Nov 10, 2009

Expert Opinions on the Economic Crisis

Las Vegas, a city known around the world for the catch phrase, “What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas,” was the recent home of the 2008 TD Ameritrade Connect Conference for financial advisors. Many experts shared their opinions and insights into the difficulties and opportunities our country may face in the coming years. Here are a few of the insightful words and ideas that happened in Vegas, but should not “Stay in Vegas.”

T. Boone Pickens, founder and Chairman of BP Capital Management, presented to nearly 1500 industry professionals. Pickens shared at the conference the changes in the natural gas drilling process and how new technology has allowed for much more natural gas to be extracted from each location than in the past. This has created a tremendous supply of natural gas. His plan, which can be seen at www.pickensplan.com would drastically reduce our dependence on foreign oil. Pickens mentioned that U.S. citizens make up 4% of the worlds population while using 25% of the world’s oil. He also shared that in 1980 the U.S. imported 28% of the oil we used, today we import 70%. Pickens stated that “the Pickens Plan is for America and for generations to come.” He said that future generations need not be concerned about rising healthcare and failing education, “they won’t have any money left to spend on education and health care. They’ll be spending it all on foreign oil.” The Pickens plan would create more jobs in alternative energy such as wind power and solar, and would build upon the current
natural gas infrastructure here in the U.S. 

After Mr. Pickens’ presentation, I was able to discuss with him how the natural gas industry had changed the face of Colorado’s Western Slope and how the economy here has not been as affected as the rest of the U.S. He said that was the goal of his plan and he mentioned in regards to President Barack Obama, “He may be the right guy.” Mr. Pickens was optimistic about the possibility of reducing our need for foreign oil under the country’s current leadership. 

Dr. William Poole, Former president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, spoke to participants about his concerns regarding the federal bailouts. He discussed how bailouts of huge companies could lead to more and more government bailouts. This would eventually change how investors valued companies; they would count on the possibility of government intervention. “Bailouts beget bailouts. We cannot bail out all firms,” Dr. Poole explained. “Firms have to fail as a part of capitalism.” Poole suggests that the current financial stimulus package is “devoid of budgetary discipline.” The government is currently spending money to keep failing companies in business. In essence, this scenario is passing losses on to taxpayers. 

We heard from Karl Rove, former presidential advisor to George W. Bush, and General Wesley Clark, former democratic candidate for President of the United States, in the form of a debate over the current stimulus package. The debate was a heated one where the two men discussed the merits of House Bill HR 1, an $800 billion dollar stimulus package currently being voted on in Washington. Mr. Rove was opposed to the current version of the stimulus package and suggested that the stimulus package was poorly constructed and much of the spending would not create jobs or boost the economy. General Clark was certain that HR 1 was what America needed. The speakers had high hopes for the future of our economy, but suggested a difficult road was ahead.

After the meetings, I made it a point to get out on the Las Vegas Strip and get some exercise and fresh air. I did get some exercise. I noticed a nearly completed casino on the strip that is called the City Center. This is an $8 billion project on Las Vegas Blvd. and is the most expensive private development in history. Just for some scale, Denver International Airport, which was not privately funded, rang up at about $4.8 billion. The City Center is a joint venture by Dubai World, a corporation owned by the Dubai Government and the MGM Mirage. The 18 million-square-foot project is pursuing the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Certification (LEED®). The project is slated to be
complete in November of 2009. The massive building efforts on the Las Vegas Strip do not seem to be phased by these tough economic times. 

Circumstance in today’s economy have affected all of us and will continue to create ripples in regulation and taxes for years to come. The overall theme at the conference was optimism regarding our economic future. For every difficult change and added challenge there is also an opportunity to be more efficient and overcome these obstacles. Persistence through hard times, after all, is what has made this country strong.
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