Climate change. It’s a touchy subject, with experts constantly debating whether and how humans are impacting the environment via carbon emissions, energy consumption and more.
But clearly, the Obama administration believes more needs to be done to fight global warming. That’s why the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released landmark, wide-ranging regulations today aimed at the electric power industry. The goal? Encourage much cleaner energy production in the U.S. over the next several years.
Specifically, the new rules are designed to cut carbon dioxide emissions from domestic power plants by 32% by 2030 (from 2005 levels). That’s up from a previous 30% reduction target. The EPA estimates the industry changes required to hit that target will cost $8.4 billion per year. But it also believes they will result in total benefits to things like public health of as much as $54 billion, making it all worth it.
How will we get there? Who wins and who loses? And what do the new regulations mean for investors?
Well, the coal industry is a major loser here. Utilities have already been shuttering coal plants and abandoning the dirtier fuel in droves, and these new regulations will only accelerate the shift. Coal produced just 369 million megawatt hours of power as of the first quarter of this year, down from 496 million ten years ago.
|Will solar power be a big winner under President Obama’s energy plan?|
As a matter of fact, the coal meltdown claimed its latest victim just today when Alpha Natural Resources filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The Virginia-based company operates 60 coal mines in five U.S. states, and it joins several other competitors who have already gone broke. It will likely close or sell off some facilities as it struggles to restructure its $3 billion in debt amid plunging demand and prices for coal used to both generate power and make steel.
Who wins as a result? Companies involved in the natural gas, wind, solar and even nuclear power industries. Nat gas is already generating 291 million megawatt hours of power now, almost double the 148 million a decade ago. Wind produces 45.6 million, compared with 3.7 million, while solar is up to 5 million from hardly anything in 2005.
One firm, Sanford C. Bernstein, estimates that nat gas consumption by the power industry will jump by a further 7.1 billion cubic feet per day, or 32%, over the next few years. Coal consumption will tank 23%.
That said, the benefits for the nat gas industry look a little less generous than they could have been. Incentives for the renewable power industry look more generous than originally expected. So that makes renewable energy companies even bigger relative winners.
The regulations are also sure to face tough legal challenges from the coal industry, certain states, and other interested parties. That means a Supreme Court challenge could ultimately loom, just as it did with Obamacare.
|“Regulations are sure to face tough legal challenges.”|
Bottom line: The power industry won’t change overnight. Rule modifications may loom down the road. But the gradual shift in the U.S. toward energy sources like nat gas, renewable, and nuclear, and away from coal, will likely accelerate as a result of these new regulations.
That means you may want to continue avoiding beaten-down investments like the Market Vectors Coal ETF (KOL), already off 33% year-to-date. Instead, take a look at investments like the Guggenheim Solar ETF (TAN) – up around 3.5% YTD – or consider bottom-fishing in the nat gas sector.
Things like the First Trust ISE-Revere Natural Gas Index Fund (FCG) and First Trust North American Energy Infrastructure Fund (EMLP) have already been hit hard (down 38% and 10% YTD, respectively) amid the broader energy sector struggles. But some of these companies should be able to benefit from increased gas consumption, transportation, and storage in coming years.
Now, it’s your turn to let me know what you think of the Obama administration’s power plan. Do these new regulations make sense to you from a cost-benefit standpoint? Or are they going to hurt too many businesses and drive our electricity costs higher? What investments should benefit the most, and do you own any of them yet? Here’s the link to the Money and Markets website; let me hear from you when you get a chance to speak up.
What’s ailing America’s workforce? Why can’t salary-and-wage-earners get bigger raises, even this many years into the purported economic recovery? That’s what you were discussing over the weekend.
Reader Nerdmedic talked about the impact of rising health care costs, and how that is impacting total compensation: “In my experience, while wages are flat, the costs to the employer are not, particularly when healthcare benefits are provided. In the past five years, the increase in the employer-paid portion of the healthcare premiums represented an 8% increase in employee compensation even though take-home pay remained static or, in some cases, dropped.
“When it dropped, it was generally due to an increased pension contribution which I view as deferred compensation. Granted, this is within a local government agency and may not reflect what is going on within the larger private sector economy. But it does illustrate that the total returns on employment are not as bad as suggested.”
Reader Mike said he’s seeing the same thing being captured by the broader statistics — income stagnation. His view: “My wages have been basically stuck in neutral. Lucky if I get 1% for an increase.
And the main reason: They can get the labor cheaper (in terms of hourly rate) overseas.
“A lot of our work is being moved overseas. And being we have to monitor (and usually fix) all of the overseas work, our productivity in the U.S. is going down (in terms of what we produce ourselves). So we look even worse in the reports that management looks at. They think the overseas labor pool is great and the U.S. folks are slacking off. Talking with folks from other companies, it doesn’t sound a whole lot different anywhere else.”
Reader Bill W. added the following observations: “Based on the last few years, I’ve seen and heard from many friends and family that raises have been scarce. Recently, I worked for a company that gave us bonuses that reflected our performance – salaries didn’t change for five years.
“It was difficult managing cash flow when expenses go up, but your salary doesn’t. It’s also frustrating to see EPS going up 8% to 9% a year, but our salaries only go up 1% to 3%. No money for salaries, but plenty for acquisitions. Corporations aren’t engaged to employees like they are to Wall Street.”
Finally, Reader Chuck B. weighed in on the impact of globalization and trade on American salaries and wages. His take: “Years ago, the politicians began screwing around with various laws, regulations and policies that would supposedly ‘improve’ things for American companies and workers. One thing all these changes did was to increase costs for American manufacturers.
“The manufacturers weren’t stupid. They realized if they could no longer compete with foreign companies due to the various restrictions, they could subcontract the work to those foreign companies and import things at a lower cost to resell at a higher profit for their companies.
“America, which was once the ‘maker’ for the world, became the importer of the world. The American workers lost their jobs and had to find work elsewhere, often selling those imported products that took away their jobs, and at a lower wage.”
Thanks for sharing. Proponents of freer trade (and new trade pacts like the TPP currently being debated) point to its positive impacts – new markets for American products, increased economic opportunity overseas, and more. But clearly you’re worried about the economic fallout of increased globalization here at home.
Regardless of the causes of income stagnation, it’s clear the effect will be economic malaise – unless and until we see take home pay increase at a healthier rate. And so far, there’s little evidence of that happening.
Anything else you want to add to the discussion? Then don’t forget to head over to the website when you have a minute.
Greece’s stock market opened for trading today … and promptly tanked by more than 20%. Trading had been suspended since June 26 as part of the country’s financial meltdown.
Here in the U.S., the Global X FTSE Greece 20 ETF (GREK) remained open for trading throughout the halt – so it had already declined. It’s down 27% year-to-date.
There’s been a ton of focus on the wide-open race for the GOP presidential nomination. But could the Democratic race get more interesting soon? Reports suggest Vice President Joe Biden may throw his hat into the ring and challenge front-runner Hillary Clinton for the nomination, though nothing is certain yet.
It’s wildfire season out west, and 21 major fires are burning throughout California. The Rocky Fire was in the news today, after expanding to more than 47,000 acres yesterday. Thousands of homes are threatened by the fire located roughly 100 miles north of San Francisco.
Investigators in France will soon examine the flaperon aircraft part that washed up on Reunion island in the Indian Ocean recently. The Wednesday testing will determine if it is from Malaysian Airlines Flight 370, which disappeared a year and a half ago.
So are you intrigued at the idea of someone giving Hillary a run for her money? Do you think we’ll finally get some answers about what happened to Flight 370? Any other stories that caught your eye over the weekend that you wanted to chat about? Then head over to the website and let me hear about it.
Until next time,