I predicted in this column last week that the left wasn’t going to kill off the coal industry so much as it was going to steal it. That prediction is already becoming true courtesy of billionaire George Soros.
U.S. Securities and Exchange Act filings indicate that Soros has purchased an initial 1 million shares of Peabody Energy and 553,200 shares of Arch Coal, the two largest publicly traded U.S. coal companies. As pointed out last week, both companies have been driven perilously close to bankruptcy by the combination of President Obama’s “war on coal” and inexpensive natural gas brought on by the hydrofracturing revolution.
Under the hypothesis that not even socialists would leave trillions of dollars worth of a perfectly safe and clean energy source in the ground for the sake of the imaginary “climate crisis,” I posited that once the existing coal industry ownership was wiped out by President Obama’s regulatory onslaught, a new politically correct ownership would rehabilitate the fuel by contributing to Democrats.
Enter George Soros, a hardball investor and philanthropist to myriad left-wing causes, including the activist and “clean energy” rent-seeking movements that have helped take down the coal industry. In 2009, for example, Soros announced he would spend $1 billion in “clean energy” technology and create a San Francisco-based advocacy organization called the Climate Policy Initiative.
Less than a year ago the Soros’ Climate Policy Initiative issued a major report concluding that the world could save $1.8 trillion over the next two decades by transitioning awayfrom coal. The report referred to coal reserves as “stranded assets” that were losing value as they were no longer needed.
What a difference a few months makes, especially when those months have seen coal company stocks fall to fire sale prices. So far the size of Soros’ coal investment seems so far relatively small (Peabody has 248 million shares of stock outstanding), but the reports available only cover up to the quarter ending on June 30.
It’s possible that Soros is only looking for a “dead cat bounce” from his Peabody and Arch Coal investments, but the companies together have provable coal reserves of about 11 billion tons, worth hundreds of billions of dollars. I doubt the shrewd Soros is looking to make just a few million dollars on these investments.
Soros isn’t the only leftist shark in the water.
There’s billionaire hedge fund operator Tom Steyer who committed to spend $100 million in 2014 to elect anti-coal, climate alarmist-friendly politicians. Though he failed miserably, he has re-upped for the same program in 2016. Yet Steyer’s dirty secret is that, despite his protestations of concern about the climate, he’s made a fortune from coal production in Indonesia over the past 15 years. It’s easy to imagine some Steyer-steered investment vehicle rescuing sinking coal companies under the guise of turning coal into “clean energy” business. Though the current coal industry trial and failed miserably to do re-brand itself as “clean,” with the right politics and the right payoffs, Steyer no doubt could pull off that trick.
Another shrewd investor is Obama supporter Warren Buffet. Despite his long-standing leftist political inclinations, Buffet owns the trains that haul politically incorrect fracked oil and utilities that burn coal. He is famous for his counter-intuitive investing. Billions of tons of coal are becoming available almost for free. Anyone think he hasn’t noticed?
Finally, there are the likes of the left-leaning Goldman Sachs and the rest of the wolves of Wall Street. Goldman, in particular, has a long history of not only financing the coal industry but also of trading coal as a commodity on an international basis. Little known is the fact that while the U.S. coal industry seems to be circling the bowl in the U.S., coal is actually the fastest growing fuel on a global basis. And coal will continue to grow regardless of whatever climate treaty is signed in Paris later this year. Goldman’s favorite green has nothing to do with the environment.
Although Obama’s great coal train robbery will likely be completed in the next couple years or so, none of this should be taken as a recommendation to buy coal stocks. Existing shareholders are likely to be wiped out by bankruptcy or paid off with a pittance. But watching the crime play out will be an unforgettable exercise in the corruption of power and power of corruption.
Steve Milloy publishes JunkScience.com (@JunkScience) and is a former coal industry executive.