Another week, another decline at the gas pump for much of the country. Gasoline prices fell 6.2 cents in the last week, according to GasBuddy.com live data. The national average stood $1.74/gallon yesterday, some -25.6 cents lower than last month and -44.4 cents below last year’s prices. No where in the country has the decline been as large as in the Midwest, where refiners have continued to churn out cheap winter gasoline. In just the last week, average prices in Indiana, Michigan and Ohio fell 14 cents per gallon, while some stations in these states fell over -30 cents per gallon. Over half the states in the country have seen gas prices decline over -20 cents in the last month, while the Great Lakes and West Coast sit atop the list: Indiana, Illinois, Ohio and Michigan saw declines of 41-43 cents, while California, Oregon and Washington saw declines of 36-37 cents. Nationwide, just 13.1% of gas stations are selling over $2 per gallon while over 25% now are selling under $1.50 per gallon. (Source: Gas Buddy) Gas Near $1.00 Per Gallon In Some Parts Of The U.S. – There are at least eight states where some stations are now selling gas for less than $1.25 a gallon, according to GasBuddy.com. The cheapest gas at the moment is at a 7-Eleven in Oklahoma City, which is selling a gallon of regular for $1.11. In fact, more than a dozen other stations in that city have gas for $1.14 or less. Extremely cheap gas can also be found in Texas, Missouri, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois Michigan and Kansas. Nationwide, the average price of a gallon of regular is down to $1.74, the cheapest it’s been since early January 2009. Read more at CNN Money
Capital One recently conducted a survey in the payment and financial services industry and found that over half the experts in the field believe the U.S. will be a totally cashless society by 2030. Most of them think that mobile devices with fingerprint readers will end up being the leading form of payment in this new cashless world. Currently, about 85% of all transactions in the world today are cash based, led primarily by developing countries. In fact, the majority of people in places like Africa, India and South America don’t even have bank accounts. Here in the U.S. though, only about 8% of consumers do not have a bank account. And of course, a debit card generally comes with a bank account. Only about 40% of transactions conducted in the U.S. are carried out using cash. That’s still a surprisingly high percentage, but experts nonetheless seem to believe America will mostly give up paper and coin transactions. One major reason they see cash falling by the wayside is because cash is actually really expensive! It’s estimated that about 1.5% of U.S. GDP is spent handling cash…printing it, distributing it, securing it, collecting it, cleaning it. So our government has a huge incentive to encourage electronic transactions. There is also the crime factor. Cash is pretty much impossible to trace. Most forms of fraud, money laundering, black market activity and other crime is conducted in cash precisely for that reason. Some European countries are already close to ditching cash. Denmark’s government has a laid out plan to eradicate the use of cash by 2030. In Sweden, some banks no longer dispense or accept cash, ATMs are increasingly being removed and a growing number of stores won’t take cash. Only about 2% of the countries financial transactions are cash based at this point. Cash transactions of more than 2,500 euros have already been banned in Spain, and France and Italy have both banned all cash transactions of more than 1,000 euros. In Australia, banking experts have predicted they will be a cashless society by 2022, just six years from now! The idea of the government being able to monitor absolutely every transaction we make is not something I see going over well in the U.S., as it is in total opposition to some of our most highly valued liberties and privacy. I suspect if Washington makes the push we will start to see more protests and objections from the crowd. Bottom-line, it will be extremely interesting to see how the battle between technology, government and consumer privacy plays itself out during the next few years. I would propose bracing yourself for some extreme change!
The Energy Information Administration reported crude inventories rose by +8.4 million barrels in the week through January 22, bringing the total in storage to 494.9 million barrels, the highest on record. The build was helped along by refineries only operating at 87.4% of capacity due to maintenance season. Refiners used approximately 551,000 barrels per day less oil than the previous week, with inputs averaging just over 15.6 million barrels per day. The reduced refinery capacity did lead to a reduction of gasoline and distillate production, but total gas inventories still increased, rising by 3.5 million barrels. Distillates (which includes diesel fuel and heating oil) on the other hand saw stockpiles fall by 4.1 million barrels. Much of that drawdown is being equated to colder weather however, so the demand increase may be very short lived.
With little in the headlines regarding U.S. crop production, I thought it would be interesting to take a look a the explosive growth in Sub-Saharan Africa. Essentially the area we are talking about includes all of the African continent which lies south of the Sahara Desert. It does not include the five predominantly Arab states of northern Africa which consists of Morocco, Algeria, Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and the Sudan. Keep in mind Sub-Saharan Africa, especially East Africa, is regarded by some geneticists as being the birthplace of the human race (the genus Homo). Stone tools are first attested around 2.6 million years ago, when H. habilis in Eastern Africa used so-called pebble tools: choppers made out of round pebbles that had been split by simple strikes. This marks the beginning of the Paleolithic, or Old Stone Age; its also argued to be where the last ice age ended, around 10,000 years ago. In any regard, this area of the world has seen a rising appetite for imported agricultural goods, a direct result of the region’s robust growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and population. The USDA recently estimated Sub-Saharan Africa imported close to $50 billion in food and agricultural products, a value that has been growing rapidly for the last two decades. In comparison, India only imported around $20 billion in agricultural products and they have 300 million more people. While U.S. exports to Sub-Saharan Africa have slowed recently, several key U.S. exports continue to thrive, laying a roadmap for future success in the region. It’s worth noting that Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP has grown by a whopping +60% and its middle class has expanded by +90% in just the past 10 years. In fact many sources now regard this as one of the fastest growing regions in the world, perhaps more robust than Southern Asia. Overall, consumer-oriented products have seen the highest growth. The brightest star has been U.S. poultry exports. In fact, Sub-Saharan Africa was recently the third-largest market for U.S. poultry and has experienced 30% year-on-year growth for the last five years. In addition, U.S. exports of prepared foods, condiments/sauces, and dairy products have all seen strong growth in the last five years. Another success story has been U.S. wheat exports. Sub-Saharan Africa has long been the top destination for U.S. wheat exports and will likely continue to be a significant market. While Nigeria has traditionally accounted for the majority of U.S. wheat exports to the region, other countries in West and East Africa have seen strong growth. Bottom-line, most all economist and forecasters believe U.S. producers will continue to enjoy large export growth opportunities for the next several years. (Read more at USDA/FAS)
Stock markets around the globe are stable this morning as WTI crude oil tries to perform a balancing act at around $30 per barrel. News that Iran made its first post-sanction oil sale to Europe and that Iraq’s oil production hit record levels last month was like pouring water on any type of bullish rally from last week. Also adding to the concern about the global oil glut was a comment made by the chairman of Saudi Arabian Oil Company, who said the company can withstand low oil prices for “a long, long time.” He also noted that the company had not cut investment in new production projects. With the world’s number one oil producer seeming to be content riding out “lower for longer” prices, there’s not much hope that the supply glut will diminish anytime soon. There are also more signs that the rout in oil prices is doing major damage to the economies of oil revenue dependent U.S. states, adding to overall uneasiness about the economy. North Dakota just announced they may be forced to raid their “rainy day fund” to make up million of dollars in budget shortfalls due to declining oil activity. Other states feeling the pinch include Alaska, Louisiana and Oklahoma, all of whom are projecting budget deficits as oil revenues fizzle. As for today, the U.S. Federal Reserve begins their two day FOMC policy meeting, the first since raising interest rates in December. No policy changes are expected when they announce their decision tomorrow (Wednesday, February 27), but investors will be taking a close look at their rhetoric regarding U.S. growth prospects and the lack of inflation. From what I understand, the trade is currently giving the Fed 0% chance of a rate hike this meeting and just over a 50% chance that it could happen by the the September meeting. Outside of a rate adjustment, the trade will also be looking for any changes in the Fed’s language surrounding global economic risks, particularly slowdowns in China and other emerging markets, as well as the possible implications of depressed global currencies versus a strong U.S. dollar. Economic data will pick up a bit today with the S&P Case-Shiller Home Price Index, Consumer Confidence and Richmond Fed Manufacturing numbers all scheduled for release. It will also be an extremely busy day for earnings. Apple, the largest company in the world by market capitalization reports after the close. Analysts are expecting revenue to be slightly below expectations, which would be the first time the company has disappointed in six quarters. Warnings from Apple suppliers indicate the company is cutting iPhone output by as much as -30%, so investors are anxious to see what Apple has to say. Also of great interest will be how the company is fairing in China, especially since the Asian giant has become somewhat of a major economic “unknown” the past several months. Keep in mind earnings are also due from AT&T, Corning, Dupont, Johnson & Johnson, Lockheed Martin, Procter & Gamble, Sprint and 3M, along with over 80 other major corporations. I continue to be extremely cautious as earnings might surprise a bit to the downside…