March 30, 2009

Global Market Comments for March 30, 2009
Featured Trades: (FCX), (CRUDE), (NG)

1)    Call me an optimist, but I am starting to see crocuses of economic recovery busting out all over. Long side traders now have a spring in their step after a 23% rise in the Dow in three weeks, the best move since 1938. If it is true that the stock market anticipates moves in the real economy by six months, then a lot of managers are going to come back from their summer vacations in September to find a surprising batch of new orders. Commodities have been on an absolute tear this year, especially oil and copper, classic harbingers of future business activity. Just look at my favorite, Freeport McMoran (FCX), which soared 170% from the November lows. The downward momentum of a whole range of economic indicators is slowing. The durable goods number was actually up last week! The mother of all inventory adjustments is almost over. Retailers are still offering the deals of the century, but there is very little left in the back room. The Baltic Dry Shipping Index has tripled off of its November low, hinting that international trade may come out of its comatose condition. And they are no longer looking for organ recipients for the major airlines. Now I hear that semiconductor makers are expected to make their Q1 targets. Maybe it's because spring has arrived, and the girls on the Embarcadero have shed their overcoats for low cut tank tops. Or maybe the $4 trillion in global stimulus is starting to have its desired effect.

2) Reformed oil man, repenting sinner, and borne again environmentalist T. Boone Pickens says that 'when we turn the US green, it will have the best economy ever.' I met the spry, homespun billionaire at San Francisco's Mark Hopkins on a leg of his self financed national campaign to get America to kick its dangerous dependence on foreign oil imports. For the past 30 years, the US has had no energy policy because 'no one wanted to kick a sleeping dog.' Production at Mexico's main Cantarell field is collapsing, and will force that country to become a net importer in five years. Venezuela is shifting its exports of its sulfur laden crude to China for political reasons, once refineries in the Middle Kingdom are completed to handle it. Unfortunately, the collapse of energy prices since June and the disappearance of credit have put urgent alternative energy development on a back burner, with his preferred natural gas (NG) taking the biggest hit. If the US doesn't make the right investments now, our energy dependence will simply shift from one self interested foreign supplier (Saudi Arabia) to another (China). Wind and solar alone won't work on still nights, and can't power an 18 wheeler. Don't count on the help of the big oil companies because they get 81% of their earnings from selling imported oil. The answer is in a diverse blend of multiple alternative energy supplies from American only sources.  Although Boone now has Obama's ear, it's a long learning process. Boone has donated $700 million to charity, and says the 20,000 trees has planted should offset the carbon footprint of his Gulfstream V. I worked with Boone to organize financing for a Mesa Petroleum Pac Man oil company takeover in the early eighties, when it was cheaper to drill for oil on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange than in the field. Now 80, he has not slowed down a nanosecond.

3) Natural gas ($NATGAS), which peaked at $13.50/btu last year, has become the red headed step child of the energy complex, plunging a gut churning 72% to a low of $3.75. To see demand this weak coming out of a cold winter is nothing less than stunning. The credit crisis has forced US companies like Chesapeake Energy (CHK) and Devon Energy (DVN) to scale back exploration, so the US rig count had dropped by half. The price collapse is welcome news for consumers, as NG is an essential raw material for making naphtha, fertilizer, and plastics and accounts for 20% of US electric power generation. It also is a favored fuel of the green crowd, as the only products of its combustion are carbon dioxide and water. The industry was making the leap from a domestic industry to a global one just the global recession punched it right between the eyes. The completion of six liquefaction plans in Qatar, Russia, Indonesia, and Yemen costing $48 billion is expected to boost global production by 25% this year, and more big plants are coming on stream in the near future. If I'm right, and those really are crocuses out there and not some florid hallucination, then it's time to load the boat with NG.

4) AIG has become such a despised company that the children's' TV program 'Sesame Street' has removed the letters. 'A,' 'I,' and 'G,' from the alphabet.


'A fool with a plan can outsmart a genius with no plan,' said oil man turned environmentalist T. Boone Pickens.