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November 30 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Top Ten Market Themes For 2017: Higher growth, higher risk, slightly higher returns

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

8. Inflation: Moving higher across DM
‘Reflation’ is the theme du jour following Donald Trump’s unexpected emphasis on infrastructure spending in his acceptance speech on election night. Since then, market participants have been hard at work trying to figure out the policy agenda that Trump the president might pursue (distinct from the rhetoric of Trump the candidate). What seems clear to us, as argued above, is that economic issues, notably tax cuts, infrastructure spending and defense spending, are high on the agenda — a recipe for reflation.

There was a strong case for rising inflation in the US even before Trump’s victory. Our call for higher rates in long bonds this past year was premised more on a repricing of inflation risk and inflation risk premia than on a rise in real rates. And, globally, we expect rising Energy prices to push up headline CPI across the major advanced economies in early 2017. After years of deleveraging and highly accommodative monetary policy, we expect inflation to gain momentum in 2017 just as many countries are shifting their policy focus to fiscal instruments. For example, we are forecasting large boosts to public spending in Japan, China, the US and Europe, which should fuel inflationary pressures in those economies. Moreover, having had to work so hard for so long to get inflation even to the current low levels, the major central banks in developed markets sound increasingly willing to let inflation run above 2% targets

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

As recently as early this month a significant number of investors were betting the discount rate was never going to go up. That has definitely changed with the bond markets rapidly pricing in the potential for inflation to pick up as fiscal stimulus is expected to kick in. 



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November 29 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Solar-Panel Roads to Be Built on Four Continents Next Year

My thanks to a subscriber for this fascinating article from Bloomberg.  Here is the opening:

Electric avenues that can transmit the sun’s Energy onto power grids may be coming to a city near you.

A subsidiary of Bouygues SA has designed rugged solar panels, capable of withstand the weight of an 18-wheeler truck, that they’re now building into road surfaces. After nearly five years of research and laboratory tests, they’re constructing 100 outdoor test sites and plan to commercialize the technology in early 2018.

“We wanted to find a second life for a road,” said Philippe Harelle, the chief technology officer at Colas SA’s Wattway unit, owned by the French engineering group Bouygues. “Solar farms use land that could otherwise be for agriculture, while the roads are free.”

As solar costs plummet, panels are being increasingly integrated into everyday Materials. Last month Tesla Motors Inc. surprised investors by unveiling roof shingles that double as solar panels. Other companies are integrating photovoltaics into building facades. Wattway joins groups including Sweden’s Scania and Solar Roadways in the U.S. seeking to integrate panels onto pavement.

To resist the weight of traffic, Wattway layers several types of plastics to create a clear and durable casing. The solar panel underneath is an ordinary model, similar to panels on rooftops. The electrical wiring is embedded in the road and the contraption is topped by an anti-slip surface made from crushed glass.

A kilometer-sized testing site began construction last month in the French village of Tourouvre in Normandy. The 2,800 square meters of solar panels are expected to generate 280 kilowatts at peak, with the installation generating enough to power all the public lighting in a town of 5,000 for a year, according to the company.

For now, the cost of the Materials makes only demonstration projects sensible. A square meter of the solar road currently costs 2,000 ($2,126) and 2,500 euros. That includes monitoring, data collection and installation costs. Wattway says it can make the price competitive with traditional solar farms by 2020.

David Fuller's view -

Theoretically, this is an interesting idea and an ambitious challenge.  I hope it can be perfected although the overall cost, safety and susceptibility to damage may be too great for existing technologies.  Nevertheless, it shows the incredible adaptability of solar technology, in terms of projects both great and small.   

The sun is the greatest source of Energy with which we have any personal experience.  The number of manmade products exposed to sunlight, which can be captured and turn into Energy, is practically unlimited.  



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November 29 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch November 29th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section:

You read it here first – tomorrow the members of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) will announce an agreement to limit its output. You will have to wait for the details, and more importantly you will have to wait to see whether OPEC members actually do what they say they will do. For those of us who have seen this show before (often with even greater drama/showmanship), the issues with every OPEC agreement are the details and then its execution. Often the details and the execution are not what the public is led to expect at the time of the announcement. 

OPEC has little choice at this point but to attempt to salvage some degree of respectability, especially following the debacle of the Doha meeting last spring at which a preconceived agreement blew up at the last minute. We are not going to debate the viability of OPEC as a cartel – to us it has always been an excuse to travel to Vienna and Europe for shopping and partying. On the other hand, OPEC does play an important role in helping to corral a number of important crude oil producers into supposedly one voice, although the power of that voice has been diminished by the evolution of Energy markets over the last 25 years, and especially in the last few years. 

The key factor for the oil market that OPEC understands is that it is in a recovery mode. That is not due to a miracle, or can be attributed to the efforts of anyone in particular. Rather, it is the result of economic discipline being restored to the oil market. Fewer uneconomic prospects are being drilled. Assets are moving from weak hands into stronger hands – hands that don’t necessarily have to drill in order to generate revenue to attempt to keep the doors of the companies open. 

Additionally, companies are figuring out how to operate more efficiently – fewer employees, more efficient operations and employing greater technology. Producers at the moment have benefited from destroying the pricing structure of the oilfield service industry, enabling the producers to lower operating costs. The producers have driven oilfield service company prices down to levels that are not sustainable for the long-term. Short-term gains for producers will have to yield to higher oilfield service prices if the producers wish to have the equipment, technology and employees that deliver the field services that they need. The question becomes how quickly oilfield service prices rise and how much of those increases can be offset by further efficiency gains. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

This is a logical argument. If OPEC cannot act in unison to fulfil its role as a swing producer then what purpose does the group have as anything more than a talking shop? If they fail to announce a deal it will signal the group’s increasing irrelevance so they have little choice but to announce something. Quite whether they can succeed in implementing anything is another subject entirely. 



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November 28 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on electric cars and overall pollution

With regard to electric cars decreasing the world's need for fossil fuels, how is the electricity going to be generated? I have heard the Netherlands, who are one of the world leaders in using electric cars, have had to build three new generating plants already to meet the demand and these are coal fired. It is true that electric cars will laudably reduce urban pollution, where 85% of CO2 generation is created. But CO2 production will simply be transferred to rural areas, where electricity generating plants are normally situated. Energy consumption not be reduced and, since the Energy production will be a two-step procedure instead of a single stage, it may well be increased.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email which raises important questions and highlights that the Energy sector is not suitable for a one size fits all solution. I agree that an electric vehicle is, on aggregate, only as clean as the fuel used to generate its power. This graphic from shrinkthatfootprint.com is a useful barometer for how successful countries are in that regard. 



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November 24 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

OPEC Last Push for Oil-Cuts Deal Shifts Focus to Iran, Russia

Here is the opening of Bloomberg’s latest report on the attempt at this forced marriage:

OPEC’s final push to implement the Algiers supply accord and boost oil prices shifted focus to Iran and non-members such as Russia as Iraq appeared to reverse its opposition to output cuts.

The extension of shuttle diplomacy -- including a visit to Tehran from an architect of the September agreement and an unusual Vienna breakfast with non-OPEC ministers -- comes after an OPEC committee failed this week to hammer out details of how producers will share the burden of cuts. With less than a week until the crucial Vienna ministerial meeting, the refusal of just one major producer to participate could scuttle the whole deal.

Algeria’s Energy Minister Noureddine Boutarfa will travel to Tehran on Saturday in an effort to bring a deal closer, said a person familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified because the information isn’t public. Algeria is the ninth-largest producer in OPEC and has limited international clout, but in September played a central role in clinching the preliminary agreement on output cuts that had eluded its more formidable counterparts throughout the two-year oil slump.

Boutarfa will also meet his Iraqi counterpart in Vienna on Nov. 28 or 29, although that country is now less of a problem after positive statements from Baghdad, the person said.

Oil prices rose Wednesday as Iraqi Prime Minister Haider Al-Abadi said his country would shoulder part of the burden of output cuts. That assertion still leaves unresolved the significant issue of exactly how much the country would reduce, and from what level, said a Gulf OPEC delegate. Iraq has been disputing the OPEC supply estimates that would form the basis of cuts, saying they underestimate its production.

David Fuller's view -

What a humiliating experience these negotiations must be for OPEC’s main participants, not that they will receive much sympathy.  Nevertheless, frackers in the USA will regard any success by OPEC plus Russia in cutting oil supplies as an early Christmas present, and with good reason.  Any price rise above $50 will increase their profits and also production.  Additionally, it will enable them to lock in higher prices for the future by hedge shorting more distant contracts in this contango market.  Jan ’17 Brent crude currently sells at $49, with prices rising gradually over the next 12 months.  The most liquid distant contract is Dec ’17, which closed today at $53.71.     



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November 24 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Uranium: the Unloved Metal Whose Price Is Poised to go Radioactive

The belief is that utilities are becoming “uncovered”; with spot prices so low, they have resisted locking themselves into long-term contracts. This could leave them scrabbling for supply at the end of the decade, giving producers the upper hand on prices.

It’s a view shared by analysts at Cantor Fitzgerald, who predicted this year that a “violent increase” in uranium prices was on the way.

Cantor predicts that up to 80pc of the uranium market could be uncovered by 2025. Moreover, it believes demand will outstrip supply, saying: “The low-price environment has choked off exploration activity for uranium and we are at the point where there are not enough uranium projects in the pipeline that can adequately meet the coming demand.”

Peter Reeve, executive chairman of Aura Energy, describes the spot price as an “irrelevance”.

“I don’t believe the supply side is what’s hitting the spot price. It’s more just speculators playing that part of the market,” he says. 

Aura, which like Berkeley is listed in Australia, joined Aim in September, with a view to progressing uranium projects in Mauritania and Sweden.

Reeve also believes a “demand avalanche” is coming. Uranium is a relatively common metal, found in rocks and even seawater. Locating it in the right concentrations can be difficult, however. 

As Reeve says: “It’s not found near London or Paris. It’s all in very curious locations. That doesn’t make it easy to get at or develop.”

David Fuller's view -

What goes around, comes around. The world needs nuclear power but serious accidents are understandably terrifying, as we know from: 1) Three Mile Island March 28 1979, 2) Chernobyl April 26 1986, and 3) Fukushima Daiichi March 11 2011.  These incidents have left deadly, very long-term contamination in their nearby surrounding regions. 

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November 23 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Oil Supply Crunch to Hit in 2019 as Investment in New Projects Dries Up

An oil supply crunch could hit as soon as 2019 as investment in new projects dries up following the price crash, leading analysts have warned.

Delays and cancellations of projects by cash-strapped Energy giants mean the volumes of new crude production coming onstream will not be enough to make up for the decline from existing fields and meet growing demand, Barclays analysts said in a research note.

They forecast that 2019 would see the "the lowest year for new capacity" on their records, which stretch back to the Nineties, with just 1.2m barrels per day (bpd) of new supply.

By contrast, decline from existing fields and growing demand would together equal 4m bpd, resulting in a gap of almost 3m bpd.

"2019 marks a juncture where supply becomes a concern. With current volatility and oil price uncertainty, project sanction approval continues to be difficult," they wrote.

The analysis comes after the International Energy Agency last week warned that the world was headed for another boom and bust cycle in the oil market, with supply shortages likely to cause rapid price increases by the early 2020s.

The IEA said that if project approvals remained at current lows through 2017, it was "increasingly unlikely that supply will be able to meet the rising demand without rapid price increases".

The Barclays analysis is even starker, suggesting that a supply crunch in 2019 may already be unavoidable.

Given long lead times for many projects that it is monitoring "no decision now makes 2019-20 start-up an impossibility", the analysts warned.

"Inventories could help fill the gap, as will the phased ramp-up of onshore developments and shorter development brownfield, but by then we feel it is not a question of the US shale ramping back up, but how much it can produce to fill the gap and how high an oil price is needed," they said.

Oil prices have rallied to near to $50 a barrel for Brent crude in recent days on rising optimism that Opec will agree new production curbs at a meeting in Vienna next week, helping to rebalance the market from the current supply glut. 

But the Barclays analysis suggests that regardless of whether Opec decides to cut next week the fundamentals are tightening and that an increase in production by the cartel may actually be needed within the next couple of years to fill a looming gap.

Ole Hansen, head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank, said: "Crude oil has rallied strongly, despite headwinds from a rising dollar, in response to increased speculation that Opec will finally succeed in reaching a deal to cut production on November 30. The latest move once again highlights the cartel's role as a major driver of oil market volatility. 

"On the assumption a deal to cut production by a minimum of 800,000 barrels can be struck we could see Brent crude oil once again challenge the ceiling around $54 per barrel."

However, he warned: "The initial move would be driven by short-covering and once that is done the market may pause and retrace in the realisation that Opec's ability to comply with its own production targets have been very poor in recent years."

David Fuller's view -

I do not agree with this forecast.  No disrespect to the International Energy Agency but I cannot think of any commodity agency which does not predict higher prices in most of their forecasts.  If prices are low, they use that as a determinant of higher prices at a future date.  This has sometimes worked given previous inflation and global GDP growth.  What the agency is not factoring in, is the increasing wish to reduce consumption of crude oil because of CO2 emissions. 

Even more importantly, oil has gone from supply tightness to abundance, thanks to technology.  Today, oil is much easier to find and most importantly, onshore oil can be produced far more cheaply thanks to the vast quantities available in shale formations.

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November 22 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

OPEC Oil Cut Nears as Battered Saudis Bow to Indomitable US Shale

Twisting the knife deeper, the US is still drilling extra wells. The latest Baker Hughes rig count rose by two to 452 last week. Frackers have sold forward their production with hedge contracts, guaranteeing future supply whatever now happens.

"They took advantage of the window for a few weeks when oil was higher and locked in hedges of around $52 for 2017, and $55 for 2018," said Mr Hansen.

Esther George, the head of the Kansas Federal Reserve, told an oil forum on Friday that the average price needed by shale drillers to make a profit has fallen from $79 to $53 over the last two years as technology matures. Many are making money at prices well below that.

She had a warning for those who expect a return to business as usual in world oil, predicting that a "large amount" of production would come on stream as soon as prices push through the mid-50s. "I do not see much room for price appreciation," she said.  

Markets have grown cynical about Opec rhetoric on cuts. Yet it is increasingly clear that Saudi Arabia has genuinely reversed course under the new Energy minister, Khaled al-Falih, and this has changed the character of the Vienna meeting entirely.

The Kingdom can no longer afford to fight a grueling war of attrition to force rivals out of the market. While it has succeeded in killing off $200bn of investment in deep-water projects, Canadian tar sands, and other high-cost ventures, this has come at a very high price.

The Saudis have been burning through foreign exchange reserves at a rate of $10bn a month, and contrary to general belief their usable reserve buffer is relatively thin. They face an internal banking and liquidity squeeze, a construction crash, and have had to tap the global bond markets on a large scale to pay their bills.

"The Saudis are the ones that have suffered the biggest hit in revenue and face the most financial pain, and it has gone on a lot longer than they ever anticipated," said Mr Fyfe.

Austerity policies are biting in earnest, threatening the social contract of cradle-to-grave welfare that underpins the Wahhabi regime. Cuts in salaries, perks, and allowances have reduced take-home pay for lower level state employees by as much as 60pc in some cases.

Intelligence analysts say the Saudi-led war in Yemen is proving far more expensive than admitted, suggesting that the budget deficit is significantly higher than the official figure of 13pc of GDP. It recently emerged from Pentagon papers that the Saudis have lost 20 of their state-of-the-art Abrams tanks.

Helima Croft from RBC says the Saudis are now throwing their full diplomatic weight behind the search for a deal, though markets have not yet grasped the significance of this. If the Saudis want a deal, a deal is what will almost certainly happen.

Crucially, they need a much firmer oil price to have any chance of floating a 5pc share of state oil company Saudi Aramco for a very ambitious $100bn. The country is about to release secret details about the true extent of Saudi reserves, frozen at a constant 260bn barrels since the inception of the modern oil age - a patently absurd estimate.

David Fuller's view -

Saudi Arabia’s Tadawul All Share Index has had a good bounce since retesting the January low last month.  If it were to push above 7000 and hold those gains beyond the very short term, it would suggest to me that someone or more likely some group of investors was anticipating higher prices for Brent Crude Oil than current supply/demand figures suggest. 

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November 18 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

The Chancellor Must Return to His Roots With a Swashbuckling Autumn Statement

It will be hard for some to believe but Philip Hammond was once a colourful, buccaneering entrepreneur, the opposite of the grey-suited bean-counter he now purports to be. As a schoolboy in Essex, the man who today serves as our Chancellor of the Exchequer made good money renting out church halls for discos, before graduating to trading cars made at the local Ford factory.

He had a knack for spotting a profit opportunity and struck his first real deal aged just 24, when he bought out his employers’ medical products division for just £1. Over the years, Hammond had his fair share of successes as well as failures, like all entrepreneurs, but ended up making millions from a range of property and construction, manufacturing and Energy businesses.

People don’t really change, which is why I’m hopeful that Hammond may rediscover his risk-taking instincts and ditch the ultra-cautious, lugubrious and bizarrely pessimistic persona he has acquired since entering politics. The world has shifted dramatically in the past five months, and Britain desperately needs a dose of the old, glass half-full Hammond. 

Governments must deal with reality as it is, not as they hoped it would be, and this applies even more to Trump’s triumph – which Downing Street neither predicted nor wanted – than it does to Brexit. Nobody knows, at this stage, whether Trump’s presidency will implode in an orgy of demagoguery, protectionism and corruption, or whether it will confound its critics by governing in a neo-Reaganite manner. 

Realpolitik must thus be the order of the day. Given the inflammatory elements of Trump’s campaign, the Government needs to remain vigilant; but it should also seek to make the most of the new world order and the imminent pro-Brexit and pro-growth shift in Washington. This is where Hammond comes in. Brexit alone would have required a radical response from the Chancellor; Brexit, Trump and the growing likelihood that strains in the eurozone will eventually reach breaking point make this an urgent necessity. 

His first Autumn Statement next week is the first real opportunity for the May Government to regain the initiative and to show that it has an exciting, optimistic plan for our post-Brexit prosperity. Hammond cannot afford to be hemmed in by the pessimistic consensus – the same duff predictions that claimed that the Brexit vote would trigger an immediate collapse in growth and jobs. He needs to break free from the constraints of the Treasury’s models.

The Chancellor should start off by pointing out – diplomatically, of course – that the rise in the deficit is largely the doing of his predecessor: the previous predictions never had any hope of coming true, Brexit or no Brexit. He must then retain an iron grip on almost all areas of current spending, while announcing his own, deliberate but carefully controlled loosening in fiscal policy. 

The first big change is that the Chancellor needs to be much more radical on tax, and unveil at least one flagship measure to improve incentives to work and invest. He should commission a major review of the tax system, with the aim of drastically simplifying and flattening it.

David Fuller's view -

I agree with Allister Heath’s advice.  Brexit is no time for timidity at the Treasury.  Chancellor Hammond should be doing all that he can to help Britain become an even more entrepreneurial, low-tax, free-trading economy.  This would inspire talent across the United Kingdom, while also attracting foreign expertise and investment in our pro-business economy.  



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November 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Collision Course

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

While Energy market watchers have highlighted President-Elect Trump’s nod towards drilling and fracking, we believe that a Trump administration will have a larger impact on the US demand side of the ledger. The two key regulations which, if repealed, could drive US gasoline demand materially higher are the Corporate Average Fuel Efficiency Standards (CAFE) and the Renewable Fuel Standard (RFS). The potential impact of a Trump presidency on US gasoline demand is not one that should be underestimated. After all, US gasoline demand comprises of nearly 10% of total global oil demand and has been the sole bright spot in the OECD region, which has otherwise been trending lower on a structural basis since the recession. The potential repeal of aforementioned regulations is unlikely to make a difference in his first 90 days in office, but it is a rather bullish potential catalyst in the quarters and years to come.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

An additional bullish potential outcome for gasoline prices is that the millennial generation is increasingly turning towards car ownership after a delayed start which should at least put a partial floor under demand. 



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November 18 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch November 15th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section:

Another issue that has yet to be addressed is a proposed ban on oil tankers operating off British Columbia’s coastline that would effectively shut down the development of an oil export terminal at Kitimat and thus kill the proposed Enbridge (ENB-NYSE) Northern Gateway oil export pipeline. If the tanker ban is put in place, it will force the development of the Trans Mountain pipeline as the primary West Coast oil export pipeline. That would leave the Trudeau government to deal with TransCanada Corp.’s (TRP-NYSE) Energy East oil pipeline project to move Western Canadian oil to the East Coast where it could be exported to the U.S. East Coast or Europe. Despite being the “environmental” prime minister, Mr. Trudeau is recognizing that without more oil and gas export opportunities, his nation’s economy, which depends on a healthy Energy economy, will suffer with many social and financial repercussions.

The Canadian federal government’s decision about Trans Mountain on December 19th will be an important milestone for the nation’s Energy business. There are still numerous other policy decisions that must be addressed before Canada develops a full-scale oil and gas export expansion regime, but the first steps appear to have been taken last week.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Anyone who has ever been to Vancouver will understand how important pristine maritime conditions are when they sit down to taste some of the city’s delectable seafood. Whether it is salmon, sushi or Cantonese style seafood all are on par with what is on offer anywhere else in the world. However despite a deep interest in preserving the province’s wonderful maritime resources there are bigger questions that need to be addressed. 



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November 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Is the EV finally coming of age?

This article by Scott Collie for Gizmag may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

One important breakthrough will be increasing the Energy density of the battery through being able to cram more cells into the same volume of battery packs. The battery density doubled between 2009 and 2016, and this is definitely not the end. Just like with the technological development of the personal computer, there is something similar to a 'Moore's Law' in the battery development: currently, we recognize an annual improvement rate of 14 percent, which is quite immense."

Although 14 percent is significant, it's only just a start when it comes to battery technology. At the moment, electric cars make use of lithium-ion batteries, the type pioneered by the Tesla Roadster back in the mid-2000s. Schenk says there's plenty of improvement to come in lithium-ion tech, but greater leaps forward are in the pipe.

"New technologies, and especially those aimed at material-related improvements, plus ever-increasing production volumes leading to further price decreases, will determine the development stages of the next few years," Schenk says. "Within the next decade a major technological leap is expected with lithium-sulphur systems, and these are set to revolutionize costs and operating range as extraordinarily relevant buying criteria for electric vehicles."

Already, improvements to battery chemistry are starting to pay off, and people are starting to buy electric vehicles in greater numbers. Renault, one of the largest players in the European electric game, sold 23,087 electric cars in 2015 - a 49 percent increase on its 2014 numbers.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Advances in battery technology have been slower to manifest than in microprocessors because of limitations in chemistry but perhaps more importantly because there has just not been enough incentive for companies to spend money on innovation. 



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November 16 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Global Dollar Shock Threatens Fresh Financial Storm, Warns Watchdog

The soaring US dollar is causing mounting strains for the global financial system and ultimately threatens to set off a full-blown banking crisis in emerging markets, the world’s top’s economic watchdog has warned.

“We have all the symptoms of a dollar shortage,” said Hyun Song Shin, chief economist at the Bank for International Settlements.

The warning came as the closely-watched dollar index (DXY) appeared close to breaking through key resistance levels to a 14-year high, a move likely to trigger a stampede into the US currency as hedge funds and momentum traders join the chase.

The danger is that the powerful and immediate effects of financial tightening will “swamp” any trade benefits for the rest of the world from Donald Trump’s stimulus plans and a stronger dollar, even for countries that export heavily to the US. “It may not be very good news for anyone,” Mr Shin told a specialist forum at the London School of Economics.

The BIS estimates that dollar debt outside US jurisdiction - and therefore lacking a direct lender of last resort - has risen five-fold to $10 trillion over the past 15 years.

It has spiked to $3.3 trillion in emerging markets. This is chiefly due to the leakage of cheap dollar funding from the US while quantitative easing was in full flow. The debts will have to be rolled over in a stronger currency and at a much higher rates.  

What is less understood is that the surging dollar automatically squeezes the balance sheet of banks in Europe and Japan through the complex structure of swap contracts. “The dollar is everywhere,” said Mr Shin.

David Fuller's view -

This service pointed out in 2H 2014 that the Dollar Index (DXY) (monthly historic & weekly) was breaking up out of its base formation and commencing a secular bull market recovery, fuelled by the USA’s Energy independence, increasing technology lead, and its dominant, multinational corporate autonomies. 

We also pointed out that DXY had completed its initial upward leg near the 100 level in 2Q 2015, and that the subsequently loss of upside momentum confirmed the commencement of what was likely to be a lengthy medium-term consolidation before the bull market resumed. 

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November 16 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

A $900 Billion Oil Treasure Lies Beneath West Texas Desert

In a troubled oil world, the Permian Basin is the gift that keeps on giving.

One portion of the giant field, known as the Wolfcamp formation, was found to hold 20 billion barrels of oil trapped in four layers of shale beneath the desert in West Texas, the U.S. Geological Survey said in a report on Tuesday. That’s almost three times larger than North Dakota’s Bakken play and the single largest U.S. unconventional crude accumulation ever assessed. At current prices, that oil is worth almost $900 billion.

The estimate lends credence to Pioneer Natural Resources Co. Chief Executive Officer Scott Sheffield’s assertion that the Permian’s shale endowment could hold as much as 75 billion barrels, making it second only to Saudi Arabia’s Ghawar field. Pioneer has been increasing its production targets all year as drilling in the Wolfcamp produced bigger gushers than the Irving, Texas-based company’s engineers and geologists forecast.

“The fact that this is the largest assessment of continuous oil we have ever done just goes to show that, even in areas that have produced billions of barrels of oil, there is still the potential to find billions more,” Walter Guidroz, coordinator for the geological survey’s Energy resources program, said in the statement.

David Fuller's view -

US Energy independence will persist well beyond its need for oil as a fuel.  That is a remarkable advantage because the USA will have the lowest Energy costs of any developed economy, and not just because of its oil and gas, which are now transition fuels until they are no longer required and have been replaced by renewables.

What about other countries? 

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November 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

OPEC, Russia Expand Diplomatic Push to Secure Oil-Cuts Deal

This article by Javier Blas, Angelina Rascouet and Grant Smith for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

OPEC embarked on a final diplomatic effort to secure an oil-cuts deal, with its top official heading on a tour of member states as Russia scheduled informal talks in Doha this week with nations including Saudi Arabia.

The behind-the-scenes diplomacy follows an unannounced meeting in London between OPEC Secretary-General Mohammed Barkindo and Saudi Minister of Energy and Industry Khalid Al-Falih, said one OPEC delegate. Just two weeks before the group’s Nov. 30 ministerial meeting in Vienna, Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran are still at odds over how to share output cuts, said another delegate. 

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

OPEC and Russia have succeeded in talking oil prices up on two separate occasions over the last few months and the announcement of this meeting would appear to be a fresh attempt to jawbone prices higher. The reality is that agreeing to cut production means each country that agrees to comply risks losing market share to those who don’t. In ordinary times securing broad agreement would be difficult but Saudi Arabia, Iran and Iraq do not have the finances to absorb such a risk right now and additionally are all prosecuting wars, which are not cheap. 



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November 11 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Trump Victory Bodes Well for Investors, for Now

With benefit of hindsight, what’s extraordinary is how few professional investors saw it coming. Mr. Trump was derided as the candidate of “uncertainty,” which markets typically abhor, and many of his stated policies are vague, incoherent or inconsistent. But there was nothing uncertain about his overall pro-growth, pro-business and America-first tendencies, now backed by the firepower of a Republican House and Senate.

He is, after all, a real estate developer.

“We see tremendous opportunity for economic growth,” said John Engler, a former governor of Michigan who is now president of the Business Roundtable, an influential group of chief executives that was often at odds with Mr. Trump during the campaign, especially over trade and immigration. Now that the results are in, though, Mr. Engler sees a silver lining. “The Republicans understand,” he said, “that they’re on the spot to produce results.”

Simon Lack, founder of SL Advisors, an investment advisory firm and operator of a mutual fund that focuses on Energy, carried the theme further. “Trump’s win is unambiguously positive” for many sectors of the economy, “especially Energy infrastructure,” he said.

The doomsayers also ignored a century of market reactions to presidential elections. “We’ve done extensive research that suggests presidential elections don’t affect markets,” said James Stack, president of InvesTech Research. “The reality is that the market is influenced to the greatest extent by economic factors and monetary policy.”

“In almost all technical and macro aspects, this is still a bull market,” Mr. Stack said, and Mr. Trump’s election does not change that.

Markets generally rally the day after a presidential election, said Jeffrey Hirsch, editor of the Stock Traders Almanac, because elections, whatever their outcome, eliminate a measure of uncertainty. “It doesn’t matter if it’s a Republican or Democrat,” he said. Returns tend to be higher when an incumbent president is replaced or the party in power changes, as happened this week. And previous instances of the election of both a Republican president and Republican Congress have been followed, on average, by a first-year performance of 14 percent.

There are more specific reasons as well that investors applauded Mr. Trump’s victory:

David Fuller's view -

Trump’s immediate projects are likely to be sensible infrastructure spending, personal and corporate tax cuts, and deregulation.  These could transform sentiment and show positive results much more quickly than some commentators have suggested.  They should also be of considerable long-term benefit to the US economy.  



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November 08 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

The Upside of Russian Interference

Figures on both the left, such as journalist Glenn Greenwald, and the pro-Trump right, such as the Republican nominee's friend Roger Stone, have spoken of a "new McCarthyism."

I'm not ready to subscribe to that notion yet, if only because, as a Russian citizen, I am not merely able to work for a mainstream U.S. news organization: I've been welcomed by the many Americans I have interviewed while covering this campaign. These span a political spectrum from fiery progressive Liz Garst in Iowa -- a person that, to me, embodies the best of Russia's old-time influence on the U.S. -- to far-right militia members in northern Florida, who are perhaps the most susceptible to the current brand of Russian propaganda.

Americans are generally nice to visitors -- and uncommonly helpful to journalists -- but they used to be far more suspicious of Russians while the Soviet Union was still around. Despite the best efforts of supposedly progressive Hillary Clinton, that suspicion has not yet returned. It may do so if the Russia-bashing continues after the election; I suspect it will die down somewhat as the electoral battle recedes into history.

In any case, it's worth considering how the U.S. will internalize the real and perceived Russian meddling this year. Americans are hard-headed and used to doing things their own way; they turned the previous Russian influence campaigns, often waged with the worst of intentions, to their advantage. Can Putin's propaganda and perhaps cyber-espionage campaign also serve a useful purpose?

I believe it can. Putin is providing a useful service to the U.S. by holding his malicious mirror to its political establishment. It's a troll's mirror, but it does reflect a nasty reality: A complacent, clannish elite that has written convenient rules for itself but not for the society it governs. Much of this society, both on the right and on the left, doesn't like what it sees.

As with previous Russian attempts to change the U.S., this one should lead to a realization that it's time to clean up U.S. democracy and make it more representative and inclusive, perhaps by stripping away some obsolete voting rules, perhaps by breaking the destructive stranglehold of the ossified two-party system.

The country I have seen this year -- the big cities and small towns I've explored, the progressives and Second Amendment zealots I've met, this whole vast, great land -- deserves far better than what I watched it live through. I'd like to help in my small way, and I think my country will end up helping, too, even though it may be trying to inflict damage.

David Fuller's view -

The two-party system mentioned in the penultimate paragraph above is often criticised on the basis that it is not sufficiently representative and inclusive.  That is a valid point in both the USA and UK.  However, I have always preferred the two-party system because it does produce stronger governments. 

I have seldom been impressed by the multi-party governments that we usually see in continental Europe and some other democratic regimes.  They are weaker and consequently less decisive and effective.  They are also beholden to special interest pressure groups.  The consequences are weaker governments and more frequent elections. 

What I would advocate is term limits.  If the two-term presidential system is good enough for the USA, and I believe it is, I would prefer the same for Prime Ministers. I also think representatives in the Senate, Congress and UK Parliament should have time limits of perhaps three terms.  Yes, it would remove some successful, effective politicians but it would also reduce the number of cliques while introducing new talent and Energy.  Career politicians remain in office well beyond their sell-by date.   



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November 02 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Energy Giant Shell Says Oil Demand Could Peak in Just Five Years

Royal Dutch Shell Plc, the world’s second-biggest Energy company by market value, thinks demand for oil could peak in as little as five years, a rare statement in an industry that commonly forecasts decades of growth.

“We’ve long been of the opinion that demand will peak before supply,” Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry said on a conference call on Tuesday. “And that peak may be somewhere between 5 and 15 years hence, and it will be driven by efficiency and substitution, more than offsetting the new demand for transport.”

Shell’s view puts it at odds with some of its biggest competitors. Exxon Mobil Corp., the largest publicly traded oil company, said in its annual outlook that “global demand for oil and other liquids is projected to rise by about 20 percent from 2014 to 2040.” Saudi Arabia, the biggest producer, with enough reserves to last it 70 years, has said demand will continue to grow, boosted by consumption in emerging markets.

If renewable Energy and other disruptive technologies such as electric cars continue their rapid advance, petroleum use will reach its maximum level in 2030, the World Energy Council has forecast. Michael Liebreich, founder of Bloomberg New Energy Finance, predicts a peak in 2025 and decline in the 2030s.

“For the first time, oil companies have to think seriously about the future,” Alastair Syme, an oil analyst at Citigroup Inc. in London, said by phone. Drillers that even a couple of years ago believed “every molecule of oil we produce will have a market,” have come to realize they “can afford to bring on only the most competitive assets.”

Gas, Biofuels

Shell will be in business for “many decades to come” because it is focusing more on natural gas and expanding its new-Energy businesses including biofuels and hydrogen, Henry said.

“Even if oil demand declines, its replacements will be in products that we are very well placed to supply one way or the other, so we need to be the Energy major of the 2050s,” Henry said. “That underpins our strategic thinking. It’s part of the switch to gas, it’s part of what we do in biofuels, both now and in the future.”

Shell sees “oil and gas as being part of the Energy mix for many decades to come,” it said in a statement Wednesday.

 

David Fuller's view -

As Yogi Berra said: “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.”

Nevertheless, Shell’s forecast by Chief Financial Officer Simon Henry: “… that peak [for oil demand] may be somewhere between 5 and 15 years hence…” makes sense to me.  It is backed by the continued development of alternative sources of Energy, from renewables to natural gas and nuclear power. 

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November 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch November 1st 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks' ever interesting report for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

It appears to us that everyone in the Energy industry is fixated on whether the OPEC oil ministers meeting in Vienna, Austria on November 30th will produce an agreement to limit the group’s output, and how that production volume will be shared among the group’s 12 members. Also, it will be important to see who among the 12 OPEC members will be exempted from a monthly production quota and what those countries near-term output goals are. Lastly, we need to see some support from Russia for OPEC’s production cap to have much strength. While all these details are important to the outcome of the OPEC meeting and how the Energy world reacts to whatever is agreed to, the lack of executive thinking about what happens to Energy demand if the U.S. enters a recession could be the pothole everyone steps in. The duration and depth on any recession will determine how much oil demand might be lost due to weaker economic activity. We suggest you should pay attention to this hidden elephant in the OPEC meeting room. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

While Allen Brooks is not predicting a recession more than a few analysts have floated the idea. It’s an important consideration that would of course have a significant impact on the Energy markets but also on just about every other asset class. Perhaps it would be timely to review some of the leading indicators for recessions to see where we are in the cycle. 



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November 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The World's $49 Trillion Infrastructure Problem May Not Get Solved Anytime Soon

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

An abundance of global savings. Trillions of dollars of negative-yielding bonds. And a bevy of institutional investors hungry for positive, long-dated yields to match their liabilities.

Conditions are ripe for an avalanche of private-sector capital to flow into unlisted infrastructure, turning an industry facing an estimated $49 trillion shortfall into an asset class which, its sponsors say, offers strong cash flows, uncorrelated returns and positive real yields.

58 percent of active investors surveyed in the second quarter of the year by data provider Preqin will invest more than $100 million in unlisted funds over the next 12 months compared to 42 percent who said that in the corresponding period last year, underscoring the increasing allure of alternative assets amid ultra-low yields from more conventional capital-market instruments.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

It’s been a while since there was dynamism in the case for funding infrastructure spending. Part of the reason of course is that the environmental movement is highly active in demonstrating against any Energy infrastructure projects, the case for new roads comes up against similar arguments while water and power suffer more than any from not in my backyard (NIMBY) arguments. Added to that has been the reluctance of governments to commit to big projects when their coffers are empty and unfunded liabilities are a constant bugbear. 



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November 01 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Shell Back in the Black as BG Takeover Boosts Production

Royal Dutch Shell has cheered investors with a $1.4bn (£1.1bn) profit for the third quarter, as the takeover of BG Group boosted production and it rebounded from a massive $6.1bn loss caused by writedowns in the same period last year.

Underlying profits at the Anglo-Dutch Energy giant - excluding reduced writedowns of $1.3bn - rose by 18pc to $2.8bn, significantly beating analyst expectations, as the extra production and cost-cutting helped offset the impact of lower oil prices.

Shares rose almost 4pc as chief executive Ben van Beurden credited "strong operational and cost performance".

But he warned that "lower oil prices continue to be a significant challenge across the business, and the outlook remains uncertain". 

Simon Henry, Shell's chief financial officer, said lower oil and gas prices had reduced its earnings by about $1bn year on year. Despite this, the upstream exploration and production division posted a small $4m profit, confounding expectations of a loss.

Production was up 25pc to 3.6m barrels of oil per day, including an extra 800,000 barrels per day from former BG assets.

"Operating expenses were lower, more than offsetting the impact of the consolidation of BG," Shell said.

Mr Henry said the "most impressive performance" in cost reduction had been in the North Sea, a traditionally high-cost basin, where Shell has made 1,000 job cuts. Production costs had come down by as much as 50pc, he said.

While it was clearly "not the most profitable asset in the portfolio", excluding major ongoing investments the rest of the North Sea was "cash positive". 

"The North Sea's performance is beginning to look considerably better than it was. That however does not mean we hold onto all the assets," he said.

Shell is looking to offload some of its ageing North Sea assets as part of its target to divest $30bn by the end of 2018 to help pay off the debts of the BG takeover. "The question is can we get value for that asset?," he said.

Shell said it was currently working on 16 asset sales across its portfolio but that it was a "value-driven not a time-driven divestment programme".

"We are not planning for asset sales at giveaway prices," he said. However, he insisted there was "no reason today to think the $30bn figure will not be achieved".

Shell also indicated that capital expenditure next year would be at the lower-end of the $25-30bn range.

Analysts at Barclays said strong cashflow, combined with the reduced operating and capital expenditure and divestments, "should prove enough to reassure investors that Shell is well on its way to resetting the business post the BG deal".

David Fuller's view -

Royal Dutch Shell B (est p/e 27.99 & gross yield 6.34%, according to Bloomberg) has sustained its dividend for longer than most analysts expected, rewarding shareholders in the process. 

Can it continue to fund this pay out which is in excess of current Cash Dividend Cover of 0.2?

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November 01 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Time for an Upgrade

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank focusing on the India utilities sector: 

Why retirement? Substantial savings for state utilities, better efficiency
India is planning a retirement policy to dispose of 18% of India’s coal-fired old capacity (36GW) over 5-6 years, starting with 6GW (2.2%) by Mar’17. Stringent new pollution norms and a coal linkage transfer policy have been instigated to hasten the retirement. Retirement will lower coal consumption by ~30% and will also cut pollution and reduce the tariff burden for state utilities.

Replacement is warranted and pressing
The states’ role in power generation is declining and will trigger a new capex cycle, for Energy security. Additionally, with shut-downs we estimate annual requirement of 19-22GW projects to avoid power shortages. Government (CEA) estimates corroborate the requirement of 24GW annually. Rising PLFs should exceed the 2008 peak by FY19-20e, necessitating further investments now – as the power project cycle is six years from concept to commissioning.

Stage-I Capacity utilisation recovery to benefit utilities (Prefer NTPC)
With higher retirement and lower supply addition (just a 2% CAGR over FY17-22E) – we believe capacity utilisation rates are likely to stage a strong recovery. We raise PLF estimates for utilities by 2-3pps beginning FY18E. With 37% volume growth over four years and valuations still at a c20% discount to the historical average, the sector looks attractive.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Revitalising the electricity utility sector to remove outdated coal fired stations and to build new more efficient operations is a very positive development. It is also a testament to the ability of the new government to remove roadblocks to Indian infrastructure development that investors despaired would ever be achieved under the last administration. 



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October 25 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Metals Jump on Economic Optimism as Rand Strengthens With Miners

Here is the opening of this informative report from Bloomberg:

Metals are regaining their luster, a sign the global economy is becoming more resilient, helping to boost stocks and currencies of commodity-producing nations.

Iron ore surged by the daily limit of 6 percent on the Dalian Commodity Exchange and rising steel prices in China spurred a rally from aluminum to zinc. Currencies of resource-exporting nations, South Africa and Australia, led gains versus the dollar. The Stoxx Europe 600 Index headed for its strongest close in three weeks as earnings reports fueled optimism about the profitability of the region’s companies. Spanish and Italian bonds outperformed top-rated German bunds as the region’s improving political and economic outlook sapped demand for haven assets.

Industrial metals have gained steadily this year with an index of London Metal Exchange contracts poised for the first annual increase since 2012 as a pickup in manufacturing in the U.S. and euro area point to an economy that’s getting more robust. A report Tuesday showing German business sentiment rose to the highest level in more than two years in October added to the sense of optimism. Caterpillar Inc. is among companies scheduled to release earnings that may provide more insight on the sustainability of the recovery in Energy and mining. Apple Inc. is due to announce earnings after markets close Tuesday.

“We’ve had a whole host of better-than-expected manufacturing data,” said Ole Hansen, the head of commodity strategy at Saxo Bank A/S in Hellerup, a Copenhagen suburb. “Strong gains in China, led by steel and iron ore, are supporting the sentiment, which in turn has attracted increased speculative trading across the metals space.”

David Fuller's view -

I think there are several key factors here.  1) Commodity producers are finally wising up and recalling that supply is the most important variable in the price structure, even for industrial resources.  Supply can change quickly, either due to accidents or wars in producer regions but the most significant change is producer cutbacks, preferably publicised.  Producers have gradually increased cutbacks in the production of metals this year. 

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October 24 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Our Roads Could Hold the Secret To Sucking Carbon Out Of Natural Gas

It’s not easy to capture carbon dioxide. I’ve written before about some of the more ambitious efforts currently underway – be it sucking it directly out of the urban air, or transforming it into rock. But now, researchers from Rice University have found another option – asphalt – and they’ve used it to suck carbon dioxide out of natural gas. Now, it’s important to say at this point that this research was funded by an oil and gas exploration company, so there’s a risk of ‘spin’. However, having read the paper(s), it’s clear to me that the technique itself is interesting, and I suspect it’ll find much wider usage. So let’s look into how it works.

When natural gas emerges from the ground, it’s composed of hydrocarbons, and up to 10% carbon dioxide (CO2). Before the gas can be sold to the market, the CO2 plus any other impurities need to be removed, and this cleanup process is expensive. Generally, the ‘raw’ gas is filtered through a series of liquid compounds called amines, which extract only the CO2, while letting the ‘clean’ gas through. Amines have a limited capacity though – they can absorb around a fifth (between 15 – 20%) of their own weight in CO2 – and recycling them for reuse is incredibly Energy-intensive. So, lots of research groups have been looking into alternative options that could reduce this cost.

Enter Rice University and their asphalt…though, I prefer to call it bitumen, so no doubt I’ll switch between the two terms. Anyway, asphalt/bitumen is the black, sticky, petroleum-based substance that’s used to build roads. There, it holds together the small bits of rock that are known as aggregate, to form a dense, tough surface for road vehicles to drive on. But if it’s to be used for carbon storage, you need to do a bit of chemistry first.

The team, led by Prof James Tour, started with a naturally-occurring form of bitumen called Gilsonite, which is found in various locations across the US, and used in everything from cement to inks. This, they heated to 400°C to remove the volatile (‘evaporate-able’) components. What’s left is then heated to 900°C in the presence of potassium hydroxide, transforming it into a porous form of asphalt. These tiny holes give the asphalt an ultra-high surface area – so high, in fact, that a single gram of it has a surface area equivalent to that of two ice hockey rinks. And in the same way that a bath sponge can hold a lot of water, this asphalt sponge could be used to store gas… albeit temporarily. This sponge relies on high pressures, already present at gas wells, to hold the carbon dioxide within it pores. Once the pressure drops, the CO2 is released – either to be pumped back into the ground, keeping it out of the atmosphere, or stored for use elsewhere.

The paper, published in Advanced Energy Materials (£), isn’t the first from this team – they’ve been working on carbon sequestration for years. In 2014, they wrote about transforming gaseous carbon dioxide into solid polymers (there’s also a video about that work here) and in 2015, they produced the first version of this porous asphalt. In those initial tests, they showed that their sponge could adsorb (store on its surface) 114% of its weight in carbon dioxide. But in this latest paper, thanks to the increase in surface area (i.e. they made more space in which to store the gas), the asphalt could manage 154% of its weight…. that’s ten times more than the amines currently in use.

There are other benefits too. The raw Gilsonite is readily available, and unlike amines, the final porous sponge can also be reused immediately. “[We’ve shown] we can take the least expensive form of asphalt and make it into this very high surface area material to capture carbon dioxide,” Prof Tour said in the press release. I admit that I’m no great fan of the oil and gas industry, and I hope that we move away from it sooner rather than later. But anything that makes it cleaner and more Energy-efficient in the short-term is a positive step, so I’ll be keeping an eye on this area.

David Fuller's view -

I have no idea how close this is to commercial application, and presumably Laurie Winkless of Forbes does either, or it would have been mentioned.  Nevertheless, what impresses me is that we live in an era where the combination of investment capital for privately funded research facilities, or grants for university research, combining highly qualified personnel, plus rapidly developing technologies, are solving problems and producing useful products at a faster rate than ever before.

These are the most important and enduring stories of our era, rather than the current uncertainty caused by low interest rates and slow GDP growth which have temporarily lowered confidence, not least in the developed world.  



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October 21 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Why Corporate America Debt Is a Major Risk

Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg, and don’t miss their graphs:

Are investors in denial about how dim the outlook is for American businesses?

That’s the question Société Générale’s Andrew Lapthorne, global head of quantitative strategy, posed to his bank’s clients.

“Asset valuations are extreme; returns are poor, the probability of losses is high and the ability to recover any losses quickly is low,” he writes.

In particular, the strategist sounded an alarm over the state of corporate America’s balance sheet. Company spending exceeds cash flow by a near-record amount—a fundamentally unsustainable situation—as net debt continues to increase at a rapid pace.

In many cases, companies have used debt to repurchase their own stock, flattering their bottom-line financial performance. Whilenot all buybacks are financed by debt, Lapthorne did note a correlation between net repurchases and the change in corporate indebtedness.

“U.S. corporate balance sheets are a major risk going forward,” he says. “U.S. corporates are massively overspending.”

To be fair, servicing this debt load isn’t as onerous as it might appear, because of low interest rates. And despite the recent steepening of corporations’ yield curve, companies have continued to extend duration, which offers them more certainty about what their interest payments will be over the long term.

“For corporate credit, there’s very little concern about short-term coverage from the market,” write analysts at Bespoke Investment Group. “We note that maturities continue to creep up slowly; despite higher spread costs, corporates are generally borrowing further out the curve and ‘locking’ low rates.”

But over the long haul, the performance of stock markets will be primarily driven by earnings increases—and the level of corporate indebtedness implies that any latitude to boost earnings per share by shrinking the denominator is limited.

David Fuller's view -

Actually, corporate debt is not a serious concern for me, assuming companies have sensibly used record low debt costs in this era to retire more expensive debt acquired earlier.  Low-cost debt will only be a problem if deflation becomes the long-term norm, which I very much doubt, although it is a widespread extrapolation forecast today. 

Fiscal spending and a gradual normalisation of interest rates should improve GDP growth over the next several years.  Lower Energy costs will help consumers and businesses.  Most corporations are already benefiting from efficiency-enhancing technology and low-cost borrowings will help them to expand their businesses as global economy strengthens.      

 



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October 21 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Scientists Just Showed What It Truly Means When a Huge Antarctic Glacier is Unstable

If there is one story that, more than anything else, makes you wonder if global warming could cause very fast changes and hit planetary tipping points in our lifetimes, it was a moment in 2014.

That was when two separate research papers said there was reason to think a frozen sector of West Antarctica, called the Amundsen Sea region, may have been destabilized. West Antarctica as a whole contains enough ice to raise sea levels more than 3 meters (10 feet), and the Amundsen Sea’s ocean-front glaciers themselves account for about 1.2 meters (4 feet). Two of the largest are Pine Island Glacier, about 25 miles wide at its front that faces the ocean, and capable of someday driving about 1.7 feet of sea level rise, and Thwaites glacier, the true monster, which is 75 miles wide where it hits the ocean. It contains about 2 feet of potential sea level rise but also, it is feared, could destabilize the ice in all of West Antarctica if it goes.

On Thursday, the National Science Foundation and the U.K.’s Natural Environment Research Council made a joint announcement signaling how grave this really is — they will fund a multi-million dollar research initiative to the less-studied Thwaites, in order to determine just how much it is capable of contributing to sea level rise during our lifetimes, and by the end of the century.

[This Antarctic glacier is the biggest threat for rising sea levels. The race is on to understand it]

It will take years of preparation for scientists to even get to the glacier, however. And in the meantime, a new study of Pine Island Glacier, just released in Geophysical Research Lettersreaffirms why this region of Antarctica is so worrisome. The study finds that as the ice melts, the glacier that remains has retreated so far backwards in the face of warm ocean temperatures, exposing so much additional thickness to the ocean in the process, that even a recent bout of cooler water temperatures did little to slow the pace of its ice loss. The work was co-authored by 20 separate scientists based at U.S., British, and Korean institutions, and the first author was Knut Christianson, a glaciologist at the University of Washington in Seattle.

The problem is that in this part of West Antarctica, you have everything you don’t want on a warming planet – a changing ocean up against glaciers that are both very wide and very deep. And scientists now know that warm ocean water is reaching these glaciers at depth, and melting them from below – causing them to shrink, leaving the remaining glacier to retreat backwards and inland. And as they retreat, the seafloor gets deeper the further back they go — what researchers refer to as a “retrograde” configuration. The deeper the water gets, the more ice that can be exposed to the ocean, and the more the glaciers are thereby capable of losing. So there is a fear that there is here something that is called a “marine ice sheet instability” in which, once you start this process, you can’t stop it — and that it has already been started.

David Fuller's view -

I think most of us have sufficient personal experience of global warming over the last few decades to be aware that it cannot be dismissed easily.  It is not all bad news and it is contributing to a greener planet.  Also, common sense and an awareness of global pollution is causing many people to be more responsible.  Technological solutions can reduce if not easily reverse our contribution to global pollution. 

Meanwhile, as a precautionary measure I would avoid investments in fashionable seaside properties.  I would not want to live on or near flood plains.  Anyway, the views and the air are so much better on high ground.   



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October 20 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

WikiHillary for President

My thanks to a subscriber for this informative column by Thomas L Friedman for the New York Times.  Here is the opening:

Thank God for WikiLeaks.

I confess, I was starting to wonder about what the real Hillary Clinton — the one you never get to see behind closed doors — really stood for. But now that, thanks to WikiLeaks, I’ve had a chance to peruse her speeches to Goldman Sachs and other banks, I am more convinced than ever she can be the president America needs today.

Seriously, those speeches are great! They show someone with a vision, a pragmatic approach to getting things done and a healthy instinct for balancing the need to strengthen our social safety nets with unleashing America’s business class to create the growth required to sustain social programs.

So thank you, Vladimir Putin, for revealing how Hillary really hopes to govern. I just wish more of that Hillary were campaigning right now and building a mandate for what she really believes.

WikiHillary? I’m with her.

Why? Let’s start with what WikiLeaks says she said at Brazil’s Banco Itaú event in May 2013: “I think we have to have a concerted plan to increase trade ... and we have to resist protectionism, other kinds of barriers to market access and to trade.”

She also said, “My dream is a hemispheric common market, with open trade and open borders, some time in the future with Energy that is as green and sustainable as we can get it, powering growth and opportunity for every person in the hemisphere.”

That’s music to my ears. A hemisphere where nations are trading with one another, and where more people can collaborate and interact for work, study, tourism and commerce, is a region that is likely to be growing more prosperous with fewer conflicts, especially if more of that growth is based on clean Energy.

Compare our hemisphere, or the European Union, or the Asian trading nations with, say, the Middle East — where the flow of trade, tourism, knowledge and labor among nations has long been restricted — and the case for Hillary’s vision becomes obvious.

The way Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump have made trade and globalization dirty words is ridiculous. Globalization and trade have helped to bring more people out of poverty in the last 50 years than at any other time in history.

David Fuller's view -

Thomas Friedman makes a good point at a time when there appears to be less enthusiasm for either candidate than at any previous US Presidential Election which I can recall, staring with Eisenhower versus Stevenson in 1956.

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October 20 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Australian Seaweed Found to Eliminate More Than 99% of Cow Burp Methane

Here is the opening of this interesting story from New Atlas:

Australia's CSIRO has identified a strain of seaweed that can reduce bovine methane emissions by more than 99 percent if added to cow feed in small amounts. This could be huge for climate change, but it also has significant benefits for farmers.

I thought this was a cow fart story; it's not. Sadly, according to Australia's CSIRO, the vast majority of bovine methane – some 90 percent of all emissions – comes from burps, not from backdraft.

But whichever end it comes from, methane represents a problem. In climate change terms, methane is a greenhouse gas 28 times more powerful than carbon dioxide. In agricultural terms, when cows burp out methane, as much as 15 percent of the Energy in their feedstock is being thrown away instead of converted into meat.

For more than a decade, researchers have been aware that adding seaweed to a cow's diet made a significant reduction to that methane release, leading to cleaner agriculture and better meat production. Early tests found seaweed could cut back methane release by as much as 20 percent.

But recently, Australian scientists have been re-running tests with a variety of different species of seaweed to find out which is the most effective, and now, a very clear winner has emerged.

David Fuller's view -

This has the potential to be a very important discovery.  Clearly the challenge of growing and harvesting many thousands of hectares of a particular type of seaweed known as Asparagopsis taxiformis sounds daunting, controversial and expensive.  Nevertheless, assuming biochemists can identify and recreate the key ingredients for methane reduction, they should be able to reproduce them much more efficiently.      



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October 18 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Central Banks Have Lost the Plot, QE is Sending the World Over a Cliff

In 2008 the central banks reacted to a massive crisis they had completely failed to foresee by cutting rates to record lows and embarking on “quantitative easing” – pumping trillions of dollars into their economies by buying up the assets of commercial banks. The trouble is that eight years later they are, to varying degrees, still doing it. Like doctors keeping their patients on a drip many years after an operation, they are losing credibility and producing very dangerous side effects.  

There are at least 10 serious drawbacks to this – all of which can be accepted for a short period but become either politically explosive or economically unwise if continued indefinitely. 

  1. Savers find it impossible to earn a worthwhile return, which drives them into riskier assets thus causing the price of houses and shares to be inflated ever higher. 
  2. Higher asset prices make people who own them much richer, while leaving out many others, seriously exacerbating social and political divides and fuelling the anger behind “populist” campaigns. 
  3. Pension funds have poor returns and therefore suffer huge deficits, causing businesses to have to put more money into them rather than use it for expansion. 
  4. Banks find it harder to run a viable business, contributing to the banking crisis now visibly widespread in Italy and Germany in particular. 
  5. Those people who are able to save more do so, because they need a bigger pot of savings to get an equivalent return, so low interest rates cause those people to spend less, not more. 
  6. Companies have an incentive to use borrowed money to buy back shares – which they are doing on a big scale – rather than spend the money on new and productive investments. 
  7. Central banks are starting to buy up corporate bonds, not just government bonds, to keep the system inflated – so they are acquiring risky assets themselves and giving preference to some companies over others. 
  8. “Zombie companies”, which can only stay in business because they can borrow so cheaply, are kept going even though they would not normally be successful – dragging down long-term productivity. 
  9. Pumping up the prices of stock markets and houses without an underlying improvement in economic performance becomes ever more difficult to unwind and ultimately threatens an almighty crash whenever it does come to an end – wiping out business and home buyers who got used to ultra-low rates for too long. 
  10. People are not stupid; when they see emergency measures going on for nearly a decade it undermines their confidence in authorities, who they think have lost the plot. 

I am not an economist but I have come to the conclusion that central banks collectively have now indeed lost the plot. The whole point of their independence was that they could be brave enough to make people confront reality. Yet in reality they are blowing up a bubble of make-believe money to avoid immediate pain, except for penalising the poor and the prudent. 

Earlier this year I put this view to the top staff at the central bank of a major Far East economy, thinking they might set my mind at rest and explain why everything made sense. But, far more alarmingly, they said they agreed with me: their problem was that no single authority can opt out of these policies because they might cause a recession for their own country unless there was a global, co-ordinated move gently to raise interest rates. 

David Fuller's view -

I think most economically savvy people would now concur with William Hague’s article.  I also think a coordinated global response led by the USA and other developed economies would be the least disruptive.  The problem is that the US economy, while somewhat firmer than others due mainly to its technology lead, significant Energy production and healthier banking sector, is clearly leading the economic recovery cycle among major nations.

Consequently, a unilateral rate hike, even if only 25-basis points, could push the US Dollar Index up out of its current trading range.  If so, this would be a headwind for not only the US economy, in proportion to additional USD strength, but also for emerging markets which borrowed in the highly liquid currency at lower levels.  In other words, a too strong Dollar could further delay the next global economic recovery which is sorely needed.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area, where a PDF of William Hague’s article is also posted.



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October 17 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

What OPEC Oil U-Turn Missed: Peak Demand Keeps Getting Closer

Here is the opening of this interesting article from Bloomberg:

OPEC’s decision last month to reverse its policy of unfettered production and cut oil output to boost prices may be at odds with the industry’s most important long-term trend: demand for what they produce could start falling within 15 years.

If rapid improvements continue in renewable Energy, electric vehicles and other disruptive technologies, petroleum consumption will peak in 2030 and decline thereafter, according to a Report from the World Energy Council. As the globe’s largest producers gather in London this week for the Oil and Money conference, they might want to check their assumption that the market will grow for decades to come.

The plunging cost of renewable Energy -- with solar-module costs falling 50 percent since 2009 -- is already upending the business model of utilities. Disruption could spread to the oil industry as electric vehicles become more economic than gasoline or diesel cars, potentially displacing millions of barrels of daily fuel use by the late 2020s. Projections for decades of demand growth that underpin investments in oil projects could be misplaced.

“The longer-term outlook, beyond 10 years, is certainly less rosy,” said Alex Blein, London-based Energy-portfolio manager at Amundi, which holds more than $1 trillion of assets. “Given the advances in battery technology, by 2030 carbon-powered vehicles will be the exception rather than the norm. This will inevitably impact on oil demand.”

David Fuller's view -

Whether OPEC actually reduces production, other than by accident, war or strikes, remains to be seen.  However, OPEC is guaranteed to face more competition from countries which follow the USA lead by developing their fracking potential.  Additionally, renewable technologies are likely to develop even more rapidly than forecast.  Energy independence will be the ambition of every successful nation, and many will achieve it within the next fifteen to twenty years.    



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October 14 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Google and 3D Printing Buildings

This article by Katie Armstrong from 3D Printing Industry dated May 3rd may be of interest to subscribers. Here it is in full:

3D printed buildings are the way of the future! At least that’s what Eric Schmidt, executive chairman of Google’s parent company, Alphabet, says.

Imagine you could walk onto an empty block of land one day, and have a house built on it a few days later. Sounds like science fiction, doesn’t it? What if I told you it was already happening?
A recent conference in Los Angeles saw Schmidt predict the technologies that would be game changers. The Milken Institute’s Global Conference, which brings together leaders from diverse sectors and industries around the world, explores solutions to today’s most pressing challenges in financial markets, industry sectors, health, government and education. Schmidt talked about synthetic meat made from plants, VR, self-driving cars, and 3D printing for buildings.

Schmidt points out that constructing buildings, both residential and commercial, is time consuming, Energy intensive, and costly. He said that construction represented 5% of the economy, but that homes and buildings built in an industrial environment could be cheaper, more efficient and built on 100% recyclable material.

This isn’t the first time Schmidt has sung the praises of 3D printing technology and its potential applications. Back in 2013 he predicted the rise in the use of 3D printing, and he wasn’t wrong.
The implications of 3D printed houses and infrastructure are incredible. Instead of a home taking months to build, it could take just days. A company in China claimed to have built 10 houses in under 24 hours in 2014, with all their materials coming from recycled waste materials.

With the UN estimating that three billion people will need housing by 2030, large scale 3D printers are being suggested as a solution to this. They could be the solution to cheap, reliable housing which would replace slums in developing countries.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

It occurs to me that homebuilding is a sector ripe for disruption. It is totally reliant on individuals who specialise in one set of skills. Carpenters, roofers, block layers, masons, plumbers, and electricians are all needed on a building site and because of designated duties one cannot start until the other has finished. In addition each of these trades tends to have a negotiated pay rate which is rather generous and has no bearing on what work is being done. 



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October 13 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Hydrogen Heating a Step Closer as Government Adviser Backs UK Trials

Radical plans to use hydrogen to heat UK homes and businesses have moved a step closer after the Government’s official climate advisers said the plan was “technically feasible” and called for major trials to be undertaken.

In a report, the Committee on Climate Change identified using hydrogen in place of natural gas in the UK’s existing gas grid as one of the two “main options” for greening Britain’s heating supplies.

It said the second was the use of heat pumps, which use a reverse refrigeration process to draw heat from the air, ground or a water source.

The Government must decide by 2025 what role hydrogen will play in order to implement its chosen plan in time to hit its 2050 climate targets, Matthew Bell, the CCC chief executive, said.

About 80pc of UK homes are currently heated using natural gas from the grid, which produces carbon dioxide when burnt.

The CCC estimates that if the UK is to comply with the Climate Change Act, which requires greenhouse gas emissions to be slashed to 20pc of their 1990 levels by 2050, the majority of homes and almost all businesses will need to cease burning natural gas.

However, the CCC said the UK’s attempts at green heating so far had “been unsuccessful” and called for the Government to devise “a proper strategy”.

This including doubling the rate of installation of heat pumps this parliament in homes that are not on the gas grid, many of which use heating oil, as well as conducting the “sizeable trials of hydrogen for heating”.

“The main options for the decarbonisation of buildings on the gas grid in the 2030s and 2040s are heat pumps and low-carbon hydrogen,” the CCC said in a report.

In addition, the UK could also use some district heating networks in urban areas, taking heat from a central source through insulated pipes to homes and businesses.

David Fuller's view -

This is clearly a project for the future and unlikely to be of any near-term benefit.  Nevertheless, it provides further evidence of Energy creativity in this fascinating era of accelerating technological innovation. 

At the beginning of this century alarmists were worried about running out of Energy, against a background of every higher prices for crude oil.  The exact opposite is happening as a result of human ingenuity.  In the next decade and well beyond, we will be awash with increasingly cheap Energy from a variety of different sources.  That will be good news for consumers and GDP growth in developed economies, but don’t tell anybody – they won’t believe you. 

A PDF of Emily Gosden's article is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 



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October 11 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day 3

On UK fracking:

I fully agree with your comment David. This decision on fracking, if extended across the midlands and north, could do more to bring about the 'Northern Powerhouse' than all the politician's hot air and boondoggles. Those regions could once more become powerhouses of the global economy, especially if EU countries stay with their current policies on fracking. Energy costs in Europe will continue to do enormous damage to competitiveness. The UK can break free.

David Fuller's view -

Thank you – powerfully said and I certainly agree.



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October 07 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Free to Frack, Now We Are Cooking With Gas

Here is the opening of Juliet Samuel’s article on this important development for the UK, published by The Telegraph:

Free to frack at last. The Government has cleared the logjam stopping the development of Britain’s first shale gas reserves and Cuadrilla Resources, the company at the centre of it all, can finally rev up the drills.

The intervention of Sajid Javid, Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, opens the door to an industry that will generate jobs, cheaper household bills, Energy security and lower carbon emissions. It has taken far too long to get to this point, but now that we have, there must be no more delays. 

 It has been a staggering six years since Cuadrilla first began work on the Lancashire site it wants to drill. In that time, shale gas extraction has gone from being a marginal industry to the United States’ biggest source of Energy, making the country self-sufficient for the first time in decades. While this mini-industrial revolution was taking place across the pond, Britain was obsessing over planning documents, legal appeals and face-painted, drumming protesters in kilts.

The birth of a shale gas industry could be a huge bonus for Britain at a time of rising economic uncertainty. Investors are watching nervously to assess the effects of Brexit and Theresa May has lurched leftwards to deploy a stream of anti-business rhetoric. So it matters more than ever that the Government means it when it claims Britain is open for business. This first permission granted to Cuadrilla is a decent start.

The direct economic benefits of fracking are obvious. Cuadrilla’s work alone could create several thousand jobs, many of them in the North, and it has several rivals trying to develop their own sites in the region. The development of the US’s gas industry also led to a rapid revival of the country’s declining manufacturing industry. Companies that had for years been shifting their operations to Mexico and Asia started setting up factories in the Gulf to take advantage of bargain Energy prices.

Full-scale production in Britain is still some years away, but when it comes on-stream, the whole country will benefit. We are heavily reliant on gas for heat and power. Household electricity bills have risen 14pc since Cuadrilla started work in Lancashire, even as prices have plunged abroad. MPs harangue Energy companies constantly about why Britain pays such high bills. If they were serious about cutting costs, they would look to their own obstructive policies.

Of course, we do not know quite how much gas can be recovered from the rocks under Lancashire, because Cuadrilla has not been allowed to find out. But the estimates so far suggest it is an enormous amount and easily enough to provide a massive boost for Britain’s Energy security without the eye-watering costs of a project like Hinkley Point C.

David Fuller's view -

This is a sensible decision, long overdue.  Europe has the highest Energy costs of any major region of the globe.  It is yet another reason for the EU’s economic underperformance. 

Fracking will be of enormous benefit to the UK economy, creating the potential for significantly lower Energy costs in the next decade and beyond, while providing many new jobs.  Lower Energy costs will help all sectors of the economy and make independent Britain the most cost-competitive country in developed Europe.  From the USA to Japan this will attract more manufacturing companies to Britain for export to the European region.  This will be transformative for the Midlands and also northern regions of the UK. 

A PDF of Juliet Samuel’s article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.



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October 05 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Alaska Oil Reserves May Have Grown 80% on Giant Discovery

Alaska’s oil reserves may have just gotten 80 percent bigger after Dallas-based Caelus Energy LLC announced the discovery of 6 billion barrels under Arctic waters.

The light-oil reserves were found in the company’s Smith Bay leases between Prudhoe Bay and Barrow along the Arctic shore, according to a statement from Caelus on Tuesday. As much as 40 percent of the find, or 2.4 billion barrels, is estimated as recoverable, the company said. That compares with the state’s proved reserves of 2.86 billion barrels in 2014, almost 8 percent of the U.S. total, Energy Department data show. 

“It’s a really exciting discovery for us, and we think it’s really exciting for the state of Alaska,” Caelus Chief Executive Officer Jim Musselman said in a phone interview. “They need a shot in the arm now.”

Alaska’s oil output has been gradually declining, to 483,000 barrels a day last year from a peak of more than 2 million barrels a day in 1988, Energy Department data show. The last major field brought online was Alpine in 2000, which averaged 62,000 barrels a day in September, Alaska Department of Revenue data show.

Musselman, the man who engineered the $3.2 billion sale of Triton Energy Ltd. to Hess Corp. in 2001, founded Caelus in 2011 to explore and develop petroleum resources on the North Slope. In 2014, the company formed a partnership with affiliates of Apollo Global Management LLC to invest in oil and gas properties in Alaska.

The development will cost between $8 billion and $10 billion over the life of the project, which could be brought into operation by the fall of 2022, Musselman said. Located about 125 miles from any other facilities, the company will need to build pipelines and roads. An oil price of about $65 a barrel and greater certainty on state tax policy and incentives is needed to develop the field, he said.

“A lot of the investment decision is going to revolve around what happens within the state from a regulatory standpoint,” he said.

Caelus said its newly discovered field could produce as much as 200,000 barrels a day.

David Fuller's view -

Light crude oil is highly desirable, being more valuable than the many heavy crudes available because it produces more gasoline and diesel when refined.  Assuming further drilling confirms the size of this discovery, it is an important development for the economies of both Alaska and the USA generally, although Caelus’ oil cannot be developed quickly.  Nevertheless, it also has two important messages for the global crude oil market. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area and contains a further article.



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September 30 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

"One Belt, One Road"- An Economic Roadmap

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from the Economist Intelligence Unit focusing on Africa which may be of interest. Here is a section:

According to the World Bank’s Private Participation in Infrastructure Projects Database and InfraPPP, Kenya and Tanzania have awarded 12 PPP infrastructure projects since 2011. These represent investments of more than US$1.3bn (see Africa table 1). All projects relate to electricity generation, mobile-phone networks and roadway construction. As the power networks of the African countries individually profiled in this report still demonstrate high infrastructure risk with their domestic power networks, demand for continued Energy sector enhancements is likely to persist until more such projects come online. 

Among projects in various stages of pre-development with confirmed investment values, the largest directly concerning any of the African countries profiled here is the US$7.6bn Dar es Salaam-Rwanda-Burundi Railway, which involves Tanzania (see Africa table 2). For single country projects, Zimbabwe’s US$2.3bn Southern Energy Power Project is being planned around multiple financial contributors including US$1.3bn in debt and US$105m in equity from Chinese sources. Officials in Kenya at present are seeking to address their country’s deficiencies in transportation and Energy with two big-ticket projects. The first and most prominent is the US$2.3bn extension of the Standard Gauge Railway connecting the capital, Nairobi, to Malaba, on the border with Uganda, and Kisumu, on the edge of Lake Victoria. The other is a US$2.2bn, 1 gigawatt solar Energy programme. Dar es Salaam, Tanzania’s commercial capital, will further benefit from US$2bn in transportation improvements going towards the city’s bus system 

Another 57 identified infrastructure projects are at stages of pre-development or partial completion. Most (nearly 90%) target transportation, water and waste, social and health, Energy and telecom needs in Kenya. Tanzania’s projects mainly target port facilities in Dar es Salaam and other commercial centres.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

Africa will be responsible for the majority of population growth over the coming decades. It therefore represents an important potential market for globally oriented companies and countries. China has been at the forefront of developing relationships with African countries not least to secure preferential access to essential resources to fuel its own growth. The building of infrastructure to facilitate the trade between China and East Africa in particular is a major endeavour and should help foster economic development not least as increasing numbers of very low cost manufacturing jobs migrate from China. 



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September 29 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

In U-Turn, Saudis Choose Higher Prices Over Free Oil Markets

Here is a section of this topical article from Bloomberg:

Saudi Arabia has ended its flirtation with free oil markets.

It took the kingdom’s new oil minister, Khalid Al-Falih, just six months to blink, ending the country’s two-year policy of pump-at-will. 

The decision at this week’s meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Algiers to cut production was necessitated by Saudi Arabia’s tattered finances. The kingdom has the highest budget deficit among the world’s 20 biggest economies, may delay its first international bond issue and now faces fresh legal uncertainty after the U.S. Congress voted Wednesday to allow Americans to sue the country for its involvement in 9/11.

The decision at this week’s meeting of the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries in Algiers to cut production was necessitated by Saudi Arabia’s tattered finances. The kingdom has the highest budget deficit among the world’s 20 biggest economies, may delay its first international bond issue and now faces fresh legal uncertainty after the U.S. Congress voted Wednesday to allow Americans to sue the country for its involvement in 9/11.

And:

For all the justifications, the last two years haven’t panned out as Riyadh thought they would. At home, the kingdom has burned through more than $150 billion of foreign-exchange reserves, government contractors have gone unpaid, and this week the king announced unprecedented pay cuts for civil servants.

Saudi Arabia will suffer a fiscal deficit equal to 13.5 percent of gross domestic product this year, the International Monetary Fund estimates. When it comes to economic growth, Saudi Arabia is slowing sharply to about 1 percent this year while Iran, its nearby rival, is accelerating toward 4 percent.

David Fuller's view -

Saudi Arabia was never likely to achieve more than a Pyrrhic victory in its attempt to bankrupt the USA’s shale oil industry.  In fact, the Saudis have been the biggest losers, burning through more of their once enviable financial reserves than any other oil producer. 

How could this happen?  The Saudi’s were looking for a replay of the 1970s, when they did damage US domestic oil production with the same tactic of competitive oversupply. 

What the Saudis did not fully understand two years ago, was the extent to which technology was changing the global Energy industry.  Hydraulic fracturing, known colloquially as fracking, can now tap vast quantities of oil and gas reserves found in shale formations, and not just in the USA. 

Moreover, the combination of previously high oil prices and concerns over global warming have led to the development of renewable forms of Energy, which are becoming increasingly competitive. 

(See also yesterday’s lead item: OPEC Agrees to First Oil Output Cut in Eight Years)



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September 28 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

OPEC Agrees to First Oil Output Cut in Eight Years

OPEC agreed to a preliminary deal that will cut production for the first time in eight years. Oil prices gained more than 6 percent as Saudi Arabia and Iran surprised traders who expected a continuation of the pump-at-will policy the group adopted in 2014.

The group agreed to drop production to a range of 32.5 to 33 million barrels per day, said Iran’s Oil Minister Bijan Namdar Zanganeh, following a meeting in Algiers. While some members of OPEC will have to cut output, Iran won’t have to freeze production, he said. Many of the details remain to be worked out and the group won’t decide on targets for each country until its next meeting at the end of November.

The lower end of the production target equates to a nearly 750,000 barrels-a-day drop from what OPEC said it pumped in August.

The deal will reverberate beyond the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries. It will brighten the prospects for the Energy industry, from giants like Exxon Mobil Corp. to small U.S. shale firms, and boost the economies of oil-rich countries such as Russia and Saudi Arabia. For consumers, however, it will mean higher prices at the pump.

"The cut is clearly bullish," said Mike Wittner, head of oil-market research at Societe Generale SA in New York. "What’s much more important is that the Saudis appear to be returning to a period of market management."

The agreement also signals a new phase in relations between Saudi Arabia and Iran, which have clashed on oil policy since 2014 and are backing opposite sides in civil wars in Syria and Yemen. The deal indicates that Riyadh and Tehran, with the mediation of Russia, Algeria and Qatar, were able to overcome the differences that sunk another proposal to cap production earlier this year.

Brent crude surged as much as 6.5 percent to $48.96 a barrel in London. The shares of Exxon Mobil, the world’s largest publicly listed oil company, climbed 4.2 percent, the biggest one-day increase since February.

 

David Fuller's view -

This service has often mentioned that supply is the crucial factor for all commodities.  Supply can change dramatically, particularly for agricultural commodities.  For industrial resources such as crude oil, production cutbacks and supply breakdowns or strikes will firm prices.

In contrast, demand changes gradually, increasing somewhat when prices are low and declining when they are high.  GDP growth or weakness will also influence demand.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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September 27 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

How Clinton Beat Trump in Their First Debate, By the Numbers

Here is the opening of this informative article from Bloomberg:

Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton took a page out of Republican Donald Trump’s playbook in their Monday night debate to beat him at his own game.

In the span of just a few hours, Clinton saw her odds of moving back into the White House rise from an already-high 69 percent before the debate to 73 percent afterward, according to prediction market aggregator PredictWise. Trump’s chances slumped accordingly. “This is a large shift” and relatively rare, happening only once or twice per election cycle, said PredictWise founder David Rothschild.

Clinton’s odds of winning several battleground states also improved over a comparable four-hour period: by nine points in North Carolina, four points in New Hampshire, and three points each in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Colorado.

Snap polls conducted after the debate similarly favored Clinton, including 62 percent of respondents in a CNN poll and 51 percent in a survey by the Democratic firm Public Policy Polling. Even the Mexican peso, increasingly a barometer of Trump-related anxiety, rallied.

At the root of this emerging consensus was Clinton’s ability to control the agenda. At one point she parried a question about her private e-mail server with a scant 46-word reply, all the while keeping Trump on the defensive about his business practices and unreleased tax returns. Trump spoke more than Clinton, including interrupting and attacking 24 more times than his rival.

David Fuller's view -

I watched the debate as it occurred and it was a consummate performance by Hillary Clinton.  She was calm, composed, unflappable and most of all, better informed. 

Clinton was the polished matador, verbally sidestepping a charging Donald Trump.  As the debate progressed she put him increasingly on the defensive with barbed comments.  He fell for it every time, unable to deflect them and becoming increasingly defensive, relying on denial.  He questioned her stamina, but she smiled throughout and he looked exhausted near the end. I could only fault her for occasional smugness. 

We know that debating skills are not the full measure of aspiring presidential nominees.  Trump supporters will be relieved that their candidate did not self-destruct.  They will say that he is a strong, successful businessman rather than a slick politician. 

The same was said about Ronald Reagan after his debate with Jimmy Carter in 1980.  Carter was sharper but Reagan had more warmth and smiled a lot.  Clinton smiled during most of last night’s debate while Trump frowned, glowered and even snarled. Which candidate would you rather join for lunch?

Clinton supporters will say that she was smarter, more inclusive and presidential than her opponent, and showed reassuring Energy.  Undecided voters watching this debate for insights are more likely to favour Clinton, even though she is the establishment candidate facing a somewhat rebellious electorate. 

Trump’s momentum during most of September has been checked.  Possible risks for Clinton during the remainder of the campaign are that Trump should be able to improve on his performance in the remaining two debates.  Also, liberal third party candidates are more likely to draw support away from Clinton than Trump.    

(See also: The Complete First 2016 Presidential Debate, and judge for yourself if you have not already seen it.  Additionally, see: I Muted Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton During the Debate.  I Still Knew the Score, from The New York Times.) 



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September 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch September 20th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section:

So looking forward in a world of slow economic activity as experienced for the past decade, we can see VMT growth slowing and potentially a shift toward more fuel-efficient vehicle purchases – both not positive for gasoline demand. We then have the question of the impact of greater millennials in the population and the impact of the disruptive factors we enumerated earlier. 

A Ford Motor Company (F-NYSE) senior executive told an analyst meeting recently that the company expected autonomous vehicles to represent 5% of the auto fleet sales in 2025, or potentially a million cars per year. Self-driving vehicle technology seems to be moving toward the mainstream faster than many anticipated. The City of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is now allowing Uber to test an autonomous vehicle taxi service. The cars are equipped with 20 cameras and seven sensors to help them navigate the city’s streets. The taxis will be required to have a human driver behind the wheel in case control of the vehicle needs to shift, along with an engineer in the front seat. Right now the service is free, and it has attracted many reporters who will publicize it. Will it attract many customers? Unless a taxi causes significant traffic disruptions or a life-threatening accident, we suspect the test will be declared a success. The industry, however, is still awaiting the federal government’s issuance of guidelines about how self-driving vehicle regulations should be constructed. Traffic laws are primarily under local control, but basic national standards are important for the regulatory process and the vehicle manufacturing process, including vehicle safety and emissions standards. Steering wheels and pedals, or not? 

Self-driving technology’s primary benefit is to reduce and/or eliminate accidents and especially deaths. In 2014, according to data from the U.S. Department of Transportation, which is responsible for the Fatality Analysis Reporting System, there were 29,989 fatal motor vehicle crashes in which 32,675 deaths occurred. This represented 10.2 deaths per 100,000 people and 1.08 deaths per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. Some 38% of the deaths involved car accidents, while 25% related to pickup and SUV vehicle accidents. Only 2% of the deaths involved large trucks while the balance was accounted by motorcyclists, pedestrians and bicyclists. All deaths from large truck crashes were 12% of total vehicle deaths. 

There remain a number of legal issues about self-driving cars that need to be resolved. Who is given a ticket for a self-driving car failing to heed traffic rules or becoming involved in an accident: the passenger, a driver in the vehicle, the owner of the vehicle, or the engineer who wrote the software? These issues will be overcome with time, but the impact on Energy markets will likely come in dramatic fashion. Once auto companies feel comfortable that their self-driving cars will not be involved in accidents, they can begin designing vehicles for greater passenger comfort and entertainment, while using lighter materials since the heavy steel cages required now to protect passengers in accidents will no longer be needed. Reducing vehicle weight will make vehicles much more fuel-efficient and thus reduce future fuel consumption.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subcsriber's Area.

Three themes of autonomous vehicles, electric vehicles and new ownership models tend to be conflated when speculation about the future of transportation is discussed. These could all have an effect on the number of miles travelled but could also break the link between that measure and gasoline consumption. 



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September 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Tesla Wins Massive Contract to Help Power the California Grid

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

Tesla Motors Inc. will supply 20 megawatts (80 megawatt-hours) of Energy storage to Southern California Edison as part of a wider effort to prevent blackouts by replacing fossil-fuel electricity generation with lithium-ion batteries. Tesla's contribution is enough to power about 2,500 homes for a full day, the company said in a blog post on Thursday. But the real significance of the deal is the speed with which lithium-ion battery packs are being deployed. 

"The storage is being procured in a record time frame," months instead of years, said Yayoi Sekine, a battery analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. "It highlights the maturity of advanced technologies like Energy storage to be contracted as a reliable resource in an emergency situation."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Tesla is essentially a battery company which also happens to produce electric cars. It has been my argument for quite some time that the only way solar can achieve grid parity is if it is used in conjunction with batteries. As long as solar power is subject to intermittency which forces utilities to maintain excess capacity it will not be taken seriously as a viable alternative to fossil fuels. 



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September 19 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day 2

On the Hinkley Point decision:

I was shocked to read that Theresa May had agreed to go ahead with Hinkley Point. Electricity is highly likely be available at a small fraction of the cost from other clean sources for the lifetime of this white elephant. And reports of construction delays, massive cost increases, and safety concerns at EDFs other construction sites are troubling. We taxpayers are being lumbered with a big bill far into the future. And UK industry will be lumbered with high Energy costs and reduced competitiveness. This is the kind of decision-making I had hoped we would escape on leaving the EU (if we do!)

David Fuller's view -

Well said, and thanks for your thoughts. This was obviously a political rather than an economic decision. I believe Ambrose Evans-Pritchard had said Mrs May had no choice. I do not know all the background facts so I do not want to be too critical but Mrs May found herself in an invidious position over Hinkley Point, which she had not created.



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September 19 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

SunEdison's TerraForm Units Both Say They're Seeking Buyers

This article by Tiffany Kary and Christopher Martin for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Multiple companies have expressed interest in TerraForm Power. Golden Concord Holdings Ltd., a Chinese clean-Energy group, is planning to bid for SunEdison’s controlling stake in the company, people familiar with the plans said in August. That would challenge a joint offer from Canada’s biggest alternative- asset manager, Brookfield Asset Management Inc., and billionaire David Tepper’s Appaloosa Management LP hedge fund.

TerraForm Power said in August that it was considering plans to set up an auction to sell itself, according to people familiar with the matter. SunEdison, which has been selling off assets in Chapter 11, said earlier this month that it had reached an agreement with the two non-bankrupt yieldcos over when and how they would bring claims as part of the bankruptcy.

The process may not lead to a deal, according to Swami Venkataraman, an analyst at Moody’s Investors Service.

If the bids “highly undervalue” TerraForm Power and its assets, “they may choose to operate as an independent company for some time,” Venkataraman said in an e-mail Monday.

The case is SunEdison Inc., 16-10992, U.S. Bankruptcy Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan)  

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

SunEdison’s financial engineering resulted in the company’s bankruptcy with the yieldcos into which it poured all of its productive assets are now the subject of investor interest. For companies seeking to pick up clean Energy assets at a discount in order to benefit from the cash flows they throw off and/or to bolster their green credentials Terraform Power and Terraform Global represent potentially attractive targets. 



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September 15 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Hinkley Point C: Prioritising the Politically Sexy Over the Economically Rational is a Waste of Money

Here is the opening of this article by Tom Welsh for City A.M:

The new nuclear plant at Hinkley Point, which has finally been approved by EDF’s board, will be the most expensive power station anywhere in the world. Beset by delays (first proposed in 2006, it was meant to come online in 2017), it won’t be operational until 2025 and EDF will still receive its enormous £30bn subsidy even if Hinkley generates nothing until 2029.

Some were hoping the new government would junk the project and instead shore up UK Energy security by incentivising a constellation of lower-cost, smaller schemes. But despite the unexpected delay in approving the scheme, the signs are that the Energy secretary will persist with George Osborne’s nuclear folly, locking consumers into massively higher prices for decades.

Hinkley highlights a significant problem with Theresa May’s renewed focus on industrial strategy, essentially a greater role for the state in guiding the economy. Politicians will pursue schemes beyond the limits of reason, first, because they’re betting with other people’s money, but also because of a lack of imagination about the alternatives and a hope that the prestige of such grand projects will somehow rub off on them.

David Fuller's view -

I am disappointed with the Hinkley Point approval, not because of China’s involvement or the French EU connection, but because everything that we have seen so far with similar projects on Finland’s Olkiluoto Island and France’s own Flamanville project on the Cotentin Peninsula, has been woeful to date, including absurdly expensive. 

(See: Britain Should Leap-Frog Hinkley and Lead 21st Century Nuclear Revolution, plus my comments)



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September 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.S. Stocks Rise on Apple Rally as Oil Advances; Bonds Mixed

This article by Oliver Renick and Jeremy Herron for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

U.S. stocks rose from a two-month low as Apple Inc. extended a rally, while a rebound in crude boosted shares of Energy producers. The selloff in longer-dated bonds eased amid data showing the American economy is on uneven footing.

The S&P 500 Index jumped as Apple pushed its four-day gain past 11 percent. The index slipped toward its 100-day moving average before pushing higher as the level held for a fourth day. Industrial production contracted more than forecast and retail sales unexpectedly slid, sending the odds for a rate increase next week below 20 percent. The dollar was little changed after initially turning lower on the sales data.

Sterling slid after the Bank of England said another rate cut this year is possible. Oil erased gains to fall back below $44 a barrel. 

Equities continued to whipsaw investors after Friday’s rout jolted markets from a two-month torpor and wiped almost $2 trillion in value from stocks amid concern that central banks would deliver smaller doses of stimulus even as the global economy sputters along. Apple’s advance has buttressed U.S. equity indexes, as consumers snapped up the new iPhone model.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Apple still has the world’s largest market cap at $620 billion so its underperformance over the last year has represented a drag on the wider market. In fact the drag has been compounded by the impact Apple’s decline in sales growth has had on its suppliers. 



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September 12 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Parliament Calls for Carbon Capture to Revive British Industry and Slash Climate Costs

A high-level Parliamentary inquiry has called for a massive national investment in carbon capture to revive depressed regions of the North and exploit Britain's perfectly-placed network of offshore pipelines and depleted wells.

Lord Oxburgh's cross-party report to the Government has concluded that the cheapest way to lower CO2 emissions from heavy industries and heating is to extract the carbon with filters and store it in the North Sea oil.

The advisory group said the technology for carbon capture and storage (CCS) is ready to go immediately and should cut costs below £85 per megawatt hour by the late 2020s if launched with sufficient conviction and on a large scale, below the strike price for the Hinkley Point nuclear project. 

It could be fitted on to existing gas plants or be purpose-built in new projects, and could ultimately save up £5bn a year compared to other strategies. Unlike other renewables CCS does not alter with the weather or suffer from intermittency. It can be “dispatched” at any time, helping to balance peaks and troughs in power demand. 

“I have been surprised myself at the absolutely central role that CCS has to play across the UK economy,” said Lord Oxburgh, a former chairman of Shell Transport and Trading.

“We can dramatically reduce our CO2 emissions, create tens of thousands of jobs, and give our domestic industry a great stimulus by making use of technologies which are now well understood and fully proved,” he said.

No other country is likely to take the plunge first since few have the magic mix of industrial hubs, teams of offshore service specialists, and cheap, well-mapped, sea storage sites all so close together. “CCS technology and its supply chain are fit for purpose. There is no justification for delay,” says the report, to be released today.

Lord Oxburgh said the state must take the lead and establish the basic infrastructure in the early years.

The report called for a government delivery company modelled on Crossrail, or the Olympics Authority, taking advantage of rock-bottom borrowing costs. It could be privatised later once the CCS has come of age.

The captured CO2 is potentially valuable. Some could be used for market gardening in greenhouses, to produce biofuels, or for industrial needs.

Most CCS in North America is commercially exploited to extract crude through enhanced oil recovery by pumping CO2 into old wells, a technology that could give a new lease of life to Britain’s depleted offshore fields. “We could keep North Sea production going for another hundred years,” said Prof Jon Gibbins from Sheffield University.

David Fuller's view -

In this exciting new, varied and fast changing era of Energy, tech-savvy nations should way outperform over the longer term.  What Energy systems will they have?

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area, where a PDF of the article is also posted. 



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September 07 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On the post Brexit future for Britain:

David, I have the impression that City AM is running a series of articles to raise spirits in the City in this first week back from the holidays. Well, not a bad thing to do in comparison with the post-Brexit stuck-in-the-mud approach of some other papers I won't name. I particularly like this article in today's edition of city AM.

This is a truly uplifting article. It makes so may good points it is hard to choose one or two (though I know you will agree that London is the coolest place to live on the planet). Its main point is that wages in China have increased 5 fold in 3 years and at the same time, after one region in the USA, "the next most competitive location is the British Midlands from Birmingham to Manchester and beyond, plus the High Tech triangle that runs between King’s Cross, Cambridge and Oxford." I travel the world a lot and my impression is exactly as recorded in this article. I am very excited about the post Brexit future for Britain.

 

David Fuller's view -

Thanks for a very interesting and enthusiastic email of general interest.  (Note for subscribers: I have attached the two links which came with this email so that you can access them without leaving the Fuller Treacy Money site.)

There is certainly no harm in raising spirits in the City or anywhere else, with genuine good will and realistic optimism. What those of us who favour Brexit need to avoid is hubris – a repellent and destructive state of mind.  There are big, exciting challenges ahead, requiring a realistic can-do spirit. We also need to encourage rather than alienate disheartened Remain voters.  The UK needs their Energy and constructive input.  Personally, I remain very optimistic about Brexit, but I do not underestimate the challenges. 

Incidentally, Pippa Malmgren, who wrote the article for City A.M. above is an interesting contributor.  An American and successful businesswoman, she was a financial advisor to President George W Bush, before moving to London where she now lives and works.  Similarly, the author of this email is a key participant in the High Tech triangle which runs between King’s Cross, Cambridge and Oxford.   



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September 07 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Enbridge May Have Just Touched Off a 'Supermajor' Race for Pipes

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

With Enbridge Inc. planning a $28 billion takeover of Spectra Energy Corp., some investors say the industry’s in store for more deals as pressure mounts on the likes of Enterprise Products Partners LP and Kinder Morgan Inc. to follow suit. The biggest pipeline deal of the year foreshadows a feeding frenzy as those companies that survived the collapse in oil and natural gas prices step up the hunt for bargains. TransCanada Corp. got the ball rolling with the $10.2 billion purchase of Columbia Pipeline Group Inc. earlier in the year.

“We’ve just come through a very tumultuous period,” said Libby Toudouze, a partner and portfolio manager at Cushing Asset Management in Dallas. “Being able to survive the trough in the Energy cycle, especially one like this last one that was so long, means you have to be bigger, faster, stronger.”

Enbridge’s deal would vault the Calgary-based company into North America’s largest Energy pipeline and storage player. It could also mark the beginning of the "supermajor" era for the industry, according to Rebecca Followill, head of research at U.S. Capital Advisors, since it might “light a fire in the bellies” of the larger pipeline players, setting off a wave of consolidation that could accelerate through the end of 2016.

“Enterprise Products Partners is the other big 800-pound gorilla out there,” Toudouze said. “This puts a little more pressure on them to try to do something in the space.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The MLP sector, which is heavily weighted by pipelines, crashed lower with oil prices. The high leverage employed in the business models of pipeline companies was a major contributing factor in this underperformance. However with increased evidence that oil prices have hit medium-term lows, the relative resilience of North American economic growth and continued low interest rates, it is a natural time for companies to think about acquisitions. 



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September 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Credit Strategist

Thanks to a subscriber for receiving permission to post this edition of Michael Lewitt’s ever interesting report. Here is a section on junk bonds:

Junk bonds may be rallying but it has little to do with corporate credit quality, which keeps deteriorating. As of the end of August, 113 companies had defaulted on their debt in 2016, already matching the total number of defaults from 2015. The year-to-date default count was also 57% higher than a year earlier. In case anyone is paying attention (it appears they are not), the last time defaults were this high was in 2009 when 208 companies failed during the financial crisis. Standard & Poor’s is now projecting that the annual default rate will hit 5.6% by June 2017 with 99 junk-rated companies expected to default in the 12 months ending June 2017. That would significantly exceed the 79 U.S. companies that defaulted in the previous 12-month period ending June 2016, which resulted in a 4.3% default rate. While low oil prices are a major contributor to this ugliness, Energy companies only accounted for 57% of the defaults in the 12 month period ending in June 2016. That means that there is plenty of distress to go around

Even more disturbing is the fact that defaults are rising rapidly while many leveraged companies continue to enjoy low borrowing costs courtesy of the Federal Reserve. If interest rates were remotely normalized, the default rate would already be well above 5% and heading to the high single digits. None of this appears to bother investors, who are chasing yield in the rare places they can find it, which is always in all the wrong places. As a result, the normal spread-widening that occurs when defaults spike is not occurring, which is a very unhealthy phenomenon because it signals high levels of risk-taking and complacency on the part of investors. 

The history of the modern junk bond market teaches that most returns are earned in compressed periods after the market suffers a sharp sell-off. The rest of the time, investors are pushing water uphill as they invest in securities that offer poor-to-mediocre risk-adjusted returns until the point when the bottom falls out and they suffer catastrophic losses. There is good reason why very few credit hedge funds or other large investors made any money in junk since mid-2014, when the market began a sharp sell-off that coincided with the slide in oil prices and the slowdown in China. This sell-off ended early this year when the market began to rally based on the realization that the Federal Reserve lacks the intellectual capacity to understand the consequences of its own policies or the moral courage to change them. But investors are chasing zombies because numerous companies are not generating enough cash flow to reduce their debts or repay them when they mature. Instead, they are just living on fumes and waiting for the day of reckoning when their debt matures and they can’t pay it back. More of them will hit the wall when their debt comes due and they can’t refinance it at a reasonable interest rate because they are financially infirm. Standard & Poor’s is telling us that more of these companies are heading to the boneyard. Investors should be selling rather than buying this risk.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

I don’t think there is any argument that central bank measures to inflate asset prices through, previously unimaginably, low interest rates and outright purchases of bonds have had a distorting effect on asset prices. In fact that was the whole purpose of the policies in the first place. After-all quantitative easing was conceived to avoid an even more calamitous crash and succeeded on many fronts.  The problem is that we are now more than seven years into an era of extraordinary monetary policy and the self-sustaining robust growth that could upend dire warnings of overvaluations has been slow to appear. In fact because much of the G7 is contending with weak growth the extent of the dislocation in valuing bonds has increased. 



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August 31 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

We Should Seize the Benefits of Brexit Sooner Rather Than Later

The new trade department has exciting scope for free-trade agreements. For 43 years trade has been the ''exclusive competence’’ of the EU. During the referendum we were told that no one would want to do deals. But countries are queuing up.

The most worthwhile agreements are with fast-growing emerging economies that have high tariffs. As long as we remain in the EU there is no chance of deals with the two biggest countries – India ended talks with the EU in frustration at 28 member states demanding exclusions and China will not accept the EU’s political conditions for talks. But China has a deal with Switzerland, and India is negotiating one. Both would be keener still for one with us. Deals involving 28 countries take forever but bilateral trade deals typically take less than two years. And we can ensure they cover crucial UK industries such as services, which many EU deals exclude.

And:

Every week that we delay Brexit costs the British taxpayer nearly £200 million in membership fees. So both the Treasury and Health (which will have first call on extra spending) should be pushing for a speedy exit.

Although we will still be able to recruit EU nurses if we wish, leaving should be a stimulus to the NHS and our universities to expand training. At present we turn away up to three quarters of British applicants for nursing courses.

The new Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy will want to incorporate all EU law and regulations into UK law to give business certainty and enable it to prune, amend and replace items which are unnecessarily burdensome. Assuming the UK retains the Climate Change Act commitment to reduce emissions by 80 per cent it will be able to reduce the cost of doing so by scrapping EU renewable targets.

David Fuller's view -

Full-Brexit will be the most promising step the UK has taken in decades.  Mrs May’s government will lower taxes to confirm to the world that we are open for business and the most entrepreneurial economy in Europe, with the world’s leading international financial centre. 

What about our current trade partners in the EU?  In the days immediately following full-Brexit we should not be surprised if Germany and our other trade partners within the EU signal that they remain open for business. 

(See also: May Spells Out Immigration Limits as the First Brexit Red Line, reported by Bloomberg)



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August 31 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

D.E. Shaw Considering Major Stake in TerraForm

This article by Nathan Reiff appeared in Investopedia and may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

D.E. Shaw is one of the most recent companies to express an interest in buying SunEdison's shares of TerraForm. Shaw already owns about 6.7% of TERP shares following a negotiation made to forgive SunEdison debt. While this is a significant stake already, it is nowhere near SunEdison's huge percentage of ownership of the company. By purchasing up additional "Class B" shares in TerraForm, D.E. Shaw would attempt to capitalize on SunEdison's bankruptcy declaration by acquiring one of its most valuable holdings.

Golden Concord has also recently made it known that it is interested in purchasing now-defunct SunEdison's shares of TERP stock. The company, which is China's largest new Energy company that is not government-owned, no doubt also sees a prime investment opportunity. For both D.E. Shaw and Golden Concord, however, added interest in SunEdison's stake in TERP means that the competition for those shares is rising, and the price is likely to go up as well. Throughout Monday, August 29, shares of TERP were trading at higher levels as a result of the increased interest.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

To coin a pun “solar has been under a cloud of late”. Last year’s decision by Nevada to side with established utilities and force solar power providers to help pay for the grid, which they had being using for free, foreshadowed wider questioning of the subsidies on which the installation sector has relied upon. The bankruptcy of SunEdison and Tesla bailing out/absorbing SolarCity are both symptomatic of the challenges facing the sector. 



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August 30 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

British Sovereignty Depends on Leaving the EU and the Single Market

Here is the conclusion of this apt column by Gerard Lyons for The Telegraph:

To regain sovereignty and to have a sensible points-based migration system it is necessary to be outside both the EU and the Single Market. That should rule out the Norway option.

That fills some with fear, but it should not. The UK is remaining global in its focus, while at the same time ensuring more share in success through a better migration and domestic economic policy.

There is every reason to expect us to remain a strong and attractive economy in which to invest, while key challenges we face – like our twin deficits – are not the result of Brexit.

Now it is possible the UK may agree a specific deal with the EU. After all, they need the City, and also we are a huge export market for them. But we can’t assume anything.

Hence we should proceed based on leaving and trading under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). On that basis, we can leave at the end of Article 50 being concluded, whatever happens.

The UK is already a member of the WTO and it is there to facilitate trade, not stop it. Outside the EU, we can trade freely under WTO rules and reduce import tariffs.

If we accept that is what would happen if we leave, then that should give the UK greater bargaining power in any EU negotiation. Also, from that base, in time, we could conduct trade deals in our best interests, focused on services, with fast growing markets as well as with the EU.

It is people and firms that trade, not bureaucrats. Being competitive and having something that others want to buy are key. Globalisation, the internet and technical change point to new networks, and highlight that ideas and trade in the 21st century know no bounds.

Dr Gerard Lyons is Chief Economic Strategist at Netwealth Investments and an adviser to Parker Fitzgerald.

David Fuller's view -

If “Brexit means Brexit”, as the PM has repeated, it really should be a swift process of total withdrawal from the EU.  Then, and only then, can the UK government negotiate freely with other nations, including those of the EU.  Anything less than a total withdrawal will waste time and Energy in the web of EU rules and regulations designed to prevent countries from leaving. 

PM Theresa May’s biggest challenge may be to gather all the UK support she can for this transition, although the EU is unintentionally helping with its own policies, including the tax claim against Apple and Ireland.    

A PDF of Gerard Lyons' column is in the Subscriber's Area.



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August 30 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Frozen Concentrated Orange-Juice Market Has Virtually Disappeared

This article by Julie Wernau for the Wall Street Journal may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Americans drank less orange juice in 2015 than in any year since Nielsen began collecting data in 2002, as more exotic beverages like tropical smoothies and Energy drinks take market share and fewer Americans sit down for breakfast.

When they do drink orange juice, they aren’t drinking it from concentrate.

Frozen concentrated orange juice was invented in Florida in the 1940s, primarily as a way to provide juice for the military, readily storable and easy to ship. But frozen juice has been losing favor for years.

Not-from-concentrate orange juice surpassed the concentrated orange-juice market in the 1980s. Now, the 1.4 million gallons of frozen concentrate that Americans drink each month pales in comparison to the 19.1 million gallons of fresh juice consumed each month, Nielsen said.

Louis Dreyfus Co. is scaling back the one citrus facility in Florida that is devoted entirely to concentrated orange juice. The commodities giant is laying off 59 of the plant’s 94 workers as its sells the operation that packs frozen concentrated orange juice into cans for retail.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Changing consumption habits where people are more concerned not only with the taste but the quality of the foods they consume are having wide ranging effects on the commodity markets. To most people frozen orange juice does not taste as good as a freshly squeezed navel or Valencia orange. However since squeezing one’s own oranges is both time consuming and expensive the vast majority of orange juice consumed comes from either concentrate or is pasteurized. 



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August 25 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On UK should declare unilateral free trade:

Note: You can access the links in the email below because they were provided by the subscriber and I have loaded them so that you will not be removed from this site when you close them, unlike with links in newspaper articles which I post.

I mentioned briefly when we met a couple of weeks ago that the UK should declare unilateral free trade as it leaves the EU. We didn't get time to explore the thinking behind this so I have collated here some articles which set out the case, very compellingly in my view. First, an article in today's City A.M.  

Roger Bootle, whom I know you respect, has also proposed unilateral free trade. I believe you published this article when it first appeared.

He says "If we declared unilateral free trade, we would immediately cut through the doubts concerning a possible trade deal with the EU and put ourselves in the driving seat with regard to any future negotiations. Because this policy would involve abolishing tariffs on imports from the rest of the world, it would reduce prices and intensify competition in the UK market. Continental exporters would find they would only be able to sell to us at lower prices. The industries that would suffer, such as the German car industry, would put pressure on their governments for a deal with us, which we might accommodate – if it suited us. With one bound, we would be free."

Bootle was one of the very few economists who actually analysed the pros and cons of EU membership and published a book (The Trouble With Europe) arguing the case. Few politicians or economists went to such lengths. One who did is Patrick Minford. He has also written compellingly on this topic and the pdf attached goes into the issue in some detail.

The counter-argument has been put by Martin Wolff in the Financial Times in an article titled "Brexiteers' idea of unilateral free trade is a dangerous fantasy."

This was written before the referendum, and is in tune with the FT's opposition to leaving both before and after the referendum outcome. He finishes by dismissing the idea saying "Forget free trade: the UK will not return to the 19th century." Oops... wasn't that the century in which Britain was Great?

Wolff appears to favour tariffs. In contrast Minford has this to say to those who argue that universal free trade would not work for the UK: "It relies on the idea that under Brexit the UK would move to being a protected economy with tariffs and barriers against the rest of the world including the EU, much as it was back in the 1970s when it was ‘the sick man of Europe’. Yet after three and a half decades of market reforms since those grim times, the UK is now largely a free market economy and Brexit would allow it to join the global market as a free trading nation, able to buy its goods and services from the world market at world prices, and ready to sell its products to the world at those world prices too.

Incidentally, the most egregious article I have seen was this one in the FT arguing that voters should not have been given a referendum as the decision was too complicated (presumably for lesser mortals than the author.)

Incidentally, the most egregious article I have seen was this one in the FT arguing that voters should not have been given a referendum as the decision was too complicated (presumably for lesser mortals than the author.)

What the author conveniently forgets is that the decision to join was made by referendum - presumable he was OK about that. Then, despite his argument that we are not wise enough to decide these things by referendum, he illogically finishes by arguing for a second vote! I guess this is in true EU style: 'Come on you peasants, vote until you give the right answer.' Emotion always trumps reason once belief and self-interest are involved.

I lived and worked in Switzerland for a while and became impressed with their referendum system, held several times each year with many questions each time. The politicians role is to implement what the voters want. Switzerland may be the only true democracy on the planet, and the country wonderfully exemplifies the complete opposite of the attitude in that FT article and the attitude of the EU. Switzerland has a record of many centuries of effective governance and harmony despite having 4 totally distinct races and languages. It's also one of the wealthiest countries perhaps because of these factors. If the EU had been established on the Swiss model maybe it could have achieved similar prosperity, harmony and long-term survival as Switzerland. But the EU model is in many ways the opposite.

As you know, I voted Remain. I could have voted either way, but the desire to avoid breakup of the UK swung my vote. But now that the democratic decision to leave has been made I am fully behind the decision and actually rather happy about it. But we could mess it up by haggling deals with an EU which will be unable to do anything fast or effectively and which will assume it has the upper hand. During my long career as a senior executive in industry I attended several coaching courses on negotiation skills. The most important thing I learned was the concept of BATNA - be very clear what is your 'Best Alternative To A Negotiated Agreement.' You are negotiating from a very weak position if you are not absolutely clear about how you can reasonably walk away. If there is no negotiated agreement with the EU then the willingness of the UK to open to free trade across the world is by far the best option. It may anyway be the best solution.

Which leaves my one remaining concern, the stability of the UK. Phillip Johnson outlined one potential solution that makes very good sense to me, if not maybe for a certain power-hungry politician in Scotland! Though her country-folk may be wiser than her if it came to a vote.

What are your thoughts for and against unilateral free trade?  Do you see any major negatives?

Best wishes

David Fuller's view -

Thanks for a terrific email, certain to be of interest to subscribers in the UK, Europe and probably beyond.  I also appreciate the informative links and reports. 

Replying to your points, I have also posted Telegraph articles by Patrick Minford, Roger Bootle and others on free trade.  It makes sense as we will obviously want to be trading with the world, where possible, not just the protectionist, socialist, slow-growth EU.  Also, we do not want to be slavishly following the EU’s tortuous rules on leaving the Eurozone, which are mainly designed to lock countries in.  

Free trade is desirable, I believe, although it is certainly not without risks.  A number of our industries will be alarmed over the prospect of free trade, even if we have reciprocal agreements with many countries.  China springs to mind, as does any other country with state-controlled industries.  Consider steel - how can you protect Port Talbot or any other industry which China would like to bankrupt through state subsidies, so that they would have greater access to our market? Perhaps we don’t trade with China, although I would be reluctant to close doors on any important country.  Perhaps we need to have a few strategic industries, such as Port Talbot steel, which receive preferential treatment such as very inexpensive Energy, for instance.  Other companies would want similar subsidised benefits, but then we would be moving away from free trade. These are challenges, albeit manageable.

Re the FT, it has some good columnists and contributors but too many bad ones in its desire to be the EU’s socialist business (oxymoron?) English language paper.  The article by Richard Thaler is shocking, as you point out. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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August 25 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch August 24th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB which may be of interest. Here is a section:

The Obama administration’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) released their Phase II fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions regulations for heavy-duty trucks. This group includes the largest pickup trucks sold as well as the traditional 18-wheelers on the highways. The standards are to be phased in between the 2021 and 2027 model years. The existing standards, which were designed for the 2014 through 2018 model years, will remain in place until the new standards take effect.

The heavy-duty truck standards come as the government has just begun negotiations with auto manufacturers over the final fuel efficiency ratings for light-duty vehicles where the industry is lagging behind the targets in the standards. Heavy-duty trucks are the second largest and fastest growing segment of the U.S. transportation system measured by their emissions and Energy use. They currently account for about 20% of carbon emissions, yet only account for about 5% of the vehicle population. 

Carbon emissions from transportation is now the largest contributor to overall greenhouse gas emissions. Three charts showing annualized sector shares of total emissions confirm this conclusion. It should be noted that the country’s total carbon emissions peaked in January 2008 and have declined steadily since. On an absolute basis, over the past 8 1/3 years there are 1,410.1 million metric tons of less carbon emissions, or a decline of 16.2%. The transportation sector contributed about 9.1% of that decline. The significance is that transportation’s emissions dropped 6.4% over that time span while overall emissions declined 16.2%. The overall figure reflects the sharp decline from coal’s use due to the shale revolution and low natural gas prices along with static electricity consumption. At the same time, the decline and then flat trend in vehicle miles driven coupled with more fuel-efficient autos also helped reduce the transportation sector’s emissions. One can see these trends at work by looking at the sector shares in 1973, 2008 and 2016.

The United States has done well in reducing its carbon emissions by 16.2% since the start of 2008. The weak economy and Energy revolution have been primarily responsible. Going forward, the Energy policies targeting the transportation sector, coupled with technological improvements in overall Energy use, will become more important in driving down carbon emissions. Thus, the reason for the heavy-duty truck standards. They have support from the industry and truck manufacturers who see economic opportunities from more efficient engines. The Independent Truck Owners Association estimates the new standards will add $12,000-$14,000 to the cost of new tractors, which often cost upwards of a quarter of a million dollars, but they hope to recover those higher costs through improved fuel efficiency.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The surge in supply of natural gas coupled with the fact it is both cleaner than other fossil fuels and domestically available is supporting a revolution in developing new sources of demand. Toyota is now marketing is hydrogen fuelled Mirai automobile in the USA where the hydrogen will be sourced from natural gas. Improving the efficiency of the heavy vehicle fleet is a laudable goal and will also improve the environment so it can be viewed as a win win which is dependent on natural gas prices staying competitive. 



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August 24 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

UK Industrial Revolution 2.0

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

Potential GDP growth slowed in the UK after the debt crisis and Brexit is another structural shock. Monetary policy does not have the ability to correct these impairments. A structural policy is required, for example, the priority being given by new British PM, Theresa May, to the industrial sector within economic policy. An industrial renaissance is the objective.

We motivate the need for industrial strategy through the new information based theory of economic growth. Over time, knowledge and knowhow is created and embodied into products. The more specialized these products and the broader the range produced, the more complex the economy. Complexity is a medium- to long-term predictor of economic growth.

The UK is not coming from a standing start. The UK has retained or created industrial strengths in sectors from cars and industrial machinery to aerospace and defense. The sizeable depreciation of sterling and relatively low production costs give UK industry an advantage. These cyclical benefits can be secured with a structural policy aimed at maximizing R&D (knowledge) heavy, high-skill (knowhow) manufacturing.

A modern industrial strategy is about creating the right environment for new products and markets to emerge and jobs and income to grow. A successful neo-industrial policy requires a holistic approach. We discuss four areas likely to appear within an industrial strategy: infrastructure (including digital), Energy, skills and innovation. Policies here could enhance complexity and the economy’s capacity to generate, share and use information. A consistent policy approach with long-term commitments could counterbalance Brexit-related uncertainty.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, is expected to ease the UK’s austerity policy by year-end. We argue the fiscal adjustment needs to be seen through the lens of industrial strategy. Public sector funding costs are extremely low and the Bank of England has re-started gilt-based QE. After the referendum the government has a reason and opportunity to maximize the benefits via an industrial policy.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

As we pointed out ahead of the referendum, the UK had a big choice to make. It could become a vassal state subject to an increasing autocratic central government or it could throw out the rule book and refashion itself into a free market example of dynamism that would benefit from its proximity to, but separation from, a much larger neighbour.  I described this latter option as the Hong Kong solution and it would appear to be what the UK is now moving towards. 



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August 24 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

A Grim Outlook for the Economy, Stocks

Thanks to a subscriber for this interview of Stephanie Pomboy expressing a bearish view which appeared in Barron’s. Here is a section:

The presumption supporting equity prices is that all the bad news we’ve seen this year has been due to anomalies—the lagged effect of the strong dollar and weaker Energy prices as well as Brexit. Everyone is looking for a significant second-half rebound for earnings and GDP—when the clouds will part and the sun will come out. I strongly believe that won’t happen, in large part because of inventories. Inventory accumulation has been explosive.

What’s caused this growth in inventories?
It isn’t because companies ramped up production. Companies aren’t using cheap capital to increase production and capital expenditures, but are lavishing money on shareholders instead. They bought the lie that consumer spending would turn up any moment, and produced at the same pace. Now they find themselves with a monster inventory overhang. Inventory-to-sales ratios across a variety of industries—manufacturing, machinery, autos, wholesale—are at the highest level since 2009. In prior inventory liquidation cycles, nominal GDP growth is cut in half during the liquidation phase. As for profits, we’re starting with five negative quarters and we haven’t even begun the inventory liquidation cycle. So the second half will be a real eye-opener.

In your view, today’s too-low rates will cause the next financial crisis. Describe it.
In the past rates that were too high were the trigger. Not this time. No. 1, we have basically bankrupted corporate and state and local pensions by having rates at these repressive levels. If you lay on top of that a decline in equity prices, there will be a scramble to plug holes in pensions. Obviously if a state or local government has to divert funds to plugging its pension, it won’t build more roads. The corporate sector has the luxury of kicking the can down the road, and because their spending has been on buybacks, not plants and equipment, the economy would suffer less. For S&P 1500 companies, the pension deficit is roughly $560 billion, but for state and local governments, it’s $1.2 trillion. According to the Center for Retirement Research, if you used a more conservative discount rate, the unfunded liability would go to $4 trillion.

No. 2, you’re pushing consumers to the brink as they try to save enough for retirement at zero rates. You’re already seeing a reluctant return to credit-card usage, a clear sign of distress—they are charging what they previously paid with cash. The credit-card delinquency rate is picking up.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The way people generally think about pensions is that you accumulate a pot of money over your lifetime, purchase an annuity with a yield greater than your living costs and a maturity that extends to the end of one’s life. Of course that is not realisable in practice so pension funds have to manage the duration of the overall portfolio so they can plan to meet future liabilities with some degree of accuracy. 

The problem is that in formulating their models they typically assume a 7% yield. That’s OK when nominal interest rates are somewhere close to that level but with rates close to zero, for nearly a decade, they have no choice but to rely on capital appreciation to make up for the absence of yield. The alternative is to take on a lot more risk to capture the yield they require. For example, and this is obviously not a recommendation, Rwanda’s senior unsecured US Dollar B+ 2023 bond currently yields 6.195%. 

 



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August 22 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Carbon Capture Can Drive a 21st Century Revival of British Industry

Renaissance beckons for the once great industrial hubs of northern England and Scotland, and the unexpected catalyst may be stringent global climate controls.

What looks at first sight like an economic threat could instead play elegantly to Britain's competitive advantage, for almost no other country on earth is so well-placed to combine Energy-intensive manufacturing with carbon capture at a viable cost.

The industrial clusters of the Tees Valley and the Humber are linked by a network of pipelines to depleted and well-mapped oil and gas fields in the North Sea, offering rare access to infrastructure for carbon storage deep underground.

Liverpool has old wells of its own offshore in the Irish sea. Scotland's heavy industry in Grangemouth and the Forth have feeder pipelines to the Golden Eye.

Such sites may not be worth much today - with carbon prices in Europe too low to matter at barely $5 a tonne - but the COP21 climate deal agreed in Paris last December transforms the long-term calculus.

It implies a tightening regime of higher carbon penalties for the next half century, ending in net zero CO2 emissions. Once prices approach $50 a tonne the equation changes. Beyond $100 it inverts the pyramid of Energy wealth: profits accrue to those with access to the cheapest low carbon power.

"Storage will be much more valuable than the fossil fuels themselves. If you are an Energy-intensive industry in the middle of Europe and you don't have C02 storage, you're stuffed," said professor Jon Gibbins from Edinburgh University.

David Fuller's view -

This is interesting and entrepreneurial long-term thinking.  I believe we will hear more of it following Brexit because the UK has voted to retake control of its destiny.  That is an exciting and positive development which will inspire additional creativity and economic development.  



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August 22 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Why the UK is Using Less Energy, but Importing More, and Why It Matters

The UK is in the midst of an Energy revolution. Since the late 1990s the Government has committed to using cleaner Energy, and using less of it.

Billions of pounds have been invested in renewable Energy sources that generate electricity from the wind, waves and plant waste.

At the same time the UK has managed to cut its Energy use by almost a fifth as households and businesses have steadily replaced old, inefficient appliances and machinery with products that use far less Energy to run. Energy demand has also fallen due to the decline of the UK’s Energy-intensive industries, such manufacturing and steel-making.

But Government data shows that the UK’s reliance on Energy imports is at its highest since the Energy crisis of the late 1970s, raising serious questions over where the UK sources its Energy and what a growing dependence on foreign Energy means for bills and for security.

In a leaner, greener Energy system, why is the UK more dependent on foreign Energy sources than it has been in more than 30 years?

David Fuller's view -

The short answer is that the UK has largely run out of commercially viable North Sea oil at today’s prices.  It has also made a commendable push into renewables while cutting back on the use of coal.  However, this has been an expensive policy and the country faces an increasing risk of Energy shortages. 

Fortunately, there is a medium-term solution to this problem if the government moves quickly.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area, where a PDF of the article is also posted.



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August 22 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On nuclear fission being the bane of human civilization: 

Nuclear fission will ultimately be the bane of human civilization. There are no solutions for storing spent fuel which is stored in pools around reactor sites and will remain deadly for uncounted future generations. The innards of reactors wear out in a several decades but remain deadly to life for tens of thousands of years. How will they be dismantled and stored safely? Multiply these hazards by future reactors yet to be built to imagine the legacy we are leaving. Renewable Energy is the only way.

David Fuller's view -

Well said.  You are correct and I have not mentioned this often enough. We can reduce the risk with individual reactors by converting to new nuclear but containment of deadly spent fuel from reactors still leaves lethally dangerous sites which have to be cordoned off for ever.  The tradeoff, I suggest, is that even 20th Century nuclear power shortens far fewer lives than any fossil fuel.  Meanwhile, renewable Energy is one of the long-term solutions to our requirements but many more people would die prematurely from hardship if we could only use renewables today.  The other long-term solution, which many of us had hoped to see and surely our grandchildren will, is nuclear fusion. 

See also: Why Nuclear Fusion Is Always 30 Years Away, from Science for the Curious Discover.



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August 18 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain Should Leap-Frog Hinkley and Lead 21st Century Nuclear Revolution

It is hard to imagine now, but Britain once led the nuclear revolution.

Ernest Rutherford first broke the nuclei of atoms at Manchester University in 1917. Our Queen opened the world's first nuclear power plant in 1956 at Calder Hall.

Such were the halcyon days of British atomic confidence, before defeatism took hold and free market ideology was pushed to pedantic extremes.

Most of Britain's ageing reactors will be phased out over the next decade, leaving a gaping hole in electricity supply. By historic irony the country has drifted into a position where it now depends on an ailing state-owned French company to build its two reactors at Hinkley Point, with help from the Chinese Communist Party.

The horrors Hinkley are by now well-known. The European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) is not yet working anywhere. The Olkiluoto plant in Finland is nine years late and three times over budget. EDF's Flamanville project is not faring much better.

What is clear is that the costs of 'old nuclear' have spun out of control everywhere in the developed world. It is too expensive to keep trying to refine an inherently dangerous technology dating back sixty years in a Sisyphean attempt to make it less threatening after Chernobyl and Fukushima.

The capital cost of new nuclear plants in Europe and the US has risen from $1,000 per kilowatt in the 1970s to around $5,500 today in real terms. Hinkley will be nearer $8,000. Hence the lapidary term 'negative learning' coined by Yale scientist Arnulf Grubler.

The standard light water reactors were solid workhorses in their day - and averted huge releases of CO2 from fossil fuels - but they operate at 100 times atmospheric pressure. They need costly containment structures  to prevent an explosive release of deadly radioactive gases across hundreds of miles. 

 

This nuclear cost spiral has been happening just as solar and wind costs plummet, and the verdict is in. The nuclear share of global power has dropped to 10.7pc from 17.6pc in 1996. Ten new reactors were built last year, but eight were in China. In Europe they are shutting down.

There is an alternative. Research into a radical new wave of safer, cleaner, and cheaper reactors is suddenly reaching critical mass, some are entirely compatible with the intermittency of wind and solar.

This is what Theresa May should be looking at as she launches her industrialisation drive and fashions an Energy policy fit for the 21st Century.

The Washington think tank Third Way has identified fifty advanced reactor projects in North America, including eight based on molten salt fuel, ten on liquid-metal, and some based on fusion designs.

David Fuller's view -

It is beyond comprehension that any intelligent person with a reasonable understanding of competing Energy developments in 2016 could think that the Hinkley Point white elephant was a good idea.  This was a short-term pre-Brexit political decision which should never have been seriously considered.  It totally ignored economic risks, given EDF’s reworked and risky Heath Robinson technology, plus the company’s catastrophic delays and soaring costs on Finland’s Olkiluoto Island and France’s own Flamanville project on the Cotentin Peninsula.  

 Prime Minister Theresa May wisely put Hinkley Point on hold, to the consternation of French and Chinese officials, before leaving for her walking holiday in Switzerland.  If her advisors are up-to-date on our worldwide Energy revolution and the Hinkley Point debate, Mrs May will be able to resume her sensible overhaul of Britain’s Energy policies on return.  These commenced with realistic financial incentives for people living in regions where fracking needs to occur.  However, the delicate diplomatic issue, for which she will not thank David Cameron or George Osborne, concerns Hinkley Point.  The plain truth is that it does not add up and would be a costly disadvantage for the UK over 35 years. 

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August 18 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Oil Prices Break Back Above $50 a Barrel

Oil prices broke above $50 a barrel for the first time in five weeks as hope that the world’s largest suppliers may act to cut the glut in global supply continues to drive prices higher for a sixth consecutive day.

Brent crude moved above $50 a barrel for the first time since early July on Thursday morning before dipping back to $49.70 later in the day. But by the afternoon the market surged well above the key earlier highs to around $50.80 a barrel.

The recent rally in prices, from lows under $42 a barrel just two weeks ago, began late last week after Saudi Energy minister Khalid bin Abdulaziz Al-Falih said the Oraganization of Petroleum Exporting Countries would meet in Algeria next month to discuss measures to stabilise oil market prices with major producers outside of the cartel.

The rally found further support earlier this week after Russian Energy minister Alexander Novak said that his country - the world's third largest supplier of oil - was involved in the early discussions

Shakhil Begg, an analyst with Thomson Reuters, said oil prices bounced back as continued short covering activity sustained a rally which has propelled prices by more than 20pc since the lows of early August.

David Fuller's view -

The Saudis’ 2H 2014 attempt to replay their successful 1970’s script - increasing oil supplies and driving the price down to knock out high cost producers - was always going to fail in the current era.  They were really targeting US shale oil production, without understanding the importance of this quantum technological leap which was beginning to tap billions of gallons of previously inaccessible oil, at increasingly commercial prices. 

In fairness to the Saudis, they were not alone.  In fact, most western oil analysts also failed to grasp the potential of this rapidly developing new technology.  They talked about high drilling costs, rapid depletion rates within a few months, while polluting water tables and triggering earthquakes.

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August 17 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Sinking Coast In Louisiana Is a $100 Billion Nightmare for Big Oil

Here is the opening of this informative article from Bloomberg:

From 5,000 feet up, it’s difficult to make out where Louisiana’s coastline used to be. But follow the skeletal remains of decades-old oil canals, and you get an idea. Once, these lanes sliced through thick marshland, clearing a path for pipelines or ships. Now they’re surrounded by open water, green borders still visible as the sea swallows up the shore.

The canals tell a story about the industry’s ubiquity in Louisiana history, but they also signal a grave future: $100 billion of Energy infrastructure threatened by rising sea levels and erosion. As the coastline recedes, tangles of pipeline are exposed to corrosive seawater; refineries, tank farms and ports are at risk.

“All of the pipelines, all of the things put in place in the ’50s and ’60s and ’70s were designed to be protected by marsh,” said Ted Falgout, an Energy consultant and former director of Port Fourchon.

Louisiana has an ambitious -- and expensive -- plan to protect both its backbone industry and its citizens from this threat but, with a $2 billion deficit looming next year, the cash-poor state can only do so much to shore up its sinking coasts. That means the oil and gas industry is facing new pressures to bankroll critical environmental projects -- whether by choice or by force.

“The industry down there has relied on the natural environment to protect its infrastructure, and that environment is now unraveling,” said Kai Midboe, the director of policy research at the Water Institute of the Gulf. “They need to step up.”

Every year in Louisiana, more than 20 square miles of land is swallowed by the Gulf. At Port Fourchon, which services 90 percent of deepwater oil production, the shoreline recedes by three feet every month. Statewide, more than 610 miles of pipeline could be exposed over the next 25 years, according to one study by Louisiana State University and the Rand Corporation. Private industry owns more than 80 percent of Louisiana’s coast.

The land loss exacerbates another natural threat: storm-related flooding, like that affecting Baton Rouge now. As days of heavy rainfall caused water to overrun levees along several tributaries this week, Exxon Mobil Corp. began shutting units at its Baton Rouge refinery, the fourth-largest in the U.S. About 40,000 homes in southeastern Louisiana have been affected by the devastating flooding, and at least 11 people have died.

In Louisiana, marshes, swamps and barrier islands can mitigate flooding, soaking up rainfall like a sponge and reducing storm surge. But as the land erodes, storms advance without a buffer, and Louisiana's flood protection systems become less effective. The state estimates that damage from flooding could increase by $20 billion in coming years, if the coastline isn't reinforced.

David Fuller's view -

This is an interesting and somewhat worrying article, well worth reading for three perspectives: 1) climate change (they don’t mention it but I would stay well clear of floodplains; 2) oil refiners which are at risk because their processing plants are in coastal areas; 3) the state of Louisiana, with the help of the US Government, really took careless BP to the cleaners over their drilling accident.  This has set a precedent which other governments with needy regions will be tempted to emulate.      



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August 15 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Vast National Gamble on Wind Power by Britain May Yet Pay Off

Wind power has few friends on the political Right. No other industry elicits such protest from the conservative press, Tory backbenchers, and free market economists.

The vehemence is odd since wind generates home-made Energy and could be considered a 'patriotic choice'. It dates back to the 1990s and early 2000s when the national wind venture seemed a bottomless pit for taxpayer subsidies.

Pre-modern turbines captured trivial amounts of Energy. The electrical control systems and gearboxes broke down. Repair costs were prohibitive.

Yet as so often with infant industries, early mishaps tell us little. Costs are coming down faster than almost anybody thought possible. As the technology comes of age - akin to gains in US shale fracking  - the calculus is starting to vindicate Britain's vast investment in wind power.

The UK is already world leader in offshore wind. The strategic choice now is whether to go for broke, tripling offshore capacity to 15 gigawatts (GW) by 2030.  The decision is doubly-hard because there is no point dabbling in offshore wind.  Scale is the crucial factor in slashing costs, so either we do it with conviction or we do not do it all. My own view is that the gamble is worth taking.

Shallow British waters to offer optimal sites of 40m depth. The oil and gas industry knows how to operate offshore. Atkins has switched its North Sea skills seamlessly to building substations for wind. JDR in Hartlepool sells submarine cables across the world. Wind power is a natural fit.

We live in a world that has just signed the COP21 climate deal in Paris. That implies a steadily rising penalty on carbon emissions. It also implies that those dragging their feet on renewables will ultimately be punished, as the Chinese have grasped.

David Fuller's view -

Many of us opposed wind farms well over a decade ago because they were expensive, nosy, inefficient eyesores and a devastating Cuisinart for birds.  Yes, costs are coming down rapidly due to size, mass production and especially accelerating technological innovation, unfolding before our very eyes.   

You would not want to live anywhere near these increasingly massive War of the Worlds machines, but they are now considerably more efficient.  Moreover, the evolution of batteries will largely resolve intermittency problems over the next five years.  Celebrate the increasingly important source of renewable Energy from wind power but spare a thought for the birds lost and also the disturbance of sea mammals by offshore wind farms.   

A PDF of AE-P’s article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.



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August 12 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Theresa May may become one of the most radical western leaders of the century

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Lawrence Solomon for the Financial Post which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Under May’s approach, shale gas royalties that would ordinarily go to governments and quasi-governmental agencies will instead be directed to the residents in the communities hosting the developments. The BBC estimates individual households will be receiving as much as £10,000 ($16,800) under May’s plan; other estimates arrive at higher sums – as much as £65,000 per household lucky enough to be near large shale gas deposits. May’s plan is now expected to wash away local opposition to fracking and unleash the development of Britain’s massive shale gas resources, estimated by the British Geological Survey at 1,300 trillion cubic feet of shale gas, equivalent to a 500-year supply at current gas consumption levels.

This torrent of Energy will benefit more than the local residents who until now saw only drawbacks to shale gas development in their community. The abundant supply of gas will lower Energy costs throughout the country, relieving residential and business consumers alike and convincing British industries – which have been leaving Britain due to its high Energy costs – to not only stay but also to expand their operations in the U.K.

The May approach isn’t limited to shale –  it will apply to developments of all kinds, whether other resource developments, industrial complexes or airport expansions. Through what she calls her blueprint for development projects, May will be converting the development delayer known worldwide as NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) into PIMBY (Please In My Back Yard), a development accelerator. Residents will effectively become pro-development lobbyists whenever they determine a development personally benefits more than discomforts them.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

By voting for change the UK has an unparalleled chance to literally throw out the rule book and adopt policies that would have been anathema to the Brussels bureaucracy. Royalties for landowners close to extractive industries has been a major enabler for the growth of the US Energy sector and could have a transformative effect on the UK economy, not least because a great deal of its shale is in the north of the country which was particularly hard hit by the closing of collieries. 



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August 11 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Dow, S&P500, Nasdaq Close at Records on Same Day for First Time Since 1999

Here is the opening of tonight’s interesting comparative report from The Wall Street Journal

Major U.S. stock indexes set records again Thursday, the first time since Dec. 31, 1999, that the Dow Jones Industrial Average, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite have hit those milestones on the same day.

The rally was sparked by higher oil prices and earnings reports from U.S. retailers that weren’t as weak as feared.

Consumer-discretionary and Energy stocks led broad gains across the market. The Dow industrials rose 118 points, or 0.6%, to 18614, above its previous record close of 18595 hit July 20. The S&P 500 gained 0.5% and topped its Aug. 5 record. The Nasdaq Composite added 0.5%, surpassing its previous high set at Tuesday’s close.

Investors are “into stocks because there’s nowhere else to go,” said Tim Rudderow, president of Mount Lucas Management, which oversees $1.6 billion.

Shares of Macy’s rose 17% as the department-store operator reported better-than-expected sales and said it plans to close 100 stores. Kohl’s gained 16% after reporting a surprise increase in profit even as it cut its earnings forecast for the year.

The two retailers were the S&P 500’s best performers Thursday, but they were still among the worst over the past 12 months. Retail-store owners have been hit in part by the growth of Internet-based competitors, and even Macy’s well-received results included a sharp drop in quarterly profit and another period of declining sales.

David Fuller's view -

Yearend 1999 was not the most auspicious time for Wall Street.  Veteran subscribers may recall that it was the beginning of the end of the last secular bull market.  However, the S&P 500 and the Nasdaq Composite carried higher into 2Q 2000 before commencing their bear market.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area, where a PDF of the WSJ article is posted.



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August 11 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Holy Grail of Energy Policy in Sight as Battery Technology Smashes the Older Order

Here is the opening and also a latter section of this informative article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for The Telegraph:

The world's next Energy revolution is probably no more than five or ten years away. Cutting-edge research into cheap and clean forms of electricity storage is moving so fast that we may never again need to build 20th Century power plants in this country, let alone a nuclear white elephant such as Hinkley Point.

The US Energy Department is funding 75 projects developing electricity storage, mobilizing teams of scientists at Harvard, MIT, Stanford, and the elite Lawrence Livermore and Oak Ridge labs in a bid for what it calls the 'Holy Grail' of Energy policy.

You can track what they are doing at the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E). There are plans for hydrogen bromide, or zinc-air batteries, or storage in molten glass, or next-generation flywheels, many claiming "drastic improvements" that can slash storage costs by 80pc to 90pc and reach the magical figure of $100 per kilowatt hour in relatively short order.

“Storage is a huge deal,” says Ernest Moniz, the US Energy Secretary and himself a nuclear physicist. He is now confident that the US grid and power system will be completely "decarbonised" by the middle of the century.

And more on Hinkley Point:

Perhaps the Hinkley project still made sense in 2013 before the collapse in global Energy prices and before the latest leap forward in renewable technology. It is madness today.

The latest report by the National Audit Office shows that the estimated subsidy for these two reactors has already jumped from £6bn to near £30bn. Hinkley Point locks Britain into a strike price of £92.50 per megawatt hour - adjusted for inflation, already £97 - and that is guaranteed for 35 years.

That is double the current market price of electricity. The NAO's figures show that solar will be nearer £60 per megawatt hour by 2025. Dong Energy has already agreed to an offshore wind contractin Holland at less than £75.

Michael Liebreich from Bloomberg New Energy Finance says the Hinkley Point saga will be taught for generations as a case study in how not to run a procurement process. "The obvious question is why this train-wreck of a project was not killed long ago," he said.

Theresa May has inherited a poisonous dossier, left with the invidious choice of either offending China or persisting with a venture that no longer makes any economic sense. She may have to offend China - as tactfully as possible, let us hope - for the scale of the folly has become crushingly obvious.

Every big decision on Energy strategy by the British government or any other government must henceforth be based on the working premise that cheap Energy storage will soon be a reality.

This country can achieve total self-sufficiency in power at viable cost from our own sun, wind, and waters within a generation. Once we shift to electric vehicles as well, we will no longer need to import much oil either. Rejoice.

David Fuller's view -

Modern Energy industries are among the biggest beneficiaries of the accelerated rate of technological innovation.  The primary incentive is ‘needs must’.  For this reason the US Energy Department is currently, albeit belatedly, funding approximately 75 projects dedicated to improving electricity storage capacity.  Other countries with developed research capabilities are following a similar path.  Electricity storage costs are plummeting and forecast to reach $100 per kilowatt hour before long.  This will largely remove the ‘intermittency’ problem which is currently still the main downside for solar and wind power. 

Against this background, governments should reconsider proposals for 20th century Energy programmes, of which the UK’s Hinkley Point project is a classic example.  It was hastily proposed on the basis that Energy costs could only move higher - a dubious premise as we now know.  In fact, Energy prices will plummet in the years ahead, for countries which develop modern and increasingly efficient Energy policies including solar, modern nuclear and also natural gas which is readily available via fracking in many countries and the least polluting fossil fuel by far.  

The Hinkley Point project, far from providing a helpful source of Energy, would saddle the UK with uncompetitive Energy costs for at least 35 years, damaging economic prospects in the process.

A PDF of AE-P’s column is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.  



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August 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch August 9th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section on the nuclear sector:

Many of the nuclear power plants that were built in the 1960s and 1970s are now approaching the end of their commercial lives. The challenge is that nuclear power plants have the potential for very long operating lives, often on the order of 80 years, meaning that those older plants might have an additional 20 or 30 years of operating life remaining. The issue is that over their very long lives, these nuclear plants require extensive and costly periodic upgrades and repairs. In order to finance these modifications, the plants must generate significant profits during their operating lives. Low coal and now low natural gas prices have undercut the price of nuclear power, often making these plants the highest cost fossil fuel plants in utility company portfolios. These economic challenges ignore the fact that nuclear power plants have the highest operating ratios of all power plants, meaning that they produce power when people need it and that the power output is carbon-free. 

And

Low natural gas prices have seriously undercut the power prices for the nuclear power plants upstate, to the point that the owners – Exelon (EXC-NYSE) and Entergy – have threatened to shut down the plants. If that were to happen, New York State’s plan to have half its power coming from clean Energy sources by 2030 would be doomed. In fact, the state has determined that if the nuclear power plants were shut, local utilities would have to rely on power from power plants fueled by dirty gas and coal. That would detract from the governor’s clean Energy goal. That goal is why Gov. Cuomo has fought the use of hydraulic fracturing in the state to tap greater supplies of locally produced natural gas. Natural gas, although cheaper than the governor’s favored three sources of clean Energy, would have released more greenhouse gases, but it is likely that the cost to consumers would have been less than what will happen in the future. Gov. Cuomo has championed a plan that was embraced by New York’s Public Service Commission and will force utility customers in the state to pay nearly $500 million a year in subsidies designed to keep the three upstate nuclear power plants operating. The Indian Point plant will not receive any subsidy funds because downstate power prices are sufficiently high that the plant can earn a profit.

According to the Public Service Commission, starting in 2017, the subsidies will cost utility ratepayers in New York State $962 million over two years. However, the overall cost of the clean Energy program to utility customers would be less than $2 a month, according to the Public Service Commission. The chairman of the commission said that state officials had calculated the social and economic benefits of the program, including the reduction of carbon emissions, lower prices for electricity and more jobs in the electricity generation business, and that these benefits would be greater than the cost of the subsidies. Environmental groups are fighting back, claiming that while they supported the governor’s plan to mandate the purchase of renewable Energy by utilities, they viewed the magnitude of the subsidies that could amount to several billion dollars over the 12 years to 2030 as a mistake. Exelon, the owner of two of the three up-state nuclear power plants applauded the Public Service Commission announcement and pledged to invest $200 million in the plants next year if the plan is approved.

Environmentalists who are serious about clean Energy should pay attention to the comments of Michael Shellenberger, the president of nonprofit research and policy organization Environmental Progress. He said that nuclear power plants produce so much more Energy than other forms that they can be more environmentally friendly than even renewables when all the mining, development and land disturbances are taken into account. As Mr. Shellenberger put it, “from the whole life-cycle analysis, it’s just better.” Of course, on the other side of the issue is someone such as Abraham Scarr, director of the Illinois Public Interest Research Group, a consumer advocate group, who said, “We should be building the 21st century Energy system and not continuing to subsidize the Energy system of the past.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The above paragraphs highlight just how much of an influence low natural gas prices have had on the utility sector and the broader Energy mix. Closing down nuclear plants because the cost of upgrades and repairs cannot be justified when competition with natural gas is so intense suggests demand for the commodity is going to intensify in coming years if nuclear is not subsidized. 



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August 09 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain Faces a Nasty Shock When the Global Energy Cycle Turns

Here is a middle section of this timely and informative article by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for The Telegraph, which I managed to see while on holiday:

The BGS [British Geological Survey] thinks there are 1,300 trillion cubic feet (TCF) of gas resource in the Bowland, enough in theory to replace the North Sea and profoundly change British fortunes.

"Four or five years ago the recovery rate in the US was 10pc and now they are moving towards 20pc. I don't see why we can't do that in the Bowland," Stephen Bowler, the chief executive of IGas. Anything like that would be enough to meet Britain's entire annual consumption of 2.7 TCF through the 21st Century.

IGas is in partnership with Total, GDF Suez, and INEOS, expects initials flows in the Bowland in early 2017, building up to commercial output within two or three years.

Those on the cutting edge are exasperated by the static critiques of the hydraulic fracturing, typically five years out of date. The gains in technology, seismic imaging, computer data, and smart drills are moving at lightning speed.

New methods allow for three, six, or even ten wells to be drilled from the same pad,  greatly reducing disruption. Walking rigs move on the next spot without the need for the vast fleets of vehicles that bedevilled the early years of shale. Fracking remains 'dirty', but less than a decade ago. The BGS says that most early stories of water contamination have been false alarms.

British geologists are better prepared. They have already pre-collected readings on methane levels that will enable them to detect any leakage from fracking wells. "They never had that data in the US so we will have a much better handle," said Mr Gatliff.

Burning gas emits CO2 of course - albeit half as much as coal - but fracking is still a net plus for global warming if it displaces imports of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from places like Qatar. LNG must first be frozen to minus 160 degrees Centigrade and then shipped across the world. A study by Cambridge Professor David Mackay concluded that LNG's carbon footprint is 20pc higher than shale gas.

David Fuller's view -

The title of the article above would be redundant if Britain moved swiftly and competently to develop its fracking potential.  BGS is cautious to a fault in its forecasts for the UK’s shale gas recovery capability, but we know there is plenty of this important resource underground.  It would be madness not to use it, given the rapid development in fracking technology over the last ten years. 

See also: Britain Must Seize the Benefits of Fracking, an editorial from The Telegraph which I posted yesterday.    

A PDF of AE-P’s article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.



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August 08 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain Must Seize the Benefits of Fracking

Here is the opening of this editorial from The Telegraph:

For a country as reliant upon imported Energy as Britain, the discovery of substantial deposits of shale gas might seem a godsend. In America, the exploitation of shale has been transformative, with the country set to become self-sufficient in Energy by 2020.

Here, by contrast, nothing much has happened beyond the drilling of a number of test wells, every one greeted by objections from green campaigners and local residents.

The Government recognises the potential and has offered favourable tax treatment to shale gas producers and a fast-track planning procedure to get projects under way. But the biggest barrier to a commercial fracking programme remains public opposition. In order to counter this, wealth funds from the proceeds of fracking were proposed, to pay for new community amenities in affected areas.

David Fuller's view -

The UK economy would be a lot stronger in future decades if we had cheaper Energy.  This would benefit just about every household in the country.  Yes, the extraction process is messy but fracking is considerably safer, cleaner and more efficient than ten years ago.  The government is right to reward households in the regions subject to fracking as compensation for any inconvenience.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area where a PDF of the Editorial is also posted. 



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July 27 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch July 26th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB which contains an interesting discussion on the longevity of products but here is a section on the liquefied natural gas market:

In recent months, two LNG cargoes from Cheniere Energy’s (LNG-NYSE) Sabine Pass export terminal in Louisiana have been delivered to Kuwait and Dubai. So far, since it began shipping LNG in February, Cheniere has sent cargos to seven countries, including Argentina, Chile, Brazil, India, Portugal, Dubai and Kuwait. The shipments to the Middle East reflect the soaring demand for Energy in these countries. (As a testament to the nation’s Energy demand issue, Saudi Arabia recently disclosed it has been drawing on its domestic oil inventories to meet the summer Energy demand surge and to avoid having to further boost oil production above the country’s current 10.5 million barrels a day rate.) As all he countries in the Middle East have rapidly growing populations, their domestic demand is growing and tends to soar during the hot summer months. Most of these countries have large natural gas resources, but other than Qatar, which is currently the world’s largest LNG exporter, they are less developed. We expect the rest of the countries in the region will step up the pace of their natural gas resource development.

In order to appreciate the market potential for cheap U.S. natural gas, Kuwait’s LNG imports exploded from one million tons in 2012 to 3.04 million tons last year, according to the Middle East Economic Survey. We know that Saudi Arabia has been ramping up its drilling for natural gas in order to power more of the country’s water desalination plants and electricity generators. By using more domestic natural gas, Saudi Arabia will be able to reduce the volume of crude oil burned to power these facilitates. That will enable Saudi Arabia to have more of its crude oil output available for export and to generate income for the government, rather than burning it under utility boilers. For the meantime, we expect more U.S. LNG cargos will find their way to the Middle East. Those LNG exports will help to tighten the domestic gas market and send natural gas prices higher as we move into 2017, but we are not sure that the Middle East will become a long-term U.S. LNG export market. But the industry will take whatever demand it can find it now.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

For much of the last century natural gas was in such abundance that it had no economic value and was burned off as a by-product of oil drilling. With increasing demand for less polluting, but Energy dense resources, to provide heating, cooling and cooking natural gas has experienced a renaissance. 



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July 26 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

US to create nationwide network of EV charging stations

This article by John Anderson for Gizmag may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The US government has announced "an unprecedented set of actions" to pump up the country's plug-in electric vehicle market, including US$4.5 billion in loan guarantees to create a nationwide network of commercial scale and fast charging stations. The initiative to push for greater electric car adoption calls for a collaboration between federal and state agencies, utilities, major automakers and other groups.

The initiative will identify zero emission and alternative fuel corridors across the country, to determine the best locations to put in fast charging stations, as part of the Fixing America's Surface Transportation (FAST) Act.

As part of a partnership between the US departments of Energy and transportation, a 2020 vision for a national fast charging network will be developed, with potential longer-term innovations that include up to 350 kW of direct current fast charging. According to the administration, a 350 kW DC system could charge a 200-mile-range battery in less than 10 minutes. For comparison, Tesla just boosted some of its Superchargers' power capacity to 145 kW, which is claimed the fastest currently available.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Governments are getting behind the need for a jump in the efficiency of batteries. If electric vehicle range anxiety is truly to be overcome batteries that can power a car all day, with the air conditioning on, while charging my phone and iPad as I listen to the radio are required. Many people feel they need a workhorse that can fulfil just about any task rather than just commuting. Continued high demand for light trucks is testament to that which is probably why Elon Musk gave a nod to heavier vehicles when announcing his latest growth plan last week. 



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July 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Fracklog in the Biggest U.S. Oil Field May All But Disappear

This article by Ryan Collins and Meenal Vamburkar for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Crude in the $40- to $50-a-barrel range may wipe out most of the fracklog in Texas’s Permian Basin and as much as 70 percent of the inventory in its Eagle Ford play by the end of 2017, according to Bloomberg Intelligence analyst Andrew Cosgrove. While bringing them online is the cheapest way of taking advantage of higher prices, the wave of new supply also threatens to kill the fragile recovery that oil and gas markets have seen so far this year.

“We think that by the end of the third quarter, beginning of the fourth quarter, the bullish catalyst of falling U.S. production will be all but gone,” Cosgrove said in an interview Thursday. “You’ll start to see U.S. production flat lining.”

Drillers that expanded operations in U.S. shale fields found that sidelining wells was the easiest way to cut costs when oil and gas prices plunged. Since then, these wells have been “just sitting around, basically waiting for a better price to come along,” said Het Shah, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

U.S. oil producers extended the biggest shale drilling revival since last summer as rigs targeting oil and gas in the U.S. rose by 7 to 447 last week, according to Baker Hughes Inc. Dave Lesar, chief executive officer of Halliburton Co., the world’s largest provider of hydraulic-fracturing work, said Wednesday that the market in North America has turned and that he expects a “modest uptick” in drilling in the second half of the year.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Unconventional wells are much more expensive than conventional wells but come with some interesting advantages that protect producers from volatility. They have very prolific early production rates which helps to quickly pay off the multi-million dollar cost of setting them up. They then enter a period of time when production falls precipitously. If prices are not high enough to invest in boosting production through fresh drilling then it drillers have the luxury of time as they wait for prices to recover, after all the oil isn’t going anywhere. 



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July 20 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

The Future of Big Oil? At Shell, It Is Not Oil

Here is the opening of this interesting article from Bloomberg:

At Australia’s Curtis Island, you can see Big Oil morphing into Big Gas. Just off the continent’s rugged northeastern coast lies a 667-acre liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal owned by Royal Dutch Shell, an engineering feat of staggering complexity. Gas from more than 2,500 wells travels hundreds of miles by pipeline to the island, where it’s chilled and pumped into 10-story-high tanks before being loaded onto massive ships. “We’re more a gas company than an oil company,” says Ben van Beurden, Shell’s chief executive officer. “If you have to place bets, which we have to, I’d rather place them there.”

Van Beurden is betting on gas projects such as Curtis Island to address the central challenge facing all oil giants: how to survive in a world moving ever faster toward new ways of producing and consuming Energy. A crucial element of Shell’s pivot toward gas was its $54 billion takeover of BG Group. The deal, which closed in February, gave the company Curtis Island, other massive LNG plants, and gas fields from the U.S. to Kazakhstan. It now has a 20 percent share of the global LNG market, scores of giant gas tankers prowling the seas, and double the production capacity of its closest competitor, ExxonMobil.

David Fuller's view -

People of my generation grew up with the seemingly secure ‘miracle’ of cheap and abundantly available crude oil.  However, from the mid-1970s onwards this vision faded into increasing anxiety over finite resources which were rapidly being depleted.  We were told by visionaries, Energy experts, scientists, religious leaders, political parties and national governments that we faced a grim future in which the lights would go out against a background of declining GDP growth and economic collapse.  These views were still widely held beyond the turn of the century.    

This 20th century version of Malthusian catastrophe theory is no longer credible today, thanks to our accelerating rate of technological innovation which is arguably mankind’s greatest achievement. 

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July 20 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain Needs A Can-Do Attitude revolution, With Solutions Rather Than Whining

The challenge for the optimists is to reunite the two Britains. They need to inspire and assuage the angry Remainers, showing all but the most die-hard that the future can be rosy; and they must reach out to those Leavers who feel that they haven’t benefited enough from globalisation.

All groups in society have a responsibility to take part in this project to rebuild Britain for a post-Brexit 21st century. Entrepreneurs and firms need to propose the reforms they believe are required to allow our economy to prosper outside of the EU: we need to hear solutions, not whining, from business. The same is true of other professionals, from university administrators to architects to the police forces, as well as from the charitable sector. Britain needs a “can‑do” revolution, with as many positive ideas as possible from all quarters and perspectives. The question is no longer whether or not to Brexit – it’s how to make it work as well as possible for the whole country.

The Government, for its part, needs to unveil a three-fold programme to woo the sceptics. The first pledge should be to turn Britain into the nation that is the most open to trade of any Western economy in five years’ time. To reach this target, the Government would seek to limit the reimposition of tariff or non-tariff barriers with the EU, while urgently pursuing as many free-trade deals as possible with faster-growing economies worldwide.

The second pledge should be to make the UK the most entrepreneur-friendly country in the West by 2020. This would include tearing up red tape, cutting tax, making it easy for tech firms to continue to hire skilled migrant talent, and encouraging universities to become incubators for start-ups.

Last but not least, the Government should make an explicit promise to Britain’s poorer groups and regions that their opportunities will drastically improve. The free school programme should be turbo-charged by allowing for-profit companies to open new ones, starting in the north of England and Wales before being rolled out nationally; new selective schools should be opened, as part of an extension of parent choice; much more land should be made available for building in the south of England; and expensive green Energy rules should be ditched. Britain is also in desperate need of several low-tax, low-regulation new enterprise zones near universities in poor parts of the North and Wales, with a vision and management structure similar to London’s Canary Wharf.

David Fuller's view -

Governance is Everything, as this service never tires of saying.  Britain is fortunate to have a Prime Minister as intelligent, experienced and increasingly respected as Theresa May.  There are also plenty of other successful leaders, some in Parliament and many more from all professions and backgrounds across the country.  Britain has a proud history of entrepreneurial spirit and will relish the independence that Brexit promises.   There is no external obstacle in the path of this country’s future success.

A PDF of Allister Heath's column is posted in the Subscriber's Area.



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July 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

TerraForm Global Rises amid Talks with SunEdison to Sell Stake

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

TerraForm Global and SunEdison are in talks regarding “a jointly managed sales process and accompanying protocol for managing the marketing process,” according to a presentation posted on TerraForm Global’s website Tuesday. SunEdison is currently involved in the biggest ever sale of clean Energy assets after filing for bankruptcy protection in April with $16.1 billion in liabilities. It has not announced a process for selling its controlling stake in TerraForm Global or its sister yieldco TerraForm Power Inc.

TerraForm Global, a yield company formed by SunEdison to buy clean power plants built by SunEdison outside of the U.S., owns 917 megawatts of solar and wind Energy plants, mostly in southeast Asia and South America. The company had revenue of as much as $52 million in the first quarter, according to the presentation.

It also reported preliminary losses of as much as $350 million for the second half of last year, and a preliminary loss of as much as $8 million for the first quarter of this year.

TerraForm Global has not filed results since the third quarter because it relies on SunEdison for some accounting systems, and the parent company’s results are also delinquent.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Financial engineering contributed to SunEdison’s demise because it divested itself of income producing assets while holding onto liabilities. That worked fine while oil prices were high, demand for solar plants was surging and credit was easy to come by. The decline in oil, natural gas and particularly coal prices questioned the profitability of solar plants and the share collapsed. 



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July 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Oil Tumbles After U.S. Fuel Stockpiles Unexpectedly Increase

This article by Mark Shenk for Bloomberg highlights the nuanced picture evident in the crude oil market. Here is a section: 

U.S. gasoline demand dropped 0.9 percent to 9.67 million barrels a day last week as refiners produced 10.2 million barrels a day of gasoline a day.

"The gasoline data is very bearish," said Thomas Finlon, director of Energy Analytics Group LLC in Wellington, Florida.

"Gasoline production is outstripping demand by more than 500,000 barrels a day." Stockpiles of distillate fuel, a category that includes diesel and heating oil, surged 4.06 million barrels, the most since January.

Gasoline futures for August delivery dropped 4.2 percent to $1.37 a gallon. August diesel tumbled 5.2 percent to $1.3865 after earlier touching $1.3782, a two-month low.
Seasonal Highs

U.S. crude supplies fell 2.55 million barrels to 521.8 million last week, EIA data show. Inventories remain at the highest seasonal level in at least a decade. Analysts surveyed by Bloomberg had forecast a 3 million barrel decline. The industry-funded American Petroleum Institute said stockpiles climbed 2.2 million barrels last week.

"Crude supplies are down a little, but it doesn’t change the overall picture," Finlon said. "They remain at historic highs for this time of the year."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Efforts led by Saudi Arabia to knock higher cost competitors out of the market have been partially successful with the result US production has decreased while the fire in Alberta has been an additional headwind for Canadian supply. However economic growth has yet to be spurred by this development with the result stockpiles are higher than might otherwise have been expected. 



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July 12 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

China Has No Historic Rights in South China Sea, Rules Hague Tribunal

An international tribunal on Tuesday ruled against China's territorial claims in the South China Sea, after the Philippines challenged Beijing's right to exploit resources across vast swathes of the strategic waters.

In a 497-page ruling that risks stoking further tensions in South-East Asia, a Hague-based arbitration court said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights over the waters of the South China Sea and that it had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights with its actions.

China immediately said it would defy the decision, which it described as “null and void” with “no binding force”.

“China neither accepts nor recognises it,” the foreign ministry said.

Beijing had refused to take part in the tribunal proceedings, with officials saying the tribunal had "no juristiction".

China claims almost all of the Energy-rich waters in the South China Sea, through which about $5 trillion (£3.8 trillion) in ship-borne trade passes every year. 

Neighbours Brunei, Malaysia, the Philippines, Taiwan and Vietnam also have claims.

The panel said there was no legal basis for China to claim historic rights to resources within its so-called nine-dash line, a boundary that is the basis for its claim to roughly 85 per cent of the South China Sea.

It said China had interfered with traditional Philippine fishing rights at Scarborough Shoal, one of the hundreds of reefs and shoals dotting the sea, and had breached the Philippines' sovereign rights by exploring for oil and gas near the Reed Bank, another feature in the region.

None of China's reefs and holdings in the Spratly Islands entitled it to a 200-mile exclusive economic zone, it added.

Beijing responded by saying the Chinese government would not accept “third party dispute settlement” with regards to territorial issues.

“China's territorial sovereignty and maritime rights and interests in the South China Sea shall under no circumstances be affected by those awards,” the foreign ministry said in a statement.

The ruling also said China had caused permanent harm to the coral reef ecosystem in the Spratlys, charges China has always rejected.

David Fuller's view -

This situation is now as dangerous as China chooses to make it, and Xi Jinping’s regime may have already gone too far.  Markets are sensibly adjusting to a less alarming Brexit situation, at least so far as Great Britain is concerned, but now face a potentially serious problem in the South China Sea.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area and contains a number of share reviews, plus a PDF of the article.  



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July 08 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

UK Startups Can Shine In a Post-Brexit World

Matt Clifford is the co-founder and chief executive of Entrepreneur First, the five-year-old UK accelerator program, which has produced 75 startups since launch. One of their companies, Magic Pony was sold to Twitter for $150m just last month.

It is just the kind of company you might think would suffer in the immediate aftermath of last month's vote by the UK to leave the European Union. But apparently not. In fact, he had closed three seed investment deals since the result was announced. 

Two weeks on from the referendum results, tech startups are swamped by uncertainty. The overwhelming majority – roughly 87pc according to a recent survey – were opposed to Brexit.

But European investors like Index Ventures and Local Globe insist they are remain bullish on London as a tech hub and will continue to actively invest there because of tax benefits, strong technical universities such as Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial College, and the UK’s large English-speaking market – a combination that’s tough for other European cities to beat.

The persistent “We are open for business” refrain might seem hollow to some, particularly in light of the tech sector’s unequivocal Europhilia. But anecdotal evidence suggests that unexpected windows of opportunity are slowly opening up.

For instance, many agree that there could be unexpected opportunities for financial services disruption that fintech startups are best placed to grab. But first, let’s examine the major concerns being raised about the state of the UK tech sector.  

David Fuller's view -

In an ideal world, the UK economy would have moved smoothly into the post-Brexit era.  However, ideal worlds have usually been pipe dreams.  Therefore, it is better to have started in chaos and panic, to which people are now responding with some sensible, promising ideas, than the other way around.   

Governance is everything has long been a mantra of this service.  I would not underestimate the sense of Energy and opportunity that can now be inspired by good leadership, from the top down, backed by appropriate incentives.  The UK will have a rough third quarter, for understandable reasons.  Thereafter, it should be improving, regardless of what happens to the EU.

A PDF of this article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.



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July 08 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

U.K. to Add 300 Staff to Negotiate Post-Brexit Trade Ties

The U.K. government plans to add as many as 300 specialist staff to its trade team in an effort to build new relationships outside the European Union, Business Secretary Sajid Javid said.

Javid announced the plans ahead of a trade visit to India Friday. He will meet officials in New Delhi to push for an agreement between the two countries by the time Britain officially leaves the EU. Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osborne is due to visit China this month to press his commitment to a “golden era” in relations with the country.

"Following the referendum result, my absolute priority is making sure the U.K. has the tools it needs to continue to compete on the global stage," Javid said in a statement. "Over the coming months, I will be conducting similar meetings with other key trade partners, outlining the government’s vision for what the U.K.’s future trade relationships might look like."

Prime Minister David Cameron is stepping down in September, leaving the task of leading negotiations to take Britain out of the EU to his successor, who will be either Home Secretary Theresa May or Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom. She will have to decide when to trigger the formal start of two years of exit negotiations with the EU, manage the trade-offs involved and lead efforts to establish new commercial relationships with countries around the world.

David Fuller's view -

This is a positive move by Sajid Javid who is wasting no time in negotiating Britain’s new trade deals with the world’s growth economies and also former Commonwealth nations. 

Two years to leave the EU sounds very arbitrary and an awfully long time to leave a failing association.   



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July 08 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Nvidia's GTX 1060 is VR-ready and affordable

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

The GTX 1060 is also fully VR-ready, meaning you can expect a smooth experience using it with the Oculus Rift or HTC Vive. The card is also a lot more Energy efficient for VR gaming, consuming just 120 watts of power during use.

Perhaps the biggest news is the price point of the GTX 1060, which is set at US$249 – less than half the $549 launch price of the performance-comparable GTX 980.

Alongside rival AMD's just-launched RX 480 GPU, the cost of building a VR-ready PC is significantly lower than it was at the launch of the Rift and Vive, dropping from roughly $950 to around $800 or less. That's still a hefty sum, but it'll likely make VR more appealing for PC gamers who have been holding off until now.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Virtual reality applications require major upgrades in both graphics cards and processing power. Gaining access to the enhanced sensory experiences on offer therefore means spending on new phones for a basic version or new computers and other hardware for the best in class. 



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July 06 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

UK listed gold miners

Eoin Treacy's view -

Last year the Rand collapsed but gold prices were reasonably steady. With the fall in Energy prices corporate profits of South African gold miners improved and with returning investor interest the Johannesburg Gold Miners Index turned to outperformance early this year.

The Index failed to sustain the break below 1000 in August then surged higher from early January and continues to improve in line with the breakout in gold prices. While that is in nominal terms, it is an impressive performance nonetheless. 

 



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July 06 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

First Solar Quits TetraSun in Shift to All Thin-Film Panels

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

When First Solar acquired TetraSun, it was producing cadmium-telluride panels with maximum efficiency rates of 13.3 percent, the amount of Energy in sunlight that’s converted to electricity. TetraSun had 21 percent efficiency at the time and the potential for improvement.

The company’s latest cadmium-telluride cell reached a record 22.1 percent efficiency in a laboratory. That’s higher than the best multicrystalline polysilicon cell at 21.3 percent, according to data from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.

SunPower Corp., which uses a purer form of silicon, has the most efficient panels, with 24.1 percent.

“First Solar has achieved surprisingly good results for its thin-film technology,” Jenny Chase, an analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance, said in an e-mail. “First Solar may have felt there was little point in competing in an area where they have no unique advantage over other silicon manufacturers.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The above story highlights how solar panel companies can become the victims of their own success. By purchasing Tetrasun, First Solar was hedging its development of a new product but it is arguable whether that would have worked since there are other cost effective manufacturers of those panels, not least in China. In such a highly competitive market, where the risk of new technologies evolving outside a company’s internal ecosystem is nontrivial, companies might be better off having conviction in their own products than competing on legacy technology. 



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June 30 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Three Hours That Turned Boris Johnson From Winner to Also-Ran

Here is a section from this topical article from Bloomberg

Gove had lost patience with Johnson in the days after the shock Brexit vote, according to a person familiar with the justice secretary’s thinking, speaking on condition of anonymity. Efforts to get him to win over other key players in the Tory Party failed, leading to a much wider field than expected. Energy Minister Andrea Leadsom was among those that Gove had hoped Johnson could win to his team. After meeting Johnson, she decided to run against him.

“We were striving and struggling not just for a dream ticket, but a dream team,” Raab told the BBC. “Putting together a really strong unifying team was an absolute condition. When that fell away, I think that Michael felt things had changed.”

Gove’s announcement came just as Home Secretary Theresa May was preparing her own 9:30 a.m. launch. It could not have been timed better for her. While the former allies were knifing each other, unable to say what leaving the EU was going to look like, May appeared to announce, in the words of Johnson’s biographer Andrew Gimson, that here was “the grown-up candidate.”

May, who supported Cameron’s campaign to stay in the EU, had a plan. Her speech showed commitment to follow the vox populi. She said that there would be no second referendum, no early election, and she sounded like she meant it. She made serious points at Johnson’s expense, saying the country needed “strong leadership and a clear sense of direction,” and she made jokes at Johnson’s expense: “The last time he did a negotiation with the Germans, he came back with three nearly new water cannon.” Weighty, firm, funny -- the many male Tory lawmakers in the room could have been forgiven for thinking of a previous Conservative leader, Margaret Thatcher.

David Fuller's view -

There are plenty of surprises in this Brexit drama of rapidly changing events.  I thought Boris Johnson could have won but as the leader of Brexit he might have had a difficult time healing the Conservative rift.  Politics within the Party can be ruthless but I take the many candidates for PM as a healthy sign. 

Theresa May is the current frontrunner and a likely unifier, so there would be no need for an early general election.  



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June 28 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Now the Vote Is Over, Let Us Move On With Six Steps to a Bright Future

It is easy to see what a messy, bad Brexit looks like. The UK gets shut out of a huge market. Inward investment gets put on hold amid months of uncertainty. The trade deficit starts to blow out, the pound keeps sinking, and joblessness rises as the economy tanks. But what does a good Brexit look like? Here are six key demands business should make of new prime minister as he or she negotiates with Brussels, Berlin and Paris.

First, don't obsess about access to the Europe market. In the first instance, Britain should go for the Norwegian model, with full access to the single market, in return for accepting most of its rules, and paying a more modest financial contribution to Brussels. But if Angela Merkel and François Hollande want to be difficult about that, then forget it. Our trade with the EU has been sinking like a stone for the last decade - down from 55pc of our exports to 44pc over the last 10 years. The very worst that can happen is the EU imposes tariffs of roughly 4pc on our goods. But since the pound has just devalued by around 8pc, companies exporting to Europe can easily absorb that and still cut prices. The most important move is to get the new trading arrangement sorted quickly and to start focusing on the rest of the world.

Two, let's prepare our application to join other trade blocs. We are on the North Atlantic, so there is no reason we shouldn't join the United States, Canada and Mexico in Nafta (its combined GDP is $3 trillion more than the EU, by the way). There is no reason why the rules shouldn't be tweaked to allow us to join the new Trans Pacific Partnership as well. Switzerland has signed a free trade agreement with China, and why shouldn't we - surprise, surprise, but Swiss exports to that country have quadrupled in a decade. The sooner we build alternatives to the EU market and forge our own trade agreements with economies that are growing far faster, the quicker the world will be convinced Brexit doesn't matter much.

Thirdly, push through a wave of deregulation. The Left will hate it, but Britain's economic future is now clear. We will be a free-wheeling offshore state that acts as a bridge between Europe and the rest of the world. Think Singapore, except bigger and with worse weather.

We should scrap EU-mandated labour market regulations and social protections as fast as possible. There is no reason why we should accept European limits on how many hours people do in the office - so long as we have a minimum wage in place, which we do, then it is up to every individual how long a shift he or she wants to put in. Issues such as parental leave can be freely agreed between companies and staff. Employers who want to hire lots of young women, the best educated, most skilled part of the workforce, will be generous; others less so. But business can decide for itself.

Fourthly, drop specific taxes. The City faces a huge challenge in adjusting to Brexit. There is no point denying that a lot of mainstream corporate business will start to move to Frankfurt. One move that would help it a lot would be scrapping the bank levy - it is currently forecast to bring in more than £900m a year, cash the industry could use to get it through a difficult period. Next, we should scrap Energy taxes and rules that have made power more than twice as expensive in Europe as it is in the United States. That will help the manufacturing industry as it battles with the potential loss of some orders from Europe. The more help we can give to specific sectors of the economy, the faster it will recover.

Fifthly, upgrade our infrastructure. The cost of government borrowing has dropped to record lows and the Bank of England may need to print more money to stimulate the economy. We should relax on austerity and spend some money on better transport links and rebuilding roads, water and power systems. A flash new London airport would make us far more open to the world than anything the EU has done in the last decade - and send out a great signal that the UK was still open to international business.

David Fuller's view -

These are positive suggestions for not only economic recovery but also prosperity.  Matthew Lynn is correct to start with saying we should not be obsessing over access to the EU market.  Some EU leaders may be difficult to negotiate with, not least Jean-Claude Juncker whose appointment as European Commission President was opposed by David Cameron.  Junker strongly favours ‘more Europe’, if only to deter member countries from pushing for their own versions of Brexit.  However, the EU has far more to gain from keeping trade terms open with the UK, given the trade imbalance.  Germany’s automobile manufacturers would be among the most aggrieved if they did not.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area where a PDF of Matthew Lynn’s article is also posted.



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June 27 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musing from the Oil Patch June 27th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section: 

This inverse relationship between the value of the U.S. dollar and the price of crude oil has been very clear for most of this century. Will it continue in the future? More than likely it will, partly because, while the relationship is logical, it has become a short-term trading indicator. In the past several weeks, after WTI reached and surpassed the $50 a barrel threshold, one could virtually answer the question of what happened to oil prices each day if you were told what happened to the value of the U.S. dollar that day.

After watching this ying and yang of oil price movements and the value of the U.S. dollar, we were interested in the two-page chart on the profits of the Fortune 500 companies by sector over the past 20 years. We cut out the pages and scanned the chart (Exhibit 7 below), shrinking it to fit on one page. Unfortunately, we lost the 1995-1996 part of the chart, but the visual impact of the chart remains relevant.

What struck us while looking at the chart was the huge bulge in Energy profits during 2005-2012 before they started contracting and then collapsed after oil prices dropped at the end of 2014. The Energy sector profits during that period were driven by high oil prices - $80-$100+ per barrel, even after adjusting for the 2008-2009 financial crisis and recession. As Energy profits mushroomed during the era of high oil prices and the shale revolution, it was easy for Wall Street to convince investors to throw money at exploration and production and oilfield service companies who were leading America to the promised land of Energy independence. The Energy stocks were soaring as analysts and investors fell in love with the shale revolution that married horizontal drilling with massive hydraulic fracturing to produce huge volume of natural gas, natural gas liquids and tight oil. Remember that it was during this era that we were assured that we had hundreds of years of cheap natural gas supply. One Wall Street firm even wrote a report explaining how this revolution was turning us into ‘Saudi America.” 

The chart shows clearly what happens when an ill-founded boom collapses. As you scan the lower right hand corner of the chart, it is very difficult to see the thin black line reflecting current Energy sector profits, or what is left of the thick line that existed throughout most of the 2000s. In fact, if oil prices hadn’t climbed back to $50 recently, it is possible that the thin line would become impossible to see as there wouldn’t be any profits. Many investing in Energy today are hopeful that one day in the foreseeable future that thin black line will once again become a thick black line. We are comfortable is saying the line will be thicker, we just don’t know how thick it will eventually grow and when that will be.

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The Dollar Index failed to sustain the move below 92.5 in May and has now bounced back above the 200-day MA. Considering the size of the upward dynamic a retest of the upper side of the 18-month range, near the psychological 100 is now looking more likely than not. 



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June 23 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Solar Power to Grow Sixfold as Sun Becoming Cheapest Resource

Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg:

The amount of electricity generated using solar panels stands to expand as much as sixfold by 2030 as the cost of production falls below competing natural gas and coal-fired plants, according to the International Renewable Energy Agency.

Solar plants using photovoltaic technology could account for 8 percent to 13 percent of global electricity produced in 2030, compared with 1.2 percent at the end of last year, the Abu Dhabi-based industry group said in a report Wednesday. The average cost of electricity from a photovoltaic system is forecast to plunge as much as 59 percent by 2025, making solar the cheapest form of power generation “in an increasing number of cases,” it said.

Renewables are replacing nuclear Energy and curbing electricity production from gas and coal in developed areas such as Europe and the U.S., according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance. California’s PG&E Corp. is proposing to close two nuclear reactors as wind and solar costs decline. Even as supply gluts depress coal and gas prices, solar and wind technologies will be the cheapest ways to produce electricity in most parts of the world in the 2030s, New Energy Finance said in a report this month.

“The renewable Energy transition is well underway, with solar playing a key role,” Irena Director General Adnan Amin said in a statement. “Cost reductions, in combination with other enabling factors, can create a dramatic expansion of solar power globally.”

David Fuller's view -

My guess is that even these optimistic forecasts will be significantly exceeded by 2030, as the solar power industry becomes progressively more efficient.  Moreover, the accelerated rate of technological innovation will lead to new forms of solar power which are all but unimaginable today.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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June 23 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

IBM to deliver 200-petaflop supercomputer by early 2018

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

More supercomputer news this week: The US is responding to China’s new Sunway TiahuLight system that was announced Monday, and fast. First, the Department of Energy’s (DOE) Oak Ridge National Laboratory is expected to take delivery of a new IBM system, named Summit, in early 2018 that will now be capable of 200 peak petaflops, Computerworld reports. That would make it almost twice as fast as TaihuLight if the claim proves true. (We had originally reported in 2014 that both Summit and Sierra would achieve roughly 150 petaflops.)

TaihuLight (pictured below) now sits at number one on the twice-yearly TOP500 list of the fastest supercomputers in the world, with a Linpack benchmark score of 93 petaflops and a claimed peak of 124.5 petaflops. The latest TOP500 announcement Monday caused a bit of a stir. Not only is TaihuLight roughly three times faster than China’s Tianhe-2, the prior champion, but it also uses no US-sourced parts at all for the first time, as it’s powered by Sunway 260-core SW26010 processors that are roughly on par with Intel Xeon Phi, as well as custom proprietary interconnect.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Supercomputers might be a somewhat esoteric topic but the fact China has developed the fastest computer in the world without requiring US sourced components is a major testament to the technological competence it has achieved. In turn that should help Chinese researchers to further develop artificial intelligence and big data projects. 



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June 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Nuclear in North America and Europe suffers from a boy who cried wolf problem. By over promising on cost and production and under delivering, particularly on safety, public ambivalence has grown substantially. That’s an unfortunate development because new nuclear technologies really do hold the potential to fulfil earlier promises, but they are unlikely to be built in either North America or Europe. China is now the primary bastion of support for developing nuclear technology and is already exporting its designs to other countries. 



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June 22 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Let’s call Tesla Motor’s acquisition of SolarCity what it is; a bailout. The tide of highly attractive subsidies for solar has turned. NV Energy, Warren Buffett’s Nevada utility, successfully argued that it should not have to bear the full cost of the electrical grid when solar producers get to use it for free and get preferential rates on the electricity they supply. That represented a major upset for SolarCity in particular but also highlighted a deeper challenge for the solar leasing business model which has contributed to increased scepticism among investors about the prospects for related companies. The big question is whether other states, particularly in the sun-belt will announce similar charging structures. 



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June 20 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

OPEC Chasm of Doom

Here is the opening of this informative article from Bloomberg:

OPEC's members are divided by many things: language; size; politics; sometimes outright war.

And money. Don't forget money.

If you want to understand why OPEC has responded to its current crisis with all the cohesion of cat herding, some numbers in the Energy Information Administration's "OPEC Revenue Fact Sheet," published on Tuesday, provide some important clues. First up, estimated revenue, adjusted for inflation:

Tight Oil

OPEC's real net oil export revenue is expected to be the lowest since 2003

The estimate for this year, $337 billion in real terms, is barely a third of 2012's peak -- and, uncannily, exactly the same as the consensus forecast for the combined revenue of Exxon Mobil and Chevron in 2016. Of course, those two only have to pay their employees, creditors and shareholders. OPEC's members have about 700 million people to answer to, roughly double the amount in 1980. So, on a per capita basis, those numbers look worse:

David Fuller's view -

Note the charts in this article, including: “The gap between OPEC’s haves and have-nots in terms of oil export revenue.  



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June 20 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.S. Gasoline Demand Is Likely to Slide

This article by Lynn Cook for the Wall Street Journal may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Even the low end of the forecast by Wood Mackenzie, which provides in-depth analysis for a wide range of clients including large oil companies, utilities and banks, is a more bullish outlook for electric-car adoption than many oil-and-gas companies have espoused.

Spencer Dale, the chief economist of Energy company BP PLC, said last week in Houston that while he expects electric cars to start gaining traction, the internal-combustion engine still has significant advantages over electric alternatives and widespread adoption won’t happen in the next two decades.

“It will still take some time,” Mr. Dale said. “Electric vehicles will happen. It is a sort of when, not if, story.”

The electrification of the automobile has evolved more slowly than some expected, in part thanks to low fuel prices and limited battery life that meant drivers had to recharge every 100 miles. But more capable cars are coming to market as tightening air-pollution regulations in places such as Europe and China force auto makers to engineer better electric vehicles.

The U.S. market today remains tiny, with pure electric cars amounting to less than 1% of total sales so far this year. But Tesla’s decision to build cars with sizable batteries that can run for more than 200 miles before recharging has led a number of competitors to double down on their own electric-car designs.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Tesla remains the standard bearer for electric cars because, more than any other company, it has succeeded in marketing a car people aspire to own. However it is not the only, or even the biggest company manufacturing electric vehicles. In fact Tesla’s success ensures it will deal with a lot more competition as incumbent manufacturers release their own models. 



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June 17 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Expect Much Higher Oil Prices As the Cycle Comes To an End

In my last article for OilPrice.com (May 16, 2016), I laid out my reasoning for a prediction that the Global Oil Markets would soon be back in balance. Picking an exact date when an oil cycle will end is difficult, but they do call them “cycles” for a reason. This cycle is no different than all of the others that came before it. Oil producers and consumers respond to price changes, which brings supply & demand back into balance, just like they always do.

The last six major oil price cycles lasted an average of two years. This one started in July, 2014.

On June 14, 2016 the International Energy Agency (IEA) issued their monthly Oil Market Report. In the report the IEA revises their first quarter increase in global demand forecast from a 1.4 to 1.6 million barrel per day year-over-year increase. They are also forecasting a big spike in demand of 1,270,000 barrels per day from the 2nd quarter to the 3rd quarter. Since demand ALWAYS spikes in the 3rd quarter, this was not a surprise to anyone.

Since this cycle has been so severe, I predict that it will not end well for speculative traders that continue to short oil futures. If some of you purchased a gas guzzling SUV because you believed the talking heads that said oil would never sell for $100/bbl again, you may want to consider a smaller second car.

• Global oil production in May was 590,000 barrels per day less than it was a year ago.

• Nigeria’s oil sector is under attack and the situation seems to be getting worse

• OPEC production fell by 110,000 barrels per day as increases in Iranian production were more than offset by big losses in Nigeria, Libya and Venezuela

• Global demand is up 1,600,000 barrels per day year-over-year as Chinese demand has held up and demand from India is very strong

Canadian wildfires at their peak took 1,500,000 barrels per day off the market. This production should be restored in the 3rd quarter. The situations in Nigeria, Libya and Venezuela are much worse. Inf fact, there is now concern that the government in Venezuela may collapse under the debt load created by low oil prices.

The direction of the oil market should now be crystal clear to everyone. Demand growth is relentless. The products refined from oil are essential to a high standard of living on this planet. We will all complain when gasoline is back over $3.00/gallon, but we will continue to pay for it. Within 6 to 9 months, demand for oil should exceed production. High storage levels provide a cushion, but oil prices will continue to ramp higher.

David Fuller's view -

Dan Steffens is correct in saying that there is always an oil cycle.  In fact, commodities have long been among the most cyclical of all markets.  He is also right in saying that demand for oil is clearly rising – have a look at the graph in his report.  Yes, production of oil is falling as demand is rising.  That is what happens in a cyclical commodity market. 

However, Dan Steffens is also overlooking some important factors, one of which is even more important than all of his bullish points combined. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.  



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June 17 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Crude oil accelerated to its January low and has since staged in an impressively consistent rally which has seen prices almost double. This has resulted in Energy companies being a major contributor in the ability of the wider market to rally from the January lows. For example the majority of the top 10 best performers on the S&P500 year-to-date are Energy/resources related. 



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June 15 2016

Commentary by David Fuller

Watch These Synthetic Leaves Suck CO2 Out of the Sky

Here is the opening of this interesting article from Bloomberg on reducing a problem which is contributing to climate change:

We’ve added more than half a billion tons of carbon to the air since the industrial revolution. This device could help clean it up.

What about all the carbon we've already poured into the atmosphere? If only there were a device that could take some of it back out.

Researchers at Arizona State University’s Center for Negative Carbon Emissions are working on one. They discovered a commercially available resin that can grab carbon dioxide at low concentrations when the material is dry and release it when the material is moist. The CO2 it collects could be stored underground, used in greenhouses, or fed to algae for biofuel production.

"Right now, we are taking carbon out of the ground. We then convert the Energy into something useful. Then there’s a third step that we ignore—namely, to clean up after ourselves," said Klaus Lackner, the center’s director.

Technology can solve all manmade atmospheric problems and it is obviously in our interests to do so.  The process described in the article above will be unobtrusive in the process.  Scientific developments which help the planet are a no brainer and will most likely eventually make a profit in the process. 

David Fuller's view -

The accompanying video is more informative than the article.   



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June 15 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

The natural gas market was the original recipient of the innovations that led to the boom in unconventional supply. Since then it has offered an object lesson in the ramifications of how that is likely to play out for other commodities where supply is surging not least oil. The greatest beneficiaries have been consumers who have seen prices for essential Energy commodities decline to levels not preciously imaginable. That has also resulted in demand increasing not least from substitution which has also benefitted consumers in other sectors. 



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June 14 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch June 14th 2016

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ ever interesting report for PPHB. Here is a section on electric car demand:

As electricity is gaining importance in the nation’s Energy mix, the role of electric vehicles is being promoted by environmentalists who see them as a way to end the use of petroleum. These same groups are pushing electric cars as the perfect vehicle for autonomous vehicles that are envisioned as a way to reduce the number of cars needed in future economies, with concomitant less use of petroleum fuels. As they build their case, we have been overwhelmed by articles praising the increase in the number of electric vehicles in today’s vehicle stock and how they will (need to) grow in order to fulfil the UN climate change agreement. 

A recent electric car article offered the chart in Exhibit 3 (next page) showing how the number of these vehicles in the world have grown. The chart reflects the cumulative total between 2010 and 2015, showing dramatic growth. Because it is cumulative, the growth is deceiving. More important is the penetration rate of electric vehicles into the world vehicle fleet. 

As the chart shows, the global industry has over 1.2 million electric vehicles on the world’s roads – but that is out of an estimated one billion vehicles. The point is that for all the dramatic growth (which presentation charts can make look impressive) in the number of electric vehicles on the roads, they barely register as a component of the global vehicle fleet total.

An interesting area for research into the success of electric cars is to see how many of them are owned by governments – federal, state and municipal – along with ones purchased by utility companies in an effort to demonstrate their environmental sensitivity. Our guess is that in the U.S. these buyers would account for the largest portion of the electric vehicles on the road. That would suggest that real consumers – not those motivated by making political statements – are not embracing electric vehicles, despite the concerted efforts of governments to promote them through mandates and financial

If we look at the dark green portion of each bar that represents the number of electric cars in the United States, the country has gone from a minimal number in 2010 to 400,000 vehicles in 2015. Yes, that is dramatic growth, but the 2015 number is less than half the number President Barack Obama called for to be on America’s roads. More telling is the difference between the height of the dark green portion of the bar in 2014 and 2015, showing that the industry added slightly over 100,000 vehicles. That number comes in a year when the U.S. auto industry produced and sold over 17 million vehicles. The penetration of electric cars into the American vehicle stock is paltry as 400,000 units barely registers in a fleet of about 300 million vehicles on the road. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area. 

Electric vehicles (EVs) are on an exponential growth curve. However we are still in the very early stages of that growth where big numbers do not equate to large numbers of vehicles on the road. For example Tesla’s orders for more than 400,000 Model 3s is equivalent to the entire US fleet of EVs on the road today. With that kind of growth rate it’s important to keeps one’s feet grounded in reality. 



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June 13 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Innovation in the chemistry that supports batteries has been a lot more difficult to achieve than the Moore’s law related enhancements that have been commonplace in chip manufacturing and increasingly in solar technologies. Nevertheless as the requirement for storage grows increasingly urgent, the capital expended on R&D is expanding and innovations are being achieved. In the meantime economies of scale through larger manufacturing plants are helping to drive efficiencies. 



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June 10 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

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.

And

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.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

A link to the full report is posted in the Subcsriber's Area.

The evolution of renewable Energy technology represents a major paradigm shift for the Energy sector not least because the cost of production continues to decrease independently of the oil price and environmental concerns result in a compelling case for adoption. In tandem with wind and solar, the rollout of electric vehicles is a related but separate development which is likely to represent a continued headwind for demand growth.



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June 02 2016

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

A Cautionary Tale from the '80s for Today's Loan Participations

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Christopher Whalen for the American Banker. Here is a section: 
 

 

Since 2013, the federal regulatory agencies have been warning banks and investors about the potential risks in leveraged lending. These warnings have been both timely and prescient, particularly in view of the ongoing credit debacle in the Energy sector. In addition to the well-documented credit risk posed by leverage loans, we believe that the widespread practice of selling participations in leveraged loans represents a significant additional risk to financial institutions and other investors from this asset class.

While regulators have appropriately focused on the credit risk component of leveraged loans held by banks and nonbanks alike, the use of participations to distribute risk exposures to other banks and nonbank investors also raises significant prudential and systemic risk concerns. The weakness in oil prices, for example, has caused investors to cut exposure to companies in the Energy sector. This shift in asset allocations caused by the decline in oil prices has negatively impacted prices for leveraged loans and high yield bonds. In some cases, holders of these securities are attempting to exit these exposures by securitizing the participations.

The investor exodus away from leveraged loans with exposure to the petroleum sector brings back memories of the 1970s oil bust, an economic shock that led to the failure of Penn Square Bank in 1982, the subsequent failure of Seafirst Bank later in that year, followed by Continental Illinois Bank in 1984. Before its failure, Penn Square technically continued to "own" — and service — loan interests held by other banks with participations. As receiver for the failed bank, the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. deemed those investors to be nothing more than general creditors of the failed bank's estate. Those participating banks lost their entire investment.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Leveraged loans issuance overtook the 2007 peak a couple of years ago. That fact is bemusing to many people who remember claims that bankers would never again engage in such activity. Yet with interest rates so low and the demand for yield so high the rationale for issuing to less than optimal borrowers is hard to resist. 



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