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Oil Prices Collapse Again After Worst Week Since 1991

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Oil Prices Collapse Again After Worst Week Since 1991

Coming off its worst week since 1991, oil prices collapsed as much as 8% again last night before making a modest recovery. The price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude fell settled at $22.37/barrel, down a modest 1.15% overall. Brent crude also traded lower, down 4.6% to $25.73 per barrel.

The energy sector continues to be roiled by a downturn in demand as travel slows and business activity drops due to the coronavirus outbreak and the looming supply increase scheduled for April 1 as Saudi Arabia and Russia both intend to ramp up production after the current OPEC+ agreement ends.

Giovanni Serio, head of research at Vitol, the world’s biggest oil trader, says demand is expected to fall by more than 10 million barrels per day (bpd) or roughly 10%. 

Even in the face of this sizable drop in demand, Saudi Arabia said it plans to increase daily production roughly 25% from 9.7 million/bpd to 12.3 million/bpd starting April 1. Russia has announced it will increase production as well, although the exact amount remains unknown.

With the April 1 production increase fast approaching, it appears the likelihood of a settlement between Saudi Arabia and Russia dwindles.

According to those with knowledge of the situation in the Kremlin, President Vladimir Putin views what Saudi Arabia is doing as “blackmail” and won’t likely agree to a resolution.

Joseph McMonigle, senior energy policy analyst at Hedgeye Potomac Research said in a recent note: “We believe oil prices will continue to fall into the teens in the short term amid disaster demand destruction, building global stocks and no production limits after April 1.”

Stephen Innes, chief Asia market strategist at Axicorp Ltd. added “Oil could head to $10 to $15 a barrel very quickly” if OPEC and Texas can’t reach an agreement on cutting production. Any traders with the capacity to store oil are probably putting their hands up, looking at the contango.”

Prices have swung wildly in the last week as traders try to understand the impact the quarantine orders and increased production come April 1 will have on the oil markets in the short-term.

On Wednesday prices fell 24.4% to an 18-year low, the third-worst decline in history. On Thursday, just one day later, prices climbed 23.8% for the largest single-day percentage gain ever.

“With each day there seems to be yet another trapdoor lying beneath oil prices, and we expect to see prices continue to roil until a cost equilibrium is reached and production is shut in,” said Louise Dickson, and analyst at Rystad Energy.

“This is the most dismal oil demand picture we have witnessed in a long time with a simultaneous collapse in jet fuel, gasoline, shipping fuel, petrochemicals, and oil used for power generation,” she added.

The price of WTI has decline 60% this year, and 43.9% in March alone, putting it on pace for it’s worst month on record since the contract was first offered in 1983.

Economy

Gas Prices Head Below $1/Gallon As Industry Grapples With Oversupply

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Gas Prices Head Below $1/Gallon As Industry Grapples With Oversupply

The OPEC+ countries are expected to meet today to discuss cutting daily production by 10 million barrels per day as they try to drive the price of oil back up.

At the same time, the US oil industry is slashing prices in an attempt to clear out vast supplies it simply can’t get rid of.

It’s the latest challenge for the US oil industry that is running out of places to store oil while demand falls to multi-decade lows.

Here in the US, wholesale gasoline prices are plunging and are as low as $0.10 per gallon in parts of the Midwest and are only $0.35 per gallon in Los Angeles.

“The sore spots extend from Ohio through to the Great Lakes and all the states that border that, and the Rockies,” said Tom Kloza, head of global energy analysis at Oil Price Information Services.

He added “I’m pretty sure these wholesale prices and spot prices are as low as anything we’ve seen since before the Arab oil embargo” in the early 1970s.

With the US economy shut down and nearly every American at home and not driving or commuting to work, the demand for gas has cratered.

Retail prices are expected to fall below $1 per gallon at the pump in some parts of the Midwest, and could see a national average between $1.25 and $1.50 per gallon very soon.

According to data provided by the Government, we used just 5.1 million barrels a day last week, compared to 9.8 million barrels a day at the same time last year. The last time we used that amount of oil in a week was way back in 1968.

Andrew Lipow, president of Lipow Oil Associates says “We’ve never been in a situation where demand ran into a brick wall and dropped precipitously in such a short time. In other situations, where we had economic shutdowns, we’ve seen a deterioration in demand over time — over months and years.”

Lipow added that he expects to see further production cuts, as the number of places to store oil is quickly dwindling.

“If refineries are only cutting throughput [production] rates 20% to 30%, it’s not enough, and as a rule inventories are filled up to the point where refiners are either going to have to cut additional throughput rates or shut down.”

Kloza, with Oil Price Information Services, says if the cutting the wholesale price isn’t enough to move the gasoline, then shutting down the refineries all together is the next step.

“When you see these discounts and you see these numbers, that tells you they can’t clear gasoline. In the country’s midsection, there is too much gasoline. There is more than 50 days supply there, and they are going to cut refinery runs.”

Kloza added, “It tells you the refineries are in trouble. I personally think there’s a half dozen refineries now that are being reviewed by the companies that run them and they are candidates for closure.”

Typically we would be heading into the busy summer driving season. But with the country shut down, there’s not an opportunity to quickly work through the oversupply.

It’s likely low gas prices are here for at least a few months, no matter what production cuts OPEC+ may agree on today.

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Business

Stocks Close In the Red After Massive 900-Point Rally Falls Apart

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Stocks Close In the Red After Massive 900-Point Rally Falls Apart

In what could be an ominous sign of things to come, the stock market couldn’t hold on to a massive rally yesterday. Stocks closed the day in the red.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average climbed as much as 937 points intraday. This was before it gave back all the gains and closed the day down 26 points.

It could turn out to be a turning point that many experienced investors have been predicting.

Their belief is that the rapid 20% rebound in stock prices couldn’t last. They also believe that we may eventually re-test the March 23 lows.

900-Point Rally Fails

Jim Cramer, host of ‘Mad Money’ on CNBC seems to be slowly coming around to the idea.

“Just think about the last 500 Dow points [Monday]. I don’t know. They were done in, what, about 30 minutes. That’s not sustainable. There are people who are just anxious about taking something off the table because they’ve just seen a remarkable two-day bull market, and now they’re ready to find out about … the various stages that we need to get out.”

David Kostin, the chief U.S. equity strategist at Goldman Sachs, believes that stocks are poised to fall again. He mentioned that it’s likely, if you compare it to how the market behaved during the 2008 financial crisis.

“The way I think about this is [there’s an asymmetry] in terms of downside risk towards a level in the S&P 500 of around 2,000, which is about 25%, and an upside of around 10% to a target at the end of the year of around 3,000. [That’s not symmetrical] in terms of timing. I think the risk is a lot further towards the downside,” Kostin said. He then added: “I would just remind you that in [Q4 2008], there were many different rallies, they’re called bear market rallies, some of which were almost 20% a couple of times, but the market did not bottom until March of 2009.”

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we hit 2,000 on the S&P 500 ”said Alex Chalekian, the CEO of Lake Avenue Financial.

He added “We’re going to see opportunities and we’re going to take advantage of them,” he said. “But in the meantime, there’s no rush to jump back into the market right now.”

Economic Strategists React

Peter van der Welle, a multi-asset strategist at Robeco says “From a sentiment angle, recent exceptional bounces suggest that investor sentiment is still in the denial phase, rather than in the phase of capitulation that paves the way for a new bull market.”.

In addition, Albert Edwards, a global strategist at Société Générale, said that investors hoping that monetary and fiscal stimulus can save the market through this rally have made a mistake. “This optimism is the legacy of a long bull market. Investors can’t conceive that the Fed will ‘allow’ the stock market to collapse. Think again. That was the view in 2007 too,” he said.

Finally, Goldman Sachs conducted a poll with more than 1,800 of its institutional clients as respondents. It found out that 50% believe the lows have not yet been set. The survey also revealed that 75% believe equities remain in a bear market.

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Business

With Survival at Stake, Small Business Owners Frustrated by Aid Delays

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With survival at stake, small business owners frustrated by aid delays

Greg Hunnicutt has almost entirely shut down his Houston-based construction business. At his one remaining job site, he’s being careful to minimize the risk of anyone being exposed to the coronavirus. So he keeps fewer workers on the job.

“My electrician is there now doing some work,” he said. “It’s just him and his helper. So what I’m trying to accomplish here is reducing how people interact.”

With his income sharply reduced, Hunnicutt needs more funds, and fast. He reached out to NPR on Friday, when the Small Business Administration’s coronavirus crisis lending program opened. At the time, he was having trouble getting through online to apply for an SBA loan through his bank, Wells Fargo. I asked him this week how it was going.

“Well, it’s not,” he said, laughing. He says he filled out a form on the bank’s website over the weekend, but he hasn’t heard back yet.

But he says he needs that money soon to keep his business alive.

“I paid my guys two weeks,” he said. “Well, that was two weeks ago. Starting today, this week, they haven’t been paid.”

If the process doesn’t move quickly, he said his business will be in serious trouble.

Business problems with banks

Hunnicutt is one of dozens of small business owners that contacted NPR, describing obstacles in applying for loans. The $350 billion SBA initiative, called the Paycheck Protection Program, is designed to keep workers at small companies on the payroll during the crisis.

The Trump administration had said it hoped the program could give some businesses immediate financial assistance. And administration officials have bragged that hundreds of millions of dollars were disbursed through banks on the first day.

Some small business owners, like Hunnicutt, are waiting to hear from their banks. Others have said they haven’t been able to get through to their banks, due to crashing websites.

Several business owners cited restrictions from Bank of America as a major hurdle. On Friday, Bank of America said a deposit account with the bank was not enough to qualify for loans. Applicants would need loan or credit card accounts with the bank. That left out the many businesses without lending relationships with the bank and sparked an online backlash. Bank of America loosened its requirements over the weekend.

The SBA program reflects the difficulties of quickly setting up a massive new emergency lending effort, and running it through myriad banking institutions.

And it comes at a time when businesses desperately need money. A recent survey from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce found that one in four businesses say they are two months or less from closing permanently, and one in 10 say it’s one month or less.

Bigger problems than banks

Small businesses’ difficulties with the new program go beyond their banks, however. New rules written after Congress created the program are tripping up some businesses, according to Stephanie O’Rourk, a partner at accounting firm CohnReznick.

“The problem with the program is that it doesn’t align with the reality of the situation that a lot of businesses are going through right now,” she said.

For example, she says, the new rules now say that the loans must be paid back in two years instead of the 10 that the CARES Act says. In addition, Treasury added a rule saying three-quarters of the money must be used on payrolls in order for it to be forgiven.

For some businesses, non-payroll expenses are just too high to spend that much on employees.

Chelsea Altman, co-owner of five restaurants in New York City, says that rule will be bad for her and other businesses in high-cost cities.

“In New York state or New York City, your rent is very high,” she said. “So there is a chance that even with this 75 percent going to labor and then the other 25 percent is supposed to go to your rent, there’s times when that won’t” cover the rent.

Some banks displeased

Many banks opened the program up only to their own customers. As NPR has reported, that worried some small business advocates because it threatens to leave out smaller, and particularly, minority-owned businesses.

Banks, meanwhile, had their reasons for wanting to limit their applications, according to Aaron Klein, policy director of the Center on Regulation and Markets at the Brookings Institution.

“The Treasury Department made a major unforced error, leaving anti-money laundering rules on autopilot,” he said.

To lend money, banks have to go through a procedure called Know Your Customer to prevent money laundering. It can be a cumbersome process, Klein explained, and stands to be a serious impediment to an effort that seeks to get tens of billions out the door in a matter of days.

Other banks have voiced their own issues, including forms that changed overnight, unclear guidance from the government, and difficulty with the Small Business Administration website.

For now, at least one concern with the program is being answered: that the initial $349 billion appropriated for it is too small to meet business demand. On Tuesday, the Treasury said it was preparing to ask Congress to spend another $200 billion on the program. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Tuesday that he plans to work with Democrats and Treasury to put more money into the program.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

© KNOW Minnesota Public Radio, Copyright © 2020 APM. All rights reserved.

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