Category Archives: business news

'Gas war' takes on new meaning

Do you remember when the term “gas war” referred to competing service stations at intersections dropping their prices to lure customers away from the station across the street?

I read recently something like that happened in Oklahoma City, dropping the price of gasoline to less than $2 per gallon.

Good deal, right?

Well, the term has taken on a more global meaning. The energy price war is causing serious declines in the price of gasoline in the United States. It dropped to $2.15 per gallon today in Amarillo and it’s likely to drop even more. Heck, it might have dropped another penny or two since I got home today a little after noon.

http://www.realclearenergy.org/articles/2014/12/10/the_daily_bulletin_-_december_10_2014_108168.html

OPEC recently refused to cut production. The supply of crude oil remains quite high, while demand is declining. Add to that the surging U.S. energy production, which is about to make the United States the world’s largest producer of petroleum in the world, surpassing Saudi Arabia as No. 1.

We can thank (or blame) the fracking that’s going on in West Texas and in North Dakota and Montana, which are seeing a huge boom in the production of shale oil.

Although I am acutely aware that the decline in oil makes it more difficult for producers to keep pumping it out of the ground, I also am grateful to be paying a dollar or more less for gasoline than I was paying a year ago. It’s freeing up some disposable income in our house.

Someone will have to tell more once again why this oil price decline somehow is bad news.

Well? Anyone?

 

Wealth measurement changes with times

Warren Buffett is now the world’s second-richest man.

The title used to belong to Carlos Slim. Both of these guys trail Bill Gates by a good bit. Several billions of dollars, I think.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/savingandinvesting/buffett-unseats-mexicos-slim-as-worlds-second-richest-person/ar-BBgpiKD

I see these surveys measuring people’s wealth. Gates is worth tens of billions. Same with Buffett and Slim — and whoever else comprises the Top 10 list of richest people on the planet.

Inflation has done a lot of things to the way we measure these matters.

It all reminds me of how much the actual dollar has been devalued over the past, oh, 40 years.

Aristotle Onassis died in 1975. He was a shipping tycoon with merchants ships carrying cargo all around the world. At the time of his death, he was considered one of the world’s top two richest men. I seem to recall it was a see-saw contest between him and a rival Greek shipping magnate, a guy named Stavros Niarcos.

What was Onassis’s wealth at the time of his death? The figure I saw was $500 million.

Good heavens. He was a mere multimillionaire. Onassis’s portfolio amounted to mere chump change when compared to Gates, Buffett and Slim.

Big jobs numbers, but still no GOP applause

Critics of President Obama have been beating the drum for years about the economic recovery.

Yeah, nice jobs numbers, but those wages just aren’t increasing, they say, while lampooning the economic recovery as a sort of mirage.

http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/06/business/economy/november-jobs-unemployment-figures.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&module=first-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

Today’s news brought some serious good cheer to some of us, but not all.

The economy added 321,000 jobs in November. Wages increased 0.4 percent as well. The bottom line? The economy is finally beginning to be felt in people’s homes.

Will there be cheering among congressional critics of the president? Don’t hold your breath.

My hunch is that they’ll find a way to spread the joy among themselves without giving credit to a federal economic policy that’s been working for, oh, about the past five-plus years.

The stock market is heading into record territory — again. The trade deficit is down. The budget deficit is down. The national debt is slowing. Unemployment remains less than 6 percent. Investments are up. Spending is up. Real estate prices are up. Auto sales are up. Domestic energy production is up. Gasoline prices are plummeting.

Holy cow! I can’t stand all this good news!

I’ll just have to proclaim it from this forum yet again.

 

'War on Christmas' is a media myth

Dan Radmacher used to work as a journalist back east, most recently as editorial page editor of the Roanoke (Va.) Times.

He wrote a wonderful essay in 2006 bemoaning the so-called “war on Christmas,” which he said — correctly, in my view — is a trumped-up creation of right-wing talking heads who populate the Fox News Channel.

Here’s the link to what he wrote:

http://ww2.roanoke.com/editorials/radmacher/wb/96222

I offered my own take on this idiotic “war,” noting that the real war is being waged by Black Friday shoppers who battle with each other — literally — in the toy aisles at stores across America.

http://highplainsblogger.com/2014/11/26/war-on-christmas-whos-waging-it/

Dan’s column, though, does contain a passage worth noting here. He wonders why the conservative media hounds keep harping on retail employees wishing shoppers “happy holidays,” instead of “Merry Christmas.”

Here’s part of what Dan wrote: “I’ll admit that I find it silly to refer to ‘holiday trees.’ However, those who pride themselves on being good Christians might realize that the Christmas tree is pagan in origin, and that the Bible criticizes the practice: ‘For the customs of the people are vain: for one cutteth a tree out of the forest, the work of the hands of the workman, with the axe. They deck it with silver and with gold; they fasten it with nails and with hammers, that it move not’ — Jeremiah 10:3-4.

“But what’s so wrong with ‘Happy Holidays’ as a season greeting? The word holiday, after all, is derived from holy day.”

The only thing “wrong” with it is in the closed minds of those who keep beating the drums on the trumped-up “war on Christmas.”

Let’s remember, too, that the federal government closes on Christmas. Banks are closed. Wall Street shuts down. Students are home from school.

A war on Christmas? It’s a figment of TV talking heads’ own bias.

Don't bet on OPEC

It’s gratifying to me to see the United States and Canada standing up to other oil-producing regions in the ongoing battle to control the price of fossil fuel.

According to an analysis on MSN.com, the North Americans are winning the fight.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/money/other/opec-is-wrong-to-think-it-can-outlast-us-on-oil-prices/ar-BBgej5T

The Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries recently declined the opportunity to reduce production. The non-action sent Brent crude to new low prices. According to MSN: “The Saudis appear to be spoiling for a fight, trying to find out exactly how cheap oil must be to force surging U.S. shale-oil production to seize up like an unlubricated engine.”

The gratification comes in the knowledge that North Americans finally seem to understand the need to conserve energy and to use alternative sources of energy. Yes, the production of shale oil in North Dakota and Montana also is helping boost oil supplies that have been outstripping demand; the result has been the plummeting prices we’ve seen across the country.

Shale oil is less expensive to produce than when it first came onto the oil-production scene, according to MSN.

Add the falling production costs of shale oil and the growing use of alternative sources — wind, sunlight and hydropower, to name just three — then OPEC’s influence on world oil price becomes diminished.

We’ve come a good distance from the days of the Arab Oil Embargo, correct?

 

Welcome to Black Friday

One of the many nice aspects of my part-time job at Street Toyota/Scion is the interaction I have with interesting customers.

Two of them came to our service department this morning. They are foreign-born. I asked them, “Where do you come from?”

“The Philippines,” the wife said.

We chatted a few moments. I asked them where they live; they reside in a small town north of Amarillo. She’s a medical professional, he is a contractor.

I asked them about the service we were doing for their vehicle. The gentleman told me they brought their truck in for a recall and some other maintenance. “Oh, do you think it will take some time?” I asked. He said “Yes, I think so.”

I told them we could transport them wherever they want to go if they didn’t want to wait.

Then the conversation got rather entertaining.

Husband: “Well, we were thinking about going to the mall, but it’s closed today, correct”?

Me: “Ohhh, no! It’s open. It’s been open for some time. Probably before the sun came up this morning.”

Husband: “Really? I thought today was a holiday.”

Me: “No, no, no. Yesterday was the holiday. We celebrate Thanksgiving every year at this time. Today is the start of the Christmas shopping season. (Westgate Mall) is quite crowded today.”

Husband: “Oh, OK. Well, I didn’t remember that.”

I then sought to explain to his wife the meaning of Black Friday. I believe she understood how I explained that businesses look to make a sizable profit today from sales of items. She asked if there would be “lots of price cuts.” I said, “Quite possibly, yes.”

With that, they walked across the street to a sporting goods store to do some shopping. They returned about an hour later, informed me that “It wasn’t too crowded over there,” then said they wanted to go to the mall.

I flagged down one of our drivers, Mark, and told him where they wanted to go. “Don’t tell me the mall,” Mark said, laughing loudly.

The couple stood up, walked out with the driver and the wife turned, smiling broadly, and waved good bye.

“What’d I tell ya?” I said. “Good luck.”

Welcome to Black Friday.

 

War on Christmas? Who's waging it?

Conservative media are fond of saying at this time of year that there’s a “war on Christmas.”

They point to supposedly “liberal” business owners who instruct their employees to wish customers “happy holidays,” or protests by civil libertarians over Christmas decorations on public property.

So, they’ve declared there to be open war on Christmas.

It’s malarkey.

In my mind, the first shots of the real war on Christmas will be fired on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving. That’s when mobs of shoppers — thousands of whom across the country have been camped out for days — will stampede into retail outlets in search of the perfect gift.

There will be violence. Fist fights will erupt. Arrests will occur. The cops will break up melees in the toy aisle.

Will any of this happen here, in Amarillo, the self-proclaimed “Buckle of the Bible Belt”? I have no clue. I cannot predict what will happen in specific communities. Nationally, though, I’m quite certain we’re going to read accounts of such mayhem as Americans rush to find the one-and-0nly gift for their loved ones.

If you’re going to pinpoint the combatants in the war on Christmas, look no further than at The Mall, or at any major department store. That’s where it’s being waged, on the ground.

And yet …

We keep hearing from those who insist that Christmas should remain an exclusively religious holiday. Christians celebrate the birth of a baby who Scripture tells us was born to save the world. The holiday, over the centuries, has morphed into something quite different from a mere birthday party.

Please, conservative media. Spare me the blathering about your perceived war on Christmas. If you have barbs to sling, aim them at those hooligans who’ll get arrested Friday morning fighting for the last Elsa doll in the store.

 

Ancestral homeland climbs back

Greece is the land of my ancestors … all of them.

My mother’s parents emigrated to the United States from Turkey, but they were Greeks through and through. My father’s lineage goes back to the southern peninsula of Greece.

So, when news of Greece is bad, I ache a little bit more than I would if the news were about, say, Sweden or Poland. The Greek economy has been in the news a lot lately. And when the news is good, such as when Greece played host to the spectacular 2004 Summer Olympics, my pride swells.

My heart is gladdened just a bit with news from Reuters News Agency that the Greek economy — you’ll remember, when much of Europe was trying to bail them out with cash — has come back.

http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/14/eurozone-economy-greece-idUSL6N0T42OV20141114

Reuters reports: “Seasonally adjusted figures showed the euro zone weakling posted three consecutive quarters of growth this year, even though it had only been expected to exit what the government has
called Greece’s ‘Great Depression’ in the third quarter.”

What has pulled the Greek economy out of the ditch? Some economists have suggested tourism has given Greece its heft. The country has discounted lodging prices and the country continues to be a magnet for tourists looking for a little culture, sunshine, beautiful landscapes and a walk through some of the grandest antiquities on the planet.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting my ancestral homeland three times and I plan to return. My wife, who’s made the trip with me said, “Of all the places we’ve been, this is the one place I want to see again and again.” That, folks, is high praise.

So I’m glad to read about the good news about Greece that has gone largely unreported. The media were certainly quick to tell us about the gloom and doom.

According to Reuters: “The news is a boost for Greece’s government, which has been promising austerity-weary Greeks better times ahead.”

I hope to read more about those “better times” when they arrive.

 

 

'Net neutrality' becomes latest political football

Who would have thought that something called “net neutrality” would become subject for a fierce political debate?

Not me.

I’ll stipulate that I’m not well-versed in the technicalities involving the Internet and control over access to broadband services.

http://www.connectamarillo.com/news/story.aspx?id=1121041#.VGKa8lJ0yt8

So, when President Obama lined up in favor of net neutrality, I could not have anticipated the fearsome response from Republicans in Congress and throughout the country.

Here’s how The Associated Press describes the issue: “‘Net neutrality’ is the idea that Internet service providers shouldn’t block, slow or manipulate data moving across its networks. As long as content isn’t against the law, such as child pornography or pirated music, a file or video posted on one site will load generally at the same speed as a similarly sized file or video on another site.”

Netflix has backed the president’s call for net neutrality. Yet cable providers are far from thrilled. AP reported: “‘We are stunned the president would abandon the longstanding, bipartisan policy of lightly regulating the Internet and calling for extreme’ regulation, said Michael Powell, president and CEO of the National Cable and Telecommunications Association, the primary lobbying arm of the cable industry, which supplies much of the nation’s Internet access.”

If the issue is to prevent Internet providers from blocking data, then I’m for it. Part of the president’s stance is for the Federal Communications Commission to regulate Internet providers, and would prevent so-called “data hogs” such as Netflix from being charged more to move their content.

Obama has come down on the side of consumers who want more information as quickly as they can get it.

This has created a firestorm? I’m still trying to figure it out.

 

 

Jobs report due; get ready for unfounded griping

The Labor Department reported today that claims for unemployment benefits fell to a 14-year low.

This comes on the eve of its monthly jobs report, due out Friday.

So, what will happen? Usually, when the jobless claims dip as they did this week, it means a glowing jobs report is sure to follow.

http://www.msn.com/en-us/news/us/us-jobless-claims-fall-to-14-year-low/ar-BBdiTRM

I’m not going to predict any numbers here, because I have no clue what they’ll be. I’m thinking, though, the job growth in the private sector will match the recent trend, which has been very good.

So, how will the Obama administration’s critics react to this latest bit of sparkling economic news?

They’ll say, “Oh well, the Christmas buying season is almost here and retailers are hiring temporary help to assist with the boost in business.” They’ll pooh-pooh the numbers as a seasonal aberration. Big deal. Where’s the beef? The economy is still in dire straits. Didn’t the mid-term elections just prove that Americans are uneasy about the economy and the direction the country is heading?

This goes to show what politics does to reality.

The reality is that the economy has come back. It’s getting even stronger.

I heard an oil-and-gas analyst today suggest that lower fuel prices are going to give consumers more disposable income to spend at shopping malls across the country, suggesting a booming holiday shopping season that commences with Black Friday the day after Thanksgiving.

Oh, but that’s all smoke and mirrors, the critics will say.

Fiddlesticks.