5 Must-Know Stories in Oil and Alternative Energy

by: David Jackson

1. Britain goes nuclear. The U.K. government will release a slew of energy and climate change legislation Thursday, including plans to build new nuclear reactors. Nuclear power accounts for about 20% of Britain's electricity, but its 30 reactors are aging and will have to be replaced in the next 30 years. The IHT says that Britain's support of nuclear power could "light a beacon for the beleaguered nuclear industry in other parts of Europe." Nuclear power accounts for only 16% of global electricity supply, but China alone plans to spend over $60 billion on new nuclear plants by the end of the decade.

2. Nuclear stocks in play? The U.K. policy news could boost US nuclear-related stocks. Barron's list of 9 Stocks That Will Benefit from Nuclear's Return to Power includes U.S. utilities Exelon (NYSE:EXC), Entergy (NYSE:ETR), Dominion Resources (NYSE:D) and Constellation Energy (NYSE:CEG). But uranium stocks might be a better bet given the global nature of the nuclear trend. Leading uranium plays include Cameco (NYSE:CCJ), Uranium Resources (URRE) and Denison Mines (NYSEMKT:DNN). Here's complete coverage of the uranium stocks.

3. Oil price takes a hit. Having topped $100 per barrel, the oil price is now falling on concerns that a weakening U.S. economy will reduce demand for oil. But at least one commentator argues that "if we are seeing the beginning of an economic slowdown, demand for oil will moderate but there is no reason to think that the price of oil will drastically fall. The EIA predicts a continued increase in oil consumption for decades to come and an average price of $84 for 2008. The average price for 2007 was $72 per barrel." If you accept that argument, the oil ETF (NYSEARCA:USO) is still worth considering.

4. The $2,500 car means more demand for oil. Indian auto manufacturer Tata Motors (NYSE:TTM) has introduced a four-door, five-seat hatchback priced at only $2,500, an achievement "less about big-bang innovations than about a long string of $20 trims". French-Japanese alliance Renault-Nissan and the Indian-Japanese joint venture Maruti Suzuki are also planning ultra-cheap cars. It doesn't matter if this isn't a car you'd want to own; it puts car ownership in the sights of tens of millions more people, and like the proliferation of cheap Chinese motorcycles in developing countries will boost demand for oil.

5. Lightbulb market takes a turn. Lighting accounts for 19% of global electricity use. Earlier this month, the U.S. Congress' Energy Independence and Security Act stipulated that incandescent lightbulbs must be phased out over the next 10 years. France plans to ban them by 2010, and Ireland has been even stricter. But there's no clear alternative for consumers. Compact fluorescent lightbulbs have problems. LEDs aren't ready for prime time, but consumer willingness to try them is high. The leading LED pure-play is Cree Inc. (NASDAQ:CREE).

Full disclosure: no position in any stocks mentioned.