December 15, 2008
When President-elect Barack Obama talks about “a glide path for long-term sustainable economic growth,” what does that mean to you?
If you are unemployed or facing a layoff, his Green Deal won’t help much now. In November, more than a half-million workers lost their jobs and “things are only going to get worse before they get better,” Obama said on Dec. 7.
In the interim, you might be in line for a new career. As Obama often said during his campaign, he wants to put more than 2 million to work in green jobs, or positions that will also benefit the environment and economy. While he has been vague on details, some industries and companies are likely to benefit.
Wall Street has been heartened by Obama’s claims that he is committed to job creation, infrastructure building and even bringing the health-care industry into the 21st century.
Yet some of the usual suspects that analysts say will benefit the most may not gain as much as others. Some of the best investments might involve companies and technologies that never garner headlines.
The basic themes from Obamanomics are efficiency and creating long-term jobs. For example, the government can help “green” medicine by making health-care delivery safer, less costly and more efficient.
Obama’s stated goal to invest in “electronic medical records and other technologies that drive down health care costs” is intriguing. The U.S. health-care industry is screaming for modernization.
Medical errors are the fifth-leading cause of death in the U.S., according to the Millennium Research Group, a Toronto-based health-care information company. Many of those 98,000 deaths annually can be prevented with better recordkeeping.
About 88 percent of U.S. doctors and hospitals currently don’t use digital-record systems. Doctors, nurses and other professionals still write notes and prescriptions with pen and paper and store records in archaic binders and filing cabinets, often resulting in medical mishaps and wrong medications, costing hospitals $6 billion annually in additional care.
Aside from the most-visible company in the field -- Allscripts-Misys Healthcare Solutions Inc. -- most of the leaders in digital health-care record systems aren’t household names. Athenahealth Inc. of Watertown, Massachusetts; Eclipsys Corp. of Atlanta; and Cincinnati-based Streamline Health Solutions offer several software packages for the industry.
As with all of these companies, I don’t know if they will make a profit in the future or have the products that the marketplace demands. No single company has a silver bullet. They are simply worth considering as you watch the Obama proposals morph into real legislation next month.
When Obama mentions “an enormously inefficient building stock,” my radar screen lights up even brighter.
Buildings eat up huge amounts of energy -- as much as a third of total consumption in the U.S.
Everything from storefront shops to global corporate campuses can become more efficient, produce their own power and boost company profits while trimming operating costs.
The attention-getters in this area are giants in power- related systems: General Electric Co., Siemens AG, ABB Ltd., United Technologies Corp. and Ingersoll-Rand Co.
Other Worthy Companies
Keep in mind, though, that making buildings efficient requires a comprehensive systems approach. Owners need to update heating and cooling systems; insulation; lighting and controls. No one company can provide the whole solution.
That’s why innovators such as Johnson Controls Inc.; Cree Inc.; and Energy Focus Inc. are worth a look. These lesser-known companies are breaking ground in areas such as ultra-efficient light-emitting diode technology.
If you happen to be looking for a new career, it wouldn’t hurt to be accredited through the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) program, which certifies buildings and neighborhoods on their environmental attributes.
It’s one of the few growth industries today. The number of LEED-certified buildings has grown as much as sevenfold annually, according to the council.
Think bottom-up economics in the Obama Green Deal. Akin to what happened in Silicon Valley with information and computing technologies, many of the mainstream players may not have the best products, services or ideas. The next billionaires may be working out of a tiny company or garage.
Off the Radar
Where can you find thinkers and innovators who will do well under the Obama Green Deal?
You may have to consider off-the-radar firms such as Clean Diesel Technologies Inc., which is working on catalysts to clean up gasoline and diesel engines. Or how about Clean Power Technologies Inc., now working on a vehicle that will run on combined diesel, gasoline and steam?
The most prudent investment play is to avoid betting on a single technology or industry. There are more losers than winners.
You can get a global breadbasket through any world stock index fund or cherry-pick a “clean technology” approach through the Powershares Wilderhill Progressive Energy Portfolio exchange- traded fund or the First Trust Nasdaq Clean Edge U.S. Liquid Series Index Fund.
Don’t expect instant results. It may take years for some of these clean-tech companies to make a profit.
Creating a green economy takes decades, and trillions will be needed for other basic repairs throughout the country.
Obama said he wants to create or preserve 2.5 million jobs rebuilding roads, bridges and other necessities. That’s in addition to rescuing the housing market, financial industry, Detroit automakers and the rest of the economy. With this agenda, his glide path will probably be a really bumpy road.
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