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

    It's Not Just Toys R Us. More Credit Weak Spots Emerge

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

    Money managers are grappling with an uptick in operational and balance-sheet challenges late in the business cycle, with debt-laden Toys ‘R’ Us Inc. the latest retailer to file for bankruptcy this week, catching bond markets off guard. Just two weeks ago, credit-default swaps, which allow traders to hedge against losses, were pricing in a low probability of near-term default at about 10 percent based on contracts expiring in June.

    "Companies with the weakest fundamentals often show problems first late in a cycle, and the retail sector has many such examples," said Adam Richmond, Morgan Stanley’s chief credit strategist.

    "Investors initially treat those issues as idiosyncratic, and then the problems spread, when credit conditions begin to tighten,” he said. “That is how the late cycle can transition to end of cycle."

    These risks are hard to see at the index level, with the Bloomberg Barclays U.S. high-yield benchmark up almost 7 percent this year, led by CCC-rated names. Still, the latter has underperformed the broader market over the past two months, suggesting investors are increasingly compelled to price-in deteriorating fundamentals -- reminiscent of a market in its late winter, according to the U.S. lender.

     

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    Proterra Catalyst E2 MAX Sets World Record And Drives 1,101.2 Miles On A Single Charge

    This press release contains some impressive statistics and may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

    Today Proterra, the leading innovator in heavy-duty electric transportation, announced it has set a world record for driving the longest distance ever traveled by an electric vehicle on a single charge at the Navistar Proving Grounds in New Carlisle, Indiana. Proterra’s 40-foot Catalyst E2 max traveled 1,101.2 miles this month with 660 kWh of energy storage capacity. For the last three consecutive years, Proterra has demonstrated improved range and battery performance. Last September, Proterra drove 603 miles with 440kWh of energy storage, and in 2015, Proterra drove 258 miles with 257kWh of energy storage on a single charge. This year’s world record range marks exceptional performance improvements over prior years, and underscores Proterra’s commitment to innovation and accelerating the mass adoption of heavy-duty electric vehicles.

    “For our heavy-duty electric bus to break the previous world record of 1,013.76 miles — which was set by a light-duty passenger EV 46 times lighter than the Catalyst E2 max — is a major feat,” said Matt Horton, Proterra’s chief commercial officer. “This record achievement is a testament to Proterra’s purpose-built electric bus design, energy-dense batteries and efficient drivetrain.”

    Beyond meeting transit agencies’ range requirements, the Catalyst E2 max is poised to make a significant impact on the transit market because of its low operational cost per mile compared to conventional fossil fuel powered buses. According to Bloomberg New Energy Finance, lithium-ion battery prices have dropped by roughly 72 percent since 2010, and the economics for batteries continue to improve. Between li-ion battery cost savings and improving vehicle efficiency, electric vehicles represent the most disruptive mode of transport today.

    “Driven by the best cost savings-per-mile, we believe the business case for heavy-duty electric buses is superior to all other applications, and that the transit market will be the first to transition completely to battery-electric powered vehicles,” said Ryan Popple, Proterra CEO. “Early electric bus adopters like our first customer, Foothill Transit, have paved the way for future heavy-duty applications, like motor coaches and commercial trucks. As we see incumbents and more companies enter the heavy-duty EV market, it has become very apparent that the future is all-electric, and the sun is setting on combustion engine technology.”

     

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    Oil Traders Empty Key Crude Storage Hub as Demand Booms

    This article by Rupert Rowling and Javier Blas for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Oil traders are emptying one of the world’s largest crude storage facilities, located near the southernmost tip of Africa, as the physical market tightens amid booming demand and OPEC production cuts.

    Total SA, Vitol Group and Mercuria Energy Group Ltd. are selling crude they hoarded in Saldanha Bay, South Africa, during the 2015-2016 glut when the market effectively paid traders to store oil, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be named discussing private operations. 

    Crude demand is now seasonally outstripping supply, tightening the physical market for some crude varieties to levels not seen in the last two years and encouraging traders to sell their stored oil.

    “The market is selling inventories from everywhere,” Mercuria Chief Executive Officer Marco Dunand said in an interview in Geneva.

    Although largely unknown outside the oil trading industry, Saldanha Bay is one of the world’s largest crude storage facilities, with the capacity to hold 45 million barrels in just six gigantic, partially-buried concrete tanks. By comparison, Cushing, the better-known U.S. oil storage center in Oklahoma that serves as the pricing point for the West Texas Intermediate oil benchmark, can hold about 75 million barrels in more than 125 tanks.

     

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    Markets Are Betting That Japan's Abe Would Win a Snap Election

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

    Markets are suggesting that any snap election called by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe would take advantage of his opponents’ weakness and see him retain power.

    A victory would ensure the continuation of Abenomics, the recipe of mega monetary easing, flexible fiscal policy and selective deregulation that’s helped Japan’s economy to its longest sustained expansion since before the global crisis. Abe, who’s expected to decide on the early ballot after returning from a U.S. trip, is capitalizing on growing public support for his management of the North Korean crisis.

     

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    Email of the day on wind farms

    In my trip last week across the Texas Panhandle, I observed a continuing explosion in the number of power-generating windmills (picture is from last year's trip). Last year, vast numbers of these were not operating - this year, most are, suggesting that the power lines to major cities (e.g. Dallas-Ft. Worth) are now working and that purchase contracts are now in place. I spoke at length with a friend who farms a dozen or so square miles there about this subject, which he is very knowledgeable about.

    Ah, but all is not well. The company that built hundreds of windmills in around 2002 up in the (windy) OK Panhandle has gone bankrupt, and the windmills are being torn down for scrap. Alas, the cost of these reclamation efforts are not fully covered by the original reclamation bonds bought by the now-bankrupt company, meaning either the farmers who own the land or the government (taxpayers) will have to cover the cost. Meanwhile, the productive farmland that was used for these remains unusable and unproductive until they are torn out, including their huge concrete bases. A 15-year life is not what anyone was promised...

    When a farmer agrees to allowing windmills to be built on his land, he is effectively giving up on irrigating that land using modern, efficient center-pivot irrigation systems. Dryland wheat yields 1/4 that of irrigated wheat in the best rain years (which are few and far between), and 10% or less in dry years (lots of years). Most now grow at least some corn, and corn is not a dryland crop in these parts. Yes, he could go back to the horribly inefficient and water-wasting row irrigation method, but that has serious long-term aquifer depletion issues, as well as cost of pumping and labor cost increases. The windmills themselves, the power lines, and the access roads all reduce the crop acreage. Annual payments to the farmers make up for some of this, and some farmers do make money on the windmill contracts, but many smart farmers are turning down the offers. 

    Despite all this, the building boom continues, and like all booms, will ultimately lead to substantial overcapacity, bankruptcies, finger pointing, and pain. With over 50% of the power generated being consumed by power line losses, it is not clear that such projects will ever create significant profits before government (taxpayer) subsidies are counted.

     

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    Gold in correction mode

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

    Precious metals: Gold has dropped to a 2½-week low of $1,315 per troy ounce this morning amid increased risk appetite among market participants. Gold in euro terms is trading at only around €1,100 per troy ounce. The Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 indices in the US had both climbed to new record highs on Friday. The rise in stock markets is continuing in the Asian region today. What is more, bond yields in the US have increased significantly of late, which makes gold less attractive as an alternative investment.

    Presumably this is also why Friday saw the second consecutive daily outflow from gold ETFs. Portugal’s credit rating was upgraded on Friday evening by the ratings agency S&P, achieving an investment grade rating again for the first time since January 2012. Ireland was also upgraded, this time by the ratings agency Moody’s. Wednesday could see further volatility on the gold market, as this is when the US Federal Reserve meeting will take place.

    If the market’s currently low rate hike expectations increase as a result of the meeting, this is likely to weigh on the gold price. According to the CFTC’s statistics, speculative financial investors further expanded their net long positions in gold in the week to 12 September, putting them at 253,500 contracts now. This was already the ninth weekly increase in a row.
    The price rise to a 13-month high of just shy of $1,360 was thus driven largely by speculation. Given that the gold price is now trading considerably lower, positions have presumably been squared in the meantime

     

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    Superpower India to Replace China as Growth Engine

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

    ``India will account for more than half of the increase in Asia’s workforce in the coming decade, but this isn’t just a story of more workers: these new workers will be much better trained and educated than the existing Indian workforce,’’ said Anis Chakravarty, economist at Deloitte India. ``There will be rising economic potential coming alongside that, thanks to an increased share of women in the workforce, as well as an increased ability and interest in working for longer. The consequences for businesses are huge.’’

    While the looming ‘Indian summer’ will last decades, it isn’t the only Asian economy set to surge. Indonesia and the Philippines also have relatively young populations, suggesting they’ll experience similar growth, says Deloitte. But the rise of India isn’t set in stone: if the right frameworks are not in place to sustain and promote growth, the burgeoning population could be faced with unemployment and become ripe for social unrest.

     

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