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If you're willing to put aside the political controversy surrounding WikiLeaks and its founder, Julian Assange, and read the diplomatic dispatches the group released, you'll find a number of interesting investing insights. Here are two worth acting on today:
1. Venezuela may not be producing as much oil as it claims
According to one cable that was released and posted by The Guardian, the U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela observed a "loss of a profit/production motive on the part of PDVSA" and noted that U.S. companies such as Baker Hughes (NYSE: BHI ) are looking to minimize their exposure to Venezuela going forward. Further, PDVSA is underinvesting in maintenance, and Chevron reported that it's only estimating Venezuelan oil production at 2.1 million to 2.3 million barrels daily, a 5% to 12% decline over what BP reported in its 2010 Statistical Review of World Energy.
Given rising demand for oil, the revelation that oil production in Venezuela looks to be on permanent decline is one more reason why investors should expect oil prices to rise. This is good news for companies like CNOOC (NYSE: CEO ) and ExxonMobil (NYSE: XOM ) that are rich in reserves and for companies such as Total (NYSE: TOT ) and Canadian Natural Resources (NYSE: CNQ ) that have reserves that cost more to extract.
Takeaway: Go long a basket of resource-rich oil companies.
2. The Chinese government sabotaged Google (Nasdaq: GOOG ) in China
Baidu (Nasdaq: BIDU ) bulls have long trumpeted the company's better than 70% share of China's Internet search market as a reason to hold shares despite the stock's nosebleed valuation. As for why Baidu is able to control such market share despite having reportedly inferior search technology to rival Google, the long-given reason was that Chinese consumers preferred to support local companies and that Baidu produced more locally relevant results.
A recently released WikiLeaks cable blows that theory out of the water, noting that a "contact claimed a top PRC leader was actively working with Google competitor Baidu against Google." It's long been known that the PRC government didn't like Google's resistance to censoring search results, but the revelation that China is working in concert with Baidu means that Baidu's perceived competitive advantages have likely all been artificially created. Further, Baidu is likely to lose face with young Chinese Internet users if they begin to view the company as an arm of the government. As someone who expects China's information restrictions to ease over time, I am pessimistic about Baidu's ability to maintain its market share if Google is allowed unfettered access back into China. Not only is the latter's search engine better, but its recent public battles with the Chinese government have reportedly made it quite popular with a segment of Chinese power Internet users. That means investors who believe Baidu will dominate Chinese search for decades to come are likely to end up disappointed.
Takeaway: Buy puts on Baidu.
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