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After Bernie Madoff, it's important to flag Ponzi schemes wherever we can find them. We can't just trust the watchdogs like the SEC to find them.
But sometimes we find Ponzi schemes where they don't exist. We got two of these Ponzi scares in the last 72 hours and I feel compelled to dispute them.
The first came from an analyst in Motley Fool, who charges that Nordic American (NAT) is using a version of a Ponzi scheme to pay its dividend. The second, from The New York Times, contains emails that charge some in the natural gas industry with running a Ponzi scheme to fool people into believing that the natural gas industry has the ability to produce enough natural gas from shale formations when, in reality, domestic nat gas is far less abundant than the industry would have you believe.I disagree with these analyses. First, the analyst in Motley Fool charges Nordic American raised equity to pay its dividend, which amounts to a Ponzi scheme in the eyes of any reader. But Nordic American, which has issued a ton of equity, does so to purchase tankers, typically at a discount to what they are worth to the company. The dividend is covered by the cash flow of the company, which has no debt, not the equity offerings. This is self-evident from any of the filings and was also the subject of my most recent interview with Herbjorn Hannson, the most knowledgeable and, yes, the most honorable guy in the tanker business. The charge is totally bogus. The second charge, that the natural gas industry is giving us false assurances about the amount of natural gas it is capable of producing, is part of a series being done right now by the New York Times' Ian Urbina. This is Urbina's seventh hit job on the natural gas industry in five months and, while the reporter defends this new series on the basis of his reporting quoting a series of skeptics -- many anonymous -- it is hardly unbiased. In fact, it is absurd on the face of it. The natural gas industry has a huge amount of problems, but they stem from a glut, a long-term glut, not a potential scarcity of nat gas. That's why both the near-term prices and the futures market prices are so low. There's just way too much of the stuff. The article purports to show that "we" have been duped by these companies, but if that's the case, those who have been duped include Exxon (XOM), Chevron (CVX), Statoil (STO) and Total (TOT). They are pretty sophisticated players. Maybe they have all been duped, but I have a real hard time believing they've all been hit by a massive Ponzi scheme. Believe me, I love to call out a Ponzi scheme when I think I see one, but Nordic American and the nat gas industry? Give me a break. Totally untrue. And absurd on the face of it.
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