What’s the Next Stop on Oil’s Wild Ride?

If you follow the oil markets closely, you might be feeling a bit motion sick these days. To call the path of crude oil prices over the last nine months “volatile” would be putting it mildly. Benchmark West Texas Intermediate crude rallied at the beginning of last autumn, hitting a peak of $76.41 per barrel on Oct. 3. From there, WTI plunged, reaching a low of $42.53 the day before Christmas: A decline of 45%. Then, crude started a new rally as 2019 began, eventually zooming back up to $66.30 on April 23, for a gain of 56%. Since then, it has fallen back to about $53, for a loss of roughly 20%. Nauseous yet?

What’s been driving all these ups and downs? Two competing narratives of under- and oversupply. The first, which prompted last fall’s big rally, held that the world would soon find itself short of oil because of the strong global economy and looming U.S. sanctions on Iran’s oil industry, which would take key barrels off the market. But when Washington waived some of those sanctions, the market suddenly looked oversupplied, and oil prices tanked. Not for long, though: Anticipation of strong oil demand and concerns that oil exports from Venezuela and Libya would shrink sparked a new rally that lasted through the winter. Then, this spring, investors grew nervous that various trade disputes would weaken the global economy enough to sap oil demand, and prices once again dropped. Continue reading “What’s the Next Stop on Oil’s Wild Ride?”

Mexican Tariff Turmoil Roils Senate Republicans

President Trump’s proposed tariff on Mexican goods struck the Capitol like a thunderbolt this week, catching lawmakers off guard and forcing Republicans to choose between two things they loathe: pushing back against Trump or allowing him to implement what they consider bad policy. Most, at least in the Senate, are choosing the former.

“There is not much support in my conference for tariffs, that’s for sure,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said. Continue reading “Mexican Tariff Turmoil Roils Senate Republicans”

China’s High-Tech Ambitions Take On 5G

Rising tensions between the U.S. and China extend far beyond trade. A battle over high-tech markets is ramping up as China seeks to lead the world in 5G, the latest version of cellular technology.

China’s 5G strategy increasingly worries U.S. officials, who see Chinese telecom gear as a national security threat that could allow Beijing to spy on communications or help developing nations censor parts of the web, as China does. There’s growing fear that China’s leading companies are poised to out-compete and out-innovate U.S. tech giants. That has riled U.S. lawmakers, who point to years of stolen intellectual property by China and unfair conditions imposed on U.S. firms doing business in the country. Continue reading “China’s High-Tech Ambitions Take On 5G”

Disaster Aid Disaster

Congress’ inability to follow through on a routine task with overwhelming bipartisan support—providing aid to areas hit by natural disaster—bodes ill for making the tough fiscal choices that lie ahead.

A proposed disaster relief package for areas hard-hit by flooding, hurricanes and wildfires has been stalled for months, largely over a squabble about how much money—if any—should go to Puerto Rico. President Trump claims that Puerto Rican officials have mismanaged the federal dollars it already received for 2017’s devastating Hurricane Maria and is reluctant to approve more. Democrats disagree and are demanding significant aid for the island. Continue reading “Disaster Aid Disaster”

Shopping for a New Car? Here’s What to Know Now

If you’re going to be in the market for a new car this year, it pays to know what sort of shape the auto industry is in and what sort of deals you can expect to find. If you haven’t shopped for new wheels in a while, you might be surprised at just how much the market has changed.

U.S. auto sales are still going strong, but they’re showing signs of weakening, according to industry analysts. Every expert I spoke with recently expects total sales to come in a bit below 17 million this year, which would be good, but behind the recent pace. Combined sales of cars and light trucks hit a record 17.5 million in 2016 and stayed above the 17-million market in 2017 and 2018; 16.8 million or a bit lower seems like a reasonable bet for this year. Continue reading “Shopping for a New Car? Here’s What to Know Now”

Big Tech Won’t Be Broken Up, but Big Changes Are Coming

Calls are growing louder to split apart Facebook, Alphabet, Amazon and other tech giants. A group of activists and scholars seek to use decades-old antitrust reasoning to regulate or break up today’s largest tech companies. “It’s definitely a new and much greater drumbeat today than it has been,” says Charlotte Slaiman, competition policy counsel at Public Knowledge, a public interest nonprofit based in Washington, D.C.

The rising movement, known as hipster antitrust, “attacks ‘bigness’ per se, says Joe Kennedy, senior fellow at the Information Technology and Innovation Foundation. Kennedy points out in a report that a policy shift in that direction could produce more uncertainty, slow innovation and even reduce economic growth. That threat, however unlikely, strikes fear into some of the country’s biggest companies. Continue reading “Big Tech Won’t Be Broken Up, but Big Changes Are Coming”

Fight Back Against Time-Wasting Robocalls

The scourge of unwanted and often illegal robocalls isn’t going away anytime soon. In fact, in the near term, it might even grow worse. Billions of robocalls are made each month, including fraudsters trying to steal your identity or raid your bank account by impersonating IRS or Social Security officials.

Some relief is on the horizon, though. Federal regulators and industry are beefing up efforts to penalize bad actors and roll out new preventative technologies. Software that blocks unwanted calls or better identifies who’s calling is improving quickly. And businesses are trying new text-based messaging services to reach customers who ignore voice calls. Continue reading “Fight Back Against Time-Wasting Robocalls”

Investing in Energy Efficiency

I recently gave some basic energy saving tips that may help consumers lower their utility bills. One of those tips was considering replacing conventional lightbulbs with light emitting diodes, or LEDs.

I figured advice isn’t very good if I wouldn’t take it myself, so I bought two LEDs to replace two old-fashioned incandescent bulbs in the light fixture above my dining room table. It may sound like a boring chore, but it promises to deliver a far better return on my investment than any stock or bond I’m likely to buy. Continue reading “Investing in Energy Efficiency”

States Blaze Trail for Marijuana Reform

Few industries operate in a stranger legal and political environment than marijuana. While 33 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized pot for recreational and/or medical use, the federal government still considers it an illicit, controlled substance. In short, pot is simultaneously legal and illegal in these states, depending on the governmental perspective.

The situation has partially handcuffed a nascent industry that otherwise is thriving and shows even greater potential. Legal cannabis sales in the U.S. are expected to top $13 billion this year – $3 billion more than 2018. Look for sales to spike to almost $26 billion in 2025. Continue reading “States Blaze Trail for Marijuana Reform”