The rosy glow begins to fade

Ever since OPEC cut oil prices drastically last November we have been bombarded by messages not to worry because the U.S. shale revolution is going strong.

Oil is below $60 a barrel? No matter, says Continental Resources, American frackers are the new powerhouse.

Worried about fracking companies making a profit when their costs are so much higher than Gulf oil states? Technology to rescue, say analysts Donald Luskin and Michael Warren. Drilling costs have decreased so significantly, they claim, that that shale producers can not only survive but thrive at sub-$60 a barrel oil.

Daniel Yergin of IHS told us in no uncertain terms to bet on the U.S. fracking industry. The United States now rules the oil market, he said, and pretty soon, “the world’s new swing producer will find itself back in the swing of things.”

The problem is that these predictions aren’t realistic. I wrote back in February that highly leveraged fracking companies were going to face hard times, and that bankruptcy, sales, and consolidation would follow. The cracks in the shale oil façade took time to appear because many companies hedged their sales this year and banks kept credit lines open. Meanwhile, the analysts and industry shillers worked hard to convince us that shale companies were plugging along as usual.

But finally, the truth is being revealed. Reuters recently reported on the demise of an fracking services company that was built entirely on loans and Bloomberg reported that 42 out of 62 companies tracked in their index are now rated at “junk.” Turns out, contrary to what the media and the drillers want Wall Street to believe, shale drillers can’t actually respond quickly to price swings. More and more companies are auctioning off equipment every week, making it clear that they don’t see a rosy future.

And neither should we.