Wednesday, November 11, 2015

GDP Now Forecast Up To 2.3 Percent, 4Q15 -- November 11, 2015

The GDP forecast for November 4, 2015 (a dynamic link):
The GDPNow model forecast for real GDP growth (seasonally adjusted annual rate) in the fourth quarter of 2015 is 2.3 percent on November 4, up from 1.9 percent on November 2. Following this morning's Non-Manufacturing ISM Report On Business, the forecast for fourth-quarter real consumer spending growth increased from 2.4 percent to 2.7 percent while the forecast for real fixed investment growth increased from 3.0 percent to 4.3 percent.

Memo To Wife: This Is On My Christmas List -- November 11, 2015

From a reader: 
Given your interest in North Dakota, its people, its oil industry and your Amazon book reviews, I thought you might like to peruse this book about a young man born in North Dakota who went on to have a most interesting career.
The author:
A key figure in Aramco's history, Frank Jungers witnessed and eventually oversaw momentous growth during his three decades with the company. Born in North Dakota, he earned a mechanical engineering degree at the University of Washington and joined Aramco in 1947. Jungers became President of Aramco in 1971 and was Chairman of the Board and CEO from 1973 to 1978. He initiated the construction of the Saudi Master Gas System, the consolidation of eastern Saudi Arabia's electric power grid and the Saudization of the company workforce while at all times representing the best interest of his American shareholders. He worked closely with King Faisal during the Arab oil embargo and the oil price hikes of the 1970s. Since retirement in Oregon .....
The book with a copyright date of 2014: The Caravan Goes On: How Aramco and Saudi Arabia Grew Up Together.  

Wow! Thank you.

It Takes Awhile For The Red Queen To Fall Off That Treadmill -- November 11, 2015

Quick! How much less oil do you think the US produced in October, 2015, than the previous month, September, 2015? One million bbls, two million bbls, three million bbls?

Remember, North Dakota alone set a new post-boom record low for rigs this past week; Williston is talking about closing man-camps; refiners on the East Coast are refusing Bakken crude oil; and, Elon Musk announced in August that he had discovered how to burn water in conventional internal combustion engines made by Volkswagen.

Okay, I made that last one up.

But, how much less oil do you think the US produced last month compared to the previous month? One million bbls, one and a half million bbls, two million bbls, more?

The EIA's estimate (dynamic link): 40,000 bopd.
EIA estimates that total U.S. crude oil production declined by 40,000 barrels per day (b/d) in October compared with September. Crude oil production is forecast to decrease through the third quarter of 2016 before growth resumes late in 2016. Projected U.S. crude oil production averages 9.3 million b/d in 2015 and 8.8 million b/d in 2016. 
That's for the entire US: 40,000 bopd. North Dakota alone produces 1 million bopd. In the big scheme of things, 40,000 bopd is a rounding error. Not quite, but close. And remember, the Saudi surge began last October, a year ago.

And I don't know who, but it seems someone is boxed into a corner. The Bakken alone has 1,000 wells drilled to total depth, shut in and just waiting to be fracked -- and NDIC relaxed rules on fracking deadlines.

OPEC Boxed In

How boxed in is OPEC? It's becoming existential. The [London] Telegraph is reporting:
The rumblings of revolt against Saudi Arabia and the Opec Gulf states are growing louder as half a trillion dollars goes up in smoke, and each month that goes by fails to bring about the long-awaited killer blow against the US shale industry. 
Algeria's former energy minister, Nordine Aït-Laoussine, says the time has come to consider suspending his country's Opec membership if the cartel is unwilling to defend oil prices and merely serves as the tool of a Saudi regime pursuing its own self-interest.
"Why remain in an organisation that no longer serves any purpose?" he asked.
Saudi Arabia can, of course, do whatever it wants at the Opec summit in Vienna on December 4. As the cartel hegemon, it can continue to flood the global the market with crude oil and hold prices below $50.
It can ignore desperate pleas from Venezuela, Ecuador and Algeria, among others, for concerted cuts in output in order to soak the world glut of 2m barrels a day, and lift prices to around $75. But to do so is to violate the Opec charter safeguarding the welfare of all member states.
This is more than a bit disingenuous. For decades, no OPEC member actually stayed below their quotas if they were able to over-produce; all these decades it was Saudi Arabia that opened and closed the spigot to control prices.

Hey, by the way, if nothing else, we now know the production costs for Mideast crude oil by each country. 


Speaking of being boxed in, walls ...

Walls, Faron Young

I prefer Willie Nelson's version. This song introduced Willie Nelson to a national audience.

Keystone Operator To Build Fifth Major Pipeline System In Mexico -- November 11, 2015

The Canadian Keystone operator was selected to build a new pipeline in Mexico. Oil & Gas Journal is reporting that Mexico's federal power company has selected TransCanade to build, own, and operate the Tuxpan Tula pipeline. Some data points:
  • $500 million to build it
  • 150 miles long; 36-inch; 886 million cfd,  from Tuxpan, Veracruz, to Puebla and Hidalgo states
  • natural gas
  • 25-year contract for natural gas supply
  • construction to begin in 2016
  • with this pipeline, TransCanada will have five (5) major pipeline systems in Mexico; $3 billion invested
TransCanada's theme song for the day, we'll get you one way or another:

One Way Or Another, Blondie

What Do You Think Was The Bigger Story I Posted Today? Which Story Do Think The Minneapolis StarTribune Published? -- November 11, 2015

Quick! What do you think was the bigger story I posted today:
  • the first reading by Williston city council on moving closer toward closing the man-camps next year; or,
  • the fact that the number of millionaires in ND has more than doubled since 2010?
Quick! Which story do you think the Minneapolis StarTribune published:
  • the first reading by Williston city council on moving closer toward closing the man-camps next year; or,
  • the fact that the number of millionaires in ND has more than doubled since 2010?
I have googled both questions and am unable to find any evidence that the MST published both. If I'm wrong don't tell me; I don't want to have facts confuse me.

I will let the reader guess.

Reason #4 Why I Love To Blog -- November 11, 2015


November 12, 2015: my hunch is that a lot of minimum wage folks are going to be re-thinking that $15 minimum wage. I find it hard to believe the the staff can't get at least $15/hour in tips. A table for four probably runs about $50; a 15% tip would be $7.50. Certainly a waiter/waitress takes care of more than two tables/hour. And it's my hunch that a lot of folks tip much more generously than 15%. Regardless, groups are automatically charged 18% in many restaurants.

The staff is also going to be introduced to the IRS. Yes, I know the IRS has clamped down on reported of wages of waiters/waitresses, but my hunch is that tips are still under-reported. Whether they are or not, it is now going to be a lot easier to track wages if tips are out, higher wages are in. There are additional issues, but that's enough for right now. But $15/hour is $600/week for a 40-hour work week; not back for someone living at home with few expenses and parents paying for ObamaCare until the child is 26 years old if the employer does not take care of health care costs.

Everybody agrees that $15/hour minimum wage will reduce the number of jobs available, but that's not the issue here. 
Original Post
I don't think it was more than 30 minutes ago that I posted by thoughts on the $15 minimum wage. The original post is time-dated at 12:00 noon, an hour and half ago, but in fact, I posted the "minimum wage" story about 1:00 p.m. as an add-on.

Now, at 1:34 p.m., about a half hour later, while listening to talk radio news here in Texas, it was announced with some fanfare that Joe's Crab Shack was eliminating tips and will go to a straight wage for all employees. I will try to find the link. A spokesman says the cost of meals will probably go up by about 15% but the change will probably result in overall better staffing and lower costs for the restaurant overall.


Here's a link:
The topple-tipping movement has scored an unexpectedly huge supporter: The head of Ignite Restaurant Group has revealed to investors that its Joe's Crab Shack locations are testing a gratuity-free model. Right now the trial is still smallish — 18 restaurants, the trade mag Restaurant Business notes, with more on the way — but nonetheless significant if it establishes a model that casual mid-range chains can follow.
Under the policy, servers start at a flat $14 an hour, instead of $2.13 plus tips, and menu prices rise by 12 to 15 percent to compensate. The good news for generous tippers, which Adam Platt and others have already explained in the abstract, is that the max increase is less than their usual gratuity, so these customers will actually see price cuts.
Ignite CEO Ray Blanchette said it made sense for Joe's to get rid of tipping because the seafood chain serves so many big groups, and waiters dislike having to double up on tables and split tips.
The test phase is expected to run through at least the end of the year. Blanchette says that because it's a big, bold step, he isn't rushing things: "We're really leading in our industry with regards to national brand going out and testing this thing in a meaningful way. So we want to be somewhat cautious."
We have a Joe's Crab Shack within biking distance but to the best of my knowledge we have never visited a Joe's Crab Shack anywhere.

As long as I'm digressing, I might as well add this. I generally pay for restaurant meals with my credit card but I always leave the tip in cash. I never (with some exceptions, of course), never write in the gratuity and then add it up.

If every restaurant follows Joe's lead, my monthly credit card bill is going to drop significantly, all things being equal.

By the way, I have many reasons why I always leave the tip in cash. Highly recommended.

Love Shack, B-52's

The Apple Page 

It's being reported that Apple is hiring another 1,000 workers for its facilities in Ireland. Read the story at the link. See what wasn't mentioned. When a reader sent me the link, I answered with the following "not-ready-for-prime-time" reply:
Something else Ireland does not have and the writer of the article completely missed it: ObamaCare.  It's not hard to figure out how much additional expenses would be to cover 1,000 new employees in ObamaCare. I assume Ireland has its own healthcare plan but it, in no way, could be more onerous than ObamaCare.

And, on top of that, Apple is in an even higher cost location than the US. Apple's headquarters are in another foreign country: California.

Tim Cook knows exactly what he's doing.

There is nothing keeping the US from lowering its corporate income tax to match (or undercut) Ireland. Except folks like Mr Schumer and Ms Pelosi.

Energy Tweets -- November 11, 2015; Saudi Oil Production Dropping

Platts survey of oil industry officials/analysts estimates Saudi Oct crude oil output at 10.1 mil b/d, 3rd straight month volumes down; see re-posted post below the break.
  • OPEC Oct crude oil output drops 120,000 b/d to 31.08 mil b/d, led by Saudi & Iraq falls, Platts survey of industry officials/analysts shows
  • Annual non-OPEC oil production to fall in 2016 for first time since 2008, EIAgov STEO says.
  • EIA sees US crude oil output losses continuing through Sept 2016, when it avg 8.5MM b/d
  • EIA estimates total US crude oil production has dropped 500K b/d since April, averaging 9.1MM b/d in October, 2016
  • Midwest US gasoline differentials continued to plummet Tuesday amid an abundance of supply
  • US refiners continue to enjoy golden period. Strong gasoline margins more than offset disappointing cracks on diesel
Re-Posting A Note Regarding Saudi Arabia


November 17, 2015: I think this article is a bit of hyperbole, written to attract "clicks" or "eyeballs." But one can argue the slump in the price of oil is an existential problem for Saudi Arabia. Investopedia is reporting that Saudi Arabia could run out of cash in as little as five years if excessive spending is not curbed. 
Saudi Arabia is doing what it can to get its fiscal house in order, but it remains to be seen if they are doing enough to deal with the current economic reality facing the country. 
Bloomberg reports that the government is creating a project management office that will report to the Committee of Economic Development, chaired by Deputy Crown Price, Mohammed Bin Salman to tighten oversight of government spending.
This will be sorely needed to prevent the IMF’s warning from coming true. Bloomberg reports that Saudi’s 2015 total budgeted spending is $229.3 billion, and the FT says foreign reserves as of September 2015 are $647 billion. So at the current rate of spending, current reserves are exhausted in a little less than three years.
Original Re-Posted Note
Long-term readers know my views on Saudi's ability to produce oil. I was most intrigued by the first tweet posted at the very top of this page. With that in mine, I am re-posting, almost in its entirety, is a post from June 13, 2015.

I think one of the most interesting stories to follow for the next two years will be OPEC oil production. Well, duh.

I keep going back to the graph at that post:

Look at that graph closely; pay attention to oil production. It appears Saudi crude oil production in 2013 was about 12 million bopd; and, about the same, 12 million bopd in 2014. Maybe only 11 million bopd but clearly well above 10 million bopd but about the very same that it was in 2008.

I keep repeating the same data points, and adding some:
  • Saudi embarked on a $35 billion, 5-year program back in 2012 to sustain oil production
  • Saudi's oil production has hardly moved since 2012
  • Saudi's budget is based on $100 oil
  • domestic consumption of oil and natural gas is increasing in Saudi Arabia
  • apparently the Saudi quest to find natural gas in Rub al Khali failed; one of many links; a better link;
  • Saudi Arabia is embarking on a huge refinery program (see below)
  • the water situation in the Mideast is getting more and more challenging, and the amount of energy needed for desalination is beyond one's imagination (see below)
  • Saudi has a huge new terrorist organization to worry about
  • Saudi is engaged in a fairly expensive shooting war
  • President Obama has made it very clear that Saudi is on their own when it comes to security
  • the Saudi oil minister is making some bizarre statements about the end of fossil fuel (bizarre or disingenuous)
Saudi Arabia's huge refining program, The Wall Street Journal reported this earlier this year (2015):
Saudi Arabia plans to become the world’s second-largest exporter of refined oil products in 2017 as part of its drive to diversify its economy and increase its share of the global crude and petroleum products markets, the kingdom’s oil minister Ali al-Naimi said Wednesday.
The kingdom’s two new refineries will add 800,000 barrels a day in refining capacity this year. A planned 400,000-barrel-per-day oil refinery in Jazan will bring Saudi Arabia’s refining capacity to more than 3 million barrels a day.
“That will make the kingdom one of the five largest countries in the world in terms of refined crude capacity and the second largest exporter of refined products after the U.S.,” Mr. al-Naimi said.
And even more:
Last year, Saudi Aramco started output at one of the largest oil refineries built in recent years—a 400,000-barrel-a-day project in a joint venture with Total SA. Another 400,000 barrels a day plant in Yanbu, a joint venture with China’s Sinopec called Yasref, started trial runs in September and exported its first shipment in January.
Saudi Aramco has previously said it plans to increase its refining capacity to 8 million barrels a day in the next decade through expansion both at home and abroad.
To some extent, this is a "wash." Countries currently importing Saudi crude oil may switch to importing Saudi petroleum products instead.

Saudi Arabia's domestic energy consumption and desalination: several links --
If Saudi Arabia's oil reserves were inexhaustible, their desalination program would not be an issue. But apparently, Saudi Arabia has concerns.

The kingdom is now embarking on a huge solar-powered desalination project. It will be the world's first large scale solar powered desalination plant.

Just a few weeks ago, on May 22, 2015, The Guardian had a big story on Saudi Arabia turning to solar energy for its desalination program, and then even made the crazy assertion that someday Saudi's solar energy industry would "export" electricity.

This is where the minister of energy sounded a bit bizarre:
“In Saudi Arabia, we recognise that eventually, one of these days, we’re not going to need fossil fuels,” said Naimi at a business and climate conference in Paris on Thursday.
“I don’t know when - 2040, 2050 or thereafter. So we have embarked on a program to develop solar energy,” he said in comments reported by the Guardian, Bloomberg, and the Financial Times. “Hopefully, one of these days, instead of exporting fossil fuels, we will be exporting gigawatts of electric power.”
Naimi also said he did not think that continuing low crude oil prices would make solar power uneconomic: “I believe solar will be even more economic than fossil fuels.”
Be that as it may; it is what it is. It's bizarre but it may be telling.

However, what caught my eye was this, buried deep in the article, why I wrote that this is reason #4,534 why I love to blog:
Saudi Arabia had already said in 2012 it aimed to be powered by 100% renewable energy and later that year announced a $109 billion solar plan. In January, that plan was delayed by eight years
Their solar program wasn't just delayed a year or two or three or four, it was delayed eight years. Anyone who has spent any time living and/or working in the Mideast knows that a) it took a lot for Saudi to admit this 8-year delay ("losing face"); and, b) "eight years" was simply a figure pulled out of thin air. It's as likely that it will be an 18-year delay.

Ever since I began following the Bakken, it's been my understanding that Saudi Arabia's budget is based on $100 oil. Most of that budget, based on conjecture and what little I know, was before these huge big projects and challenges came along.

These are big ticket items that will not do well on $50 Saudi oil:
  • fighting the war in Yemen
  • fighting ISIS
  • preparing to fight Iran
  • if Saudi decides to go nuclear (and I think they will) that's another huge financial outlay;
  • 1.5 million bopd ($100 million/day on the open market worth of oil) to run its desalination programs; that's about $40 billion /year just for potable water (not agricultural water)
  • $35 billion, 5-year program to sustain current oil production; it's not so much the dollar cost; it's the fact it takes so much of their only resource (oil) to run the plants
  • a $109 billion solar plan (now delayed); there's only one reason to delay, I would imagine: cash flow
  • aggressive, expansive refining program
  • a Bentley for each Saudi pilot striking Yemen: 100 Bentleys
That was a long note for just a single point, but it provides a starting point for the archives with regard to big-ticket items that Saudi Arabia needs to pay for and why their crude oil production needs to increase to meet their new refinery requirements. One almost gets the feeling that if Saudi increases their production from 10.3 million bopd to 11.3 million bopd they are simply running faster to stay in the same place.

Number Of North Dakota Millionaires Jumps -- November 11, 2015

The Bakken Economy

Data points from The Washington Times:
  • the number of North Dakotans reporting 7-figure incomes has more than doubled since 2010
  • 2014: 1,120 North Dakotans with AGI of more than $1 million
  • 2013: 1,014 North Dakotans with AGI of more than $1 million
Number of state tax returns:
  • 2014: 486,311
  • 2013: 466,256
  • an increase of 4%
North Dakota's average AGI:
  • 2014: a record $73,359
  • 2013: $71,538
2012 nationwide AGI data:
  • income split, 50% above, 50% below:  $36,000
  • income split, 25% above, 75% below: $73,000
  • income split, 10% above, 90% below: $125,000
2011 nationwide AGI data:
  • income split, 50% above, 50% below:  $35,000
  • income split, 25% above, 75% below: $70,000
  • income split, 10% above, 90% below: $120,000
From wiki:
  • the overall median personal income for all individuals over the age of 18 was $24,062 ($32,140 for those age 25 or above) in the year 2005
  • the overall median income for all 155 million persons over the age of 15 who worked with earnings in 2005 was $28,567
Memo to self: send note to Jane Nielson.

Speaking of Growth

A lead story over at Finance!Yahoo right now is about the growth prospects of Facebook. Just a few weeks ago I suggested:
Amazon and/or Facebook will get into the flight reservation business (one or the other will buy Travelocity, Orbitz, or start fresh). October 23, 2015. Three stories converge: Amazon reports surprise profit 3Q15; Facebook introduces universal search across entire social network; and, airlines try to win customer loyalty by keeping fliers informed
Minimum Wage

There's a lot of talk about minimum wage right now. I don't have a dog in that fight. I used to be really, really against a minimum wage mandated by the "state" but it no longer worries me. The free market economy will manage it just well.

I think for me, personally, it's likely the $15 minimum wage will be good for me.

As I understand it, the $15 minimum wage will pretty much only effect the service industry, such as fast food restaurants and motels/hotels. There are a lot of jobs being done in California by undocumented workers, but that's another story.

We don't eat out that much and when we do, the overall bill won't increase all that much due to the minimum wage. But one can expect that the employer will be much more selective in the individuals hired when paying them high wages. Might the employer hire fewer workers and thus delay / slow down service? Not to worry. Free market capitalism and technology will take care of that concern. In fact, a $15 minimum wage is likely to hasten better technology in fast food restaurants. Applebee's is adopting.

When we go to a more upscale restaurant, my wife is a very generous tipper. Fifteen percent is the floor and my wife generally leaves 20 - 30 percent. Her mom was a waitress.  The extra price of the meal due to a mandated $15 minimum wage won't have much effect on our total expense, but it will most likely mean a happier server and kitchen staff.

We also don't stay in hotels/motels very often, but my hunch is that the increase in minimum wage will have minimal effect on those rates, though room rate increases will be blamed on the minimum wage. And again, we always leave a room tip for the "maid" upon leaving; again overall price won't affect us much.

I'm not worried that the minimum wage will set a floor or lead to inflation or will mean that future welders will decide to become "maids" or waiters instead. The big concern for almost everyone right now is deflation, not inflation. Those on government pensions and/or social security have probably noticed no annual increases lately.

Should I be worried about whether it's "right or wrong" in a free market economy to mandate a minimum wage? That's not the question; it's already mandated. The question is simply how much.

Again, this is another non-issue that the GOP would be well advised to ignore. Will an increase in the minimum wage affect jobs? Probably. But does that really affect anyone voting for Donald Trump or Carly Fiorina or Ben Carson or Jeb Bush? I doubt it. When a politician asked whether he/she supports a $15 minimum wage, he/she should simply say he/she is going to work for more jobs with better pay. If $15 / hour gets us there, great.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015 -- Veterans Day

Active rigs:

Active Rigs66191182191200

RBN Energy: For A New York City Gas Boost, New Pipes Or LNG?
As we stated in Part 1 of this series, New York City will need increasing amounts of natural gas as it continues its shift from oil-fired power plants and oil-based space heating. New gas pipeline capacity to and through the Big Apple has been added as recently as May 2015, but the nation’s largest city still faces wintertime gas-delivery constraints that cause costly spikes in gas and power prices. Given the challenges of adding new pipeline capacity in one of the most densely populated parts of the U.S., developer Liberty Natural Gas is planning an offshore liquefied natural gas terminal that by late 2018 would inject gas into the city’s existing pipeline network on an as-needed basis. Today, we continue our look at the economics of using imported LNG to supplement gas supplies in the Northeast.
New York, New York, the birthplace of Billy Joel, Lady Gaga, Lou Reed and countless others with hit songs named for RBN blog titles (or is it the other way around?), has been making a big push to clean up its air and reduce its carbon footprint. Among other things, the city of 8.4 million has already forbidden (through its NYC Clean Heat program) the use of Number 6 heating oil for space heating, and has given businesses and residents notice that Number 4 heating oil will be phased out next, with natural gas the go-to replacement, given its low cost, clean-burning nature, and increasing availability. Similarly, older oil-fired power plants are being replaced by new, more efficient gas-fired units.
Williston City Crew Camps

The Dickinson Press is reporting that crew camps (aka man-camps) may soon be coming to an end if located within the geographical limit of Williston City -- the city plus one-mile "buffer zone." Some data points from the article:
  • first reading of the bill last night (Tuesday); second reading yet required; commissioners vote 3 -2 to close crew camps "next year"; stop operating July 1, 2016; buildings be removed by September 1, 2016; affects 3,600 temporary workforce housing beds;
  • in favor, an apartment developer who said at the time of the boom, rent for a 2-room apartment was $2,700/month; now "only" $1,404 for a two-bedroom apartment in Williston, ND; time to get rid of man-camps and raise rents in fixed facilities
  • at $1,404/month: to pay off debt requires almost full occupancy and financing over 23 years
  • Williston apartment buildings are 60% full, this developer says (and developers are building more)
  • Williston hotels are averaging bout 55% occupancy
  • exemptions exist for six camps that have permits that expire after December 31, 2015 they would be allowed to operate until their permits expire
  • additional man-camps still operating in Williams County, McKenzie County
My "not ready for time prime" comments in an e-mail to the reader who sent me the story:
It was always well-known that the crew camps were "temporary." I doubt we will see another boom that would require crew camps any time in my lifetime.There is plenty of housing, hotels, motels, etc., and again, the crew camps were always seen as temporary.
I would agree that giving them a timeline to phase them out would be appropriate and I think a year is fine.
In the military families living overseas seldom got a year's notice. Generally we got our orders about 6 months in advance. This would be huge for Williston to see those man-camps gone.
I think it's a win-win for everyone but for a very few who are at the top of the food chain with regard to the man-camps. I think the oil companies and oil service companies suggesting otherwise are simply supporting their workers, sort of like coaches supporting their players when facing challenges.
Again, look at the number of beds we are talking about, 3,600. There is more than enough other housing now available. I think Williston is smart to get out ahead of this before we start seeing fixed facilities shuttered and a community blight.

Notes To The Granddaughters

While attending a Veterans Day ceremony, while listening to the speeches, I thought back on the military books I have read, and then tried to think of the top five. Here they are, first thoughts:
  • The Great War and Modern Memory, Paul Fussell, 25th Anniversary Edition, c. 1975, 2000
  • Going After Cacciato, Tim O'Brien, c. 1999
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany: A Novel, John Irving, c. 2012,
  • Ulysses S. Grant: Memoirs and Selected Letters, multiple editions 
  • The Lord Of The Rings, JRR Tolkien, 50th Anniversary Edition, c. 2004
One might add, two of Virginia Woolf's books:
  • To Jacob's Room
  • Mrs Dalloway