The stock market is a glorified casino, and I’m no betting man. Plus I’m broke. But if I were flush and even a bit of a gambler, I’d be buying up shares in ethanol companies and corporations that sell inputs to corn farmers.
Why? Because every U.S. politician who matters seems determined to engineer conditions that will make corn-based ethanol production triple over the next several years, reaching what most people consider its maximum of 15 billion gallons.
The House and the Senate are divided over the energy bill, but both chambers have signed off on one aspect: a mandate requiring 36 billion gallons of "renewable fuel" by 2022, of which 15 billion can be corn-based ethanol.
And corn will surely reach that maximum. Given that cellulosic ethanol remains at least 10 years away from feasibility, no serious person expects it to contribute to RFS compliance any time soon.
And if Congress fails to enact the RFS — say, if the energy bill stays bogged down — the Bush administration has reportedly promised the grain-trading industry that it would declare an accelerated renewable fuels mandate by executive fiat.
The excellent blog Farm Policy, quoting subscription-only agriculture-news service DTN, reported that Bush has promised to issue guidelines through the EPA mandating use of 35 billion gallons of "renewable fuel" within 10 years (making the deadline 2018, as opposed to 2022). According to DTN, the edict is drafted and ready to drop as early as Jan. 1, depending on how things go in Congress.
The plan reportedly emerged at the annual meeting of the National Grain and Feed Association (read: ADM, Cargill, and other big grain trader/ethanol makers) in Chicago.
Oh dear. Let’s leave aside, for now, the monumental cynicism of using the EPA as the instrument for securing an ethanol market. For now, let’s look at how the stock market’s been handing the latest episode of our political class’ love for ethanol.
Archer Daniels Midland’s share price floundered from late summer to mid fall, when everyone was talking about the ethanol glut. But with a robust RFS looking like a sure thing, ADM stock is surging, up nearly 20 percent from its August low.
Monsanto, which owns most of the GM seed traits farmers rely to fulfill the RFS, has boomed. As recently as June, Monsanto stock was trading at $60 per share. Today, it’s going for nearly $110 — a cool 80 percent gain in less than a half a year. A big chunk of that gain has come since mid-November, when a robust RFS started to seem imminent.
Okay, this is getting obscene. Let’s just say that the rentier class is very, very happy with the prospect of government ethanol mandates.
Should the rest of us be?