Leave it to the old sage, Jeremy Grantham, to provide some interesting insights. A few brief excerpts from GMO’s latest quarterly letter – available here.
“The main potential reward, especially in an economy that is having the slowest recovery ever recorded, is in job creation. Job creation turns out to be an incredibly complicated economic issue, depending on the unique circumstances of each project and how it interacts with competing projects. If there were armies of unemployed welders and other construction workers sitting around, one could easily imagine that almost every job needed would draw from the unemployment pool and would be true job creation. But what if there were intense competition for every welder, every oil worker, and most heavy construction workers? Then we would not be in the job creation business but in the job competition business, deciding which potential employer will bid up wages and which will go without workers. A recent Bloomberg article opened with the question, “How high is the demand for welders to work in the shale boom on the U.S. Gulf Coast?” It then answered, “So high that you can take every citizen in the region of Lake Charles between the ages of 5 and 85 and teach them all how to weld and you’re not going to have enough welders,” citing a source from Huntsman Corp. “So high that San Jacinto College in Pasadena, Texas, offers a four-hour welding class in the middle of the night” because the equipment is finally available then.”
“Considering the above, it is clear that the XL Pipeline will not “create” jobs. Every one of its potential workers, almost all of whom already travel widely for jobs, could get a job several times over if given an hour on the telephone. What is happening here is an allocation of limited manpower resources: will we use them to extend chemical plants to capitalize on the incredible U.S. advantage in cheap natural gas; will we extend our fracking of U.S. sweet crude; or will we transport Canadian diluted bitumen, the most dangerous and toxic of all fuels, in order to increase the price for a handful of Canadian Tar Sand producers who currently suffer from constrained delivery capabilities and hence lower local prices? Even ignoring the severe environmental risks, it should be an easy decision on economic grounds alone.”