Sunday, June 29, 2008

When pickup sales dived, automakers changed plans

DEARBORN, Mich. - Every morning, just after getting coffee, Mark Fields fires up his laptop to pore over a computer model showing real-time U.S. auto sales figures.

On this morning in the middle of May, the man who heads Ford Motor Co.'s Americas operations has seen enough.

The line on a chart showing subcompact car sales for the first two weeks of the month goes almost straight up. The one for pickup trucks, Ford's biggest profit center, runs almost straight down.

High gasoline prices and the economic downturn are changing the market far faster than anyone anticipated. Without action, Ford would be making too many trucks and not enough cars, a recipe for a balance sheet peppered with parentheses.

"This is going on 10 weeks where we're seeing this not get any better," Fields recalled in a recent interview. "So we'd better act, and we'd better act now."

Eleven miles away at General Motors Corp., they were reaching the same conclusions. Consumers were delaying big-ticket purchases. Those who bought weren't going for GM or Ford trucks and sport utility vehicles, instead snapping up just about anything that gets more than 30 miles per gallon.

At both companies, executives were alarmed. Eventually they made almost desperate decisions that will cost thousands of jobs, change the vehicles people drive and determine whether their businesses survive.

"We need to get in front of it," Mike DiGiovanni, GM's executive director of global market and industry analysis, recalls saying. "If you wait too long on it, the pain would get a lot worse."

While both companies say they took quick action, critics wonder why they didn't make more fuel-efficient vehicles sooner. After all, there were many signs that gas prices would do nothing but rise.

"Obviously they were making just too much money off their SUVs and pickups," said Roland Hwang, vehicle policy director for the Natural Resources Defense Council. "They couldn't really fully conceive of a world where they would have to rapidly extricate themselves from those markets and those profits."

At GM and Ford, the pain came quickly. Ford was first, announcing on May 22 that it would dramatically cut truck and SUV production and slash its salaried work force. Factory closures are possible when the company announces specifics next month. A week later, Ford announced accelerated plans for a super-compact car to be built in Mexico and sold in the U.S.

Ford also abandoned its long-stated goal of turning a profit in 2009 and now says it will be difficult to break even next year.

GM followed with larger, more specific cuts, announcing at its annual shareholders meeting June 3 that it would close four truck and SUV factories, cutting more than 8,000 jobs. The company, which is clinging to its title as world's biggest automaker, also announced it would build a new small car in the U.S., powered by a 1.4-liter four-cylinder engine capable of getting up to 45 miles per gallon of gas.

But neither company's new compacts will reach showrooms for two years, and when they do, their profit margins will be far smaller than those from trucks and SUVs. Both automakers know they'll have to make it in the meantime with models already on the market or ones that are planned for the next year.

Industry analysts now are starting to question whether both companies, as well as Chrysler LLC, will have to borrow billions more to cover losses until sales recover.

As late as February, things were going pretty much according to both companies' plans. Sales weren't great, but their main barometer of the market, full-size pickup trucks, was holding up at 13 percent of U.S. sales, according to Ward's AutoInfoBank. Each automaker had rolled out new cars in expectation of a gradual shift from trucks to cars, and the cars were selling well.

But Digiovanni said oil prices in February began to rise, still not to an alarming level because they were consistent with previous seasonal spikes. Gasoline was still at a nationwide average of $3.03 per gallon.

In March, though, pickups' share of the market dove to just 11.6 percent and gas rose to $3.24.

"That's when I said 'Red Alert,'" Digiovanni remembered. "We're worried."

The share dropped to 10.8 percent in April, and when Ford's computer model predicted only a 9 percent slice of the market for trucks in the first half of May, CEO Alan Mulally decided to turn the giant ship faster than it had ever turned.

Ford would cut truck production and move as fast as it could to retool factories to make cars and crossovers. It would speed up plans to move small cars and trucks to the U.S. from other areas of the world and slash the normal three- or four-year time frame from design to build.

By May, gas prices had soared to $3.77, and both companies also were experiencing huge price increases in steel and other commodities.

When a market segment such as pickups moves up or down even one-half percent in a year, automakers consider it significant. Four points in 2 1/2 months "puts it into perspective," Fields said.

"We are reacting quickly," he said. "We are reacting more quickly than we ever had in the past."

Even critics say it would have been nearly impossible for the automakers to predict the 74-cent-per-gallon spike in regular gas prices between February and May.

Although Ford's computer model, developed by a physicist and programmer in its research center, can pinpoint real-time retail sales numbers for the whole U.S. market, no company has a model to predict the future with any degree of certainty.

Still, George Pipas, Ford's top sales analyst, said the company saw change coming several years ago and was moving to tilt its model lineup smaller.

"The direction we were headed was based on the point of view that small cars were going to increase their share of the market and trucks and SUVs were going to be less," Pipas said. "It was the speed with which we got there. So we've got to fast-forward the elements of our plan."

Whether Ford, GM and Chrysler LLC can go forward fast enough remains to be seen. But even Hwang of the Natural Resources Defense Council says he thinks the companies will have a brighter future because they are more focused on fuel economy.

"There's no reason why Detroit can't emerge leaner, stronger, more fuel efficient and more sustainable from a business and environmental perspective," he said. "Fuel efficiency is not just because you want to help save the world. It's because you need to save your company."

(This version CORRECTS in 21st graf that Ford moved to retool factories to make cars and crossovers, not retool factories that already make them.)

By TOM KRISHER, AP Auto Writer
Sun Jun 29, 5:29 PM ET

3 surprising fat burning tricks

Exercise makes you happy, healthy, sexy, and, unfortunately—really, really hungry. Back when I had the time to log many workouts every week, I fought constantly not to eat back all the calories I burned. Sometimes I was successful, other times—like the day I came back from a lunchtime power yoga class to find a monster brownie on my desk—not so much. You want to fuel your body when you work out of course, but not with mammoth brownies or seconds of pasta, or giant protein shakes you could swim in. A better idea: Understand the source of your raging appetite. Exercise is believed to trigger the release of a hunger-boosting hormone called ghrelin (it sounds like gremlin for a reason). It’s meant to protect the body from losing too much weight too quickly, but considering most gyms practically have a food court these days, that’s not a danger most of us face. Here’s how I keep the ghrelins at bay:

Snack First, Sweat Later

Twenty minutes later, to be exact. Exercising on an empty stomach lowers blood sugar, which can increase your appetite so you inhale your food later. You can always go for that pre-workout stalwart, a banana, but I’m not a huge fan, so I reach for about 4 ounces of yogurt or another carb-rich snack instead.

Take Preemptive Notes

Writing down everything you consume is a proven way to lose weight, but try this trick: Do it before you eat. Seeing what you’re about to put in your mouth—on paper—gives you instant perspective. Case in point: “Turkey sandwich plus two bags of chips plus a soda plus five of those cookies my co-worker brought it.” Would you eat all that? I think not.

Drink Lots of Water—On the Rocks

Studies show people who drink water regularly eat 200 fewer calories a day. (Here are some other sneaky tips to get rid of extra calories.) If you make it ice-cold, you may even burn extra calories without trying—researchers in Germany found that drinking six glasses of ice water a day can raise you metabolism by 50 calories. I’ll drink (a whole lotta frigid H20) to that!

What’s your favorite workout snack? How do you keep postworkout hunger under control? Please tell me your tricks!

Start Eating Better Today:

3,000+ Yummy, Healthy Recipes

Tricks to Slim Down Your Favorite Foods

5 Flat Belly Foods

by Liz Vaccariello, Editor-in-Chief, PREVENTION, on Thu Jun 12, 2008 6:53am PDT

Monday, June 23, 2008

Some signs of relief on gasoline prices

New York - Some of the long-term factors that have pushed oil prices to record levels are starting to change.

In large part because gasoline prices are over $4 a gallon, demand for fuel in the US is falling for the first time in 17 years. China is raising prices for gasoline and diesel – a move that might ultimately lower demand. And, on Sunday, there were signs supply might increase as Saudi Arabia's oil minister indicated that the country would increase production through the end of the year if needed. Iraq is also set to sign contracts with foreign companies to hike production.

"It's all a step in the right direction," says Phil Flynn, an oil analyst and trader at Alaron Trading in Chicago. "These are certainly signs to the market that prices can't just continue to go up."

However, some of the shorter-term factors are becoming worse.

On Friday, the energy markets were digesting news of an attack on a Royal Dutch Shell oil platform in Nigeria that shut down over 200,000 barrels of oil per day in production. Then energy traders fretted over news of an Israeli military exercise involving 100 planes, with some speculating that the aim of the exercise was to send a message about Iran's nuclear ambitions.

And, it's not clear how badly the US corn crop, used to make ethanol, a gasoline additive, has been hurt by the flooding in the Midwest.

"These factors are keeping the price up for now," says Mike Fitzpatrick, vice president of energy risk management at MF Global, a commodities brokerage.

By the end of day Friday, the price of oil had closed at $134.62, down 24 cents for the week. Nationally, the price of gasoline is $4.07 a gallon, according to American Automobile Association, down 1 cent a gallon from the record high.

Short term tensions
The attack on the Royal Dutch Shell platform occurred last Thursday, about 75 miles offshore. Although Nigerian rebels had attacked oil rigs before, this is the furthest from shore they have ventured. "When the manager saw the attack, he immediately shut down production of the oil and natural gas," says Rainer Winzenried, a spokesman for Shell in The Hague, Netherlands.

As of Sunday, the Shell platform was still shut down. Mr. Winzenried says Shell has declared force majeure, a legal move that frees the company from its obligation to deliver oil. "It can only put upward pressure on the prices," says Mr. Fitzpatrick.

The energy markets were also roiled by a news story in The New York Times that Israel had mounted a military exercise involving 100 F-15s and F-16s. The article linked the exercise to Iran's nuclear ambitions. "What are the Israelis thinking?" asks Fitzpatrick. "It lights up the whole area."

Over the short run, the energy markets are also watching for updated corn crop estimates given the flooding in the Farm Belt. On the futures market, the new crop corn is up about 25 percent in the first half of June. "One of the uncertainties is the ethanol situation in the Midwest," says Tancred Lidderdale, an energy analyst at the Energy Information Administration in Washington.

"A number of plants are shut down, there has been a disruption of the distribution process, and the railroads are flooded," he says. "We typically have gotten imports from Brazil, and they can increase their exports but I'm not sure they will."

With gasoline prices on the rise for months, consumers are now starting to cut back. According to the EIA, in the first quarter of the year, demand for gasoline fell about 100,000 barrels per day, or about 1.3 percent of daily consumption. For the year, EIA expects consumption to drop 0.7 percent over 2007. "This would be the first year over year decline in consumption since 1991," says Mr. Lidderdale.

The lower gasoline consumption is probably due largely to less driving. According to Department of Transportation statistics released last week, from November through April, Americans drove 30 billion fewer miles than the same period the prior year. "That's the sharpest drop in recorded history, some 66 years of collecting data," says Doug Hecox, a spokesman for the Federal Highway Administration in Washington, adding that "the drop took place before the price hit $4 a gallon."

China's price hike
Initially, oil prices fell after China announced it was raising the price of gasoline by 17 percent and the price of diesel by 18 percent. Some analysts thought it would cut demand, which grew by 7 to 8 percent on an annual basis in the first quarter. But, in the last three months, demand growth has slowed to 3 percent, partly because of shortages, says Paul Ting, an energy analyst.

Now, he says Chinese refiners, although they are still losing money, might increase production somewhat. "So, we have conflicting forces, higher prices which might have some marginal impact on demand and more product available from the refiners," he says. "I think the end result will be an increase in demand, but not back to the 8 percent growth rate."

Slowing demand may be met by an increase in supply. On Sunday, Saudi oil minister Ali el-Naimi, at a special meeting of oil consumers in Jeddah, said production might increase over the current 9.7 million barrels of oil per day if the market needs extra supplies.

The kingdom had already committed to produce an extra 200,000 barrels a day starting in July on top of an additional 300,000 produced in May.

The extra Saudi production comes at a time when Iraq is also talking about adding to its capacity. Last week, the Iraqi government said its production was up to 2.5 million barrels per day, about where it was prior to the coalition invasion. On Sunday, officials also said it was awarding additional oil contracts to 41 foreign companies in the hope of boosting exports by another 500,000 barrels per day. It will be the first time the global energy companies will be back in Iraq since Saddam Hussein kicked them out in 1972.

Wire service material was used in this story.

By Ron Scherer
Mon Jun 23, 4:00 AM ET

Sunday, June 22, 2008

U.S. drivers should think in gallons per mile: report

CHICAGO (Reuters) - If soaring gasoline prices have prompted you to look for a more fuel-efficient ride, using miles per gallon as a guide could lead you astray, U.S. researchers said on Thursday.

Instead, they propose a new standard based on gallons per mile, which gives people a far better idea of how much gasoline they might save by switching trading in that gas-guzzling minivan.

"There is a math illusion here," said Richard Larrick, a management professor at Duke University, whose research appears in the journal Science.

Larrick said most people think improvements in miles per gallon are all the same, where a 5 gallon per mile improvement would yield the same gas savings in a car that gets 10 miles per gallon or 20 miles per gallon. (One mile equals 1.61 kilometers, and one U.S. gallon equals 3.79 liters.)

"The reality that few people appreciate is that improving fuel efficiency from 10 to 20 miles per gallon is actually a more significant savings than improving from 25 to 50 miles per gallon for the same distance of driving," Larrick said.

He tested this out in a number of different experiments on U.S. college students.

When presented with a series of car choices in which fuel efficiency was defined in miles per gallon, the students could not easily identify the choice that would result in the greatest gains in fuel efficiency, he said.

People had a much easier time when fuel efficiency was expressed in gallons per 100 miles. In that case, a car that gets 18 miles per gallon uses 5.5 gallons of gas per 100 miles, and a car that gets 28 miles per gallon uses just 3.6 gallons per 100 miles. With gasoline prices over $4 a gallon, that's a difference of about $8 per 100 miles.

"If we just turn everything around, you can see where are the large savings in gallons of gas," Larrick said in a telephone interview. The idea is not new. Many other countries, especially in Europe, already use a standard that compares gas used per trip.

To translate miles per gallon into gallons per 10,000, Larrick said people can simply divide 10,000 by miles per gallon. Cars with the highest miles per gallon are always the most fuel efficient, he said. It is when people are trying to replace a car that they may be misled.

That's how he became interested in this problem.

"We were trying to decide whether to get rid of a minivan and go for a station wagon versus getting rid of a sedan and going for a really high-mileage hybrid car," Larrick said.

"We realized in the end we were better off trading in the minivan and only gaining 10 miles per gallon then we would be trying to swap out the sedan for a highly efficient car."

To help make these choices easier, Larrick and colleagues recommend consumer publications and car makers start listing fuel efficiency in terms of gallons per 10,000 miles driven, which he said is roughly the distance people in the United States drive in a year.

Larrick's team has developed a conversion table that can be found here

By Julie Steenhuysen
(Editing by Will Dunham)

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Twin Vets Helping People Go Green

A kind reporter from the Miami New Times wrote an Article on what Russ & I are doing.

read more | digg story

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bush to urge Congress to allow offshore drilling

WASHINGTON - President Bush plans to make a renewed push Wednesday to get Congress to end a long-standing ban on offshore oil and gas drilling, echoing a call by GOP presidential candidate John McCain.

Congressional Democrats have opposed lifting the prohibitions on energy development on nearly all federal Outer Continental Shelf waters for more than a quarter-century, including waters along both the East and West coasts.

With oil prices soaring and motorists paying $4 a gallon for gasoline, political pressures have been growing for more domestic oil and gas production.

"The president believes Congress shouldn't waste any more time," White House press secretary Dana Perino told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

"He will explicitly call on Congress to ... pass legislation lifting the congressional ban on safe, environmentally friendly offshore oil drilling," Perino said. "He wants to work with states to determine where offshore drilling should occur."

Bush also will reiterate his call for development of oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska, Perino said. McCain has opposed drilling in the refuge, maintaining that the pristine areas in northeastern Alaska should be protected from energy development.

On Monday, McCain made lifting the federal ban on offshore oil and gas development a key part of his energy plan. The Arizona senator said states should be allowed to pursue energy exploration in waters near their coasts and receive some of the royalty revenue.

Bush has made clear in recent weeks that the drilling moratorium in coastal waters should end to allow for more domestic oil production and help "take the pressure off the price of gasoline."

Democrats, as well as some Republican senators from coastal states, have opposed lifting the drilling prohibitions, fearful that energy development could harm tourism and raise the risk of oil spills on beaches.

Sen. Barack Obama, the Democratic candidate for president, opposes lifting the ban on offshore drilling and says that allowing exploration now wouldn't affect gasoline prices for at least five years.

Congress imposed the drilling moratorium in 1981 and has extended it each year since by prohibiting the Interior Department from spending money on offshore oil or gas leases in virtually all coastal waters outside the western Gulf of Mexico and in some areas off Alaska.

President George H.W. Bush imposed a separate executive drilling ban in 1990, which was extended by President Clinton and then by the current president until 2012.

Bush has been considering lifting the executive ban as a symbolic move to get Congress to take action, but he decided against doing so for the time being, said an official who spoke on condition of anonymity because internal deliberations were involved.

The House Appropriations Committee was scheduled to vote on legislation Wednesday that included a provision that would continue the drilling moratorium into late 2009. Rep. John Peterson, R-Pa., planned to try to strip that provision from the bill. A proposal Peterson offered last week that would open all federal waters 50 miles from shore to oil and gas development was rejected by an Appropriations subcommittee on a 9-6 party-line vote.

By H. JOSEF HEBERT, Associated Press Writer
1 hour, 20 minutes ago

Achieving Energy Independence®

Here is how Energy Independence will occur (in no particular order):

1) Fuel Cell/Hydrogen (Think Honda)
2) Hybrid Technology (Not just the Prius)
3) Cellulosic Ethanol (NOT feed stock)
4) Biodiesel
5) Energy Efficiency (Demand Side Mgmt)
6) Energy Conservation (Supply Side Mgmt)
7-10) Renewable Energy (Supply Side Mgmt): Wind, Solar, Geothermal, Hydro Energy, etc.

This is already happening. Energy Independence is already being achieved!!!

Stand By For Heavy Rolls...!!!

Monday, June 16, 2008

Heave Out & Thrice Up...!!!

Policy-makers call inflation top threat

BRUSSELS/JEJU, South Korea (Reuters) - Policy-makers around the globe declared soaring inflation a top threat on Monday, with pressure rising for central banks to raise interest rates amid protests against higher costs of living.

The European Commission, the European Union's executive arm, said inflation was its main economic concern after data showed prices in the 15 countries using the euro rose a record 3.7 percent year-on-year in May from 3.3 percent in April.

The comments boosted the euro against the dollar because they fueled speculation the European Central Bank may raise interest rates at its July 3 meeting by more than the 25 basis point hike already expected, traders said.

Inflation in the euro zone, as elsewhere, is fueled by food and energy costs, which are surging on steadily rising demand from fast-growing economies like China and India and some supply disruptions.

EU finance ministers believe the weakness of the U.S. dollar and speculation also play a role.

Talking to European and Asian finance ministers meeting on the South Korean resort island of Jeju, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak said the inflation surge was the biggest challenge the economy had faced in some 30 years.

"It's no overstatement to say that the world is faced with the gravest crisis since the oil shock of the 1970s, with oil, food and raw materials prices skyrocketing," he said.

Finance ministers from the United States, Canada, Japan, France, Germany, Italy, Britain and Russia, meeting in Japan over the weekend, warned that soaring commodities prices could damage economic growth.

But they did not come up with any plans to calm financial markets or quell public protests over the rising cost of living.


Protests by truckers, fishermen and other groups particularly vulnerable to rising energy costs have swept across countries from Spain to India and South Korea in recent weeks.

On Monday, French truckers began blocking roads in the latest protest to pressure the government to help them cope with oil prices that have more than doubled in a year.

Colombian truck drivers staged strikes on Monday to protest high fuel costs and road tolls and demanded higher transport payments after failing to reach a deal with the government.

U.S. crude oil prices ended slightly lower, down 25 cents at $134.61 a barrel, as investors reassessed the impact of a potential increase in production from the world's top producer, Saudi Arabia. Oil prices are still double from a year ago.

Crude prices fell after earlier hitting a record high just under $140 a barrel due to the weaker U.S. dollar and supply disruption concerns in the North Sea.

Floods across America's Midwest, the country's prime cropland, exacerbated supply concerns and boosted the price of corn above $8 a bushel for the first time. before closing down at $7.87.

Competing forces of higher human and animal consumption of grains, plus bio-fuel production, are keeping prices elevated.

Rising prices are helping fuel the economic renaissance in emerging markets. But they are also strengthening inflation pressures, and central banks in these markets have already started to raise interest rates to keep them in check.

Politicians worry inflation will undermine economic growth. Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Monday told investors in Sao Paulo that the fight remains a top priority.

In the United States, the president of the Richmond Federal Reserve Bank, Jeffrey Lacker, told business and community leaders the U.S. central bank can keep interest rates on hold for the moment but should not leave them too low for too long.

Inflation was the biggest worry for Asia, Asian Development Bank Managing Director-General Rajat Nag told Reuters on Sunday in Kuala Lumpur, because it threatens to erode the gains made in fighting poverty over the last two decades.

Britain's leading employers' group said on Monday that rising oil and food prices and feeble consumer demand would slow the country's economy to its weakest growth rate in almost two decades next year.

Recent comments from U.S. Federal Reserve and ECB officials have raised market expectations the world's central banks would start to raise interest rates to try to calm price pressures.

ECB Governing Council member Nout Wellink kept up the bank's recent hawkish rhetoric on Monday, saying after the release of euro zone inflation data that keeping price growth under control was the bank's top priority.

He repeated the ECB's message about the possibility of a rate rise in July and joined other ECB governors in playing down the possibility of a series of ECB rate increases. But some economists believe more could materialize.

"The message has been clear enough but it's too early to speculate on the next half of the year," Wellink told reporters on the sidelines of a microfinance conference in Amsterdam.

Similarly hawkish messages came from ECB Vice President Lucas Papademos and ECB Executive Board Member Gertrude Tumpel-Gugerell.

(Additional reporting by Daniel Bases in New York)

(Writing by Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Leslie Adler)

By Jan Strupczewski and Yoo Choonsik
1 hour, 44 minutes ago

Sunday, June 8, 2008

Gas Prices In South Florida

FL Metro Averages
*Prices Are In US Dollars Per Gallon.
Trend: Prices are Rising.


Highest Recorded Price:
Regular Unl. $4.070 6/8/2008
Dsl. $4.834 6/1/2008

Fort Lauderdale

Highest Recorded Price:
Regular Unl. $4.044 6/6/2008
Dsl. $4.909 5/30/2008

West Palm Beach-Boca Raton

Highest Recorded Price:
Regular Unl. $4.091 6/8/2008
Dsl. $4.845 6/1/2008

See More Here.

Average U.S. gas price hits $4 a gallon for first time

As prices soar, AAA urges quick completion of oil trading probe

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- The average U.S. price for gasoline rose to an all-time high above $4.00 a gallon Sunday, following the spike in crude oil futures seen in the previous week.

Regular unleaded gas touched $4.005 per gallon, up from $3.988 Saturday and $3.105 a year ago, according to the American Automobile Association Fuel Gauge Report. The figure represented a national average, with many gas stations having long raised their prices above the $4 level.

AAA fuel price analyst Geoff Sundstrom said the recent rise in gas prices has already taken a toll on motorists.

"While consumers are very unhappy with the prospect of $4 per gallon gasoline, they are highly adaptive to changing economic circumstances. Many have already responded by changing their driving behavior, adjusting household spending priorities and moving into more energy-efficient vehicles when they can do so," he said.

Crude connection

The move above the $4 gas mark came after crude oil's benchmark West Texas Intermediate front-month future shot higher Friday by almost $11 a barrel, scoring its biggest one-day gain in dollar terms. The July future closed at $138.54 on the New York Mercantile Exchange. See full story.

The jump in oil futures was attributed to a fall in the U.S. dollar and news affecting future supply, such as remarks published Friday by an Israeli official talking about a possible attack on Iran.

But Sundstrom said that speculation and trading irregularities on the oil market could also be involved.

"What the consumer can not do ... is make certain that oil industry future contracts are traded fairly and appropriately and that prices are not being manipulated in world financial markets," he said.

Concern over oil trading issues has prompted the U.S. Senate, the Commodity Future Trading Commission and other government bodies to investigate what has been driving crude futures up so dramatically.

Sundstrom said AAA wants the CFTC and other regulators "to quickly complete their inquiry and to be ready to suggest market improvements that might limit the degree to which prices can ever be bid to extremely high levels by those with no intention of ever taking physical delivery of this essential global resource."
He also urged gasoline retailers against knee-jerk reactions to sudden price spikes on the crude-oil market.

"AAA does ... caution gasoline station owners not to over-react to one day of oil trading by recklessly increasing retail prices this weekend," he said ahead of gasoline's break through the $4 level. "One day of trading does not constitute a market trend, and consumers should not be over-charged for gasoline simply because the oil markets reacted so strongly to [Friday's] news."

Headed for $5?

Sundstrom said AAA was still assessing how much the jump in oil will impact gas prices this summer.

"It would be irresponsible to scare consumers about higher fuel prices when the markets are exhibiting such erratic price patterns, and unlike many market commentators, AAA has no financial interest in 'talking' prices either up or down," he said.

However, some watchers on the crude market are forecasting a continued climb in oil futures.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said in a research note last week that they expect to see a short-term spike in oil prices, with shipping patterns suggesting that benchmark crude will reach $150 a barrel by July 4.

"Distribution patterns of crude oil out of the Middle East are mimicking those of last year as we exited [the third quarter], when we predicted an oil price spike into year-end based on our projections of sharp inventory draws in the Atlantic basin," they said. "That same pattern is now again upon us, and we are making an identical call, only this time we are starting from a much tighter Atlantic Basin inventory backdrop."

By Michael Kitchen, MarketWatch
Last update: 10:05 a.m. EDT June 8, 2008

Michael Kitchen is a copy editor for MarketWatch and is based in New York.

Texas Oil Tycoon Tackles Renewable Energy

An excerpt of an interview of Texas Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens:

So you're an oil man who's turning his back on oil?

Foreign oil is costing us $500 billion a year. In 10 years, $5 trillion goes out of the country. It's nuts. It's the greatest transfer of wealth from one area to another in the history of the world.


Read more here.
David Case

GM to discontinue original Hummer H1 model

First in company’s line of Humvee-inspired vehicles ends production in June

DETROIT - The 2006 model year will be the last for the Hummer H1, the hulking, gas-guzzling status symbol that has attracted celebrities and off-road enthusiasts but has drawn the ire of environmentalists.

General Motors Corp. announced plans Friday for the H1, which is the foundation for the automaker's Hummer brand. Based on the military's Humvee, the about 12,000 put on the road since 1992 defined the Hummer name.

"It's a reflection of where we're going with the Hummer brand," Hummer general manager Martin Walsh said of the decision. "The Hummer DNA still resides in the Humvee. ... It will always be the core from where we come."

GM expects the last H1s to be built next month.

Walsh said Hummer plans to focus on models with broader appeal instead of the niche-market H1. Since taking over the Hummer name in 2000, GM has introduced the still hefty H2 and a midsize H3 sport utility vehicle.

The H1 gets about 10 miles per gallon, but Walsh said rising gas prices did not factor into GM's decision. He noted that H1 buyers typically have been less sensitive about gas prices than most other drivers.

Auto analyst Erich Merkle with the consulting company IRN Inc. said the decision fits with steps GM has taken to bring the Hummer brand to more mainstream drivers with the H2 and H3.

"They're going to continue moving Hummer in that direction," Merkle said. "It's a great brand. There is a lot that can be done with that in terms of leveraging its ruggedness and toughness."

Merkle added that the kind of drivers who buy the H1 do not worry about things like gas prices.

"It's really one of those over-the-top vehicles," Merkle said. "It doesn't really have much of a place in everyday society. You can't put it in the parking ramps. Parking spaces can't accommodate it."

The H1 attracted well-heeled drivers looking for a military-style vehicle with an intimidating stance. For the 2006 model year, the H1 was offered as a high-performance H1 Alpha that costs about $130,000 to $140,000.

The vehicle first was marketed to the public as the Hummer in 1992 by AM General, which also makes the military version. Under a 1999 deal, GM bought marketing rights to the Hummer name and called the vehicle the Hummer H1.

Hummers often have been associated with celebrities who owned them, such as actor Arnold Schwarzenegger. California's governor was AM General's first civilian customer, buying a custom-made conversion of the military model as well as civilian production models.

Last year, GM sold 374 H1s, down 16 percent from 447 in 2004.

AM General said in a statement that it does not plan to cut any jobs as a result of the decision. GM said workers there were expected to be shifted to military production.

© 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Associated Press
updated 2:58 p.m. ET, Fri., May. 12, 2006

OPEC sees no need to pump more after price surge

DUBAI (Reuters) - OPEC members saw no need on Sunday to pump more oil in response to last week's double-digit surge in oil prices to over $139 a barrel that top exporter Saudi Arabia described as unjustified.

More pain was coming for consuming economies hurting from record fuel costs as prices were likely to climb further, officials from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) said.

Oil soared more than $16 a barrel - over 13 percent - in a two-day rally on Thursday and Friday on weakness in the U.S. dollar and rising tension between Israel and Iran.

"I think there is enough oil in the market," Shokri Ghanem, head of OPEC member Libya's National Oil Corporation, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

Top oil exporter Saudi Arabia is the only OPEC member with capacity to boost output quickly and significantly.

But Saudi Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi and his Pakistani counterpart met on Sunday and agreed that the price rise was unjustified and unrelated to market fundamentals, the official Saudi Press Agency reported.

Consuming governments have put pressure on OPEC, supplier of more than a third of the world's oil, to boost output to ease the effect of high oil prices on their economies. Germany's government voiced its concern on Sunday about the impact of oil's rally.

"The increase of the oil prices is becoming a real threat to the worldwide economy," Germany's Economy Minister Michael Glos told Reuters.

$150 OIL?

OPEC blames factors beyond its control, including speculation and international political tension, for the price rises. Those factors could take prices even higher soon, said Iran's OPEC representative Muhammad Ali Khatibi.

"I forecast that by the end of summer the price of oil will reach $150 a barrel," Mohammad Ali Khatibi was quoted as saying by Iran's state broadcaster.

Iran is OPEC's second largest oil producer and the deepening dispute with the West over Tehran's nuclear ambitions has contributed to oil's rally.

Israel's deputy prime minister said in remarks published last week that an attack on Iran's nuclear sites looked "unavoidable," although a senior Israeli defence official said on Sunday the remarks did not reflect state policy.

Investors have bought oil on concern that an escalation in the conflict could disrupt Iran's exports.

But only a real threat to supply would stir OPEC to meet before its next scheduled gathering on September 9, an insider said on Sunday.

Nobody within OPEC was calling for a meeting before September, Libya's Ghanem said.

Rising oil prices have defied swelling OPEC supplies to physical markets. Iran said on Sunday it would export over 2.5 million bpd in June as shipments recovered from a 200,000 bpd lull in demand from refiners during April and May. Iran has large volumes of crude sitting in tankers offshore waiting for buyers.

Saudi Arabia has boosted output 300,000 bpd to pump 9.45 million bpd in June, and Oil Minister Ali al-Naimi said last month the kingdom was meeting all demand for its crude.

Iraq expects its exports to hit a five-year high in June.

Still, concern over long-term supplies and declining output from producers outside OPEC have also lifted the oil price. Ghanem said on Sunday that oil was getting more difficult and costly to produce and that global supplies were nearing their peak.

"The easy, cheap oil is over," he said. "Peak oil is looming."

Sunday June 8, 11:04 am ET
By Simon Webb

(Additional reporting by Alex Lawler in London, Inal Ersan in Dubai, Hashem Kalantari, Hossein Jaseb and Parisa Hafezi in Tehran, Thomas Krumenacker in Berlin; Editing by David Cowell)

Thursday, June 5, 2008

Natural Gas appliances as an alternative to electric appliances?

I have heard folks talk about changing out major appliances from electricity to natural gas as a means to save money. Now, while it may be a sensible idea, you need to think beyond step two.

Step One:
Problem Identified -> Need to lower electric consumption to reduce expenditures. Idea: Change from more expensive source to cheaper source.

Step Two:
Solution Provided -> Change out appliances from electric to natural gas.

Step Three:
New Problem Identified -> Natural gas prices rise...

Step Four:
Any guesses...???

"Hmmm... It seems to me that this would be a good idea."

Question: Why isn't it working?

Answer: Think beyond Step 2. How many other clever people are out there thinking the same exact thing as you?

If you read here you will see that Natural Gas prices has risen by about 32%, oil prices have risen by about 54%, and electric utility rates are going to rise by about 16% from about a year ago.

Food for thought: When prices rise again and again and again and yet again. When will you say enough is enough? When will you look beyond the immediacy of now and make a change that targets over the horizon? WHEN?!

FPL may zap customers with 16% rate hike

The high costs of fuel will hammer consumers yet again starting in August -- when Florida Power & Light plans to raise electric bills by 16 percent to make up for its soaring fuel costs.

If approved by regulators, the utility said the average homeowner who uses 1,000 kilowatt-hours a month will see his or her monthly bill go from $102.63 to $118.91. Many homeowners with central air conditioning use considerably more than that.

The energy surcharge is allowed by law and is generally considered a quick pass-through by regulators, who are likely to approve the request quickly.

The utility said they have been hit by the same trends as drivers being slammed by higher prices at the pump. The price of natural gas, used to generate half of FPL's electricity, has increased 32 percent, from $8.17 per million BTU in July 2007 to $10.75 per million BTU in May 2008.

Fuel oil, which accounts for eight percent of FPL's power, has gone from $57.81 per barrel in July of 2007 to $89.02 per barrel in May 2008, a 54 percent increase, the utility said.

FPL said it needs $746 million to recover its additional costs through the end of 2008. ''We recognize that higher electric bills will be a burden on our customers,'' said FPL President Armando J. Olivera. ``We never like having to increase the price customers pay for electricity, and it's especially painful during difficult economic times. However, the increase in fuel prices that we have been experiencing is extraordinary. This is not unique to FPL; utilities across the country are experiencing the same issue.''

The Public Service Commission is expected to consider FPL's request at its July 1 meeting. If approved, the increase will be seen in bills from August through December. The company will make another request for 2009.

Source: Miami Herald


Here is what FPL says about all of this: What’s the Fuel Charge?

The fuel charge, or fuel adjustment, reflects the actual cost of the fuel we use to generate your electricity. The charge is a mix of the different fuels used by all of our power plants, including natural gas, oil, nuclear, and coal. The cost of fuel used to make electricity has always been part of your bill, but to help keep you informed, it is now itemized on your bill.

It is important to note that FPL customers pay only actual fuel costs that the company incurs. When fuel prices go up, the additional costs are passed through to customers, and when fuel prices go down, the savings are also passed through to customers. There is no profit of any kind for FPL on fuel.


U.S. Air Force Plans Coal-to-Fuel Conversion Plant

MALMSTROM AIR FORCE BASE, Mont. — On a wind-swept air base near the Missouri River, the Air Force has launched an ambitious plan to wean itself from foreign oil by turning to a new and unlikely source: coal.
The Air Force wants to build at its Malmstrom base in central Montana the first piece of what it hopes will be a nationwide network of facilities that would convert domestic coal into cleaner-burning synthetic fuel.

Air Force officials said the plants could help neutralize a national security threat by tapping into the country's abundant coal reserves.

And by offering itself as a partner in the Malmstrom plant, the Air Force hopes to prod Wall Street investors — nervous over coal's role in climate change — to sink money into similar plants nationwide.

"We're going to be burning fossil fuels for a long time, and there's three times as much coal in the ground as there are oil reserves," said Air Force Assistant Secretary William Anderson. "Guess what? We're going to burn coal."

Tempering that vision, analysts say, is the astronomical cost of coal-to-liquids plants. Their high price tag, up to $5 billion apiece, would be hard to justify if oil prices were to drop.

In addition, coal has drawn wide opposition on Capitol Hill, where some leading lawmakers reject claims it can be transformed into a clean fuel.

Without emissions controls, experts say coal-to-liquids plants could churn out double the greenhouse gases as oil.

"We don't want new sources of energy that are going to make the greenhouse gas problem even worse," House Oversight Committee Chairman Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said in a recent interview.

The Air Force would not finance, construct or operate the coal plant. Instead, it has offered private developers a 700-acre site on the base and a promise that it would be a ready customer as the government's largest fuel consumer.

Bids on the project are due in May. Construction is expected to take four years once the Air Force selects a developer.

Anderson said the Air Force plans to fuel half its North American fleet with a synthetic-fuel blend by 2016. To do so, it would need 400 million gallons of coal-based fuel annually.

With the Air Force paving the way, Anderson said the private sector would follow — from commercial air fleets to long-haul trucking companies.

"Because of our size, we can move the market along," he said. "Whether it's (coal-based) diesel that goes into Wal-Mart trucks or jet fuel that goes into our fighters, all that will reduce our dependence on foreign oil, which is the endgame."

Coal producers have been unsuccessful in prior efforts to cultivate such a market. Climate change worries prompted Congress last year to turn back an attempt to mandate the use of coal-based synthetic fuels.

The Air Force's involvement comes at a critical time for the industry. Coal's biggest customers, electric utilities, have scrapped at least four dozen proposed coal-fired power plants over rising costs and the uncertainties of climate change.

That would change quickly if coal-to-liquids plants gained political and economic traction under the Air Force's plan.

"This is a change agent for the entire industry," said John Baardson, CEO of Baard Energy in Vancouver, Wash., which is awaiting permits on a proposed $5 billion coal-based synthetic fuels plant in Ohio. "There would be a number of plants that would be needed just to support (the Air Force's) needs alone."

Only about 15 percent of the 25,000 barrels of synthetic fuel that would be produced daily at the Malmstrom plant would be suitable for jet fuel. The remainder would be lower-grade diesel for vehicles, trains or trucks and naphtha, a material used in the chemical industry.

That means the Air Force would need at least seven plants of the same size to meet its 2016 goal, said Col. Bobbie "Griff" Griffin, senior assistant to Anderson.

Coal producers have their sights set even higher.

A 2006 report from the National Coal Council said a fully mature coal-to-liquids industry serving the commercial sector could produce 2.6 million barrels of fuel a day by 2025. Such an industry would more than double the nation's coal production, according to the industry-backed Coal-to-Liquids Coalition.

On Wall Street, however, skepticism lingers.

"Is it a viable technology? Certainly it is. The challenge seems to be getting the first couple (of plants) done," said industry analyst Gordon Howald with Calyon Securities. "For a company to commit to this and then five years later oil is back at $60 — this becomes the worst idea that ever happened."

Only two coal-to-liquids plants are now operating worldwide, all in South Africa. A third is scheduled to come online in China this year, said Corey Henry with the Coal-to-Liquids Coalition.

The Air Force is adamant it can advance the technology used in those plants to turn dirty coal into a "green fuel," by capturing the carbon dioxide and other, more toxic emissions produced during manufacturing.

However, that would not address emissions from burning the fuel, said Robert Williams, a senior research scientist at Princeton University.

To do more than simply break even, the industry must reduce the amount of coal used in the synthetic-fuel blend and supplement it with a fuel derived from plants, Williams said.

Air force officials said they were investigating that possibility.

In a recent letter to Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Rep. Waxman wrote that a promise to control greenhouse gas emissions from synthetic fuels was not enough.

Waxman and the committee's ranking Republican, Virginia's Tom Davis, cited a provision in the energy bill approved by Congress last year that bars federal agencies from entering contracts for synthetic fuels unless they emit the same or fewer greenhouse gases as petroleum.

Anderson said the Air Force will meet the law's requirements.

"They'd like to have (coal-to-liquids) because of security concerns — a reliable source of power. They're not thinking beyond that one issue," Waxman said. "(Climate change) is also a national security concern."