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2014 Trade Alert Review

When is the Mad Hedge Fund Trader a genius, and when is he a complete moron?

That is the question readers have to ask themselves whenever their smart phones ping, and a new Trade Alert appears on their screens.

I have to confess that I wonder myself sometimes.

So I thought I would run my 2014 numbers to find out when I was a hero, and when I was a goat.

The good news is that I was a hero most of the time, and a goat only occasionally. Here is the cumulative profit and loss for the 75 Trade Alerts that I closed during calendar 2014, listed by asset class.

Profit by Asset Class

Foreign Exchange 15.12%
Equities 12.52%
Fixed Income 7.28%
Energy 1.4%
Volatility -1.68%

Total 37.64%

Foreign exchange trading was my big winner for 2014, accounting for nearly half of my profits. My most successful trade of the year was in my short position in the Euro (FXE), (EUO).

I piled on a double position at the end of July, just as it became apparent that the beleaguered European currency was about to break out of a multi month sideway move into a pronounced new downtrend.

I then kept rolling the strikes down every month. Those who bought the short Euro 2X ETF (EUO) made even more.

The fundamentals for the Euro were bad and steadily worsening. It helped that I was there for two months during the summer and could clearly see how grotesquely overvalued the currency was. $20 for a cappuccino? Mama mia!

Nothing beats on the ground, first hand research.

Stocks generated another third of my profits last year and also accounted for my largest number of Trade Alerts.

I correctly identified technology and biotech as the lead sectors for the year, weaving in and out of Apple (AAPL) and Gilead Sciences (GILD) on many occasions. I also nailed the recovery of the US auto industry (GM), (F).

I safely stayed away from the energy sector until the very end of the year, when oil hit the $50 handle. I also prudently avoided commodities like the plague.

Unfortunately, I was wrong on the bond market for the entire year. That didn?t stop me from making money on the short side on price spikes, with fixed income chipping a healthy 7.28% into the kitty.

It was only at the end of the year, when the prices accelerated their northward trend that they started to cost me money. My saving grace was that I kept positions small throughout, doubling up on a single occasion and then coming right back out.

My one trade in the energy sector for the year was on the short side, in natural gas (UNG), selling the simple molecule at the $5.50 level. With gas now plumbing the depths at $2.90, I should have followed up with more Trade Alerts. But hey, a 1.4% gain is better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.

In which asset class was I wrong every single time? Both of the volatility (VIX) trades I did in 2014 lost money, for a total of -1.68%. I got caught in one of many downdrafts that saw volatility hugging the floor for most of the year, giving it to me in the shorts with the (VXX).

All in all, it was a pretty good year.

What was my best trade of 2014? I made 2.75% with a short position in the S&P 500 in July, during one of the market?s periodic 5% corrections.

And my worst trade of 2014? I got hit with a 6.63% speeding ticket with a long position in the same index. But I lived to fight another day.

After a rocky start, 2015 promises to be another great year. That is, provided you ignore my advice on volatility.

FXE 12-31-14

SPY 12-31-14

TLT 12-31-14

WTIC 12-31-14

VIX 12-31-14

Here is a complete list of every trade I closed last year, sorted by asset class, from best to worse.

Date

Position

Asset Class

Long/short

?

?

?

?

?

?

7/25/14

(SPY) 8/$202.50 - $202.50 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.75%

10/16/14

(GILD) 11/$80-$85 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.57%

5/19/14

(TLT) 7/$116-$119 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.48%

4/4/14

(IWM) 8/$113 puts

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.38%

7/10/14

(AAPL) 8/$85-$90 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.30%

2/3/14

(TLT) 6/$106 puts

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.27%

9/19/14

(IWM) 11/$117-$120 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.26%

10/7/14

(FXE) 11/$127-$129 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.22%

9/26/14

(IWM) 11/$116-$119 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.21%

4/17/14

(TLT) 5/$114-$117 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.10%

8/7/14

(FXE) 9/$133-$135 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.07%

10/2/14

(BAC) 11/$15-$16 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.04%

4/9/14

(SPY) 5/$191-$194 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

2.02%

10/15/14

(DAL) 11/$25-$27 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.89%

9/25/14

(FXE) 11/$128-$130 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.86%

6/6/14

(JPM) 7/$52.50-$55.00 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.81%

4/4/14

(SPY) 5/$193-$196 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.81%

3/14/14

(TLT) 4/$111-$114 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.68%

10/17/14

(AAPL) 11/$87.50-$92.50 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.56%

10/15/14

(SPY) 11/$168-$173 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.51%

7/3/14

(FXE) 8/$138 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.51%

10/9/14

(FXE) 11/$128-$130 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.48%

9/19/14

(FXE) 10/$128-$130 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.45%

10/22/14

(SPY) 11/$179-$183 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.44%

5/29/14

(TLT) 7/$118-$121 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.44%

2/24/14

(UNG) 7/$26 puts

energy

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.40%

2/24/14

(BAC) 3/$15-$16 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.39%

6/23/14

(SPY) 7/$202 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.37%

9/29/14

(SPY) 10/$202-$205 Put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.29%

5/20/14

(AAPL) 7/$540 $570 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.22%

9/26/14

(SPY) 10/$202-$205 Put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.22%

5/22/14

(GOOGL) 7/$480-$520 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.16%

5/19/14

(FXY) 7/$98-$101 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.14%

1/15/14

(T) 2/$35-$37 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.08%

3/3/14

(TLT) 3/$111-$114 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.07%

1/28/14

(AAPL) 2/$460-$490 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.06%

4/24/14

(SPY) 5/$192-$195 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.05%

6/6/14

(CAT) 7/$97.50-$100 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

1.04%

7/23/14

(FXE) 8/$134-$136 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.99%

8/18/14

(FXE) 9/$133-$135 put spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.94%

11/4/14

(BAC) 12/$15-$16 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.88%

4/9/14

(SPY) 6/$193-$196 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.88%

7/25/14

(SPY) 8/$202.50 -205 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.88%

6/6/14

(MSFT) 7/$38-$40 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.87%

10/23/14

(FXY) 11/$92-$95 puts spread

foreign exchange

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.86%

7/23/14

(TLT) 8/$117-$120 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.81%

3/5/14

(DAL) 4/$30-$32 Call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.76%

4/10/14

(VXX) long volatility ETN

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.76%

1/30/14

(UNG) 7/$23 puts

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.66%

4/1/14

(FXY) 5/$96-$99 put spread

foreign currency

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.60%

1/15/14

(TLT) 2/$108-$111 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.47%

3/6/14

(EBAY) 4/$52.50- $55 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.24%

10/14/14

(TBT) short Treasury Bond ETF

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.22%

3/28/14

(VXX) long volatility ETN

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.20%

7/17/14

(TBT) short Treasury Bond ETF

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.08%

3/26/14

(VXX) long volatility ETN

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

0.06%

7/8/14

(TLT) 8/$115-$118 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.18%

4/28/14

(SPY) 5/$189-$192 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.45%

3/5/14

(GE) 4/$24-$25 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.73%

4/28/14

(VXX) long volatility ETN

volatility

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.81%

4/24/14

(TLT) 5/$113-$116 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.87%

4/28/14

(VXX) long volatility ETN

volatility

long

?

?

?

?

?

-0.87%

6/6/14

(IBM) 7/$180-$185 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-1.27%

9/30/14

(SPY) 11/$185-$190 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-1.51%

10/9/14

(TLT) 11/$122-$125 put spread

fixed income

long

?

?

?

?

?

-1.55%

9/24/14

(TSLA) 11/$200 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-1.62%

2/27/14

(SPY) 3/$189-$192 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-1.67%

3/6/14

(BAC) 4/$16 calls

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-2.01%

10/14/14

(SPY) 10/$180-$184 call spread

equities

short

?

?

?

?

?

-2.13%

11/14/14

(BABA) 12/$100-$105 call spread

equities

short

?

?

?

?

?

-2.38%

10/20/14

(SPY) 11/$197-$202 call spread

equities

short

?

?

?

?

?

-2.72%

7/3/14

(GM) 8/$33-$35 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-2.91%

3/7/14

(GM) 4/$34-$36 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-2.96%

11/25/14

(SCTY) 12/47.50-$52.50 call spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-3.63%

10/20/14

(SPY) 11/$197-$202 call spread

equities

short

?

?

?

?

?

-4.22%

4/14/14

(SPY) 5/$188-$191 put spread

equities

long

?

?

?

?

?

-6.63%

 

John Thomas - BeachWhat a Year!

2015 Annual Asset Class Review

Zephyr

I am once again writing this report from a first class sleeping cabin on Amtrak?s California Zephyr. By day, I have two comfortable seats facing each other next to a broad window. At night, they fold into bunk beds, a single and a double. There is a shower, but only Houdini could get in and out of it.

We are now pulling away from Chicago?s Union Station, leaving its hurried commuters, buskers, panhandlers, and majestic great halls behind. I am headed for Emeryville, California, just across the bay from San Francisco. That gives me only 56 hours to complete this report.

I tip my porter, Raymond, $100 in advance to make sure everything goes well during the long adventure, and to keep me up to date with the onboard gossip.

The rolling and pitching of the car is causing my fingers to dance all over the keyboard. Spellchecker can catch most of the mistakes, but not all of them. Thank goodness for small algorithms.

 

station

As both broadband and cell phone coverage are unavailable along most of the route, I have to rely on frenzied searches during stops at major stations along the way to chase down data points.

You know those cool maps in the Verizon stores that show the vast coverage of their cell phone networks? They are complete BS. Who knew that 95% of America is off the grid? That explains a lot about our politics today. I have posted many of my better photos from the trip below, although there is only so much you can do from a moving train and an iPhone.

After making the rounds with strategists, portfolio managers, and hedge fund traders, I can confirm that 2014 was one of the toughest to trade for careers lasting 30, 40, or 50 years. Yet again, the stay at home index players have defeated the best and the brightest.

With the Dow gaining a modest 8% in 2014, and S&P 500 up a more virile 14.2%, this was a year of endless frustration. Volatility fell to the floor, staying at a monotonous 12% for seven boring consecutive months. Most hedge funds lagged the index by miles.

My Trade Alert Service, hauled in an astounding 30.3% profit, at the high was up 42.7%, and has become the talk of the hedge fund industry. That was double the S&P 500 index gain.

If you think I spend too much time absorbing conspiracy theories from the Internet, let me give you a list of the challenges I see financial markets facing in the coming year:

 

JT & conductor

The Ten Highlights of 2015

1) Stocks will finish 2015 higher, almost certainly more than the previous year, somewhere in the 10-15% range. Cheap energy, ultra low interest rates, and 3-4% GDP growth, will expand multiples. It?s Goldilocks with a turbocharger.

2) Performance this year will be back-end loaded into the fourth quarter, as it was in 2014. The path forward became so clear, that some of 2015?s performance was pulled forward into November, 2014.

3) The Treasury bond market will modestly grind down, anticipating the inevitable rate rise from the Federal Reserve.

4) The yen will lose another 10%-20% against the dollar.

5) The Euro will fall another 10%, doing its best to hit parity with the greenback, with the assistance of beleaguered continental governments.

6) Oil stays in a $50-$80 range, showering the economy with hundreds of billions of dollars worth of de facto tax cuts.

7) Gold finally bottoms at $1,000 after one more final flush, then rallies (My jeweler was right, again).

8) Commodities finally bottom out, thanks to new found strength in the global economy, and begin a modest recovery.

9) Residential real estate has made its big recovery, and will grind up slowly from here.

10) After a tumultuous 2014, international political surprises disappear, the primary instigators of trouble becalmed by collapsed oil revenues.

 

windmills

The Thumbnail Portfolio

Equities - Long. A rising but low volatility year takes the S&P 500 up to 2,350. This year we really will get another 10% correction. Technology, biotech, energy, solar, and financials lead.

Bonds - Short. Down for the entire year with long periods of stagnation.

Foreign Currencies - Short. The US dollar maintains its bull trend, especially against the Yen and the Euro.

Commodities - Long. A China recovery takes them up eventually.

Precious Metals - Stand aside. We get the final capitulation selloff, then a rally.

Agriculture - Long. Up, because we can?t keep getting perfect weather forever.

Real estate - Long. Multifamily up, commercial up, single family homes sideways to up small.

 

farmland

1) The Economy - Fortress America

This year, it?s all about oil, whether it stays low, shoots back up, or falls lower. The global crude market is so big, so diverse, and subject to so many variables, that it is essentially unpredictable.

No one has an edge, not the major producers, consumers, or the myriad middlemen. For proof, look at how the crash hit so many ?experts? out of the blue.

This means that most economic forecasts for the coming year are on the low side, as they tend to be insular and only examine their own back yard, with most predictions still carrying a 2% handle.

I think the US will come in at the 3%-4% range, and the global recovery spawns a cross leveraged, hockey stick effect to the upside. This will be the best performance in a decade. Most company earnings forecasts are low as well.

There is one big positive that we can count on in the New Year. Corporate earnings will probably come in at $130 a share for the S&P 500, a gain of 10% over the previous year. During the last five years, we have seen the most dramatic increase in earnings in history, taking them to all-time highs.

This is set to continue. Furthermore, this growth will be front end loaded into Q1. The ?tell? was the blistering 5% growth rate we saw in Q3, 2014.

Cost cutting through layoffs is reaching an end, as there is no one left to fire. That leaves hyper accelerating technology and dramatically lower energy costs the remaining sources of margin increases, which will continue their inexorable improvements. Think of more machines and software replacing people.

You know all of those hundreds of billions raised from technology IPO?s in 2014. Most of that is getting plowed right back into new start ups, accelerating the rate of technology improvements even further, and the productivity gains that come with it.

You can count on demographics to be a major drag on this economy for the rest of the decade. Big spenders, those in the 46-50 age group, don?t return in large numbers until 2022.

But this negative will be offset by a plethora of positives, like technology, global expansion, and the lingering effects of Ben Bernanke?s massive five year quantitative easing. A time to pay the piper for all of this largess will come. But it could be a decade off.

I believe that the US has entered a period of long-term structural unemployment similar to what Germany saw in the 1990?s. Yes, we may grind down to 5%, but no lower than that. Keep close tabs on the weekly jobless claims that come out at 8:30 AM Eastern every Thursday for a good read as to whether the financial markets will head in a ?RISK ON? or ?RISK OFF? direction.

Most of the disaster scenarios predicted for the economy this year were based on the one off black swans that never amounted to anything, like the Ebola virus, ISIS, and the Ukraine.

Being continually afraid is expensive.

 

Moose on Snowy MountainA Rocky Mountain Moose Family

 

2) Equities (SPX), (QQQ), (AAPL), (XLF), (BAC), (EEM),(EWZ), (RSX), (PIN), (FXI), (TUR), (EWY), (EWT), (IDX)

With the economy going gangbusters, and corporate earnings reaching $130 a share, those with a traditional ?buy and hold? approach to the stock market will do alright, provided they are willing to sleep through some gut churning volatility. A Costco sized bottle of Jack Daniels and some tranquillizers might help too.

Earnings multiples will increase as well, as much as 10%, from the current 17X to 18.5X, thanks to a prolonged zero interest rate regime from the Fed, a massive tax cut in the form of cheap oil, unemployment at a ten year low, and a paucity of attractive alternative investments.

This is not an outrageous expectation, given the 10-22 earnings multiple range that we have enjoyed during the last 30 years. If anything, it is amazing how low multiples are, given the strong tailwinds the economy is enjoying.

The market currently trades around fair value, and no market in history ever peaked out here. An overshoot to the upside, often a big one, is mandatory.
After all, my friend, Janet Yellen, is paying you to buy stock with cheap money, so why not?

This is how the S&P 500 will claw its way up to 2,350 by yearend, a gain of about 12.2% from here. Throw in dividends, and you should pick up 14.2% on your stock investments in 2015.

This does not represent a new view for me. It is simply a continuation of the strategy I outlined again in October, 2014 (click here for ?Why US Stocks Are Dirt Cheap?).

Technology will be the top-performing sector once again this year. They will be joined by consumer cyclicals (XLV), industrials (XLI), and financials (XLF).

The new members in the ?Stocks of the Month Club? will come from newly discounted and now high yielding stocks in the energy sector (XLE).

There is also a rare opportunity to buy solar stocks on the cheap after they have been unfairly dragged down by cheap oil like Solar City (SCTY) and the solar basket ETF (TAN). Revenues are rocketing and costs are falling.

After spending a year in the penalty box, look for small cap stocks to outperform. These are the biggest beneficiaries of cheap energy and low interest rates, and also have minimal exposure to the weak European and Asian markets.

Share prices will deliver anything but a straight-line move. We finally got our 10% correction in 2014, after a three-year hiatus. Expect a couple more in 2015. The higher prices rise, the more common these will become.

We will start with a grinding, protesting rally that takes us up to new highs, as the market climbs the proverbial wall of worry. Then we will suffer a heart stopping summer selloff, followed by another aggressive yearend rally.

Cheap money creates a huge incentive for companies to buy back their own stock. They divert money from their $3 trillion cash hoard, which earns nothing, retire shares paying dividends of 3% or more, and boost earnings per share without creating any new business. Call it financial engineering, but the market loves it.

Companies are also retiring stock through takeovers, some $2 trillion worth last year. Expect more of this to continue in the New Year, with a major focus on energy. Certainly, every hedge fund and activist investor out there is undergoing a crash course on oil fundamentals. After a 13-year bull market in energy, the industry is ripe for a cleanout.

This is happening in the face of both an individual and institutional base that is woefully underweight equities.

The net net of all of this is to create a systemic shortage of US equities. That makes possible simultaneous rising prices and earnings multiples that have taken us to investor heaven.

 

SPX 12-31-14

QQQ 12-31-14

IWM 12-31-14

XLE 12-31-14

snowy hillsFrozen Headwaters of the Colorado River

 

3) Bonds ?(TLT), (TBT), (JNK), (PHB), (HYG), (PCY), (MUB), (HCP), (KMP), (LINE)

Amtrak needs to fill every seat in the dining car, so you never know who you will get paired with.

There was the Vietnam vet Phantom jet pilot who now refused to fly because he was treated so badly at airports. A young couple desperate to get out of Omaha could only afford seats as far as Salt Lake City, sitting up all night. I paid for their breakfast.

A retired British couple was circumnavigating the entire US in a month on a ?See America Pass.? Mennonites returning home by train because their religion forbade airplanes.

If you told me that US GDP growth was 5%, unemployment was at a ten year low at 5.8%, and energy prices had just halved, I would have pegged the ten-year Treasury bond yield at 6.0%. Yet here we are at 2.10%.

Virtually every hedge fund manager and institutional investor got bonds wrong last year, expecting rates to rise. I was among them, but that is no excuse. At least I have good company.

You might as well take your traditional economic books and throw them in the trash. Apologies to John Maynard Keynes, John Kenneth Galbraith, and Paul Samuelson.

The reasons for the debacle are myriad, but global deflation is the big one. With ten year German bunds yielding a paltry 50 basis points, and Japanese bonds paying a paltry 30 basis points, US Treasuries are looking like a bargain.

To this, you can add the greater institutional bond holding requirements of Dodd-Frank, a balancing US budget deficit, a virile US dollar, the commodity price collapse, and an enormous embedded preference for investors to keep buying whatever worked yesterday.

For more depth on the perennial strength of bonds, please click here for ?Ten Reasons Why I?m Wrong on Bonds?.

Bond investors today get an unbelievable bad deal. If they hang on to the longer maturities, they will get back only 80 cents worth of purchasing power at maturity for every dollar they invest.

But institutions and individuals will grudgingly lock in these appalling returns because they believe that the potential losses in any other asset class will be worse. The problem is that driving eighty miles per hour while only looking in the rear view mirror can be hazardous to your financial health.

While much of the current political debate centers around excessive government borrowing, the markets are telling us the exact opposite. A 2%, ten-year yield is proof to me that there is a Treasury bond shortage, and that the government is not borrowing too much money, but not enough.

There is another factor supporting bonds that no one is looking at. The concentration of wealth with the 1% has a side effect of pouring money into bonds and keeping it there. Their goal is asset protection and nothing else.

These people never sell for tax reasons, so the money stays there for generations. It is not recycled into the rest of the economy, as conservative economists insist. As this class controls the bulk of investable assets, this forestalls any real bond market crash, possibly for decades.

So what will 2015 bring us? I think that the erroneous forecast of higher yields I made last year will finally occur this year, and we will start to chip away at the bond market bubble?s granite edifice. I am not looking for a free fall in price and a spike up in rates, just a move to a new higher trading range.

The high and low for ten year paper for the past nine months has been 1.86% to 3.05%. We could ratchet back up to the top end of that range, but not much higher than that. This would enable the inverse Treasury bond bear ETF (TBT) to reverse its dismal 2014 performance, taking it from $46 back up to $76.

You might have to wait for your grandchildren to start trading before we see a return of 12% Treasuries, last seen in the early eighties. I probably won?t live that long.

Reaching for yield will continue to be a popular strategy among many investors, which is typical at market tops. That focuses buying on junk bonds (JNK) and (HYG), REITS (HCP), and master limited partnerships (KMP), (LINE).

There is also emerging market sovereign debt to consider (PCY). At least there, you have the tailwinds of long term strong economies, little outstanding debt, appreciating currencies, and higher interest rates than those found at home. This asset class was hammered last year, so we are now facing a rare entry point. However, keep in mind, that if you reach too far, your fingers get chopped off.

There is a good case for sticking with munis. No matter what anyone says, taxes are going up, and when they do, this will increase tax free muni values. So if you hate paying taxes, go ahead and buy this exempt paper, but only with the expectation of holding it to maturity. Liquidity could get pretty thin along the way, and mark to markets could be shocking. Be sure to consult with a local financial advisor to max out the state, county, and city tax benefits.

 

TLT 12-31-14

TBT 12-31-14

MennonitesA Visit to the 19th Century

 

4) Foreign Currencies (FXE), (EUO), (FXC), (FXA), (YCS), (FXY), (CYB)

There are only three things you need to know about trading foreign currencies in 2015: the dollar, the dollar, and the dollar. The decade long bull market in the greenback continues.

The chip shot here is still to play the Japanese yen from the short side. Japan?s Ministry of Finance is now, far and away, the most ambitious central bank hell bent on crushing the yen to rescue its dying economy.

The problems in the Land of the Rising Sun are almost too numerous to count: the world?s highest debt to GDP ratio, a horrific demographic problem, flagging export competitiveness against neighboring China and South Korea, and the world?s lowest developed country economic growth rate.

The dramatic sell off we saw in the Japanese currency since December, 2012 is the beginning of what I believe will be a multi decade, move down. Look for ?125 to the dollar sometime in 2015, and ?150 further down the road. I have many friends in Japan looking for and overshoot to ?200. Take every 3% pullback in the greenback as a gift to sell again.

With the US having the world?s strongest major economy, its central bank is, therefore, most likely to raise interest rates first. That translates into a strong dollar, as interest rate differentials are far and away the biggest decider of the direction in currencies. So the dollar will remain strong against the Australian and Canadian dollars as well.

The Euro looks almost as bad. While European Central Bank president, Mario Draghi, has talked a lot about monetary easing, he now appears on the verge of taking decisive action.

Recurring financial crisis on the continent is forcing him into a massive round of Fed style quantitative easing through the buying of bonds issued by countless European entities. The eventual goal is to push the Euro down to parity with the buck and beyond.

For a sleeper, use the next plunge in emerging markets to buy the Chinese Yuan ETF (CYB) for your back book, but don?t expect more than single digit returns. The Middle Kingdom will move heaven and earth in order to keep its appreciation modest to maintain their crucial export competitiveness.

 

FXY 1-2-15

FXE 1-5-15

CYB 1-2-15

mountains

5) Commodities (FCX), (VALE), (MOO), (DBA), (MOS), (MON), (AGU), (POT), (PHO), (FIW), (CORN), (WEAT), (SOYB), (JJG)

There isn?t a strategist out there not giving thanks for not loading up on commodities in 2014, the preeminent investment disaster of 2015. Those who did are now looking for jobs on Craig?s List.

2014 was the year that overwhelming supply met flagging demand, both in Europe and Asia. Blame China, the big swing factor in the global commodity.

The Middle Kingdom is currently changing drivers of its economy, from foreign exports to domestic consumption. This will be a multi decade process, and they have $4 trillion in reserves to finance it.

It will still demand prodigious amounts of imported commodities, especially, oil, copper, iron ore, and coal, all of which we sell. But not as much as in the past. The derivative equity plays here, Freeport McMoRan (FCX) and Companhia Vale do Rio Doce (VALE), have all taken an absolute pasting.

The food commodities were certainly the asset class to forget about in 2014, as perfect weather conditions and over planting produced record crops for the second year in a row, demolishing prices. The associated equity plays took the swan dive with them.

However, the ags are still a tremendous long term Malthusian play. The harsh reality here is that the world is making people faster than the food to feed them, the global population jumping from 7 billion to 9 billion by 2050.

Half of that increase comes in countries unable to feed themselves today, largely in the Middle East. The idea here is to use any substantial weakness, as we are seeing now, to build long positions that will double again if global warming returns in the summer, or if the Chinese get hungry.

The easy entry points here are with the corn (CORN), wheat (WEAT), and soybeans (SOYB) ETF?s. You can also play through (MOO) and (DBA), and the stocks Mosaic (MOS), Monsanto (MON), Potash (POT), and Agrium (AGU).

The grain ETF (JJG) is another handy fund. Though an unconventional commodity play, the impending shortage of water will make the energy crisis look like a cakewalk. You can participate in this most liquid of assets with the ETF?s (PHO) and (FIW).

 

CORN 1-2-15

DBA 1-2-15

PHO 1-2-15

JT snow angelSnow Angel on the Continental Divide

 

6) Energy (DIG), (RIG), (USO), (DUG), (DIG), (UNG), (USO), (OXY), (XLE), (X)

Yikes! What a disaster! Energy in 2014 suffered price drops of biblical proportions. Oil lost the $30 risk premium it has enjoyed for the last ten years. Natural gas got hammered. Coal disappeared down a black hole.

Energy prices did this in the face of an American economy that is absolutely rampaging, its largest consumer.

Our train has moved over to a siding to permit a freight train to pass, as it has priority on the Amtrak system. Three Burlington Northern engines are heaving to pull over 100 black, brand new tank cars, each carrying 30,000 gallons of oil from the fracking fields in North Dakota.

There is another tank car train right behind it. No wonder Warren Buffett tap dances to work every day, as he owns the road. US Steel (X) also does the two-step, since they provide immense amounts of steel to build these massive cars.

The US energy boom sparked by fracking will be the biggest factor altering the American economic landscape for the next two decades. It will flip us from a net energy importer to an exporter within two years, allowing a faster than expected reduction in military spending in the Middle East.

Cheaper energy will bestow new found competitiveness on US companies that will enable them to claw back millions of jobs from China in dozens of industries. This will end our structural unemployment faster than demographic realities would otherwise permit.

We have a major new factor this year in considering the price of energy. Peace in the Middle East, especially with Iran, always threatened to chop $30 off the price of Texas tea. But it was a pie-in-the-sky hope. Now there are active negotiations underway in Geneva for Iran to curtail or end its nuclear program. This could be one of the black swans of 2015, and would be hugely positive for risk assets everywhere.

Enjoy cheap oil while it lasts because it won?t last forever. American rig counts are already falling off a cliff and will eventually engineer a price recovery.

Add the energies of oil (DIG), Cheniere Energy (LNG), the energy sector ETF (XLE), Conoco Phillips (COP), and Occidental Petroleum (OXY). Skip natural gas (UNG) price plays and only go after volume plays, because the discovery of a new 100-year supply from ?fracking? and horizontal drilling in shale formations is going to overhang this subsector for a very long time.

It is a basic law of economics that cheaper prices bring greater demand and growing volumes, which have to be transported. However, major reforms are required in Washington before use of this molecule goes mainstream.

These could be your big trades of 2015, but expect to endure some pain first.

 

Baker Hughes Rig Count

WTIC 1-2-15

UNG 1-2-15

OXY 1-2-15

Train

7) Precious Metals (GLD), (DGP), (SLV), (PPTL), (PALL)

The train has added extra engines at Denver, so now we may begin the long laboring climb up the Eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains.

On a steep curve, we pass along an antiquated freight train of hopper cars filled with large boulders. The porter tells me this train is welded to the tracks to create a windbreak. Once, a gust howled out of the pass so swiftly that it blew a train over on to its side.

In the snow filled canyons we sight a family of three moose, a huge herd of elk, and another group of wild mustangs. The engineer informs us that a rare bald eagle is flying along the left side of the train. It?s a good omen for the coming year. We also see countless abandoned gold mines and the broken down wooden trestles leading to them, so it is timely here to speak about precious metals.

As long as the world is clamoring for paper assets like stocks and bonds, gold is just another shiny rock. After all, who needs an insurance policy if you are going to live forever?

We have already broken $1,200 once, and a test of $1,000 seems in the cards before a turnaround ensues. There are more hedge fund redemptions and stop losses to go. The bear case has the barbarous relic plunging all the way down to $700.

But the long-term bull case is still there. Someday, we are going to have to pay the piper for the $4.5 trillion expansion in the Fed?s balance sheet over the past five years, and inflation will return. Gold is not dead; it is just resting. I believe that the monetary expansion arguments to buy gold prompted by massive quantitative easing are still valid.

If you forgot to buy gold at $35, $300, or $800, another entry point is setting up for those who, so far, have missed the gravy train. The precious metals have to work off a severely, decade old overbought condition before we make substantial new highs. Remember, this is the asset class that takes the escalator up and the elevator down, and sometimes the window.

If the institutional world devotes just 5% of their assets to a weighting in gold, and an emerging market central bank bidding war for gold reserves continues, it has to fly to at least $2,300, the inflation adjusted all-time high, or more.

This is why emerging market central banks step in as large buyers every time we probe lower prices. For me, that pegs the range for 2015 at $1,000-$1,400. ETF players can look at the 1X (GLD) or the 2X leveraged gold (DGP).

I would also be using the next bout of weakness to pick up the high beta, more volatile precious metal, silver (SLV), which I think could hit $50 once more, and eventually $100.

What will be the metals to own in 2015? Palladium (PALL) and platinum (PPLT), which have their own auto related long term fundamentals working on their behalf, would be something to consider on a dip. With US auto production at 17 million units a year and climbing, up from a 9 million low in 2009, any inventory problems will easily get sorted out.

 

GOLD 1-2-15

SILVER 1-2-15

sunsetWould You Believe This is a Blue State?

8) Real Estate (ITB)

The majestic snow covered Rocky Mountains are behind me. There is now a paucity of scenery, with the endless ocean of sagebrush and salt flats of Northern Nevada outside my window, so there is nothing else to do but write. My apologies to readers in Wells, Elko, Battle Mountain, and Winnemucca, Nevada.

It is a route long traversed by roving banks of Indians, itinerant fur traders, the Pony Express, my own immigrant forebears in wagon trains, the transcontinental railroad, the Lincoln Highway, and finally US Interstate 80.

There is no doubt that there is a long-term recovery in real estate underway. We are probably 8 years into an 18-year run at the next peak in 2024.

But the big money has been made here over the past two years, with some red hot markets, like San Francisco, soaring. If you live within commuting distance of Apple (AAPL), Google (GOOG), or Facebook (FB) headquarters in California, you are looking at multiple offers, bidding wars, and prices at all time highs.

From here on, I expect a slow grind up well into the 2020?s. If you live in the rest of the country, we are talking about small, single digit gains. The consequence of pernicious deflation is that home prices appreciate at a glacial pace. At least, it has stopped going down, which has been great news for the financial industry.

There are only three numbers you need to know in the housing market: there are 80 million baby boomers, 65 million Generation Xer?s who follow them, and 85 million in the generation after that, the Millennials.

The boomers have been unloading dwellings to the Gen Xer?s since prices peaked in 2007. But there are not enough of the latter, and three decades of falling real incomes mean that they only earn a fraction of what their parents made.

If they have prospered, banks won?t lend to them. Brokers used to say that their market was all about ?location, location, location?. Now it is ?financing, financing, financing?. Banks have gone back to the old standard of only lending money to people who don?t need it.

Consider the coming changes that will affect this market. The home mortgage deduction is unlikely to survive any real attempt to balance the budget. And why should renters be subsidizing homeowners anyway? Nor is the government likely to spend billions keeping Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac alive, which now account for 95% of home mortgages.

That means the home loan market will be privatized, leading to mortgage rates higher than today. It is already bereft of government subsidies, so loans of this size are priced at premiums. This also means that the fixed rate 30-year loan will go the way of the dodo, as banks seek to offload duration risk to consumers. This happened long ago in the rest of the developed world.

There is a happy ending to this story. By 2022 the Millennials will start to kick in as the dominant buyers in the market. Some 85 million Millennials will be chasing the homes of only 65 Gen Xer?s, causing housing shortages and rising prices.

This will happen in the context of a labor shortfall and rising standards of living. Remember too, that by then, the US will not have built any new houses in large numbers in 15 years.

The best-case scenario for residential real estate is that it gradually moves up for another decade, unless you live in Cupertino or Mountain View. We won?t see sustainable double-digit gains in home prices until America returns to the Golden Age in the 2020?s, when it goes hyperbolic.

But expect to put up your first-born child as collateral, and bring your entire extended family in as cosigners if you want to get a bank loan.

That makes a home purchase now particularly attractive for the long term, to live in, and not to speculate with. This is especially true if you lock up today?s giveaway interest rates with a 30 year fixed rate loan. At 3.3% this is less than the long-term inflation rate.

You will boast about it to your grandchildren, as my grandparents once did to me.

 

Case-Shiller Home Prices Indices

ITB 1-2-15

BridgeCrossing the Bridge to Home Sweet Home

9) Postscript

We have pulled into the station at Truckee in the midst of a howling blizzard.

My loyal staff have made the 20 mile trek from my beachfront estate at Incline Village to welcome me to California with a couple of hot breakfast burritos and a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon Champagne, which has been resting in a nearby snowbank. I am thankfully spared from taking my last meal with Amtrak.

Well, that?s all for now. We?ve just passed the Pacific mothball fleet moored in the Sacramento River Delta and we?re crossing the Benicia Bridge. The pressure increase caused by an 8,200 foot descent from Donner Pass has crushed my water bottle. The Golden Gate Bridge and the soaring spire of the Transamerica Building are just around the next bend across San Francisco Bay.

A storm has blown through, leaving the air crystal clear and the bay as flat as glass. It is time for me to unplug my Macbook Pro and iPhone 6, pick up my various adapters, and pack up.

We arrive in Emeryville 45 minutes early. With any luck, I can squeeze in a ten mile night hike up Grizzly Peak and still get home in time to watch the season opener for Downton Abbey season five. I reach the ridge just in time to catch a spectacular pastel sunset over the Pacific Ocean. The omens are there. It is going to be another good year.

I?ll shoot you a Trade Alert whenever I see a window open on any of the trades above.

Good trading in 2015!

John Thomas
The Mad Hedge Fund Trader

 

JT at workThe Omens Are Good for 2015!

Loading Up On Linn Energy

You can pay up to $17 a unit for (LINN) and have a good chance of making a quick, snapback profit.

All of a sudden, everyone I know in Texas, and there are quite a few of them, called to tell me to buy Linn Energy, all within the space of one hour. I summarize their diverse comments below.

We have reached a margin call induced capitulation sell off in Linn Energy this morning, when oil was trading as low as $64 a barrel at the European opening.

There were obviously also a couple of leveraged energy and commodity funds that blew up and are undergoing forced liquidation at the market.

Add to that all the individuals who bought (LINN) on margin when the yield was only 8% so they would take 16% home to the bank.

This has taken the price of the units down to an artificial, and hopefully temporary, low of $15.90. At that price, the yield was a mind blowing 17% (after all, this is California).

It was a classic ?Throwing out the baby with the bathwater? moment. (LINN) gets 54% of its $1.6 billion in revenues from natural gas, which has held up remarkably well in the energy melt down, thanks to the early arrival of the polar vortex this winter.

Only 22% of its income derives from oil related projects, and half of this is hedged in the futures market from any downside exposure in the price of oil, according to the company?s recent pronouncements. Linn has actually plunged more than oil from its recent peak.

Does a loss on 10% of its revenues justify a gut wrenching 50% drop in the units? I think not.

But then, I am being rational and analytical, and I can assure you that the energy markets are now anything but rational and analytical.

Its not like oil is going to stay this low forever. Try to buy oil for delivery in the futures market two years out, and it has already recovered to $75/barrel, and there is very little available at that price.

What happens when the price of something goes down? Demand increases, and that will be good for Linn Energy, which is inherently more of a volume play on gas and oil, not a price play.

Keep also in mind that the absurd salaries the company was paying for workers in the Midwest has also vaporized. Roustabouts can now be had for as little as $75,000 a year compared to $200,000 only six months ago. This will cut (LINN)?s costs quickly and flow straight to the bottom line.

Falling costs and rising volumes sound like a winning formula to me.

And if you have the courage to buy the units here on margin, the yield rockets to a breathtaking 34%. It therefore can?t stay this low for long.

Linn Energy, LLC is an independent oil and natural gas company based in Houston, Texas. It holds oil and gas producing assets in many parts of the United States: Mid-Continent, including properties in Texas, Louisiana, and Oklahoma; the Hugoton Basin in Kansas; the Green River Basin in Wyoming; East Texas; California, including the Brea-Olinda Oil Field in Los Angeles and Orange Counties; the Williston/Powder River Basin, which includes a position in the Bakken Formation; Michigan/Illinois; and the Permian Basin in Texas.

At the end of 2012, the firm reported proved reserves of 4,796 bcfe (billion cubic feet equivalent) of oil and gas combined. Of this total, 24% was crude oil, 54% natural gas, and 22% natural gas liquids.

Structured as a master limited partnership for tax purposes, the firm is required to pay out most of its cash reserve to unitholders (stockholders) each quarter as distributions, thereby ducking the double taxation of corporate taxation.

However Linn retains some attributes of a limited liability corporation, including giving voting rights to its unitholders. Linn Energy also operates a subsidiary, LinnCo, a C Corporation, which is subject to different tax rules from its parent company.

All we have to do is survive the near term volatility and Linn Energy will be a winner.

 

Line 12-1-14a

LINN Energy

An Iran Peace Deal and Your Portfolio

With the price of oil (USO), (XLE) hitting an eye popping $64 this morning, in the wake of the failed OPEC summit in Vienna, it is clear that something long term, structural, and epochal is going on.

But what is it?

We mere mortals are blind to it, but the financial markets haven?t the slightest doubt. Blame the wisdom of crowds. There is something big going on somewhere.

So I thought it would be a good time to check in with my friend and expert on all things international, David Hale, of David Hale Global Economics.

I have been relying on David as my global macro economist for decades, and I never miss an opportunity to get his updated views.

The challenge is in writing down David?s eye popping, out of consensus ideas fast enough, because he spits them out in such a rapid-fire succession.

Since David is an independent economic advisor to many of the world?s governments, largest banks, and investment firms, I thought his views would be of riveting interest. For my last interview with David, please click here.

On November 21, David was on Capitol Hill testifying in front of congress about the implications of a peace deal with Iran. He was kind enough to pass on to me a transcript of his talk.

The Iran nuclear negotiations broke up last week, extending the deadline for the current round by another seven months, to June 2015.

What David had to say was eye opening. If successful, a deal would have momentous implications for not just the US, but the global economy as well.

All trade with Iran ceased in the wake of the overthrow of the Shah of Iran by fundamentalist religious fanatics led by the Ayatollah Khomeini in 1979. The tortuous yearlong Iran Hostage Crisis followed, and relations with the US went into a deep freeze.

US Secretary of State John Kerry certainly has his work cut out for him today. Iran and America deeply distrust each other and philosophically couldn?t be further apart. They have been fighting proxy wars against each other for three decades, both in the analogue and digital worlds.

Remember Stuxnet?

It also doesn?t engender Iranian trust that the US has decimated a half dozen Arab countries in 30 years, and has more than the means to continue on that path, if it so desires.

Now 35 years later, America and Iran oddly find themselves on the same side of the latest Middle Eastern conflict. Sunni extremist forces lead by ISIL has launched a full-scale invasion of Iraq, capturing about one third of the country, and butchering Shiite opponents along the way in true, barbaric, 14th century fashion.

It has not gone unnoticed in Tehran that steady US air attacks against ISIL have meshed nicely with Iranian ground support to accomplish the same, although ?officially? there has been no cooperation whatsoever.

Not surprisingly, nuclear talks between the two countries, long considered a pipedream and simmering on a distant back burner have suddenly come to life.

If successful, a nuclear deal with Iran would have momentous implications, for not just the US, but the global economy as well.

First and foremost, Iran would be able to increase its oil exports by 1 million barrels a day, and then 1.5 million barrels a day over 2-3 years. The deluge could take the price of Texas tea down to $50-$60 a barrel and keep it there for a while.

Such a collapse, down 56% from the June peak, would amount to a $400 billion annual tax cut for the global economy. It would add 0.2% a year of GDP growth for every $10 price drop.

So the boost that we have seen so far amounts to an impressive 1% growth pop. That is an enormous number, increasing the world?s projected economic activity by a full third.

Major energy importers, like Europe, Japan, China, and India would benefit mightily. The US would prosper as well, as one third of its oil still comes from abroad.

It would be a disaster for high cost energy exporters, including Russia, Venezuela, Nigeria, and Canadian tar sands.

Russia, in particular, would get it right between the eyes. Oil and gas account for a whopping 68% of Russian exports and 45% of government revenues. To defend a crashing Ruble, the central bank has embarked on a series of gut wrenching interest rate hikes.

Russia is now looking into the jaws of its own Great Recession. After seeing its economy shrink this year by -0.2%, it could nosedive by at least 5% in 2015.

When they talk about self-sufficiency, they really mean starvation. This is why I have been saying all along that the Ukrainian crisis is going nowhere, except to create buying powers for equity investors.

Venezuela is a basket case, depending on oil for 90% of its exports. Expect hyperinflation, leading to a headline grabbing default on its national debt. Political instability is to follow.

Another big plus for the world economy is the reemergence of Iran as a significant consumer. This is not a small country. It has a population of 78 million and a $369 billion GDP. Sanctions have successfully crippled the economy, shrinking its GDP by -5.8% in 2012 and another -1.9% last year.

The sanctions have not been a one-way street. They have cost the US a not inconsequential $175 billion in sales over the past 17 years. A rebound would lead to a surge of exports of consumer goods (iPhones), and oil drilling equipment to facilitate a long delayed modernization of the industry there.

A major roadblock to peace has been the Revolutionary Guard. Originally an elite group of fighters during the revolution, it has evolved into a modern day Mafia.

It controls the black market, smuggling and a host of other illegal activities, earning billions in illicit profits along the way. It has a vested interest in maintaining the status quo. War with America is good business for them.

Iran is now a classic case of where the government hates us, and the people love us.

I have written extensively in the past about the global implications of peace with Iran. For my latest opus, please click the titles: Here Comes the Next Peace Dividend and Why You Should Care About the Iranian Rial Collapse.

To learn more about David Hale and the extensive list of services he offers; please visit the website of David Hale Global Economics, http://www.davidhaleweb.com.

 

WTIC 11-28-14

USO 11-28-14

UNG 11-28-14

XLE 11-28-14

David Hale

Why Fracking Will Make Your 2015 Performance

Be nice to investors on the way up, because you always meet them again on the way down. This is the harsh reality of those who have placed their money in the fracking space this year.

The hottest sector in the market for the first half of the year, investors have recently fallen on hard times, with the price of oil collapsing from a $107 high in June to under $77 this morning, a haircut of some 28% in just five months.

Prices just seem to be immune to all the good news that is thrown at them, be it ISIL, the Ukraine, or Syria.

It wasn?t supposed to be like that. Using this revolutionary new technology, drillers are in the process of ramping up US domestic oil production from 6 million to 10 million barrels a day.

The implications for the American economy have been extraordinarily positive. It has created a hiring boom in the oil patch states, which has substantially reduced blue-collar unemployment. It has added several points to US GDP growth.

It has also reduced our dependence on energy imports, from a peak of 30 quadrillion Btu?s in 2005 to only 13 quadrillion Btu?s at the end of last year. We are probably shipping in under 10 quadrillion Btu?s right now, a plunge of 66% from the top in only 9 years.

The foreign exchange markets have taken note. Falling imports means sending hundreds of billions of dollars less to hostile sellers abroad. Am I the only one who has noticed that we are funding both sides of all the Middle Eastern conflicts? The upshot has been the igniting of a huge bull market in the US dollar that will continue for decades.

That has justified the withdrawal of US military forces in this volatile part of the world, creating enormous savings in defense spending, rapidly bringing the US Federal budget into balance.

The oil boom has also provided ample fodder for the stock market, with the major indexes tripling off the 2009 bottom. Energy plays, especially those revolving around fracking infrastructure, took the lead.

Readers lapped up my recommendations in the area. Cheniere Energy (LNG) soared from $6 to $85. Linn Energy (LINE) ratcheted up from $7 to $36. Occidental Petroleum moved by leaps and bounds, from $35 to $110.

Is the party now over? Are we to dump our energy holdings in the wake of the recent calamitous falls in prices?

I think not.

One of the purposes of this letter is to assist readers in separating out the wheat from the chaff on the information front, both the kind that bombards us from the media, and the more mundane variety emailed to us by brokers.

When I see the quality of this data, I want to throw up my hands and cry. Pundits speculate that the troubles stem from Saudi Arabia?s desire to put Russia, Iran, the US fracking industry, and all alternative energy projects out of business by pummeling prices.

The only problem is that these experts have never been to Saudi Arabia, Iran, the Barnett Shale, and wouldn?t know which end of a solar panel to face towards the sun. Best case, they are guessing, worst case, they are making it up to fill up airtime. And you want to invest your life savings based on what they are telling you?

I call this bullpuckey.

I have traveled in the Middle East for 46 years. I covered the neighborhood wars for The Economist magazine during the 1970?s.

When representing Morgan Stanley in the firm?s dealings with the Saudi royal family in the 1980?s, I paused to stick my finger in the crack in the Riyadh city gate left by a spear thrown by King Abdul Aziz al Saud when he captured the city in the 1920?s, creating modern Saudi Arabia.

They only mistake I made in my Texas fracking investments is that I sold out too soon in 2005, when natural gas traded at $5 and missed the spike to $17.

So let me tell you about the price of oil.

There are a few tried and true rules about this industry. It is far bigger than you realize. It has taken 150 years to build. Nothing ever happens in a hurry. Any changes here take decades and billions of dollars to implement.

Nobody has ever controlled the market, just chipped away at the margins. Oh, and occasionally the stuff blows up and kills you.

As one time Vladimir Lenin advisor and Occidental Petroleum founder, the late Dr. Armand Hammer, once told me, ?Follow the oil. Everything springs from there.?

China is the big factor that most people are missing. Media coverage has been unremittingly negative. But their energy imports have never stopped rising, whether the economy is up, down, or going nowhere, which in any case are rigged, guessed, or manufactured. The major cities still suffer brownouts in the summer, and the government has ordered offices to limit air conditioning to a sweltering 82 degrees.

Chinese oil demand doubled to 8 million barrels a day from 2000-2010, and will double again in the current decade. This assumes that Chinese standards of living reach only a fraction of our own. Lack of critical infrastructure and storage prevents it from rising faster.

Any fall in American purchases of Middle Eastern oil are immediately offset by new sales to Asia. Some 80% of Persian Gulf oil now goes to Asia, and soon it will be 100%. This is why the Middle Kingdom has suddenly started investing in aircraft carriers.

So, we are not entering a prolonged, never ending collapse in oil prices. Run that theory past senior management at Exxon Mobil (XOM) and Occidental (OXY), as I have done, and you?ll summon a great guffaw.

It will reorganize, restructure, and move into new technologies and markets, as they have already done with fracking. My theory is that they will buy the entire alternative energy industry the second it become sustainably profitable. It certainly has the cash and the management and engineering expertise to do so.

What we are really seeing is the growing up of the fracking industry, from rambunctious teenage years to a more mature young adulthood. This is its first real recession.

For years I have heard complaints of rocketing costs and endless shortages of key supplies and equipment. This setback will shake out over-leveraged marginal players and allow costs to settle back to earth.

Roustabouts who recently made a stratospheric $200,000 a year will go back to earning $70,000. This will all be great for industry profitability.

What all of this means is that we are entering a generational opportunity to get into energy investments of every description. After all, it is the only sector in the market that is now cheap which, unlike coal, has a reasonable opportunity to recover.

Oil will probably hit a low sometime next year. Where is anybody?s guess, so don?t bother asking me. It is unknowable.

When it does, I?ll be shooting out the Trade Alerts as fast as I can write them.

Where to focus? I?ll unfurl the roll call of the usual suspects. They include Occidental Petroleum (OXY), Exxon Mobil (XOM), Devon Energy (DVN), Anadarko Petroleum (APC) Cabot Oil & Gas (COG), and the ProShares 2X Ultra Oil & Gas ETF (DIG).

Fracking investments should be especially immune to the downturn, because their primary product is natural gas, which has not fallen anywhere as much as Texas tea. Oil was always just a byproduct and a bonus.

CH4 was the main show, which has rocketed by an eye popping 29% to $4.57 in the past two weeks, thanks to the return of the polar vortex this winter. We are now close to the highs for the year in natural gas.

The cost of production of domestic US oil runs everywhere from $28 a barrel for older legacy fields, to $100 for recent deep offshore. Many recent developments were brought on-stream around the $70-$80 area. So $76 a barrel is not the end of the world.

On the other hand, natural gas uniformly cost just under $2/Btu, and that number is falling. Producers are currently getting more than double that in the market.

And while on the subject of this simple molecule, don?t let ground water pollution ever both you. It does happen, but it?s an easy fix.

Of the 50 cases of pollution investigated by MIT, most were found to be the result of subcontractor incompetence, natural causes, or pollution that occurred 50 or more years ago. Properly regulated, it shouldn?t be happening at all.

When I fracked in the Barnett Shale 15 years ago, we used greywater, or runoff from irrigation, to accelerate our underground expositions. The industry has since gotten fancy, bringing in highly toxic chemicals like Guar Gum, Petroleum Distillates, Triethanolamine Zirconate, and Potassium Metaborate.

However, the marginal production gains of using these new additives are not worth the environmental risk. Scale back on the most toxic chemicals and go back to groundwater, and the environmental, as well as the political opposition melts away.

By the way, can any readers tell me if my favorite restaurant in Kuwait, the ship Al Boom, is still in business? The lamb kabob there was to die for.

 

Energy Consumption in China

Global Energy Consumption

Domestic Oil Production

US Net Energy Imports

WTIC 11-10-14

USO 11-11-14

DIG 11-11-14

NATGAS 11-10-14

LINE 11-11-14

 

LNG 11-11-14

FrackingDon?t Throw Out the Baby with the Bathwater

Another Home Run with Natural Gas

It looks like I hit the nail on the head once again with a major short position in the United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG).

After my followers bought the July, 2014 $26 puts at $2.16 on Monday, the (UNG) suffered its worst trading day since 2007, the underlying commodity plunging a breathtaking 11%. The puts roared as high as $3.05, a gain of 42% in mere hours. I wish they were all this easy!

If the (UNG) returns to the February low of $22.50 in the near future, you can expect these puts to soar to $5.00. That?s an increase of 130%, and would add 6.53% to our 2014 performance. Please pray for warmer weather, and dance your best weather dance.

It took a perfect storm of technical and fundamental factors to trigger this Armageddon for owners of the troubled CH4 molecule. One of the coldest winters in history produced unprecedented demand for natural gas.

This happened against a backdrop of a long term structural conversion from coal and oil fired electric power plants to gas. Not only is natural gas far cheaper than these traditional carbon based fuels, burning it generates half the carbon dioxide and none of the other toxic pollutants.

The result for traders was one of the boldest short squeezes in history. The incredibly $6.50 Monday opening we saw in natural gas, and the $28 print for the (UNG) was purely the result of distressed margin calls and panic stop loss covering.

At one point, the February natural gas futures, set to expire in just two days, were trading at a 40% premium to the March futures. Extreme anomalies like this are always the father of great trades.

The extent of the industry short position is evident in the cash flows in the underlying exchange traded notes (ETN?s). As prices rose, the long only (UNG) saw $366 million in redemptions, about 36% of its total assets. The Natural Gas Fund (UNL) has lost more than a third of its capital.

On the flip side, the Velocity Shares 3X Inverse Natural Gas Fund (DGAZ) pulled in some $449 million in new investors. Since the rally in natural gas started in November (DGAZ) has cratered from $18 to $2.5. This is why I never recommend 3X leveraged ETF?s.

This all adds currency to my argument that the natural gas revolution is bringing the greatest structural change to the US economy in a century. The industry is evolving so fast that you can expect dislocations and disruptions to continue.

The current infrastructure reflects the state of the market a decade ago and is woefully inadequate, with a severe pipeline shortage evident.? Gas demand is greatest where supplies aren?t. Infrastructure needed to export CH4 abroad is still under construction (see my piece on Chenier Energy (LNG) by clicking here).

The state of North Dakota estimates that it is losing $1 million a day in tax revenue because excess natural gas is being flared at fracking wells for want of transportation precisely when massive short squeezes are occurring in the marketplace. Needless to say, this is all a dream come true for astute and nimble traders, like you.

The question is now what to do about it.

I just called friends around the country, and it appears that a warming trend is in place that could last all the away into March.

It is time to get clever. It would be wise to enter a limit day order to sell your $26 puts right now at the $5.00 price. Since the first visit to these lower numbers usually happens on a big downside spike, the result of stop loss dumping of panic longs accumulated by clueless short term traders this week, you might get lucky and get filled on the first run.

These happen so fast that it will make your head spin, and you won?t be able to type an order in fast enough. If you don?t get filled keep reentering the limit order every day until it does get done, or until we change our strategy.

This has been one of my best trades in years, and it appears that a lot of followers managed to successfully grab the tiger by the tail.

Good for you.

NATGAS 2-24-14

UNG 2-25-14

DGAZ 2-25-14

Natural-gasNow We?re Cooking with Gas

Now We?re Cooking With Gas (UNG)

Now We?re Cooking With Gas (UNG)

Those who followed my advice to buy the United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) July, 2014 $23 puts at $1.68 yesterday are now in the enviable position of owning a security that is running away to the upside.

At this morning?s high the puts traded at $2.40, a one day gain of an eye popping 43%. I am getting emails from a lucky few that they got in as low as $1.55 after receiving my Trade Alert.

The question is now what to do about it.

I just called friends around the country, and it appears that a warming trend is in place that could last all the away into mid February. It is starting in Florida and Texas and gradually working its away north, although they are still expecting eight inches of snow in Chicago this weekend.

Mad Day Trader Jim Parker is confirming as much with his proprietary trading model chart, which I have included below. He says that we put in an excellent medium term high in the UNG on Thursday at $27. This morning we tested daily support at $23.26 and it held the first time.

But with warmer weather, this is almost certain to break on a future downside push. Then we train out sites on the 18-day moving average at $22.25. After that, $22.07 is in the cards, the top of the gap that we broke through only as recently as January 27, only four days ago.

There, our United States Natural Gas Fund (UNG) July, 2014 $23 puts, with a present delta of 40% (forget this if you don?t speak Greek), should be worth $2.83. You might get more, if implied volatilities for the puts rise on the downside, which they almost always do.

That would be a one-day profit of 68%, adding $3,000 to the value of our notional $100,000 model trading portfolio, or 3% to our performance this year, which I would be inclined to take.

Now it is time to get clever. It would be wise to enter a limit day order to sell your $23 puts right now at the $2.68 price. Since the first visit to these lower numbers usually happens on a big downside spike, the result of stop loss dumping of panic longs accumulated by clueless short term traders this week, you might get lucky and get filled on the first run. If you don?t, keep reentering the limit order every day until it does get done, or until we change our strategy.

This has been one of my best trades in years, and it appears that a lot of followers managed to successfully grab the tiger by the tail.

If there was ever a time to upgrade to Jim Parker?s Mad Day Trader service, it is now. He will see the breakdowns and the reversals with his models faster than I, and get his Trade Alerts out quicker. Why wait for the middleman, who is me? These fast, technically driven markets are where Jim really earns his pay.

If you want to get a pro rata upgrade from your existing newsletter or Global Trading Dispatch subscription to Mad Hedge Fund Trader PRO, which includes Mad Day Trader, just email Nancy in customer support at nmilne@madhedgefundtrader.com.

Do it quick because she is about to get overwhelmed.

NATGAS 1-30-14

UNG 1-31-14

S.UNG 1-31-14

Natural-gasNow We?re Cooking with Gas

Time to Sell Natural Gas

Time to Sell Natural Gas

I received a crackly, hard to understand call late last night from one of my old natural gas buddies in the Barnet shale in Texas. Chances are that CH4 peaked in price last night with the expiration of the front month contract. It was time to sell.

I spent five years driving a beat up pick up truck on the tortuous, jarring, washboard roads of this forlorn part of the country, buying up mineral rights from old depleted fields for pennies on the dollar.

The sellers thought I was some moron hippie from California, probably high on some illegal drugs. "You want to redrill these fields and throw dynamite down the holes?" It was a crazy idea. Since I was offering hard cash, they couldn't sign the dotted line fast enough.

During the late nineties nobody had ever heard of fracking. Even in the oil industry only a few specialists were aware of it. My old buddy, Boone Pickens, claims he was doing it in the fifties, but then nothing the wily oilman ever does surprises me.

Only a few reckless independent wildcatters were experimenting with the new process. The oil majors wouldn't touch it with a ten-foot pole. It was unproven, dangerous, and could never deliver sufficient volumes to get them interested. With the deep pockets a trial lawyer could only dream about, they couldn't afford the liability risk of polluting a town's drinking water. So it was left to small fry like me to finance this ground-breaking technology.

I ended up developing a couple of fields, riding gas up from $2 to $5 MMBTU, then selling them off to the gas companies. My partners and I made a fortune.

We have remained in touch over the years. Whenever something indecipherable happens in the international capital markets, they call me for an explanation. When something special sets up in the natural gas market, I get the first call.

On Election Day we all go out and get drunk because their conservative vote cancels out my liberal ones, so why bother? We do this at Billy Bob's in Fort Worth, a favorite of former President George W. Bush, where the 24-ounce chicken fried steaks fall over both sides of your plate.

I didn't reenter the gas market until the Amaranth hedge fund blow up took the price up to $17 in 2006, and then down like a stone. I figured out that the United States Natural Gas Fund (ETF) suffered from a peculiar mathematics that was death for long side investors.

The natural gas futures market often trades in a contango. This is when front month contracts trade at a big premium to far month ones, adjusted for the cost of borrowed money. This premium completely disappears at expiration, when the commercial buyers, like electric power plants and chemical companies, take physical delivery of the gas.

What (UNG) does is buy contracts three months out, run them into expiration, and then roll the money into new contracts another three months out. The premium they pay rapidly falls to zero. Then they repeat the process all over again. It is a perfect wealth destruction machine.

The same dilemma besets futures contracts for oil (USO), corn (CORN), wheat (WEAT), and soybeans (SOYB) to a lesser degree, and a lot of traders make their livings from these anomalies.

What (UNG) does is buy contracts three months out, run them into expiration, and then roll the money into new contracts another three months out. The premium they pay rapidly falls to zero. Then they repeat the process all over again. It is a perfect wealth destruction machine.

I have seen a period when natural gas rose 40%, but the (UNG) dove 40%, thanks to the costly effects of the contango. Needless to say, this makes the (UNG) the world's greatest short vehicle in a falling market. It is a fantastic heads I will, tails you lose security.

There is another crucial factor making natural gas such a great natural short that few outside the industry are aware of. You cannot store natural gas to the degree you can semi liquid oil. Unlike Texas tea, natural gas wells can't be capped without damaging their long-term production. It has to flow and be sold at whatever price you can get. If you don't, it goes away. This means that when the price of natural gas falls, it does so with a turbocharger, also making it an ideal short play.

To make a long story short, I made another fortune riding gas down from $17 to $2. I haven't touched it for 2 years. Other hedge fund manager friends of mine made billions on this trade, and then retired to a sedentary life of philanthropy.

At this point, natural gas is up an unbelievable 56% in three months, thanks to Mother Nature's brutal assault on most of the country, except here in balmy California. Demand is at an all time high, prices a 5-year peak, and speculative long positions in the futures market at an eight-year apex. Storage was taken down to a six month low of 1.2 trillion cubic feet with today's 230 billion cubic foot draw down.

Expiration of the front month contract triggered a super spike in the (United States Natural Gas Fund to an astounding $27, while underling natural gas made it all the way up to $5.50, nearly triple the subterranean $1.90 low set in April, 2012.

This is happening in the face of one of the greatest supply onslaughts in history that will hit the market throughout the rest of this year. They're still hiring and drilling like crazy in North Dakota.

The demand spike came hard and so fast that it caught many suppliers by surprise. That has created a bubble in the pipeline, a temporary shortfall in supplies, and triggered an incredible short squeeze in the natural gas market.

Winter can't last forever. Eventually summer comes, and the shortage of natural gas pipeline will get more than made up by thousands of new fracking wells in the US.

If the UNG returns to the November, 2013 $17 low by July 18, the value of the (UNG) July, 2014 $23 put rises from our $1.68 cost to $4.72, a potential gain of 181%. That's a fabulous risk/reward ratio, and we have six months to see it happen.

Keep in mind that liquidity could be an issue here. Yesterday, 1,549 contracts traded against on open interest of 2,297 contracts. The option market spreads here are also humongously wide and the volatility is of biblical proportions, which is endemic to the natural gas market.

Just to get a second opinion, I called Mad Day Trader Jim Parker, as I hadn't been in this market for a while. He said it was warming up in Chicago, and he was venturing outside for a walk for the first time in three days. Out went the Trade Alert!

Below please find a chart for natural gas generated by Jim?s proprietary trading model. The bottom line here is that there is a high probability that we will drop from the current $5.17 down to $4.70, break that, go down to $4.17, break that, and possibly go as low at the November low of $3.40.

They don?t call this market the ?widow maker? for nothing, so expect a lot of heart wrenching volatility before you see a substantial payoff. So it best to enter a spread of small limit orders and hope for the best.

You can best play the short side through the futures market in natural gas. For those without a futures account, you can buy the 2X ProShares Ultra Short DJ-UBS Natural Gas inverse ETF (KOLD) or the 3x Direxion Daily Natural Gas Related Bear 3X Shares inverse ETF (GASX). The more adventurous can sell short the (UNG) outright, if they can find stock to borrow.
UNG 1-30-14

NATGAS 1-29-14

GASX 1-30-14

KOLD 1-30-14

NGEH4 1-30-14

Natural-gasTime to Sell Winter Short

Billy Bob'sBilly Bob?s in Forth Worth

Coal?s Hatchet Job on Natural Gas

After my year in the White House Press Corps, I vowed never to return, and took a really long shower, hoping to scrub every last spec of prejudice, self-interest, and institutionalized dishonesty off of my battered carcass. But sometimes I see some maneuvering that is so unprincipled, crooked, and against the national interest that I am unable to restrain my fingers from the keyboard.

I?m talking about the absolutely merciless hatchet job the coal producers are inflicting on the natural gas industry. Coal today accounts for 50% of America?s 3.7 trillion kilowatts in annual power production. Chesapeake Energy?s (CHK) Aubrey McClendon says correctly that if we just shut down aging conventional power plants over 35 years old, and replace them with modern gas fired plants, the US would achieve one third of its ambitious 2020 carbon reduction goals.

The share of relatively clean burning natural gas of the national power load would pop up from the current 23% to 50%. Even the Sierra Club says this is the fastest and cheapest way to make a serious dent in greenhouse gas emissions. So what do we get?

The press has recently been flooded with reports of widespread well poisonings and forest destruction caused by the fracking processes that recently discovered a new 100 year supply of ultra-cheap CH4. The YouTube images of flames shooting out of a kitchen faucet are well known. But MIT did a study investigating over 50 of these claims and every one was found to be due to inexperienced subcontractor incompetence, not the technology itself. The demand for these wells is so great that it is sucking in neophytes into bidding for contracts, whether they know how to do it or not.

While the coal industry has had 200 years to build a formidable lobby in Washington, the gas industry is just a beginner, their only public champions being McClendon and T. Boone Pickens. Every attempt they have made to get a bill through congress to speed up natural gas conversion has been blocked not by environmentalists, but other conflicted energy interests.

Memories in Washington are long, and Obama & Co. recall all too clearly that this was the pair that financed the Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that torpedoed Democrat John Kerry?s 2004 presidential campaign. What goes around comes around.

This will be unhappy news for the 23,000 the American Lung Association expects coal emissions to kill this year. Can?t the coal industry be happy selling everything they rip out of the ground to China?

There! I?ve had my say. Now I?m going to go have another long shower.

 

 

Time to Take That Shower