E Tech Talk: Tulip Mania?

Historically, at least, tulip mania refers to a period of wild speculation in tulip bulbs that gripped Holland in the 1630s. In one celebrated transaction, a Dutch investor paid 4,600 gold florins plus a new carriage, two grey horses and a complete set of harness for a single tulip bulb. From that day to this, the Netherlands has been renowned for its beautiful tulip gardens. The gentleman who purchased that bulb? My guess is that he enjoyed local notoriety for the rest of his life.

Has a comparable transaction recently taken place? The business press has been agog since Royal Dutch Shell sold the bulk of its oil sands business in a multibillion-dollar retreat from a sector it says no longer fits with its global growth ambitions. To reduce its debt, the oil industry giant sold its oil sands interest to Canadian Natural Resources for US$8.5-billion in cash and shares. This gave CNQ a controlling stake in the Athabasca oil sands project, a major bitumen mine and upgrading development with capacity of about 255,000 barrels a day. The package also included some undeveloped oil sands leases and assets pumping around 15,000 barrels a day near Peace River, Alberta. The two companies also bought out Marathon Oil Corp.’s 20-per-cent interest in the oil sands venture. As a result, Canadian Natural ended up with a 70-per-cent stake.

Regular readers will know that I have become increasingly cautious about this market, and the transaction took place just as a typically bearish “death cross” (marked with a green arrow) appeared on the chart. However, share volumes are up (blue arrow). More to the point, CNQ has been a spectacularly successful oil sands company, having risen nearly 2,000 percent in the last 30 years. With some trepidation, I bought in.

The reason for that trepidation you can see in the following chart. It shows the FTSE all world index since inception. Especially given the political gong show taking place in America, is the global economy really strong enough to justify all-time records?

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Disclaimer: The analysis and ideas presented here should never be seen as a buy or sell recommendation. I am an active trader, but I discuss stocks for informational purposes only. By reading my ...

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