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Wednesday, August 22, 2007
"Does anyone want a tire?"
Everyone chuckled. Beside our tour bus was a pile of used dump-truck tires. Each one was the size of a garage door and as thick as a car.
"Anyone who wants one can have one," repeated our tour guide, with a smile. "As long as you take it away."
I toured Syncrude's property in Fort McMurray last month. Syncrude is the largest oil company in Athabasca. It's really a syndicate of eight oil companies, all joined together in one massive venture to mine the oil sands in a big way.
It turns out, you can't do much with an old dump-truck tire.
Syncrude uses a few of them to line the roadways in its mine; farmers use a few of them as cattle feedlots. Some get used in playgrounds. The rest – some 600 tires annually – pile up on Syncrude's property, where tourists can gawk at them.
Syncrude uses the dump trucks to mine the oil sands. These dump trucks are the biggest in the world. They carry 400 tons of oil sand to the top of a mine. A monument overlooks one of the mines. It's a dump-truck tire with a plaque from the Michelin Tire Company underneath. The plaque says, "This is the largest truck tire ever made."
Since Syncrude started using dump trucks in the mid-1990s, its crude oil output has quadrupled and its stock price has gone up 1,500%.
Now Fort McMurray oil-sand miners face a severe shortage of dump-truck tires. A new dump-truck tire runs about $60,000. Tires last about 12 months. Each truck uses six tires at a time. That's more than $360,000 in tire expenses per truck every year. Syncrude owns 90 trucks.
Here's the thing: The tire's cost isn't the main concern of a mining company. It's availability. Oil-sand mines cannot operate without a supply of brand new dump-truck tires. Without dump-truck tires, they'd have to close their operations... and lose billions of dollars. So I bet the oil companies in Athabasca would pay $100,000 for new tires... if it meant keeping their mines open.
Today, I recommend you look into another critical Athabasca supply line, natural gas. Like tires, natural gas is an essential resource for the oil companies. You simply cannot produce oil without it.
In several DailyWealth columns, I explained why the natural gas market is heading into a supply crunch and why Alberta natural gas stocks will benefit. These natural gas producers not only have a bright future ahead of them, they're also deeply depressed right now.
Gas prices were soaring across North America in 2005, thanks to strong demand for clean electricity and accelerating production in the Canadian tar sands. Then Hurricane Katrina propelled gas to more than $15 per mcf. Money rushed into the western Canadian gas sector. In 2005, the number of drill rigs in the region increased by 25%.
But in 2006, the market reversed. The weather behaved, production was plentiful, and storage inventories in the U.S. turned into large surpluses. The price of gas collapsed more than 60%... and Alberta's gas stocks got knocked to the ground... and stayed there. Take a look at these gas plays:
Please keep in mind... I've only compiled this table to show you how far the fall has been. More than a hundred players operate in Alberta, and many are great values. But I encourage you to get familiar with Alberta's gas companies... they won't stay depressed for much longer.
THE REAL DEFENSIVE STOCKS ARE STILL SOARING
All it took was a 9% fall.
That's how far the S&P 500 declined from its July peak before the "defensive stock" articles started springing up last week.
With worries of a credit crunch, we don't blame folks for thinking defensively. The old saw goes, "During tough times, people may cut back on luxury watches or restaurant trips, but they'll always drink cheap soda, blow their nose, and take medicine... so own Coco-Cola, Procter & Gamble, and Pfizer."
We're not big believers in the "defensive stock" theory. Making big returns on your money is too darn hard for a popular solution like that to work consistently. We will note, however, that the stock price of Coca-Cola remains near its all-time high. People may be losing their houses, but they're still drinking soda.Apparently, they're also shooting at each other... The PowerShares Aerospace and Defense Fund, which we've profiled here before, has hardly budged during the market plunge. The market is telling us that making fighter jets, bullets, bombs, and submarines is still a heck of a business.