As I wrote last Thursday, the aftermath of the fiscal cliff deal requires some restructuring of energy sector holdings.
We are currently in a brief period between crises. Nothing was resolved in the eleventh (and a half) hour compromise.
The truth is there are still three huge fights on the horizon - revisiting the sequestration (automatic spending cuts) portion of the fiscal cliff, spending versus taxation in the budget, and raising the debt ceiling.
All will hit by early March.
So the reprieve gained on New Year's Eve will be brief.
The spike after the accord was huge. Unfortunately, as we witnessed late last week, the market rally has no legs. VIX (volatility) has been abnormally low, but that will be drifting up, to accelerate as we get closer to the next round of legislative paralysis.
We cannot predict how protracted this next round will be, but early indications are hardly encouraging.
That's why investors need to be more defensive and identify energy components that are more likely to withstand the gridlock and even profit from it.
Overall, you should divide the energy sector into four segments:
- Processors/Distributors; and,
Here's what you need to know...
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The Path to Energy Independence is More Rocky Than It Seems
You might have seen yesterday's headline in the Wall Street Journal: "U.S. Redraws World Oil Map."
As the article explains, U.S. oil production is now on pace to surpass Saudi Arabia by 2020. This would make the United States world's largest oil producer. We're already the second-largest natural gas producer, according to 2010 EIA estimates.
It's all thanks to the U.S. shale boom that has unlocked billions of barrels of oil and trillions of feet of natural gas from the Appalachian Mountains to the Pacific Coast, from the Bakken in North Dakota to the shale fields of southern Texas.
But all of this fracking has caused some serious economic and environmental problems.
And while I greatly advocate increased drilling and domestic production, we still must address a wide-range of problems now plaguing the shale oil and gas sectors.
After all - with apologies to Voltaire and Spiderman - with such great fortune comes greater responsibility.
That's why I am in the third day of what has become a very interesting conference here in Pittsburgh. It was convened to set the agenda moving forward to deal with the almost invisible aspects of shale oil and gas drilling.
In fact, for the first time, the conference's primary focus will be on the negatives caused by the drilling.
We also have questions surrounding the amount of water required to frack these formations (the process needs a lot of water to break open rock and release hydrocarbons), as well as the ongoing public health fears from the chemicals used.
Now, we are seeing parallel economic problems as well.
In the Marcellus basin, researchers are now recording some of these shortcomings and placing them in four basic categories.
The real concern is that these four problems - in infrastructure, labor, local inflation, and the environment - will remain well after the drilling (and the revenue) has moved on.
So before you decide to declare "energy independence", take a look at some of the downside that may come along with it.
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The Keystone Pipeline Fallout: Canada Makes Over a Billion New Friends
"If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading." Lao Tzu
You can forget about energy independence for now.
Without Canadian oil it is nothing but the latest American pipe dream.
In the wake of the Keystone Pipeline decision, Canada has decided to play ball with China instead.
According to Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, the U.S. reluctance to build the Keystone Pipeline has caused his nation to increase the flow of oil headed west.
Instead of flowing south into the U.S., the same oil is now going to be headed to China.
"Look, the very fact that a 'no' could even be said underscores to our country that we must diversify our energy export markets," Harper said last week, referring to the Keystone Pipeline decision.
"We cannot be, as a country, in a situation where our one, and in many cases, only energy partner could say no to our energy products. We just cannot be in that position," Harper said.
Considering that Canada is our No. 1 source of oil, Harper's decision could place a serious dent in the idea that the United States can become energy independent in the next two decades.
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