Did the nation heave a sigh of relief when BP announced that their latest gambit to "cap" the Deepwater Horizon gusher will result in hosing up fifty percent of the leaking oil? If so, the nation may be sighing too soon since the other half of the oil will still collect in underwater plumes and hover all around the Gulf Coast like those baleful mother ships in the most recent generation of alien invasion movies. I shudder to imagine the tonnage of dead wildlife flotsam that will wash up with the tide for years to come. It will seem like a "necklace of death" for several states, though even that may not be enough to distract them from the more gratifying raptures of Nascar and NFL football.
For the moment we can only speculate on what the still-unresolved incident will mean for America’s oil supply. The zeal to prosecute BP for something like criminal negligence has bestirred a Department of Justice comatose during the rape-and-pillage of the US financial system. BP may be driven out of business, but then what? The net effect of the oil spill, one way or another, will be the gradual shut-down of oil drilling activity in the Gulf of Mexico. New government supervision will make operations very costly, if not non-viable, and the surviving companies will probably pack up for the west coast of Africa where supervision is almost non-existent. Anyway you cut it, the US will produce less oil and import more — and have to rely on the political stability of places like Angola and Nigeria, not to mention the simmering Middle East.
So far, also, the US has done nothing in the way of holding a serious national political discussion about the the most important part of the story: our pathological dependency on cars. I don’t know if this will ever happen, even right up to the moment when the lines form at the filling stations. For years, anyway, the few public figures such as Boone Pickens who give the appearance of concern about our oil problem, end up down the rabbit hole of denial when they get behind schemes to run the whole US car-and-truck fleet on something besides gasoline.
This unfortunate techno-narcissism shows that almost nobody wants to think about living…
It’s good to see more focus on this issue of oil prices, which Phil addressed over the weekend.
As dismal as the pictures James Kunstler paints, his writing is so poetic:
…It’s like the quote oft-repeated these days (because it’s so apt for these times) by surly old Ernest Hemingway about how the man in a story went broke: slowly, and then all at once. In the background of last week’s reassuring torpor, one ominous little signal flashed perhaps dimly in all that sunshine: the price of oil broke above $81-a-barrel. Of course in that range it becomes impossible for the staggering monster of our so-called "consumer" economy to enter the much-wished-for nirvana of "recovery" — where the orgies of spending on houses and cars and electronic entertainment machines will resume like the force of nature it is presumed to be. Over $80-a-barrel and we’re in the zone where what’s left of this economy cracks and crumbles a little bit more each day, lurching forward to that moment when something life-changing occurs all at once.
I was plying the interstate highways of New England this weekend — there is no sane way to get from Albany, New York, to the vicinity of Middletown, Connecticut, by public transit — marveling at the vistas of normality all around me: the freeway lanes with their orderly streams of happy motorists, the chain stores floating like islands on the gray undulating landscape, the corporate towers of Springfield, Mass, and then Hartford, gleaming in the persistent pre-spring sunshine, as though they physically represented the wished-for dynamism of economies in recovery. "I see dead people…" said the kid in that horror movie. I see dying ways of life.
There was no denying the spectacular weather for us long-suffering northeasterners. A week ago, it was like living in a banana daiquiri around here. Now, it was sixty-two degrees in East Haddam, CT, along a very beautiful stretch of the Connecticut River somehow miraculously unmarred by the usual mutilations of industry or recreation. On a few hillsides facing south, daffodils were already up with blossom heads ready to pop. The mind could go two ways: into the past, when wooden sailing craft were built in yards along the river; or into the future, when it would be easy to imagine wooden sailing craft being
They also questioned whether the rescue of GMAC, achieved in part by making it a bank, had created a long-term situation in which the government guarantee of bank deposits was subsidizing sales at General Motors and Chrysler.
GMAC is the primary source of financing for GM and Chrysler dealers, and a major source of loans for buyers of their vehicles. Elizabeth Warren, a Harvard law professor who chairs the panel, said she understood GMAC’s utility for GM and Chrysler.
"What I don’t understand," she said, "is what the justification is for being an independent bank that takes deposits that has a backup from the United States government."
Ron Bloom, a senior adviser to Treasury Secretary Timothy F. Geithner, told the panel that the rescue of GMAC was necessary to save the automakers, and that the $17.2 billion price tag was a good deal for taxpayers. He said that no other lender or combination of lenders could have quickly replaced GMAC’s role in the marketplace.
Not much. At least not from an engineering, mechanical or even a quality point of view. You don’t reach the top gear in the global auto industry unless you make outstanding cars, which Toyota does — most of the time. Though cars are familiar machines, they are also highly complex ones. To create a modern car, a company has to design, engineer, build, buy and then assemble some 10,000 parts. Sell 7.8 million cars, as Toyota did worldwide in 2009 — a horrible year for the industry — and there are billions of new parts with the potential to go kerflooey. Inevitably, some do.
What makes the recall since November of nearly 9 million Toyotas that are susceptible to uncontrolled acceleration and balky brakes such a shocking story is not so much the company’s manufacture of some shoddy cars or even its dreadful crisis management — though those are errors that will cost it more than $2 billion in repairs and lost sales this year. It’s something more pernicious: the vapor lock that seems to have seized Toyota’s mythologized corporate culture and turned one of the most admired companies in the world into a bunch of flailing gearheads. Not only is Toyota producing more flawed cars than in the past, but an organization known for its unrivaled ability to suss out problems, fix them and turn them into advantages is looking clueless on all counts.
Although the recalls seemed sudden, the evidence has been piling up. Literally. According to a report from Massachusetts-based Safety Research & Strategies (SRS), a consumer-advocacy group, there was a spike in the number of unintended-acceleration incidents in some Toyota vehicles in 2002, about the same time that Toyota introduced its electronic throttle control. The problem was initially blamed on a floor mat or vehicle trim that, if it came loose, could jam the accelerator pedal in an open-throttle position. That was followed by the first of several National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) investigations, in 2003, and two small recalls in 2005 and 2007. But accidents mounted, and last November the company had to take back nearly 3.8 million U.S. Vehicles — its biggest-ever recall — to address the problem.
Modifying the floor mats, though, didn’t fix things. Toyota at first refused to…
It’s the first business day of the new year and oil is trading above $80 a barrel, which means the price has re-entered the danger zone where it can crush industrial economies. This is a central element of the predicament we find ourselves in. The US economy is essentially a Happy Motoring economy. During the whole nervous period since the collapse of Lehman Brothers, American gasoline consumption hardly went down at all, though so many other activities collapsed, from house-building to trucking. Yesterday, The Seattle Times published a story with the idiotic headline: Oil Touches $80 on US Economy, Demand Optimism. Apparently, they think high oil prices are "a good sign."
How much can a nation not get it? Would $100 oil ignite a new orgy of "consumer" spending and another round of investment in commercial real estate? Welcome to the Futility Economy. This is the economy where Nature and its material companion, Reality, punish us for our stupidity and fecklessness. This is the economy that will tear the United States apart, after it bankrupts us at every level, and mercilessly drives the population down by one-third through starvation, homelessness, violence, disease, and sheer political cruelty.
Whatever you thought our economy was the past thirty years — whatever model of it you have in your head — that is definitely not what we are going back to. Like one of Dickens’s Yuletide ghosts, Reality is leading us by the hand into new circumstances. We resist like crazy. We throw our hands over our eyes. We don’t want to look. We want to return to the comfort of our dreary routines — living in places that aren’t worth caring about, weaving endlessly in freeway traffic, drawing a paycheck at the air-conditioned cubicle, inhaling Buffalo wings by the platterful, with periodic side-trips to the state-chartered casino where there’s always a chance of scoring a lifetime’s income on one lucky bet. And at the end of the day, you can retire with a simulated prostitute on your laptop screen! And not even have to fork over a dime — except perhaps for the Internet connection fee.
Reality is taking us out of that familiar, if sordid, realm, whether we like it or not. Our destination is an
Gluskin-Sheff economist David Rosenberg has some harsh words about the Cash For Clunkers program in his daily letter:
We couldn’t believe this when we saw this quote from the U.S. Transportation Secretary (Ray Lahood) in yesterday’s NYT (page B3) on the “Cash for Clunkers” program: “There obviously is a real pent-up demand in America … people love to buy cars, and we’ve given them the incentive to do that. I think the last thing that any politician wants to do is cut off the opportunity for somebody who’s going to be able to get a rebate from the government to buy a new vehicle.”
Are you kidding me? If there is pent-up demand for autos why do we need a rebate? If there are 20% more vehicles than there are licensed drivers, why the need to perpetuate this cycle of overspending? Why is it a politician’s job to create incentives to spend? Shouldn’t they be focusing their attention on health, education, defense, infrastructure, public safety, job skills and productivity growth (and perhaps the youth unemployment rate of around 20%)? We’re not exactly espousing an Ayn Rand libertarian view but at a time when the deficit is running at 13% of GDP, at what point is enough? These rebates are not manna from heaven — it’s a future tax liability to hasten a decision that the auto buyer would have made in any event. This is fiscal
policy short-termism at its best (we say this as we read the article on page B5 of the NYT — $2 Billion in Grants to Bolster U.S. Manufacturing of Parts for Electric Cars).
This is a non-trading topic, but I wanted to post it during trading hours so as many eyes can see it as possible. Feel free to contact me directly at firstname.lastname@example.org with any questions.
Last fall there was some discussion on the PSW board regarding setting up a YouCaring donation page for a PSW member, Shadowfax. Since then, we have been looking into ways to help get him additional medical services and to pay down his medical debts. After following those leads, we are ready to move ahead with the YouCaring site. (Link is posted below.) Any help you can give will be greatly appreciated; not only to help aid in his medical bill debt, but to also show what a great community this group is.
With no economic news today, there was little to distract from IBM's pre-market announcement of disappointing Q3 earnings. The company (my employer in a special business unit from 1984 to 1997) plunged at the open. It trimmed its closing loss to -7.17%. The popular press reports that the Oracle of Omaha (aka Warren Buffett) lost about $1 Billion today, based on his latest SEC filings. In contrast, after today's close Apple announced strong earnings and upward sales guidance. It was up 2.14% today and is trading higher after the close.
The S&P 500 was minimally impacted by the IBM fiasco. The index hit its -0.24% intraday low shortly after the open but quickly recovered and chugged higher through the day, closing with its third consecutive advance, up 0.91% and not far off its 0.97% intraday hi...
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What do falling energy prices mean for the US consumer? Sober Look writes a brief yet thorough overview of the consequences of the correction in the price of crude oil. There are good aspects, particularly for the consumer, bad aspects, and out-right ugly possibilities. For more on this subject, read James Hamilton's How will Saudi Arabia respond to lower oil prices? In previous eras, Saudi Arabia would tighten the supply to help increase prices, but in this "game of chicken," the rules m...
Volatility continues to increase in the stock market and many of the leaders are breaking down. In particular, semiconductors took a rather big hit when one of the bellwethers warned of weakening global demand. Nevertheless, despite the significant headwinds, I do not think this spells the end of the bull market. But the technical damage to the charts is severe, particularly to the small caps, which are in full-blown correction mode. The large caps must show leadership and rally immediately -- or it will put at risk the critical and widely-anticipated year-end rally.
In this weekly update, I give my view of the current market environment, offer a technical analysis of the S&P 500 chart, review our weekly fundamentals-based SectorCast rankings of the ten U.S. business sectors, and then offer up ...
Shares in Apple (Ticker: AAPL) are near their highs of the session in the final hour of trading on Wednesday, adding to the muted gains seen earlier in the day, following the release of the September FOMC meeting minutes and after activist investor and Apple shareholder Carl Icahn tweeted, “Tmrw we’ll be sending an open letter to @tim_cook. Believe it will be interesting.” Icahn’s tweet hit the ether at 2:33 pm ET and was met with a spike in volume in Apple shares. The stock is currently up 2.0% on the day at $100.75 as of 3:15 pm ET.
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Well PSW Subscribers....I am still here, barely. From my last post a few months ago to now, nothing has changed much, but there are a few bargins out there that as investors, should be put on the watch list (again) and if so desired....buy a small amount.
First, the media is on a tear against biotechs/pharma, ripping companies for their drug prices. Gilead's HepC drug, Sovaldi, is priced at $84K for the 12-week treatment. Pundits were screaming bloody murder that it was a total rip off, but when one investigates the other drugs out there, and the consequences of not taking Sovaldi vs. another drug combinations, then things become clearer. For instance, Olysio (JNJ) is about $66,000 for a 12-week treatment, but is approved for fewer types of patients AND...
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