The bust has already sent oil prices tumbling, but here’s a shocking headline from Bloomberg: Options contracts are pointing to $50 a barrel oil by the end of the year. Crude was at more than $147 just three months ago.
That’s good for the economy short-term, but long-term it will keep us tethered to foreign oil supplies and gas-guzzling cars longer than we would have with expensive oil. The Washington Post is good on that:
“Declining oil prices can give us an artificial and temporary sense that reducing oil consumption and energy consumption is an issue we can put off,” said Greg Kats, a managing director of Good Energies, a multibillion-dollar venture capital firm that invests in global clean energy.
The credit crisis is compounding that threat by making it more difficult to finance capital-intensive projects, whether they are new auto assembly lines or solar panels or wind turbines. General Motors has been touting the Chevy Volt as the first mass-marketed, plug-in hybrid vehicle. GM, which has been holding merger talks with Chrysler, believes the project will help justify federal financing. It hopes to deliver the car by the end of 2010.
The Journal chimes in on the effect on renewable-energy companies. It ain’t pretty.
In the past three months, global renewable-energy stocks tracked by New Energy Finance, a London-based consultancy, have dropped about 45%, compared with a 23% decline in the Dow Jones Industrial Average over the same period.
The sector’s problems have been compounded by the skid in oil prices to below $70 a barrel last week from more than $147 in July. The sudden reversal in crude prices has removed — at least temporarily — a key rationale for investors to pump billions of dollars into alternative fuels, industry analysts say.
The result: At least in the short term, a slew of projects from palm-oil-based biodiesel plants in Indonesia and Malaysia to wind farms and solar projects across the U.S. and Europe may not be able to get funding.
The Journal’s Heard on the Street column says “the race to the bottom on regulation is over” and suggests that the U.S. beef up its regulatory system to maintain financial supremacy. It notes it’s the opposite argument from what Henry Paulson was making not so long ago:
Two years ago this month, Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson was talking about how the regulatory pendulum “may have swung too far” in the wake of corporate scandals earlier this decade.
Mr. Paulson’s fear: That overly burdensome regulation would make U.S. capital markets less innovative and competitive globally. If only.
As investors now know, stunningly ineffective regulation led to the biggest credit bubble ever. Its implosion has resulted in the nationalization of swaths of the financial system. Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez has taken to calling Mr. Paulson’s boss “Comrade Bush.”
So it shouldn’t come as a surprise that whoever succeeds Mr. Paulson will need to view competent regulation as a competitive advantage, not an albatross. This will be especially important in bond markets, where global investors will choose between instruments backed by a variety of government guarantees. Clearly, a country’s financial strength, along with prospects for its currency, will be important factors.
But investors will also have to consider which countries can best back up guarantees with regulatory oversight that minimizes chances of unexpected losses.
The Washington Post is keeping an eye on some key dates in the credit-default swap market, which has exacerbated the financial crisis. Problem is, since the system is completely unregulated and opaque, nobody really knows where to watch.
Potentially, hundreds of billions of dollars of these contracts are coming due.
But it’s unclear which firms are on the hook, how much they’re on for, and whether they can pay. Firms do not have to disclose whether they hold these contracts, called credit-default swaps. So there’s no way to know whether the contracts will be settled smoothly, or whether they will set off a cascade of losses in markets that already have been pushed to the brink…
“If there are other large concentrations of CDS outstanding, we don’t know about it,” said Robert Bliss, a finance professor at Wake Forest University and a former economic adviser to the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. “But who would have thought AIG, a plain-vanilla insurance company, suddenly was going to get blown up by CDS?”