Posts Tagged ‘Prices’

Bill O’Reilly’s Economic Idiocy Almost as Bad as Obama’s

Friday, March 9th, 2012

Bloviator-in-Chief

I seldom watch Bill O’Reilly, because if I want to listen to somebody pontificate on subjects about which s/he knows little, I can simply re-run Joe Biden’s most recent speech…in any time-frame.  Thursday evening, O’Reilly was on when I came through the door, but since he seemed to be talking sensibly about the Fluke Fiasco, I listened briefly with interest, but in the very next segment, he went on to discuss the price of oil, demonstrating he’s at least as ignorant as Barack Obama pretends to be on the subject. Part of it is driven by the fact that O’Reilly is a panderer who tries to placate ‘the folks’ while serving his masters in the establishment.  His oft-mentioned Harvard degree clearly isn’t in economics.  As usual, O’Reilly failed to identify the actual causes of the high energy prices accurately.

Naturally, being a  panderer, he talked about “speculators,” but he failed to mention even one valid reason that makes up the bulk of the increased prices we’re experiencing at the pumps.  Since O’Reilly did such a masterfully incompetent job of explaining the issue, I feel duty-bound to correct the record, or at least explain it.  There are really five major factors controlling the prices you pay at the pump, and while speculation might be a distant sixth in importance, it really has little to do with what you pay most of the time. Rather than lead you in circles of pompous pandering, let me try to make it a good deal more clear.

By far, the biggest factor in the price of the fuel you buy at the pumps is the price of crude oil itself.  As the amount of oil being supplied to the market contracts, or the quantity of oil being demanded increases, you can expect a corresponding movement in the price you pay.  When producers get together as a cartel(OPEC) in an attempt to restrict production, this will necessarily constrain the supply, and you will generally see higher prices, unless you have some manner by which to throw a significant monkey-wrench in the mechanism, for instance being able to increase your own domestic production, or by augmenting the supply to the market from a reserve.  This should seem simple enough to most people who studied basic economics in High School, never mind earning a degree from that institution of fame we might call “Hahvaad.” The available supply versus the quantity demanded will always dominate the basic calculation.

Another factor that is nearly as important to consumers in a given country is the relative value of their currency in the world oil markets.  The US has enjoyed the distinction of possessing what had been (and still remains, barely) the world’s reserve currency and the currency in which oil trades are made.  Unfortunately, as our Federal Reserve has printed more dollars out of thin air in order to bail out the banks, and Europe, but also loan to our Federal Government to feed it’s insatiable hunger for dollars, we have seen the value of our dollar fall dramatically in the last few years.  This means that no matter what commodity you buy, it will take more dollars to buy one unit as compared to before.  In late 2010, when the Federal Reserve announced QE2(Quantitative Easing, Round2 – a.k.a printing vast sums of cash,)  Sarah Palin, the former Alaska Governor, took to the podium to warn Americans that all of this money-printing by the Fed would result in higher food and energy prices.

Some people, mostly jerks like Paul Krugman of the New York Times actually mocked the Governor for that prediction, and even Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke got in on the act.  After all, what would a former governor of Alaska know about it?  As you probably know by now, she was right on every count.  Everything she said came to pass with respect to the inflationary effects of “Quantitative Easing.”  Score another one for the lady who knows how to take down an elk, but also a pompous commentator.  She understands the energy markets, meaning she knew how the monetary policy of the Federal Reserve and the unrestrained borrowing of the Federal government would wind up effecting the general economy, but particularly the energy sector.

The next thing that affects the price of oil is the availability of substitutes.  For instance, a fair amount of the electricity generated in the US comes from petroleum distillates and residual products from the refining process.  There are just a few commercial alternatives, and apart from nuclear power, the vast bulk are fossil fuels, including oil, but also natural gas and coal.  The grand total of wind and solar energy production nationwide doesn’t provide what one nuclear plant does, so let’s call that source negligible in any commercial sense.  Coal accounted for more than half of all electric generation in the US prior to Obama’s arrival in Washington, but due to regulations being slapped on the energy producers, coal-fired plants are rapidly going extinct.  As this happens, plants that use other fuels are necessarily being forced to pick up the slack, running at closer to 100% capability, and some of those plants use…oil and its byproducts.  So you see, as you reduce the use of substitutes, it necessarily will cause an increase in the price of oil.  Like in any market where substitutes are available, the reduction of the availability(or use) of one will cause a corresponding increase in reliance upon another.  If beef prices go up, before long, people will shift to pork and chicken, and then the prices of these substitutes will move up also.

The fourth big factor affecting the price of fuel at the pumps is government taxation.  If you live in a state like mine, where we pay a federal and state excise tax by the gallon, it’s bad enough when the Feds increase the taxes, but if you live in a state where the tax is a percentage, you really get blistered by any upward movement in fuel prices, because not only do you pay more in fuel, but you also pay a good deal more in taxes on it.

There is another factor that comes to mind, and it has to do with the distribution of the product, and how temporary displacements and shortages like we saw in 2005 with Hurricans Katrina and Rita caused trouble depending upon where you were and what the distribution chain that feeds it looks like, but those sorts of problems are a result of what happens when Just In Time inventory management tries to contend with the unexpected that Mother Nature throws our way.

We currently do not find ourselves under that sort of instability in the distribution chain, and this only goes somewhat further in explaining why the fuel price spikes we saw under George W. Bush bear little resemblance to the structural causes of the high prices we face today.  Four dollars for a gallon of gasoline may not be entirely new, but resulting from something other than an ongoing distribution chain problem as a result of natural disaster, it is most certainly unprecedented in the 21st century. Today’s  closest analog occurred under the administration of Jimmy Carter, if that tells you anything.

Together, these five factors have much more to do with the price of fuels than anything Bill O’Reilly mentioned. Speculators play a role, but by the time you add up the five factors I’ve mentioned, what you discover is that while speculators can drive things a little in one direction or the other, most who trade in commodity futures wind up losing, at least according to the statistics.  Besides, they are an important part of the market too, and to pretend they have no other function but to somehow cheat consumers is a laughable bit of Marxist theory often pushed by panderers in both parties. Realize that listening to economic analysis from Bill O’Reilly is roughly analogous to getting investment advice from a fortune cookie:  It contains only meaningless platitudes that will gain you little more than a moment’s amusement, but will reveal no cosmic truths.

Now, think of Joe Biden speaking.  See my point?

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The Economy and the Price of Gas

Thursday, February 16th, 2012

The Costs of Bad Policy

Most have noted with disgust the rising price of fuel.  In most places around the country, the price per gallon of regular unleaded is creeping up on $4.00.  There has been some talk about an improving economy, but that’s mostly fluff.  The truth is that our economy is in miserable condition, and as I’ve previously reported, the price of energy has the most immediate deleterious effect on our growth.  As you look at the numbers for housing starts, as fuel ratchets up over $3.50, it begins to retard growth and investment.  This happens because it affects every stop along the production chain, from the raw materials to final distribution, delivery or retail sales.  Now that the price of fuels is driving markedly upward again, it is important to note the causes.  The first is the inflationary policies of our government, and the second is a whole host of worries over the world supply of oil, now threatened by an increasingly hostile and vociferous Iran.  These two factors threaten to drive prices over six dollars by summer’s end.

This would collapse our economy completely, and the only thing leveraging against it is that as prices soar, more projects will be canceled, and new construction will not commence, leading to a balancing reduction in demand.  This natural signaling would not be so bad if it weren’t for the fact that our economy is already flat-lined.  Anything that would cause a serious price spike at this juncture would likely ruin our economy for the immediate future, and might even push us off the economic cliff.

At present, the Obama administration is claiming unemployment numbers that are plainly rigged.  What they have done is to discount people who have expended their unemployment benefits, but who still have no job, and they consider them to have disappeared from the job market.  More, they’re started lop off people who have attained a certain age, and now consider them retired, thus removing them from the work force.  In short, they’re rigging the outcome of the quotient by reducing the number of people in the job market in statistics only, as many of the people they have excluded are still actively seeking work.

If the current rise in energy prices continues, it will put a downward pressure on economic activity.  As we’ve seen in each previous instance when this administration has claimed the economy was in recovery, the rise in fuel prices will tend to knock down the recovery.  An economy cannot grow with a shrinking pool of energy resources, and this president knows it, or should.  This is why such actions as the denial of the construction of the Keystone XL Pipeline was so astonishing.  The construction alone would have provided tens of thousands of jobs with decent wages, and it wouldn’t have been very long before we would be receiving the Canadian oil at the distant end, proposed to have terminated in Texas, in the refining centers along the Gulf Coast.

The presumably short-sighted thinking of this administration is so baffling that many have begun to conclude this is all by design.  What is clear is that we will not truly begin a recovery until energy prices are brought down by the government standing aside as the primary obstacle to energy development.  The federal government under this president has been pushing various “green jobs” initiatives that promise much, but have delivered very little, either in the way of job, or in the production of energy.  The scale of the problem is gargantuan, and no collection of windmills or solar panels is going to do much about it, but worse, since these are still not economically viable models, they actually waste money.

The immediate future of American energy production is weak, because we have a president hostile to the various forms of energy most Americans for the near-term future will employ, in the forms of coal, gas, and oil.   The problem is that these still represent the bulk of American energy production, with coal-fired power plants still accounting for at least half of all electric generation in the country.  Worst of all, Obama’s EPA is shutting down coal-fired plants, as three more plants are scheduled to be shut down this year in Texas.  Texas may see a summer of rolling black-outs that will have been the product of these mandates, and there is no way to build an economic recovery in that environment.

Be prepared to see fuels to continue their uphill climb through the spring, and as they do, you will see a repeat of the pattern we have seen numerous times over the last four years.  As energy prices increase, any alleged recovery will falter. It’s the unavoidable result of a policy that has set us up for repeated failure.  With the monetary problems in Europe, however, it threatens to be much worse.