NEW YORK (Real Money) -- Not going to minimize it. There are three huge land mines out there and we know at least one of them will most likely be triggered at this pace in the oil decline, let along all three. Oil's testing the low $50s this week and I don't know if it can hold. So let's go over the three bears:
The first is the Russian bear. We in the West are having a huge, some would say suicidal, fight with Russia. We have no idea what Vladimir Putin will do. We know that their rates are sky-high at 17%, a 650 basis point 1 a.m. central bank desperation move, and they have a real capital flight problem. We know that they need to pump a huge amount of oil to make up for the price decline, and they can't.
So, this is worry one. It has been worry one ever since the Sochi Olympics. The Russia-Ukraine police action -- to use the term we used for the Korean War -- can easily get out of hand. The decline in this country basically started when things went awry and we decided to confront the dictator.
I am not clairvoyant enough to think about what happens here, but it is clear it will be bad for stocks. A big bank collapse pretty much has to be imminent, doesn't it? You can't have that level of rate elevation with something disastrous NOT occurring.
At that point, I suspect we will discover that European institutions have exposure to the bank or banks that collapse, and their markets will be hammered. Austrian banks. Italian banks. I am sure they were lulled into doing business with Russia. I imagine there is some large American bank that always wanted to keep its hands in Russia in case there is a turn and when that banks loss leaks out, others will own up or get shot down anyway. If it is one of the big ones, the Fed will demand another scrub down before any capital returns.
There is simply no way that Russia doesn't have tentacles. The country was too close to the fold just 11 months ago. Everyone wanted that Russian market at the time of the Olympics. Disentangling financially in this short a period isn't possible. Plus, we know the hot money from the ridiculous, relentlessly pushed global funds, is out there investing in Russia and, of course, Ukraine. A well-known Templeton fund has made a big bet on Ukraine. Let's see how that pans out.
Second? Judging by the total collapse in Petrobras (PBR) , you have to presume that this one can't get out of the debt dungeon it finds itself in. This is the most exposed oil company in the world. Not that long ago, it sold $51 billion in bonds and is on the hook for much more than that. Foreign bondholders own 43% of that $51 billion, according to the New York Times.
Now, a little more than 60% of Petrobras is owned by the government, so you have to ask yourself if Brazil will just take the rest over and pay for the bonds or maybe restructure the debt. There are no good options. I think after Russia, Petrobras is the most likely to cause a huge crisis. Of course, the properties are worth a great deal, but they are worth a great deal less every day.
Then there are the U.S. oil companies. I have been reluctant to say who I think can't pay -- what good does that do? -- but it's pretty easy to find $200 billion in higher yielding paper, of which most was issued at much higher prices. I do not have as much fear as others about these companies, but no one has gone belly-up yet. We haven't even got number cuts until today and other than a handful of very risky situations, we do not yet have the $40 price of the 2009-2010 decline baked in. There is further to fall.
These are the three "known" worries that haven't blossomed into full-blow crises yet. It is inconceivable that we escape unscathed from all three with the pace of oil's decline accelerating. I continue to think that we are now going to be faced with more declines, because there is not enough storage or container space to handle all that is being pumped and not enough short base in the pits to work it off.
So while we know the real world is going to do fine, we have to accept that these three risk events are very much front and center, and you need to know them. Remember, no heroes. The producers are losing faster than the consumers are making hay. First the pain, then the gain.
Editor's Note: This article was originally published at Dec. 16 on Real Money on 5:45 a.m. EST.