I’ve been speaking to Tony Nash. He’s founder of the AI firm Complete Intelligence and formerly a nonexecutive director with Credit Microfinance bank in Cambodia. I asked him first to explain how microfinance works.
I’ve been working with microfinance in both Sri Lanka and in Cambodia for almost 20 years. And so what we do is we take what’s called concessional safe financial rates from big lenders, whether they’re nonprofits or major international banks, and they lend to the microfinance banks. Most of these microfinance banks are regulated by central banks. So in the past, they were pretty much charities that would lend out at very low rates. They’re now regulated by central banks. So they don’t have a lot of control over a lot of the rates that they lend at. They’re highly, highly regulated by central banks. So what those companies do is they take the, I guess, lower rates. They assume a lot of risk when giving out these small loans, because these are typically people who are, say, pepper farmers, or they’re people who are making small goods or something like that, and collecting the, say, payments on those funds. Actually, in terms of the cost of loan, it’s very high. You have to send somebody out to their house, or you have to maintain that loan.
And Tony, is it actually effective in alleviating poverty, which was Muhammad Yunus’s whole pitch at the beginning. He founded Grameen bank, of course, very involved in putting this together. But has it been effective in bringing people out of poverty?
It is, absolutely. So when Muhammad Yunus started Grameen, the model they were working on was one of collective responsibilities. So he would lend to syndicates of people, say ten or 20 different people who own businesses, and they were accountable for each other to pay back their loans. That can get pretty difficult in some places when someone doesn’t pay back their loan. Over the last 20 years, that model hasn’t been used for probably 15 years at least. You really have individual loans, and those are largely for people who are starting businesses or other things.
And what about the impact on the people who the money is lent to, who sometimes can’t pay back? Because this has been one of the criticisms that you push people already in trouble into worse trouble.
Well, so when I was at the bank, we would watch the debt ratios and the non payment ratios very very closely, and they were typically 1% or less, often less than 1%. So microfinance banks have to watch their ratios every month. They have to report them to the central bank every month. So when we hear about microfinance banks that are acting in a way that isn’t appropriate, where they’re leveraging people too much. They may be in a place where microfinance banks are unregulated, where they’re not regulated by the central bank.
In this episode, we talked about the European drought — and looked at the cost, energy impacts, and industry impacts. We also talked about coal and discussed more broadly energy. But more specifically coal, and what will be some of the issues around it. How will the coal issues impact refineries and other downstream activities? Finally, we looked at inflation. It’s been covered to death last week — CPI PPI — but we also put a few words in on it.
Key themes 1. Europe drought: Cost, energy & industry impact 2. Coal & energy 3. Inflation 4. What’s ahead for next week?
This is the 30th episode of The Week Ahead, where experts talk about the week that just happened and what will most likely happen in the coming week.
0:00 Start 0:49 Key themes for this Week Ahead 2:16 Europe drought: containers on the Rhine 4:22 How hot is Europe compared to other places? 5:25 How is France doing? 6:02 Europe’s embargo of Russian coal – will it make things worse? 7:48 The beneficiaries of Europe’s Russian coal embargo 9:32 Where’s most of the coal coming from? 10:00 Rhine River and how it affects coal and crude transport 13:00 Is there a silver lining in what’s happening in Europe? 14:16 How will the happenings in Europe impact politics in the region? 15:36 How you should be playing European equities? 16:40 Have we hit the peak inflation? 20:22 Will there be a Feb pivot? 21:17 What’s for the week ahead? Listen to the podcast version on
Hi everyone. Thanks for joining us for The Week Ahead. I’m Tony Nash with Complete Intelligence. We’re joined by Albert Marko and Tracy Shuchart as usual. And Sam is out this week and he’s fishing, so I hope he sends us some when he’s back. Some good fish pictures, though. Great pictures from Maine or Vermont or wherever he is. So it’s just beautiful up there.
So this week we’ve got a couple of things on top. First, we’re talking about the European drought. We’re looking at the cost, we’re looking at the energy impacts, industry impacts. Then we’re looking at coal more broadly, energy, but specifically coal, and what will some of the coal issues, how will that impact refinery and other downstream activities?
Finally, we’re looking at inflation. It’s been covered to death this week, CPI PPI, but we’re going to kind of put a few words in on it and then we’ll look at the week ahead.
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All right, so thanks very much for that. Guys, let’s dive into this for Europe. I want to look at there have been a couple of things out, stories out today about containers on the Rhine not being able to get. There’s a tweet from Bloomberg Energy that we’re showing where container companies can’t get containers up the Rhine and obviously the heat and the drought and there are a number of issues for Europe and Germany specifically.
So Albert, can you kind of go into that? And we’re going to switch to the water levels on the Rhine as well so you can see the red line is well below year to date for water levels on the Rhine.
So Albert, can you kind of help us understand what’s going on there and what the impacts are going to be?
AM: Yeah, I’ll circle back to Germany, but there are other countries that are having similar problems at the moment. You have the Italian. Italy’s pool river completely dried up. Unbelievable. The UK suffering the same effects. Heat waves are hitting France. And this is really bad timing, especially when it comes to inflation, because the commodities and energy prices are skyrocketing.
Now, they have problems for the irrigation of the crops. They have transportation down certain riverways. So the costs are just set to inflate even further from this point on.
Germany, being pretty much the economic engine of Europe right now, is just absolutely taking it on the chin month after month. And this is certainly something that they don’t really need to be happening at the moment.
The Rhine River, like you’re saying, has big effects for multiple industries, specifically energy. They just can’t get things up and down the river at the moment. And the stuff that they can get down the river, the shipping costs have gone. I don’t even know what the rate is the last time I saw this, two or three times the normal rate.
So at this point, it’s like the Europeans, they need a winter where they have a lot of snow or a lot of rain. Otherwise, they’re facing a financial crisis coming.
TN: So let me ask you this. This is going to sound pretty ignorant, but I live in Texas. It’s really hot. Florida, it’s kind of warm, a little bit beautiful. Great place to move if you’re from California. But it’s easy for us to say, “gosh, we deal with heat all the time, it’s not a big deal.” But Europe is a lot hotter than it usually is, right? So how much hotter? Celsius or?
AM: I wouldn’t say that. Maybe the timing of the heat waves is really bad with the droughts. That’s the problem. Because it’s not exponentially hotter than it was previous summers, but it’s just the timing of it is really bad and there’s been no rainfall. Europe has always had a problem with fresh water supply, and that’s why the United States has been blessed that we have ample fresh water.
Forget about the lake meat stuff that you hear right now. I’m talking about in the farm, the Midwest, where all the farms and all the industry is ample fresh water. And Europe doesn’t have that and they are suffering for it right now.
TN: Now, the key crop… So we’ve talked about energy before and you’ve said France, they’ve kind of got their act together and they don’t have to worry like Germany or in Italy does. How is France doing compared to the other places? I’m sure they’re suffering, but are they a little bit better put together?
AM: They are a little bit better put together. They have ample food supply that sustains their nation. I think they sold 40% of the wheat crop to China, which I think is probably going to hurt them later on in the year as the job persists. But for France right now, they’re actually sitting far better than Germany is.
TN: Okay, great. So let’s dig down a little bit more on energy. Tracy, you mentioned before we got on that Europe just embargoed Russian coal, right? With all of the issues and the industry issues in Germany, how much worse does that embargo make things? Before we get into coal prices and all that stuff. How much worse does that make things, the embargo on Russian coal?
TS: Well, it’s just another example of self harm, right. Because we’re already seeing… Russia is already prepared for this. We’ve already seen them sell oil to China, and India makes up for those barrels that are not making it to the west. Right.
And so they’ve already been doing that with coal. Russia has actually become India’s third largest supplier within the last couple of months. And to avoid Western sanctions, they’re also paying in yuan and the Hong Kong dollar. And that’s not to say that the US dollar, they’re trading dollars for those currencies to avoid Western sanctions. So it’s not that they’re not using dollars anymore, but it is that they figured out a clever way to get around sanctions.
TN: Just circumconvention, right?
TS: Right. I think that just like oil, where everybody expected three to 4 million barrels to be taken off the market immediately, we never saw this come to fruition because it was such heavily discounted. Those barrels found our way to market anyway, and so is Russian coal, to be honest. So really this hurts Germany more than anything.
That said, the flip side of that is that the beneficiaries of that policy are going to be Australia, United States, Colombia and South Africa.
TN: Okay. So if we look at Australia, just to kind of focus in on there, China barred Australian coal about two years ago, a year and a half ago, something like that? So is there ample supply in Australia to support Europe? And is that new? Have they already been redirecting things to Europe?
TS: I mean, they’ve already been redirecting things everywhere else because demand has suddenly gone up. Right. And not globally. So what we’re seeing, if we look at the benchmark Australian price, which is Newcastle Coal, their prices are about 400 AUD, which is about $284.
If we look at what current spot prices are going for in the United States, particularly on the East Coast where shipping is a lot less, we can see that those are significantly lower. So that does bode well for coal companies on the East Coast with access to ports, closer access to ports, rather than coming, say, from the Midwest or the West Coast.
TN: So we’ve got the weekly coal price commodity spot prices for us up right now. So the highest there is 186 for Illinois Basin coal. Right. So where is most of that coal coming from? Is it Appalachia? Is it Joe Manchin territory?
TS: You’re going to want to look at Appalachia. Okay. They’re closest to the East Coast, which means your shipping costs significantly go down because you don’t have to ship it across the country first. Clean coal. Yes.
TN: So that does bode well for the United States, just because it’s significantly lower. But I kind of wanted to go back and in the same vein, if we go back to the Rhine River. The fact is that because water levels are so low, they’re about 1.5 meters deep right now. That will sit around 1.2 meters deep. It sits in about 30cm leave room. At the lowest levels right now, where there’s nobody traveling, obviously, they’re about 42cm. Actually, the lowest was in the lowest in the last century was in 2018, where they were about 25cm.
But what’s happening is because, what’s happening with the energy industry in general, because we’re talking there’s a lot of oil products sent down that river as well as coal, is that what these vessels are having to do is they’re having the third with what they’re normally carrying.
TN: So. If you had a vessel that went down and you’re paying X amount of dollars, now you have three vessels going down because you have to split that into a third because those water levels are so low. There’s more demand, there’s higher shipping costs, lower capacity. So those shipping costs are times, what, five or something per unit per ton.
TS: Or are absolutely ridiculous. And then when we talk about like low river levels, they typically impact regional, downstream, refined products. Right. Rather than upstream. So this is going to have a major impact, particularly in Switzerland and Germany again. So this is going to increase the cost of their refined product, particularly diesel, which there’s already a diesel shortage. So I expect that situation to get ten times worse as well as coal and other commodities that are sent out the river.
TN: Okay, so just to shift a little bit downstream. So if you talk about refined products and then we go a step further to say, plastics and that sort of thing. And we look at say, the electronics industry in Germany. We look at automotive industry in Germany. So do we expect a major impact on those industries as well? And at what pace will that happen? Will that be three months? Will that be nine months?
TS: Oh, absolutely. I think that’s going to have a major impact, especially because we’re already looking at those industries, looking to a lot of the manufacturing industry in particular are looking to go from gas to oil switching or gas to diesel switching.
So if diesel becomes a problem, right. And oil becomes a problem coming down the river, that’s going to make that situation entirely worse. So we’re looking at this situation, I would say three to six months, much sooner than later for certain, especially as we head into the winter.
TN: Oh yeah. So it sounds to me we know that Europe has inflation problems. Right. We know that Europe has energy problems with the river issues and the drought issues. They now have crop problems and they have supply chain problems and they have, say, secondary impacts of, say, refining secondary, tertiary impacts of refining issues. Right?
So I’m not asking this to be funny, like is there good news out of Europe? Or is there a bright spot in Europe right now?
AM: No, there really isn’t. There really isn’t. Everything coming out of Europe right now is negative. The ECB came out today and said they’re not going to raise any more rates until next year and they’re looking at a secondary inflation event, causing bigger problems for the European Union and the UK. I don’t want to leave the UK out of it because they got drought issues and transportation inflation issues to deal with all, but there’s no silver lining for the next six to twelve months, in my opinion.
I think the euro is actually going to go down to 95 subparity for quite a while.
TN: This year?
AM: At the end of the year and into next year. Okay, so let me ask a couple of questions about markets and politics in Europe. First of all, how will this environment impact European politics in the near term? I expect the German coalition to break apart probably sooner than later. These inflationary effects are going to cause big problems. I mean, just the energy costs alone in Germany, God help them if they see frozen Germans dying, elderly people dying over the winter. It’s just a political nuclear bomb over there.
TN: Okay. Italy, places like that, obviously?
AM: Italy is a disaster. Italy has always been a disaster. It’s just like their government’s rise and fall with the wind.
TN: UK, same? Do you think we’ll have a very short term government form and then it will fall away next year or something like that?
AM: Yeah, I believe one year. One year will last about a year. The French government is a little more stable, but even then McCrone lost the majority there. But Europe right now is in turmoil. The Dutch. Same problems with the Dutch. All these coalitions that have slim majorities are just going to start breaking apart. Okay, so ECB has kind of lost its backbone. European politics is in disarray. The Euro is likely to devalue or depreciate to 95.
TN: How are you playing, in a broad sense, equities in Europe? Do you think it’s a real danger zone for the next six months? Or again, are there broad equities?
AM: When, there’s blood in the water you want to start buying. I would look at what’s systemically important to the European Union, like Deutsche Bank, French Bank Societe Generale, BASF.
These systemically important components to the economy have to be shored up so they’ll get bailouts
of support or whatnot and stimulus packages. That’s where. I’d be buying probably in January, February.
TS: I think we’re already seeing a ton of bailouts, particularly in utilities right now. And so obviously those are going to help those stock prices. And so I expect we just hit the tip of the iceberg with Unifer. Right. And there’s a lot more to come. Those are the sectors that I would be watching.
TN: Wow, that’s pretty bad news. Okay.
AM: It’s almost to the point where European equities will be cheaper than Chinese equities. That’s what we’re getting to.
TN: Okay, that’s good to know. We’ll keep an eye out for that. Okay, let’s move on to inflation. So everyone’s covered CPI and PPI this week. Please don’t turn off the show right now. We’re going to say something, but I did a survey yesterday. Very scientific, very statistically valid, Twitter survey yesterday looking at in light of CPI and PPI, where do we think Fed rates will go? And it’s pretty much a tie between 75 and 50. So I wonder, guys, we heard for days. There was zero month-on-month inflation, right? CPI inflation. And we saw negative. PPI. These are the things that you look at when there’s hyperinflation. We can’t find good news in the year on year. So let’s look at incremental data. So do you think we’ve hit peak inflation in the US?
AM: No. Secondary effect of inflation coming, mainly because the Fed started to rally this market for political optics. Commodities are rising. I mean, they’ve tried so hard to keep oil and wheat down, and it just simply will not break certain levels. It just won’t go down. Stay in 80s for the oil. It won’t break 750, 770 in wheat. And they just can’t do it. They have to go after these things, but they can’t during the election season.
TN: Okay, so you bring a good point with crude oil. There has been a lot of attention and work to keep crude oil prices and gasoline prices down. Tracy, how long can that happen? Because really, a lot of the zero or negative is in energy, right?
TS: Exactly. And I think what we’re seeing a lot here especially if you look at the front line, is I think we have a lot of things going on right now with the fact that as much Russian crude oil wasn’t taken off the market that people initially thought. There were recession fears. The SPR garage are really starting to weigh on that front month. So there’s a lot of things going on here that are kind of weighing on that front month. Plus open interest is nothing. And we also have China is still on their zero COVID policy and hasn’t opened up yet. So there’s a lot of things weighing on that the market right now. That said is that as soon as the SPR stops, which is end of October, coincidentally near in the Midterms.
Once that stopped and I still think Xi is going to have to open up China somewhat near the People’s Party Congress. And so I think that looking into the end of 2022 and into 2023, we definitely could see those higher oil prices again regardless of what the Fed does.
TN: Okay. Now, compound that real quick, compound those oil prices rising with the cost of rent going up astronomically and I don’t know what magic they’re going to be able to pull to keep CPI under 10%. What month? Like October, November, December?
AM: October, November. December. Okay. Smack in the middle of the Midterms. And they got to be seeing this. They have to be seeing it. If they’re not seeing it right now, it’s purely because the White House is interfering and wants politically driven news for the markets right now.
TN: Okay, so do you think like a slight pivot to 50 basis points in September is possible or likely and then that eases up, helps markets out, goose’s markets going into the Midterms and then we start to see this inflation rush come on and say late October, November?
AM: Well, first of all, we have to see what Powell says at Jackson Hole. Whether he’s dovish or hawkish. This rally makes me think that he’s going to have to be hawkish. Right. And then we’re still looking at probably a 50 basis point rate hike in September and after that I don’t want to even project what happens after that because it really depends on what CPI is going to be printing.
TS: Agree with that.
TN: Okay, perfect guys. So you’re talking about markets rallying. Let’s talk about the week ahead. Equities have done pretty good this week, right? And commodities have done pretty well this week as well. So what are we looking for next week? You say volume is thin. Okay. So do we have another thin
volume week next week? Markets get goose, people feel good and then they come back the following week and we see some drama? What are you expecting?
AM: Yeah, I think that they could take this up closer to 4320 in the S&P. I think that’s the 200-day moving average, if I’m not mistaken. So they could take it up to there. But I’ll tell you what, looking at some of the order books on the S&P on the Futures, there is a boatload of sellers from 4260 to 4300. That boatload of them.
TS: Yeah. It’s summer, right? Theres… Next week is the same as this week. You’re not going to see much until we hit September and fund managers and everybody’s back from their holidays. So I think we’ll see much of the same. The thing is that retail keeps trying to short this, which is kind of just a fuel to push this market higher because of liquidity issues. I think next week will be kind of the same. I’m not looking for outside of any disastrous thing happening, which hope not. But I think we’re going to stay in this well probably throughout the rest of August.
TN: And one of the things that I want to start thinking about, this isn’t the week ahead, but this is kind of the months ahead. I wonder if what happens if Russia Ukraine gets settled in October, November? That changes calculations pretty dramatically. So I’m starting to work on that hypothesis as well.
AM: Yeah, it depends on what a settlement is and whether Western sanctions still continue to bite the Russians, which are obviously going to retaliate economically. So a lot of the definitions need to be dealt with there.