Why This Econony Is Not 2000's Economy

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- The recent fall in technology stocks has some bright people, including TheStreet's  Jim Cramer, making dire comparisons to the "dot-bomb" of 2000. 

But this is not 2000. The reason is simple.

Technology is not behind today's economic growth -- it's energy.

Sure, the new world of cloud-and-devices is cool, but it's built on something that was really new in the 1990s called the Internet. The economic value of the Internet was minimal in 1990. By the end of the decade it had transformed the world.

Today's economic transformation is based on fracking and renewable energy, starting with the most cost-effective renewable, efficiency.

When a barrel of oil is produced in the U.S. rather than Saudi Arabia it has two economic impacts. It means $100 is going into the pockets of U.S. landowners, oil workers and oil companies. It means $100 is not leaving the country to go overseas. Add in the value of refining that oil and exporting the finished product, the impact becomes larger still.

At $4.50/mcf U.S. natural gas today is in a state of glut. Oilmen in North Dakota and Texas find it more profitable to burn up to one-third of the gas they're producing at the wellhead, rather than wait for someone to build a pipeline that will send it to market, build a fertilizer plant nearby, or even condition that gas for use in the oil driller's own fleet.

Higher gas prices will make this additional economic activity profitable. The construction of liquified natural gas (LNG) terminals like those of Cheniere Energy (LNG) will help drive prices higher after 2015. The result will be even-more production, and even-more profit, for America's gas drillers.

You can see the result by driving along I-10 in Houston. Cranes are as busy there today as they were when I went to college at Rice, in the 1970s. Texas politicians may rail against the current Democratic President Obama but he's making them rich -- just as when they railed against another Democratic president, Jimmy Carter, back then.

When it comes to renewables, most of the headlines are about solar and wind energy. About 4 GWatts of wind and solar power were added to the U.S. grid last year, against 6.8 GWatts of natural gas power. 

But efficiency may be more important. Electricity demand has barely changed since 2009, despite the growth of the economy.  Efficiency drives sales of new appliances, of insulation, and even new Cree (CREE) light bulbs. All these products, many of them made in the U.S.A., can be paid for at least in part out of the energy savings they generate.

Oil consumption has also begun falling, to about the level of the late 1970s. The amount of oil consumed to generate $1,000 of economic output has fallen from 1.26 barrels in 1970 to half-a-barrel in 2012. Crude oil production in the U.S. now equals consumption and is continuing to rise.

Cloud is part of this efficiency tailwind. Companies like Google (GOOG) focus much of their design work on energy efficiency, using low-power chips and trying to re-use the power they generate for things like water treatment.

Devices like phones and tablets also use less electricity than desktop PCs, and don't need to be plugged into wall outlets as often as laptops.

The whole dot-com boom of the late 1990s was built on an entirely new platform and was the chief driver of economic growth at that time. Today's boom in clouds and devices is built on something that already exists.

U.S. energy self-sufficiency, by contrast, is brand-new. Rather than be worried about attaining Nasdaq 5000, it seems more prudent to worry about holding WTI 100. That's $100 per barrel of West Texas Intermediate crude, the U.S. domestic standard.

When efficiency and renewable energy combine with international fracking to start that price tumbling, then I'll worry about the U.S. economy. Not before.

At the time of publication the author owned shares of GOOG.

This article represents the opinion of a contributor and not necessarily that of TheStreet or its editorial staff.

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