City Republic: the oil price comes out fighting

LONDON - The remorseless rise in oil prices has been rather like the fabled 'elephant in the living room'. We've all known it's there but somehow managed to ignore it, writes Stephen Foster.

And, somehow or other, most economies have managed pretty well with oil somewhere north of $100 a barrel.

Barely a year ago the stuff was $50 a barrel, and we thought that was high.

Well yesterday the world got the heebie jeebies about all this as oil futures in New York hit $140 a barrel, and there's no way we can cope with an oil price like that, in the short term anyway.

Stock markets in New York and London fell sharply yesterday when they woke up to this, staying just this side of a real crisis, but there may be worse to come.

There are still people (like me) who think that the oil price is ridiculous; it's partly caused by the fact that the oil market works in dollars (which has been sinking for years now -- if oil was priced in euros it would be much cheaper) and also by the billions of investment money washing around the world that wants to invest in commodities rather than shares or government bonds.

Which is one of the reasons why oil producer cartel Opec won't increase production, however nicely and often US President George Bush asks them.

None other than veteran oilman T Boone Pickens (how can you argue with a guy with a name like that?) reckons that the world can produce 85m barrels of oil a day and current demand is 87m, so the price will keep going up.

Pickens reckons we'll see £150 a barrel before the year is out.

And he may well be right, even if his analysis of supply and demand isn't.

Actually this oil bubble, if such it is, might be the best thing that happens to the world because it will finally wean us off wasting the stuff.

But it's going to be a painful transformation.

HP brings home the bacon, again
Computer maker HP has delivered another set of stellar numbers (you don't need much oil to make computers), turning in second-quarter profits of $2.1bn, up from $1.8bn last year.

And it's sticking to its forecasts of even better to come in the rest of the year.

CEO Mark Hurd is currently under fire from shareholders who don't want him to spend $14bn buying IT services company EDS.

But these numbers will strengthen his hand considerably.

It's interesting isn't it -- everyone's running around saying the game's all about the internet and whether Microsoft buys all or part of Yahoo!, and how Google's going to take over the world.

But the companies that are making buckets of money in the IT sector are HP and Apple, and Apple's making most of its by selling more computers.

Stick to your last, that's the message from Silicon Valley.

Yell suffers with £3.8bn debts
Yell, the new(ish) name for Yellow Pages has somehow managed to run up £3.8bn of debts, pretty impressive for such an apparently straightforward and established business.

It is still paying the price for its £2.2bn acquisition of a Spanish directories publisher in 2006 and, even though its last profits were a chunky £311m, refinancing this debt mountain in current markets is a daunting task.

Add to this is the widespread fear that advertising is poised, lemming-like, on the top of a very large cliff and you can see why its shares fell 55p or 26% Tuesday.

Yell says it's trading within its banking limits and doesn't need an emergency rights issue but the market obviously thinks this happy position won't last for much longer.

Goodness knows what old JR Hartley would have made of it all.

Rupert ups the pace at the Wall Street Journal
You can't beat an old guy in a hurry and Rupert Murdoch is certainly turning on the gas at new acquisition The Wall Street Journal.

Australian protege Robert Thomson, until recently editor of the Times, has last night took full hands-on control of the US paper as managing editor (the top title on US publications) and editor-in-chief.

Thomson was publisher and that title is being taken by veteran Fleet Street hand Les Hinton, already CEO of the wider Dow Jones.

This wasn't the plan at all in the eyes of the Bancroft family, which sold the Dow Jones company to Murdoch's News Corporation for $5bn last year.

They thought that Murdoch and his henchmen could be kept at arm's length by independent directors.

There's one born every minute.