Tuesday, February 07, 2006

What if Hunter S. Thompson Ran a Country?

“We have to defend our fatherland.”

Who said that recently—Hitler? Stalin? Hunter S. Thompson?

Of course not—they’re all dead. So here’s a hint: the man who said that also said this:

“We still need a higher number of rifles. The 100,000 Russian rifles are not enough, Veneuzuela needs to have one million well-equipped and well-armed men and women.”

That’s right: it was Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela, the largest oil exporter in the Western Hemisphere.

I’m not making this up. The leader of a country in the Western Hemisphere actually said he needs a million well-armed men and women, to prepare for an invasion by the United States.

But that leader, who just as well might be Hunter S. Thompson, what with all the guns and paranoia flying around, does not lead just any country—he runs Venezuela.

And Venezuela, as I have discussed before (“Instability Adds Up”) supplies 11% of the crude oil imports to which we are “addicted,” as our President, who has heretofore done exactly zero to reduce that addiction, noted in his State of the Union speech recently.

Not only does Venezuela supply crude oil, but years ago that country bought Citgo, the United States-based refining and marketing company which happens to operate four refineries with about a million barrels-a-day capacity.

In other words, Venezuela produced about a gallon of the gasoline currently sloshing around in the average American’s gas tank.

And Chavez has threatened to close down those refineries:

“I could easily order the closing of the refineries that we have in the United States…I could easily sell the oil that we sell to the United States to other countries in the world…”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the world, the leader of another major oil producing country—slightly less daffy and therefore more scary—is moving ahead with plans to develop nuclear weapons. Oh, and he has said, publicly, that Israel should be “wiped out.”

Finally, and being perhaps the Reggie Jackson of this dangerous mix—the “straw that stirs the drink,” as the Yankees ex-slugger once described himself—Muslims are burning embassies over cartoons.

Yet, in the midst of what looks to me like the most combustible mixture of political, social and religious issues since the Shah of Iran fled his palace in 1979, private equity firms are rushing to buy up U.S. companies—not at bargain-basement prices in the midst of depressed operating conditions—but at all-time record prices in the midst of all-time record operating margins.

Jon Huntsman, the cancer-surviving, charity-supporting family man from Utah whose chemical company survived a harrowing brush with bankruptcy during the last down-cycle in that notoriously cyclical business put it well in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal:

“It appears to me that many of the private-equity shops are going to reach into some very marginal businesses with all the available capital,” he said. “Any time you have to reach too far to put your money to work, you’re going to take a higher risk.”

And with the Latin American Hunter S. Thompson running Venezuela and his soon-to-be nuclear-equipped counterpart running Iran, the risks may be higher than anyone thinks.

Jeff Matthews
I Am Not Making This Up

© 2005 Jeff Matthews

The content contained in this blog represents the opinions of Mr. Matthews. Mr. Matthews also acts as an advisor and clients advised by Mr. Matthews may hold either long or short positions in securities of various companies discussed in the blog based upon Mr. Matthews' recommendations.


Its_strange said...

and i see no one in either party with the basic competency to deal with it all. Does that mean i have to stop shopping and do something myself ! ? ! ...

tahoe kid said...

You forgot to mention that one of Hugo's new friends is Cindy Sheehan.

Tue Jan 24, 6:54 PM ET

"Anti-war protester Cindy Sheehan, mother of a US soldier killed in Iraq, joined more than 10,000 anti-globalization activists in Caracas, where she hailed Venezuela's leftist President Hugo Chavez.

"I admire him for his resolve against my government and its meddling," said Sheehan, who gained notoriety when she camped outside US President George W. Bush's ranch last year to protest the Iraq war. She said she hoped to meet Chavez later in the week.

Sheehan was among more than 10,000 people from across the Americas who took to the streets of the Venezuelan capital Tuesday in an anti-war protest that launched the six-day Caracas World Social Forum (WSF).

My government should not meddle anywhere, the "peace mom" told AFP during the march, which was marked by anti-Bush slogans.

We must stop the Iraq war, we must not let it happen again, said Sheehan, who has been arrested at least twice while demonstrating outside the White House.

Tuesday's march ended outside the armed forces headquarters, on an avenue usually reserved for military parades. "It's a peace route now," Sheehan said." -AFP/Yahoo News

I'm guessing Cindy didn't know about the Russian rifle purchase when she said that. Oh well. Maybe the NRA can launch a new membership drive in Venezuela.

Its_strange said...

Sheehan lost a child , Bush gain a few dollars in his tax return .

But it is truly sad if we deal with the possible troubles mentioned in Jeff's blog by going after Sheehan and not the people in power . That goes both Repub and Dems.

Aaron Koral said...

Hey Jeff - there's only one thing I can think of after reading your post - if I were a trader (which I'm not), I'd buy volatility right about now (I could be wrong though...)!

Happy trading!

bubbles said...

Yep, the USA is headed down the crapper. We need a revolution to put the Libertarians in power otherwise our world dominance will come to an end and the new super power will be China. While we’re waging war throughout the world, China is securing natural resources from these daffy and scary leaders. History repeats itself. Disclosure: I’m long oil stocks, other hard assets and defense stocks and I’m short the rest of the market.

El Macho Grande said...

Mr. Chavez is a skilled provacateur with a genius for PR. But don't take that empty boast seriousy. Oil being a fungible commodity--and there being a fixed amount sloshing around in oil markets--if he sold it to someone else, that would free the equivalent amount up and the result wiould be a wash.

The only way such a threat could be carried out is if he was willing to eat that oil, which is, let me remind you, the ohnly commodity that country has.

He just talks like that to get Bush and Cheney riled up!

Its_strange said...

This blog prompted me to email a high school pal who has lived in Venezuela when he was Placer Dome's lawyer and country manager a few years back . He now lives in Miami and commutes to South America and Canada working for a small mining company ..."Chavez is a dangerous populist who is no believer in either democracy or free markets..............he prevents free speech by denying access to dollars to buy imported newsprint to those newspapers that critcize him " ....I can't post what he said about Bush

tahoe kid said...

"its strange" - Chavez IS in power and is using Sheehan as a PR vehicle to expolit his political message. She is being used as a pawn much like Jane Fonda was used during her junkets to North Vietnam. While people here in the US express outrage at the threat of the government limiting the rights of US citizens via the Patriot Act or wiretapping of suspected terrorists, Chavez has already suspended/limited the rights of citizens and the press of HIS country.To draw a comaprison to Democrats or Republicans is a gross exaggeration. There is no venue like an open and free society to test the fairness and decency of a leader.

Its_strange said...

Perhaps but Sheehan doesn't address Jeff's blog . And i didn't equate Chavez with our political leaders . I had hoped to say i think our leaders are failures. Both the RNC and DNC . ....I'm going to let it end here .

Scott said...

"...our world dominance will come to an end and the new super power will be China."

China...a super power? Maybe in another decade, or two. Maybe.

We had this discussion on another blog yesterday. China's huge military is designed to fight a local war. They have virtually no capacity to project any real military power outside their own borders -- very limited air transport capability and no "blue water" navy.

Sure, they can reach out and touch anyone anywhere with missiles, but you can't seize and hold anything with missiles. Other than Taiwan and immediately surrounding areas, I don't think anyone has to worry about any Chinese invasions for some time to come.

Its_strange said...

Lots of oil in the South China Sea.

justanotherhedgie said...

...could be worse...instead of Hunter Thompson in Venezuela, we could have some drunk fraternity guy from Texas who comes from a rich family but doesn't even know how to wipe his own ass, let alone run a country! wait a second...