How Oil/Diesel Prices Hurt Small Businesses

A sign of the times (literally) and the economics of shrimp boating: a dispatch from Folly Beach, South Carolina, where I have vacationed for 18 years.

1) The economics of shrimp-boating.
How tough is it to run an energy-dependent business? Bachman's have been shrimp boaters in Folly Beach, S.C. for 47 years. I've been buying shrimp from them for nearly 20 years. When I visited last week, the mood was grim. Here are the economics:

Diesel is $4.60 a gallon. It takes 200 gallons to go on a single shrimp run, so the cost for diesel alone is $920. Two years ago, the cost was $320, so the cost has gone up 200 percent in 2 years.

Another whammy: the price of parts for the boats has gone way up.

The fishermen crowded around me on the docks, asking for an explanation. I talked about growth in demand, supply restriction, and speculation, but they just shook their heads. They sort of believed me, but they also believed it was a lot of hokum.

Were they making any money?

"Just barely enough to pay the light bill," one of them said.

Would they be in business when I came back next year? They just shook their heads and went back to cleaning the fish.

2) Sign of the times.
I drove past a recently-built condo unit just outside of Folly Beach, about 10 miles from Charleston. Two weekends ago, there was this sign posted at the entrance, advertising $10,000 off a unit "This Weekend Only!"

$10,000 This Week Only
$10,000 This Week Only

I went back this last weekend, and the sign had been replaced with this one: the unit was now $15,000 off, "This Weekend Only!" Think I'll wait until next weekend...

$15,000 This Week Only
$15,000 This Week Only


Questions? Comments? tradertalk@cnbc.com