Friday, October 31, 2008

Gas prices

Arco's down to $2.71/gallon this morning. At this rate we'll be down under $2.25/gallon, a 50% drop from the peak price in mid-June, before Thanksgiving. This is making a big difference in my gas bill. The Focus gets good mileage, but I was still putting $50 or so into it every week in June. Now my weekly fill-up's down to less than $35. That's $60 a month more in the budget. OK, for me that's not a big amount, but for people getting by on less than $40K that $60 is probably 50% of their free money every month and makes a huge difference.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Campaign sign

What I'd like on a sign to put up in response to all those "Yes on Proposition 8" signs:

I'm truly sorry your marriage is so fragile, but I'm still voting No on 8."

Barack Obama on the situation in Iraq

There was an interview with Barack Obama. In it, he was asked about General Petraeus' requests and his disagreement with them. Bruce Schneier makes a good point about his response. General Petraeus' job is to handle Iraq. The President's job is to handle the world. It's a lot like a company. Each department is responsible for getting what it needs to do the best it can. But the CEO of the company has to look at all the things the company needs to do, and sometimes that means he has to tell Engineering "You've got a point, we do need to put money into new product development or we won't have anything to sell next year. But right now our marketing campaigns aren't working and our market share's dropping, so unless you've got a brilliant new product we can bring to market next week we need the money more over in Marketing for a new campaign or we won't be around next year to worry about what we'll be selling.". Obama grasps this concept, and clearly explains it. And he clearly explains why he can say he wouldn't give Petraeus what he wants while still agreeing that Petraeus is entirely right to ask for it and in fact does need it.

I haven't seen anything that reasonable out of the McCain side of things.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Gas prices

Correction: $3.03/gallon tonight at Arco. We're fast closing on a 1/3rd drop from what gas was at just 3 months ago.

Voter registration

The San Diego County Registrar of Voters has an on-line form you can use to check your voter registration information:

If you're registered, go there and double-check. It should give you your voter ID number, the last time you registered and what party you're registered as. If the information isn't correct, get it fixed before the election. And myself, I double-check the information the day before the election just to make sure nobody's playing games. Remember, nothing stops somebody from filling out a registration postcard in your name and sending it in, and that can cause you headaches. With all the dirty tricks these days, I rule out nothing from any party.

Gas prices

The Arco station's down to $3.09/gallon today. That's a 20-cent drop in a week. Pretty steep there.

I don't think the threatened OPEC production cuts will reverse the decline either. Gasoline demand in the US is down 6.4% over a year ago, and world-wide it's slowing as well. Inventory levels are rising, indicating supply currently exceeds demand. OPEC's dream of $100+/barrel oil is just that, a dream. The world right now can't afford that price, and at that level it becomes economically viable to use alternatives. And quite frankly that price level was never set by market forces, it was set purely by speculators who're currently in the process of losing their shirts, pants, socks and underwear and absent another speculation bubble prices aren't going to go that high again for quite a while. The only way OPEC could drive prices that high again is to curtail production so severely (say in the 25% range) their members wouldn't honor the cuts. Prices went too high too fast and stayed there for too long, people have changed their behavior (abandoning SUVs for smaller more fuel-efficient cars, finding ways to not drive, etc.) and even as gas and oil prices fall the housing implosion and credit crunch are sending the economy into the toilet making people twitchy about spending money and keeping them from returning to previous expensive habits. It's going to take years for natural growth to offset the effects of those changes. Sorry, oil guys, but in your quest for a short-term windfall you screwed your profits over the long term.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Gas prices

Gas is down to $3.25-29 at stations near me. That's a big drop from the $4.50+ prices back in June. A 30% or more drop in 3 months is pretty steep. And demand's down and staying down, which is causing the oil producers and oil companies and commodities speculators to throw fits.

Recognizing music

Interesting effect I noticed driving to work today. I've noticed it before, but it finally piqued me into writing about it. When noise interferes with music, so I can't hear all the notes or words, the song turns completely alien. The first beat of a measure doesn't even happen at the correct place in the melody. It's sometimes not even immediately recognizable as music or singing. It won't be until I finally place the song and remember the correct melody and lyrics that it'll snap back into synch and turn into a song again. It makes me wonder how much I really hear music, and how much is is just playback from memory with the audible song only providing markers to sync to.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Markets down further

I may have been overly optimistic. I was betting the Dow would be under 9000 by today. Instead, it looks to be making a good try at 8000. I pity those with 401Ks still heavily in stock funds, they've got to have seen 25-50% of their value evaporate in the last few weeks.

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Gas prices

Gas prices here are down to $3.37 and dropping. Not suprising considering the news on oil and gasoline supplies. Crude oil supplies are up 8.1 million barrels this week, making 2 consecutive weeks of increased supply. And the increase is 4 times the 2.2 million barrel increase predicted. Gasoline inventories are similarly up 7.2 million barrels, nearly 5 times the 1.5 million barrel prediction.

The oil industry's getting bit hard. They figured they could keep increasing prices indefinitely with no consequences. Wrong. When gas crossed the $4/gallon figure, people changed their behavior. If they were looking for a car, they stopped looking at big SUVs and pick-ups and started looking at more fuel-efficient, smaller models. If they had a gas-guzzler, if they could afford it they dumped it in favor of something that wouldn't eat their pocketbooks. Across the board they stopped driving as much, trying to cut down on how much gas they had to buy every week. And it went on long enough that these changes are permanent. Demand for gasoline won't be increasing as prices decline, not until the population grows enough to offset the decline in per-capita use. I'd note we've seen this before, back during the gas crisis of the 1970s. Prices climbed so far so fast that people dumped their big American gas-guzzlers for Japanese compacts, and demand dropped and stayed down for years until population growth caught things up. So anybody who's making projections based on last year's demand? Your input's garbage, expect your output to be garbage too.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Markets tank further

The S&P 500 closed below 1000 today, the first time it's done that since October 2003. Bets on the Dow breaking 9000 falling before the end of the week?

Oh, to put it in scale: The S&P 500's down about 1/3rd off it's high (back in late summer of 2007). The Dow is down over 30% off it's high (same timeframe). Those are scary numbers. During the great stock market crash of 1929 the Dow lost 90% before it was over, and we're nowhere near that number yet. But, the 1929 crash didn't happen in a single day. During the 5 days that're considered the major crash itself, the markets were down 10-15% day-over-day. Right now we're seeing the major indexes losing 5-7% day-over-day, so we're seeing about half the declines of the biggest crash on record. That's not a reassuring sign there. And the 1929 crash was over in a couple of months. We've been in a steady decline for 15 months now and it only looks to be accelerating.

Don't panic. You're already in free-fall without a parachute, so stop worrying about finding the rip-cord and start looking for the softest spot to hit.

Bernanke clueless?

Bernanke says the financial crisis may prolong the economic pain. Ya THINK?!

Monday, October 6, 2008

Stock market tanking

The Dow closed below 10,000 today, the first time it's done that since October 2004. The S&P 500 closed below 1100, the first time it's done that since August 2004. I don't expect either index to recover this week. They may gain a bit, but the trend's IMO going to be downwards until after the election, maybe longer.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Markets react to bailout plan

Well, Congress passed a bail-out bill, and the markets reacted. Unfortunately the reaction wasn't what lawmakers hoped: the Dow went from being up 300 points to being down 150 points on the day. That's because the markets weren't reacting so much to the bill as to the unemployment data that came out today. That was bad news: job losses were significantly higher than expected, unemployment's now running a hair over 6%. That's unsettling news as we head into the holiday season, the time when retailers depend on consumer spending to make their profits for the year. People who lost their jobs aren't going to be spending any more than neccesary, and people worried about losing their jobs will be less willing to spend on extras. The only good news is that bank stocks may rebound a bit with the reassurance that the government will eventually help cover some of their bad loan assets. That's not going to help the overall market, though.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Evidence of Steve Fossett found

They found some items belonging to Steve Fossett, who disappeared on an airplane flight a year ago. The location explains why the search came up empty. The items were found near Mammoth Lakes, CA. The search centered on an area about 50 miles north, in Nevada.