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

    China's Got a New Plan to Overtake the U.S. in Tech

    This article from Bloomberg news may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    In the masterplan backed by President Xi Jinping himself, China will invest an estimated $1.4 trillion over six years to 2025, calling on urban governments and private tech giants like Huawei Technologies Co. to lay fifth generation wireless networks, install cameras and sensors, and develop AI software that will underpin autonomous driving to automated factories and mass surveillance.

    The new infrastructure initiative is expected to drive mainly local giants from Alibaba and Huawei
    to SenseTime Group Ltd. at the expense of U.S. companies. As tech nationalism mounts, the investment drive will reduce China’s dependence on foreign technology, echoing objectives set forth previously in the Made in China 2025 program. Such initiatives have already drawn fierce criticism from the Trump administration, resulting in moves to block the rise of Chinese tech companies such as Huawei.

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    The Big Cycles Over The Last 500 Years

    This article by Ray Dalio may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    In brief, after the creation of a new set of rules establishes the new world order, there is typically a peaceful and prosperous period.  As people get used to this they increasingly bet on the prosperity continuing, and they increasingly borrow money to do that, which eventually leads to a bubble.  As the prosperity increases the wealth gap grows.  Eventually the debt bubble bursts, which leads to the printing of money and credit and increased internal conflict, which leads to some sort of wealth redistribution revolution that can be peaceful or violent.  Typically, at that time late in the cycle the leading empire that won the last economic and geopolitical war is less powerful relative to rival powers that prospered during the prosperous period, and with the bad economic conditions and the disagreements between powers there is typically some kind of war.  Out of these debt, economic, domestic, and world-order breakdowns that take the forms of revolutions and wars come new winners and losers.  Then the winners get together to create the new domestic and world orders.  

    That is what has repeatedly happened through time.  The lines in the chart signify the relative powers of the 11 most powerful empires over the last 500 years.  In the chart below you can see where the US and China are currently in their cycles.  As you can see the United States is now the most powerful empire by not much, it is in relative decline, Chinese power is rapidly rising, and no other powers come close.  

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    Gold Retreats Amid Profit-Taking Before Long Weekend

    This article by Justina Vasquez and Elena Mazneva for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    “Looking at the U.S. weekly jobless claim data, it is clear that things are not dire as they were but the upward movement in the gold price confirms that investors are wary about the continuous claim data,” Naeem Aslam, chief market analyst at Ava Trade, says in an email

    “There is no doubt we have seen a bottom in the macro data”

    “Many appear keen to start taking profit on gold as it heads toward $1,750,” said Howie Lee, an economist at Oversea-Chinese Banking Corp. “We have not seen any inclinations on interest rates to move significantly lower, while the dollar looks to have broadly stabilized”

    The gold market is long and is taking some profits ahead of a long weekend, according to David Govett, head of precious metals trading at Marex Spectron Investors are “probably a bit disappointed that it couldn’t make new highs yesterday”

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    Bailey Says BOE Is Not Ruling Out Negative Interest Rates

    This article by David Goodman for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here it is in full:

    The Bank of England is keeping the lower bound for interest rates under active review amid the coronavirus crisis and isn’t ruling out taking borrowing costs below zero, according to Governor Andrew Bailey.

    When asked about the prospect of negative rates by U.K. lawmakers, Bailey said the BOE wasn’t in the habit of ruling out any policy, but wouldn’t rule them in either. The key rate is currently at just 0.1%, and policy makers have previously indicated their lower bound for rates was close to zero.

    Andrew Bailey

    “Given what we’ve done in past few weeks, it should come as no surprise to learn that of course, we’re keeping the tools under active review in the current situation,” Bailey said.

    Bailey added the BOE was keen to observe the impact of its previous U.K. rate cuts, bearing in mind arguments that they become less effective the closely to zero they are. It’s also examining the experience of other central banks who have cut below zero, he said, adding the financial system in an economy, and officials’ communication, are both important.

    “We do not rule things out as a matter of principle. That would be a foolish thing to do,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we rule things in either.”

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    What Kind of Regime Does China Have?

    This article by Francis Fukuyama for the American Interest may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Xi’s China is thus not the inevitable culmination of prior Chinese history. When he was elevated to head of the Party in 2012, many Chinese elites hoped that he would deal with mounting corruption—which he did, in a highly authoritarian fashion—but also lay the ground for a more liberal China that would permit more freedom to talk, think, interact, and even criticize their government. They were bitterly disappointed when he moved in the opposite direction, placing priority above all not on the welfare of the nation as a whole, but on the survival of the Chinese Communist Party. Why he did this was the result of his personal quirks and history; another leader may have gone in a very different direction. There was no historical inevitability to the present outcome.

    The dangers of a regime that seeks totalitarian control were laid bare in the early days of the COVID-19 crisis, when speaking honestly about the unfolding epidemic, as Dr. Li Wenliang did, was severely punished. For all we know, the flow of misinformation is continuing today. It is wrong to hold up the CCP’s totalitarian approach in dealing with the virus as a model to be emulated by other countries. Nearby South Korea and Taiwan, both healthy liberal democracies, achieved even better results in the pandemic without the draconian methods used by China. One of the great dangers today is that the world looks to Xi’s totalitarian model, rather than a broader East Asian model that combines strong state capacity with technocratic competence, as the winning formula in facing future crises.

    How then should the United States and other Western democracies deal with Xi’s China? The starting point is to recognize that we are dealing with an aspiring totalitarian country like the mid-20th century Soviet Union, and not with some kind of generic “authoritarian capitalist” regime. There is no true private sector in China. Although there are quasi-property rights and ambitious entrepreneurs there, the state can reach into and control any one of its supposedly “private sector” firms like Tencent or Alibaba at any point. Although the Trump administration’s campaign against Huawei has been clumsy and in many respects self-defeating, the goal is essentially correct: It would be crazy for any liberal democracy to allow this firm to build its basic information infrastructure, given the way it can be controlled by the Chinese state.

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    Musings from the Oil Patch May 2020

    Thanks to subscriber for this report by Allen Brooks for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section on battery metals supply:

    The potential for a change in battery chemistry from lithium-ion to lithium-sulfur could help.  A massive switch does not appear to be underway.  The big change in EV battery technology – a move to solid state lithium batteries – appears to have been pushed out to 2030 or beyond, versus the prior expectation that it would arrive in the early 2020s.  Now, battery research firms are focusing on how EV manufacturers may need to become involved in the procurement of battery raw materials, as well as completely revamping their supply chains to lower their cost.  

     The real challenge will be in the battery raw material procurement.  A chart from Benchmark’s webinar shows what the limitation is for EVs.  It is raw materials.  In the firm’s forecast for 34 million EVs in 2030, it is expected that there will be sufficient lithium-ion battery manufacturing capacity to produce 43 million EVs.  The challenge is that lithium supply will only meet the needs of 19 million EVs, while cobalt will only be able to supply 17.9 million EVs.  Those limitations equate to roughly a 45% supply shortage.  

    One can certainly ask many questions about how investors will perceive EV manufacturers getting involved in mining operations to ensure adequate availability of raw materials for batteries.  Or, will the EV manufacturers figure they will just leave this endeavor to battery suppliers?  Who has the capital available for such new ventures?  What are the geopolitical risks, depending on where new supply sources are found?  Will the new supplies improve, or complicate the existing raw materials supply chains?  Will we be held hostage to foreign suppliers?  What are the ESG issues associated with mining rare earth minerals?  There is the possibility of another potential supply source, that being recycling old EV batteries, although such efforts are currently uneconomic.  

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    Central Bank Leans on QE to Anchor Rupiah

    This article by Tamara Mast Henderson for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

    Bank Indonesia is using bond purchases to support the rupiah and help fund the government’s Covid-19 response. Too much quantitative easing, though, could backfire and fuel worries about the accommodation of unfettered government spending.

    Critical for reassuring investors, in our view, is that the central bank stick to its pledge to cap bond purchases in the primary market at 25% and intervene only as a last resort. If these promises are broken, QE could weigh on the rupiah like a pair of cement shoes.

    Emerging market central banks embarking on QE might already be skating on thinner ice than peers in developed markets. Bank Indonesia, for one, has a shorter track record for demonstrating independence from political interference.

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