Erik: Joining me next on the program is Rick Rule from Sprott Global. And, for anyone who’s not familiar – which is hard to believe, because he really gets out there and explores new opportunities in the resource space, whether it’s getting off the next airplane to go look at a junior goldmine or whatever is going on, Rick has the reputation for being the guy who knows the most about it.
And, Rick, what I’d like to start with is we have so many people that are Wall Street guys, whereas you tend to be out in the field really looking at natural resources. I think this really is a different animal. It’s a different style of investing.
So why don’t we start with the big picture? How do you think about the world around you? Where is the opportunity? Why natural resource investing in the first place? And how do you approach it?
Rick: Well, I think probably every one of your specialists would suggest that they were off Wall Street in a way, but not all businesses correlate. I would of course agree with your premise that natural resource investing is different than most mainstream forms of investing.
The first is that resource investing is unusually capital-intensive, which means that it is unusually cyclical. The truth is that, in resources, the old truism: “A bear market is the author of a bull market and a bull market is the author of a bear market” is particularly true.
And that’s important to understand. Because, during periods of time when mature natural resource companies appear cheap (that is their enterprise value relative to their EBIT is low), they normally correspond with periods of very high commodity prices. Meaning that the price of the commodity is about to go down, so that the free cash flow is about to go down, so that the debt is about to go up.
When, by contrast, mature natural resource companies seem expensive on an EBIT to enterprise value basis, it’s normally when commodity prices are low. Meaning that cash flow is going to get higher and debt is going to get lower.
So it turns out that, from an investor’s perspective, the best of times herald the worst of times. And the worst of times herald the best of times.
In truth, in the 40 years that I have been involved in the game, one looks first for commodities where you believe that ongoing demand for five or ten years is assured, because of the utility afforded by that commodity to society. That is where ongoing demand is assured. Where the price of the commodity – the price that the commodity sells for worldwide – is below the median cost of production.
In other words, you buy the best producers in industries that are literally in liquidation. What that means is that you have a circumstance where, either the price of the commodity goes up, or society does without the commodity. In terms of the broadly traded commodities, the truth is that our way of life depends on commodities. And I would suggest that that’s what sets apart the resource business from other businesses.
Erik: Joining me next on the program is Eric Peters, CIO at One River Asset Management. I want to let our listeners know that we are taping this interview on Wednesday afternoon, so our conversation will not reflect anything that happens on Thursday. Normally we don’t need to tell you that, but things are happening so quickly in the market I wanted to make that point.
Eric, I think that the question on everybody’s mind is – we’re looking at the tape on Wednesday afternoon just before the close – it looks like we’re going to get back above 2,700.
Is a relatively small market dislocation just ending now? Is this all over? Or is it more the case that a really big event is only just beginning, and we’re looking only at the appetizer in a bigger story here?
Eric: I think it depends on your time horizon. If you step back, what we’re seeing is another what I would call trail marker on the path to what seems, quite obviously to me, to be a changing macro environment. I think the things that we look for most often, that are most meaningful to markets, are moves that happen, seemingly out of the blue, that lack really good explanations. This is exactly the type of move that you see when you’re in a transition phase for markets.
In other words, it’s fine for people to look at this move and say a point three increase in average hourly earnings precipitated it at 10 plus percent decline in the market out of the blue.
But I think that there’s a lot of backfitting going on. There’s no specific and good reason for this move. I think it’s reflective of some major forces changing underneath the market. That’s not to say that there aren’t buyers of the dip. There clearly are.
I think that there are still an awful lot of people in the market that are conditioned to sell volatility and to buy the dip, and I think we’re seeing that happen. But this, I think, was a very important move.
Erik: Joining me next on the program is Jared Dillian, the author of the extremely popular The Daily Dirtnap newsletter.
Jared, obviously, everybody’s mind is on the equity market this week. But I think it’s really important to bring the volatility complex into this. As you know, your friend Devin Anderson appeared on this program back on November 30th and he explained that an equity move the size of what happened on Monday could potentially blow up the volatility complex.
But I think what a lot of people have started to talk about is it may have actually been the tail wagging the dog, that what exacerbated – or some people would even say caused – this equity selloff may have been the vol complex blowing up. So it’s a question of cause and effect.
What do you think is going on here? Is it possible that vol caused the equity meltdown? Or did the rate hike cause backing up in interest rates and cause this to start?
And how do you see the interplay between what’s happened in equity markets in the last week and what’s happened with the volatility complex? And of course the XIV ETF being terminated after it blew up.
Erik: Joining me next on the program is everyone’s favorite petroleum geologist, Art Berman.
Art, I’ve got to hand it to you. The last time we had you on the program, back in October, you talked us through your comparative inventory model and you said, if I look at where we are on the yield curve it says to me that prices are headed higher. And, furthermore, we’re at an inflection point where they could head much higher pretty quickly.
And I remember being skeptical at the time. Because you’d had a lot of success with this comparative inventory price model that you have, but I kind of felt like aren’t we talking about apples to oranges?
Because in the past exports were not legal. Now that they are legal, we’re exporting a lot of oil. There’s a lot of inventory drawdowns that are not coming from a change in consumption, they’re just coming from exports. I though, does that really mean that the same model is valid? Or not?
And when we discussed it at the time you said, you’re right. It’s a different game now. But, at the end of the day, inventory is drawn down. It’s drawing down fast. And every time that’s ever happened in history before, prices have gone up. And you said you were sticking to your guns. And that’s exactly what’s happened.
So my hat’s off to you there. My question, though, is – here we are a few months later, we’ve seen this tremendous run-up in prices. Something that I’ve seen you tweet about quite a bit, as have several other people, is, that we’ve gotten to a positioning point now where there’s a 12:1 ratio of longs to shorts.
And we’ve got more record net length in petroleum products, be it WTI and Brent and so forth. This is just ripe if prices do start to go down. But everybody’s on one side of the boat.
So are you concerned about a significant downside correction at this point because of the positioning? Or do you think that we’ve got further to go higher in oil prices?
Erik: Joining me next on the program is Artemis Capital founder, Chris Cole. Chris is an expert on volatility in equity markets. We’re going to focus the interview primarily on that subject.
Chris has written an excellent article called “Volatility and the Alchemy of Risk,” which is available in the public domain. But, for your convenience, we’ve also linked it in your Research Roundup email.
Also linked in your Research Roundup email is a slide presentation (which is not public domain), and Artemis has asked us to remind you to please observe their request on the first page that this is intended only for MacroVoices listeners. Please don’t post it on the internet, forward it, or otherwise redistribute it.
Chris, in the beginning of the presentation you start with this ouroboros, I believe it’s called, which is the symbol of the snake eating itself. Tell us why you start the presentation with that particular graphic and how it relates to the market.
Chris: The ouroboros is a Greek word meaning “tail devour,” and this is one of the oldest symbols in civilization. It essentially shows a snake consuming its own body in perfect symmetry. This is actually based on a real phenomenon. In nature, when a snake becomes overheated and is unable to regulate its body temperature, it will have a spike in metabolism leading to a state of mania.
And in this state of mania, the snake will look at its own tail and see it as prey. And the snake will begin to self-cannibalize itself until it dies. To me, the ouroboros as a symbol is a metaphor for the financial alchemy driving this modern bull market.
Volatility across asset classes is at multi-generational lows. But there is now a dangerous feedback loop that exists between ultra-low interest rates, data expansion, central bank stimulus, and asset volatility. And then financial engineering that’s allocating risk based on that volatility.
This is leading into a self-reflexive loop where lower volatility feeds into lower vol. But, in the event that we have the wrong type of shock to the system, I believe this can reverse violently where higher volatility then reinforces higher vol.
This is a much bigger risk in today’s market environment, and it’s one that is not being correctly discounted.