How wall street enabled the fracking ‘revolution’ that’s losing billions desmogblog gas efficient suv 2010


In September 2016, the financial ratings service Moody’s released a report on U.S. oil companies, many of which were hurting from the massive drop in oil prices. Moody’s found that “the financial toll from the oil bust can only be described as catastrophic,” particularly for small companies that took on huge debt to finance fracking shale formations when oil prices were high.

Wall Street caused the 2008 financial crisis, with some of its architects personally benefiting. However, while a few executives profited, the result was a drop in employment of 8.8 million people, and according to Bloomberg News in 2010, “at one point last year [2009] the U.S. had lent, spent, or guaranteed as much as $12.8 trillion to rescue the economy.”

JP Morgan (along with much of Wall Street) required large sums of money in the form of bailouts to survive the fallout from all of the bad loans made, which brought about the housing crisis. Is JP Morgan steering clear of making loans to the shale industry? No. Quite the opposite.

To understand why JP Morgan and the rest of these banks would loan money to shale companies that continue to lose it, it’s important to understand the gambling concept of “the vigorish,” or the vig. Merriam-Webster defines vigorish as “a charge taken (as by a bookie or a gambling house) on bets.”

Wall Street makes money by taking a cut of other people’s money. To a gambling house, it doesn’t matter if everyone else is making money or losing it, as long as the house gets its cut (the vig) — or as it’s known in the financial world — fees.

Understanding this concept gives insight into why investors have lent a quarter trillion dollars to the shale industry, which has burned through it. If you take the vig on a quarter trillion dollars, you have a big pile of cash. And while those oil companies may all go bankrupt, Wall Street never gives back the vig.

And “The Street” generally gets what it wants, even when it is clear that loaning money to shale companies that have been losing money for a decade and are already deep in debt is “bad economics.” But Wall Street bonuses are based on how many “fees” an employee can bring to the bank. More fees mean a bigger bonus. And loans — even ones that are clearly bad economics — mean a lot more fees. Shale Oil Companies Are ‘Creatures of the Capital Markets’

In 2017 “legendary” hedge fund manager Jim Chanos referred to shale oil companies as “creatures of the capital markets,” meaning that without Wall Street money, they would not exist. Chanos is also on record as shorting the stock of heavily leveraged shale oil giant Continental Resources because the company can’t even make enough money to pay the interest on its loans.

“ In 2017, U.S. [exploration and production] firms raised more from bond sales than in any year since the price collapse started in 2014, with offerings coming in at around $60 billion — up nearly 30 percent from 2016, according to Dealogic. Large-cap players like Whiting Petroleum, Continental Resources, Southwestern, Noble, Concho and Endeavor Energy Resources each raised $1 billion or more in the second half of 2017.”

How big of a problem is this business of loaning money to an industry burning through billions and burying itself in debt? So big that the CEO of shale company Anadarko Petroleum is blaming Wall Street and asking its companies to please stop loaning money to the shale oil industry. Yes, that’s right.

Growing production at any cost is the story of the shale “revolution.” The financial cost paid so far has been the more than $280 billion the industry has burned through — money that its companies have received from Wall Street and, despite the plea from Al Walker, continue to receive.

“It [the shale industry] has burned up cash whether the oil price was at $100, as in 2014, or at about $50, as it was during the past three months. The biggest 60 firms in aggregate have used up $9 billion per quarter on average for the past five years.”

Still Wall Street keeps giving the shale industry money and the shale industry keeps losing it as it ramps up production. To be clear, this arrangement makes shale company CEOs and financial lenders very rich, which is why the trend is likely to continue. And why Continental Resources CEO Harold Hamm will continue to repeat the myth that his industry is making money, as he did at the end of 2017:

No one will argue that Hamm and his partners on Wall Street are not extremely wealthy. That has happened despite Hamm’s company and the rest of the fracking industry losing epic sums of money. The same year Hamm made that statement, his company couldn’t even cover its interest expenses. To put that in perspective, Continental Resources couldn’t even make the equivalent of the minimum payment on its credit card.

Higher oil prices are yielding more stories about how 2018 will be the year that the shale industry finally makes a profit. Harold Hamm refers to it as Continental Resources‘ “breakout year.” Interesting how potentially not losing money for a year is considered a “breakout year” in the shale industry.

Recent reports in the financial press detail how the new approach in the shale industry will be to focus only on profitable oil production, not just producing more barrels at a loss. As The Wall Street Journal put it in a headline: “Wall Street Tells Frackers to Stop Counting Barrels, Start Making Profits.”

The fracking firm appears to have done the opposite, increasing production to record levels along with the rest of the shale industry. Continental recently reported plans to drill 350 new wells at an estimated cost of $11.7 million per well, which adds up to over $4 billion in total costs on those wells. The company currently holds more than $6 billion in debt and less than $100 million cash.

How will Continental fund those new wells? Hamm has promised that going forward, there would be “absolutely no new debt.” Perhaps Continental will fund it by selling assets because without more debt, Continental does not have the money to fund those new wells. However, if past is prelude, then Wall Street will happily lend Continental as much money as it wants.