OK, I’ll cut right to the core point: The US economy is going to boom so aggressively over the next few years that whoever will be president is going to get re-elected, even if it means amending the constitution to ensure we get to keep Obama in office.
So that’s the premise — the pitch is from Porter Stansberry for his Stansberry’s Investment Advisory newsletter, and he knows better than almost anyone that bold, brash and controversial statements and headlines are what gets attention … and you can’t sell newsletters without getting attention. So yes, some of you are going to be apoplectic over the pitch that Obama will get re-elected again and again, in FDR-ish fashion, and others would feel the same way about the version of this ad that he ran that suggested Romney will also be re-elected next time around if he happens to win today. There are plenty of places for you to discuss your political differences — I don’t particularly want to hear them, so feel free to move on elsewhere with those.
But the main point is not that one or another politician will be re-elected, or even that President Obama will be so beloved that he’ll attain almost king-like status and remain in power like an American Putin. The real point of Stansberry’s pitch is that we’ll want whoever is in power over the next few years to remain there, because they’re going to be really good years.
Why will they be really good? Well, on that front this is really just a third or fourth iteration of the pitch he’s made several times in recent months: Cheap American energy is going to be a huge game-changer.
Which means, of course, that he’s talking about horizontal drilling, hydraulic fracturing, and the boom in US oil and natural gas production that has come (and will continue to come) as a result. And that will bring with it a revival of US manufacturing thanks to the low-cost energy that helped build the US during the second half of the twentieth century. Some of that’s already happening, of course, thanks to the rising costs in China, but the big idea is that we’re going to see dramatic benefits from the fact that energy is now once again cheaper in the US than in much of the rest of the world — and it’s because of rising (and sometimes trapped) production, not because of price controls or weak demand.
That price differential is very clear with natural gas, which is often touted as the “fuel of the future” because of its relative abundance and cleaner-burning profile (compared to oil or coal), but it’s also there for oil. Natural gas is still not that widely shipped, so gas remains far cheaper in Oklahoma than in import-thirsty Korea, for example, but oil is widely shipped and the resurgence of US and Canadian production means that mid-continent resources (as from the Bakken) are cut off enough from overseas shipping that they’re substantially cheaper — that’s the effective differential between the WTI price and the Brent price (they’re not that physically different, but West Texas Intermediate is the oil you buy in Cushing, Oklahoma and it’s the US benchmark for pipeline-connected domestic oil — Brent Crude is the benchmark for North Sea oil but is the benchmark for almost any oil that’s loaded on a tanker — we still import a lot of Brent, particularly in the Northeast, but if you can buy WTI in Oklahoma from a Texas or Bakken field instead it’ll cost you about $20 a barrel less, roughly a 20% discount).
And yes, of course, Porter himself doesn’t endorse Obama — he’s a pretty intense libertarian and doesn’t much like most politicians, but he especially dislikes Obama … here’s a bit from the ad:
“He’s nothing but a charlatan.
“Even so… I know Obama will become the greatest president in U.S. history. Much like Kennedy, this has something to do with his charisma – which I find revolting, but others clearly love. However, that’s not the real reason…
“No, a simple secret lies behind Obama’s soaring power, which is still far from its peak.
“Even as I write these words, an enormous economic force is building. It is a force that rivals the scope of every single American boom in our history – from the 1880s steel and railroad boom, to the 1920s automobile boom, to the baby boom of the 1960s and the computer boom of the ’80s and ’90s…
“The force now behind Obama is more powerful than all of these events – combined.
“This force will carry Obama back to the presidency in 2012. And yet again in 2016. It’s this force that will carry him into the history books…
“This new economic force will change everything about the way our country’s economy works. It will also reshape the world’s monetary… flows… for at least the next 50 years.”
And yes, to remind you, their ads take the safe route in assuming Obama is reelected, since that will get more 50-70 year old white guys mad and make them pay attention, but in other ads they also say that for this purpose it doesn’t matter if Obama or Romney wins, their predicted “big change” will mean that the next president has “unlimited power.”
We get a bit of a history lesson as Porter builds his argument:
“… whatever your politics, just consider this: Teddy Roosevelt was elected as a conservative Republican. His own party stood against his progressive ideas. Nevertheless, powered by a huge oil discovery – Spindletop – and a booming economy, the people of the United States began to demand their government do more and more things. Our sudden wealth and prosperity changed the political mood in the country. We were now rich enough to do more… to help more people. And the government, thanks to its oil riches, could now take on big business and win.
“It’s hard to believe how popular these views became… and how they transformed Teddy Roosevelt’s presidency. He became almost a mythical figure… the most popular sitting president the U.S. had ever seen. He was, in a way, more like a European dictator than a U.S. statesman. This power would eventually lead him to run for a third term – something that had never been done before – in 1912….
“… where did this power come from? Why did Americans suddenly embrace a massively more powerful government, led by a charismatic demagogue?
“The answer is, of course, oil.
“The oil Spindletop produced changed the entire world – forever. The massive increases in production dramatically lowered prices for oil around the world, enriching the lives of millions of consumers. Americans who backed Spindletop became some of the richest people in the world. Gulf Oil, Texaco, Amoco, and Humble Oil all trace their origins back to Spindletop.”
And then from Teddy on to Franklin …
“Although many historians credit the New Deal FDR implemented for accelerating the recovery from the Great Depression… that’s looking at history through the lens backwards. What really happened is clear: The East Texas field created a tremendous amount of wealth. In the short term, lower oil prices caused a wave of economic disruption. But in the long term, it provided FDR with an immense amount of power… allowing him to launch one socialist scheme after another… to the overwhelming applause of the electorate….
“Whether you like it or not… presidents who can garner the most economic power end up achieving the most political power. And… at least for the last 150 years… the root of modern economic power comes from the world’s oilfields.
“So… how will Obama grab enough political power to re-write the U.S. Constitution and run for yet another term? Simple: I believe he’ll launch social spending program after social spending program. He will oversee the largest expansion of the welfare state in the history of our country. He’ll launch new federal departments (something he’s already done… but will expand). He’ll enrich thousands of his backers… and impoverish his enemies… all a scale never seen before in American history.
“How will all of this be possible? Oil. More oil than has ever been found before….”
So there you have the basic logic — cheap oil allowed Teddy Roosevelt to build a progressive government, and Porter says, in not so many words, that the huge Texas oil fields that started production in the decades following Spindletop enabled FDR to spend his way out of the Depression with dozens of big government spending programs, making him a beloved figure with unprecedented presidential power, and he thinks the same will happent to Obama.
We’re going to drop the presidential and political stuff right there. You don’t care who I vote for, and I don’t care who you vote for, the point is that someone’s supposedly going to start rolling in money thanks to this next oil boom, and, dangit, I want it to be me. So what should I do to prepare to profit? That’s where Stansberry heads with this idea, of course — he may enjoy trying to be a political firebrand and want to build the libertarian movement, but peddling investment ideas and research is his raison d’etre.
Here’s some more from the ad:
“THE NEW REALITY OF OIL AND POLITICS IN AMERICA
“Far from being energy dependent, America is already a net energy exporter again.
“It’s true. For the first time since the 1940s, the U.S. is exporting more refined petrochemical products than we’re importing oil.
“That’s mainly because we’re now able to produce natural gas so cheaply that the entire global chemical industry is re-locating here. For example, Bloomberg recently reported that Dow Chemical Co., the second-largest chemical manufacturer in the world, ‘spent a decade moving chemical production to the Middle East and Asia. Now it’s leading the biggest expansion ever seen back home in the U.S. as shale gas revives the industry’s economics.’
Yes, thanks to the Marcellus and the Fayetteville shales and the like, we’re producing lots and lots more natural gas and prices have been sticky at very low prices … and thanks to the Bakken and the Eagle Ford and the like, oil production has also been rising in recent years for the first time in a long time (though the US has been one of the top few oil producers in the world every year for more than a century — it’s just that we’ve consumed more than we’ve produced for a few decades).
And Porter thinks that the glut that has crushed natural gas prices as a result of the shale finds is going to repeat itself with oil, and that gas will recover somewhat.
“Low prices will lead to vast new markets for our oil and gas all over the world. It will create hundreds of billions in profits, annually, for American oil and gas firms. It will lead to huge capital gains for investors. It will cause massive new investments in infrastructure – like pipelines and refineries …
“We have a road map for the coming changes to the oil market. All of these things have already happened with natural gas.
“The natural gas drilling boom began about 10 years before the oil boom. Prices for natural gas, as you know, collapsed in 2008. They haven’t really bounced back yet.
“Most people think the collapse in natural gas prices will last forever. They’re wrong. Natural gas is being sold at prices that defy all logic based on history and its relationship to other forms of energy. Historically, natural gas has sold for about 1/10th the price of oil. In the U.S. today, it’s trading for over 1/20th the price. This huge price discrepancy will resolve itself soon. When it does, billions of dollars will be made….
“Two things are happening, which will cause prices for energy to equalize.
“First, traders will find ways to export U.S. natural gas, moving supplies into foreign countries where the price is higher. And secondly, domestic consumers of energy will shift from using expensive sources (like diesel and coal) to vastly cheaper sources, like natural gas.”
So Porter argues that natural gas prices will recover soon, because of increased use and because so many gas wells were shut in and exploration halted with lower prices … and added in to that are the things we hear about quite often, like the planned export of liquefied natural gas in a few years, and the conversion of much of our trucking fleet to natural gas engines. So that gives you some idea of the stocks he might be teasing in a few moments, once we work our way through some more of the “presentation.”
Finally, then, after a few more pages of rabble-rousing about President Obama, we get to the part where we get to become rich … so what are we supposed to do with our money to benefit from this new oil boom?
“FOUR WAYS OF MAKING A KILLING IN THIS BOOM – WITHOUT TAKING BIG RISKS
“There’s a very stupid way to invest in the oil and natural gas boom.
“This is probably how your neighbors and friends will do it. They will hear about a big new oilfield (maybe like the secret one we’ll tell you about below), and they’ll buy shares of the company that’s exploring it.
“Think about how this worked out for shareholders of Chesapeake during the natural gas boom. Remember, the natural gas boom is like our playbook for what’s about to happen with oil. What you can see is, even though Chesapeake came from nothing to be the second-largest producer of natural gas in the U.S. (behind ExxonMobil), its share price got killed when the price of natural gas fell in 2012 and the company’s finances were revealed to be weak.”
So that’s reasonable enough — betting on oil discoveries or small producers is dangerous enough anyway, but if you think that oil prices will fall with big new booms in production, there will probably be some Chesapeake’s over on the oil side of the market as well. Stansberry’s first pitch is for infrastructure:
“First, the very best way, I believe, to make a fortune in the ongoing energy boom is to invest in the infrastructure that must be built to move U.S. energy into global markets. This might sound boring at first. But believe me, some of the biggest gains in the history of the oil business came from the men who were smart enough to own the infrastructure required to get the oil and the gas to market.”
So what’s the infrastructure for this? LNG shipping …
“To ship natural gas around the world, it has to be converted into a liquid form, something called liquefied natural gas, or “LNG.” Once converted into a liquid, natural gas can be shipped via tanker, much like oil. But… the big difference is LNG requires specialized, very expensive tanker ships. And it requires huge import and export terminals.
“Building out these new ships and these new terminals will take at least a decade. And during that time, investors in the right assets will build huge fortunes…. Like the investors who are smart enough to buy LNG tankers today. The world’s shipyards currently have more than 140 LNG vessels on order…
Luckily for regular, individual investors, a well-run company already owns one of the largest fleets of these highly specialized, expensive ships. It owns 27 ships, in fact, some of the largest in the world. It’s engaged constantly in deals to acquire more ships, and it has dozens more on order. I’m certain this stock is going to soar over the next few years. And here’s the best part: The company boasts a current yield of 7.1%.”
So this first pick of his is Teekay LNG Partners (TGP), which does indeed have a yield of about 7% and interests in a big fleet of 27 LNG shipping tankers. You can see Teekay’s arguments for “why to invest” here if you’re curious — basically, their positioning is as a long-term charter firm that has stable and predictable cash flows … if LNG tanker rates triple in two years, they’re not going to benefit that much because their vessels are largely committed already, but they will keep paying out that 7% (and probably growing) dividend. I can’t argue much against TGP, they’re the big player and they’re fairly conservative and well run as far as I can tell, and that’s a good dividend … I’ve tended to prefer the more aggressive growers like Golar LNG (GLNG) and the new GasLog (GLOG), but that’s probably just because I like a little excitement sometimes, those will both be substantially more volatile than TGP and neither has as high a yield.
TGP is a MLP, so you’ll get the K-1 partnership filing stuff that some people hate, but that might also mean that you get some tax deferral depending on how their payments are structured (income versus return of capital). Their distribution doesn’t look like it’s covered by income, but that’s the case with most MLPs and many shipping companies, it’s largely because depreciation of their extremely expensive assets eats up much of the operating income but, in reality, consumes far less of their cash flow because pipelines and tankers have much longer economic lives than their depreciation rates would imply. I’m not an accountant, that’s just my big picture view — the same goes for companies I’ve owned in the past, including Seadrill (SDRL) and Golar, but I haven’t studied TGP’s numbers specifically.
Some other ideas from Porter? Or, as he puts it:
“I believe this shipping stock is one of the only ‘sure things’ you can invest in today and make a bona fide fortune. What are the other sure things?”
Let it never be said that we dislike “Sure things.” So yes, Porter, what are they?
“… we need LNG export terminals in the U.S.
“These terminals aren’t easy to build. They’re gigantic operations. The terminals must cool huge quantities of natural gas to minus 259 degrees Fahrenheit. Only at these incredibly cold temperatures does natural gas turn into liquid form.
“Guess how many LNG export terminals are operating right now in the U.S.? None.
“That’s right. There aren’t any. None. And of the eight terminals currently being constructed… only one has the necessary license from the U.S. government to export LNG. So… just imagine… there’s an incredible glut of energy in America… and a huge demand for energy all around the world… but right now there’s only one ‘toll bridge’ that’s operating between these two markets. And it’s slated to begin operation in 2015, during Obama’s second term.
“While there’s some competition (not much) for LNG tankers, there’s no competition currently for the LNG export terminal owner. No one else has a license. That makes it, probably, the single best company to own in the entire world’s energy complex today….
“… the one company that has a license to export LNG will reap a fortune. Investors should buy the stock.”
Part of this is certainly political, since Porter’s argument is that the granting of licenses will continue to be a political patronage decision, so who knows when or whether anyone else will get a permit to export natural gas in the coming years — building of LNG import facilities was a political football because of NIMBY concerns, and converting those facilities and therefore increasing tanker traffic (import traffic is understandably very low right now) would probably raise similar concerns … and, of course, if natural gas prices spike legislators will scream bloody murder to avoid having winter heating bills climb for their constituents by exporting more nat gas. I have no idea what the upshot will be, but the second LNG export facility to start operating (there’s a tiny one in Alaska that ships to Japan, they just restarted this Summer) will almost certainly be the one Porter is teasing, which is owned by Cheniere Energy (LNG).
Cheniere Energy is indeed building out a LNG export facility (a liquefaction plant) out of their existing Sabine Pass import facility (a gasification plant) — all of this is in partnership with their captive MLP, Cheniere Partners (CQP), which also owns the service pipeline that is now used to distribute gas from the import facility but will be used to move gas down to the liquefaction trains for their export facility.
All of this is going to be incredibly expensive and the first phase doesn’t go into operation for about three years, so Cheniere should have an interesting ride during that time — they have to raise billions of dollars, and I presume that they’ll do so largely through the MLP, but if they’re right about what will be the long-term price differential at the time when the export facility is in operation they’ll still do quite well. The key question, I expect, is where there will still be a $10 price differential between seaborne LNG and domestic US natural gas in 2015 and 2020. I have absolutely no idea, but my suspicion is that this differential will narrow considerably during the coming decade — partly because of this one export facility, but also for other reasons (more domestic consumption, more international discoveries and production). Unlike TGP or the shippers, my impression is that Cheniere is a long-term story stock without much of a real operating business at the moment, so like all story stocks I would expect very significant volatility since there won’t be strong cash flows or anything like that to buttress the shares until they start to get close to operations at their export facility. There are certainly other LNG liquefaction facilities that are in the planning stages, so I expect the market to continue to evolve — heck, if Golar is successful with their current developments they might even have floating liquefaction capacity coming online in 2015, too (though that, of course, would produce a lot less than a dedicated terminal).
So if you think Porter’s right about his pitch both that LNG export will be major, and that Obama (or Romney, or the regulators) will be slow to grant largesse on other exporters, then Cheniere might indeed have a nice sustainable profit train hitting their books in 2015. There are enough moving parts to make me a bit nervous about that, and I’m more interested in the LNG shippers right now even though they’ll probably hit an equilibrium and possible oversupply next year as we wait for more liquefaction capacity to be built up to use this growing LNG tanker fleet, but I could just be too cautious.
“there’s one more stock you ought to consider that’s in the same line of work…
“The build-out, around the world, of the infrastructure required to enable LNG distribution of natural gas will take a decade or more. All of those ships I mentioned they’re building – the 140 new LNG tanker ships – they will all require import-export terminals, pipelines, storage tanks, etc. The U.S. is the world’s largest market (today) for natural gas precisely because it has the best natural gas infrastructure. Our approach to energy will be copied, around the world.
“And… this will require building vast amounts of new energy facilities.
“One company specializes in LNG infrastructure. It’s the world’s leading LNG builder. It makes the terminals. It makes the pipelines. It makes the storage tanks. You won’t be surprised to learn that this stock has already doubled in the last two years. But this is only the beginning. The rise in the stock so far doesn’t even match the backlog of its business.
“This is my second ‘sure thing’ way to invest in America’s energy boom. It’s always safer to buy the companies that make the infrastructure than it is to buy the oil producers themselves. Or as we say around the office, someone has to make the barrels for all that oil.”
Well, if he had hinted at the leading supplier of LNG equipment, I’d have to guess that his pick was Chart Industries (GTLS), which his analyst Frank Curzio had picked as one of his “Eagle Diesel” plays earlier this year … but since he said it’s the leading LNG builder, with terminals and pipelines, I’d say he must be teasing Chicago Bridge and Iron (CBI). That one’s a bit of a guess, given the lack of specific clues, but I can’t think of a second candidate who comes close as a publicly traded US stock.
And CBI has gotten relatively inexpensive again over the last few months, after perhaps too much attention drove the shares up early in the year — they trade at a forward PE ratio of 11 and analysts think they’ll grow at a good 15-20% per year going forward, so that equation works out quite well for investors. If the growth happens. I’ve personally been hoping that this one gets cheaper still — it’s certainly much easier to buy than is Chart Industries, but with big contracting companies there’s always the hope that they’ll have a lousy contract or a big cost overrun that lets you buy the stock when it’s depressed. CBI remains on my “one to watch” list but I’ve never owned it.
So that’s what Porter’s pitching these days as his plays for the second and third terms of the Obama presidency … what do you think? No, not about whether Obama’s arrogant, I don’t care what you think about that — what do you think about the new energy boom, and the potential for huge profits from the LNG export infrastructure buildout? Let us know with a comment below.
Disclosure: I personally own shares of both Seadrill and Golar LNG, which are mentioned above. I have a small position in speculative call options on TGP. I don’t own any other stock mentioned and will not trade in any of those stocks covered above for at least three days.