David Fuller and Eoin Treacy's Comment of the Day
Category - Energy

    What Really Drives White Metals Prices

    Thanks to a subscriber for this report from ETF securities which may be of interest. Here is a section:

    Silver supply drivers
    While overall silver stocks are high globally, over the last few years silver has experienced what is known as a “supply deficit,” as annual production has been less than the demand for the metal, gradually eating away at current stocks. What many investors may not realize is that only 25% of silver production is derived from silver mines; the rest—roughly 75%—is a byproduct of mining for other metals, most notably lead, zinc, copper, and gold. As of year-end 2015, as mining capital expenditures for these other metals has been scaled back in response to relatively low prices, silver production has correspondingly fallen.

    Silver demand drivers
    Although it may not be the first thing that comes to investors’ minds when they think of silver, industrial applications are a significant demand driver, accounting for more than half of the precious metal’s usage worldwide. Silver’s unique characteristics include its outstanding thermal and electrical conductivity, along with its ductility, malleability, optical reflectivity, and antibacterial properties. These features make the precious metal invaluable as an input in myriad industrial applications including electrical components, batteries, photovoltaics (solar panels), auto parts, pollution abatement technology, ethylene oxide (an important chemical precursor), as well as brazing alloys and solders. 

    Of the white metals, silver also tracks gold most closely, boasting a correlation of 0.8 over the past five years. Since gold is seen as a defensive asset in times of expanded bank balance sheets or quantitative easing programs by central banks, monetary policy tends to have a “shadow impact” on silver—far less so than gold, but still noticeable. Lastly, albeit accounting for just 20% of silver use worldwide, it’s worth noting that jewelry demand has held more or less stable over the past decade. 

    Looking forward 
    Deep capital expenditures cuts in the industrial metals space is likely to have a significant effect on silver supplies, as the majority of silver is mined as a byproduct of zinc and copper. In the context of weakening global demand, especially from China, low commodity prices have reduced production incentives. Looking forward, as the global growth outlook improves, demand for commodities, including silver, is likely to rise.


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    California's Last Nuclear Plant Is Closing, Edged Out by Renewables

    This article by Jim Polson and Jonathan Crawford for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Economics have achieved what environmentalists have sought for years: the shutdown of California’s nuclear power plants.

    PG&E Corp. is proposing to close two reactors at Diablo Canyon in a decade that would end up costing more to keep alive as California expands its use of renewable energy, Chief Executive Officer Tony Earley said Tuesday. They won’t be needed after 2025 as wind and solar costs decline and electricity from the reactors becomes increasingly expensive, he said.

    Diablo Canyon became California’s only operating nuclear power plant after Edison International three years ago shut its San Onofre plant north of San Diego after a leak. Tuesday’s announcement follows decisions this month to retire three other U.S. nuclear plants struggling to make money amid historically low power prices and cheap natural gas.

    “It’s going to cost less overall as a total package than if you just continued to operate Diablo Canyon,” Earley said. “It’s going to operate less because of the energy policies that are in place.”


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    Musk's Solar Lifestyle Idea Has One Big Flaw

    This article by Leonid Bershidsky for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    The commercial success of Musk's vertical integration idea hinges -- in terms of turning a profit rather than generating a high market capitalization -- on battery technology that would have mass rather than niche appeal. The assumption upon which Musks' concept -- and Tesla's $32.3 billion market capitalization -- is built is that Tesla is betting on the right battery technology and no one will come up with a much better one. That is the big hole in the donut: The assumption is far from safe.

    Cheap and reliable energy storage is central to the idea of an off-the-grid, solar-powered household. Such a home needs energy at night, when the sun isn't shining: It has fridges, air conditioners and other appliances running, and a Tesla charging in the garage. So it needs a good battery, and Tesla's Powerwall doesn't necessarily fit the bill -- if only because the cost of the energy it supplies, including amortization, is higher than grid prices. Because of this, and given the high price of Tesla cars, the lifestyle on offer is an expensive statement. In terms of cost and convenience, it's not competitive with the traditional grid-and-fossil fuel model.


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    Oil Pares Biggest Weekly Drop Since April as Dollar Declines

    This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    “There is some rebalancing, and I believe the oil price will be in the region of $50, maybe $55 for the rest of the year,” Paolo Scaroni, deputy chairman at NM Rothschild & Sons and former chief executive officer of Eni SpA, said in a Bloomberg television interview. “I personally believe there is a cap. If prices go beyond $60, shale oil producers will start all over again.”

    Rigs targeting crude in the U.S. rose by 9 to 337 this week, capping the first three-week gain since August, Baker Hughes Inc. said Friday. Explorers have dropped more than 1,000 oil rigs since the start of last year.


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    BASF Joins Chemical Deal Rush in $3.2 Billion Albemarle Deal

    This article by Andrew Marc Noel and Phil Serafino for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    For Albemarle, the deal is a means to pay down debt from its acquisition of Rockwood Holdings Inc. for $6 billion in 2015. It bought Rockwood’s lithium business to take advantage of demand for the lightweight metal used in rechargeable batteries in smartphones and electric cars.

    "The sale of Chemetall reflects Albemarle’s continued commitment to maximizing shareholder value by investing in the future growth of our high priority businesses, reducing leverage and returning capital to shareholders,” Albemarle CEO Luke Kissam said in the statement.

    The transaction value may be reduced for underfunded and unfunded pension obligations and other reasons, Albemarle said. Bank of America Merrill Lynch is advising Albemarle while Shearman & Sterling LLP is legal adviser. BASF worked with Citigroup, with legal help from Morgan, Lewis & Bockius.


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    A Circular Reference: Ushering In A New Era For Natural Gas

    Thanks to a subscriber for this report which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Previously a commodity with volatile price swings due to a domestic market that was short supply, the outlook for natural gas through 2020 shows a well supplied market capable of delivering to growing demand sources. There will be s-t dislocations (weather / infrastructure constraints) and the introduction of LNG exports will re-couple the U.S. to the global economy, but we see an emerging theme of natural gas entering a range bound period of $3-3.50/mmbtu. The 5 year build up in demand (2013-18) now looks to be meeting up with the 10 year buildup in supply (2005-15), creating a period of price equilibrium with upward and downward pressures on both sides.

    Demand – Focus On The Known Drivers
    After a 15 year period of stagnant consumption (1995-2009), demand for natural gas has enjoyed consistent growth over the past 5 years (2-3Bcfpd annually), a trend we expect to pick up through 2020. The drivers of growth are visible – power generation, industrial use, and Mexico exports – and will provide a base level of consumption growth. The reemergence of natural gas on the global scene via LNG exports has also long been a theme and will be additive to demand, though the quantifiable impact is tough to point to as capacity utilization will vary based on global prices and supply. We estimate ~6Bcfpd of export demand in 2020 in our base case, which is needed to balance the S/D outlook. In total, we see demand growth approaching ~98Bcfpd by 2020 (ex pipeline imports) up from ~78Bcfpd in 2015.

    Supply – Filling Demand Needs…Just Need More Pipeline Capacity
    U.S. supply has increased ~50% over the last 10 years to ~75Bcfpd, a rate of growth not witnessed since the 1960-1970s and following a brief pause in 2016/17, we anticipate growth to resume in 2018. We see four key trends from our supply forecast: 1) Supply is ~2Bcfpd below demand (weather normalized) in 2016/17 but ~3Bcfpd oversupplied in 2018, 2) Northeast supply growth increases by ~9Bcfpd in 2018, driven by the pipeline build out, 3) The bull case for supply by 2H18 is based on demand as the Northeast has excess pipeline capacity, and 4) The Northeast isn’t the only source of growth as we anticipate the Haynesville and Associated Gas Basins to return to growth by 2018, and implementing new technology could support growth elsewhere. Our forecast grows to meet demand and fills storage with enough deliverability in 2018, creating a more range bound environment with equal s/d pressures.


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    Batteries Storing Power Seen as Big as Rooftop Solar in 12 Years

    This article by Anna Hirtenstein for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    The spread of electric cars is driving up demand for lithium-ion batteries, the main technology for storage devices that are attached to utility grids and rooftop solar units.

    That’s allowing manufactures to scale up production and slash costs. BNEF expects the technology to cost $120 a kilowatt-hour by 2030 compared with more than $300 now and $1,000 in 2010.
    That would help grid managers solve the intermittency problem that comes with renewables -- wind and solar plants don’t work in calm weather or at night, creating a need for baseload supplies to fill the gaps. Today, that’s done by natural gas and coal plants, but the role could eventually be passed
    to power-storage units.

    The researcher estimates 35 percent of all light vehicles sold will be electric in 2040, equivalent to 41 million cars.

    That’s about 90 times the figure in 2015. Investment in renewables is expected to rise to $7.8 trillion by then, compared with $2.1 trillion going into fossil-fuel generation.

    “The battery industry today is driven by consumer products like computers and mobile phones,” said Claire Curry, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York. “Electric vehicles will be the driver of battery technology change, and that will drive down costs significantly.”

    The industry still has a long way to go. About 95 percent of the world’s grid-connected energy storage today is still pumped hydro, according to the U.S. Energy Department. That’s when surplus energy is used to shift large amounts of water uphill to a reservoir so it can be used to produce electricity later at a hydropower plant. The technology only works in areas with specific topographies.

    There are several larger-scale battery projects in the works, according to S&P Global. They include a 90-megawatt system in Germany being built by Essen-based STEAG Energy Services GmbH and Edison International’s 100-megawatt facility in Long Beach, California.

    “Utility-scale storage is the new emerging market for batteries, kind of where electric vehicles were five years ago,” said Simon Moores, managing director at Benchmark Mineral Intelligence, a battery researcher based in London. “EVs are now coming of age.”


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    Energy in 2015: A year of plenty

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of BP’s annual report by Spencer Dale which may be of interest. Here is a section:

    The increasing importance of renewable energy continued to be led by wind power (17.4%, 125 TWh). But solar power is catching up fast, expanding by almost a third in 2015 (32.6%, 62 TWh), with China overtaking Germany and the US as the largest generator of solar power.

    The older stalwarts of non-fossil fuels – hydro and nuclear energy – grew more modestly. Global hydro power increased by just 1.0% (38 TWh), held back by drought conditions in parts of the Americas and Central Europe. Nuclear energy increased by 1.3% (34 TWh), as rapid expansion in China offset secular declines within mainland Europe. This gradual shift of nuclear energy away from the traditional centres of North America and Europe towards Asia, particularly China, looks set to continue over the next 10-20 years.


    The key lesson from history is that it takes considerable time for new types of energy to penetrate the global market. Starting the clock at the point at which new fuels reached 1% share of primary energy, it took more than 40 years for oil to expand to 10% of primary energy; and even after 50 years, natural gas had reached a share of only 8%.

    Some of that slow rate of penetration reflects the time it takes for resources and funding to be devoted in scale to new energy sources. But equally important, the highly capital intensive nature of the energy eco-system, with many long-lived assets, provides a natural brake on the pace at which new energies can gain ground.

    The growth rates achieved by renewable energy over the past 8 or 9 years have been broadly comparable to those recorded by other energies at the same early stage of development. Indeed, thus far, renewable energy has followed a similar path to nuclear energy.

    The penetration of nuclear energy plateaued relatively quickly, however, as the pace of learning slowed and unit costs stopped falling. In contrast, in BP’s Energy Outlook, we assume that the costs of both wind and solar power will continue to fall as they move down their learning curve, underpinning continued robust growth in renewable energy.

    Indeed, the path of renewable energy in the base case of the Energy Outlook implies a quicker pace of penetration than any other fuel source in modern history. But even in that case, renewable power within primary energy barely reaches 8% in 20 years’ time.

    The simple message from history is that it takes a long time – numbering several decades – for new energies to gain a substantial foothold within global energy.


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    Oil Climbs to 10-Month High as U.S. Crude Stockpiles Decline

    This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Oil producers in Nigeria are facing a renewed wave of violence in the delta region that accounts for most of the country’s crude. Nigeria’s output dropped to the lowest in almost three decades as armed groups intensified attacks to rupture pipelines in recent months. Total volume of crude shut due to the attacks range from 700,000 to 800,000 barrels per day, according to the state-owned Nigerian National Petroleum Corp.

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    Musings from the Oil Patch June 1st 2016

    Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks' energy report for PPHB. Here is a particularly interesting section on autonomous trucking: 

    The new topic being opened by efforts such as Otto and the platooning demonstration in Europe is the impact on fuel and labor costs within the trucking industry. In the United States, trucks drive 5.6% of all vehicle miles and are responsible for 9.5% of highway fatalities, according to Department of Transportation data. Because heavy-duty trucks have a significantly lower fuel-efficiency performance, they account for a larger share of diesel fuel consumption than diesel cars or other types of equipment. Because diesel fuel is included in distillates, we cannot determine the exact weekly volumes. However, we know that for the week ending May 20, distillate volumes of slightly over 4 million barrels a day represented 20% of total fuel supplied in the U.S. By examining the latest inventory data, distillates are broken down by the amount of sulfur in the fuel. Diesel fuel for vehicle use needs to be low sulfur – 15 parts per million or less. That fuel category accounted for 88% of all the distillate in storage, therefore we would think this is a reasonably close approximation of the highway quality diesel fuel being supplied to the U.S. market. If 62% is used by over-the-highway trucks, then the daily consumption is approximately 2.2 million barrels. Improved fuel savings from autonomous technology could eventually account for upwards of 200,000 barrels a day in savings. 

    Autonomous vehicle technology is being hailed as a way to reduce the number of accidents. The largest impact of the technology, however, may be on the employment of truck drivers. There are more than three million truck drivers in this country. According to the American Trucking Associations, the truck industry accounts for one of every 15 jobs in the United States. By eliminating the need for second drivers on many trucks due to the ability of the primary driver to fulfill his rest obligations while the truck drives itself, there will be a negative employment impact from autonomous technology. 

    Although perceived as a negative, autonomous technology might actually become a positive as the trucking industry deals with an aging workforce and a less-than-attractive employment career as long-haul driving can be tedious and keeps drivers away from home for extended time periods. While younger drivers enjoy the first and last miles of truck driving, they wish to avoid the boring portion, which autonomous technology would eliminate. In the U.S., according to consultant Oliver Wyman, by 2023 it is projected that there will be shortfall of 240,000 drivers, or approximately 8% of the estimated current number of truck drivers. 

    Canada has a similar employment outlook for its highway trucking industry. According to the Canadian Trucking Alliance there are about 300,000 long-haul truck drivers. Similarly, the Canadian Trucking Alliance estimates that the Canadian industry will have a shortfall of 48,000 drivers by 2024 — about 15 per cent of the total driving force – due to an aging workforce and a less-attractive employment career. 

    Another impact of autonomous technology for trucks is that vehicles can be kept on the highway for more hours per day. That could not only reduce the need for additional drivers, but it could also reduce the cost for transporting goods, further contributing to deflationary forces in the economy. 

    All of these considerations influenced our previous article’s conclusion that autonomous trucks were more likely to be on the roads before autonomous cars. That may be why Mr. Levandowski left Google. He said that his decision to leave was motivated by being eager to commercialize a self-driving vehicle as quickly as possible. At Google, he was responsible for drafting legislation to permit self-driving vehicles, which ultimately became law in Nevada. While certain states such as California have motor vehicle regulations that would prohibit the idea of trucks traveling on the freeway with only a sleeping driver in the cab, other states currently do allow it. “Right now, if you want to drive across Texas with nobody at the wheel, you’re 100 percent legal,” said Mr. Levandowski. Stay tuned for self-driving trucks on a freeway near you. 

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