Now you say you’re sorry
For being so untrue
Well, you can cry me a river, cry me a river
I cried, cried, cried a river over you.
– From “Cry Me a River” by Arthur Hamilton
Dow down 67. Gold flat. We turn to other things. You know our position on foreign affairs: We think there shouldn’t be any.
But sometimes the news takes our breath away. Here with a brief summary of the situation in Crimea…
In 1954, Soviet head of state Nikita Kruschev – who was half-Ukrainian and grew up along what is now the Russian-Ukrainian border – gave Crimea to Ukraine. But the population of Crimea is mostly Russian-speaking and has had a strong Russian presence for more than 200 years. This includes an important Russian naval base.
Feeling threatened by the regime change in Ukraine (where the government is variously reported to be either “thuggish” or “incompetent”) the Crimean parliament asked Russia to intervene. Putin sent in troops, thus securing an important Black Sea port – Sevastopol – on his southern flank.
The Crimean parliament now wants a referendum within the region (one that will, importantly, not ask the opinion of Ukrainians outside Crimea) to decide how the people of Crimea wish to be governed – by the Ukrainians or by the Russians. Odds are they will choose Russia.
This has outraged Western powers… which is when our eyes began to mist.
“You just don’t invade a country under a phony pretext!” said US Secretary of State John Kerry.
Kerry’s indignation sounds like the sincere homage vice pays to virtue. He surely knows a pretext is just what you need. A veteran of Vietnam, the Secretary of State is not only aware of America’s hapless invasions of the Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Grenada, Panama, Haiti, Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Libya. He participated in one of them… after the phony Gulf of Tonkin “incident.”
An empire must have its enemies and its pretexts, its pet intellectuals and its warmongering pit bulls. Vlad “The Bad” Putin is a problem, they tell us. We turn to Tom Friedman for a reliably idiotic solution. He doesn’t disappoint. Here’s how to fix the situation, he says:
[By] putting the right long-term policies in place. That is by investing in the facilities to liquefy and export our natural gas bounty (provided it is extracted at the highest environmental standards) and making Europe, which gets 30% of its gas from Russia, more dependent on us instead.
I’d also raise our gasoline tax, put in place a carbon tax and a national renewable energy portfolio standard – all of which would help lower the global oil price (and make us stronger, with cleaner air, less oil dependence and more innovation).
You want to frighten Putin? Just announce those steps.
History’s Biggest Fools
We don’t know why we would want to frighten Putin. But foreign policy “experts” such as Friedman begin to talk this way when they’ve had too much to drink or too little to eat. They get a little light-headed.
How would forcing Americans to pay more for their gasoline hurt Putin? According to Friedman, it would lower demand for energy… thereby cutting into Russia’s export profits. This would surely hurt Americans, too.
Would it hurt Putin? Who knows? But what the heck! Give it a try. See how it works out.
Friedman imagines he can know all the billions of facts on the ground in places he’s never been and improve the outcome in situations he can never understand. From the safety of his column at the New York Times, he led the charge into Iraq… and now into Crimea!
What a thrill for these Roosevelt wannabes and Wilson manqués. Their children may ignore them. Their wives may think them foolish, pompous and ineffectual. But vicariously, foreign policies allow them to boss around whole nations. They are no longer victims of history, but its master…
But thank God for them all. They are history’s biggest fools. Without them, we wouldn’t have so many exciting wars… so much Sturm und Drang… so many entertaining stories in the newspaper.
What would the Cossacks have done without Napoleon’s Grande Armée? What use was the atom bomb without Hiroshima? And what would the fodder do without the canons?
A Screaming Bargain in Russia
From the desk of Chris Hunter, Editor-in-Chief, Bonner & Partners
The folly of an empire has been with us always.
But in sending in troops to Crimea, Vlad “The Bad” has at least opened up some exciting investment opportunities for value-minded investors with a stomach for some deeply contrarian moves.
Bill and I – along with Rob Marstrand, the chief investment strategist of our family wealth advisory service, Bonner & Partners Family Office – are hugely bullish on Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom OAO (PINK:OGZPY).
Gazprom has more than 15% of global gas production and reserves – dwarfing every other energy company in the world. It controls one-third of the entire European gas market and last year had export revenues of $163 billion.
Despite its dominant position, Gazprom has a market cap of just $84 billion – five times less than during the oil boom of 2008 and just over 20% of the current market cap of the world’s most valuable energy company, Exxon Mobil Corporation (NYSE:XOM).
Even better, following the Russian incursion into Crimea… and the widespread panic over Russian stocks… Gazprom is trading at about 2.2 times trailing earnings and a price-to-book ratio of just 0.3. (Where a ratio of 1 is a good proxy for liquidation value… what you would pay for the company if it went bankrupt.)
As Rob put it to Bill and me in a private note yesterday:
At that level you’re basically assuming the Russian government is going to confiscate shares from private shareholders, which runs against the entire flow of Russian policy under Putin to improve Russia’s financial system.
Or that Gazprom is going bust, which is difficult to imagine. It has hardly any debt and massive positive cash flow.
This is nuts. Remember, Gazprom is no Pets.com. It controls vast reserves of natural gas… that it sells domestically and in Europe.
Anything could happen in Crimea. But our take is that cooler heads will prevail.
Bottom line: Gazprom is a screaming bargain at current prices. Could it get cheaper, if tensions escalate over Ukraine? You bet. But at current valuations, long-term this looks to us like a great contrarian bet.