Saturday, May 31, 2008

Soros, CME exec to testify on energy manipulation

I'd like to know which way Mr. Soros is positioned in the energy complex.

From MarketWatch:

Legendary hedge fund manager George Soros and a top executive at the Chicago Mercantile Exchange are slated to testify next week on manipulation in the energy markets, a Senate panel said Friday, as Washington widens its probe of what's driving record-high oil prices.

Tuesday's hearing, held by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, will try to determine what factors the Federal Trade Commission should consider when it makes rules on preventing manipulation in the wholesale oil and petroleum distillates markets.
It's the latest public forum focused on whether drivers besides supply and demand are responsible for a spike in oil, grains and other commodities prices.
The main regulator for the U.S. futures industry on Thursday announced a series of changes designed to make it easier to determine what types of investors -- notably financial firms making bets on prices or commercial traders looking to hedge their output and use -- are making big moves in energy markets.

The announcement by the Commodities Futures Trading Commission follows previous testimony by the regulator's officials that jumps in oil and agricultural commodities have little correlation with increased investments by index traders, or investors who allocate a portion of their portfolios to investments that track popular commodities index. See related story.

But large users of commodities, as well as some investors, have maintained that speculators are a key reason behind the commodities run-up. They have faulted rules regulating what the CFTC considers a financial speculator, as well as the regulator's data collection....MORE

UPDATE: The CFTC, Commodity Speculators and Mom

Mom's crabby today.
She wanted to know why her favorite doughnuts are priced 50% higher than they were at this time last year.
I started to tell her about the effects of higher energy prices on every step of the food production and delivery chain. Professor Runge's estimate* that one-third of the increase in corn prices is the result of mandated production of ethanol. The Pacific Decadal Oscillation. Demand from China.
She hung up on me.
Then she called back and said "Write it down"

Back in August we had a short post "Manipulation of Oil Markets" which mentioned Cushing, Oklahoma.

In October, Anne Davis of the Wall Street Journal, wrote one of the best pieces of investigative/expository journalism on the oil biz that I've ever seen "Where Has All The Oil Gone?":
...The reasons Cushing's crude has been disappearing are surprisingly complex, and shed light on the growing involvement of speculators in the global oil market....

In November we lifted a piece from Knowledge@Warton
The Inventory Code: New Ways Investors Can Cash In on Volatile Commodities"

On Thursday, May 20 Michael Masters testified before the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The blogosphere lit up.
Interfluidity an interesting post:

Michael Masters' testimony regarding the role of speculation in commodity prices has drawn a lot of comment since last week. [See, for example, Cassandra, James Hamilton, Tim Iacono, John Mauldin, Michael Shedlock, Yves Smith.] According to Masters', portfolio investors' increasing participation in commodities via futures markets has been driving a speculative price boom, over a period of years.

I have to say, I am very skeptical of Masters' view....
We had five posts, including three in one day:

A Different Take on Speculators and Oil
John Authers: Speculators & Oil Price Spikes
Oil Bubble? The Debate Rages
Commodity Prices: Hedge Fund says it's University Endowments and Pension Funds
Oil Prices: Are Pension Funds Fueling High Oil Prices

Yesterday Naked Capitalism, in a post that you should read, "CFTC Investigation of Oil Trading Focuses on Tankers, Storage" said:

As we noted in an earlier post, citing an article by John Dizard in the Financial Times:
You don't have to buy the evil-specs-caused-all-this argument to believe there are problems with the way parts of the commodities markets work. As Mr [Eugen] Weinberg [at Commerzbank] points out: "The West Texas Intermediate oil contract, based on delivery in Cushing, Oklahoma, is good for 300,000-400,000 barrels per day. The storage capacity in Cushing is about 20.5m barrels. The trading volume on which that is based is between 500m and 600m barrels per day. If you are going to manipulate the price, you would think about doing that in Cushing."

It is worth your time, as is this overview from the NYT's DealBook:

A couple tidbits from Reuters in:
U.S. oil probe focusing on price manipulation: report

Mom, we'll have something on intermarket analysis Monday morning.

*What Proportion of Food Price Increases is Attributable to Ethanol?

Sharp Power-Price Rise Hits Texas

From the Wall Street Journal:

Officials Fear Surge
Could Hurt Market;
Another California?

Wholesale power prices in Texas have surged to new heights, confounding market officials and worrying regulators who see early signs that the situation could destabilize the state's deregulated electricity markets.

The spikes in wholesale power prices -- ominous and so far unexplained -- could take a big toll on both power providers and electricity customers if they persist. The state's utility commission held an emergency meeting Thursday, "which shows the level of concern," said commission spokesman Terry Hadley....

...The situation will eventually cost consumers "tens of millions of dollars," though it may take weeks to show up in utility bills, according to Dan Jones, the state's independent market monitor....MORE

Friday, May 30, 2008

Applied Materials Selected by Abu Dhabi’s Masdar to Build 210MW of Solar Module Production Capacity (AMAT)

Yesterday, as the solar's were getting spanked, AMAT was modestly green. It closed up nine cents.
Today, as the solar's were running, AMAT was modestly green. It closed up eighteen cents.
From NanoWerk:
As part of its Masdar Initiative, the Abu Dhabi Future Energy Co. is significantly expanding its investment in solar energy by contracting with Applied Materials to purchase three SunFab™ Thin Film Lines for producing solar modules. With an optional tandem junction upgrade, these SunFab lines are expected to annually produce modules with a targeted capacity of up to 210 megawatts (MW), or enough energy to power approximately 70,000 homes.
“The Masdar Initiative is focused on ensuring that renewable energies play a key role in the energy portfolio that the world needs now and into the future. We are doing this by applying scale, capital and commitment to the most promising technologies to accelerate the rapid adoption of renewable energy,” said Dr. Sultan Al Jaber, CEO of Masdar. “We are pleased to be working with Applied Materials.”
The Applied SunFab Line is the only integrated production line for manufacturing thin film silicon solar modules using ultra-large 5.7m2 glass panels. Ideally suited for utility-scale applications, these 2.2m x 2.6m panels can reduce installation cost by over 17% compared to smaller scale thin film panels. The SunFab line is designed to deliver leading-edge manufacturing capability with the world’s most advanced engineering and equipment.
One of the SunFab lines to be supplied by Applied will be located in Erfurt, Germany, and is expected to start up in the second half of 2009. The other two lines will be located in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, and are expected to start up in early 2010. These lines will help supply solar power to Masdar City, the world’s first zero carbon, zero waste city, designed to be fully powered by renewable energy, and also will help support the broader global need for clean sources of energy.
“Abu Dhabi Future Energy is leveraging its substantial resources and expertise in global energy markets to bring the first major photovoltaic manufacturing capability to the Middle East,” said Dr. Mark Pinto, senior vice president and general manager of Applied’s Energy and Environmental Solutions Group. “We are very excited to be part of Abu Dhabi’s vision for the future in accelerating the adoption of solar energy to decrease the cost of electricity.”
Here's an overview of the Masdar initiative:

INTERVIEW-Abu Dhabi to invest $2 bln in thin-film technology

Abu Dhabi says it will invest $2 billion in cutting edge solar technology, building thin-film module production plants in Germany and Abu Dhabi, as it strives to compete with industry leaders such as First Solar (FSLR.O: Quote, Profile, Research).

Masdar PV is part of Masdar Initiative, a $15 billion initiative set up by the Abu Dhabi government to develop sustainable energy and other clean technologies.

"We are making a very large investment in what will eventually become a gigawatt multi-country producer, one of the leading producers globally in thin-film," said Steve Geiger, director of special projects at Masdar....MORE from Reuters

U.S. emissions bill a "first step": U.N. climate chief. AND: New financial tools needed to make big cuts in emissions: UN climate chief

From Reuters:
..."I think it's enough as a first step," Pachauri told reporters during a visit to Oslo. "I wouldn't say it is the final solution one is looking for."...

From PointCarbon:
New financial instruments could mobilise much-needed financing to cut emissions in developing countries, in addition to the Kyoto protocol’s clean development mechanism (CDM), the UN’s climate chief told Point Carbon today.

Energy Storage: ‘The Next Big Thing’

From Red Herring:

Venture investments in “fragmented” energy storage technologies like batteries, flywheels, and fuel cells grew 74 percent to $709 million in 2007, a new study says.

Among the report’s predictions:

--Fuel cells “will return from the dead” as sales increase from $92 million in 2007 to $1.8 billion in 2012. The growth will be driven not by fuel cell cars, but by applications in residential combined heat and power systems and distributed generation. Among the leading companies will be Ballard Power Systems and Ceramic Fuel Cells....MORE

Green Collar Jobs: What Do they Pay?

With all the political positioning of climate legislation as 'creating' jobs it is startling how reticent the proponents are about actual numbers. From doing due diligence I know some of the numbers but public sources that have specific wages that I can link to aren't common.

Some of the jobs are well paying. For example the insiders at First Solar have sold $1.1 Billion worth of stock in the last 15 months.
(bless those German hausfraus paying the feed-in tariff)

The City of San Francisco seems like a good place to look for work:

..."If there are 25 people working on climate protection issues for the city, that's a good start," Newsom spokesman Nathan Ballard said....
...At least 12 San Francisco Public Utilities Commission staff members work on climate issues related to water and energy, including a $146,000-a-year "projects manager for the climate action plan."...
The list doesn't include the scores of staff members who work on broader environmental policies, like the recently hired $130,700-a-year "greening director" in Newsom's office...

I was going to link to some offerings at (I liked the Vestas ad, "See the sun rise from 300 feet up") but this story on BWEN's expansion (also, see post immediately below) from the Abilene ReporterNews has a lot of detail :

...Last week the DCOA approved $4.7 million in incentives to assist Tower Tech in constructing a $20 million plant. Tower Tech will spend more than $20 million to build and equip its manufacturing plant in the Five Points Business Park in northwest Abilene on a 40-acre site north of PWP Industries, according to DCOA documents.

"Whenever we ran into an issue, they went the extra mile to find solutions," said Paul Smith, of Tower Tech Solutions, in a news release. "The support during this process was excellent."

The Five Points Business Park provided the transportation infrastructure that the company needed, according to city officials and Tower Tech. Located just south of Interstate 20, the park also offers a railroad spur that allows rail access to the four-lot property where the manufacturing plant will be built.

Of the 150 jobs, 39 will pay $30,000 to $40,000 a year, according to the DCOA, while 105 of the positions would pay $40,000 to $50,000. Six of the jobs would pay more than $60,000.

The DCOA will also pay the company $2 million over five years at 10 percent of capital costs up to $400,000 a year.

Indirect incentives to the company will total $911,250, according to DCOA documents. The company will need several entry-level welders, and the DCOA approved paying $75,000 to expand Cisco Junior College's Fast Track Welding training program.

To extend rail service into the south boundary of the company's location in the business park, the DCOA will pay $236,250.

Also the DCOA will convey an estimated 40 acres of land in the business park to the company, an estimated value of $600,000....

Wind: Tower Tech to add plants in S.D., Texas (BWEN.OB)

From the Business Journal of Milwaukee:
Tower Tech Systems Inc. of Manitowoc will build wind turbine support tower plants in Sioux Falls, S.D., and Abilene, Texas, in order to expand production and cut down on transportation costs, the firm's parent company said....

From the Sioux Falls Argus-Leader:

Wind brings 150 news jobs
Turbine-tower manufacturer expands into Brandon

A wind-tower manufacturing operation will initially bring more than 150 jobs to the Corson Industrial Park, with significant expansion options available.

Broadwind Energy announced that its wholly owned subsidiary, Tower Tech Systems, will expand its wind-tower manufacturing operations to Brandon and Abilene, Texas. Both sites also have direct rail access, ample tower storage and the most modern tower production equipment available in the marketplace.

Tower Tech Systems operates a manufacturing facility in Manitowoc, Wis., that has been producing wind towers since 2004....
...Dennis Olson, Brandon city administrator, said the city has had a "whirlwind courtship" with the wind-tower company....

Climos: U.N. talks halt plans to make oceans absorb CO2

Long-time readers know of our fascination with another wannabe geo-engineer, Planktos.
From Reuters:
Nearly 200 countries have agreed to a moratorium on projects to fight climate change by adding nutrients to the seas to spur growth of carbon-absorbing algae, host Germany said on Friday.

The surprise deal followed 12 days of haggling at the U.N.'s Convention on Biological Diversity conference where Australia, Brazil and China had opposed halting the controversial plans for "ocean fertilization" until the last minute....MORE

Our earlier posts on Climos:

Is Climos the Next Planktos? (ECO.L; PLKT.PK)

From Those Wonderful Folks Who Brought You EnerNOC (ENOC) Comes Climos!

Ocean Seeding Startup Climos Looking to Raise More Funds

Calpine rejects NRG merger bid, keeps door open (CPN; NRG)

From MarketWatch:
Calpine Corp. on Friday shot down NRG Energy Inc.'s proposed all-stock merger, valued at $9.56 billion, as "inadequate," while holding out the possibility of a deal down the road between the two power-generating giants....

James E. Hansen, PhD. Reiterates: "Cap and Dividend"

Mr. Hansen is really pushing the politics of global warming. In his recent missive "Dear Governor Greenwash" he reprises his policy prescription "Cap and Divided", returning to ratepayers/taxpayers all the proceeds of a cap-and-trade auction of emission permits, rather than using said proceeds as a piggy bank to fund Congress' pet projects and/or pork*, a position with which I agree.
*(I just realized I repeat myself)
From page four of a five page PDF:

...(3) Public Support: Tax and Dividend

Last week the Energy Secretary for the United States, before the House of Representatives, answering questions about global warming and energy policy, provided a response that was so ignorant and foolish as to suggest that he has been living on another planet or is stone deaf to scientific information. He said that the appropriate policy response is for the government to open up more public land for mining, to open off-shore areas for drilling, to open the Arctic National Wildlife Reserve, and to encourage extraction of oil from tar shale.

The danger is that such egregiously bad policy, bad for all but the short-term benefit of special interests, might be packaged to sound logical to the public. This danger will increase when a rising carbon price – essential for solving the climate problem – is instituted.

For a carbon price to be effective it must, perforce, be large enough to cause a big impact on the public – otherwise it will not help bring about consumer changes that are needed to reduce emissions fast enough. But it must be implemented with care and foresight. For this reason I strongly favor a “tax and dividend” approach. The entire carbon tax should be given back to the public, an equal amount to each person. No bureaucracy is needed to figure this out. If an early carbon tax averages say $1200 per person (it can be collected in various ways – at the well-head, carbon emission permit auctions, etc.) a monthly $100 deposit can be made automatically in everyone’s bank account.

Although energy prices will rise, you can bet your bottom dollar that lower and middle income people will figure out how to reduce energy use enough that, overall, they come out ahead. And in doing so, moving to more energy-efficient products, they will spur economic activity and create jobs.

The tax-and-dividend approach not only minimizes public backlash against climate and energy policies, it also has the characteristics needed to make those policies work.

Footnote: I suggest limiting the number of dividends to four per family. Climate scientists have no special expertise related to the family planning issue, but common sense dictates against a policy that stimulates population growth....

Earnings: Trina Solar (TSL)

From Wall Street Horizon via

Thursday, June 05

Before The Open
First Call Yr Ago
Yr/Yr Rev

Trina Solar TSL

0.48 0.22

(a) Excluding non-recurring items.
(b) Calculated using current exchange rate.
(c) May not be comparable to consensus.

Earnings release date and conference call information from Wall Street Horizon.

We're betting six bits (but then again we'd have been tempted to fade the Brits in May, 1940. Joe Kennedy thought so)

Feds six months deep into probe of oil speculators.

From the Houston Chronicle:

In unusual move, panel goes public about its look at trading practices

Federal regulators — in a highly unusual move — revealed Thursday they have been conducting a wide-reaching probe into oil trading practices for the last six months.

And in response to growing concerns about the role speculators may be playing in driving up oil prices, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission said it will require energy traders to begin providing more information so the government can better assess what effect they may be having on the markets.

"Perhaps the CFTC has gotten some religion," said Michael Masters, of Masters Capital Management LLC, who has called for tighter regulation. Although, he added, "it's just a start."

With oil futures diving more than $4 Thursday, the commission went public about its probe. It is examining the purchase, transportation, storage and trading of crude oil and futures contracts — agreements to buy or sell commodities at a later date that are central to the energy markets....MORE

German solar support seen sinking 8 pct in 2009 (ESLR; FSLR; SPWR; STP; TSL)

From Reuters:

Germany's ruling parties have reached a deal on reduced support for the solar energy sector which involves cuts of 8 percent in 2009 and 2010, and 9 percent in 2011, Social Democrat politician Hermann Scheer told Reuters.

The cuts in support for rooftop solar panels, which supply the lion's share of Germany's solar-produced energy, fall far short of those demanded by some German conservatives, who had pressed for a decrease of 30 percent in 2009.

German law requires utilities pay solar energy producers higher prices for solar power they put into the grid. But the government says the industry can live with less support and wants to redirect help to other types of renewable energy.

Shares in German solar power companies rallied, topping the leaderboard of Frankfurt's technology index after the deal came in with lower cuts than expected.

Q-Cells was up 7.6 percent, Solarworld gained 6.7 percent, Phoenix Solar improved 6.1 percent and Ersol rose 4.7 percent by 0730 GMT....MORE

Alert: Cover your Solar shorts! - Piper Jaffray (ESLR; FSLR; SPWR; STP; TSL)

From Notable Calls:

Piper Jaffray is out with a Solar call saying that according to German news agency DPA, and supported by their contacts close to the Social Democrat Party (SPD), the German Government reached final agreement on feed-in tariff reduction for Solar and Wind at 02.00 AM this morning. They understand that the agreement will be incorporated in the EEG bill on Monday by which time the feed-in tariff reduction will be made public. They also understand that the bill will be voted through parliament as early as Friday next week rather than end of June.

The feed-in tariff reduction is said to be 8% for 2009 (previous 9.1%), 8% for 2010(previous 7%) and 9% for 2011 and onwards (previous 8%).

Notablecalls: Good news for Solars as most of the stocks have been getting hit lately on fears of Germany lowering support for its solar initiative. I expect the likes of STP, FSLR, SPWR retrace at least most of their yesterday's losses. Note the worst case expectations were for 30% decline in 2009.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Relative price news you can use: "On the Relationship Between Beer and Gas"

From Economist's View via The Economist:

THAT inflation impacts different goods differently should be no surprise to anyone. We often neglect to consider, however, how these differing inflation rates might impact different types of consumers, or how they might influence behaviour in unexpected ways....

...Or, consider a thought experiment from Mark Thoma:
When I was in high school, most of my budget went to two items, gas and beer. At that time, the price of gas was 25 cents a gallon, and beer was $1.25 a six-pack if I remember correctly (and I may not). So the relative price was 5 to 1, i.e. to get five gallons of gas, you had to give up a six pack of beer....MORE

"2007 Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends"

I haven't read the report yet, here's today's press release and link from the U.S. Department of Energy:

May 29, 2008

U.S. Continues to Lead the World in Wind Power Growth
DOE Report Shows Rapidly Growing U.S. Wind Power Market

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) today released the 2007 edition of its Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends, which provides a comprehensive overview of developments in the rapidly evolving U.S. wind power market. Notably, the report finds that U.S. wind power capacity increased by 46 percent in 2007, with $9 billion invested in U.S. wind plants in 2007 alone, making the U.S. the fastest-growing wind power market in the world for the third straight year. The report also showed that wind is on a path to becoming a significant contributor to the U.S. power mix—wind projects accounted for 35 percent of all new U.S. electric generating capacity in 2007, and transmission facilities capable of generating a total of over 200 GW of wind power are in the early stages of development throughout the nation....MORE

Here's the report:

2007 Annual Report on U.S. Wind Power Installation, Cost, and Performance Trends.’
( 32 page PDF)

Who'll solve the wind turbine supply crisis? (Who are the Names to Know?)

From ClimateChangeCorp:

Explosive growth in the demand for wind power has created a global waiting list for wind turbines. Chinese turbine companies may be part of the solution as they ramp up production and get ready to export....

...“It is difficult to predict exactly when the shortage will end – but by current indications, the new investments in the supply chain capacity, are likely to bear fruit in a couple of years,” says Vivek Kher, spokesman for Suzlon. “However, demand has been outstripping all projections and whether the enhanced capacities will actually stay in step with the demand is something time will tell.”...

...Goldwind, China’s largest wind turbine maker, raised $245 million through an Initial Public Offer (IPO) early this year to fund a huge expansion. LM Glassfiber of Denmark, which has a cooperation agreement with Goldwind, opened its second turbine blade factory in China in October last year.

Other major Chinese turbine makers – Sinovel, Windey, Dongfang, MingYang and HEC – are also expanding capacities and shopping for joint ventures and licensing agreements with global players.

China High, the country’s largest manufacturer of gearboxes – the most critical and complex part in a wind turbine – plans a four-fold increase in production in the next two years. The company is aiming to become one of the top three global manufacturers of gearboxes, with half of revenue coming from exports.

China High, which already supplies to GE, REpower, Nordex and Goldwind, raised $272 million through an IPO to fund massive expansion. The company is raising another $250 million through convertible bonds and plans to buy a special-steel plant to secure supplies and reduce costs. Special steel accounts for half the cost of gearboxes.

Among the foreign players, Germany’s Nordex – the fourth largest wind turbine maker in China – announced in November that it would quadruple production capacity to 800MW by 2011 to meet growing demand.

Currently, MingYang is China’s only turbine exporter. But in the next three to five years, the number of exporters is likely to grow as other firms aggressively expand and acquire technology. Foreign manufacturers may be scaling up their production in China, but in the longer term it is the emergence of Chinese turbine and component manufacturers that will probably change the global landscape of wind power.

Response from the big players....MUCH MORE

Climate-Bond Plan by UN Official Aims to Boost Energy Investing

A step toward securitization of CDM projects! Then we bring on the swaps and options! Packaged products! Slice'n dice the tranches! What a great time to be alive!

The United Nations is considering a new type of bond that would spur investment in clean-energy projects in the developing world.

The so-called climate bonds would be sold to investors by developing countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America, Yvo de Boer, the UN's top climate-change official, said in an interview yesterday from Bonn. Each security would finance projects designed to reduce greenhouse gases blamed for global warming. Mature bonds could be exchanged for credits that allow industrial plants to emit a certain amount of carbon gases, he said.

The UN runs the world's second-biggest greenhouse-gas credit market, valued at 11.7 billion euros ($18.3 billion) last year. The proposal would simplify the funding of windfarm and solar projects because each bond would group together multiple clean- energy projects. The plan would encourage investment in nations struggling to meet their renewable-energy targets, de Boer said.

``This is a mechanism that allows market players to engage without having to get involved in the nitty-gritty of projects,'' said de Boer...MORE

Lehman Recommends Pair Trades in Solar Stocks

Our second link today from Barron's Tech Trader Daily (I try to avoid dipping into the same stream* but in this case Tiernan Ray is the guy on top of the action):

In contrast to Merrill Lynch’s negative note on solar stocks today, Lehman Brothers analyst Vishal Shah says in his own note today that Germany’s tax burden as a result of subsidies for renewable energy is “not significant,”perhaps a fifth of a Euro per killowat hour per month on every bill, and of Germany’s total renewable energy burden, less than 20% is due to subsidies for solar, in particular. Moreover, Shah goes through a math to explain that if all existing supply of solar panels was sold into all subsidy markets in Europe, the total burden would come to about 7 to 9 billion Euros in 2010, up from per haps 2.8 billion Euros this year. That’s not that much, he concludes, given rising fuel costs. As for politics in Germany, Shah thinks “the probability of a proposal being passed [regarding subsidy reductions] is very low […] as none of the two largest alliances have dominant power in the Parliament.” And things could well drag on into September, he argues.

But how to trade all this is more complex....MORE

*You could not step twice into the same river; for other waters are ever flowing on to you.
-Heraclitus, Fragment 41; Quoted by Plato in Cratylus;


...No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he's not the same man....

From Wikiquote

Cramer’s Mad Money Wind Index (BWEN; KDN; MTZ; OC; OTTR; TRN)

From CNBC:

On Wednesday, Cramer unveiled what he’s calling the Mad Money Wind Index, or Windex. It’s a basket of 11 stocks that operate in his new favorite alternative-energy business, one he said could meet 30% of the U.S.’s demand by 2040.

Just to be clear, Cramer isn’t recommending any of these stocks. He’s just putting together the Windex as a gauge for what he calls a major up and coming trend. All of Cramer’s previous calls on wind power made the cut:...Go to CNBC for the list and video.

Barron's Weighs In on Merrill's Solar Sector Downgrades (AKNS; CY; ESLR; FSLR; SPWR; STP)

Our third post* of the day on this.
From Tech Trader Daily:

Shares of solar power technology firms are tanking following a note from Merrill Lynch analyst Mark Heller cutting his rating on SunPower (SPWR) and Evergreen Solar (ESLR) from “Neutral” to “Sell” because Germany’s government may cut subsidies for solar by as much as 25%. Subsidies are currently necessary to goose investment in solar power in many countries.

According to the Bloomberg account of things, Heller thinks analysts’ expectation of a 16% cut is too low. “An increasing number of politicians are advocating a bigger cut to the German solar subsidy due to the escalating cost,” Bloomberg quotes a Merrill analyst, Matthew Yates, as writing in the report. The note follows another note that came out yesterday from Calyon Securities analyst George Kotzias that claimed the escalating burden on taxpayers was prompting the German government to consider cutting the subsidy by 15%, according to the Associated Press. The US’s own investment tax credit is a looming issue for solar later this year and next....MORE

*German aid for solar power should fall 30 pct-CDU (ESLR; FSLR; KWT; LDK; SPWR; STP; TAN; TSL; YGE)

Merrill Lynch cuts Solar Sector (FSLR; SPWR)

High Oil Prices Eroding Asian Manufacturing Advantage

From Research Recap:
In addition to having a direct impact on inflation, current high oil prices have profound implications for world trade patterns, according to CIBC World Markets. The cost of shipping a standard 40-foot container from East Asia to the North American east coast has already tripled since 2000 and will double again as oil prices head towards $200 per barrel.

Exploding transport costs may soon remove the single most important brake on inflation over the last decade - wage arbitrage with China....MORE

German aid for solar power should fall 30 pct-CDU (ESLR; FSLR; KWT; LDK; SPWR; STP; TAN; TSL; YGE)

The stocks are down 5%, it's not like investors got hit by a bolt from the blue*.
From Reuters:

State support for solar energy should be cut by 30 percent in 2009, a senior member of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives said on Thursday....MORE

*Previous posts:
May 5-Eurochumps, no more? Germany's CDU proposes reduction of subsidies for solar energy (FSLR)

April 22-Report: Chinese solar cells swamping subsidized German market

April 9-Speculated incentives cut may spur solar-power system demand in Germany

All together now (this version is from 11Feb08):

...So I don't leave the wrong impression, let me put it plainly- I'm pro alternative energy.
I am also a pro investor.

Right now, alt-energy isn't economically viable. So you are dependent on politicians.
My problem is, years ago I got this fiduciary thing into my head and now I can't seem to shake it.

Investing in rent-seeking businesses takes on an added layer of risk.

It is more dangerous than other investments and you must:

a) be aware of when you are in one and
b) monitor the political landscape continuously and very closely.

I'll close with my standard quote, from Simon Cameron.
From our post on biofuels, March '07:
Finally for investors in rent-seeking organizations there is the real risk that the politicians will change the rules. Heed the words of Sen. Simon Cameron (R&D!-Pa.):
"The honest politician is one who when he is bought, will stay bought."

Our Hero
Simon Cameron

England's green and pricey land

From MoneyWeek:

It’s all doom and gloom in the British residential property market. By contrast, farmland values are rocketing at a record pace. In 2007 for example, prices rose by a whopping 25.3%, according to estate agency Knight Frank, posting the second-highest annual rise on record. As a result, an acre of farmland that only cost £3,000 three years ago can now fetch around £7,000, according to James Laing of Strutt & Parker.

But why has farmland – traditionally a money pit – suddenly soared in value? The obvious reason is the rising price of what is grown on it, including soft commodities such as wheat and corn. In addition, Irish and Danish farmers have helped to push prices up by buying British land in place of their own, which has now become too expensive....MORE

Indonesia to Withdraw from OPEC Due to High Oil Prices

From Bloomberg via Money Morning:

Indonesia, the sole Asian member of the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), will withdraw from the oil cartel at the end of this year.

Energy Minister Purnomo Yusgiantoro announced today (Wednesday) that he would sign a decree officially withdrawing Indonesia from OPEC when its membership expires at the end of 2008.

A member since 1962, Indonesia’s exports have been waning for years due to aging oil wells and a lack of infrastructure investment by the government. Oil production is down 49% from its 1977 peak. The country has now become a net importer of oil, Purnomo said.

"If production comes back to give us the status of net oil exporter then we can go back to OPEC," Purnomo said, speaking before the Jakarta Foreign Correspondents Club today, Bloomberg News reported....MORE

Is ecotech the new asbestos?

From Low-Tech Magazine:

What will remain of greentech, cleantech and ecotech if nanotechnology turns out to be harmful for humans and the environment?

It’s hard to keep track of the soon-to-be-implemented technological solutions that will solve our energy and environmental woes by means of nanotechnology – the science of manipulating individual atoms. Solar panels and batteries might be far from optimal solutions now, but nanomaterials will boost their efficiency and dramatically lower their costs. Transporting electricity from solar plants in deserts may not be possible yet, but nanotechnology will bring us cheap superconducting cables and efficient hydrogen storage. Unfortunately, more and more research indicates that nanomaterials might become a severe health problem and an environmental nightmare.


If one reads the news articles and press releases that promise a breathtaking advance in ecotech, one finds that all these claims rely on nanotechnoloy...

...All obstacles seem to disappear when 'nano-engineered titanate', 'buckyballs' and (especially) 'carbon nanotubes' are put to use.

This does not apply solely to:

  • batteries : "nanosafe's Li-ion cells using nano titanate structures instead of traditional graphite give the Lightning GT sports car an incredible 250-mile range, a full recharge time of only 10 minutes, and a life expectancy of 12 to 20 years" (another example here)
  • hydrogen : "nanoparticle coatings can boost the efficiency of electrolysis to 85 percent"
  • solar panels : "nanotechnology can improve the performance of solar panels with 60 percent" (another example here)

but to almost any green technology:

  • water desalination : "nanotube membranes could reduce the cost of desalination by 75 percent"
  • low-power computer chips : "the new approach can allow an eightfold increase in the number of transistors that can be squeezed onto a variety of programmable chips, while bringing savings in energy consumption"
  • energy efficiency : "nanotech heralds new era in heating, cooling and power generation"
  • ecopaint : "new pollution eating paint will clean the air"
  • self cleaning windows : "the product keeps windows clean from dirt and grime for up to two years - no harmful detergents needed"

A match made in heaven?

In fact, nanotech and ecotech have almost become synonyms. According to the British Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), nanotechnology could help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by up to 20 percent by 2050, with similar reductions in air pollution. Treehugger, one of the most influential eco-magazines on the internet, dubbed the combination environment - nanotechnology a "match made in heaven"....MUCH MORE

Great Britain: How two tiny glitches plunged 500,000 homes into the dark

From the Times of London:

Two relatively minor technical glitches within two minutes of each other triggered the most serious disruption to Britain’s energy supply network in more than 20 years this week.

But power industry insiders said that the shutdown, which led to blackouts in as many as 500,000 homes across the country on Tuesday, could have been even worse. “We could very easily have lost the whole system and it could have taken several days for it all to come back on,” one said.

Last night Ofgem, the power industry watchdog, threatened to start a full investigation. It said it had demanded a report from National Grid and would then decide how to proceed.

Ofgem was responding to claims that National Grid should have had sufficient spare capacity on hand to meet the loss in supply which followed unexpected shutdowns from two of Britain’s biggest power stations....MORE

As carbon market grows, law firms cash in

From the Boston Business Journal:

Local law firm Sullivan & Worcester LLP recently helped the Van Eck Forest Project in northern California -- where 2,200 acres of redwood trees will absorb 500,000 tons of carbon dioxide emissions over the next 100 years -- register those 500,000 tons of CO2 as carbon offset credits, the first ever in the state of California. The forest project administrators can, in turn, sell those credits.

"It was like found money," said John Graham, the tax attorney who handled the deal at Boston-based Sullivan & Worcester....MORE

Some of our previous posts on the topic:

Lawyers Embrace U.S. Climate Practice at $700 an Hour

Fighting climate change, one lawsuit at a time

Attention Attorneys: Hummer Tax Break on the Way Out (Maybe)

Lawyers preparing for explosion of climate-related work

Environmental law enters the era of global warming

Climate change offers business opportunities as a new law practice area

YUP. That's what the California Bar Journal used as their sub-head for this article.

An Orange Juice Strategy Ahead of Hurricane Season

From Inside Futures:

Hurricane season starts June 1, and I think a speculative bullish options trade in ICE orange juice futures is a seasonal strategy worth considering.

Last week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) predicted we’d see nine major hurricanes in the Atlantic region. If Florida is hit, we could see damage to the orange crop, and it’s been tight in the past few years due to dry weather and past storms. Florida is expected to harvest 168.5 million boxes of oranges this season, up from 129 million last year. One box of orange juice weighs about 90 pounds. Last year’s crop was at 17-year low, causing prices to rise. If we get weather problems like drought, the oranges are smaller.

And throwing the threat of hurricanes into the mix, I think a good strategy would be to consider buying January 2009 calls or a call spread. Argentina, a key exporter, is having problems with its current crop too. Its citrus production is expected to decline 21 percent this year because of a July frost that damaged blossoming trees, according to the U.S. Agriculture Department....MORE

Big Ethanol Pulls Out: Lehrer Says ‘News Hour’ Money Woes Are Worst Ever (ADM)

From the New York Times:

It has been a rough few weeks for “The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer” on PBS.

In late April, Mr. Lehrer, who turns 74 on Monday, had aortic valve replacement surgery. He said he was recovering nicely and expects to be back on the air toward the end of June. But the nightly newscast’s funding situation could take longer to heal.

In its 25 years on the air, “NewsHour” has had fallow budget periods, but none that equal the current one, Mr. Lehrer acknowledged. The financial squeeze was precipitated last summer when Archer Daniels Midland ended its 14-year sponsorship of the program. That sponsorship provided nearly $4 million (and some years as much as $7 million) of the program’s yearly budget, which varies from $26 million to $28 million....MORE

Pacific Ethanol’s Short-Lived Reprieve (PEIX)

From earth2tech:

For a few days there, things were starting to look up for Pacific Ethanol (PEIX).

Corn costs are surging. Demand is slack. And biofuels are being blamed for everything from toxic sludge to movie-ticket inflation. Pacific Ethanol, which recently suspended plans to build a new California plant, saw its stock drop 64 percent so far this year until it reported its first quarter earnings last week....MORE

Merrill Lynch cuts Solar Sector (FSLR; SPWR)

From Notable Calls:

SunPower (NASDAQ:SPWR) & Evergreen Solar (NASDAQ:ESLR) get cut to Sell from Neutral.

First Solar (NASDAQ:FSLR) tgt cut to $325 from $360. Maintains Buy.

German ruling CDU party says State support for solar power should fall by 30% in 2009 -- Reuters

I dont think that's right. only Evergreen was downgraded today.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

USDA National Weather and Crop Report: May 27, 2008

Nutshell: Cold where stuff grows, hot where it don't.

Highlights: Cool weather plagued the Midwestern and Northeastern States, holding weekly temperatures 4 to 12 degrees F below normal and limiting summer crop emergence and development. In addition, showers hampered fieldwork across the southern half of the Corn Belt, but mostly dry weather favored corn and soybean planting in the Great Lakes region.

Farther west, heavy rain pounded the northern and central Plains, with at least 4 inches reported in many locations from Montana to Kansas. Although rain generally aided the Plains’ winter wheat and emerged summer crops, thunderstorms produced local damage due to large hail, high winds, and isolated tornadoes. In fact, more than 100 tornadoes struck the central Plains on May 22-23, according to preliminary reports, followed by approximately 50 tornadoes from the southern High Plains into the upper Midwest on May 25. Meanwhile, warm weather promoted rapid crop development across the South, although showers—mainly from the Delta to the southern Atlantic Coast—caused some delays in cotton and peanut planting and other late-spring fieldwork. In southern Florida, however, rain aided wildfire containment efforts.

Heat was especially notable in Texas, where temperatures mostly ranged from 4 to 8 degrees F above normal. In contrast, chilly weather returned to the West, accompanied by widespread rain and snow. Precipitation was particularly heavy in the northern Rockies, while showers across the interior Northwest aided winter grains and spring-sown crops. On May 22-23, snow was reported as far south as Arizona, where Flagstaff received 5 inches.

Early in the week, hot weather persisted in the West. In California, Death Valley’s high of 120 degrees F on May 19 represented its hottest weather on record so early in the season. Previously, Death Valley’s earliest reading of 120 degrees F or higher occurred on May 25, 1913. In fact, Death Valley opened the week with three consecutive daily-record highs (118, 120, and 117 degrees F) from May 18-20, along with Arizona locations such as Yuma (113, 115, and 112 degrees F) and Kingman (99, 103, and 100 degrees F)....

The National Agricultural Summary begins on page 3 of the 13 page PDF.

GE Stock Lower Than Sept. 10, 2001 Close; Immelt Buys Some (GE)

Monday, September 10, 2001 was the day that Mr. Immelt took over at GE. The stock closed that day at a split adjusted $32.86. It is trading at $30.33 as I type.
Here's the stock purchase story, from 24/7 Wall Street:
Chairman of General Electric Co. (NYSE: GE), Jeff Immelt, has made another vote of confidence in the stock today. In transactions listed with a trade date of TODAY May 28, 2008, the filing with the SEC shows that Immelt purchased some 115,000 shares at prices between $30.59 to $30.66. At a mid-point, this represents roughly $3.52 Million worth of stock....MORE

T. Boone Pickens has Wind and Gas (CLNE)

I'm a bit surprised that Green Wombat didn't ask about Mr. Pickens' publicly traded company, Clean Energy Fuels, Inc. (Nasdaq: CLNE)
From Fortune:

...For Pickens, wind is key to weaning the U.S. from the petrol pump. “The only transportation fuel we have in the U.S. to replace oil is natural gas,” he said.

Here’s how it would work, according to Perkins. Replace the natural gas power plants that generate about a quarter of the electricity in the United States with wind farms. Use the freed-up natural gas to power cars, trucks and other vehicles. “We could reduce oil imports by 38 percent,” Pickens declared....

Here are some factoids about CLNE, going back to the May '07 $12.00 IPO.

Recent press releases:

April 24-Clean Energy Signs Fueling Contract for City of Las Vegas Transit Fleet

April 29-Clean Energy Brings Natural Gas to the Golden Gate

May 6-Clean Energy Signs LNG Fueling Contract for City of Fresno Municipal Refuse Fleet

May 12-Clean Energy to Fuel Brookhaven, NY Municipal Waste Fleet

Here's the May 15 Clean Energy Fuels Corp. Q1 2008 Earnings Call Transcript

First Trust Registers Wind ETF

UPDATE II: Here's the good stuff
The ETF is trading NYSE Arca, symbol FAN, more here

Here's the registration at the SEC:
The Fund seeks investment results that correspond generally to the price and
yield (before the Fund's fees and expenses) of an equity index called the ISE
Global Wind Energy Index.

The Fund will normally invest at least 90% of its assets in common stocks that
comprise the Index or in depositary receipts that may include American
Depositary Receipts ("ADRs"), Global Depositary Receipts ("GDRs"), European
Depositary Receipts ("EDRs"), New York shares or global shares (collectively
"Depositary Receipts") representing securities in the Index. The Fund may invest
the remainder of its assets in securities not included in the Index, but which
First Trust believes will help the Fund track its Index. First Trust will seek
to match the performance of the Index (before the Fund's fees and expenses). The
investment objective and the 90% investment strategy are non-fundamental
policies of the Fund and require 60 days' prior written notice to shareholders
before they can be changed. The Board of Trustees of the Trust may change
non-fundamental policies without receiving shareholder approval.

The Fund, using an "indexing" investment approach, attempts to replicate, before
fees and expenses, the performance of the Index. First Trust seeks a correlation
over extended periods of 0.95 or better (before fees and expenses) between the
Fund's performance and the performance of the Index; a figure of 1.00 would
represent perfect correlation. First Trust will regularly monitor the Fund's
tracking accuracy and will use the investment techniques described below in
seeking to maintain an appropriate correlation....

GE To Slash Water Use 20 Percent

No word on whether Celine Dion can get her house to under Five Million Gallons per Year.
From the Huffington Post:

General Electric Co. will cut its global water use by 20 percent over five years, CEO Jeff Immelt said Wednesday.

The Fairfield, Conn.-based company said it used 10 billion gallons of fresh water in 2006 for cooling towers and other manufacturing processes.

GE is also raising the sales target for a three-year-old initiative to promote environmentally friendly technology, Immelt said.

"We believe just like greenhouse gas emissions have been a big societal challenge, the same thing is true for water," Immelt said at a news conference in the Chinese capital. "We are committed to using our technology both inside and outside the company to reduce our water consumption by 20 percent by the year 2012."

GE sales of energy efficient, water saving and pollution reducing products and services exceeded $14 billion in 2007, Immelt said.

GE will now re-evaluate its worldwide water usage, Immelt said, and cut water usage by about 1.8 billion gallons a year.

GE's previous revenue target for its "ecoimagination" initiative was for $20 billion in annual sales by 2010. Immelt said the company is now raising that target to $25 billion due to the success of the initiative....MORE

Water: Celine Dion Uses 6,500,000 Gallons Per Year

You have got to be kidding me.
From Heckler Spray:

Celine Dion and water go way back - let’s not forget that her biggest hit was about the tragic watery deaths of 1,517 people in the freezing North Atlantic.

So with a relationship like that, you’d think that Celine Dion would be allowed to use as much water as she liked. Celine Dion certainly thinks so - she’s been singled out as the biggest consumer of water in her Florida county, using 6.5 million gallons in a year.

To put that in perspective, Celine Dion used enough water to fill a 50-gallon bathtub every four minutes, day and night, for 12 months solid. It sounds a lot, but Celine Dion actually drinks every one of those 6.5 gallons of water so that she can stay hydrated when she cries about all the sad people in Africa, which she does a lot.

Ask a celebrity what they’re most concerned about, and they’ll say “the environment.” They’re lying, of course - what they’re really thinking is “you know what I’d like? A pony made out of GLITTER!” but at least they’re giving off the impression that they care....MORE

NRG's Attempt to Steal Calpine (CPN; NRG)

From the Kinnaras Capital blog:

After the market closed on May 21, Harbinger Capital Partners (“Harbinger”) revealed that Calpine Corp. (“CPN” or the “Company”), of which Harbinger owns 24%, received an offer from NRG Energy Inc. (“NRG”) that valued CPN at roughly $11.3B or $22.60 per share. This represents a paltry premium to CPN’s current share price and investors should realize this move is simply an attempt by NRG to steal the Company from investors who may have difficulty in assessing how valuable the reorganized CPN and its fleet of power generating assets will be.

Unfortunately, Harbinger appears willing to sell CPN sooner rather than later. Harbinger holds a significant chunk of the Company’s warrants which expire in August. In order for those warrants to generate value for Harbinger, CPN stock must exceed $23.88 by August 25th.

Second, since Harbinger was involved in the reorganization of CPN, its cost basis for the common shares it owns is probably extremely low, making a sale in the $24 range more than acceptable. In addition, SPO Advisory Corp. (“SPO”), which owns 15% (or more) of CPN appears to be aligned with Harbinger which means nearly 40% or more of the shares is controlled by these two entities. This would be similar to Harbinger’s push to sell Northwestern Energy one it emerged from bankruptcy a few years ago. Nonetheless, discussing why NRG’s offer makes little sense for those that did not receive shares through debt for equity swaps may help sway the remaining investors and Board....MUCH MORE

Applied Materials and First Solar: Jim Cramer Likes Both (AMAT; FSLR)

If I were FSLR I'd be looking over my shoulder. One of the world's finest technology companies ready to set up competitors in three months. "Here at InstaSolar we believe..."
From Barron's Tech Trader Daily:

Is serious competition coming to solar panel darlings First Solar (FSLR) and SunPower (SPWR)? The two’s shares traded down today after a note from Friedman, Billings, Ramsey analyst Mehdi Hosseini stated that a customer of equipment maker Applied Materials (AMAT) was able to build a panel factory in three months’ time using Applied’s tools, according to the Associated Press, signalling that Applied could boost supply in the market, which could conceivably spell sharper competition for First Solar and SunPower. (As an astute reader pointed out, Hosseini last week downgraded First Solar on margin concerns.)...

...“Applied’s customers are attempting to make a similar thin film solution to First Solar’s that is applicable to the same end market,” he noted, “But First Solar is producing higher efficiencies than Applied on an R&D basis.” By which he means First Solar’s conversion rate is 10.5%, versus the “mid to high single digits” for the technology that Applied enables, he says. It’s hard to know how to gauge the success of Applied’s customers, furthermore, before they start producing finished product, said Hardy....MORE


...LDK Solar (LDK - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr): "It's done well without me. I like First Solar (FSLR - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) and Applied Materials (AMAT - Cramer's Take - Stockpickr) and I'm sticking with those."...

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Solar: Applied Materials up as technology is demonstrated (AMAT)

From the AP via Forbes:

Shares of Applied Materials Inc., which makes equipment for producing thin-film polysilicon, rose Tuesday after it demonstrated it could rapidly build manufacturing capacity for a key solar energy customer.

Applied Materials (nasdaq: AMAT) completed a thin-film polysilicon manufacturing facility for Signet Solar Inc. near Dresden, Germany, in three months, Friedman, Billings, Ramsey analyst Mehdi Hosseini said Tuesday in a client note.

On Friday, Signet Solar announced the production - using the newly built Applied Materials facility - of a thin-film polysilicon module that is about seven times larger than the average size....MORE

Why We Like Applied Materials even though it's down 2%. And Warren Buffett Stops By (AMAT; BRK.A)

Pie Throwers Accuse YouTube Of Censorship

Here's a serious misunderstanding of censorship. All these guys have to do is create a platform that is faster, better and cheaper than YouTube and voilà! The internet is yours baby. Or get a blog.
From WebProNews:

Want to be taken seriously, too

A—which adjective goes with this group…radical? Extremist? Keystone-Koppish?—12 Monkeys-esque environmental group called The Greenwash Guerillas have accused YouTube of censoring a video of them throwing pies at Pulitzer Prize-winning author Thomas Friedman....

... The Greenwash Guerillas, angered by Friedman's "neo-liberal"* stances, particularly in relation to environmental issues, ambushed Friedman at Brown University before he was to give a speech on Earth Day. They threw green whipped-cream pies at him, a move that pretty much ended the speech, and they tossed fliers to the crowd that read, “On behalf of the earth and all true environmentalists – we, the Greenwash Guerillas, declare Thomas Friedman’s ‘Green’ as fake . . . as the cool-whip covering his face.”

Give them a break. They didn't have piles of Al Gore cash to spend on messaging. They only got him on the arm, anyway.

"We sought to expose the hypocrisy of allowing Friedman, who is known for his influential support of U.S. wars for oil in the Middle East, to call himself an environmentalist,” said Brown University student and Greenwash Guerrilla Margaree Little, who was apprehended while "Colonel Custard" scampered away from authorities. "[Friedman] has blood on his hands that no amount of 'green' can wash away.">>>MORE

Every adult in Britain should be forced to carry 'carbon ration cards', say MPs

I thought this idea was dead*. Maybe not.
From the Daily Mail:

Every adult should be forced to use a 'carbon ration card' when they pay for petrol, airline tickets or household energy, MPs say.

The influential Environmental Audit Committee says a personal carbon trading scheme is the best and fairest way of cutting Britain's CO2 emissions without penalising the poor.

Under the scheme, everyone would be given an annual carbon allowance to use when buying oil, gas, electricity and flights....

...But critics say the idea is costly, bureaucratic, intrusive and unworkable....MORE

Other than that...

*This May 8 BBC story is why I'm confused:

Carbon trading scheme ruled out

The government has ruled out a nationwide carbon trading scheme to reduce emissions, describing the idea as "ahead of its time".

Under a 2006 plan, every adult would receive an annual carbon "allowance", with those not using their allocation selling surpluses to those using more.

But a government report said the scheme would cost up to £2 billion to set up and seemed like a "big brother" idea...

Seriously, other than that.

Sex With Nazis*: Paris during Nazi occupation was ‘one big romp’

And what, gentle reader asks warily, is the climate and/or money connection?
From the Times of London:

...“It is a taboo subject, a story nobody wants to hear,” said Patrick Buisson, author of 1940-1945 Années Erotiques (“erotic years”). “It may hurt our national pride, but the reality is that people adapted to occupation.”

Many might prefer to forget but, with their husbands in prison camps, numerous women slept not only with German soldiers – the young “blond barbarians” were particularly attractive to French women, says Buisson – but also conducted affairs with anyone else who could help them through financially difficult times: “They gave way to the advances of the boss, to the tradesman they owed money to, their neighbour. In times of rationing, the body is the only renewable, inexhaustible currency.”

Cold winters, when coal was in short supply, and a curfew from 11pm to 5am also encouraged sexual activity, says Buisson, with the result that the birth rate shot up in 1942 even though 2m men were locked up in the camps....

*No, not Max Mosley:

Nazi prostitute orgy: Mosley vows to stay on as motor racing chief

Oil Bubble? The Debate Rages

This will be the last post on the topic (today).
From the Wall Street Journal's Real Time Economics blog:

In the latest Outlook column, the Journal’s Justin Lahart looks at the debate over whether oil prices are experiencing a bubble.

It is far from clear that the first part of the bubble definition — prices in excess of their fundamental value — is in place. But the second part — that people are buying in anticipation of selling at a higher price — certainly is. Speculation has long played a role in the commodities markets, but in recent years it has become much larger.

The traditional role of the commodity-futures markets was to allow players such as farmers and oil refiners to hedge against unexpected price swings. Now, more institutional investors are wading into commodity markets to invest, rather than hedge.

Hedge-fund manager Michael Masters told a U.S. Senate committee last week that institutional investors “are one of, if not the primary, factors affecting commodities prices today.”>>>Much More, including 101 comments.

Today's posts:

Soros: Skyrocketing Oil Prices a Bubble

John Authers: Speculators & Oil Price Spikes

A Different Take on Speculators and Oil

A Different Take on Speculators and Oil

We ref'd. Michael Masters testimony before the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs committee in a couple posts last week:

Commodity Prices: Hedge Fund says it's University Endowments and Pension Funds

Oil Prices: Are Pension Funds Fueling High Oil Prices

Here's The Mess That Greenspan Made arguing:

Fun with the Michael Masters report

Among many other things that Michael Masters might have you believe is that soaring commodity prices are somehow unprecedented in history. The chart below was an integral part of his congressional testimony (.pdf) last week when he asserted that institutional investors "are one of, if not the primary, factors affecting commodities prices today."...continued (with charts)

John Authers: Speculators & Oil Price Spikes

From The Big Picture:

"Speculation appears to be changing the way commodity markets work. A debate is needed and changes to regulations may be justified. But speculators cannot take all the blame for the price spike.">>>Go here for the video.

On The Recession Watch: More Drivel From Greenspan. And: Greenspan: More 'talking head' opinion on recession

Two remarkably similar takes on Greenspan talking his book in the Financial Times.
The first headline belongs to this 24/7 Wall Street story.
The second goes with this Blogging Stocks post.

Our last comment on Greenspan was a sentence in "Greenspan Helped Pimco Make Billions, Gross Says":
The guy should be consulting from inside a federal prison.

If that wasn't direct enough, we wrote "Alan Greenspan: Competent Criminal or Criminally Incompetant?", complete with a great guitar version of Joplin's "The Entertainer".

Here are a couple more:
"Allen Greenspan WTF"
"Allen Greenspan, Worth Civils and the Wall Street Energy Roundup"

Soros: Skyrocketing Oil Prices a Bubble

A cogent and succinct discussion.
I'm going to lift (rather than Hat Tip).
From Naked Capitalism:

Veteran investor George Soros, in an interview with the Telegraph, describes speculation as a significant factor in the recent spike in oil prices. However, he doesn't expect prices to break until there are signs of economic weakening. Later in the post, I'll provide some information that suggests how traditional supply/demand forces could have been swamped by the volume of futures trading.

First, from the Telegraph:
Speculators are largely responsible for driving crude prices to their peaks in recent weeks and the record oil price now looks like a bubble, George Soros has warned....

...Now let's consider how Soros' argument might be correct. In general, the notion that spot prices accurately reflect supply an demand is a bit overdone. As Matthew Simmons noted in 1998:
In our opinion…prices over the short-term tell us nothing about the supply and demand fundamentals for oil. Rather than being a perfect indicator for the fundamentals, price is a perfect indicator for the psychology of a small number of funds.

There are two arguments made against the speculation thesis. One is arbitrage: if oil was too high, someone would go short the future and buy oil in the cash market cheaper, and earn the arbitrage profit.

The problem with that logic is that price discovery happens in the futures markets; there isn't another venue for setting the price and thus arbitraging it against futures. Worse, a substantial amount of that trading is either over the counter (hence not reported to US futures regulators) or on the ICE exchange in London (ditto)....MORE

Friday, May 23, 2008

We'll See You Tuesday...

Whether you're a first time visitor or an old-timer, thanks for stopping by.
We've put up an average of ten posts per day of things that caught our eye, for fifteen months.
If you're curious about a topic, use the "Search Blog" box.
Some of the more popular searches this month:

Warren Buffett
Boone Pickens

I read somewhere that America is not a country, it's an idea, that a free people can govern themselves to better effect than rulers or elites or bureaucrats, tyrants and cabals.
Sometimes I wonder (knowing that I am a benevolent despot) if we wouldn't be better off with a revolution* or two but as long as more folks are trying to get in than get out, I'll bow to the will of the people.

This being the Memorial Day weekend:

"To see men without clothes to cover their nakedness, without blankets to lie upon, without shoes ... without a house or hut to cover them until those could be built, and submitting without a murmur, is a proof of patience and obedience which, in my opinion, can scarcely be paralleled."
-George Washington at Valley Forge,
April 21, 1778

Washington at Valley Forge

Gettysburg dead

Image, Source: digital file from b&w film copy neg.

W. Eugene Smith's iconic photo of Amy soldier
Angelo Klonis, cigarette clenched between his
lips, illustrates the cover of LIFE book, World War II

The Marlboro Marine

Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times

Every now and then it's good to count your blessings.

*Or crank up "

Be safe out there, we'll be back next week.