David Fuller and Eoin Treacy's Comment of the Day
Category - General

    Copper Jumps Most Since 2013 as Strike Combines With China Boost

    This article by Susanne Barton by Susanne Barton for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    “We continue to see concerns about the deficit in the copper market,” Bart Melek, head of global commodity strategy at TD Securities in Toronto, said in a telephone interview. “We could have a significant deficit if this strike continues for a while.”

    Copper for delivery in three months climbed 4.6 percent to settle at $6,090 a metric ton at 5:50 p.m. on the London Metal Exchange. That’s the biggest gain since May 2013. Aluminum, lead, nickel, tin and zinc also advanced on the LME.

    An index of 18 base-metal producers climbed as much as 3.4 percent, with shares of Freeport-McMoRan Inc. and Rio Tinto Plc among the biggest increases.

     

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    Backing into World War III

    This article by Robert Kagan for the Brookings Institute is well worth taking the time to ponder. Here is a section:

    Coming as it does at a time of growing great-power competition, this narrowing definition of American interests will likely hasten a return to the instability and clashes of previous eras. The weakness at the core of the democratic world and the shedding by the United States of global responsibilities have already encouraged a more aggressive revisionism by the dissatisfied powers. That, in turn, has further sapped the democratic world’s confidence and willingness to resist. History suggests that this is a downward spiral from which it will be difficult to recover, absent a rather dramatic shift of course by the United States.

    That shift may come too late. It was in the 1920s, not the 1930s, that the democratic powers made the most important and ultimately fatal decisions. Americans’ disillusionment after World War I led them to reject playing a strategic role in preserving the peace in Europe and Asia, even though America was the only nation powerful enough to play that role. The withdrawal of the United States helped undermine the will of Britain and France and encouraged Germany in Europe and Japan in Asia to take increasingly aggressive actions to achieve regional dominance. Most Americans were convinced that nothing that happened in Europe or Asia could affect their security. It took World War II to convince them that was a mistake. The “return to normalcy” of the 1920 election seemed safe and innocent at the time, but the essentially selfish policies pursued by the world’s strongest power in the following decade helped set the stage for the calamities of the 1930s. By the time the crises began to erupt, it was already too late to avoid paying the high price of global conflict.

    In such times, it has always been tempting to believe that geopolitical competition can be solved through efforts at cooperation and accommodation. The idea, recently proposed by Niall Ferguson, that the world can be ruled jointly by the United States, Russia, and China is not a new one. Such condominiums have been proposed and attempted in every era when the dominant power or powers in the international system sought to fend off challenges from the dissatisfied revisionist powers. It has rarely worked. Revisionist great powers are not easy to satisfy short of complete capitulation. Their sphere of influence is never quite large enough to satisfy their pride or their expanding need for security. In fact, their very expansion creates insecurity, by frightening neighbors and leading them to band together against the rising power. The satiated power that Otto von Bismarck spoke of is rare. The German leaders who succeeded him were not satisfied even with being the strongest power in Europe. In their efforts to grow still stronger, they produced coalitions against them, making their fear of “encirclement” a self-fulfilling prophecy.

     

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    Musings from the Oil Patch February 7th 2017

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Prior to OPEC’s Vienna Agreement last November, putting oil in storage because of its higher future value was a strong motivation for growing storage volumes. Now the curve is much flatter, and for oil priced three years in the future, that price is lower than the current one, providing a strong disincentive for putting oil in storage. Backwardation plays a significant role in oil producers’ decisions to hedge their production since they risk the potential of the price moving higher if the more traditional contango environment returns. As Rob Thummel, a managing director and portfolio manager at Tortoise Capital Advisors LLC put it, "What happens to the curve does depend on how the OPEC cuts will be carried out. The oil futures curve is indicating that the current OPEC cuts are here to stay for a while." U.S. oil producers will be very happy if that proves to be the case. While history would suggest otherwise, the pending (early 2018) initial public offering for Saudi Arabia’s state oil company, Saudi Aramco, an important component of its domestic economic restructuring effort, might force the country to hold its output down much longer than it has indicated. The reality may be that hundreds of small U.S. oil producers may screw up Saudi Arabia’s grand plan while hurting speculating oil traders with their record bullish oil price bet. A lower future oil price after a record bullish oil futures bet would be consistent with our recent history.

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    Markets on the cusp ...?

    Thanks to a subscriber for this report by James W. Paulsen for Wells Fargo may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section

    Trends matter, for among other reasons, because they impact the impressions, expectations and actions of policy officials, investors, consumers and businesses. For this reason, we think investors should be aware of just how many financial market trends are on the cusp this year threatening to breach significant milestones.

    Undoubtedly, not all of the trends we highlighted will actually break new ground this year and perhaps none will reach levels that draw much investor focus. However, in 2017, the following list of financial market trends are worth monitoring because they are “on the cusp”…

    1. Evidence of inflation is broadening and inflation expectations embedded in the 10-year Treasury TIP bond is only about 0.5% below the highest level in at least 20 years.

    2. Three major themes are on the cusp in the U.S. stock market. First, is the recent breach of a two-year old trading range in the S&P 500 Index to a new recovery high possibly suggesting a third leg in this bull market? Second, the relative total return performance of conservative investments is nearing its lowest level of the entire recovery. And finally, the relative performance of small cap stocks is within 10% of rising to a new all-time record high relative to large cap stocks.

    3. Bond investors face several important trends on the cusp including the potential end of a 30-year bond bull, a flatter Treasury yield curve and investment grade yield spreads about to reach new narrows for the recovery.

    4. The U.S. dollar is in a two-year old trading range which, with a break, will settle whether this is just a pause in an ongoing dollar bull market or the start of a fresh dollar bear market.

    5. In the commodity markets, crude oil is on the cusp of breaking out of a two-year old trading range above $60 and industrial commodity prices are within 10% of rising to a new six-year high.

    So far, this year has been dominated by political news and what it means for future economic and regulatory policies. Perhaps, however, in a year with so much on the cusp, investor mindsets will eventually become more impacted by financial market trends breaking outside old recovery trading ranges? 

     

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    Machines Can Replace Millions of Bureaucrats

    This article by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    In some countries, some of the people in these jobs -- such as postal employees -- are public sector workers. But government clerks who do predictable, rule-based, often mechanical work also are in danger of displacement by machines. In a recent collaboration with Deloitte U.K., Profs. Osborne and Frey estimated that about a quarter of public sector workers are employed in administrative and operative roles which have a high probability of automation. In the U.K., they estimated some 861,000 such jobs could be eliminated by 2030, creating 17 billion pounds ($21.4 billion) in savings for the taxpayer.

    These would include people like underground train operators -- but mainly local government paper pushers.

    This week, Reform, the London-based think tank dedicated to improving public service efficiency, published a paper on automating the public sector. It applied methodology developed by Osborne and Frey to the U.K.'s central government departments and calculated that almost 132,000 workers could be replaced by machines in the next 10 to 15 years, using currently known automation methods. Only 20 percent of government employees do strategic, cognitive work that requires human thinking -- at least for now, while artificial intelligence is as imperfect as it is. Most of the rest are what the Reform report calls the "frozen middle" -- levels of hierarchy where bureaucrats won't budge without approval from above.

    Almost all British government departments have 10 employee grades or more. The department for environment, food and rural affairs has 13. Most of the middle-level tasks are routine and rigidly regulated and motivation is low: Only 38 percent of middle-level bureaucrats say they feel good about what they do.

    In the U.K., the average civil servant takes 8 sick days a year, while a private sector worker takes 5. In the last two decades public sector spending rose by an average 3.1 percent a year, about 16 times faster than productivity.

     

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    On Target Japan

    Thank to Martin Spring for this edition of his ever interesting newsletter. Here is a section on Japan: 

    Dividends are “being raised relentlessly,” says Price Value Partners? Tim Price. Incredibly, some international analysts say Japan is now an equity income play, after decades when its companies were notorious for neglecting their shareholders.

    Whereas “the balance sheets of US companies are groaning with years of accumulated debt, Japanese balance sheets are now the strongest in the world,”

    Tim says. Stock buybacks are now accelerating, and unlike the US, where buybacks are “debt-fuelled,” those in Japan are funded out of cash. John Seagrim of CLSA says: “The deep value opportunities in Japan are almost endless,” with 1.480 listed companies trading below their tangible book values.

    For the first time in years, the Japanese stock market now has strong domestic support. Jeffrey Gundlach says the government is encouraging it via three sources of “pretty much automatic buying” at an annual rate in excess of 5 per cent of total market capitalization. The central bank is buying ¥6 trillion (about $53 billion) worth of equities every year, corporate Japan is investing about the same amount, the state pension fund ¥5 trillion, private investors about ¥4 trillion.

     

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