Felix Salmon

The ever-falling BP share price

With its latest stock-price plunge today, BP has broken three important psychological levels: it’s below book value, it’s trading at less than half of its 52-week high, and it’s worth less than $100 billion. The culprit this time around would seem to be the dividend. The company has been paying out a steady 84 cents per share per quarter, and that payment is now in jeopardy; as recently as last week, it seemed to be safe.

Gold: The Glenn Beck indicator

Ken Vogel’s very good article on the rip-off gold merchants sliming their way around the broadcast punditosphere never attempts to guesstimate the total amount of money that’s changing hands here. But it’s clear that the gold bubble is bringing out some most unsavory profiteers, who are signing up right-wing talk show hosts as spokesmen and selling not bullion but coins, which they can mark up to basically whatever they like.

ETFs and gold speculation

Izabella Kaminska has an interesting take on the record-high gold price, via Bedlam Asset Management: essentially, it’s rising because the big gold ETFs, like GLD, are so incredibly easy to buy and to speculate with. Gold is now something that individuals can easily trade in and out of daily — goldbugs are no longer just hold-it-until-you-die inflation hawks and eschatologically-inclined survivalists.

Adventures in hedging, Barrick Gold edition

The best kind of hedge is the one like Agustín Carstens put on in Mexico: he locked in high oil prices, and made billions when the price of oil fell. Sometimes, of course, hedges don’t work out nearly so well. Larry Summers, for instance, thought he was locking in low interest rates, but then saw rates fall even lower, and ended up losing billions of Harvard’s dollars.

Carstens’ task

Many congratulations to Agustín Carstens, who, according to Javier Blas, has managed to make Mexico $8 billion by putting on some smart oil hedges last summer:

How commodity indices broke the wheat futures market

Back in March 2008, Diana Henriques noted something very odd: a large number of futures contracts traded in Chicago were expiring at levels much higher than the spot cash price. She said at the time that “economists who have been studying this phenomenon say they are at a loss to explain it”.

The inverse-floater gasoline tax

How to structure a gas tax? You could make it a flat X cents per gallon; alternatively (and this is essentially what a cap-and-trade system does, too) you could make it Y%, with the tax increasing with the price of gasoline.

Cash-for-clunkers gallons-per-mile calculations

Ryan Avent and the MPG illusion both examine the “cash-for-clunkers” bill from the perspective of how much in the way of carbon emissions will actually be saved when someone takes advantage of it. But there are a few sums missing in these posts, so I thought it would be worth filling them out. Here’s Ryan, for instance:

Toxic asset datapoint of the day, Lehman edition

We knew there was a lot of nuclear waste on Lehman’s balance sheet. But we didn’t know that was literally true: