Five Things We Learned This Week: Back to $30 Oil?

Whatever happens to oil, a surge in battery investment signals the future is here.

Is Four-Wheel Debt the Next Financial Crisis?

1) People Are Talking About $30 Oil Again
Oil has been wavering around $56 a barrel for months, recovering in 2016 from the plunge that sent crude down to almost $27 in January 2016. OPEC got its members — and some non-members — to cut production through June, and now people are starting to wonder what happens after that. An ABN Amro Bank economist says “prices could easily go back to the low $30s,” which reminds us of Goldman’s startling prediction in September 2015 that oil could go below $20. (It didn’t.)

2) The Next Financial Crisis Might Be Sitting in Your Driveway
Americans love their cars. Swept along by surging consumer optimism, they’ve been racking up debt by splurging on vehicles, especially those swanky SUVs that look great while knocking back gallon after gallon of gasoline. The total amount that Americans have borrowed in auto loans hit a record in the fourth quarter of 2016, and that’s prompting talk of a bubble. Drivers with bad credit are borrowing more than they have since just before the financial crisis of 2008.

3) Le Pen Is Winning People Over

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front, listens during a party debate in Paris, France, on Thursday, Oct. 20, 2016. Once seen as fringe groups, France's National Front, Italy's Five Star Movement, and the Freedom Party in the Netherlands have attracted legions of followers by tapping discontent over immigration, terrorism, and feeble economic performance. Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Marine Le Pen, leader of the French National Front

Photographer: Marlene Awaad/Bloomberg

Marine Le Pen — the anti-euro, pro-Trump candidate in the French presidential race — has doubled her support among retirees and could get 2 million more female votes this time around, compared with when she ran in 2012. “What she is proposing is really different, just like Trump offered something really new,” said Cindy Blain, a 27-year-old pharmacist in the rural northeast of France. She started the week rising in the polls, with support at 27 percent in the multi-candidate race. But because of France’s two-part election, that doesn’t mean she is the frontrunner. She might get to the runoff, but polls still show independent Emmanuel Macron as beating her in a head-to-head race. Here’s how to make sense of the French election polls.

4) The Dream of Giant Batteries Saving the Planet Is Closer Than Ever to Reality
Lenders with deep pockets are starting to put money behind large-scale battery projects that will fix a big problem with renewable energy: where to store it when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing. But they’re expensive, and the technology is still developing. Now that costs have fallen 40 percent since 2014 and regulators are requiring more storage, lenders such as Investec Plc, Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group Inc., and Prudential Financial Inc. are ready to jump in. “Having big money come in is the first step to widespread deployment,” says Brad Meikle, a San Francisco-based analyst for Craig-Hallum Capital Group LLC. 

Speaking of batteries, analysts are starting to sour on Tesla, saying the stock’s 48 percent rise in three months has made the company overvalued.

5) We Might Not Be Alone
Outgrown our current planet? Scientists have found seven others they say you’ll absolutely adore. Three sound just perfect: The temperature is right and water might be included. But they’re 40 light years away. Plus, there’s the neighbors to think about. Namely, there might be some, and scientists are trying to figure out whether life exists on those planets. “All seven could be ‘habitable,’” said Julien de Wit, a co-author of the study published in the journal Nature.

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