Sunday, July 26, 2015

Nonlinear: New York, London, Shanghai underwater in 50 years?

Those under the impression that climate change is advancing at a constant and predictable rate don't understand the true dynamics of the issue. The rate of increase of the carbon dioxide concentration in the atmosphere, the main driver of climate change, went from 0.75 parts per million (ppm) per year in 1959 to about 1.5 ppm each year through the 1990s, to 2.1 ppm each year from 2002 to 2012, and finally to 2.9 ppm in 2013.

The fear is that the ability of the oceans and plants to continue to absorb half the carbon dioxide human civilization expels into the atmosphere each year may have become impaired. That means more carbon dioxide is remaining in the atmosphere where concentrations are building at the fastest rate ever recorded in the modern era.

Permafrost across the most northern reaches of land on the globe wasn't expected the start melting until well into this century. Scientists were shocked to find gaping craters in Siberia where permafrost apparently is no longer permanent. It means carbon dioxide and methane--which absorbs about 80 times as much heat as carbon dioxide during its first 20 years in the atmosphere--will be unleashed from the melting permafrost much sooner than anticipated after being trapped for thousands of years. The release has the potential to speed up warming considerably.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Has U.S. oil production started to turn down?

The plunge in oil prices last year led many to say that a decline in U.S. oil production wouldn't be far behind. This was because almost all the growth in U.S. production in recent years had come from high-cost tight oil deposits which could not be profitable at these new lower oil prices. These wells were also known to have production declines that averaged 40 percent per year. Overall U.S. production, however, confounded the conventional logic and continued to rise--until early June when it stalled and then dropped slightly.

Anyone who understood that U.S. drillers in shale plays had large inventories of drilled, but not yet completed wells, knew that production would probably rise for some time into 2015--even as the number of rigs operating plummeted. Shale drillers who are in debt--and most of the independents are heavily in debt--simply must get some revenue out of wells already drilled to maintain interest payments. Some oil production even at these low prices is better than none. Only large international oil companies--who don't have huge debt loads related to their tight oil wells--have the luxury of waiting for higher prices before completing those wells.

The drop in overall U.S. oil production (defined as crude including lease condensate) is based on estimates made by the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA). Still months away are revised numbers based on more complete data. But, the EIA had already said that it expects U.S. production to decline in the second half of this year.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Chinese stocks: When mispricing becomes more important than pricing

Defenders of the free market faith tell us that price conveys a great deal of information, enough that you can base an entire economic system on it without any central planning or coordination whatsoever. Whether extreme devotion to this principle is wise may not be so important to determine this week as whether free market prices are actually available in many markets. Recent events surrounding the precipitous decline of the Chinese stock market are illustrative of this problem, but I'll come back to this a little later.

Years of suppressing the cost of credit through central-bank imposed near zero interest rates has led to the mispricing of anything that depends on credit. The list is long and includes real estate because mortgages are central to its purchase; oil because cheap bank loans and low bond rates financed otherwise uneconomic deposits of tight oil from deep shale deposits in the United States; natural gas in the United States for similar reasons; stocks and bonds because large investors often borrow to buy them; and cheap Chinese consumer goods made more and more available by cheap finance to build the factories that produce them.

The effect is not uniform, that is, cheap credit tends to make some things go up by stimulating demand for them such as real estate, stocks and bonds--while making some things go down such as the price of oil and natural gas because U.S. drillers got cheap financing which encouraged overproduction.

Sunday, July 05, 2015

Lab rats and the corruption of how we count

There's an old joke about lab rats in which the teller says he or she secretly suspects that all lab rats are prone to cancer and so all research about the risk of cancer in humans based on tests in rats is likely useless.

The Committee for Independent Research and Information on Genetic Engineering, a European-based research group, thought it would look into such a possibility.

Last week the group released its findings and that joke became a reality. The diet fed to most lab rats is so laced with pesticides, heavy metals, genetically engineered feed and other man-made contaminants that lab rats worldwide are indeed at much higher risk of developing cancer and other diseases and disabilities just from the food they are reared on.