Questions and Observations

Free Markets, Free People

The power of the market, proven again …

We were told that while oil prices were high, shale oil could be produced at enough of a profit to drill, but to expensive to continue if the prices dropped.

But efficiency and technical innovation have overcome that bit of conventional wisdom as Shale Energy Insider reports:

US shale companies have increased the number of rigs in the field for the first time in nearly seven months when oil prices were trading around $70 per barrel, compared to under $60 per barrel in the current market.

The number of rigs rose in almost every main shale basin across the US according to data gathered by Baker Hughes.

Industry experts have suggested that as a result of last year’s price crash, shale exploration firms have cut their break even costs by anything up to $20 per barrel.

As much as anything else, the rise this week is a testament to break-evens coming down just over the course of this year,” said James Williams, president of energy consultancy WTRG Economics.

Shale is a lot more resilient than we thought it was, and it means we’re going to be able to keep producing shale oil at a lower cost than we thought we could.”

Adding rigs is the primary way to gauge whether or not it is economically profitable for energy companies to drill for and pump the oil  According to one analyst, the companies have been able to streamline their operations to the point their breakeven costs have dropped by about $20 a barrel.  That’s huge:

A Bloomberg analyst suggested that the cost of drilling services have fallen between 20% and 50% with break even prices in parts of the Permian and Eagle Ford below $40 per barrel.

And what does it mean overall?

Director of upstream research for Wood Mackenzie, Scott Mitchell forecast that producers could add up to 100 oil rigs by the end of the year.

Drilling rigs and fracking require a quite specific technical workforce, and there were a lot of layoffs as a result of the drop in activity.

We may find the supply of people becomes short very quickly if activity ramps up, leading to price increases again,” he predicted.

That’s right … jobs and less expensive gas.  Of course, most if not all of the shale oil drilling has taken place on non-federal land, and the market has been able to function without a great deal of governmental interference.  It is providing both employment and a very important commodity at less expensive prices.  Additionally, as it lowers its breakeven point, it buffers us against volume drops as the price of oil comes lower and other sources stop producing oil.  With the lower breakeven point, they’ll continue to pump past the point where they’d have quit previously because doing so is still profitable for them.  That helps ensure lower prices at the pump will be more common and more stable.

The market … a wonder we need to allow to work without interference much more often than we do.


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As the Obama economy continues to tank and unions become more desperate, socialism seems more attractive

Well, sorta.  Union leadership apparently isn’t as comfortable with the Sanders brand of socialism as it is with the Clinton brand.  Richard Trumpka, President of the AFL-CIO, sent out a memo this week:

His message wasn’t anything new for the federation’s state leaders: They know that endorsement decisions belong to the national leadership. Still, it was unusual for Trumka to call them out in a memo. “I’m not sure I’ve ever seen one before like this,” said Jeff Johnson, the president of the AFL-CIO’s Washington state labor council.

Johnson agreed that it was important for the AFL-CIO to speak with a single voice. But “there’s a lot of anxiety out there in the labor movement,” he said, “and we’re desperately searching for a candidate that actually speaks to working-class values. The Elizabeth Warren/Bernie Sanders camp is very, very attractive to many of our members and to many of us as leaders, because they’re talking about the things that need to happen in this country.”

Things like making sure unions regain their pre-eminent and privileged spot they used to hold. Oh, and free stuff! And then there’s the pension mess … something a Sanders or Warren would likely be willing to help bail out so what’s going on in Chicago won’t go on later on a larger scale in more unions:

About 1,400 Chicago public school teachers and staff are expected to lose their jobs in order to finance a pension debt of $634 million, the city announced Wednesday.

The layoffs are part of an aggressive $200 million budget cut to help finance the pension payment, which is required of Chicago Public Schools by Illinois law. The rest of the pension payment is coming from heavy borrowing, as the district already has a massive $1.1 billion budget deficit.

Rahm Emanuel is pretty sure this is everyone else’s fault for not pitching in more.  Most people, other than union members and lefty politicians, know better:

Thousands of retired Illinois teachers receive a six-figure pension, and the typical teacher received more in pension payments than they personally paid in within 20 months of retirement. Most teachers retire at age 59 or younger, and the lifetime pension cost per teacher in the state is estimated to exceed $2 million. Not helping things for the state is an annual 3 percent cost of living adjustment that is fully guaranteed and totally untethered from actual inflation rates.

Or, as usual, an over-promised, underfunded benefit which the union and politicians now want to shift onto everyone else.  You see, they promised it, your job is to shut up and pay up.  The left only ever has one answer to this – higher taxes, fees, whatever, to fund their promises.  The fact that you weren’t consulted, nor did they at all care what you might think, when this nonsense was “negotiated” never weighs into the equation.

But they’re for the middle class – or so they claim.

It is going to be fun to watch the left this year as they try to reconcile the mess this country is in with what they demand.  As usual, the blame game will be in full effect as the left tries to point to everyone else as the fault even as it becomes more and more obvious, even to low information voters, that the blue model of just about everything is a failure.

But … racism!  Confederate flag!  Christian bakeries!


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Economic Statistics for 2 July 15

The June Employment Situation was weaker than expected, with 223,000 net new jobs created. The unemployment rate fell sharply to 5.3%, mainly due to 432,000 people leaving the labor force. The household survey also indicates an overall decline in employment, with 56,000 fewer employed than in May. The labor force participation rate fell sharply by -0.3% to 62.6%, the lowest since October of 1977. Average hourly earnings were unchanged, as was the average work week, at 34.5 hours. the previous two months of job growth were also revised down by -60,000 new jobs.

Factory orders continued to fall in May, declining by -1.0%, far worse than expectations, which were for an already weak -0.3%.

Initial weekly jobless claims rose 10,000 to 281,000. The 4-week average rose 1,000 to 274,750. Continuing claims rose 15,000 to 2.264 million.

The Bloomberg Consumer Comfort Index rose 1.4 points to 44.0 in the latest week.

The Fed’s balance sheet fell $-15.9 billion last week, with total assets of $4.479 trillion. Reserve bank credit fell $19.3 billion.

The Fed reports that M2 money supply rose by $40.9 billion in the latest week.

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A short quiz …

Who is one of the only groups successfully fighting ISIS and consistently winning?

If you said the Peshmerga or the Kurds, give yourself a point.

What should we, the US, be doing because the Peshmerga is, in fact, winning engagements regularly against ISIS?

Well the smart thing, and something a leader would do at a minimum, would be to help them in any way we can and supply them with the weaponry they need.

If you said that, another point.

Now, the big question – are we doing that?

If you said “no” you get 3 out of 3.  If you said we’re actually working against that, you get a bonus of 1 point.

Yes, according the the Telegraph, we’ve been active in blocking needed heavy weapons shipments to the Kurds:

The Peshmerga have been successfully fighting Isil, driving them back from the gates of Erbil and, with the support of Kurds from neighbouring Syria, re-establishing control over parts of Iraq’s north-west.

But they are doing so with a makeshift armoury. Millions of pounds-worth of weapons have been bought by a number of European countries to arm the Kurds, but American commanders, who are overseeing all military operations against Isil, are blocking the arms transfers.

One of the core complaints of the Kurds is that the Iraqi army has abandoned so many weapons in the face of Isil attack, the Peshmerga are fighting modern American weaponry with out-of-date Soviet equipment.

At least one Arab state is understood to be considering arming the Peshmerga directly, despite US opposition.

The US has also infuriated its allies, particularly Saudi Arabia, Jordan and the Gulf states, by what they perceive to be a lack of clear purpose and vacillation in how they conduct the bombing campaign. Other members of the coalition say they have identified clear Isil targets but then been blocked by US veto from firing at them.

“There is simply no strategic approach,” one senior Gulf official said. “There is a lack of coordination in selecting targets, and there is no overall plan for defeating Isil.”

Another in a long litany of failures by this administration.  We have both the means and a reason to supply the Kurds with the weaponry they need, and yet ….

As mentioned yesterday, Jimmy Carter is right.

Failure of leadership.



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Economic Statistics for 1 Jul 15

Motor vehicle sales weakened in June, dropping -3.4% from May, but were still strong at a 17.2 million annual rate.

Challenger reports that Layoff announcements rose to 44,842 in June from 41,034 in May, well up from an unusually low 31,434 in June 2014. 

ADP estimates that private payrolls rose a larger-than-expected 237,000 in June, against analysts’  expectations for 220,000.

Construction spending rose a solid 0.8% in May, well above the the analysts’ expectations of a 0.5% gain.

The PMI Manufacturing Index fell -0.4 points to 53.6 in June, indicating some slowing economic growth.

The ISM manufacturing composite index for June showed some acceleration in manufacturing, rising 0.7 points to 53.5.

Gallup’s U.S. Job Creation Index remained high in June, unchanged from the May reading at 32.

Gallup’s Payroll to Population Rate rose 1.0% to 45.5% in June, the highest rate since 2012.

The MBA reports that mortgage applications fell -4.7% last week, with purchases down -4.0% and refis down -5.0%.

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Even Jimmy Carter thinks Obama the worst president

Still laughing about this one:

“On the world stage, I think [Obama’s accomplishments] have been minimal,” Carter said. “I think he has done some good things domestically, like health reform and so forth. But on the world stage, just to be objective about it, I can’t think of many nations in the world where we have a better relationship now than when he took over.”

Carter declined to blame Obama for the U.S.’s dismal foreign policy outlook, stating simply that circumstances “have evolved.” However, he did state that the U.S. had suffered a reversal of fortunes in foreign policy since Obama took over from President George W. Bush.

“I would say the U.S.’s influence and prestige and respect in the world is probably lower than it was six or seven years ago,” Carter said.

Ya think?!  At the moment I’d say our “influence and prestige and respect” in the world is at its lowest since the turn of the century — the last century.

Carter, often sighted as the worst foreign policy president we’ve ever had … until Obama … is probably feeling a little frisky now that it is apparent even to him.

He’s bound and determined to ensure his “next to last” position in the “worst president” category now that Obama’s position as the worst seems assured.


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Economic Statistics for 30 Jun 15

Redbook reports that last week’s retail sales weakened to 1.6% on a year-ago basis, from the previous week’s already-weak 1.7%.

The S&P Case-Shiller home price index rose 0.3% in April, with a 4.9% year-over-year increase.

Chicago’s PMI sample remains surprisingly depressed, at a June index of 49.4, the 4th contractionary reading (sub-50) of the last 5 months.

The Conference Board’s June Consumer Confidence Index Jumped 6 points to 101.4.

The State Street Investor Confidence Index 6.2 points to 127.0 in June, mainly on confidence from US investors.

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SCOTUS is a political branch, not a legal one

I pretty much agree with Andrew McCarthy:

Already, an ocean of ink has been spilled analyzing, lauding, and bemoaning the Supreme Court’s work this week: a second life line tossed to SCOTUScare in just three years; the location of a heretofore unknown constitutional right to same-sex marriage almost a century-and-a-half after the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment; and the refashioning of Congress’s Fair Housing Act to embrace legal academe’s loopy “disparate impact” theory of inducing discrimination.

Yet, for all the non-stop commentary, one detail goes nearly unmentioned — the omission that best explains this week’s Fundamental Transformation trifecta.   Did you notice that there was not an iota of speculation about how the four Progressive justices would vote?There was never a shadow of a doubt. In the plethora of opinions generated by these three cases, there is not a single one authored by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, or Sonia Sotomayor. There was no need. They are the Left’s voting bloc. There was a better chance that the sun would not rise this morning than that any of them would wander off the reservation.

Indeed, if there is any speculation it centers mostly around Justice Kennedy and now, of all people, Roberts.  There’s not much of a doubt on any case that comes before the court as to how either the liberal bloc or the conservative bloc will vote.  Up for grabs, apparently, are only two votes.  And you can expect absolutely tortured verbiage and logic from those two (and others who believe in a “living Constitution”) in order to justify their vote.

Elizabeth Price Foley wants to lay it off on liberals:

Leftists believe that “law is politics,” so they’re not particularly interested in how they get there: What matters, to the political left, is simply getting there.  The ends justify the means

But we all know why Thomas, Scalia, Alito and, oh yeah, Roberts, ended up on the Supreme Court.  The conservatives believe “law is politics” just as much as the left – they just haven’t been as successful at it recently.  There is a reason there are veritable political wars about who gets appointed to the highest bench in the land.  This isn’t some sort of scoop.

It’s a pity though.  You expect politics in Congress, which is why it’s reputation is so … low.  You want a statesman in the presidency.  And you expect justice and law from the judiciary.

Instead, we have nothing but politics from all three.

And they wonder why the people’s view of government is at a nadir?

We all know what “politics” means … and it has nothing to do with integrity, justice, the law, statesmanship or what is best for the citizenry.



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