Friday, February 20, 2009

Oil Yes, Financials No

The 'Helicopter Economics Investing Guide' is meant to help educate people on how to make profitable investing choices in the current economic environment. In addition to the term helicopter economics, we have also coined the term, helicopternomics, to describe the current monetary and fiscal policies of the U.S. government and to update the old-fashioned term wheelbarrow economics.

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Suddenly, oil inventories in Cushing, Oklahoma dropped by 200,000 barrels yesterday instead of increasing by 3.5 million barrels that industry 'experts' predicted. While I have predicted that this would happen in this blog and stated so at a class given this Tuesday by the New York Investing meetup, I was a lone voice in the wilderness. Before the news came out, oil ETFs were making new lows as were many financial stocks. While superficially oil and the financials looks like major bargains, only oil should be assumed to be so.

When the 'surprise' (only a surprise to people who get their information from the mass media) news came out that oil stocks had declined, the March contract for Light Sweet Crude jumped $4.86 to close at $39.48. April, which will be the front month after today, closed at $40.18. Anecdotal reports indicate supply is drying up, but you will not see any coverage of this in the American press, other than in relationship to OPEC. For those who are unaware of it (and this presumably includes all reporters on energy topics), every oil and gas lease in the United States contains a term that the producer can stop pumping if the prices aren't high enough. Based on the behavior of the oil futures, which have jumped back to the $40 level over and over again, the market is telling us a price under $40 a barrel just isn't sustainable.

Nevertheless, the coverage in the media today is once again the same old (off-key) song. You will see quotes like, "It was a significant move last night, but there's not much out there that can create a bullish story" . And the reason for this is, "The demand outlook is very weak, and there's nothing to suggest that it will improve in the near term." There is no analysis of the supply side of the equation, despite the news out of Cushing, Oklahoma yesterday. Supply dropping faster than demand is indeed a bullish story. The same reporters who know nothing about how the oil industry functions, also seem to have forgotten to take high school economics. The current coverage of oil is an excellent example of why the average investor who gets his or her (mis)information from the mass media can't make money in the markets.

While oil had a big pop up yesterday, financials hit their lows in many cases and remained at those levels. Citigroup fell to 2.50, Wells Fargo to 11.94 and Amex to 12.74. Bank of America dropped as low as 3.86, only a tinge above its low of 3.77. Collapsing financials led the market down and helped the Dow close at a six-year low. The possibility of a Swedish style bailout of the big banks is becoming more of a reality. This would wipe out the equity holders completely (which include every major pension fund in the United States as well as Wall Street insiders) and has been resisted for that reason. While there is a risk of losing everything if you buy financial stocks, no such risk exists with oil. All commodities have a minimal price which is the cost of production. The minimal price for a troubled stock however is zero.

NEXT: Stocks/Oil Trying to Bottom, Gold at Resistance

Daryl Montgomery
Organizer,New York Investing meetup

This posting is editorial opinion. Like all other postings for this blog, there is no intention to endorse the purchase or sale of any security.


Anonymous said...

Any comments on the WSJ article today about CPI rising .2% in Jan??

New York Investing meetup said...

There will be blog on this in the future. The PPI was also postive. Once the price of oil goes up they will become very positive.