The Room 2/11/08

Dear Readers,

Good morning! And welcome to this edition of The Room!

If that salutation suggests a certain snap in my step, well, you'd be right.

After all, one can't let one's attitude be overly colored by the gloom and pessimism now stalking the land.

No, this is America... or, at least that is the turf upon which my own chair is currently parked. And no matter how bad things may be, they are, on the whole, no better or worse than those of most other places.

In fact, America has some significant commercial advantages over many countries, especially those which aspire to provide their citizenry a nest of perfect comfort in all the important ways, including semi-permanent employment. "You hire them, you retire them" is a phrase you might hear down at town hall in much of the world.

Not in the ol' U.S. of A. No siree. In those cases where management makes a major flub or reaches too far for the annual bonus and, in so doing, accidentally flips on the Equity Value Death Laser Model 2000-X, you need hardly wait for the minute hand to travel a single rotation before the guillotines are dragged out of storage.

Since July 2007, for instance, Countrywide has held going-away parties (however muted) for 11,000 employees. Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan have both bid farewell to 1,000 of their former stalwarts, with announcements that more will follow once they can afford to buy the requisite pink paper on which to print the traditional "so long and thanks for all the memories" notes.

Meanwhile, Lehman Brothers escorted 3,750 of its less close family members to the door, and Citigroup has begun trimming its rolls, a process by which its alumni will, it is reported, increase by 20,000.

The list goes on and on. In fact, according to the bean counters down at the Department of Labor Statistics, at least 1,408,852 people lost their jobs in 2007 (through November), due to mass layoffs... a 6% increase from 2006. Of that total, many were formerly involved with the building trades which, alone, have lost 284,000 workers since employment in that feast-or-famine sector peaked in September of 2006.

And, I need not remind you that the neck-chopping is just getting started.

While it is, of course, unpleasant to be one of those looking down into the basket while the hooded man finishes his preparations, it is this ability - and willingness - to view the common laborer as something of a disposable item that allows America to bounce back so quickly after periods of economic adversity.

Friend of long standing, Bill Bonner, wrote an excellent piece in his always worthwhile Daily Reckoning (dailyreckoning.com) earlier this week in which he commented:

Americans misunderstood the nature of capitalism itself. It is not an "economic system" that makes people automatically richer. It is a moral system... a system that rewards virtue and punishes error. You don't get richer because of Free Enterprise. Indeed, as the economic history of the last quarter-century shows, you can get poorer. The market system merely provides the setting in which you get what you deserve. You could get rich - if you were to do the right thing: work hard, save your money, innovate, take chances, forgo consumption. But do the wrong thing... and you will pay for it.
Bill is, in my view, right on the money.

 

1202743005-Gore Now, please, make no mistake. I would race even a humanitarian on the scale of Al Gore to be the first to pull the lever on any magic machine that reliably delivered on the promise of effortless wealth, health and happiness to all humankind. Sadly, such a machine does not exist.

(And, yes, that is a photo of Al Gore, taken at the recent Davos gala... if you ask me, he has been personally sequestering too many carbon units of late.)

And so we are left with only one economic model that has been proven to actually provide the most benefit to the most people over any period of time: capitalism.

In fact, if you think about it, pure capitalism is really just a continuum of the world's first discernable economic model; "survival of the fittest."

While previously success was gained through skill with the club or at throwing rocks accurately, in the modern-day iteration, the successful are those who understand how to effectively run a business, or know how to make themselves particularly valuable to their employer.

(There is another class of individuals which one has to begrudgingly credit as successful these days; the bureaucrats and other parasitic professions. They understand how to tap into the communal lifeblood and, once entrenched, sink barbs into the body politic to assure they cannot be ejected until they leave of their own free will, a lifelong pension in hand. Their long-term survival, however, is questionable... because they propagate so quickly that, over time, they risk killing the host, or being chased out of their jobs by workers brandishing torches and pitchforks.)

The data continues to confirm that we are headed into a deepening crisis here, which means that unemployment, the first whiffs of which we have now smelled, will only grow worse. In some countries, the economic pain will be deep and dragged out by well-meaning but misguided policies.

In the U.S., however, the odds are relatively good that after the brush fire burns through, the businesses will remain standing, albeit with much lighter attendance at the Friday morning pep talk, ready to pick up the pieces and get smartly back to work.

But it is time to prepare for the brush fire.

How bad could it get? In my view, and the view of most of us here at Casey Research, while the risk is certainly there, the odds remain long against widespread soup lines. If for no other reason than that if you overlay the economic happenings of the last 300 years with the number of months where soup line-level economic havoc has been the order of the day, it quickly becomes clear that massive meltdowns are statistically very rare in the more established economies.

Yet, though rare, the historical record is equally clear that they do happen.

Given the degree of uncertainty just now, it is not unreasonable to take a little time to examine your current circumstances. Do you own some gold bullion to provide protection against a serious crisis? Have you taken steps to offset losses in other areas - and hopefully pull down nest-padding profits - by building a portfolio of quality gold stocks? Are you able to raise a bit more cash "just in case"?

As importantly, are you trying a bit harder to look after your health? Cutting back on the snacks, a little more exercise? Having a health crisis in the middle of a financial crisis would be the very definition of unfortunate.

As well, if you are still in the work force, it is worth taking steps to improve your personal value as an entrepreneur or an employee. On that topic, longer-term readers know that while in my late teens I discovered, with full credit to Earl Nightingale for the revelation, the fountain of wealth: studying a topic you care about one hour a day, just like a college student studies their books.

If you work for a company, how much do you think you could learn about your company and its competition by studying just one hour a day, even after only a few months? Think your new-found knowledge would impress the boss? Darn right it would.

Or, if you are in a dead-end job, or suspect you may be one of those soon to be led to the guillotines, now is a good time to begin studying something that might help you in your next career. The secret is that it must be a subject you are passionate about. Follow your heart, and the money and your life satisfaction will follow.

As a personal aside, in recent weeks, I have turned my daily studies to electronic marketing media - an area that has the advantage of being helpful to almost any business, or anyone with entrepreneurial aspirations. (If you think you might benefit from that same course of studies, there are many good websites where useful, and free, information on the topic is available. One of the best I have come across is marketingexperiments.com.)

Oh, and since we're on that topic, I'd like to mention that we are looking for an experienced marketing director to help us spread the word about Casey Research... just drop me a résumé at David@caseyresearch.com.

But, back on topic, while it is my style and temperament to comment on the world with a lighter tone, make no mistake that I feel very strongly for those whose life's travails have left them unsatisfied, financially or emotionally. You can let it get you down, or you can set your jaw against the challenge and get down to work.

There are, per Bill's comments above, no guarantees built into a capitalist system... other than, one would hope, a guarantee that you get to play on a more or less level playing field. Regretfully, in modern-day America, the system has been substantially degraded by a legislative system that is willing and able to meddle in literally any aspect of life, or bestow almost any grant, opening the door for businesses and their lobbying organizations to influence legislation in much the same way I can get my old dog General to beg by holding up a piece of ham.

In the final analysis, each of us has to look after ourselves and our loved ones. If you look to the government, which is bankrupt beyond all possible repair at this point, to provide you with your retirement, or to assure that the safety net remains intact, you will be setting yourself up for steady disappointment and a life that fails to provide anything more than the barest of necessities, if that.

What Futures Markets Are Saying About Interest Rates and the Economy

By Bud Conrad

The combined effect of a slowing economy and the Fed cutting its rate to stimulate has caused the expectation for 3-month dollar-denominated investments called Eurodollars to drop in 2008 to below 2.5%, but then to rise into the future. (Despite the name, this has nothing to do with the euro currency).

1202742927-3monthRate
[click to enlarge]

I interpret this to reflect a slowing in the economy through 2008, but that then the inflation will pick up, and investors will require higher rates to cover that inflation. It is part of recognizing that the Fed cuts rates by providing more liquidity. The result is that in the short run rates drop, but in the longer run inflation returns and rates have to rise to cover that inflation.

Making Money in a Crisis

In the current edition of the International Speculator, we provide a list of ETFs you can use to play the current financial crisis.

But, as Bud Conrad points out, it is really not that hard to find successful investments if you open your eyes and use logic. And, I would add, if you understand the various instruments available to you to act on these opportunities.

For example, it's no secret to anyone that the housing construction industry is in a slump.

So, what material is widely used in the building of most houses? The answer, lumber, is obvious.

As you might expect, therefore, and as is demonstrated in the chart just below, lumber prices have fallen along with the activity in the building sector.

1202742927-Lumber
[click to enlarge]

According to Bud, who is well versed in the futures markets...

"If you were to play the futures markets, you could have bought a contract for 110,000 board feet of 2"x4" priced at $217/1,000 ft. The contract is worth $23,000. The $90 price drop shown in the chart represents a profit of 900 points, which you multiply by $11 per board feet = almost $10,000. As the initial margin is $1,650, your returns could have been roughly 700% over a six-month period."

Of course, futures markets can swing both ways, and steeply so, and so should only be approached after a great deal of hard research and paper trading. Options trading, while also risky, offers the advantage of high leverage, but with identifiable and limited risk. Taking the time to learn more about options can also pay off, but again, be careful only to invest with money you can afford to lose.

Ed. Note: At the risk of being perceived as cementing a reputation for being crassly commercial, I am compelled to mention that, in addition to giving other profit-making ideas, options specialist Robert Meier of the RMB Group will be presenting a workshop on the right - and wrong - ways to use options at our upcoming Crisis & Opportunity Summit in beautiful Scottsdale, AZ on March 25, 26 & 27. If you are planning to attend, you'll need to register within the next seven days because there are only about 20 seats remaining. The secure link to learn more and register is just below:

http://www.caseyresearch.com/crpmkt/crpSolo.php?id=106

People Say the Funniest Things...

For some reason, the memory comes to me of the time when, putting in service as the best man at a wedding, I greeted Eleanor Mondale, the ex-vice president's beautiful daughter, in the receiving line. I was single at the time, and so the sight of Ms. Mondale, a model back then, was particularly well received. For some reason, however, the words that tumbled out of my mouth on making her acquaintance - and I still don't know where they came from - didn't appear to make exactly the right impression.

"Nice shoes," I said, looking at her feet. "I bet they must hurt." (In my weak defense, her shoes had very high heels and with very narrow tips.)

A quizzical expression passed over her attractive countenance (shown in the photo) before she replied, "Ah, no. They are just fine, thank you," before she hurried away, glancing back as she moved, I suspect, to be sure I wasn't following her.

1202743121-Mondale John McCain had such a moment when, in a randy mood last year, he burst into song (poorly, it must be added) with the theme that the U.S. government, ideally under his leadership, should engage in the mass annihilation of the unfortunates who, by accident of birth, live under the Iranian theocracy.

(I refer, of course, to his rendition of "Bomb, Bomb, Bomb Iran"... posted for all posterity here... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hAzBxFaio1I)

Now, because we serve a broad audience, I suspect that there are any number of you who might agree with Senator McCain's musical sentiment, responding to any critics of same with a roll of the eyes and a comment along the lines of, "C'mon, really! Has everyone lost their sense of humor? Jeez!"

While I admit that the idea of unleashing waves of missiles against another country and the thought of "collateral damage" is a knee-slapper, I do wonder if a majority of the U.S. electorate will share the joke come election time.

I suspect not.

As a result, I strongly suspect that Sen. McCain's long-held aspirations to the highest office may likewise be scuttled.

Especially because, in addition to the somewhat concerning psychology revealed by his impromptu outburst of nihilistic verse, the perma-Senator is firmly on record as being in concert with the idea that America should occupy Iraq for 100 years, a sentiment that is not in step, if you believe the polls, with the majority.

And as a result, Obama or Hillary will be elected. (Sorry, Ron Paul fans, he may have raised a lot of money, but he's been effectively marginalized by the media and his fellow Republicans.)

And this points to the sticky wicket in democratic politics. You see, I am personally quite sure that I would prefer the economic policies of Sen. McCain over those of Sen. Clinton or Sen. Obama... but I'm equally certain that I would prefer either of those candidates' less martial backgrounds and leanings over those of Sen. McCain.

It is a classic no-win proposition. And so I prepare instead to cope the best I can with the damage that I see coming. Given that it is likely the Democrats will soon be ruling the roost, that means preparing for an acceleration of the feel-good policies that have laid such a solid foundation for escalating inflation - and higher gold prices.

My old associate from EverBank (Everbank.com), Chuck Butler, recently shared a Warren Buffett quote with the readers of his Daily Pfennig e-letter. Longer-term readers know that there are issues on which Mr. Buffett and I fail to see eye to eye, but in these remarks, I am in agreement. And I quote....

If something is unsustainable, it's going to have consequences; so far the consequences have been a general decline in the dollar against major currencies. If we continue the same policies, we're going to get the same results in the next five or 10 years.

He also had this to say about inflation... "Inflation has been in remission and is likely to be more prevalent in the next 10 years."

There are many things that cause dislocations in the marketplace, but few are as predictably disruptive - and, if you know how to play things, profitable - as government. The writing is on the wall. Now you just need to take the steps to prepare yourself to profit.

Quick Takes on Politics

At this point in the election cycle, it is probably appropriate for us to share, once again, the world's shortest political quiz, a reliable tool to tell you where you really belong on the political scale.

You can take it here: http://www.theadvocates.org/quiz.html

And, to assist you in contemplating the human frailties that argue so convincingly in favor of restricting the power afforded to any government, there is the following video featuring the antics of one of the anointed of America's political class. While you may have seen one of these videos in the past, this one is particularly well executed. Follow the link just below...

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BqLvBUSJucg

The Housing Market - Watch Out Below

One of the more interesting aspects of the current soaring default rate on home mortgages -- the very same defaults that are now bedeviling financial institutions around the globe -- is that the sophisticated models that were created to predict the behavior of the borrowers failed so badly.

This week, in an article in the Financial Times (ft.com), they discussed these failures at some length. Following are some excerpts I thought you would find of interest...

"There has been a failure in some of the key assumptions which supported our analysis and modeling," Mr. McDaniel admits. "The information quality deteriorated in a way that was not appreciated by Moody's or others." Mortgage borrowers, in other words, did not behave as expected.

The issue at stake revolves around so-called delinquency rates, the proportion of people who fall behind on their debt repayments. When American households have faced hard times in previous decades, they tended to default on unsecured loans such as credit cards and car loans first -- and stopped paying their mortgage only as a last resort. However, in the last couple of years households have become delinquent on their mortgages much faster than trends in the wider economy might suggest. That is particularly true of the less creditworthy subprime borrowers. More-over, consumers have stopped paying mortgages before they halt payments on their credit cards or automotive loans -- turning the traditional delinquency pattern on its head. As a result, mortgage lenders have started to face losses at a much earlier stage than in the past.

"In the past, if a household in America experienced financial problems it tended to go delinquent on its credit cards, but kept on paying its mortgage," says Malcolm Knight, head of the Bank for International Settlements, the central banks' bank. "Now what seems to be happening is that people who have outstanding mortgages that are greater than the value of their home, or have negative amortization mortgages, keep paying off their credit card balances but hand in the keys to their house . . . these reactions to financial stress are not taken into account in the credit scoring models that are used to value residential mortgage-backed securities."

And this...

In recent months, Washington politicians have devoted a great deal of attention to the problem of "resets". This refers to the fact that many subprime borrowers took out loans in recent years at initial, ultra-low "teaser" rates, which typically rise (or "reset") after a couple of years. Around 1m of these subprime loans are due to reset this year, which means that many households could suddenly face sharply higher repayments. That in turn has sparked fears of a looming further rise in delinquencies by increasingly cash-strapped households.

To offset this risk, the administration of President George W. Bush recently brokered a plan to freeze the resets. Yet in private, Treasury officials admit that while the scheme might help at the margins, it is unlikely to be a "silver bullet". This is because one dirty secret of recent mortgage data is that, thus far, there has been a surprisingly weak correlation between rate resets and delinquencies. That suggests that the reset freeze may have only a limited effect on foreclosures this year.

And....

Some economists suspect that if house price declines continue but the US jobs market holds up, the pattern of high mortgage defaults relative to other forms of consumer credit could continue. However, if the US slips into recession or even a protracted period of rising unemployment, delinquencies might rise on a wide range of consumer credits, implying a return to a more traditional pattern. Indeed, some banks are starting to brace themselves for this latter shift. "The problems in the credit markets are spreading to the consumer sector - the next area of concern is auto loans and credit cards," says John Thain, chief executive of Merrill Lynch.

I am reminded of a website that Doug Casey (who was first among others) brought to my attention this week. It is www.youwalkaway.com.

Should you click that link, you will find an enterprising e-biz that makes its money by providing homeowners, tired of the burden of paying their mortgages, with a kit that shows them the ins and outs of walking away with no further liabilities. And, even better, it explains how said mortgagees can live payment-free for the typical 8-month period it takes before the lenders are able to escort you from the premises.

Unfortunately for the economy and for those holding the "AAA" rated paper built out of these corrosive loans, www.youwalkaway.com is likely to become an increasingly popular site. Which brings me to...

Neutron Loans

Yesterday I had a pleasant lunch with a financial planner friend of mine. As he tends to deal with a more upscale clientele, he was unfamiliar with a category of mortgages sometimes called "payment optional."

If you thought "Ninja" mortgages were about as bad as it got -- you know, No income, No job, No Assets - then that is only because you haven't come across the payment optional feature offered to many of those same mortgagees.

In a nutshell, payment optional allows borrowers to elect to pay only a portion of their mortgage payment in any given month, rolling the balance-due but unpaid amount back into the original loan. This option was offered under the guise of allowing borrowers to deal with an emergency cash need. You know, the car breaks down and so, for a month, you pay less on your mortgage in order to have available the funds required to repair the car.

The problem, of course, is that many consumers, swept up in the giddy housing boom and romanced by the mortgage originators, borrowed more than they should have. And, when finding themselves unable to make the required payments, they began to fall back on the payment optional feature in order to get them through to the next payday.

With the magic of compounding interest now working against them, the situation was, and is, clearly untenable, assuring a steady supply of fresh customers for youwalkaway.com.

Bloomberg had a good article on the topic. For those of you short of time, here's a quick excerpt...

Feb. 7 (Bloomberg) -- Joe Ripplinger took out a $184,000 mortgage in 2006 and makes his payments every month.

Now he owes $192,000.

The 66-year-old Minneapolis house painter has a payment-option adjustable-rate mortgage. It allows him to write a check for $565 a month even though he owes $1,300. The difference is added to the mortgage, and when his total debt reaches $212,000, or after five years have passed, his monthly minimum will jump to about $2,800, which he can't afford.

"We're barely making it right now," Ripplinger said.

The estimated 1 million homeowners with $500 billion of option ARMs are beyond the help of interest-rate cuts by Federal Reserve Chairman Ben S. Bernanke. While subprime borrowers face an average increase of 8 percent or less when their adjustable- rate mortgages reset, option ARM homeowners may see their monthly payments double after their adjustments kick in.

"We call them neutron loans because they're like a neutron bomb," said Brock Davis, a broker with U.S. Express Mortgage Corp. in Las Vegas. "Three years later the house is still there and the people are gone."

You can read the article in its entirety by following the link here.

http://www.bloomberg.com/apps/news?pid=20601109&sid=akYNTEygRJH8&refer=exclusive

The Honorable Richard L. Armitage

Our own Bud Conrad attended a talk at Stanford last night by Richard Armitage, called Diplomacy: Humanitarianism in Action. Here's Bud's report:

Armitage was the second-in-command at the State Department, serving from 2001 to 2005 during Colin Powell's tenure. He had a front-row seat of the decision to go to war on Iraq. He served in Vietnam, was implicated in the outing of Valerie Plame, is on the board of directors of Conoco Phillips and is now working for John McCain's presidential campaign.

He strode on the stage and spoke without notes, evoking the image of a weak impersonation of General Patton. He wore a rumpled suit and was the only person with a tie. The speech was lightly attended, with an audience of only 60 or so. I guess students are more interested in basketball than a conservative who is now slipping off the political stage.

While the speech was of no particulate import, befitting the empty suit he has become, at the reception afterward I gained this most important insight: I asked him what the reason was for going to war in Iraq, and specifically if it was about oil.

He demurred, saying that he was part of the decision and the focus was on WMD (Weapons of Mass Destruction) and on bringing the light of democracy to the region. I pursued to ask how long we would be in Iraq. His answer was "a decade," although with decreasing forces. We didn't discuss the costs, as he still supports the original decision, but from the view of an economist, I have my interpretation. Namely, that we will be spending $100 to $200 billion per year we are there, so, if his assessment is correct, we can expect to add another $1+ trillion to the tab of what we've spent so far.

This ensures continued U.S. deficits and lower productivity, which confirms my basic thesis that the dollar will continue to come under pressure.

(On the topic of wars with Iraq, Doug Hornig, editor of our Daily Resource Plus, sent along the following YouTube video, featuring a rather interesting 1994 interview with *** Cheney. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S9YuD9kYK9I)

Get Well Soon

Living in a ski resort as I do, it is not unusual to hear a debate around the dining table on the topic of what is more dangerous, skiing or snowboarding.

Each side of the debate has their opinion, but our own Dave Johnsen, the programmer who assures our websites work each day, decided to wade in decisively on the topic, crashing his snowboard into a tree and breaking his fibula, as well as tearing his ACL, MCL, LCL, and meniscus.

Confined to bed after eight hours of surgery yesterday, he will have abundant time to jot down his further thoughts on the skiing vs. snowboarding debate. In the meantime, all of the Casey team would like to wish him a speedy recovery. (Oh, and if the website starts to get all wiggly, you can now appropriately assign the blame... to snowboarding.)

1984

It is, at this point, a tired literary device to reference George Orwell's seminal work, 1984, when commenting on the recent erosion of personal liberties.

Yet, the notion of an all-powerful entity snooping into your everyday affairs, ala Mr. Orwell's Big Brother, is sufficiently disturbing that observers of these things can't help but to drag it out, much in the same way others commenting on another genre might recall Frankenstein, or Dracula.

Unfortunately, while monsters made from reconstructed men or eternally living blood suckers are pure fiction, Orwell's monster is increasingly real.

Earlier this week, one of our researchers related a conversation between himself and his tax accountant. While requiring him to fill out a rash of new government forms, she commented that, in her role as a professional tax preparer, she no longer worked for him but for the government.

But it gets much worse. You see, our elected officials are now fast-tracking legislation to institutionalize warrantless eavesdropping on your every communication.

Don't believe me? Click the link below...

http://blog.wired.com/27bstroke6/2008/02/sen-rockefeller.html

The Quiet Revolution in Natural Gas

By Chris Gilpin, contributing editor, Casey Energy Speculator

While natural gas production has hummed along, slowly increasing in the U.S. over the past ten years, it would be a big mistake to think that everything is business as usual. There is a major shift underway in the natural gas industry. Conventional gas production is going the way of the dodo bird, while unconventional production - from sources like coal bed methane, tight gas and gas shales - has stepped up and made itself known as the future of natural gas.

The Lower 48 has been pumping more natural gas from unconventional sources than conventional ones since 2000 - the trend is accelerating. Conventional gas could soon account for less than a third of overall production.

The transition from conventional gas to unconventional has been remarkably smooth. It turned out to be much less of a challenge to exploit unconventional sources of natural gas than to exploit unconventional sources of oil, such as oil shale and tar sands (both of which have been nightmares from an engineering perspective).

A conventional gas operation is rather discreet, with a single well working every 640 acres or so, while a Coal Bed Methane (CBM) project dots the landscape with wells everywhere, as many as one per 80 acres. There's a lot of needless hand wringing over the aesthetics of such operations, but what interests us is how this infrastructure build has affected the landscape of supply and demand. For instance, the average production per well has been dropping precipitously.

1202743121-MonthlyNaturalGas
[click to enlarge]

Despite its growing popularity, unconventional gas is no one's first choice. CBM projects require a huge amount of infrastructure to duplicate the same amount of production as one conventional well. Your average conventional gas well in the U.S. produces about 600 Mcf/d, while your average CBM gas well often pumps out less than 100 Mcf/d.

To make up the difference, the industry has been forced to drill, fracture, dewater, and maintain a lot more wells - all of which costs money. Gas producers have no choice but to pass these expenses along to the broader market, which has been a major factor in the rise of natural gas prices from $2/Mcf in 1998 to over $6/Mcf today.

The same story holds true in western Canada where CBM has just begun catching on in the last few years. The average initial productivity of a gas well drilled in the Western Canadian Sedimentary Basin has dropped from 1,000 to 300 thousand cubic feet per day over the last five years, a combination of ailing conventional gas resources and the rise of unconventional ones.

Without unconventional gas, the U.S. would be left trying to outbid the rest of the world for cargoes of LNG (liquefied natural gas), an unappealing scenario.

Many of the most intriguing investment possibilities now lie in parts of the world outside of the U.S. where unconventional technology is breaking virgin ground. Alberta is just starting to ramp up CBM production. Southeast Asia has huge reserves of unconventional gas that have never been properly explored. Using the American experience as a template, natural gas-producing regions all over the world are learning that it pays to think unconventional.

[Ed. Note: Dr. Marc Bustin, a senior researcher for the Casey energy division, is one of the leading unconventional gas experts in the world. The team is watching for opportunities in gas to open up in the spring and summer, after prices ease up due to seasonal considerations.

In the meantime, the energy division just updated a Special Report, North America's Top 5 Uranium Explorers... featuring the 5 best junior uranium stocks.

This is of particular interest now, because the uranium juniors as a sector have swung from massively overbought to deeply oversold. As determined contrarians, the time is fast approaching to begin reloading in the sector, and these are the companies you'll want to own.

As a subscriber to the Casey Energy Speculator, you'll find the report in the Special Reports section of this website... for everyone else, you can receive the report free of charge if you subscribe today.

Remember, your subscription comes with a no-questions-asked, 3-month money-back guarantee. Click here to get "North America's Top 5 Uranium Explorers" today.]

Affordable Health Care for All

Not so long ago, I was chatting with a cab driver while riding from JFK into Manhattan, when the conversation turned to what constituted a living wage. "I can't even afford health care," he said grumpily, weaving his cab with the grace of a ballet dancer between gaps in rumbling semi-trucks. With a snort he commented, "I'm not much of a Hillary fan, but the time has come for universal health care."

"That may be so," I chimed in from the back seat, "but I once lived in Canada and while there, watched someone I cared for deeply enter the nationalized health care system. After many months of bureaucracy and red tape, he ended up dead because they didn't run the tests that would have discovered his cancer, until it was too late."

"Yeah, but..." he started, his thoughts cut off by the need to concentrate on cutting off the competitor's cab trying to squeeze onto the expressway beside him.

"Here's a question," I continued. "If you didn't have to pay so much of your money in taxes... income taxes, property taxes, taxes on gasoline and all the things you buy... how much money do you think you'd save every year?"

"A lot!" he replied, a happier note in his voice as his mind contemplated the idea.

"So, if you didn't have to pay all those taxes, but instead maybe just a 10% flat tax, do you think you might be able to afford health insurance then?" I asked, rhetorically.

"Hadn't thought of that," he said, shaking his head with some confidence. "But, yes, I could. No problem."

So, what do you think? Could my "Unified Theory on Solving the U.S. Health Care Dilemma" qualify me for a Nobel prize? Who knows, I might actually have a chance, given that the bar on that prize seems to have been precipitously lowered in recent years.

Miscellany

  • A number of you have sent in the article from the NY Times discussing how merchants there are starting to post signs announcing "Euros Accepted." A sign of the times, to be sure, but I'm watching for the day that they start posting signs "Gold Accepted."
  • Ernst & Young made headlines this week by saying that most metals analysts' predictions of metal prices "have consistently and significantly lagged behind the actual spot market," and that mining and metals equities have been undervalued. To which I reply, "Welcome to our world."

    Here's just one of a number of memorable points they made in their report:

    "It is our view that current metal prices are actually a return to sustainable price levels following an extended period of artificially depressed prices, rather than the conventional wisdom that the industry is near the top of a cycle."
  • I asked one of our researchers to do an analysis of what price level gold needs to reach before we would, based on historical precedence, start seeing serious movement in the gold stocks. For data points, we looked back at two prior gold bull markets, then adjusted the price of gold back then to reflect the current purchasing price of the dollar. While we are still working on the data, a quick look suggests that, if history is a guide, gold has to break over $1,000 decisively to get the masses involved in the stocks. But when they do come, the returns are spectacular. We'll have more on the topic here, and in our other publications, in the near future.

A quick glance at the screen before signing off shows me that Wall Street is again painted red... and that gold, silver, many of the base metals, oil & gas are all higher.

It is especially gratifying to see gold come back so strongly from the whupping it took earlier this week, especially considering all the trash talk about our favorite metal of late. Including, most notably, Dennis Gartman who is calling for it to correct down to $810, though he nuances his comments by stating that even at that level, it would still be in a bull market and poised to surge again.

While we cannot predict the future, nor pretend to, neither can we yet see a scenario that does not favor gold reaching Bud Conrad's forecast of gold over $1,200 this year.

And that, fellow planetary travelers, is that for this week. As always, thank you for spending time with me today.

Next week I am going to endeavor to write an entire edition without mentioning the word "government" once. Until then...

Sincerely,
sig

David Galland
Managing Director
Casey Research, LLC.





Posted 02-11-2008 3:00 PM by David Galland