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The High Oil Mystery

American oil imports from the Middle East are in free fall, down 35% in two years. They are quickly being replaced by tar sands imports from Canada, which are ballooning to 2 million barrels a day and at all time highs. American energy production is surging, thanks to new finds of natural gas showing up in everyone?s back yard, taking the country rapidly on its way to energy independence.

So why is the price of oil so damn high?

Everywhere you go to seek a shortage, you find a glut. Storage facilities at the Cushing, Oklahoma hub are practically overflowing. The Strategic Petroleum Reserve is close to its 727 million barrel maximum capacity, or 36 days of national consumption.

Traditionally, the beginning of the summer driving season heralded higher crude prices. But gasoline consumption has been sliding for five years, thanks to the widespread adoption of hybrids and electric cars, and the improved mileage of conventional automobiles.

Even the Iranian election results auger poorly for the price of oil. The win by moderate Hassan Rohani, who boasts a doctorate from a Scottish university, promises to ease tensions with the United States over the nuclear issue.

More mysterious is the fact that the price of oil has been levitating in the face of the utter collapse of virtually every other commodity. Dr. Copper is handing out ?F?s? these days, the red metal down 30% this year. Iron ore is close to 50% down from its peak, to the deep distress of many Australians and their beleaguered dollar. Even the barbarous relic is off, gold falling 31% from its high. How come the Chinese economic slowdown is dragging down the price of everything except the one it needs the most?

The US decision to send weapons to Syria is, no doubt, positive for oil prices, but it is only worth a bump for a day. America has also announced joint military maneuvers with Jordan. How much do you want to bet that they accidentally leave their weapons behind?

Iran responded by sending 4,000 troops into the battered country to join Hezbollah from Lebanon, who are already there. Syria is turning into the Spanish Civil War of our age. But as it produces no oil, it shouldn?t materially impact prices.

Looking at speculative long positions held by hedge funds, I find them at multiyear highs. My guess is that investment demand, not consumption, accounts for up to $30 of the current $98 price of black gold.

Maybe we should just write all this off to another instance of prices moving the opposite direction of fundamentals, which has become so common this year. Or perhaps President Obama is right? Is it the work of evil speculators?

WTIC 6-14-13

WTIC(2) 6-14-13

USO 6-17-13

NATGAS 6-14-13

World in Oil How To Get a Price Rise From a Global Glut?

US Headed Towards Energy Independence

My inbox was clogged with responses to my recent prediction of US energy independence. This will be the most important change to the global economy for the next 20 years. So I shall go into more depth.

The energy research house, Raymond James, put out an estimate that domestic American oil production (USO) would rise from 5.6 million barrels a day to 9.1 million by 2015. That means its share of total consumption will leap from 28% to 46% of our total 20 million barrels a day habit. These are game changing numbers.

Names like the Eagle Ford, Haynesville, and the Bakken Shale, once obscure references on geological maps, are now a major force in the country?s energy picture. Ten years ago North Dakota was suffering from rampant depopulation. Now, itinerate oil workers must brave -40 degree winter temperatures in their recreational vehicles pursuing their $150,000 a year jobs.

The value of this extra 3.5 million barrels/day works out to $122 billion a year at current prices (3.5 million X 365 X $96). That will drop America?s trade deficit by nearly 25% over the next three years, and almost wipe out our current account surplus. Needless to say, this is a hugely dollar positive development.

These 3.5 million barrels will also offset much of the growth in China?s oil demand for the next three years. Fewer oil exports to the US also vastly expand the standby production capacity of Saudi Arabia.

If you want proof of the impact this will have on the economy, look no further than the coal ETF (KOL), which has been falling relentlessly in a rising market. Power plant conversion from coal to natural gas (UNG) is accelerating at a dramatic pace. Public utilities love ditching all the potential liabilities that come with coal. That leaves China as the remaining buyer, and their economy is slowing.

It all makes the current price of oil at $95 look a little rich. As with the last oil spike four years ago, this one is occurring in the face of a supply glut. Cushing, Oklahoma is awash in Texas tea, and the Strategic Petroleum Reserve stashed away in salt domes in Texas and Louisiana is at its maximum capacity of 727 million barrels. It is concerns about war with Iran, fanned by elections in both countries that have taken prices up from $77 since the fall.

My oil industry friends tell me this fear premium has added $30-$40 to the price of crude. This is why I have been advising readers to sell short oil price spikes to $110. The current run up isn?t going to take us to the $150 high that we saw in the last cycle. It is also why I am keeping oil companies with major onshore domestic assets in my long-term model portfolio, like Exxon Mobile (XOM) and Occidental Petroleum (OXY).

Energy independence is also making a huge contribution to the US jobs picture. According to energy guru, my old friend, Daniel Yergin (you must read his Pulitzer Prize winning book on oil, The Prize), energy has created 1.7 million jobs in the last 5 years, and will double that in the next three. It has also created $60 billion a year in new revenues from taxes and oil leases for the US Treasury. Ironic as it may seem, the job that pushes the headline unemployment rate down to the Fed?s vaunted and magical 6.5% target could be for a roustabout.

WTIC 3-26-13

OXY 3-26-13

XOM 3-26-13

US Intl Trade Goods-Svs

Current Acct Balance

KOL 3-26-13

Bakken Shale map

Man covered in Oil Does This Make It 6.5% Yet?

Revisiting Cheniere Energy (LNG)

Occasionally, I so totally knock the ball out of the park that I qualify for a place in the stock picker?s Hall of Fame. That was the case when I put out a recommendation to buy LNG exporter, Cheniere Energy (LNG), a year ago (click here? for Take a Look at Cheniere Energy (LNG).

Since then, the stock has soared an eye popping 85%. The great thing here is that I think the stock is still a buy. An upside target of $30 is a chip shot, and the all time high at $45 is within range. So get a 10%-20% dip in the price, and you might shovel some into your long-term portfolio. I quote below the entire original piece:

?I am constantly asked if there are any ways investors can take advantage of the collapse of the natural gas market, where at $2.34/MMBTU prices are plumbing decade lows. I have recently made good money buying puts on the ETF (UNG), but these are not for the faint of heart. They call this contract the ?widow maker? for a good reason.

You don?t want to touch the gas producing companies, like Chesapeake (CHK) and Devon (DVN), because prices are probably going to stay down for years. Good firms that benefit from the increased volume of gas pumped are few and far between. Unless you are a large consumer of this despised molecule, such as an electric power company or a petrochemical plant, it is tough to find a profitable niche.

However, there is one company that delivers a narrow rifle shot that could do extremely well in coming years, and that is Cheniere Energy (LNG). I first started following (LNG) a decade ago when I was still wildcatting for CH4 in the Texas Barnet Shale.

Back when natural gas was trading at a loft $5/MBTU, Qatar invested $50 billion in in developing its own substantial gas resources. The plan was to liquefy the gas at -256 degrees Fahrenheit in the Middle East, ship it to the US in a fleet of specialized LNG carriers, and have Cheniere convert it back into gas at its Sabine River plant for distribution to an energy hungry US market through the Creole Trail pipeline. It all looked like a great plan, and (LNG) shares traded up to $45.

Then ?fracking? technology came along and blew up the entire model. The discovery of a new 100-year supply of gas under our feet caused gas prices to crash from a post Amaranth peak of $17/MMBTU down to $2/MMBTU. Any plans to import LNG from the other side of the world were rendered utterly worthless. Chenier?s billion-dollar investment in a gasification plant was now worth only so much scrap metal. (LNG) shares plumbed low single digits as the firm flirted with bankruptcy.

Enter China. The Middle Kingdom?s voracious demand for energy in this recovery has caused the price of oil (USO) to soar from a 2008 low of $30 to $110. Despite accounting for an overwhelming share of the world?s new energy purchases, Chinese cities are suffering from brown outs due to power shortages. This is why China is resisting immense American pressure to quit buying Texas tea from Iran.

Enter the arbitrage. While oil has been spiking, gas has been crashing. Gas is now selling at 15% of the cost of oil on an adjusted BTU basis. Another way of saying this is that you can buy oil for $16 a barrel instead of $110. It only takes a second with an abacus to understand the appeal of such a disparity.

Gas also has the additional benefits in that it is much cleaner burning than crude, lacks the sulfur and nitrogen dioxides, and produces half the carbon dioxide. That?s a big deal in Beijing where the air is so thick you can cut it with a knife on a bad day.

Enter the long-term contracts. During the 1960?s and 1970?s Japan entered into huge long term contracts to buy LNG from Australia and Indonesia to feed their own economic miracle of the day. Because very expensive and hard to get, offshore supplies were tapped, the price was set at $16/MBTU. Those contacts are now expiring. Do you think they?ll renew at the old price, or go to Cheniere for the $2 stuff? Gee, let me think about that one for a bit.

Enter Fukushima. The nuclear meltdown last March prompted Japan to shut down 49 of 54 nuclear power plants that accounted for 25% of the country?s electric power generation. The brownouts that followed forced a sweltering summer on millions as the government urged consumers to shut off air conditioners to save juice. Power companies there have been scrambling to obtain conventional energy supplies, and have been a major factor in driving oil up from $75 to $100 since the fall. Cheap gas supplies from the US would meet this demand nicely.

The trigger. Last May, Cheniere got US government permission to export 2.2 billion cubic feet a day for 20 years. That would require it to convert the existing gasification plant to a liquifaction plant, something that can be done with some expensive re-engineering. It has already found several large international buyers to take delivery of the new end product. All that was missing was the money to finish the plant. My hedge fund buddies have been accumulating this stock since October, when it bottomed at $3, expecting an angel investor to appear. But it was one of those ?someday, it might happen? kind of stories better left to long term players.

Then last week, Blackstone jumped in with a beefy $2 billion investment in Cheniere. That will enable them to obtain an additional $3 billion in debt financing needed to finish the first of two export facilities. They are now expected to come online in 2016.

How does Cheniere stack up as an investment? Frankly, it is kind of scary. The market cap is only $2 billion, and it pays no dividend. When the current spate of deals are done, it will have $5 billion in debt. The Stock has just run up from $3 to $17. And these facilities are dangerous to operate. One blew up in Texas in 1937 and killed 300 schoolchildren. As a result, local permits for these are very hard to come by.

But as you can see, a whole host of geopolitical, technology and economic strands tie together in this one company, all of which are positive for the share price. If the story comes true, as Blackstone hopes, then there could be a double or triple in the shares for the patient. To learn more about Cheniere Energy, please click here for their website at http://www.cheniere.com/default.shtml .?

LNG 3-21-13

NATGAS 3-20-13

WTIC 3-20-13

Homes - rubble

Did Somebody Light a Match?

Here Comes the Next Peace Dividend

When communications between intelligence agencies suddenly spike, as has recently been the case, I sit up and take note. Hey, you don?t think I talk to all of those generals because I like their snappy uniforms, do you?

The word is that the despotic, authoritarian regime in Syria is on the verge of collapse, and is unlikely to survive more than a few more months. The body count is mounting, and the only question now is whether Bashar al-Assad will flee to an undisclosed African country or get dragged out of a storm drain to take a bullet in his head. It couldn?t happen to a nicer guy.

The geopolitical implications for the US are enormous.? With Syria gone, Iran will be the last rogue state hostile to the US in the Middle East, and it is teetering. The next and final domino of the Arab spring falls squarely at the gates of Tehran.

Remember that the first real revolution in the region was the street uprising there in 2009. That revolt was successfully suppressed with an iron fist by fanatical and pitiless Revolutionary Guards. The true death toll will never be known, but is thought to be in the thousands. The antigovernment sentiments that provided the spark never went away and they continue to percolate just under the surface.

At the end of the day, the majority of the Persian population wants to join the tide of globalization. They want to buy IPods and blue jeans, communicate freely through their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and have the jobs to pay for it all. Since 1979, when the Shah was deposed, a succession of extremist, ultraconservative governments ruled by a religious minority, have failed to cater to these desires

When Syria collapses, the Iranian ?street? will figure out that if they spill enough of their own blood that regime change is possible and the revolution there will reignite. The Obama administration is now pulling out all the stops to accelerate the process. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stiffened her rhetoric and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy.

The oil embargo she organized is steadily tightening the noose, with heating oil and gasoline becoming hard to obtain. Yes, Russia and China are doing what they can to slow the process, but conducting international trade through the back door is expensive, and prices are rocketing. The unemployment rate is 25%.? Iranian banks are about to get kicked out of the SWIFT international settlements system, which would be a deathblow to their trade.

Let?s see how docile these people remain when the air conditioning quits running this summer because of power shortages. Iran is a rotten piece of fruit ready to fall of its own accord and go splat. Hillary is doing everything she can to shake the tree. No military action of any kind is required on America?s part.

The geopolitical payoff of such an event for the US would be almost incalculable. A successful revolution will almost certainly produce a secular, pro-Western regime whose first priority will be to rejoin the international community and use its oil wealth to rebuild an economy now in tatters.

Oil will lose its risk premium, now believed by the oil industry to be $30 a barrel. A looming supply could cause prices to drop to as low as $30 a barrel. This would amount to a gigantic tax $1.43 trillion tax cut for not just the US, but the entire global economy as well (87 million barrels a day X 365 days a year X $90 dollars a barrel X 50%). Almost all funding of terrorist organizations will immediately dry up. I might point out here that this has always been the oil industry?s worst nightmare.

At that point, the US will be without enemies, save for North Korea, and even the Hermit Kingdom could change with a new leader in place. A long Pax Americana will settle over the planet.

The implications for the financial markets will be enormous. The US will reap a peace dividend as large or larger than the one we enjoyed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. As you may recall, that black swan caused the Dow Average to soar from 2,000 to 10,000 in less than eight years, also partly fueled by the technology boom. A collapse in oil imports will cause the US dollar to rocket.? An immediate halving of our defense spending to $400 billion or less and burgeoning new tax revenues would cause the budget deficit to collapse. With the US government gone as a major new borrower, interest rates across the yield curve will fall further.

A peace dividend will also cause US GDP growth to reaccelerate from 2% to 4%. Risk assets of every description will soar to multiples of their current levels, including stocks, bonds, commodities, precious metals, and food. The Dow will soar to 20,000, the Euro collapses to parity, gold rockets to $2,300 and ounce, silver flies to $100 an ounce, copper leaps to $6 a pound, and corn recovers $8 a bushel. The 60-year bull market in bonds ends.

Some 1.5 million of the armed forces will get dumped on the job market as our manpower requirements shrink to peacetime levels. But a strong economy should be able to soak these well-trained and motivated people right up. We will enter a new Golden Age, not just at home, but for civilization as a whole.

Wait, you ask, what if Iran develops an atomic bomb and holds the US at bay? Don?t worry. There is no Iranian nuclear device. There is no Iranian nuclear program. The entire concept is an invention of American intelligence agencies as a means to put pressure on the regime. The head of the miniscule effort they have was assassinated by Israeli intelligence two weeks ago (a magnetic bomb, placed on a moving car, by a team on a motorcycle, nice!).

If Iran had anything substantial in the works, the Israeli planes would have taken off a long time ago. There is no plan to close the Straits of Hormuz, either. The training exercises we have seen are done for CNN?s benefit, and comprise no credible threat.

I am a firm believer in the wisdom of markets, and that the marketplace becomes aware of major history changing events well before we mere individual mortals do. The Dow began a 25-year bull market the day after American forces defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Midway in May of 1942, even though the true outcome of that confrontation was kept top secret for years.

If the collapse of Iran was going to lead to a global multi decade economic boom and the end of history, how would the stock markets behave now? They would rise virtually every day, led by the technology sector and banks, offering no pullbacks for latecomers to get in. That is exactly what they have been doing since mid-December. If you think I?m ?Mad?, just check out the big relative underperformance of oil on the chart below.

WTIC 3-6-13

USO 3-6-13

Muslim Protesters Women

Bashar al-Assad

Here?s The Next Big Short

Why You Should Care About the Iran Rial Collapse

The Iranian Rial (IRR) has just suffered one of the most cataclysmic crashes in the history of the foreign exchange markets. It is off a mind numbing 75% since the beginning of 2011. One dollar now buys 12,200 Rials. Watch out Zimbabwe!

When communications between intelligence agencies suddenly spike, as has recently been the case, I sit up and take note. Hey, do you think I talk to all of those generals because I like their snappy uniforms, do you?

The word is that the despotic, authoritarian regime in Syria is on the verge of collapse, and is unlikely to survive more than a few more months. The body count is mounting, and the only question now is whether Bashar al-Assad will flee to an undisclosed African country or get dragged out of a storm drain to take a bullet in his head a la Gaddafi. It couldn?t happen to a nicer guy.

The geopolitical implications for the US are enormous.? With Syria gone, Iran will be the last rogue state hostile to the US in the Middle East, and it is teetering. The next and final domino of the Arab spring falls squarely at the gates of Tehran.

Remember that the first real revolution in the region was the street uprising there in 2009. That revolt was successfully suppressed with an iron fist by fanatical and pitiless Revolutionary Guards. The true death toll will never be known, but is thought to be in the thousands. The anti-government sentiments that provided the spark never went away and they continue to percolate just under the surface.

At the end of the day, the majority of the Persian population wants to join the tide of globalization. They want to buy IPods and blue jeans, communicate freely through their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and have the jobs to pay for it all. Since 1979, when the Shah was deposed, a succession of extremist, ultraconservative governments ruled by a religious minority, have failed to cater to these desires.

When Syria collapses, the Iranian ?street? will figure out that if they spill enough of their own blood that regime change is possible and the revolution there will reignite. The Obama administration is now pulling out all the stops to accelerate the process. The new Secretary of State, John Kerry, will stiffened his rhetoric and work tirelessly behind the scenes to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy.

The oil embargo is steadily tightening the noose, with heating oil and gasoline becoming hard to obtain in this oil producing country. Yes, Russia and China are doing what they can to slow the process, but conducting international trade through the back door is expensive, and prices are rocketing. The unemployment rate is 25%.

Iranian banks have been kicked out of the SWIFT international settlements system, a death blow to their trade. That is what the Standard Chartered money laundering scandal last year was all about. Sure, you can sell oil one truckload at a time for cash. Try doing that with 3 million barrels a day of which should fetch $270 million. That?s a lot of Benjamins. Forget the fives and tens.

Let?s see how docile these people remain when the air conditioning quits running because of power shortages. With their currency now worthless, it has become impossible to import anything. This is causing severe shortages of everything under the sun, especially foodstuffs, which in some cases have more than doubled in price in months.

What does the government in Tehran say about all of this? Blame it on the speculators. Sound familiar?

Iran is a rotten piece of fruit ready to fall of its own accord and go splat. The Obama administration is doing everything it can to shake the tree. No military action of any kind is required on America?s part. Think of it as victory on the cheap.

The geopolitical payoff of such an event for the US would be almost incalculable. A successful Iranian revolution will almost certainly produce a secular, pro-Western regime whose first priority will be to rejoin the international community and use its oil wealth to rebuild an economy now in tatters.

Oil will lose its risk premium, now believed by the oil industry to be $30 a barrel. A looming oversupply could cause prices to drop to as low as $30 a barrel. This would amount to a gigantic $1.66 trillion tax cut for not just the US, but the entire global economy as well (87 million barrels a day X 365 days a year X $100 dollars a barrel X 50%).

Almost all funding of terrorist organizations will immediately dry up. I might point out here that this has always been the oil industry?s worst nightmare. Commercial office space in Houston may not do so well either, as imports account for 80% of the oil majors? profits.

At that point, the US will be without enemies, save for North Korea, and even the Hermit Kingdom could change with a new leader in place. A long Pax Americana will settle over the planet.

The implications for the financial markets will be enormous. The US will reap a peace dividend as large, or larger, than the one we enjoyed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. As you may recall, that black swan caused the Dow Average to soar from 2,000 to 10,000 in less than eight years, also partly fueled by the technology boom.

A collapse in oil imports will cause the US dollar to rocket.? An immediate halving of our defense spending to $400 billion or less and burgeoning new tax revenues would cause the budget deficit to collapse. With the US government gone as a major new borrower, interest rates across the yield curve will fall further.

A peace dividend will also cause US GDP growth to reaccelerate from a tepid 2% rate to a more robust 4%. Risk assets of every description will soar to multiples of their current levels, including stocks, junk bonds, commodities, precious metals, and food. The Dow will soar to 30,000, the Euro collapses to parity, gold rockets to $3,000 an ounce, silver flies to $100 an ounce, copper leaps to $6 a pound, and corn recovers $8 a bushel. The 60-year bull market in bonds ends in a crash.

Some 1 million of the armed forces will get dumped on the job market as our manpower requirements shrink to peacetime levels. But a strong economy should be able to soak right up these well-trained and motivated. We will enter a new Golden Age, not just at home, but for civilization as a whole.

Wait, you ask, what if Iran develops an atomic bomb and holds the US at bay? Don?t worry. There is no Iranian nuclear device. There is no real Iranian nuclear program. The entire concept is an invention of Israeli and American intelligence agencies as a means to put pressure on the regime and boost their own budget allocations. The head of the miniscule effort they have was assassinated by Israeli intelligence last year (a magnetic bomb, placed on a moving car, by a team on a motorcycle, nice!). What nuclear infrastructure they have is being decimated by computer viruses as I write this.

If Iran had anything substantial in the works, the Israeli planes would have taken off a long time ago. There is no plan to close the Straits of Hormuz, either. The training exercises in small rubber boats we have seen are done for CNN?s benefit, and comprise no credible threat.

I am a firm believer in the wisdom of markets, and that the marketplace becomes aware of major history changing events well before we mere individual mortals do. The Dow began a 25-year bull market the day after American forces defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Midway in May of 1942, even though the true outcome of that confrontation was kept top secret for years.

If the collapse of Iran was going to lead to a global multi decade economic boom and the end of history, how would the stock markets behave now? They would rise virtually every day, offering no substantial pullbacks for latecomers to get in. That is exactly what they have been doing since mid-November.

WTIC 2-4-13

USO 2-5-13

XLE 2-5-13

Iranian Women

Bashar al-AssadHere?s The Next Big Short

RialNot Worth So Much Today

 

MLP?s Are On Fire

Master Limited Partnerships have been on fire since the beginning of the year. Once the deal on the ?Fiscal Cliff? was done, and these instruments? special tax treatment protected, it was off to the races. These unique and versatile instruments combine the tax benefits of a limited partnership with the liquidity of publicly traded securities.

The explosion in demand has created a new issue boom. SunCoke Energy Partners (SXCP) makes coking coal used in the steel production process, came to market this week boasting an 8.25% yield. Then, CVR Refining (CVRR), which specializes in petroleum refining in Texas and Oklahoma, upped the ante with an eye popping 18.8% yield. These things can?t be that high risk!

Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP) is run by some of my former colleagues at Morgan Stanley and offers a 7% yield. Kinder Morgan Energy (KMP) posts a healthy 5.8% yield, while Trans Mountain (TLP) ups the ante with an 8% return. Linn Energy goes all the way up to a healthy 6.3% yield.

Why the enticing cash flow? The problem is that these partnerships suffer from their guilt by association with Texas Tea, which is notorious for its volatility. Although they have no direct exposure to the price of oil, investors tend to incorrectly classify them as energy stocks and dump them whenever oil falls. The great thing about these high yields is that you get paid to wait until crude makes a comeback, which it will always do, as long as there is a China. Not a bad game to play in a zero return world.

To qualify for MLP status, a partnership must generate at least 90 percent of its income from what the Internal Revenue Service deems ?qualifying? sources. For many MLPs, these include all manner of activities related to the production, processing or transportation of oil, natural gas and coal.

Energy MLPs are defined as owning energy infrastructure in the U.S., including pipelines, natural gas, gasoline, oil, storage, terminals, and processing plants. These are all special tax subsidies put into place when oil companies suffered from extremely low oil prices. Once on the books, they lived on forever.

In practice, MLPs pay their investors through quarterly distributions. Typically, the higher the quarterly distributions paid to LP unit holders, the higher the management fee paid to the general partner. The idea is that the GP has an incentive to try to boost distributions through pursuing income-accretive acquisitions and organic growth projects.

Because MLPs are partnerships, they avoid the corporate income tax, on both a state and federal basis. Instead of getting a form 1099-DIV and the end of the year, you receive a form K-1, which your accountant should know how to handle. The only problem with this set up is that the partnerships are required to send you a K-1 for every state in which they do business. Own enough of these, and your tax return will end up as thick as the Houston telephone book.

Additionally, the limited partner (investor) may also record a pro-rated share of the MLP?s depreciation on his or her own tax forms to reduce liability. This is the primary benefit of MLPs and gives MLPs relatively cheap funding costs.

The tax implications of MLPs for individual investors are complex. The distributions are taxed at the marginal rate of the partner, unlike dividends from qualified stock corporations. On the other hand, there is no advantage to claiming the pro-rated share of the MLP?s depreciation (see above) when held in a tax deferred account, like an IRA or 401k. To encourage tax-deferred investors, many MLP?s set up corporation holding companies of LP claims which can issue common equity.

Since 2003, MLPs as an asset class have grown astronomically, from $30 billion to over $250 billion, and have also been the best performing asset class in the world over the last 10, 5, and 3 year periods. The recent discovery of new, massive gas and oil fields in the US and the rapid expansion of shale fracking should auger well for the rising popularity of this instrument.

If you don?t want to bet the ranch putting all you money into a single issue, you might consider the JP Morgan Alerian MLP Index ETN (AMJ), with a 5.35% yield. You give up some yield here in exchange for a broader diversification of risk across many issues in this quasi index fund. For many, it will be worth it to just to sleep at night.

wtic 1-16-13

KMP 1-16-13

TLP 1-16-13

EEP 1-16-13

LINE 1-16-13

Pipeline

Nope, Don?t See Any Yield Yet

Here Comes the Next Peace Dividend.

When communications between intelligence agencies suddenly spike, as has recently been the case, I sit up and take note. Hey, you don’t think I talk to all of those generals because I like their snappy uniforms, do you?

The word is that the despotic, authoritarian regime in Syria is on the verge of collapse, and is unlikely to survive more than a few more months. The body count is mounting, and the only question now is whether Bashar al-Assad will flee to an undisclosed African country or get dragged out of a storm drain to take a bullet in his head a la Gaddafy. It couldn?t happen to a nicer guy.

The geopolitical implications for the U.S. are enormous.? With Syria gone, Iran will be the last rogue state hostile to the U.S. in the Middle East, and it is teetering. The next and final domino of the Arab spring falls squarely at the gates of Tehran.

Remember that the first real revolution in the region was the street uprising there in 2009. That revolt was successfully suppressed with an iron fist by fanatical and pitiless Revolutionary Guards. The true death toll will never be known, but is thought to be in the thousands. The antigovernment sentiments that provided the spark never went away and they continue to percolate just under the surface.

At the end of the day, the majority of the Persian population wants to join the tide of globalization. They want to buy IPods and blue jeans, communicate freely through their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, and have the jobs to pay for it all. Since 1979, when the Shah was deposed, a succession of extremist, ultraconservative governments ruled by a religious minority, have failed to cater to these desires

When Syria collapses, the Iranian ?street? will figure out that if they spill enough of their own blood that regime change is possible and the revolution there will reignite. The Obama administration is now pulling out all the stops to accelerate the process. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has stiffened her rhetoric and worked tirelessly behind the scenes to bring about the collapse of the Iranian economy.

The oil embargo she organized is steadily tightening the noose, with heating oil and gasoline becoming hard to obtain. Yes, Russia and China are doing what they can to slow the process, but conducting international trade through the back door is expensive, and prices are rocketing. The unemployment rate is 25%.? Iranian banks are about to get kicked out of the SWIFT international settlements system, which would be a deathblow to their trade.

Let?s see how docile these people remain when the air conditioning quits running this summer because of power shortages. Iran is a rotten piece of fruit ready to fall off its own accord and go splat. Hillary is doing everything she can to shake the tree. No military action of any kind is required on America?s part.

The geopolitical payoff of such an event for the U.S. would be almost incalculable. A successful revolution will almost certainly produce a secular, pro-Western regime whose first priority will be to rejoin the international community and use its oil wealth to rebuild an economy now in tatters.

Oil will lose its risk premium, now believed by the oil industry to be $30 a barrel. A looming supply could cause prices to drop to as low as $30 a barrel. This would amount to a gigantic $1.66 trillion tax cut for not just the U.S., but the entire global economy as well (87 million barrels a day X 365 days a year X $100 dollars a barrel X 50%). Almost all funding of terrorist organizations will immediately dry up. I might point out here that this has always been the oil industry?s worst nightmare.

At that point, the US will be without enemies, save for North Korea, and even the Hermit Kingdom could change with a new leader in place. A long Pax Americana will settle over the planet.

The implications for the financial markets will be enormous. The U.S. will reap a peace dividend as large, or larger, than the one we enjoyed after the fall of the Soviet Union in 1992. As you may recall, that black swan caused the Dow Average to soar from 2,000 to 10,000 in less than eight years, also partly fueled by the technology boom. A collapse in oil imports will cause the U.S. dollar to rocket.? An immediate halving of our defense spending to $400 billion or less and burgeoning new tax revenues would cause the budget deficit to collapse. With the U.S. government gone as a major new borrower, interest rates across the yield curve will fall further.

A peace dividend will also cause U.S. GDP growth to reaccelerate from 2% to 4%. Risk assets of every description will soar to multiples of their current levels, including stocks, junk bonds, commodities, precious metals, and food. The Dow will soar to 20,000, the Euro collapses to parity, gold rockets to $2,300 an ounce, silver flies to $100 an ounce, copper leaps to $6 a pound, and corn recovers $8 a bushel. The 60-year bull market in bonds ends.

Some 1 million of the armed forces will get dumped on the job market as our manpower requirements shrink to peacetime levels. But a strong economy should be able to soak these well-trained and motivated people right up. We will enter a new Golden Age, not just at home, but for civilization as a whole.

Wait, you ask, what if Iran develops an atomic bomb and holds the U.S. at bay? Don?t worry. There is no Iranian nuclear device. There is no real Iranian nuclear program. The entire concept is an invention of Israeli and American intelligence agencies as a means to put pressure on the regime. The head of the miniscule effort they have was assassinated by Israeli intelligence two weeks ago (a magnetic bomb, placed on a moving car, by a team on a motorcycle, nice!).

If Iran had anything substantial in the works, the Israeli planes would have taken off a long time ago. There is no plan to close the Straits of Hormuz, either. The training exercises in small rubber boats we have seen are done for CNN?s benefit, and comprise no credible threat.

I am a firm believer in the wisdom of markets, and that the marketplace becomes aware of major history changing events well before we mere individual mortals do. The Dow began a 25-year bull market the day after American forces defeated the Japanese in the Battle of Midway in May of 1942, even though the true outcome of that confrontation was kept top secret for years.

If the collapse of Iran was going to lead to a global multi-decade economic boom and the end of history, how would the stock markets behave now? They would rise virtually every day, led by the technology sector, offering no substantial pullbacks for latecomers to get in. That is exactly what they have been doing since mid-December. If you think I?m ?Mad?, just check out Apple?s chart below.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Slippery Slope for Oil

If volatility and lack of direction in the equity market are driving you nuts these days, thank your lucky stars you?re not in the oil market. Only last night, a Japanese supertanker plowed into a US Navy destroyer, causing prices to spike. That?s assuming that you had time to notice while sifting through numerous, contradictory leaks from Israeli intelligence about whether they will, or will not, imminently attack Iran. Oh, and don?t forget, demand from Europe is disappearing up its own tailpipe.

My take is that the administration is pursuing the correct policy on Iran. With Europe joining the embargo on June 30, and its major means of trade financed with the dispatch of Standard Chartered, Iran?s economy is now caught in a vice. With minimal domestic refining capacity, the country is drowning in its own oil, but facing several gasoline shortages. Some essential foodstuffs have doubled in price. These are key ingredients needed for the Arab Spring to spill into Iran. Then the country falls into our lap like an overripe piece of fruit, without a shot fired.

It could well be that none of this makes any difference to the price of crude. Like every other asset class, it has become hostage to the likelihood of another round of quantitative easing from the Federal Reserve. West Texas Intermediate has moved an impressive $18 off of its $77 low on the prospect of QE3 alone. All that is left is for Ben Bernanke to pull the trigger.

Our first chance at a hint will be at the Jackson Hole confab of central bankers on August 26. After that, we have to wait until the September 18-19 Open Market Committee Meeting for relief. It is safe to say that if Ben delivers, oil could be trading at triple digits very quickly. If he doesn?t, then we could be plumbing new lows shortly.

That put us in the same risk/reward dilemma for oil as with the equity markets. Note the imbalance. If we get QE3, then we can entertain $6 of upside. If we don?t, you are looking at $25 of downside. Hint: strapping on risk/reward trades like this is not how hedge fund managers get rich.

That makes me a happier buyer on the next big dip than a chaser up here. Names to focus on? ExxonMobile (XOM), Occidental Petroleum (OXY), and Cabot Oil & Gas (COG), as well as the master limited partnerships like Kinder Morgan (KMP), Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP), Trans Montaigne Partners (TLP), Linn Energy (LINE).

That?s all for today. It is hard to write brilliant, seamless prose when you?re brain dead and mindless from nine hours of jet lag. Besides, the whales are still on vacation at Southampton and the South of France, so my traditional sources of hot tips will remain dry for another week or so. Damn! I should have taken an extra week off to investigate economic conditions in the Greek Islands. With a Depression on, I hear that hotels that normally go for $2,000 a day can be had for $2,000 a week.

 

 

 

 

 

Obama?s Unintended Oil Consequences

Back in March, oil broke the $110/barrel level and gasoline was rapidly approaching the $5/gallon level, threatening to derail Obama?s reelection campaign. The administration enlisted Europe to join it in a boycott of Iranian oil in an effort to get the Islamic republic to retreat from is program to develop a nuclear weapon. Iranian president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, responded by threatening to close the Straits of Hormuz, thus blocking exports to the west. It all had the makings of a first class crises that could have taken oil up to $125 or higher.

There was no way that the president was going to let Texas Tea to pee on his parade, so he took quick action to cut the knees out from under it. He threatened to release supplies from the Strategic Petroleum Reserve in Louisiana, which was chocked full. He browbeat the CFTC into substantially raising margin requirements for oil and other commodities with his attack on ?speculators?.

He then convinced Saudi Arabia to ramp up its production to the max, over 12 million barrels a day, to head off any ill-timed price spikes. The Saudis, believing it was time to discipline recalcitrant minor producing OPEC members, like Iran, with the threat of lower prices, happily complied.

Crude gave back $5 in the bat of an eyelash, and then launched a $33 downslide that had oil trading at the $77 handle on Monday. What Obama didn?t expect was an assist in his strategy to cripple oil prices from a flock of ?black swans?.

The next chapter in the European sovereign debt debacle pushed the continent into a more severe recession, cooling energy demand there. Libya has been bringing production on line faster than expected. Every downtick in China?s anticipated GDP growth rate shaves a few more dollars off oil. A shortage of pipeline capacity is causing oil to pile up at the massive storage facilities Cushing, Oklahoma, slowing export deliveries. It all adds up to a rare perfect storm for oil. To Obama?s delight, gasoline may be selling for the high $2 range in much of the country by the November election.

As I regularly harangue readers and attendees at my strategy luncheons, imminent America energy independence is the least understood but most important factor that will impact financial markets in the years ahead. Over the last two years, domestic production has soared from 8.5 million barrels a day to 10.5 million, thanks to the miracle of fracking technology, which I helped pioneer a decade ago. That?s more that we buy from Saudi Arabia annually.

North Dakota has just replaced Alaska as the second largest oil producing state. The boom there has been so rapid that massive RV camps of itinerate roustabouts now litter the Northern plains. In the meantime, imports have plummeted from 13 million barrels a day to only 9 million.

But I think the current crash in oil will be a temporary one. For a start, the Seaway pipeline reverses next week, breaking the Cushing bottleneck, enabling North Dakota oil to reach the Gulf ports. The current $78 oil price is already below the cost of the most important sources of supply, such as Canadian oil sands and deep offshore wells.

I think that financial markets will enjoy a ?RISK ON? rally starting from this summer as they start to discount the conclusion of the presidential election, the next European LTRO quantitative easing, and possibly a QE3 from the Federal Reserve. This could all pave the way for a rebound in oil to $90 or more.

So there is an attractive trade setting up here. You can buy the oil major ETF (DIG). Interesting single stock plays at these levels include ExxonMobile (XOM), Occidental Petroleum (OXY), and Cabot Oil & Gas (COG). You can also buy call spreads in the oil ETF (USO). A more cautious strategy might be to sell short out of the money puts on the (USO). Sure, the tracking error on this horrible ETF is huge, thanks to the contango, but at least you can take in the time premium.

My long term view on oil is that we spike one more time to $150-$200. Having spent 45 years studying the industry closely and knowing principals like Armand Hammer and Boone Pickens, I can tell you the one simple rule of thumb to observe with this industry. Doing anything costs extraordinary amounts of money and takes a really long time. The calloused men who run the oil majors don?t hesitate to spending tens of billions of dollars to finance projects in the most inhospitable parts of the world with 40 year payouts. No matter what we do today, it will be impossible to head off another severe oil shortage.

After that, we will fall to $10 as oil is removed from the global economy and is only used as a petrochemical feedstock for plastics, pharmaceuticals, asphalt, and jet fuel. This will happen because of the rise of cheap natural gas, alternative energy sources, more efficient building designs, a better power grid, the advent of low end nuclear power plants, and cars that get 100 miles per gallon or use no gasoline at all.

Of course the CEO?s of the oil majors laugh when I tell them this. I?m sure that the hay industry similarly laughed in 1900 if you told them about the coming demise of the horse as a mode of transportation. But it may take 40 year for us to get there. I hope I live to see it.

 

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Time for a Punt?

Reach for Yield With Master Limited Partnerships

The dramatic collapse in the price of oil is creating a rare opportunity to get into some of the highest yielding paper in the financial markets, master limited partnerships (MLP)?s. These are LP?s that are publicly traded on a securities exchanges. These unique and versatile instruments combine the tax benefits of a limited partnership with the liquidity of publicly traded securities.

Enbridge Energy Partners (EEP) is run by some of my former colleagues at Morgan Stanley and offers a 7.5% yield. Kinder Morgan Energy (KMP) posts a healthy 5% yield, while Trans Mountain (TLP) ups the ante with an 8% return. Linn Energy goes all the way up to an eye popping 8.5% yield.

Why the enticing cash flow? The problem is that these partnerships suffer from their guilt by association with Texas Tea, which has plummeted by nearly 30% since March 1. Although they have no direct exposure to the price of oil, investors tend to incorrectly classify them as energy stocks and dump them whenever oil falls. The great thing about these high yields is that you get paid to wait until crude makes a comeback, which it always does. Not a bad game to play in a zero return world.

To qualify for MLP status, a partnership must generate at least 90 percent of its income from what the Internal Revenue Service deems “qualifying” sources. For many MLPs, these include all manner of activities related to the production, processing or transportation of oil, natural gas and coal. Energy MLPs are defined as owning energy infrastructure in the U.S., including pipelines, natural gas, gasoline, oil, storage, terminals, and processing plants. These are all special tax subsidies put into place when oil companies suffered from extremely low oil prices. Once on the books, they lived on forever.

In practice, MLPs pay their investors through quarterly distributions. Typically, the higher the quarterly distributions paid to LP unit holders, the higher the management fee paid to the general partner. The idea is that the GP has an incentive to try to boost distributions through pursuing income-accretive acquisitions and organic growth projects.

Because MLPs are partnerships, they avoid the corporate income tax, on both a state and federal basis. Instead of getting a form 1099-DIV and the end of the year, you receive a form K-1, which your accountant should know how to handle. Additionally, the limited partner (investor) may also record a pro-rated share of the MLP’s depreciation on his or her own tax forms to reduce liability. This is the primary benefit of MLPs and gives MLPs relatively cheap funding costs.

The tax implications of MLPs for individual investors are complex. The distributions are taxed at the marginal rate of the partner, unlike dividends from qualified stock corporations. On the other hand, there is no advantage to claiming the pro-rated share of the MLP’s depreciation (see above) when held in a tax deferred account, like a IRA or 401k. To encourage tax-deferred investors, many MLP?s set up corporation holding companies of LP claims which can issue common equity.

Since 2003, MLPs as an asset class have grown astronomically, from $30 billion to $250 billion , and have also been the best performing asset class in the world over the last 10, 5, and 3 year periods. The recent discovery of new, massive gas and oil fields in the US and the rapid expansion of shale fracking should auger well for the rising popularity of this instrument.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nope, Don?t See Any Yield Yet