May 15, 2009 Featured Trades: (NG), (NATGAS), (WTIC)
1) 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.
2) There is an easier, cheaper, and faster way to solve the banking crisis which no one is talking about on Capitol Hill. If collateralized debt obligations (CDO’s) are the problem, just get rid of them! Desecuritize them! Just convert them back into the underlying loans. There are $1.4 trillion in CDO’s outstanding backed by Alt-A and subprime loans in the form of 3,700 individual securitizations of perhaps 3.7 million loans. Over 68% of the loans backing these bonds are current.Â Mark to market rules are forcing the banks to carry this paper on their balance sheets at 50%-80% discounts. The problem is that mark to market is a meaningless accounting fiction when there is no market. If you break up these securities and place the underlying loans back on the banks’ balance sheets, the good mortgages can be valued at 100% of face, and those behind in their payments or in default can be discounted to maybe 70% because they are still secured by the value of the homes. This would boost the value of the entire asset class from the current 20-50 cents up to 90 cents on the dollar. Restored balance sheets would enable banks to resume lending. Of course it would be a massive admin job unwinding the rats’ nests behind some of these securities, but Heaven knows there is abundant subprime and Alt-A expertise available for hire these days. Just sift through the ashes of Lehman Brothers and Bear Stearns. It is a workable plan, and therefore is unlikely to ever see the light of day.
3) Ian Bremmer, President of the Eurasia Group, the world’s preeminent independent risk control consultant, passed through town last week to promote his latest book, The Fat Tail: The Power of Political Knowledge for Strategic Investing.The book details how money managers must become cognizant of and deal with foreign laws, regulation, government turnovers, civil unrest, expropriation,terrorism, and war, in order to survive in this increasingly complex and interconnected world. Globalization has ground to a screeching halt. Governments are now more important than multinationals in influencing our economic future, and a new form of ‘state capitalism’ is emerging. We are shifting from a unipolar to a non polar world. Iraq is morphing from war into a peace keeping operation, while Afghanistan is rapidly moving in the opposite direction. Geopolitical risks are rising. With crude at $52 a barrel there is no Iran premium currently in the market, and $20-$30 could price in very quickly. China and Brazil are the long term winners in the new set up, and the dollar is the big loser. The greatest risk to the US is its over dependence on borrowing from China. This is a must read book for any hedge fund manager struggling with his global risk exposure and looking for some great long term plays.
4) Symantec says that 15,000 to 20,000 new viruses are being created every day, forcing it to upgrade its software every five minutes. Google admits that one out of every 100 searches connects with a virus infected website. There is no prominent website that has not been affected, including www.obama.com President’s grass roots organizing website. Many of these are created by Russian cyber gangs, where boys as young as 14 can earn up to $30,000 a year.There is no local enforcement in the former Soviet Union as the victims arepredominantly ‘rich’ Americans.
QUOTE OF THE DAY
‘The depression is over,’ said President Herbert Hoover in May, 1930. It still had eight more years to run.