NEW YORK (
) -- It's difficult to avoid the argument that if there were ever a moment when the U.S. needed to get serious about national energy policy, the time is now. Yet with the Northern African/Middle East crisis sending oil prices to their highest levels since the financial crash, the federal government is set for a shutdown over the budget. Meanwhile, energy policy is tied up in the spending debate, and it's a big issue for stocks in energy and transportation sectors, from solar power to electric cars and natural gas engines.
The only event that seems to scare the markets as much as fear of the political events in the Middle East spreading to Saudi Arabia is fear of $4 -- maybe even $5 -- gasoline at the pump in the U.S. The fears were continuing to escalate on Thursday. Goldman Sachs warned of fear of global oil shortages as a trigger for a continued surge in oil prices. BNP Paribas raised its second quarter 2011 average oil price forecast to $105 for U.S. crude and $117 for brent crude.
The CEO of Italy's
, which is most exposed to Libyan production among foreign oil companies, said on Thursday that Libyan oil production had declined by 75%. The
reported that Saudi Arabia was preparing to add to oil production as a result of the crisis and Libya shutting down at least 25% of its production.
Political pundits are floating the idea of a national gasoline tax to wean Americans off their addiction to oil. Natural gas market experts are pounding the table about the country's abundant store of the "cleaner" fossil fuel. Alternative energy market executives are saying, "We told you so."
It may be time for "winning the future" and a "sputnik" moment, as President Obama has said, but the historic events in the Middle East are occurring at the same time as the usual political dysfunction in Washington D.C. As regimes topple overseas, the power brokers in Washington will simply close shop over the gap between the administration's budget request and the deficit hawks' budget machete.
Read on for a few of the key issues tied up in the spending debate that relate to energy policy and stocks in the alternative energy and transportation sectors.....