Determining the world's next megabubble

'Peak oil' vs 'alternative energy' vs 9 billion people in 2050 spells war.

oil refinery 88 224 (photo credit: )
oil refinery 88 224
(photo credit: )
Hollywood tag lines fit Exxon Mobil's $40 billion profit as well as the movies: "There will be Blood. There will be Greed. There will be Vengeance." Our "war of civilizations" is not of theologies but a primal battle to control basic resources essential to survival. Yes, there is blood... and oil... and greed... and vengeance... and wars for survival. At the highest level, this war's being waged in the elite towers of Wall Street and London and Dubai and Singapore: Quants in Turnbull & Asher shirts trading commodity derivatives, gunning for megabonuses, soaring high, like stealth bombers detached from the bloody fighting 40,000 feet below. That's also how Eric Janszen's radar reads the world in Harpers Magazine's "The Next Bubble." Inside a thought-bubble common on Wall Street, he invents a new economic theory from the simple observation that "the Internet and the housing hyperinflations transpired within a period of 10 years." Get it? Two bubbles, 10 years apart: An anomaly, yet suddenly we have a bizarre new economic theory: "There will and must be many more such booms, for without them the United States can no longer function. The bubble cycle has replaced the business cycle." Warning, this "new economy" is a tired old theory driven by utopian dreams of uninterrupted growth and perpetual prosperity, one that, unfortunately, consumes modern economic and political thought. It rejects contrary evidence, is blind to alternatives. Recessions are bad. In this latest spin, we're asked to believe that the economy will only survive if it endures bubble after bubble after bubble, like a raging volcano of oil bubbling from the earth's core, insatiable, a planet consuming its own life blood. 'Alternative energy' bubble or PR gimmick? We're told the "next bubble" is already here: "Alternative energy," says Janszen. In his new "perpetual bubble-blowing machine" theory this means that biofuels, solar, wind, nuclear, hydroelectric and geothermal energies are the new bubble, until it peaks and "creatively destructs" around 2013. 2013? Yes, then Wall Street will replace it with a new bubble. Bubble after bubble, accelerating, increasing in size and frequency ad infinitum. And each time, "we will be left to mop up after yet another devastated industry," while Wall Street "will already be engineering its next opportunity." Unfortunately, the only thing perpetual is greed. Small wonder Janszen dismisses my challenge on his Web site, claiming I have "no idea how the economy actually works." And yet, since my days at Morgan Stanley, I've seen many other theories that undercut this bizarre idea of a "perpetual bubble-blowing machine," which is predicated on a weak assumption; that the planet has an inexhaustible supply of oil and other natural resources. Unfortunately, that assumption is faith-based wishful thinking, much like Greenspan's, Bernanke's and Paulson's assumptions that the subprime problems were "contained." 'Peak Oil' and 'Bubble Blowing' theory The main alternative is "Peak Oil" theory, which the world's Exxon-Mobils hate. "Peak Oil" forecasts a different end game. Janszen's theory simply predicts America's economy will "creatively self-destruct" in 2013 while Wall Street is busy creating a newer, bigger bubble. In marked contrast, "Peak Oil" forecasts: • A "not-so-creative destruction" of the oil industry; • The end of Wall Street's "bubble-blowing machine"; • A steady decline of the oil-dependent global economy; • Widespread resources wars intensifying through the 21st century. Doom and gloom? Certainly among investors in the world's Exxon-Mobils. But before dismissing "Peak Oil," read a few books like: Twilight in the Desert: The Coming Saudi Oil Shock & the World Economy, A Crude Awakening: The Oil Crash, The End of Oil: On the Edge of a Perilous World and others exposing "Big Oil's" rosy estimates of inexhaustible oil reserves, new exploration technologies, geopolitics conflicts and, above all, the inability of supply-side scenarios to meet demand as the global population bubble explodes in the 21st century. Also see "The End of the Oil Age" in the latest Bloomberg Markets. It forecasts the peak in 2018; after that demand outruns supply. For more on "Peak Oil," check out with an open mind: "Civilization as we know it is coming to an end soon. This is not the wacky proclamation of a doomsday cult, apocalypse bible prophecy sect, or conspiracy theory society. Rather, it is the scientific conclusion of the best paid, most widely respected geologists, physicists, bankers and investors in the world. These are rational, professional, conservative individuals who are absolutely terrified by a phenomenon known as global 'Peak Oil.'" Megathreat: Exploding population vs stagnant supply We're at the "Oil Peak," but not the population peak. Supply is declining. Soon, megabillion earnings will be history: "Worldwide oil production in the year 2030 will be the same as it was in 1980. However, the world's population in 2030 will be both much larger (approximately twice) and much more industrialized (oil-dependent) than it was in 1980. Consequently, worldwide demand for oil will outpace worldwide production of oil by a significant margin. As a result, the price will skyrocket, oil-dependent economies will crumble and resource wars will explode." Question: Even if "alternative energy" is the next bubble, is it a realistic solution? No. It cannot meet future demand. Big Oil's certainly not betting on it. In a recent Fast Company report we learned that "Big Oil companies are investing less that 1 percent of their capital budgets in alternative energy sources." Big Oil even jokes about alternative energy: "Man left the Stone Age not because he ran out of stone," says Red Cavaney, CEO of the American Petroleum Institute. "We'll leave the age of oil, but it won't be because we ran out of oil." Their token investments in alternatives are just PR gimmicks. But this reality won't stop Wall Street from hyping and milking the "alternative energies" bubble, just as it milked the dot-com and subprime bubbles. Wall Street's greed has become dangerously anti-American. Subprime killed the "American Dream" of millions of homeowners. Wall Street diluted the equity of millions of its own investors with huge write-offs and insulted Americans by selling off equity to sovereign equity funds, all while paying outrageous bonuses to nearly everyone in the industry. The next big bubble Recently I read American Economic Bubble, which Janszen co-authored a couple years ago. The authors predicted a perfect storm of multiple bubbles reaching critical mass simultaneously, triggering a "bubblequake": federal deficits bubble; inflated US dollar bubble; foreign trade deficit bubble; overvalued stock market bubble; real estate bubble; consumer debt bubble. Back then, in 2005, I included "Peak Oil" and 13 other bubbles in my "Megabubble Meltdown Poll." But we weren't the only ones who saw this "train wreck" coming. We often reported on warnings from Buffett, Bogle, Grantham, Shilling and other realists. This reality was also obvious to America's leaders, including Greenspan, Bernanke, Paulson and many of Wall Street and Corporate America's hot-shot CEOs. Yes, they all saw it coming years ago. They could have stopped it, but greed blinded them. They got trapped in denial, purposely misled Main Street and let the "train wreck" happen. Warning: Greed will continue driving their decisions in the future. You cannot trust them. In short, America's Bubble Economy's prediction, though ignored, was accurate: "Never in our history have all these factors and conditions coexisted at the same time... No one can predict the exact moment when our linked bubbles will begin to burst, but this much we know: it's not a matter of if, but a matter of when... In other words, our bubbles will burst and our economy will fall. Think Internet Bubble, times 10."