West Texas intermediate oil is crashing through its $30 a barrel support level in search of a new bottom, amid the ongoing correction in China, weak demand globally and no signs of production slowing down.
While that is generally good news for consumers of products like gasoline, the worst may be yet to come for oil producers, not just overseas in Saudi Arabia, Iran or Russia, but also including those domestic producers who have been at the heart of the oil shale hydraulic fracturing boom.
Overall, crude is more than 73 percent off its previous high of $116.32 in April 2011. The $30 support level is already worse than during the financial crisis, when it bottomed at about $39 a barrel in Feb. 2009.
How low could oil go? “Three major investment banks — Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Citigroup Inc. — now expect the price of oil to crash through the $30 threshold and into $20 territory in short order,” reports the Wall Street Journal’s Bradley Olson and Erin Ailworth.
$20 a barrel for oil? Yikes. Those are levels not seen since the early 2000s, right at the beginning of the commodities boom that was led by the rapid expansion in emerging markets like China, Brazil and others.
Now that those emerging markets are in a full scale correction, it appears the price of oil is finally reverting to the mean.
But, it’s not just oil.
Food is dropping too. Rice dropped down to about $358 per metric ton in November, a low not seen since 2007, when the price was still rising. Wheat was down to about $158 in November, right above June 2010 low of $157.
Beef is in free fall at $1.66 a pound, down 39 percent from its Sept. 2014 high.
Gold is off its Sept. 2011 high of $1,770 an ounce by 38.6 percent, down to about $1,087. Silver too is 67.8 percent off its April 2011 high of $42.79 per Troy ounce, all the way down to $13.775 in August.
What is being seen in commodities is an across the board correction — all coinciding with the implosion of emerging markets. In the debate between oversupply versus weak demand, that may point to a weak overall outlook and not simply an issue of producers flooding the market.
And, it’s not just commodities.
The Shanghai Composite is about 35 percent off its June 2015 peak, taking global equities with it.
Yet the U.S. has been trailing slightly behind these trends. So far the S&P 500 is only 8.8 percent off its recent July 17, 2015 high. This could just be the beginning.
With everything seemingly moving in a single direction, perhaps that is why the Royal Bank of Scotland recently issued a client note stating, “Sell everything except high quality bonds. This is about return of capital, not return on capital. In a crowded hall, exit doors are small.”
Sell everything? Talk about shouting fire in a crowded theater. Only this time, it’s not a special effect, the screen really is ablaze — and the oil crash may only be further fuel for the inferno that is the imploding global economy.