The Maestro Had a Tin Ear

Let's begin with the wild notion that former Federal Reserve Chairman Alan Greenspan -- the man they call The Maestro -- probably couldn't carry a tune in a bucket. In fact, his tin ear likely has resulted in a pounding of such companies as Centex (NYSE: CTX  ) , Toll Brothers (NYSE: TOL  ) , D.R. Horton (NYSE: DHI  ) , and mortgage lender Countrywide (NYSE: CFC  ) . It's also the biggest reason why crude oil prices have hurried to nosebleed levels and have effectively been decoupled from the broad markets.

Here's what I'm talking about: Earlier in this decade when the bubble burst, as bubbles inevitably do, Greenspan and the Fed offered up rock-bottom interest rates to shore up the economy. But they almost certainly let them sit at those ankle-high levels far too long.

The primary beneficiary of this excess ultimately was the housing industry, which eventually had irresponsible lenders casually tossing mortgages to unrealistic buyers, many of whom shouldn't have qualified to finance a chicken sandwich. In response, house prices moved ever higher in a host of frothy markets.

But when, beginning with the subprime market, the housing bubble also burst like a diseased appendix, poisons began to spread throughout the world of lending. Finally, earlier this week, the Fed found it necessary to apply the elixir of a half-point cut in the Fed funds rate.

As most Fools know, currency strength tends to run inversely to a nation's relative interest rates, and so the U.S. dollar yesterday traded at an all-time low relative to the euro. At the same time, crude oil is generally denominated in dollars, so when the dollar moves lower in the overall sphere of currencies, it takes more dollars to buy a barrel of crude.

That's also the likely reason that the market and crude prices lately haven't found it necessary to trade inversely to one another: They're both reacting to the same Fed-administered medicine. Of course, there are likely other factors pushing crude higher, such as a slew of storms in the Gulf of Mexico, relatively low inventory stocks, and increasing concern about higher global demand.

I'm here to predict, however, that the Fed's short-term market-stabilizing gains might have painful longer-term consequence on the inflation front. For now, though, it seems the group most likely to benefit meaningfully from the rate-chopping exercise is the energy sector. On that basis, I'll redouble my advice that Fools should tend to their portfolios by including positions in such names as deepwater drillers Transocean (NYSE: RIG  ) and Diamond Offshore (NYSE: DO  ) , or perhaps big oilfield services provider Halliburton (NYSE: HAL  ) .

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Related Tickers

6/30/2008 4:03 PM
CFC $4.25 Down +0.00 +0.00%
CTX $11.95 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Centex Corp CAPS Rating: *
DHI $28.86 Down -0.43 -1.47%
D.R. Horton CAPS Rating: ***
DO $17.11 Down -0.05 -0.29%
Diamond Offshore D… CAPS Rating: **
HAL $47.82 Down -0.42 -0.87%
Halliburton CAPS Rating: ****
RIG $10.11 Down +0.00 +0.00%
Transocean CAPS Rating: ****
TOL $28.18 Down -0.59 -2.03%
Toll Brothers CAPS Rating: ***