle are making more money and they continue to spend. And there’s a lot of states in the Midwest and call it just flyover states. There’s a lot of states with a two handle on unemployment. A two handle. So if you want to hire people in middle America, guess what? You’re going to have to pay up if you want to hire a tech worker on the West Coast. Maybe you don’t, but that’s what’s going to get the headlines. But you’re going to have to pay up in the middle.


Well, you may not have to in terms of the rise on the West Coast, but the wages there aren’t necessarily coming down, are they, on the West Coast?


No, they’re not coming down, but it’s all about wage growth at this point. As long as you have a pretty sharp deceleration, you have some people on the market to hire. That’s important, right? Nevada and California have two of the highest unemployment rates in the country.


So is it fair to say that the middle is not say perfectly, but in some extent kind of catching up with the coast in terms of, say, real wages or something or no. No. Okay, so it’s still pretty cheap, but still just wage growth. Okay, very good. What else are we missing? Because look, you have been consistent on all of this. And you have for anybody who’s either listened to us or read your stuff for the last nine months could have seen this play out pretty much exactly as you’ve laid out. So what are people missing? I think the Fed has been fairly boringly, consistent, and you’ve said they would be, and that’s what’s happened. So are there any lines to read between that we should be looking at right now?


Yeah, so I laid it out about a week ago that I think what you really want to look for is the Fed going from a hawk to a grackle, hawkish to grackleish. And if you live in Texas, have lived in Texas, grackles are the worst birds ever because all they do is squawk. They wake you up and you can’t shoot them. They’re not like dubs, so play that all the way through there. But Grackles are an incredibly annoying creature. And when the Fed goes from being pure hawkish to really starting to grackle up its communication, squawk, squawk, squawk. You have no idea what they’re looking at. You have no idea what the metrics are. That’s when they’re getting ready to pause and pivot. And frankly, we have seen none of that right. Until the Fed process is not hawk to dove or dove to hawk, it’s dove, grackle, hawk, hawk, grackle, dove. And until they really begin to confuse their messages, they’re not changing shape. That we simply haven’t seen them begin to change shape. I do think that sometime this year, probably in the call, it the May to June time frame. That’s when you’re really going to begin to see the Grackles come out.

And a lot of confusing language about what they’re watching. A lot of confusing talk about the balance sheet. A lot of confusing talk about the future, the path of Fed Funds rates. And that’s really when I’ll get a little more bulled up on a Fed pause in the length and the structure of the potential to pivot. I don’t think there is a reasonable case to be made at this point. The Fed is going to cut in 2023. If there is a credible argument, it’s that the Fed breaks something and has to cut a lot. Right. So it’s it’s a little bit of a call. It a convex play here that if the Fed does cut, it’s not it’s not cutting 50 basis points, it’s cutting two or 300. And if and on the other side, you know, if nothing bad happens or nothing very bad happens, the Fed is just going to hold it there. So I think there’s a little bit of skew here.




Okay, thank you. I have one question. Yesterday we had, like, Fed george came out and said the Fed, quote unquote, Fed, still has a lot to learn about how balance sheet policy works. Can you explain that to the audience? And would that not be one of your grackle birds? What is it called?


No, I think it was actually George just being honest. I think we had this convers we had this conversation a few weeks ago, Tony and I, with a guest that the Fed really doesn’t understand or doesn’t have quite the concept to pinpoint exactly how much tightening or additional tightening to Fed funds. Quantitative tightening does that’s, that’s what George was getting at. She’s a little bit behind the curve there. The Fed does have a proxy rate that I pointed out earlier this week in a, in a note. The Fed has a proxy rate that they publish that’s sitting at about 6.4%, give or take. So it’s about a 260 basis point spread, 2.6% spread to the current Fed funds rate. I think that’s something to kind of pay attention to, is that the Fed does have measures. I think it’s more that if you’re out there talking all the time, it’s difficult to get into the math.


They’re not stupid, they’re just annoying at times.


Exactly. They’re not stupid. They’re really not stupid. They know how tight they are. They know they’re sitting at about six and a half percent, 6.4% on an overall tightening basis. They don’t care that’s number one. They don’t care that it’s that tight. Number two, they’re going to continue to do it until they actually achieve their mission. Right. And it’s a multipronged process. And as long as markets seem to be fixated on what’s going on with the Fed funds rate and not going on with the entirety of tightening, that’s going to continue to be an issue for them. Like today, when everybody’s like, oh, look, we printed 223,000 jobs. Maybe this gives them reason to pause because average hourly earnings didn’t go up that much. Guess what? I mean, you can’t rip markets 2% and have financial conditions loosen like that and have the Fed go, yeah, I think we’re accomplishing our mission. Inflation is still high and unemployment is at 3.5%. Yeah, it sounds like a great time to pivot. Yeah, that’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.


Right? Yeah. Okay, that’s great. Speaking of stupid not you, Sam. Albert, let’s talk about multipolarity.


One of my favorite.


Yeah, so we’ve had a lot of op eds and research notes and tweets over the past week or two stating that the future is a multipolar world. And this seems to be based on a lot of talk about the decline of the US dollar or the rise of the petrieon or something like that, around Chinese crude purchases from the Middle East or whatever. So, Albert, you put a series of tweets out, which I’m showing right now on screen about this very diplomatic, as you always are.

So can you walk us through this and help us understand what’s going on? And I’m going to try to play devil’s advocate as you lay.


No, that’s fine. I mean, you can play devil’s advocate if you want, but when it comes to multipolarity, it’s not simply a financial or economic thing that you need to look at. There’s multiple variables, including legal frameworks of the nation that is the currency issuer, the military strength of the reserve currency issuer. There’s multiple, multiple variables for it. And for some reason we have these economists that come out and say, oh well, the petroleum is coming into effect and that’s going to destroy the petro dollar and therefore the dollar is going to fall and blah, blah, blah. I’ll let Tracy get into the petrowan stupidity, but the dollar is simply the lifeblood of all trade in the financial system. You’re talking about for me, it’s like taking out your blood into Transfusion and putting in Mountain Dew and saying, oh yeah, everything’s healthy, you’re going to be fine. The whole system is raring to go. It’s a dumb argument. It just boggles my mind how people can sit there and even claim multipleity when there’s literally no alternative on a global scale for anyone to be thrown.


So let’s take this bit by bit. Okay? So a lot of these people are saying that the CNY will become more powerful partly on the back of crude coming out of the Middle East and crude coming out of Europe that could be denominated in CNY. Okay, so let’s take that. Tracy, can you talk to us about the Shanghai benchmark for crude? How successful has that been?


Not at all. Even the futures market hasn’t been successful.


What percent of world order oil, just as a wild guess, do you think is traded on the Shanghai benchmark?




2%. Okay. And it’s been around for how long? Two years?


Yes. And if you look at their futures market, which has been around since 2016, we’re still only saying that domestically traded, you’re not seeing big players come in and hedge like they do with WTI or bread. So that aside, China came to Saudi Arabia with a suggestion after this new summit, the latest summit that they just had, and said, yeah, we would love for you to we could trade this on Shanghai and this could be traded in yuan. Saudi Arabia still has not yet come back with an answer. And so everybody jumped to conclusion saying it’s a petrol. Saudi Arabia is giving up dollar denominated oil. This is not true. I’ve talked to a lot of people in Saudi Arabia about this. I’ve talked to a lot of journalists. I actually had a spaces about it. So this is not true. And even if Saudi Arabia did decide to sell some oil in yuan on the Shanghai exchange, for whatever reason, all that would happen is they would be paid in yuan and instantly changes into dollars. Nobody wants you.


Wait a minute, let’s dig into that. Why does nobody want CMY?


Well, because it’s not globally traded like the dollar is. Everybody wants dollars. People don’t want you on it.


Not freely convertible.


Right. At all. Right. And especially if you’re in a merging market with USD denominated debt. You on. Nobody wants you on. Nobody wants you on. Right. And it’s not really free floating, right?


It’s not at all. We talk about crude and the ability for the Chinese purchase crude. We talk about their currency, CNY. But behind the CNY and the lack of convertibility is the PDOC, right. China central bank. So ultimately, if you trust a currency, you ultimately trust their central bank. So is there a basis for people globally to trust the PBOC? That’s a sincere question. It’s not a cynical question.


No, I think people are not trusting central banks anywhere, but especially in China right now. People don’t believe what’s going on in China right now. People haven’t believed the data in China right now. And so, again, there will be a small amount of oil traded globally in yuan if China wants to do so and another country chooses to do that. Right? Russia has india was brought up for them, but that’s a very small 1% to 2% of globally traded oil, which is certainly not going to put the U on in a position to overtake the dollar in traded markets.


And something I’ll point out is the PBOC has literally, at times, used numerology to determine their benchmark rate. Okay? For people who go down this path, that the CNY is a rising currency. If you’re going to trust a currency, first of all, it has to be convertible. But second of all, you have to trust the central bank. And you can’t have people using numerology. I know we all complain about the Fed, right? But at least there’s a standard approach and there is a level of transparency as to the way decisions are made, right? Everybody knows what the Fed says, what minutes are released and all that stuff. But when you have a central bank that has at times and it’s rare, but at times use numerology by raising by anything that ends in eight or whatever, something like that, I mean, this is just stupid. And it’s not a credible central bank when those sorts of things are happening. Okay, let’s go on to multiplarity, to have defense. Okay? So is there a defense to enforce decisions that are made? So does China or whatever other multipolar places that these people are talking about have the ability to enforce their decisions overseas?


No, none. None whatsoever. I mean, even to take the Saudis as an example, right? The Saudis rolled out the red carpet for the Chinese, and the Petrowan argument started coming out all over research papers. But what will happen when Iran decides to press the Saudis once again in Yemen, or just through airspace violations and threatening missiles? Do you think that Riyadh is going to run to the Chinese? Are they going to run to Moscow? Or are they going to call up the Pentagon and say, hey, we need more, you know, Patriot missile batteries, you know, we need your support.


You tell me why. I think I know the answer, but I want to understand why.


The US. Has the most advanced military hardware there is on Earth by far.




But why would they not call, let’s say the Chinese.


Do you want an effective defense system? What are the Chinese have for defense system? Are the Chinese able to put Chinese troops to defend against Iran if something happens or against the Yemenis? I mean, they failed in every single aspect of China.


Just some basic questions. Does the PLA have the logistical capability to get their resources to Yemen if needed?


Zero. They couldn’t even invade Albania if they wanted to. That’s how ridiculous it is.


I’m sorry.


How are you going to move 250,000 troops across the world, right? You have no ability. The Russians can’t even barely invade Ukraine. That’s on their border, and we’re sitting there talking about multipolarity. For an example, is the United States took out Manuel Noriega. That’s because he was in the Panama Canal area and he was screwing around. If that situation happened, do you think the Chinese or the Russians did hop on over there and take it out? They cut it.


Noriega fell out of a building, which is plausible.


Well, that’s the Russian way to fix things. But, I mean, this is just a silly conversation. I have no idea where this multiplarity is coming from unless it’s investment banks putting their analysts out there to help their clients get out of gold or get out of crypto or something. We know with the whole death of the dollar thing coming, what are we.


Missing on multi polarity? Is there something that we’re missing from this discussion on either side?


I don’t think we’re missing much. I mean, there’s always the want for multipolarity if you’re not the United States, right? Everybody wants it, but to the point. You have to have a credible currency, you have to have an open account, you have to be willing to have a deficit, trade deficit, period. And you have to have incredible military and defense. And guess what? In this world, the only country that ticks those boxes is the US. And if Europe ever got its act together, maybe it could have the military part, but that’s it. China simply does not have the capability to be a global offsetter to the US dominance. That’s simply what I would call fantasy, at least for the foreseeable future. Could it become one down the line?




We were all concerned about Japan 20 years ago. Look how that worked out. Then we were concerned about the Euro. Look how that worked out. I mean, it happens. Yeah, it happens on a cyclical basis. Every 20 years, we come up with a new thing to be concerned about on the multiplayer front, and every single time, nobody has the willingness to do what the US does. Somebody call it the exorbitant privilege. Right? It’s not. It is. Actually a pretty big load to bear, particularly on the military and spending front. So I think that’s wildly overlooked. And I think the other thing that’s overlooked is oil for dollars will persist for a meaningful amount of time. Nobody wants oil for Trinkets.




And another thing I have to mention, does China even want to open up enough to be the world? They like to be shrouded in kind of secrecy, right? And they have to be secret. Whatever. If you’re world current reserve currency, you have to be completely open to the world, and they don’t seem to like that.


Well, part of it is they don’t want to be embarrassed. They don’t want to be seen to be making a mistake. It’s easier to point out other people’s mistakes. If they had transparency and they made a mistake, it’s embarrassing. If you remember, in 2015, they tried to devalue a little bit, they messed up and they way overshot, and it was really embarrassing. And then they did nothing for, like, four years. So they don’t want to be embarrassed. That’s a huge issue.


These are all complexities that have to be taken into account. And like Sam said, there’s only one nation at the moment that ticks the box. And listen, I’d be the first one to throw out warnings, red flags. If there was a competitor stepping up in the US’s shadow, they’d be the first person to say this, but just not right now. None of the components are there at the moment.


Right? And I mean, having said all this, I don’t want this to sound super pro American. Like, we’re all Americans, and I think we can all agree that the US is kind of a lumbering idiot around the US at times. Well, this is not trying to say raw, raw US. We’re just saying the Pragmatism of the moment is this.


Yeah, there’s so many different details that have to be looked at. And I spoke with Mike Green on this in our podcast and our spaces. It’s like the United States has water, has geography, is isolated from the rest of the world, has a military, has this, has that. It’s nothing to do about RA America. It’s just the way things have been laid out at the moment.


We’re lucky in that.


So if anybody’s watching and has a counter argument, please let us know. Honestly, we want to hear it and put it down there, and I’ll try to talk to Albert and see if he can come back to you. You may be careful what you wish for, but we’ll try to get Albert to come back to you. But let us know seriously, if there are valid counterarguments that encompass all these issues, just let us know in the comments, and we’d love to engage. So, guys, thank you very much. Really appreciate your time and all the thought you put into this. And have a great weekend. Thank you.


Thank you.


Thank you.

Week Ahead

Systemic Risks: The Week Ahead – 10 Oct 2022

Learn more about CI Futures here:

In this episode, we’re joined by our special guest, Simon Mikailovich from the Bullion Reserve, along with regular guests Tracy Shuchart and Albert Marko.

First, we looked at systemic risk in the case for hard assets with Simon. When we look at recent events like the BOE intervention in the long-term gilt market, where does he think the next systemic risks could come from? Is it developed more market (European) debt?

Also, Simon discussed how we should be looking at the gold market now. Why is there a divergence between physical gold at the retail level and institutional demand for gold derivatives?

Next, we went into a little bit on OPEC cuts with Tracy. OPEC cut supply by 2m BPD. Everyone has talked about this. We’ve spoken in earlier episodes about a price spike in oil later in Q4, partly owing to SPR releases stopping or slowing. Is this even likelier now? Some US legislators are pushing a bill to break up OPEC. Is that even remotely possible?

And then finally, we took our first look at US midterms. Democrats now control both House and Senate. That’s a huge advantage for Joe Biden. For many reasons – inflation, crime, etc – Democrats are in trouble for November’s midterms, but will they lose control of both the House and the Senate? Albert discussed that in this episode. We’ll cover more of this in the coming weeks, but we want to have a starter conversation here.

Key themes:
1. Systemic risks and the case for hard assets (Gold)
2. OPEC cuts = Q4 Crude price whipsaw?
3. US Midterms
4. The Week Ahead

This is the 37th 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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Tony Nash: Hi, everyone, and welcome to The Week ahead. I’m Tony Nash. This week we’re joined by our special guest, Simon Mikailovich from the Bullion Reserve. Simon, thanks so much for joining us. We really appreciate it. We’re also joined by Tracy Shuchart and Albert Marko.

We’ve got a lot to dig into this week. The first we’re looking at is systemic risk. And the case for hard assets? We’ll dig into that quite a bit with Simon.

Next, we’ll go into a little bit on OPEC cuts with Tracy. You’ve all heard about it, there’s no secrets there, but what do we expect for crude prices in Q4?

And then finally we’ll take our first look at US midterms. I think we’ve got a lot to talk with Albert about over the next few weeks before US midterms, but we’ll just do a quick dive in this week.

So before we get started, please take a look at our product, CI Futures. It’s a forecast subscription product. It’s $99 a month. We cover a few thousand assets over a twelve month horizon, economics, currencies, commodities, equity indices. So please take a look at that. The URL is on the screen. Thanks a lot for that.

So, Simon, welcome and thanks for taking the time on a Friday. I know there’s a lot going on in markets, so it’s a huge compliment for you to be here. I want to ask about systemic risks, something you tweet about quite a lot. And we put a tweet, one of your tweets on screen.

You talk about the BoE commits to ensure unicorn in every pot. And this happened a couple of weeks ago, the Bank of England. And I’m really curious, when we look at events like the BoE intervention in the long term guild market, where do you think the next systemic risks could come from? And I guess, more specifically, do you expect those risks to come from developed, more developed markets or emerging markets or does it matter?

Simon Michailovich: First of all, it’s a very difficult subject because obviously you can spend hours and hours talking about it. It’s like the existential problems of our time. And I know we’re also going to talk about gold and systemic risk. What I think I’d like to do is I’d like to have a little parable that kind of explains, I think, or illuminates the situation that we’re in generally. And the dichotomy that may exist, I think exists between markets and life out there. 

And terrible comes from very appropriately named for the Times from Russia With Love, which is Ian Fleming’s story, one of the James Bond books. And just to set up this quote that I’m going to read to you, the situation is that James Bond is absconding with a Russian decryption machine on a train and it’s supposed to be met somewhere down the line by the British intelligence agents. And he’s accompanied by a much wiser and older head of station from Istanbul whose name is Kareem Bay.

And Kareem advises him to get off the train immediately because there’s existential danger. They’re being hunted and Bond wants to see this gamble through. And so Kareem tells him a little story which I’d like to read to you which I think kind of explains more or less or answers a question about systemic risk and generally what’s going on between the markets and events that we’re all observing through press but may not necessarily fully understand or yet appreciate their implications.

So what Kareem tells him, he says “you’re a gambler. To me, this is business, to you this is a game.” And then he puts a hand on his shoulder and he says, “this is a billiard table. An easy, flat, green billiard table and you hit your white ball and is traveling easily and quietly towards the end. The pocket is alongside. Fatally, inevitably you’re going to hit the red and the red is going to go into that pocket. It is the law of the billiard table, the law of the billiard room. But outside the orbit of these things a jet pilot has fainted and his plane is dining straight at that billiard room or a guest main is about to explode. 

It already has actually, in the real life with Nordstream or lightning is about to strike and the building collapses on top of you and on top of the billiard table. Then what has happened to that white ball that could not miss the red ball and to the red ball that could not miss the pocket. The white ball could not miss according to the laws of the billiard table.

But the laws of the billiard table are not the only laws. And the laws governing the progress of this train and of you to your destination are also not the only laws in this particular game.

And so the point is that for 40 years, the markets, the financial system and the economy has gone along with that, have lived by the laws of financialization, by the laws of the billiard room and of the billiard table and other laws that are outside the real economics more famine, pestilence, inflation have not entered into the equation. And so within the framework of the billiard table there is no, for example US Treasuries do not have credit risk. US dollar does not have counterparty risk. Banking deposits are safe, 100% safe. That’s by the laws of the billiard table. That’s by the laws of the markets.

So essentially this bubble, the everything bubble that the credit bubble that we have been in for x number of years. All the problems inside this bubble were nominal problems related to nominal values in financial markets. And those values can be fixed by creating additional money, by creating additional credit, by creating conditions, by providing liquidity. What cannot be fixed inside this bubble are real problems like energy shortage, like supply chain disruptions, like World War, like the fact that a significant number of other countries are suddenly developing their own ideas as to economic policies and monetary policies and other policies that they want to pursue.

Whereas our system has come to depend on the US dollar as a source of cheap financing without any limits and without any constraints on our ability to create credit, create money, pay the bills, however much, in any quantity at any time. So when you ask me about systemic risks, what I would say is that systemic risks are coming from outside this framework and are not yet fully understood inside the framework.

Which is why, for example, the dollar is on a tier relative to other currencies. And the phrase that’s used to describe it is it’s the least dirty shirt? What is not being said in that statement is how dirty is the least dirty shirt? Has it been already worn for ten days and all the other ones for 20 days, or is it just been worn for ten minutes? That’s my point. So how healthy is the healthiest course in the soap factory? That’s the question, right?

TN: And I guess the question about systemic risk, which is almost unanswerable. But when these things break, do they usually break gradually or do they usually break all at once? Is that an answerable question?

SM: Well, they break gradually and then all at once. Just like the famous also overused quote from Hemingway how do you go broke slowly and then all at once? Obviously you can think of this phenomenon as a confidence collapse. Now, confidence collapse is not a problem in itself. It’s a consequence of other problems where the preponderance of the evidence and preponderance of the mental recognition reaches a certain critical mass, where in the physics it’s called phase transition. 

Like for example, boiling water, which looks the same whether it’s half boiling or almost boiling. And then suddenly you see the bubbles, you see the churn, and it almost happens in moments, but it didn’t happen in the moment. It’s been heating up for a while. So that’s how I would describe it. And

TN: this is all great, I guess, if we have a doomsday clock, are we like really close to midnight or are we kind of approaching midnight? And it’s something that will come at some point I know that’s kind of an ambiguous question, but does it feel to you like we’re really close to midnight or can we put it off for a little bit?

SM: Well, I would answer it this way. I think the proverbial train has left the station. The crisis is now underway. Okay? The crisis, geopolitical crisis, military crisis, supply chain crisis, economic crisis, and financial crisis. All of the… And political crisis. You’re going to talk about elections. So all of these events, and by crisis I mean a moment of high danger, again develops similarly to boiling water. Crisis itself, once it starts, it means the heat is now in real time, is going up. The boiling point has not yet been reached. How long does it take to reach it? It depends on the intensity of the flame. Right. So that we cannot gauge. But what we can gauge is that the process has started and it can accelerate or decelerate as it goes, but I don’t think it can stop suddenly.

TN: Right. And a US president using the word Armageddon in a fundraising speech half a dozen times this week doesn’t really help lower the boiling point.

SM: It does not help lower the boiling point. It does not help. And frankly, I think that people are not paying much attention to what happened with this Nordstream explosion. But this is the first act of sabotage on an international against an international supply chain infrastructure, which I think is going to have dramatic consequences ultimately, because it changes the rules of the game. Sure something unthinkable becomes feasible.

Albert Marko: Just real quick. I agree with Simon on the systemic risks. And the fact is the Fed policies have completely ignored geopolitical issues, political issues, supply chain problems. I mean, they keep going on this tear about raising rates is going to bring down inflation, but then they put themselves in doom loop because the demand is going to come back faster than the supply damage that they’re creating. 

So, yeah, Simon is correct that the systemic risks are there and getting worse and that’ll see any chance that they can be alleviated in the next six months. I’m skeptical that ongoing rate rises or rapid rate rises is going to have an impact on inflation given… Wait till they end QT in the next couple of months and continue on with rate hikes thinking that’s going to fix things. It’s not. It’s not. It’s whistling past the graveyard. It’s way overused. But that’s what we’re doing.

TN: So before we move on to other things, I want to ask you about gold. Okay, Tracy, kindly put out some questions for you last night. And we got some responses from some Twitter users and this Twitter user @Spudlink1, asked, “if gold doesn’t rally in this environment, how could conditions possibly get more perfect than the last three years? Is gold dead?”

So, very poignant question, but what are your thoughts on that?

SM: So my thoughts on that are very simple. Gold itself. Gold is not a company. It doesn’t release results. It’s not like things are going better or worse. Gold is the same gold. So the price of gold and the prospects of gold are not determined by gold itself or anything that it does, but it is determined by supplying demand, which is human driven. So it’s human perception and human behavior. 

So why is gold not behaving like certain people like this gentleman expect it should? That’s because what this gentleman thinks and what few of us think is not accepted as received wisdom by the vast majority of investors. That’s not consensus. 

So the fact that these are perfect conditions for gold is absolutely not consensus because by the rules of the billiard table inside the billiard room, gold is not seen at the moment as a safe haven. The dollar is because the dollar is fiat gold. Now, fiat of gold is no gold. But inside this framework that we’ve been in for 40 years, it has been and so demand for gold, you don’t need to take my word for it. I mean, you can just look at the ETF flows like GLD publishes ETF laws and you can see that money is not flowing into gold. 

So demand from investors for gold is anemic in an environment where some of us think it should be robust. But that’s because we see certain things and we believe that there’s tremendous systemic risk and market large does not believe it. 

Again, you don’t need to take this as the only example. You can look at the Treasuries, they’re trading, I mean for something percent with the percent inflation. Well, why is that? Well, because the breakeven rate, which is market expectation of future inflation, the curve, the forward curve shows that rates are actually positive and getting more positive because inflation is supposed to drop to 2-3% imminently. Well, is it going to? Well, that’s conventional wisdom is that it will. So that’s one thing. 

The other thing I would say is when people say that gold is dead, I mean, it’s an American century theory because gold is essentially a reserve currency. It has outperformed all other currencies, reserve currencies but gold. So let’s say in dollar terms gold is down like 6% year to date, but in yen terms it’s up 18%. In pound terms it’s up 13%. In Europe, in Swiss Franc, all of the DXY components, currencies, DXY, Canadian dollar in all of those currencies, gold is up.

So gold is outperforming financial assets, stocks, equity is down 23%, Nasdaq is down whatever it is, 33% or 34% here today. Gold is down 6%. So it’s outperforming financial assets and an underperforming US dollar because US dollar is gold by the rules of the billiard table and the guest line has already blew up, but maybe the plane has not yet hit the room. 

And so as long as that’s continuing, everybody’s playing by those rules where there’s no credit risk in the dollar. So if there’s no credit risk in the dollar or in Treasuries, in US sovereign obligations, then by the dent of that reasoning, getting any kind of coupon beast getting no coupon, if you factor out credit risk and market is not factoring in credit risk, I think the credit risk is tremendous. And obviously people who are asking and wondering how come gold is not surging, they think there’s credit risk. But that’s a minority opinion. That’s a simple answer to that question. 

TN: And that is fantastic. Thank you so much for that. This is an amazing perspective because I think there is a lot of cynicism around gold in the markets today around kind of popular chatter. And it’s so great to get this perspective. 

AM: Tony, I mean, I’ve been a big critic of gold for a long time. However, in this scenario, I even have to admit that if you want to arbitrage for dollars, especially in other currencies and FX’s, gold is the only real way to do it. And the longer that the Fed makes errors in policy, there’s no question that people are going to start resorting to gold just as a hedge.

SM: My only warning to people is gold is a commodity that’s sort of it’s an industrial commodity in physical form. So, of course, all the paper gold exposure has counterparty risk. Physical gold does not have counterparty risk, but physical gold is a manufactured product. And manufactured product borrows coins. 

By the way, the premiums on coins are surging, and it’s doubled this summer since the beginning of the summer. So manufactured products, they’re supply chains, they’re manufacturing facilities that produce them. They can work 24 hours a day, but three ships, but they can’t work faster than that. 

So just like with toilet paper, it all works until suddenly there’s a surge in demand. Then there’s no toilet paper in your supermarket. It’s the same thing with gold. It’s available until everybody wants it, at which time, by definition, it’s not available because the inventory and supply chain is geared towards test demand, not towards surging demand. So as soon as demand surges, it disappears. 

So you buy insurance when you can, not when you think you really need it, because you’re not the smartest guy or person you know, other people achieve the same reach the same conclusion at the same time. And so everybody wants insurance at the same time.

TN: You’re the only guy I’ve ever heard who compared gold to toilet paper in a positive way. Yeah. Okay, let’s move on to crude from one physical quantity to another. Tracy, we talked about OPEC in recent weeks. We talked about crude prices in recent weeks. 

And with the OPEC announcement, the supply cut announcement this week, I want to revisit our discussion from a couple of weeks ago about crude prices in Q4. We talked about the possibility of a whipsaw effect for crude prices in Q4. What’s your thoughts on that? Do we see that happening?

Tracy Shuchart: Well, I think what we’re… First, I kind of wanted to touch on this 2 million barrels because it’s not actually a 2 million barrel cut, right? Because the group hasn’t been producing a quota all year, basically. So we’re running at a 3.58 million barrel shortfall, really, which happened in September. And so if we take a look at the cut distribution, yes, the five countries that are producing at or near quote, which are Iraq, Kuwait, Saudi Arabia, UAE and Russia, yes, they are shouldering most of that burden. But when you net everything out, it’s really closer to like 1.25 million barrels. So I just kind of wanted to clear that up because it’s really not 2 million.

Going into Q 4, what we have to pay attention to is, one, the ending of the SPR, which if they keep releasing it, eventually it will drain. But so far it should end in November, which is going to immediately take four to 7 million barrels off the market because that’s kind of what they’ve been releasing per week on average. Then we also have to look at China and their COVID lockdowns trying to come to an end because they’re looking for 5.5% GDP by end of year, which is not going to happen.

TN: Well, it’ll happen. 

TS: Well, on paper it’ll happen. Statistically it’ll happen. But we are starting to see a little bit of firmness in mobility data in traffic and airlines. What I’m also looking at is they are talking about lifting export quotas. If they do that, that means they are going to have to purchase more crude barrels because it would be a significant increase. Those are kind of the things that I’m.. Going into Q4, in other words, I think the pressure is definitely to the upside rather than the downside, just looking at what is coming online potentially that could propel this market higher as far as… I mean, we’re already in a structural supply deficit, so it’s not going to take a lot for this kind of freak out. 

TN: Post US midterms, post CCP meeting, post SPR, post other stuff. Right.

TS: And then December 5, we have to see if EU actually follow through with their oil and product embargo for Russia. So also another thing that would take more barrels off the market.

TN: Right. So I’ve also heard, I think you may have said it where this OPEC meeting, and what we’ve seen over the past few months is really OPEC changing their orientation to Asia and really forgetting about the west. Is that real? Are you seeing that, in fact, or is that just kind of a myth?

TS: Well, no, I mean, if you look throughout the last few years, I mean, China and Russia basically compete, sorry, Russia and Saudi Arabia basically compete for China’s fitness. So off and on, one of those countries has been their biggest suppliers. So this is not new where the focus is towards Asia, especially because over the last few years, the west is pursuing green policies and trying to stay away from that. And so where they can sell barrels like you see Saudi Arabia or you see OPEC in general raising their OSP to Asia consistently, right. Because they can capture above markets for their barrels. That’s not really a new phenomenon.

TN: Well, China’s perpetuating green policies, too, right. Kind of wink wink, supposedly as they build out coal plants and other things. But I think what I find interesting is Europe and the US are kind of begging for more energy and OPEC is saying, no, we’re going to cut back. I think the headline is more important than the fact the 2 million is more important than the 1.25, because that’s what really moved markets in the immediate term. But China had really bought all their crude already by, say, April or something, right? And so they had fixed all that stuff, the prices for the year in kind of second quarter. So this doesn’t at least for now, it doesn’t really affect them. It won’t affect them until early next year or something like that. Is that fair to say?

TS: Well, unless in Q4 they raise these export quotas, then it’s going to matter because that’s still on the table for discussion next year. This is kind of a last-minute thing. And so that’s definitely something that I’m watching if they actually follow through with that. Right?

TN: And also with purchases in a dollar equivalent, whether it’s not US dollar, whether or not it’s US dollar, these are extraordinarily expensive barrels compared to what they could have gotten in Q2. So something has to change for them to want to buy the volumes that they bought. And then if they’re buying at the same time the US is trying to refill the SPR, that creates even more pressure on the market. Is that fair to say?

TS: Yeah, absolutely. In fact, our SPR barrels are going to China, right? Right.

TN: So, Tracy, what are we missing? I mean, we’ve heard all this chat about OPEC over the last couple of days. What’s the nugget that you feel like people are missing?

TS: I think as prices have come down, I think everybody has been forgetting we are still in a structural supply deficit. Even though prices were coming down, they were down to extraneous reasons like recession fears and not as many Russian barrels off the market as initially anticipated. But really, the market structure hasn’t changed, nor has the supply problem. Right. Let me add another question there. I want to ask about refining capacity. What are we at now with refining capacity? We need more refining capacity. 90 something. We’re currently we’ve been between 90 and 95% of our refining capacity, which is crazy because I’m actually surprised that we haven’t seen more heart breakdowns. They’re not built to Google at 95%.

TN: So we have a hurricane goes through Louisiana, cuts out some refineries for a week. What does that do?

TS: Well, that would be a little bit of a relief for crude prices, right? Because you shake it with the barrels. But that’s going to take your product prices through the roof, and your current tax rates are going to go through the roof.

TN: And what’s the lag on that? What’s the tail on that?

TS: That really depends on how long the refinery is offline for. Right. Whether it’s a week or two, that’s fine. But if we start going into, like Katrina, where you’re going in months, then that’s going to be longer. Problem.

TN: Okay, very good. Thank you for that. And as we talk about gasoline, it becomes very political at some point. And Albert, as we go into we’re deep into the midterm season right now, and I’ve got a couple of graphics from Real Clear Politics looking at the House and the Senate races in the US.

And it looks like it’s very competitive in the Senate. The House, it seems like Republicans are doing very well to reclaim the House, but it seems like the Senate is really competitive at the moment. Can you walk us through that?

AM: Yeah, well, simply, the Republicans will easily take the majority. Redistricting alone will give them 20 seats, which is the majority, and then you start looking at any Democrat that one with 2% or less across the country is probably going to lose. So I think that will probably end up getting 250 seats in the House of the GOP. So I think that would end up being like 185 for the Democrats, which is important because you need a buffer to avoid any messy infighting the Senate becomes difficult because the Republicans have kind of weak candidates in Oz, in Pennsylvania, and Walker in Georgia.

If those two candidates were stronger, it would have been a slam dunk, but it’s not at the moment. Nevada looks like it’s trending towards the GOP, which is a big, big problem for the Democrats at the moment. If they lose Nevada, they’ll probably end up losing Arizona. And if they lose Arizona, it’s going to be a one or two seat GOP majority.

TN: Okay, and so what does that do? Okay. We covered Pennsylvania, right? You said it’s potential

Republican but not strong. Georgia potential, but not strong. Arizona is leaning that way. Nevada is leaning that way. Wisconsin is Wisconsin.

AM: Wisconsin and North Carolina are solid Republican.

TN: Okay, so then what does that mean for the second half of the Biden administration?

AM: Not good things. Hearings all over the place, from Hunter Biden’s antics to Biden’s pipeline policies, environmental policies that’s affecting the economy at the moment. Border crime, elections, election integrity, I mean, you name it, it’s going to be all over the news. So it’s just not good for the Biden administration. I expect them to keep on going with executive orders because there won’t be anything that he can pass.

TN: Okay, very interesting. Now for the people not in the US. Most Americans view legislative gridlock as a good thing, right? I mean, it’s a good thing for business when we have legislative gridlock. So this is not necessarily a bad thing for US government. There will be a lot of talk about can’t pass a budget, can’t get extensions on certain things, and that’s just drama that comes every year. But legislative gridlock is not necessarily a bad thing for American business. Is that fair to say?

AM: It’s not. You’re absolutely correct about that. However, actually, with Biden insisting on producing executive orders for his own policies and the treasury, with the Allen just acting insane, in my opinion, god knows what they’re going to sit there and pass. If you can’t pass something legislatively, they’ll do it via budgets. That’s fine. But it sets a terrible pressing going. Forward because we’re well past that, Tony. We’re well past that president. We’re well past that.

TN: Okay, great. I want to cover this over the next couple of weeks as we lead up to the election. So I just want to give people a taste of what we can talk about. So if we don’t mind if you guys don’t mind, let’s just go around and I’d love to know what you guys are looking for in the week ahead. Tracy, do you want to get us started? Then Simon will go to you. And now what are you guys looking for for the week ahead?

TS: Obviously, I’m watching the energy markets right as we get closer and to see what sort of policies the US is going to or the current administration is going to try to pull out of a hat to derail oil prices in front of Midterms. They’ve been talking about fuel bans, fuel export bans. They’re talking about actually trying to pass the no peck bill again. They’re also talking about actually seizing assets of Saudi Arabia, which they do own, motivo, which is the largest refinery in the US. Which is paramount to all out oil war. So closely watching the administration and how they’re going to move forward with energy policy.

TN: is this Venezuela thing real? Will they dial back the restrictions on Venezuela to get Venezuelan crude?

TS: Venezuela produces 7000 barrels per day and literally most of that goes to China to pay debts. There’s nothing more you can squeeze out of Venezuela.

TN: Okay, that’s good to know. So that’s fake news. All right. Okay. Simon, what do you see

going into the week?

SM: Well, a week is not my reference, in my opinion, but I think that the most important thing people should be watching are international geopolitical developments because I believe we are in a world war. It sounds very dramatic. War usually is assumed to be bomb flying, but there are other forms of enforcing essentially will on other people and economic, financial, political, ideological, cyberspace,

space, outer space these days. 

So I think the most critical thing to watch are developments like with Tracy’s talking about confiscation of Saudi refinery. I mean, that’s an act of war. That’s an act of economic war. So this is where I think a lot is going to come from. And the other thing I would watch very carefully for the types of developments like what we saw with Gilts in UK just overnight, things happen. Like for example, the repo lines right now are in excess of 2 trillion. I mean, in 2019, the first blow up, they went in with 30 billion. So this is a crisis that’s continuing and it’s being bailed out by the Fed.

So I would watch all these excess, telltales of all these excesses and watch for ripples on the surface to make sure to identify if something is really breaking. Like you said, when is it going to come? Well, is the water starting to boil? That’s what I want…

TN: Real quickly, do you get the sense that at least in the US, they’re trying to hold this back until midterms and then we’ll start to see a bunch of bad news come?

SM: Well, for example, they’re releasing strategic petroleum reserve, which is clearly controlling an attempt to control energy prices at the pump, gas prices at the pump. So, yes, I think after the elections we’re going to see some damage break.

TN: Yeah, interesting. Albert, week ahead, what do you got. Your eyes on? 

AM: CPI. And I think it’s going to end up coming in hot and all of a sudden you’ll see the dollar surge once again, maybe threatening 120. Then you talk about what Simon is saying about things breaking and building up of a narrative of ending QT, although we haven’t really started it, but it is what it is.

TN: Well, exciting times guys. Thank you so much. Thanks for your time. Thank you very much for all your insights. And have a great weekend. Thank you very much.

Week Ahead

European Natgas: The Week Ahead – 5 Sep 2022

Learn more about CI Futures here:

This week we’ve seen a lot around dollar hitting almost 110. We’ve seen a lot in the US market downturn. There’s a lot of speculation around the Fed. But we’re really focusing on Europe this week.

Key themes:

1. European Natgas Stock vs Flow

2. Russian Oil Price Cap Fallout

3. Europe’s Food and Fertilizer Fallout

4. What’s ahead for next week?

This is the 32nd 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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Listen on Spotify

Time Stamps

0:00 Start

1:51 European natgas: stocks VS flows

8:26 What to expect in manufacturing in Europe

9:26 Difficult environment for the German Finance Ministry?

10:27 Fertilizer fallout and impacts on Europe’s food supply

14:19 Is Europe getting relief soon, or will this crisis continue to 2024?

15:33 Russian oil price cap: is it going to come about?

19:12 What’s to stop countries from indirectly buying Russian crude?

22:00 What’s for the week ahead?


Tony Nash: Hi, and welcome to The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash. Today we’re joined by Sam Rines, Tracy Shuchart and Albert Marko. We’re going through the events this week and looking toward next week.

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So this week we’ve seen a lot around dollar hitting almost 110. We’ve seen a lot in US market downturn. There’s, a lot of speculation around the Fed. But we’re really focusing on Europe this week.

The key themes this week are really around European natgas stock versus flows. Russian oil price caps and the fallout that has come with that. Food and fertilizer in Europe. And then we’ll look to the week ahead. So I think we’ll look at some non Europe activities for the week ahead.

First for European natgas, Sam Rines in his newsletter came out with some really interesting points around natural gas stocks and flows. You can see the chart on the screen. Sam, can you talk us through kind of what’s happening in storage for natural in Europe and what we should be looking for as winter approaches?

Sam Rines: Yeah, sure. So you get this really interesting dynamic where everybody talks about the stock but very few people talk about the flow. So talking about the stocks of that gas in Europe is a really interesting one. Yeah, you’ve got stocks building up pretty quickly, particularly in Germany, sitting north of 82% overall for European stocks in general, north of 80%.

So it’s good, right? Stocks seem to be well ahead of where you would anticipate. Germany has a 95 target for November. They might actually reach it even with the shutdown of Ms one, Nordstream One. It’s actually not that big of a deal incrementally to Germany in particular. You go from about call it a 3.2 kilowatt hour type pump into Germany to about a three.

You didn’t really lose that much. I mean, it was pretty much anticipated anyway. So if they keep it off

for longer, whatever. You don’t have significant usage coming through at the moment for natural gas.

It’s a time where you can actually afford to not have those significant closing. They’ll probably still have some stock bill that will just be slower.

So overall, I think it’s a lot of headlines that a lot of it’s already priced in. If you were looking at the expectations of complete and utter frozen winter, you’re pretty much not looking at that assuming that Norway and Belgium continue to put their flows through to Germany at the current rate.

So overall, you’re actually sitting on a decent call it stock level. Right? That’s fine. And as long as you continue to have the flows from call it Northern Europe, you should be okay for the winter. You’re not going to be great. It’s going to be expensive, and it’s going to suck. But relative to the expectation of Europe’s going to freeze this winter,

I think that might actually be a little bit of an overblown one, and you might begin to have a significant blowback on that. And you’ve seen significant declines in things like electricity pricing ahead, which is a ridiculous contract anyway. And Dutch TTF, the net gas contract you’ve seen collapse this week, even with the shutdown of Nordstream.

So I think a little bit of the froth, a little bit of that angst is beginning to come out of the market, and you might actually have a positive surprise relative to expectations in Europe.

TN: So Dutch TTF peaked on Tuesday or something, right? It was early in the week, right?

SR: Correct.

TN: And Tracy, what are you seeing with that? Do you expect us to hit back up to those peaks, and do you think that was kind of a one time hit? And what Sam saying about storage is really kind of starting to take hold.

Tracy Shuchart: I think it really depends over the long run and how slow go. I totally agree with Sam here. Right now, for winter, Europe is pretty much okay, not great, as he said, but I think given if we don’t see increased flows, that storage would drain significantly by February. So we really have to keep an eye on flows from other countries, particularly in the United States, in the Middle East, and to see how those flows go. So I think it’s too early to be completely doom and gloom, but that is something we need to be cognizant of, because that storage can only last until February.

TN: Right. And for those people who aren’t in Northern Europe, northern European winter really stays cold, really until like, April, right. It’s not something that February comes and goes and it’s spring and everything’s great. You still have cold temperatures in Northern Europe until probably April or so. Is that about right?

TS: Yeah, absolutely. Anecdotally, if you’re been on Twitter, you see a lot of people starting to buy wood. The big thing on the European sites is to post how much wood you collected before this winter. So people are sourcing. People are expecting energy prices to be high and doing whatever they can personally, to kind of lower the prices. Because you have to understand, when you’re talking about European power prices, it’s not just your solid power price. They have that almost all of their taxes on top is on top of what they actually would be paying, which is outrageous carbon, et cetera.

TN: And so I just want to go back to one point in Sam’s chart as well. I think sam, you said the storage is about 82% full or something and they’re targeting 95%, but we’re ahead in 2022 from where we were in 2021, is that right?

SR: Yeah, that is correct.

TN: Okay, so the doom and gloom that we’re hearing again, we have inflation, we definitely have shortages, but in terms of storage, we’re ahead of where we were. And we don’t expect like a mass extinction event in northern Europe because of heating or whatever, right?

SR: Correct. I think that is a good base case. That’s good for everything. No mass extinction is low bar, but yes, that’s right. 

TN: Exactly. Okay, very good. Do you have anything to add on this?

Albert Marko: I’m on middle of the road here. I do agree with Sam that they’ll be okay so long as they’re okay with no manufacturing, no growth in their economy, and so on and so forth. I mean, if they tried to kick things up and the demand starts to rise, I don’t think it will be okay. I don’t think that the Russians are going to play ball, especially when they start talking about these price caps on Russian oil and gas. It’s one of those things where economically, I can understand where Sam is coming from.

Politically, I’m inclined to say that Europeans are going to screw up and just agitate the Russians. And then you start getting into this back and forth. That economic trade and price.

TN: Let’s set the price cap aside for a minute. But when you say no manufacturing, so we’ve seen some manufacturing dial back and some facilities slow down and shutter. Is that expected to continue or do we expect that to ramp back up?

AM: I expect it to completely be just stalled for the entire winter. I just think the energy prices are so astronomically high that it’s just not economical for companies to manufacture anything.

TN: Okay, so if you’re sourcing things in Germany, then you should expect supply chain issues for the next five or so months. Is that fair to say?

AM: At least six months. And this is why I keep saying that this inflation doom loop keeps recurring because as the demand rises, there’s not enough supply and then you get back into an inflationary event. What’s the inflation rate in the UK right now? Like 20% reported. 20%? And in Germany, I think it’s like 19% and rising. It doesn’t stop.

TN: And PPI is in the 30s or something. Just to play this out, I wouldn’t have a whole lot of time to cover this, but if private sector is shutting down, even parts of it, then government spending has to kick up. And if government spending is kicking up and we have an ECB that’s tightening, that’s a difficult environment for the German Finance Ministry, right? Or is it no big deal then?

SR: No, I would completely disagree. I mean, Germany is one of the few countries in the world that has they could basically print their GDP and they’d still be perfectly fine on an ability to pay basis. They spent, like, three years getting paid to have debt.

TN: So very good, because, look, nobody wants Germany to suffer, right? And if government spending

has to kick up, then great. If they’re not going to suffer as a government to be able to do that, then that’s even more fantastic, because with ECB tightening, it could create some difficult trade offs for some countries in the region, of course.

So let’s take this and park it and let’s move on to fertilizer, because, of course, that’s related to natural gas.

And we have some there’s a recent Bloomberg story about Europe’s deepening fertilizer crunch. 70% of fertilizer production is halted. And then we have a chart showing the price of nitrogen fertilizer in Germany. Obviously, it looks pretty extreme. Can we cover that, Albert, and look at the impacts of fertilizer and how that’s going to hit food going into spring or summer of next year?

AM: Oh, yeah, the fertilizer, specifically what you’re talking about, nitrogen based ones, are relying on natural gas. Natural gas prices just keep on spiking over there. And again, we can continue this whole discussion about inflationary, commodity prices, but food is a big problem. They shut down their potash.

On top of that, the farmers, they’re notorious penny pinchers, whether it’s the United States, whether it’s Europe, so on and so forth. But they’re going to have to make up the nutrients for the soil in the spring of 2023 and most likely into 2024, they can’t deprive the land of nutrients.

So, of course, they’re going to have to have another round of demand for fertilizer. I don’t know about the night gas based ones, but potash certainly will have a surge.

That’s why I’ve always on Twitter have been big on Mosaic being the 800 pound gorilla outside of Morocco’s. OCP, but OPC, I think it is. But that’s not a tradable stock mosaic fertilizer. I’m very bullish on that. That’s going to relate to bigger increases in food prices, specifically in the UK.

TN: What crops in Europe would be most impacted by this?

AM: Wheat. Most likely wheat.

TN: Yeah. Okay. And where does Germany traditionally, where does it source most of its fertilizer? Is it from Russia?

AM: I believe they get most of their stuff from Belarus originally. And I know that they have potash fertilizer plants inside of Germany itself, but I’m not sure how. I don’t know the exact numbers on the importance of what they do for a fertilizer, but it’s certainly a problem specifically for Germany. Of course it’s a problem for France. It’s even bigger problem because they’re a big food producer.

TN: Okay, Tracy, you’ve said a lot about fertilizer in the past. What are your thoughts on this? Does it just get even more intense or do we see some relief on the horizon?

TS: Well, I think it does get a little bit more intensive when we just saw And, Norway’s largest fertilizer company, all kind of curve back production in various countries wherever their plants are concerned. So it’s definitely a concern. 100% agree with Albert. Going into next year is going to be a very big problem. I mean, everybody’s harvesting right now. Everything’s fine. We’ve seen big pullback in those prices. But going forward, in particular next year, we’re going to have a problem.

AM: And a lot of that, Tracy, has to do with the national governments are going to look out for their national interests, their own farmers, so that although the imports will drop, so the exports will drop and they’ll just keep it closed within their own nation, so they can feed their own people.

TN: Fertilizer nationalism.

AM: Well, it’s just the same thing with oil. I mean, the countries are not export more than they can handle.


TN: Okay, so sounds pretty dire, but do we see any relief next year? Or, like you said, is it going to go into 24, or does it all depend on Russia?

AM: I think it depends on Russia whether the Europeans and the United States come to their senses and stop trying to put their foot on the throat of the Russians. You’re hampering your own economic growth, and they’re sitting there talking about, oh, we’re going to get away from fossil fuels and do this whole new climate thing. That’s just not realistic. And I don’t think they just haven’t come to grips with that yet.

TN: I think it’s a time frame thing. Right? I mean, it’s going to take some time, and I think there’s a hybrid mix in the interim that I think we’re trying to rush.

AM: Well, that’s the point. They’re trying to rush things. When you rush things, your own people are going to suffer economically and so on and so forth. It’s just not politically. They just can’t swallow it. Some of the voters don’t swallow that. Sort of stuff. 

TN: And things break. Like Californians can’t charge their electric cars. Right. These are weird times.

Okay, great. Thanks, guys.

And then on the oil price cap, we had about this week, former Russian President Good about this week, saying that Russia just won’t deal with people who subscribe to the price cap.

And then we had Xavier Blossom, Bloomberg tweet about it, saying that he and his friends are going to agree to a price cap on beer at their local pub and that the guys at the pub don’t agree with it, which is a nice analogy, I guess.

Tracy, what are you seeing on the price cap? Is it actually going to come about?

TS: First, they just announced that they’ve been talking about this for months. Let me give a little bit of background. And they just now say there’s going to be three different kind of price caps, one for crude and two for refined products.

However, if you look at the actual G7 statement that was out today, they were pretty vague on it. Basically, they said, we invite all countries to provide input on the price cap design and to implement this important measure. So in other words, they’ve decided they’re going to do this, but not exactly holiday.

TN: It’s going to be 2030 before they come to an agreement on.

TS: it’s because. They’Re asking all their stakeholders to join in this. And so what I see as the problems with this right now is that there are four specific problems. One, it’s not really enforceable outside of G Seven countries if people don’t sign up for this. Two, Russia already said, again repeating you, that they won’t sell to countries that enact price caps. Three, part of this is the maritime insurance on vessels carrying Russian oil India is already providing safety and notification through IRGC class.

So by Dubai, subsidiary of the Russian shipping group. So I hope I pronounced that right. But anyway, they’ve already kind of gotten their way around this. And four, they’re also thinking about creating their own benchmark.

So right now, Russian crude oil is expressed as a discount to Brent because rent is the benchmark price. They already have an oil trading platform in place via RTS and MYsix. So they could build out this platform, which they’ve been talking about, and go through near Mir, which is basically their version of Swift, and completely by past that and just let market forces work.

I think this price cap is still way off from seeing the light of day. But this actually could turn out much more bullish because this price cap overlooks how Russia could influence global markets.

If they wanted to, they could opt to cut off the EU and NATO, not just G7. G Seven members shut production and raise global crude oil prices through the roof because they would take barrels off the market there by hurting the G7 nation.

I’m not saying that would happen. I’m just saying that’s within the realm of two box. And it’s not surprising after we just saw today, as soon as an oil price cap was announced as a plan, suddenly we just saw gas problem with Nordstream one, therefore I’m off of national gas.

TN: So what’s to stop, let’s say, a European country that signs onto a price cap from buying, let’s say, Russian crude that is sent to Chinese, say ownership and then resold to say, I don’t know, Germany. I mean, that type of circumvention is already happening, right?

TS: No, you can definitely do that. What we’re really seeing now is that kind of circumvention is happening in the product market. So it’s very easy for, say, India to buy Russian crude oil, refine it until it’s anywhere else because it’s very hard to track where those barrels really came from. It’s easier to track a resale. Right, if that makes sense.

TN: Sure it does. But they put in a barrel of, say, Emirati crude with a million barrels of Russian crude and then they label it Emirati crude. Right? Something like that.

TS: Yeah. If they both have the same API level, depends. You could mix them. If they both were the same exact API level, then you could mix them. It’s kind of different than, say, the natural gas market. Yeah.

AM: The Iranians do this with the Iraqi oil and bozzar. Often they mix it and label it As Iraqi 

TS: because they share oil fields. I mean, Albert and I have been talking about this for years now.

AM: Years.

TN: Let’s be honest, the rules apply to the people who abide by the rules. Right. And so even if these price caps are put in place, there will be circumvention in a big way, of course, at least a refined product, if not crude product. And so a lot of it’s for sure. Is that fair to say?

AM: Of course, yeah. A lot of it is for show. This is a political thing right now for scapegoating Russia

for inflation problems. Now they’re just snowballing things and saying Russia’s gas is the problem

 for inflation, Russia’s oil is the inflation problem, and other caps. But like I said earlier, and even just Tracy reaffirmed it’s like the moment you mentioned price caps against Russia, Moscow finds an issue, whether it’s gas, prom leak or Belarus problems, or Algeria has problems with Wagner. They create these issues all the time.

TN: Of course, anytime there are sanctions on a country, right. These things happen. Okay, very good. Thank you, guys. We spent a lot of time talking about Europe. So let’s move on to the week ahead and

what we expect to happen the week ahead.

We saw some really interesting action in markets, and last week we talked about how Palo speech, we really should have been a surprise to no one, but markets seem to kind of take it on the chin this week, acting shocked that he repeated himself again. So what do we expect going into next week? Do we expect things to kind of moderate a little bit or do we at least in equity markets, do we still expect some downward movement and also, say energy markets? We saw crude down, I think at 86 or something.

Tracy, do you expect, say, energy markets to continue to fall next week?

TS: What I would really look at, and what I’m looking at more, instead of looking at just reprice, which seems highly manipulated right now, especially going into midterms, not suggesting anything, but I think what I would start looking at is in like second and third month spreads or fourth month spreads. Right. So you really want to be looking, I think, just a couple of months down that curve a little bit. And if you start seeing because those curves are still kind of telling us that the market is very tight and curves, you can’t really manipulate as much as you can somewhat of the front line. So I think that’s where you should be looking at.  I think we’ll really get a better grasp on these markets and to see what front market is next week is OPEC meeting, right. So they were talking about cuts, right, over the last couple of weeks. That’s right. That’s all. I will be on that. That’s on the fifth.

TN: And SPR keeps going until October. So we’re only looking at November,December before we’ll see some upward pressure on prices. At least a stand up pressure.

TS: Yeah, exactly. And depending on what OPEC says, we could see an initial pull back. The general consensus is they’re not going to do anything in September. However, OPEC has been known

to give us some surprises. So just keep that in mind.

TN: That’s good all right. Very good. Sam, what are you looking for for next week?

SR: Next week I’m looking at the ECB. I want to hear how hawkish they are and how quick they’re going to go and what type of language they’re using. They’re still in the QE boat, right? They’re still buying Italy, they’re still buying Spain, they’re still buying a bunch of the southern debt periphery type debt.

So I want to hear what they’re saying, how they’re saying it, and just how call it, quote, unquote, inflation-oriented. They are. They probably should be particularly versus the bank of England, who is very hawkish and likely to continue to, one, explore actually outright sales from their asset purchases to shrink their balance sheet and how quickly the relative moves are there.

I think that can create some fireworks, particularly called the Euro pound type crossed I think that could be really interesting and cross asset class could be.

TN: Do you think you should be able to surprise hawkish?

SR: Yes.

TN: You do? Okay, interesting. That would be very interesting to see. Wow. Okay. And so you think the Euro recovers a little bit on that?

SR: I think it knee jerks, yes. But the question is how long does that last? Right. That, I think, is a much more important question than the initial knee jerk. And I think over time, it would be a fade the news move.

TN: Okay, very interesting. Okay, very good. Thanks for that, Albert, close this out. What do you see for next week?

AM: The big boys come back to play from vacation. That’s right, they do. I think they’re going to start holding the market a little bit more accountable for all this bad data. And I think earnings were just atrocious when you look at what inflation was. I’m actually going to be watching though

China as we get closer to the CCP, the Party meeting, I think it’s October 16, I think XI might start announcing many stimulus packages in certain sectors. So I want to see if those materialize and what that does with commodities that are attached to them.

TN: Okay. I just want to say, with regard to the Party meeting in November, if anybody talks about reading tea leaves or any of that garbage, you’re banned immediately. Okay.

So we’re not going to imply, like, cultural mysteriousness on Chinese political processes. It’s just they’re a bureaucracy like everyone else. They make decisions like everyone else. They’re no more or less mysterious than anyone else. So I would say that for the people watching, because the people watching are going to see a lot of kind of China experts or whatever China watchers talked about how mysterious the CCP is and a lot of question marks. A lot of them are Fed talking points from the CCP spin machine. So they’re not mysterious, they’re a bureaucracy. They’re boring, just like every other country.

AM: Yeah. And the Party is I believe that Congress is October 16, not November. Yeah. So it’s closer than people realize. It’s only 30 days away, but China is going to have to probably stimulate some sectors associated with whoever is in line with the party leadership to keep them happy. So that’s what I’ll be watching next week.

TN: Yes. Very good, guys. Thank you so much. Looking forward to have a great holiday weekend, and I look forward to seeing you next week. Thank you very much.