Saturday, January 31, 2015

Economy: How The Oil Price Is Rigged

(Drivebycuriosity) - Last week we got another proof that the price of oil is rigged. Again we could see that the energy price is manipulated by speculators and the media who filter the news in order to influence the public opinion and the sentiment for oil.

Friday afternoon the oil futures (Brent Crude & WTI Crude) jumped suddenly  8%. According to MarketWatch and other media the market responded to the news that the "number of U.S. oil-drilling rigs dropped by 94 in the past week (7% of the existing rigs), representing the largest one-week decrease since at least 1987" (marketwatch bloomberg).

It seems, that the media and the market focus now on the number of oil rigs in the US. Falling rig counts are interpreted as signs that the oil price drop in the recent months is reducing oil production in the US sharply which should lead to higher oil prices.

The strange thing is: Nobody cared about the rising number of oil rigs from around 2006 until autumn 2014. Did the oil price drop any time 7% because the count of US oil rigs rose? Nope. The media didn´t tell us then that the rising oil rig count will lead to a rising oil supply.

Why is the number of oil rigs important when it is falling and unimportant when it is rising? There is a bias in the news which could be deliberate. Maybe the media are following hedge funds and other speculators who want us to believe that the oil price has to rise because they are betting on that?

In the recent years the oil speculation - and the media - ignored the relationship between oil prices and oil supply. Instead they focused on military conflicts in Iraq, Syria and other problem regions which could could cause a severe disruption of the oil production and justify higher oil prices. Now oil production in Iraq and other middle east countries is coming back because the political situation is less severe. But the media don`t report much about more oil from Iraq & Co.

Conclusion: We are constantly feed with "reasons" for rising oil prices - like dropping oil rig counts - but news which show otherwise are downplayed and faded out. It seems that there is strong lobby for high oil prices.

PS. For illustration I used a painting by Wouters Pietersz Crabeth D. J.. "Die Falschspieler" (The Cardsharper) found @ Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Economy: Did The Swiss Central Bank Cause A Recession?

(Drivebycuriosity) - Switzerland has a high chance to dip into a recession, writes Bloomberg (bloomberg). Four of 10 economists, surveyed by Bloomberg, predicted a recession for the country. These pundits blame it to the Swiss Central Bank.

Two weeks ago the Swiss Central Bank ditched the pegging of the Swiss franc to the euro (driveby). As a result the exchange rate of franc jumped temporarily more than  20% against the euro and other currencies. Swiss exporters got temporarily 20% more expensive on the global markets, Swiss importers cheaper.

Some pundits assume that the Swiss economy (GNP) will shrink at least two consecutive quarters (definition of a recession) because the Swiss will export much less watches and other products and import more which would reduce the demand for Swiss products significantly.

I suppose that these claims are exaggerated. Before the freeing of the franc the Swiss currency has been glued to the Euro, which fell around 20% against the Dollar since last June. The now free floating franc jumped just back to the levels from last summer and erased the losses caused by the weakness of the euro. Now the franc cost in US Dollar about the same as last summer (

I think Swiss exporters lost just the artificial advantage (lower prices on the international markets), which have been caused by the free falling euro. They didn`t need this advantage because the sound Swiss economy does not have the severe problems of the euro zone (Greece, Italy & Co). In dollar calculated  watches, medicaments and other Swiss products cost about the same like last summer.

Otherwise the Swiss have to pay less for oil, copper and food, because the commodities are calculated in Dollar and got cheaper as the Swiss Franc rose. I think that lower costs for energy and materials will mostly compensate for the turbulences on the currency market. Therefore the claims that the Swiss central bank caused a recession are ill-founded.

Culture: Outsider Art Fair - Skimming The Boom

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am a bohemian. I really enjoy the possibility to see lots of gorgeous art for free, at least here in New York City. I can visit hundreds of art galleries who display top-notch art works without charging a buck (you can see here my report about last year`s top shows driveby). I also  indulge into the amazing pre-auction shows at Sotheby´s and other auction houses for free (sothebys.) And fascinating collections like Metropolitan Museum of Art open their doors after a donation of just one buck.

But there are some institutions who are charging for their services. Today the Outsider Art Fair opened its doors in New York City (outsider). They show works by "self-taught artists". But - contrary to galleries, museums and auctions houses - they charge an admission of $20. If I would go there with my wife we would have to pay $40. Not so good for bohemians.

What would we get for this? Their Facebook side, which advertises the fair, shows just rather mediocre works (outsiderartfair). The enthusiastic media reports (do these journalist pay admission?) also display mostly disappointing images (forbes). Why should I pay money for little quality when I can see top notch art at other places for free?

I understand that they have costs which have to be covered. But so do Whole Foods and K-Mart. Outsider Art Fair is a place to sell things, why should potential buyers pay for admission there when they don´t have to do that at Whole Foods - who displays gorgeous kinds of foods?

I think that these people just are skimming the current boom for art. This is legitimate. But they won`t get my money.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Contemporary Art: Gallery Shows On Lower East Side, New York, January 2015

(Drivebycuriosity) - If you want to explore cutting edge art you might go to New York´s trendy Lower East Side where dozens of galleries are competing against each other. Often they are not larger than a living room of a middle class home, but they compensate that with contemporary art shows that are full of surprises. If the place is too far away for you will find some tidbits of the current art shows in this post.

Above you can see pics from the gallery Betty Cuningham (15 Rivington Street, between the Bowery and Chrystie Street bettycuning). Their current show is called: Charles Garabedian, Mythical Realitites (through February 21, 2015). The series starts with "Family Affair" (acrylic on paper) and "Cassandra" (acrylic on paper).

According to Wikipedia the American artist, son of Armenian immigrants, is known for his imaginative paintings and drawings rich in references to Greek and Chinese symbolism (wikipedia). Anyway, I find his pictures strange and funny.

                                                             Worshiping The Fish

Marc Strauss (299 Grand Street marcstraus  )shows works by Entang Wiharso (through February 8, 2015), the first exhibiton of works by the Indonesian artist in New York.

I enjoyed the diversity of his works (paintings, sculptures, installations) and also the strangeness of his worlds.

The works above - made with aluminum, brass, resin, pigment, thread (coated in polyurethane) - remind me of Indonesian shadow puppetry.

The gallery has one room for a group  of dolls sitting around a big fish before a painting. Are they are worshipping the fish? Is the fish a god or do they just like him as food?

                                                     Strangely Named Materials

If you are more into abstract art you can find that too on Lower East Side. Above this paragraph you can see images from the show Lucy Kim: A Parrot in a Bell (through February 15, 2015) @ Lisa Cooley (107 Norfolk Street  lisa  ).

I enjoyed the colorful compositions and the use of strangely named materials. From above you can see: "The Flashing Pass" (Oil paint, acrylic paint, spray enamel, urethane resin, epox polyurethana glue, burlap on wood), "An Edge"; "Back to Basis: Blue, Red, Yello" & "Virtuosic" (all with the same materials).

You can spot more abstracts @ Jack Hanley (327 Broome Street jackhanley ). This gallery has a group exhibition called "Zabriski Point" (through February 8, 2015). Above some examples.

                                                               Beautiful Game

If the paintings above are not weird enough for you than you might consider to visit Shin Gallery ( 322 Grand Street shin). Accoding to their website they are "committed to exhibiting the work of young artists and international artists whose artwork has been rarely shown in the U.S. Central to Shin Gallery's mission is fostering and enhancing the careers and practices of international pioneering artists". Currently they display works by Kenny Rivero (through February 28, 2015).

The Lodge Gallery ( 131 Chrystie Street thelodge) had a group show called "Alterity". I liked especially the images of the beautiful game there.


Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Economy: Why Gasoline Is Still Expensive

(Drivebycuriosity) - There is a lot ado about the falling oil prices. And if we believe the media energy is cheap now. Yes, the price for oil (Brent Crude) dropped almost 60% since last summer. But the average price at the US pumps fell just 39% (bespoke). And the New York Times reports that gas is, "still not as cheap as It used to be" (nytimes). From 1986 until 2000 the gas price fluctuated below $2.

I think there are at least 4 reasons for the stubbornly expensive gas:

1. The oil price is represented by futures on oil - like the future for Brent Crude. These are contracts to deliver oil in the future and are traded on financial markets. The price for physical unprocessed - crude - oil (spot price) maybe be close to the price of the representing future, but it needs time to transport crude oil to the refineries where it gets processed into gasoline and other oil products. More time is needed to transport the gasoline to the gas stations all over the nation.

2. There is a kind of ratchet effect. Refineries and gas station owners (often parts of vertical integrated oil companies) are happy to hike their prices when the market price goes up. But they are reluctant to reduce prices (like every producer) because they enjoy the higher profit margins. Over time competition usually forces them to adapt their prices, but that could need months.

3. In the winter season, when there is less demand, many refineries are temporary shut down for maintenance. This reduces temporary the supply of gasoline (even if the supply of crude oil rises). The temporary shrinking supply can cause price hikes. Yesterday for example the US average gasoline price rose - even just from from $2.033 up to $2.038 (bespoke).

4. The Obama administration is slowing the fall of the gasoline price, says Bloomberg (bloomberg). Refineries are forced by law to mix gasoline with ethanol. The price of this biofuel fell less than the oil price because the cost of corn, used to make the biofuel, has shrunk less than the market price for oil.

I believe that the distance between oil and gasoline should shrink in the coming months because the mentioned effects should wear out. Therefore I expect lower gas prices even if oil doesn´t get cheaper.

New York City: The Night Some Snowflakes Shut Manhattan Down

(Drivebycuriosity) - New York never sleeps? Last night was an exception. The city got shut down, thanks to some snowflakes.

The media had advertised a blizzard of historical dimensions. According to the weather reports the storm Juno, which was approaching from southwest, should mingle with another depression over the Atlantic and would create a monster winter storm.

Yesterday Whole Foods and other groceries got very long lines because people were stocking up their food supplies before the announced mega-storm. New York´s Governor Cuomo had declared a State of Emergency. After 11 pm the subways stopped running and all non-emergency traffic got banned from city roads. Around midnight the usually busy streets of Manhattan were empty.

                                                                State Of Emergency

In the morning we found just around 5 just inches (10 cm) of snow, instead of the advertised 20 inches and more. Around 9am the subways resumed running. Apparently the weather report had given false alarm - as they often do.

Around 8am the city looked winterly and charming as it often does in winter. There was little traffic, but many pedestrian ways were already cleared. Many people were doing heavy exercise by shuffling the snow.

It is good to be prepared and to be on alert. But, the event was  another example for the general scare mongering and how media & authorities are blowing everything up to historical dimensions - Lol. It is remarkable that the alarm about the coming global warming catastrophe comes from the same people

Here´s a collection of pictures a took from the "historical storm" in Manhattan`s Lower East Side beginning yesterday 3pm until today 8.30 am.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

Culture: Bartholomeus Spranger - Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague @ Metropolitan Museum Of Art, New York

(Drivebycuriosity) - I am a connoisseur of contemporary art, but I also enjoy the old masters. Some of them defined the way we see the world around us and influenced generations of artists. Bartholomeus Spranger was a pioneer of visual art. The painter, who lived from 1546 till 1611, was born in Belgium but made his living mostly in Prague where he served a cardinal, a pope, and two Holy Roman Emperors. Spranger was one of the most prominent artists at the court of emperor Rudolf II in Prague and the most significant Northern Mannerist artist of his generation (wikipedia).

Last week I visited the show "Bartholomeus Spranger: Splendor and Eroticism in Imperial Prague" @ New York`s gigantic Metropolitan Museum of Art (the exhibition ends on February 1 2015 metmuseum). I was impressed how strongly the artist used colors, how delicate he displayed the features and how he played with light & shadows.

Apparently Spranger had an eye for women and he enjoyed sex. During my visit I overheard a guide talking about the "dominance of the female". The artist camouflaged his steamy illustrations with classical stories and often used quotes of the bible. It is really fun to observe how the artist played with his hyper-religious and bigot environment by using ridiculous religious titles for his highly erotical paintings. Maybe his employers, including popes, cardinals and emperors, shared secretly his humor and they might have enjoyed the mimikry.

                                                    Dominance Of The Female

Often his paintings tell a little story which was mostly a fake to hide the real intentions. On the top of this post you can see "Venus and Mercury", followed by a detail of "The Blindfolding Of Cupid" and "Hercules and Omphale". The next paintings are "Venus and Adonis" and "Jupiter and Antiope".

Above this paragraph you can see another quote of old Greek legends: A detail of  "Competition between Apollo and Pan".

The face above this paragraph belongs to "The Holy Family with Saint John the Baptist". I chose this segment because it shows the mastership of Spranger. Below follow a detail of "The mystic marriage of Saint Catherine with Saint John The Baptist and Saint John the Evangelist" (sic) and "Vanitas".

 Above this paragraph you can see some examples of Spranger`s drawings.