Weekend Roundup: Stocks, Oil and Gas
Maybe the Yonder 40 stock index has finally hit bottom.
The 40 stocks picked to reflect the rural economy had risen in late July to over 12 percent above where they stood in January. Then the bottom fell out of the market and the DY 40 index plummeted. By mid-August, the rural stock index was nearly 10 percent below where it had stood in January.
Last week, the index started to crawl upward, along with both the Dow Industrials and the S&P 500. (See chart above.) By Friday, the Yonder 40 was down 4.4% for the year.
Few of these rurally-based companies have shown gains since the July highs. In fact, only four companies stand above their July 29 price — Greenhaven (a commodity index fund); Sturm Ruger, the gunmaker; Southern Co., the giant utility; and Universal Corp., the tobacco company.
Sturm Ruger is the clear winner. Its stock price is up 19 percent in August.
The losers are too many to mention. The biggest losers in August (so far) are Penn Virginia (the oil and gas producer is off 41 percent; Regions Financial, down 32 percent; coal producer Cimarex Energy, down 27 percent; and Dean Foods, the milk producer, which is down 24 percent.
• Nebraska is having a hard time providing mental health services and substance abuse treatment in rural areas, says the state’s Medicaid director, Vivianne Chaumont.
The state may not be meeting federal standards, Chaumont told a legislative committee, and could lose federal funding.
•Federal geologists are revising downward their estimates for the amount of natural gas that can be found in the Marcellus Shale formation that goes from New York to Virginia, Ian Urbina of the New York Times reports.
The new estimates are quite a bit lower. The new U.S. Geological Survey estimate says the Marcellus holds 84 trillion cubic feet of gas. Earlier, the federal Energy Information Administration estimated the field held 410 trillion cubic feet.
Drilling in the Marcellus Shale has been controversial. Residents say the use of hydraulic fracturing techniques has damaged water supplies and states are busy writing new regulations to control the exploration of this field.
• The Obama administration is clearing the way for an oil pipeline that will go from Canada to Texas. The $7 billion Keystone XL pipeline would connect Port Arthur, Texas, to Canada’s oil sands near Edmonton.
Environmental groups have opposed the pipeline, warning that spills could be devastating.
• Corn and soybean prices are rising on reports that yields this year will be smaller than expected.
Corn is now $7.52 a bushel; beans are $14.15.
• The Post’s Joe Davidson explains that the Postal Service is hoping it can convince Congress to eliminate the no-layoff provision in its union contracts.
• If trends continue, half of the adults in the U.S. will be obese by 2030. We now live in a “obesogenic” environment, we’re told.
• The National Journal reports that presidential candidate Michele Bachmann is taking back her earlier view that farm subsidies were “outrageous pork.”
Rep. Bachmann’s family farm had received $260,000 of this “outrageous pork,” it turns out, and that has led to a softening of her views, reports Lindsey Boerma:
While she insisted that “our federal budget needs a complete overhaul, and agricultural subsidies are no exception,” Bachmann would not commit to doing away with them without seeing details of any future legislation. “If all farm subsidies were ended, that would be a complete change of policy over the last 80 to 90 years of American history, and that would be a very interesting vote,” she said. “So, of course, I would have to look at that before I could tell you how I was going to cast my vote.”
• Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton is creating a broadband task force, MPR News reports.
Dayton wants the group to report on what the state needs by year’s end.
“Everything is on the table,” from legal changes to money, says Commerce Department Commissioner Mike Rothman. “The real goal is to state concrete action items.”
• The lockout at American Crystal Sugar continues in the upper Midwest. Some 1,300 sugar workers in Minnesota, North Dakota and Iowa have been locked out of their jobs since they rejected a contract offer in late July.
• The Nation’s John Nichols finds hopeful (wishful?) signs for Democrats in rural America. He writes that Democrats won most of the rural counties in recent recall elections:
“Schools and services are what keep small towns strong,” says Wisconsin Senate Democratic leader Mark Miller, who represents a number of rural communities. “If the fight is between Democrats who want to defend pubic schools, public services, and Republicans who want to sacrifice them in order to give tax breaks to the rich, that’s when you’ll see rural voters shifting back to the Democrats. It’s started working in Wisconsin, it will work in Ohio and, if they get the message in Washington, it will work nationally in 2012.”
• Count on The Art of the Rural to write about what it means to be “sustainable.”
• Lynda Waddington at the Iowa Independent reports that folks are upset with Michele Bachmann’s campaign. She’s not doing the kind of hands-on, retail politics that Iowans expect.
She writes that Barack Obama made the same mistake in ’07 initially, but quickly tooled his campaign to feature smaller events and more one-on-one talks.