USD/CHF Long-term Update

I’ve been quite wrong about the USD/CHF. From my initial entry, I’m down about 1200 pips.

However, if you think the USD/CHF will continue dropping forever, think again. On a very long-term time frame, it is approaching very strong support.


On the 20y monthly chart above, notice that from 2004 through 2010, USD/CHF consolidated in a picture perfect triangle. Each subwave was in a 3-wave structure, and price held within accurately defined trendlines.

Since 2010, we’ve seen the characteristic “thrust” out of the triangle to the downside. A typical target is normally the 100% extension of the height of the triangle, which is around .8000. Also interesting is that the 50% extension of the previous down wave from 2000-2004 is right @ .8200 or so. Because triangles are precede the final move in a trend, I believe we’ll see a basing pattern and subsequent reversal in the coming months. Price should stay above .79-.80 for this thesis to pan out.


NEP could be a BUY

1.5 years ago, almost to the day, I projected that NEP was nearly at a peak, and would suffer poor returns for the following 2-3 years. Unbeknownst to all the investors, there were several negative developments that arose from NEP, including accounting problems which led to a trading freeze and near delistment from the AMEX. As I anticipated from the charts, volume, and sentiment, price has since performed extremely poorly, averaging returns of –60% annually. All things come to an end, however, and NEP seems to have weathered the storm. It appears attractively priced, and I’m buying around $3. Here’s why:

  1. NEP had $75m in cash as of 3/31/11, and currently has a market cap of $105m. If the auditors are not lying, then this is a pretty good valuation at which to buy NEP.
  2. The accounting issues that plagued NEP are out of the way.
  3. The lawsuits which sprung out of the trading halt and claimed that NEP breached its fiduciary duty to its stockholders have been dropped.
  4. Volume is mostly down-trending as price declines (see chart below), indicating a decreasing level of interest in the stock. This is preferable to seeing volume increase as the stock tumbles which indicates lack of confidence in the company.
  5. There was a significant basher article by “Bigfish” research which cause the stock to drop significantly on volume of about 3m shares). Then, the next day, there was a massive short squeeze on 3m shares as well. This price action is simlar to what happened in Dec 2009, except opposite (see chart). Back then, price spiked up in the direction of the uptrend on 3m shares, reversed violently the next day on 3m shares, and then proceeded to retest and exceed the previous highs. Now we’re seeing the same pattern. Call me paranoid, but it seems like someone is playing those spikes, and it tells me that we’re near a turn.
  6. Finally, from an Elliot-wave perspective, we had a complex 3-wave down trend (see chart). This tells me that we could see a basing pattern and a rise out of NEP.
  7. I conclude that NEP’s return prospects going forward are now positive.



Volume divergence on SPY

It’s been a while since the last bearish post on the stock market. Clearly it has been wrong to be bearish, and I’ve paid for it. The market marches steadily higher, but it is currently displaying some signs of internal weakness that tell me it may initiate a choppy, medium-term downtrend soon.


First notice in the chart above that the market has carved out a nice 3-wave rally since the March 2009 low. Each subwave (A and C) has formed in 5-waves. Wave-5 of Wave-C appears to be some sort of ending diagonal. What is more interesting, however, is that on-balance volume has been trending lower even as price rallies, which indicates that this market is living on borrowed time. Look out below!


Email to NEP management

I've written an email to NEP in the hope that management address the two valid points in Bigfish's reports when they come out with a more detailed statement in a few days.

To whom in may concern,

I have been a China Northeast Petroleum shareholder for 3.5years now and am very happy to see how the company has grown. The report by Bigfish yesterday was clearly an attempt to profit from the fact that many other Chinese companies have lied to investors. I argued against many of Bigfish's arguments here: http://themarketbrothers.blogspot.com/2011/04/is-bigfish-right-or-wrong-about-nep-is.html

Still, Bigfish did bring up a couple good points about errors in some of your SEC filings, including the recent 10-K report. I do hope that you will explain these discrepancies so that investors can feel more confident.

1. If you add up the quarterly drilling depth performed by Tiancheng, the total comes to about 306,000 meters, but in the 10-K you list the total depth drilled as 374,000 meters.

2. As Bigfish pointed out, the amended Q3 2009 report shows what I believe to be an incorrect combined revenue number when including Tiancheng in your operations on page 18. You seem to have corrected the revenue amount on your 2009 10-k. Still, it would be nice to have an explanation as to why the error was not caught by you or your auditor.

Thanks for your time and I look forward to hearing about the new acquisition when it goes through.

Aurelien Windenberger

BigFish disappoints with 2nd post, NEP should be fine

Yesterday a new blogger named Bigfish came out with a very negative report on NEP, which I responded to here. Later he said he was going to come out with something this morning which was even worse, and so he has...or at least tried really hard to. Unfortunately for him, his argument today was much weaker then the one yesterday, and is much easier to counter. At least yesterday he pointed out a couple obvious and specific errors in some of NEP's filings. I pointed out that neither error is in the company's favor.

In any case, yesterday he argued that the drilling business must be a fraud because NEP paid too little for such a successful business. I agreed that the price did seem quite good, but also pointed out that NEP added additional value by buying the company (namely the ability to sign more drilling contracts with PetroChina), allowing it to increase its revenues and profit margin.

So today, Bigfish comes out and argues that NEP is a fraud because they are going to pay TOO MUCH for the rights to explore and produce on the Durimu oilfield over the next 24 years. I guess Bigfish is like Goldilocks and needs every deal to be "just right."

Bigfish does do a good job showing how many companies are going to be between NEP and the original owner, but I don't understand why this is terribly unusual. Yahoo user stinky6987 explained it well in reply on this post:

Not much here, but buying a company (Shengyaun) that owns the right to drill an oilfield doesn't sound the least bit suspicious to me. Also, while the report asserts that Shengyaun didn't pay for the right to drill and is turning around and selling that right to NEP, there are many reasonable explanations for this, none of which involve fraud:

(1) Exploratory drilling is inherently hit-or-miss, once Shengyaun hit oil with their exploratory wells, the value of their contract with Jiangyuan went way up.

(2) As the price of oil goes up, the value of Shengyaun's contract with Jiangyuan also goes up.

(3) "State-owned" Jiangyuan didn't get a good price when making the agreement with Shengyaun.

(4) The people in charge of "state-owned" Jiangyuan wanted to steal money from the government, so they gave a no-bid contract to Shengyaun and took bribes or have an ownership interest in Shengyaun (note this does not affect the actual value of the contract to NEP).

All four of these are great reasons why NEP would pay the $43mil. I can think of a couple more as well:

5. Bigfish didn't show any proof that the previous owner didn't pay anything for the rights. Its possible they didn't, but not guaranteed.

6. Obviously business in China is done somewhat differently then here in the US (although I'm sure not that differently), so I wouldn't be at all surprised if at least part of the $43mil is a bribe to certain people somewhere along the supply chain. Bigfish makes a good point asking why NEP didn't try to get the rights directly from the state owner enterprise. Obviously that would have been better, but perhaps there wasn't any way to do so. The oilfields are located in a different state then NEP, so perhaps only companies from that state were allowed to receive the rights directly from the government. I unfortunately have no idea if my postulations are true or not, but this seems just as plausible as Bigfish's arguments.

The bottom line for NEP stockholders is that this $43mil acquisition would tremendously increase the potential production capacity of NEP, and as such represents an excellent long term direction for the company. The biggest concern in my mind, and one that I can't believe BigFish didn't mention, is that there is the possibility that the field isn't actually close to as productive as NEP tells us it should be. This is a risk that investors take when putting money with any oil company.

Also note that most of the transaction is being done in stock ($10.6mil in cash, the rest in stock when it was trading around $5). Personally, I think this is a good sign because it indicates that the previous owner believes in the strong potential of the field and wants a share of the profits.


Is Bigfish right or wrong about NEP. Is NEP really a fraud?

This morning NEP dropped about 20% due to a newly posted questioning of a part of their operations by a new blog called Bigfish Research. (edit: This link won't work because the site has been suspended)

I read through their article and am now looking at all the 10-Ks myself to confirm or deny the accusations. While BigFish is correct on all his statistics, he paints the data in an extremely negative fashion to "prove" that NEP is a fraud and improve his short position. I have no problem with this as he is allowed to have his opinion and share it, however, I do think that investors should also have an opinion from someone who is long the stock.

All the information Bigfish put out in his blog is verified by what is in the specific reports he mentions he pulled it from. However, if you look at different filings, then the numbers are different. This presents a catch-22 for current and potential NEP investors.
On one hand, maybe the company isn't a fraud because the numbers make a bit more sense in other reports. On the other hand, why can't this company seem to be consistent across their filings. Is their accounting department really bad at making sure their statements match, or are they actually hiding something?

Analyzing Red Flag #1

If you look at the Q3 2009 amended report, the numbers that Bigfish talks about are true. For example, check out Page 18. You'll see that the company does in fact show that their combined revenues for the first nine months of 2009 would have been $76m, if Tiancheng was part of NEP the whole year. This is different then what was posted in the previous 10-Q for Q309.

However, if you look at the 2009 10-k, then the numbers match the initial numbers that NEP posted in the initial 10-Q after the acquisition.
Based on the information on page F-19, NEP would have had $79,362,000 revenues in 2009 if Tiancheng had been part of the company all year. NEP's production division made $51,081,000 in 2009, so Tiancheng had revenues of $28,281,000 for 2009. This means that their total revenues in the first 9 months was $14,704,000.

Note that in 2008 Tianchang's full year revenue was about $14.4mil, so before NEP acquired them they were growing at a reasonable pace, but not one that was extraordinary. The Q409 revenue figure of $13.6mil is certainly a massive jump, and I do agree with Bigfish that NEP very well may have asked Tiancheng to hold off booking revenues in Q3 so that they could be booked in Q4.

Analyzing Red Flag #2

NEP's business did not need to be SAVED. The oil production business profits were just fine, and Tiancheng was simply an additional bonus when it was announced. Its true that Tiangcheng was about half of NEPs business in 2010, but a big reason for that was due to the flooding in Jilin which drastically reduced NEP's oil output for a large part of the year.
Also, it makes sense to me that Tiancheng is able to generate more revenue being joined with NEP compared to operating alone. NEP already had contacts with PetroChina and thus were able to get drilling contracts that Tiancheng couldn't on their own. Tiancheng's margins also should be expected to improve with higher revenues due to economies of scale. Their margins would also go up once integrated with NEP because of cost savings for G&A.

Tiancheng's revenues have gone from $14.4mil in 2008, to $28.3mil in 2009, to $44.9mil in 2010. These are very impressive increases, but many companies have seen these growth rates when they were as small.

Analyzing Red Flag #3

I will agree with BigFish that it seems strange that they didn't mention Beijing Junlun Runzhong Technology Co. Ltd. (“JLRZ”) in the 2010 10-K. It seems like they should have drilled some wells for them, or at the very least, they should have let us know that drilling was delayed or completely canceled.

However, I don't see any issues with the rest of their operation. PetroChina is obviously a real company, and I don't see how they would let NEP pretend for 3+ years that they first sell petroleum to them, and now drill for them.

Also, I don't see why it's unusual that NEP didn't create a press release about the wells drilled for Daqing Shunwei. They drilled 54 for them all year, or about 14/Quarter. Its very plausible that Daqing signed a series of small 5 or 10 well contracts, which would not warrant a press release.

Analysing Red Flag #4

As for the total meters drilled figure listed multiple times in the 2010 10-K, I agree with Bigfish that there is something incorrect, because the company clearly only drilled 306k meters for clients during 2010, but for some reason lists 374k in multiple places in the 10-k. I can think of three explanations for this figure:

1. The company made a mistake in their calculations somehow and didn't catch it. Obviously this would be good and bad. (Bad because it should have been caught by the auditors).

2. The company included drilling done for themselves in the final figure. This seems unlikely because the company only drilled 6 wells for themselves in 2010.

3. The number could be fraudulent as Bigfish believes. The issue for me is that showing this higher number doesn't help NEP look better. Their revenue figures stay the same, so they list the avg revenue/meter as $120, when in reality it was about $147. This makes their operation look WORSE, not better!

Finally, I also noticed the higher revenue/meter drilled in Q4 compared to the rest of the year. Personally, I don't see why this is a red flag. Inflation in China during 2010 was high, and I would not be surprised if NEP was able to negotiate better terms for the wells it drills in Q4, vs the earlier deals they set up in early 2010.

Red Flag #5

This is probably BigFish's worst argument. When NEP bought Tiancheng, their Quarterly depreciation was about $375k. If we assume that they bought their rigs in a reasonably even manner since they started in Dec 2007, then we can assume that they had taken about $1.3mil in depreciation charges already when NEP bought them ($375k/Q x 7 Qs = $2.625m. Divide by 2 to account for gradual purchasing = $1.3mil)

Thus, their initial costs for the 7 rigs were about $13.5million. Lets assume the 4000m rig NEP purchased after the fact was a brand new rig and that the other rigs were purchased somewhat used. I will state that I have no idea how much more a 4000m rig costs then a 3000m or 2000m one, but I'm making guesses here which seem plausible:

3 2000m x $1.45m = $4.35m
3 3000m x $2.10m = $6.30m
1 4000m x $2.80m = $2.80m

Total cost is $13.45m.

These estimates seem completely plausible, at least to me. Of course we could also argue that the amounts are low, and perhaps we could get an opinion from someone which actually know the prices for these things, but to me I don't see how this is a Red Flag.

Red Flag #6

I have not done any additional research on drill rig capacity, but BigFish didn't give a great argument here. First off, we know that they drilled 306k meters, not 374k. So their production was only 1.8 times Eurasia's stated capacity, not 2.6.
The other point is that with 207 rigs, its very likely that Eurasia has many older rigs which are not as efficient as the NEP rigs, which are likely newer.
I don't have the time right now to look deeply into the issue, but BigFish should have used more datapoints.

Red Flag #7

BigFish's argument here is that 42% net margin is impossible. I would argue that it is not, especially when you consider that Tiancheng is doing this as part of a larger company. This means that this net margin doesn't include the additional overhead that they would need to pay if they were on their own.

Also, the oil and gas drilling industry has high gross margins. I took a look at RIG and its competitors and there they show that the average gross margin in the industry was 56%! Tiancheng's gross margin in 2010 was 61%. Thats only 10% better then the industry average.

Putting Everything Together

1. I will admit that the Tiancheng deal has been so good that it could be viewed as "too good to be true." No one can debate this and I wish that NEP would come out with a reasonable explanation for why the previous owner sold. I can think of a couple scenarios though. Perhaps the company was in a cash flow crunch, and the owner sold it because it was either lose it to bankruptcy, or collect $13mil for it.
Also, its clear that NEPs contacts have helped generate additional drilling contracts in 2010, so Tiancheng likely would not have done nearly as well alone.

2. I also agree that the numbers in the financials aren't adding up in all cases. The 374k meters drilled figure is clearly wrong and yet is posted multiple times in the 2010 10-k. Tianchengs 2009 revenues are also unclear because the amended 10-Q and the 2009 10-K have different numbers.
Personally, I believe that the reason for the discrepancy in both cases is user error, rather then fraud. Still, it is not a good sign that neither NEP's accounting departing or their auditors caught these differences in their reviews of the reports.

My personal opinion is that this is a great buying opportunity. Unfortunately I don't have extra cash to take advantage of it, but for me here are the possible outcomes:

1. The company is a fraud. Bagholders lose their full investment. Likelihood: 10-20%

2. The company is legit. In this case they will complete their purchase of the new oil field, and in 2-3 years will start producing large amounts of oil from it. From the $3 level the price of the stock could easily go to $30 in 5 years. Likelihood: 80-90%.

Personally I like those odds and feel that its worth speculating some money you can afford to lose on.


USD/CHF still bullish?

In October, 2010, we went long USD/CHF. Today, it’s a couple hundred pips lower, but it hasn’t proven that it wants to go substantially lower. In fact, one interpretation of the price action indicates that it is ripe to rise much higher in the coming months!


In the chart above, first notice that price has been supported by a very strong 16-year trendline. Also notice that the sideways action since October, 2010 appears to be an ending diagonal in which each of the subwaves breaks down into 3-waves. There is MACD divergence, and today price broke back up into it’s previous range. if price can manage to stay above .92, We’ll be happy to continue holding this position long.


Natural Gas as a Substitute for Oil?

I recently read an interesting post by Carl Futia which explained why he thought that Crude Oil would soon drop in price. Part of his thesis was based on the fact that Oil is a commodity, and thus has substitutes (namely, natural gas). This piqued my interest, because at first glance, I hadn’t made the connection that oil could be substituted for NG; after all, you can’t just pump up your car with NG!

After some research, however, I agree with Futia’s assertion that NG can substitute a significant portion of energy consumption, which will cause oil prices to drop, and natural gas prices to rise. To explain this dynamic, I’ll start by showing the extent to which NG can be substituted for oil. Then, I’ll show how a small change in supply/demand for a commodity can have a large effect on price. Finally, I’ll highlight whether the market would agree with my assessment.


Can Natural Gas be Substituted for Crude Oil?

This web site has a very effective graphical representation of energy consumption in the US (which I’ll use as a proxy for the OECD countries’ consumption pattern). From that chart, you’ll notice that Industrial uses of energy account for approximately 1/3 of total energy consumption (21.8 Q BTU out of 68.5 Q BTU). Furthermore, Industry sources its energy equally from petroleum (oil, 35.7%) and natural gas (34.8%). Because most industrial uses of energy require heat energy (whether it be for smelting or generating electricity), petroleum and natural gas can be interchanged effectively. This is in stark comparison to transportation, in which the prevalent internal combustion engine infrastructure disallows substitution of fuels.

Based on these numbers, there exists a significant potential to substitute NG for petroleum as an energy source. A back-of-the envelope calculation suggests that global petroleum demand could drop by 1m BBL/day if the percentage of petroleum used for industry dropped to 30%, and NG rose to 39%. The question, thus, is whether a 1m BBL/day drop is significant enough to affect prices.


How dramatically do oil prices react to changes in demand?

To answer this question, we can look at what happened in the last economic downturn. Due to the Great Recession, Global oil demand dropped from a peak of 86.2m bbl/day in 2007 to 84.4m bbl/day in 2009, and drop of 1.8m bbl/day. As we all know, during this time, oil prices dropped from a high of $147/bbl to $35/bbl. Clearly, a nominally small decline in demand can have a large effect on prices.

Since the potential exists for crude oil to be substituted by natural gas in a significant way, one must only look at price differential to see if Industrial users can benefit from switching. Currently, crude oil trades near its record highs, at $100/bbl, while natural gas is trading near 10-year lows of $4/1000-CF. These extremes in price should offer enough incentive to trigger substitution in a significant way.


What does the market think?



The two charts show the price history for the past three years for Crude Oil (top) and Natural Gas (bottom). The bottom pane on each chart highlights the Commitment of Traders data. Notice that commercial traders are holding their largest net-short position in crude and their largest net-long position in natural gas in the past three years. Crude producers are rapidly locking in high prices and natural gas users are locking in low prices. It appears that they also believe that natural gas will soon begin substituting crude oil for energy needs, which will push up prices.

We’ve seen that there is a significant potential for natural gas to substitute crude oil in industrial applications, which would reduce oil demand. We’ve also seen that relatively small change in demand can cause large price fluctuations, and we’ve seen that the current pricing for these commodities supports a trend of switching from crude oil to natural gas. Finally, market participants are revealing that they too agree with this thesis. Natural gas seems like an intelligent investment at this point.


AAPL’s Triangle

AAPL just completed a very nice triangle formation. I think this indicates that AAPL is about to start an extended downtrend. The upside target is 360-361, and could drop to $300 or lower.


Notice in the chart above the clean triangle pattern that formed in the past few weeks. According to Robert Prechter’s Elliot Wave Theory:

A triangle always occurs in a position prior to the final actionary wave in the pattern of one larger degree, i.e., as wave four in an impulse…

On the basis of our experience with triangles…we propose that often the time at which the boundary lines of a contracting triangle reach an apex coincides with a turning point in the market.

Check out the examples below to see how triangles led to nice reversals.

EUR/USD Before and After:

060610_eurusd_daily 021011_eurusd_daily

NEP Before and After:

010510_NEP_daily   021011_nep_daily

I believe it is time to become cautious with AAPL.


Natural Gas (UNG) Update

Last October, I went long UNG because of a completed Elliot Wave pattern. Since then, there has been a bit of upside progress, but I believe the market is setting up for a much bigger move to come soon.


Notice in the chart above that price did bottom out shortly after I suggested going long. However, the rally has been rather shallow. What strikes me as bullish is that there have been several sharp attempts to make new lows during the past few months, but each selloff was bought, which indicates a lack of overall supply (basing action).

We are currently at trendline resistance, but I believe that because the COT data shows commercial traders holding their largest long position in months, price will ultimately break higher. My target is $12 on UNG.


Out of SLV put

I was short SLV via a Jan put, and today I closed it out for a profit. Because it’s expiring in 7 days, I didn’t want to hold and risk a rally in Silver prices. However, it was a hard decision because of the fact that gold just broke down from an ending diagonal, and when that happens, prices can drop very quickly. Either way, it was a nice trade!


Silver Breaks Down

As I pointed out a week ago, metals were on the razor’s edge. I projected a target of $31.66 for silver, and we got within 1% of that target. I’m not sure what will unfold going forward, but I think the $31.28 top will be significant, and I would not be surprised to see silver hit $25-$27 soon.


Notice in this chart that, as expected, prices reversed fast after breaking out of the triangle. Also, price broke an uptrend line on high volume, so conditions for further decline remain ripe.


SPX 1290 is the level to watch

If SPX does reverse soon, as I’m expecting, 1290 looks like a good level for the market to peak at.


Notice in the chart above that not only is 1290 the level where Wave-C = .5*Wave-A, it is also the exact level where Wave-v of Wave-C = Wave-i of Wave-C. These tight Fibonacci correlations lend support to the idea that the market will top out around 1290.