Political Turmoil and Rising Oil Prices: Where to Invest?

by: VFC's Stock House

Crisis in the Middle East, a crackdown on protests in Saudi Arabia, a crackdown on everyone in China and oil prices rising at near record speed. It's enough to have any investor on edge.

We're in a contradictory world now, where opinions are based on a split screen view of current events. On one screen we see a revolution of the people in nations that have never known freedom and democracy as the Western World knows it, while on the other screen we watch the rising prices of oil, food and other resources that are the result of the inherent instability created with revolutions.

Many will wonder if all those people seeking to change the foundation of their own countries right now is what is best for the world as a whole, at least at the current time.

After all, it can be argued that the rising cost of fuel played a large role in the credit crunch a couple of years ago, when consumers - instead of driving less - tapped out credit cards to pay for the huge gas increases in order to maintain the same standard of life, while the likes of Exxon (NYSE:XOM) made record profits.

The last thing that the global economy needs is a double-dip recession, after having seen the damage that the recession of 2008-09 inflicted on the civilized world.

Greece still hasn't landed on sound footing, and the prospects for Spain and Portugal, for example, may look equally as dire.

When the unrest in Middle East was first underway, the world could rely on a stable Saudi Arabia as the world's largest oil producer agreed to pump up the supply in order to keep prices in check.

Recent reports, however, are telling us that there's unrest in Saudi, too, although the king and his government are taking a "no tolerance" approach to the protests right now.

Being an ally of the Western World, how long will the king be able to keep the protestors under control before pressure comes from the outside to allow them a voice?

If Saudi oil ceases to flow at the current levels, then there's trouble on the home front; and there may be a more united front in the United States to "drill, baby, drill" if the consumer takes a whallopin' in the wallet again.

Oil speculators will certainly enjoy the rising tide of oil prices. But is it wise, let alone ethical (although we've learned over the years that ethics and investing don't really mix), to base an investment on the hopes that the global civil unrest will continue?

It's easy for someone sitting in the safe confines of a high-rise office building and trading commodities or stocks on a computer to dismiss the plight of the millions of people expressing their opinions around the world - some for the first time ever - but I bet that these people who are fighting for their rights, freedoms and constitutions aren't really concerned with the price of oil right now.

As investors, however, we are.

The question is, how do you play the markets when you don't know where the geopolitical situation is going to lead you?

The stable price of oil relies on regimes - good or bad - keeping their people in check, and the stability of the growing emerging markets (especially China and India) relies on Big Brother keeping their people poor - dirt poor - so that the companies can bank the real profits in order to support the growing emerging market.

While it has certainly shown to be a nice trade during the past decade, banking long term hopes on countries that are suppressing their people might not be such a wise move, as we're seeing now with the collapse of several governments that play key roles in the world economy, whether it be through oil or commerce.

The foundation of any economy, and nation, is its people; and if the people aren't happy, then it's only a matter of time before we see upheaval, which means chaos in the economy.

So with all the chaos and uncertainty, where are investors to go with their money?

One option is alternative energy. It's painfully apparent that the world needs to come up with a better plan than relying on a few countries - or one region - to produce the bulk of the world's supply.

Shares of "green" companies such as Capstone Turbine (NASDAQ:CPST) have enjoyed some nice runs over the past few months as oil prices have been rising. Big oil is certainly banking the oil profits for the time being, but there will come a time when alternatives are needed - and low-emission, green energy will be the way to go.

Of course, first you have to convince the self-important Californian home-owner to allow a windmill to go up within a hundred miles of their property. A curious task, because it's the same Californian homeowners who are against drilling for more oil.

So what gives, California? Drill for oil or move to alternative energy? Can't say no to both.

Another option is investing in gold, silver and other precious medals. I don't think there's an investor out there who doesn't wish they had loaded up on gold 10 years ago, but with too many "rich" economies being exposed as false (is China's economy for real, when it's based on slave-like labor conditions and corruption?) there might not be a better safe-haven than gold right now.

And of course there are stocks.

Upscale retailers and nice-to-have services such as Nordstrom (NYSE:JWN) and SiriusXM (NASDAQ:SIRI) satellite radio may take a hit as oil prices rise and consumers need to spend a larger portion of their budget on gas. But there's always the biotech sector.

Some of the more speculative companies with early-stage pipelines may become that much more of a risky bet as money gets pulled out of the market. But there always will be demand for new medicines, drugs and treatments - regardless of what's going on around the globe, and regardless of the rising price of black gold.

Companies that bring groundbreaking new products to market are going to see huge returns in a down economy or not, global crisis or not.

Dendreon (NASDAQ:DNDN), which was the first to bring a cancer vaccine to market in the United States in Provenge, and Jazz Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:JAZZ) are just two recent examples of how in-demand products and pipeline potential can fuel huge growth in just a short period of time, up economy or not.

Even the more speculative plays in the sector, such as Vanda (NASDAQ:VNDA) and Titan Pharmaceuticals (NASDAQ:TTNP) have produced huge gains (although huge losses too if you didn't time it right) when the general market was sinking.

Further, you have players like Siga Technologies in the biotech sector, which can excel not only on positive news in any economic environment, but there's money to be made from the fear of chaos, even if that chaos never comes to fruition.

Because the biotech sector is more news and event based, it's become the prime and opportune market to buy low and sell higher while instability rules the day, and civil unrest rules the headlines.

It has been no secret that I'm a fan of the biotech sector, and a good part of that reason is that it can be immune to recession and unaffected by the turmoil that can be created by false economies and iron-fisted dictators.

This way, I don't have to view the world in a split screen; what's good for the people looking to topple the likes of Gaddafi doesn't conflict with what I have sitting in my portfolio.

Disclosure: I am long CPST, TTNP.OB.