Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Crude oil jumped to record highs above $ 147 on July 11 driven by political and economic concerns after Iran fired intercontinental ballistic missiles to signal its willingness to use military force to resolve regional geopolitical conflicts. Crude prices, of course, are always sensitive to geopolitical conflicts in the Middle East. For a more comprehensive history of oil prices, see the excellent summary at WTRG Economics.
Yesterday, however, crude oil slide below $ 140 a barrel, losing more than 5%, the largest single day loss in the last 17 years. Commentators attribute the loss to investors fleeing energy related stocks and commodities, reasoning that the rather severe US economic downturn would reduce demand for fuel. MarketWatch report
The US economic troubles, particularly in the housing and now the financial sector, are remarkably severe. Last week, AP reported that mortgage foreclosure filings in June increased more than 50% over last year's rate. Economists expect 2.7 million homeowners to receive foreclosure notices in 2008 and more than half are expected to actually lose their homes. MercuryNews/AP report More and more foreclosures are likely due to continued job losses, housing prices that are plummeting in some markets, slow home sales, and increasingly tight mortgage lending restrictions.
The rapidly accelerating foreclosure problem has created a crisis in the financial markets. :the $4 - 8 billion failure of IndyMac on Friday was one of the largest bank failures ever, occurring after a precipitous drop in its stocks. The graph below on the left showing all stock price data for IndyMac and the graph on the right showing data for the last year demonstrate just how precipitous the cliff was for IndyMac:
Despite the federal government pledge Sunday to bailout the secondary mortgage giants of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac by extending more credit or buying a stake in secondary market firms, the firms' bank financial strength ratings have been slashed and investors continue to flee from their stocks. Forbes/Thomson Financial News Though the chair of the FDIC assures us that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac are well-capitalized, they are reportedly leveraged to the tune of nearly 70-1.
Emergency rules issued today restricted short sales of the two firms, but did not stem investor flight today as Freddie Mac lost $1.85, falling 26% tdoay from $7.11to $5.26 and Fannie Mae lost $ 2.66, falling 27% from $9.73 to $7.07. Bloomberg report
The weakness of smaller and regional banks such as National City Bankcorp, Washington Mutual, and Wachovia stock prices are illustrated by the 1 year stock price charts above.
And the primary brokers are also suffering (as shown by the 1 year stock price charts of Lehmann Bros. and Merrill Lynch on the top and Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs on the bottom).
So, what does this have to do with environmental law? Frankly, global poverty and ecological integrity are difficult enough to achieve when financial times are good. When US gas prices rocketed over $4 gallon, carbon taxes and even carbon caps based on auctioned marketable rights became more politically more dangerous. And attention shifted from achieving energy independence and carbon neutrality to reducing gas prices.
Yet, it is precisely the tendency of banks and other corporations, responding to the short-term incentives provided by stock markets, to engage in long-term economically and socially destructive behavior that caused the US financial crisis. Business really is its own worst enemy sometimes...and ours.