Subprime Melt Down Effects on Biotech


I was going through my email today when I came across some really insightful comments made by Jayson Parker, who is an associate professor of my Biotechnology program. With his expressed consent, please review some key points that highlight the effects of the US “subprime melt down” that is taking place and their relevance to the biotechnology industry.

He explains that there are two basic outcomes:

1. Core inflation is priority. If interest rates go up, it hurts biotech (as it is capital intensive and increases the cost of money for loans).

2. The housing market continues to meltdown in the US. If interest rates go down in response to a recession precipitated by the housing meltdown it will also hurt biotech (money is cheaper, but investors will assign a much higher risk to stocks and the flow of money will decrease).

Recapping some events that have take place so far:

  • The US economy has defied gravity for the past several years given the unexpected strength of consumer spending.
  • Consumer spending has been made possible by unprecedented appreciation in housing values and historically low interest rates – consumers have borrowed against this to maintain their purchases.
  • Unlike previous market bubbles, a substantial portion of consumers have leveraged themselves to be part of this current bubble – the housing market.
  • Some consumers have borrowed heavily enough against the price appreciation of their homes – that a strong market correction could leave them owing more money on their homes (negative equity).
  • In a historically low interest rate environment, some mortgage companies have offered loans to high risk clientale (e.g. NINJA – loans to folks with no income, no job and no assets) assuming far greater risk in their client base than is normally prudent.
    These risky loans have been “securitized” – meaning the debt has been repackaged – and through a series of events I don’t follow – have been included in other investment vehicles that affect more broadly the retail market.
  • The housing market in the US – which has seen more growth than in Canada – is the “canary” of US economic outlook – recent interest rate increases have seen an increase in bankruptacy rates among homeowners who cannot make their monthly payments.

Currently, the US federal reserve is meeting over the next two days to decide on whether interest rates will climb – the expectation is that it will remain status quo. Core measures of inflation (excluding indices of energy), indicate that inflation may be a concern which will eventually demand an interest rate increase. Finally, giving the “recap” above, the Federal reserve will likely will be more focused on the Housing market and in keeping bankruptacies to a miniumum by keeping interest rates as low as possible to avoid a recession. Keep your eyes on the subprime meltdown in the US over the next quarter. If we enter into a recession, there will be harder times for biotech.

Once again, I would like to thank Jayson for his insightful comments!

Banking on Global Warming


Many variables are contributing to the warmth of the world, at at the same time a whole of set of opportunities are arising as a result of the global warming bug.

Opportunities lay in:

  • Biotechnology applications for coal plants to “scrub” emissions before they are released
  • Cleaner oil refinery processing, to emit less carbon dioxide from oil sands particularly in Alberta, Canada
  • Carbon sequestration technologies to capture and store carbon dioxide deep within the Earth (still to be determined if this is a good idea)
  • Real estate and community planning of areas that are either going to become habitable and a lucrative shipping/trading centers (such as Nunavut, Canada described in this article)
  • Places will become flooded as ocean levels rise and entire cities are going to find themselves under 20 feet of water – technologies may be needed in advanced insulation from water, dam building, or something I can’t even imagine right now.
  • Cleantech: as an increasing number of emission laws come into place, there will be an escalating need for cleaner technologies to develop energy efficiently. This is not a new concept, merely a reinforcement of the need. I recently found out that Sustainable Development Technology Canada (SDTC) now has a $550 million not-for-profit foundation that bridges the gap in the innovation chain by fast-tracking groundbreaking clean technologies through development and demonstration in preparation for commercialization. There is certainly incentive for some businesses to consider developing their technologies in Canada, or perhaps, in partnership with Canadian businesses and educational institutions. Interested? Leave me your email in a comment and I’ll put you in touch with some people here in Canada!

The retreat of glaciers and arctic ice sheets are going to open up new shipping routes, key ports and new economic centers. One such gateway community is discussed an interview with a writer from The Atlantic, Gregg Easterbrook. I have to credit Paul Kedrosky for introducing me to this piece from his blog “Paul Kedrosky’s Infectious Greed“. The interview is as follows:

Early in this article you ask, “If the world warms, who will win? Who will lose?” But even the winners in this equation would seem to face grave risks. The Inuit of Canada may come to own valuable ports, for instance, but their traditional ways of feeding themselves and making a living will be decimated as the animals they hunt disappear. I suspect many people will consider the question and answer, “We will all lose.”

No, I don’t think so. In economics we don’t find many zero sum games and I don’t think this is a zero sum game. I think a lot of people and nations will come out ahead. The Inuit–the little semi-nation of Nunavut–is going to become significantly more valuable in a warming world. Right now Nunavut’s a frozen wasteland. I would love to be the guy with the Nunavut promotion account twenty years from now because I’m going to rechristen the place “the gateway to the hemispheres” and invite celebrities, and cruise ships will be stopping by, and the sign on the dock will say, “Welcome to Nunavut, Gateway to the Hemispheres!” We’ll see all kinds of wild economic activity up there. There will be change, yes. The traditional way of life will fade and be replaced with something else, maybe something zany, but change seems an inevitability of human experience. Really no society on earth, maybe the ones in the Amazon basin are the only exception, has been able to insulate itself from change. We can’t insulate ourselves from it and I doubt the Inuit will ever be able to do that, either.

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