Fox Business, of course, is an arm of Fox News, the frequently mindless defender of big business, not to mention the media poster child for any range of right-wing silliness that includes climate-change denial, misguided rage at President Obama and the EPA, rabid demonization of environmentalists and so on. Fox and its many all too well known commentators for years have promoted a drill-anywhere, dig-anywhere, pollute-anywhere point of view.
That’s why the appearance under the Fox rubric of the Fool.com commentary (Fool.com is the URL of the Motley Fool, the popular investing web site that promises to “Educate, Amuse & Enrich”), is notable. Titled “Coal Is Dead: It’s Time to Accept It,” the column prematurely declares the demise of the industry, which in truth is a long way from dead just yet, but it does offer some insight into the very difficult straits facing coal producers.
Here’s an especially astute passage:
“The big problem for coal isn’t regulation, it’s competition. Coal supporters like to blame regulation for coal’s current demand problems. That’s part of the problem, but the bigger problem is competition. As coal plants age, it is now more cost-effective to build natural gas plants, wind, and even solar power plants to replace them.”
Bingo. The real culprit isn’t the Obama administration. It’s not Big Green, regulators or crazed mine inspectors. It’s competition, plain and simple, and it’s global in scope.
The commentary explains the investment case against coal, which is no longer a cost-efficient source of energy, having handed that mantle to wind and solar, and it warns investors off coal stocks that include Peabody Energy, Arch Coal, and Alpha Natural Resources. It goes so far as to recommend stock picks in the solar-energy sector, an unexpected piece of advice, to say the least, on a site affiliated with Fox News. Incidentally, Sun Power and Sun Edison, two of the big U.S. solar companies, are headquartered in California, the state Fox loves to hate.
The overarching truth about coal is that the world’s biggest and fastest-growing countries, most notably China and India, are turning away from it because coal is such a drag on their economies. It is a barrier to livable cities, its production ultimately destroys so much of the natural-resource base, it is weighed down by technological lethargy, it is saddled by financial challenges, and it is having to absorb the increasingly high cost of public opposition. China and India today, in short, are acknowledging these risks.
It is only fair to add, as the Fool.com commentary does, that the coal industry has promised a turnaround time and again—someday, any day now—but quarter after quarter the red ink rises. . Industry leadership has broken its word for the last time according to the Fool, as they continue to undermine their credibility and abdicate investor trust.
That said, I’m not counting the industry out just yet. It is shrinking, yes, it has limited upside potential, and it is a poor investment. But coal producers are a scrappy bunch, even if they continue to draw horrific publicity that wards off investment dollars and diminishes public support.
Source: IEEFA. Reproduced with permission.