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Some 450 Hedge Funds (and Counting) Throng Energy Bull Market

Date: Monday, June 26, 2006
Author: Bloomberg.com

June 26 (Bloomberg) -- Everywhere you look these days, people are scrambling for energy supplies.

China is scouring the world, from the oil sands of Alberta to the oilfields of Iran. Morgan Stanley and other investment banks have spent hundreds of millions of dollars for petroleum still in the ground. And more than 450 hedge funds (and counting) are busy in the energy market, trading in everything from coal to solar-power companies.

Peter C. Fusaro and Gary M. Vasey rattle off these trends and put them in context in their useful handbook, ``Energy and Environmental Hedge Funds: The New Investment Paradigm.''

If you're looking for a beach book, this isn't it. The authors write in a prose style reminiscent of a brokerage report and talk about market conditions such as ``backwardation'' and ``contango.'' They abbreviate greenhouse gases as GHG.

So what? This is spinach, not dessert, and it's loaded with vitamins. Who needs sugar, unless to trade it as ``an energy- related commodity''? The authors explain all this and more in their snapshot of a market in motion.

Fusaro and Vasey are co-founders of Energy Hedge Fund Center LLC, an online researcher and consulting firm. According to their Web site, the authors have between them more than 50 years' experience in energy, which they call ``the world's largest business with over $4 trillion in annual trade.'' This expertise doesn't come cheap: Their book is priced at $120.

No End of Oil

Their thesis can be summed up quickly. Demand for energy is rising at a time when supplies are tight because of a lack of sustained investment -- in everything from oil exploration to power plants -- over the past 20 years. China has become the world's second-largest oil consumer, yet the U.S. is still gulping down more than 20 million barrels of oil a day, or more than 20 percent of global demand.

``The world consumes four barrels of oil for every one barrel that is added through exploration activities,'' they say.

There's still plenty of fossil fuel out there, the authors write, dismissing arguments found in a gusher of recent books with titles like ``The End of Oil'' and ``Out of Gas.''

``The `end of oil' cries are plain wrong,'' they say, adding that ``in two years we will have more than ample supply.'' Though I hope they meant two decades, Fusaro and Vasey do have a case to make about today's energy market.

``The bottom line is that we are in the middle of a demand- driven bull market in energy commodities like we have never seen before and probably won't see again,'' they write.

`Plain Wrong'

With exploration and consumption out of kilter, they predict the bull market for oil, gas, coal and power will last at least two more years. ``What has been the hardest obstacle for many energy analysts and investors to comprehend is that it is different this time,'' they say. This becomes their mantra.

Talk of a ``new paradigm'' always reminds me of the dot-com bubble's ``new economy'' and Herbert Hoover's era of ``endless prosperity.'' Yet even a skeptic must admit that a chart of the Goldman Sachs Commodity Index has resembled an up escalator since early 2002. Ditto for crude-oil futures, with prices still dancing around $70 a barrel, compared with close to just $10 a barrel in late 1998.

Nor can one ignore that the collapse of Enron Corp. in 2001 and the exit of other energy traders from the business released ``trading talent on to the street and created a vacuum in energy markets,'' as the book says. Hedge funds like Citadel Investment Group LLC of Chicago saw a chance to fill that vacuum and snapped up the ``unemployed or unhappy.''

(The authors don't dwell on the Enron scandal, which Fusaro explored in his book, ``What Went Wrong at Enron.'')

How can you get a piece of the action? The authors walk you through players ranging from equity funds such as London-based RAB Energy Fund Ltd. to those specializing in alternative energy, like New Energy Fund LP. Several energy funds have ``between $400 million and over $1 billion in assets under management,'' the authors write.

There are plenty of places to park your money, and this book may help you find the right one for you. Only you can decide if it's worth $120.

``Energy and Environmental Hedge Funds'' is published by Wiley (215 pages, $120, 132 euros, 80 pounds).