Brian Gongol Show on WHO Radio - December 12, 2014
Filling in for Simon Conway
The Brian Gongol Show can be heard on WHO Radio in Des Moines, Iowa on 1040 AM or streaming online at WHORadio.com. The show airs from 2:00 pm to 4:00 pm Central Time on Saturday afternoons. Podcasts of show highlights are also available.
Please note: These show notes may be in various stages of completion -- ranging from brainstormed notes through to well-polished monologues. Please excuse anything that may seem rough around the edges, as it may only be a first draft of a thought and not be fully representative of what was said on the air.
MoneyThe economy isn't exactly terrible right now, but nobody is breaking out the party hats and confetti, either. The kazoos? Definitely not.
We're experiencing a very special kind of stimulus right now in the form of remarkably low oil prices. It's a bonanza -- a temporary boom brought about by a big force that isn't really under control. And that means it can (and very likely will) evaporate at any time.
One way to get rich is to know what's extraordinary about your times -- and acting on it. Right now, there are lots of very extraordinary things happening. The petroleum bonanza is just one of them. But it's an important one, and how we treat the boom is going to decide whether we have a hangover later.
Big stimulus events don't happen all that often, nor do they behave predictably. Remember the Bush-era stimulus checks? We got them in 2001 and in 2008. The 2008 checks mostly got used to pay down debt. So did the 2001 checks. That squares with my own expectation that they would effectively serve as stealthy bank recapitalization plans.
So, experiencing an unexpected stimulus today, are we going to act wisely and squirrel some of the benefit away so that we can profit later?
- If oil prices are temporarily low, now is the optimal time to boost our road-use funds.
- If the economy is enjoying the benefits of a short-term boom, shouldn't we put some of that bonanza aside for long-term growth?
- Regardless of your opinion on subjects like global warming, doesn't it make sense to convert some of a short-term profit from low energy costs into an investment in reducing those energy costs still further for the future? We know that global consumption is likely to rise dramatically over the long term, and that means that prices will rise if production doesn't keep up. The outcomes we need are going to require large-scale innovations, not window dressing. I like innovation/inducement prizes for this purpose, but I'm open to other ideas as well (some very smart people think we should be splitting our investments between the public and private sectors). We are woefully blind to the fact that cheap energy makes the difference between modern living and poverty.
And that's being compounded by a couple of factors:
- The options for investment inside China are pretty unexciting right now, and that's putting it gently
- The amount of claims on American assets held by China are huge -- China has $1.2 trillion in Treasury debt, another almost $200 billion in mortgage and similar debt, and now about $260 billion in US stocks.
- Our own exports are artificially high (in part because the domestic oil boom is rapidly reversing our balance of trade on petroleum products, which is a huge change in direction). In dollar terms, the effect is huge.
- To our credit, we remain a country that respects private property rights and free enterprise under the rule of law -- much better than many other countries
And in the news...Russia's "unprecedented" behavior in the Baltic
It's not unprecedentedly friendly. Meanwhile, the White House insists that there is no plan to send ground troops back to Iraq. While that may be superficially satisfying, it's probably not a great idea to telegraph to our enemies what we just won't do.
Oil prices fall and stocks go along for the tumble
It's been a whole lot of pain on paper this week. There's speculation that world oil demand will be down in 2015, and that has people worried that the global economy may be headed for trouble.
Cheap energy provides a temporary economic stimulus to the economy
We'll miss it when it's gone. This is a bonanza and should be recognized for what it is.
In case you missed it
- Podcast of this episode - Hour 1 with Dr. Ken McCormick
- Podcast of this episode - Hour 2
- Link to the official station page for this episode