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June 23 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on feeling intimidated by the speed of a breakout

In today’s video you made two very valid points:

•    The five largest stocks account for 45% of the US Biotech Index.
Biotech stocks present a short to medium term investment opportunity.

The chart for a leading biotech ETF (see below).  This potential investor finds the chart more than a little frightening.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email and I agree explosive breakouts can be hard to deal with. At The Chart Seminar we define ranges as explosions waiting to happen. Ranges are boring relative to the trending phases so we tend to be surprised by the ferocity of breakouts when they occur even though when a range is completed we expect prices to rise quickly because the breakout punctures a vacuum of supply above the range. 



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June 22 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Foxconn Dangles $10 Billion Tech Investment to Create U.S. Jobs

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

The billionaire however focused primarily on Hon Hai’s plans for the longer term. Apple’s main manufacturing partner, which does most production in China, makes everything from smartphones to PCs with a growing clout that has seen it courted by governments around the world.

Gou promised to ramp up investment in the U.S., possibly helping with a rust-belt economic revival. Dubbed “Flying Eagle,” Foxconn’s plan to build a U.S. facility could create tens of thousands of American jobs during Trump’s first year in office. The company is considering a joint investment with Sharp, but details have yet to be hammered out.

In the nearer term, Hon Hai’s shares are riding high as Apple prepares to unveil its latest iPhone -- one of the most- anticipated devices of 2017. The shares closed little changed in Taipei after reaching a record earlier this week.

Hon Hai reported first-quarter earnings short of estimates after a stronger Taiwan dollar squeezed profit in the lull before the new iPhone. That came after a year in which smartphone shipments grew at their slowest pace on record and PC demand continued to flounder. In 2016, Hon Hai’s sales fell 2.8 percent while net income rose just 1.2 percent. Gou said Thursday that revenue and profit this year would be better.
Over the longer term, Gou is re-tooling Foxconn for the future, installing robots to offset rising labor costs in China.

It’s also investing in emergent fields from virtual reality to artificial intelligence.
Hon Hai makes a wide range of electronic devices from HP laptops and Xiaomi handsets to Sony PlayStation game consoles.

But Apple is by far its most important client, yielding roughly half the company’s revenues.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Foxconn employs 1 million people in China but is also one of the largest investors in robotic Technology to try and mitigate its reliance on human labour. Any factory built in the USA will likely employ a lot of people in the construction phase but will be highly automated to control headcount. 



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June 20 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on companies benefitting from cryptocurrency mining:

Re. your companies associated with Crypto mining - would Softbank come into this after purchasing ARM last year - or were their chip designs of a different application?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question. I’ve done quite a bit of digging and I can’t find ARM listed as a manufacturer of chips that can be used to mine cryptocurrencies.  

While the number of cryptocurrencies is proliferating it is important to highlight that not all use the same kind of Technology. For example bitcoin mining is largely confined to ASIC machines manufactured in China and sold on Amazon for example. This article contains quite a bit of detail of which are the best machines. 

 



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June 19 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Clovis's ovarian cancer drug set for label expansion, shares soar

This article by Natalie Grover for Reuters may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Clovis's late-stage trial was designed to move its drug, Rubraca, up to a second-line treatment and later, a maintenance treatment. Maintenance therapy immediately follows initial treatment to keep patients cancer-free if they go into remission.

Rubraca, like Tesaro Inc's Zejula and AstraZeneca Plc's Lynparza, belongs to a closely watched class of new medicines called PARP inhibitors, which blocks enzymes that repair damaged DNA, helping kill cancer cells in the process.

Rubraca was granted accelerated approval in December by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) to treat patients whose cancer tested positive for defective BRCA genes, and whose disease had advanced despite two or more rounds of chemotherapy.

BRCA gene mutations are known to raise the risk of breast and ovarian cancers.

Clovis's latest study included 564 patients and tested Rubraca against a placebo in patients with various gene mutations who had undergone initial platinum-based chemotherapy.

When given Rubraca, women with recurrent ovarian cancer lived a median 10.8 months without their disease worsening, compared with 5.4 months for women on a placebo, Clovis said.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Immuno-oncology represents an exciting evolving subsector within the much broader bioTechnology theme. It represents the cutting edge of customised medicine where an increasing number of therapies are being developed for very specific attack vectors to target cancers even in late stage patients as detailed above. Considering the fact that tools to measure the immune system’s response to infections didn’t really exist until at least the 1950s, immunology and its many iterations from rheumatism to cancer represent significant growth themes. 



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June 16 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Tim Cook on Donald Trump, the HomePod and the Legacy of Steve Jobs

MEGAN MURPHY: You’ve talked about Steve Jobs and how you revere him. How much time do you spend thinking about what people will say about your legacy at Apple?
 
TIM COOK: None. To be totally honest with you, I don’t think in those terms. I think more about doing stuff. I hope people remember me as a good and decent man. And if they do, then that’s success.

Steve’s DNA will always be the base for Apple. It’s the case now. I want it to be the case in 50 years, whoever’s the CEO. I want it to be the case in 100 years, whoever’s CEO. Because that is what this company is about. His ethos should drive that—the attention to detail, the care, the ­simplicity, the focus on the user and the user experience, the focus on building the best, the focus that good isn’t good enough, that it has to be great, or in his words, “insanely great,” that we should own the proprietary Technology that we work with because that’s the only way you can control your future and control your quality and user experience. And you should have the courage to walk away and be honest with yourself when you do something wrong, that you shouldn’t be so married to your position and your pride that you can’t say, “I’m changing directions.” These kind of things, these guardrails, should be the basis for Apple a century from now. It’s like the Constitution, which is the guide for the United States. It should not change. We should revere it.

In essence, these principles that Steve learned over many years are the basis for Apple. It doesn’t mean the company hasn’t changed. The company’s going to change. It’s going to go into different product areas. It’s going to learn and adjust. Many things have changed in the company, even in the last six to seven years. But our “Constitution” shouldn’t change. It should remain the same. I think of it as a North Star. It’s always important to have that in mind as you make decisions. It ­actually makes decision-making much simpler.

I was a little surprised the HomePod was pitched primarily as a music device when the competitive talk is of Amazon Echo’s Alexa and the immersive experience in the home. How will the HomePod better integrate Apple inside people’s lives?

We’re actually already in the home through the iPhone you take with you everywhere. It’s in your pocket or laying on a stand. Today, pre-HomePod, I can control my home using Siri through the iPhone. When I get up in the morning, my iPhone is my alarm clock. I say, “Good morning,” and all of a sudden my lights come on. The temperature adjusts and a series of things occur. We’re also in the home through Apple TV. Many people use iPad as their computing device. The desktop Mac enjoys a place in the home. The thing that has arguably not gotten a great level of focus is music in the home. So we decided we would combine great sound and an intelligent speaker.

So it’s going to be a holistic process joining up all those touch points so people can exercise control over their lives, whether through Siri or iPad?

To put it in perspective, Siri is getting requests from 375 million devices right now. My guess is it’s the largest by far of any kind of assistant. Some of those requests are done in the home. Some of those are done on the go. That’s the platform that we build off. It’s very different from our starting point. We’re also in so many languages around the world: Siri isn’t just in English. We’re well-positioned around the world. So, again, what is the thing that’s missing in this equation? The combination of quality audio and instinct.

David Fuller's view -

Apple is the market capitalisation leader of a dozen or so mega-tech shares which are almost independent of the pathetic political storms so often brewing in Washington D.C.  The main long-term challenge for these tech giants remains governance and competition. While obviously his own man, Tim Cook shares his mentor’s passion for excellence in this competitive field, including functionality, design and reliability.  Hopefully, Apple’s record cash balance will continue to be used wisely in terms of the share’s long-term development.

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June 16 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Many Rivers to Cross Decarbonization breakthroughs and challenges

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from J.P. Morgan Private Bank which may be or interest. Here is a section: 

New York. This is more of a theoretical exercise, since in NY, wind/solar comprise only 3% of electricity generation. But in principle, NY could also reduce CO2 emissions to 90 MT per GWh in exchange for a ~15% increase in system costs. One difference vs California is that NY’s build-out would start from a much lower base. The other difference is that storage is less optimal given lower NY solar capacity factors. Instead, a more cost-effective approach to reaching the deeper 60% emissions reduction target would be to build more wind/solar and discard (“curtail”) the unused amount, and not build any storage.

Conclusions. Scale and innovation are creating cost-benefit tradeoffs for decarbonizing the grid that are more favorable than they were just a few years ago, even when including backup thermal power costs. However, this is likely to be a gradual process rather than an immediate one. Bottlenecks of the past were primarily related to the high capital cost of wind, solar and storage equipment. The next phase of the renewable electricity journey involves bottlenecks of the future: public policy and the construction/cost of transmission are two of the larger ones7. As is usually the case with renewables, there’s a lot of hyperbole out there. The likely trajectory: renewables meet around one third of US electricity demand in 2040, with fossil fuels still providing almost twice that amount

Eoin Treacy's view -

Energy storage solutions have been evolving for a long time but the advances in battery Technology has potential to revolutionise the sector. However he cost of those batteries still needs to come down a lot for them to truly have a transformational impact on the cost of generating and storing energy. What is clear from the above report is that the continued build out of renewable energy solutions, with or without storage, represents an additional cost for consumers over the lengthy medium term without a major advancement in battery Technology.  



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June 15 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Goldman-backed startup Circle launches no-fee foreign payments service

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

Circle Internet's international money transfer service, built on a type of blockchain called Ethereum, will allow customers to send payments between U.S. dollars, British pound sterling or euros on their mobile phones. There are no fees or foreign exchange mark-ups.

International payments, according to Circle's chief executive officer and founder, Jeremy Allaire, should not take days to be processed and should be as easy and frictionless as sending an email.

"When's the last time you sent a 'cross-border email'?" Allaire said in an interview. "The idea of cross-border payments is going to completely go away. ... Our vision is for there to be no distinction between international and domestic payments."

Circle, which processed over $1 billion in transactions in 2016 and whose customer base increased more than 10-fold in the year up to last month, does not make money from its payments service, nor does it plan to, as it reckons consumers expect these services to be free.
"We don't think there is any money to be made in payments anymore," said Allaire. "The entire business model of extracting a toll or having time delays around the movement of value is going away completely."

Instead, the company makes money by trading bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, both on digital currency exchanges and over the counter, at a time when the value of such web-based currencies has reached record highs. Last month alone, Circle traded over $800 million in digital assets, it said in a statement.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Blockchain Technology is increasingly being viewed as a way of transferring data from one location to another in a secure manner that is immune from the types of threats that have assailed the SWIFT network; most spectacularly with the Bangladesh heist. However, speculating on the value of crypto currencies as a business model would appear to be fraught with dangers. 



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June 14 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

June 14 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

ADAS - who has the credentials to succeed?

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank focusing on auto parts suppliers focusing on autonomous driving. Here is a section: 

Three key drivers of wider ADAS adoption in China
Although there are no regulatory requirements for ADAS adoption, the inclusion of ADAS features will boost scores in China’s official safety rating (C-NCAP) starting 2018. Moreover, we note that local brand OEMs have been adding ADAS features in their new models, probably as a means to compete with similarly priced JV products, which lack those features. Last but not least, in China’s “Made in 2025” master plan, the government highlights new auto technologies as a focus for the country’s Technology advancement, along with target ADAS penetration levels for local brands by 2020 and 2025. This gives China a more visible path for ADAS adoption growth than other countries.

We envision a long-term ADAS market of USD24bn
We have performed a proprietary ADAS market size analysis, mainly based on target ADAS levels and penetration across different timeframes. We use the sensor segment as an anchor to derive an overall ADAS demand forecast given the segment’s higher transparency vs. other fragmented ADAS component segments. In summary, we estimate that the Chinese sensor market could reach USD6bn in 2020 (2025E: USD12bn) and the total ADAS market could be worth up to USD12bn (2025E: USD24bn).

A few Chinese companies expected to outshine many others
Currently, major global part suppliers dominate the ADAS market. We can identify at least c.30 Chinese suppliers involved in the space. However, most of these local companies still have too limited an exposure for ADAS to make a difference to their profit and outlook. In this report, we identify six companies that we believe can become meaningful players in various ADAS markets. We value them using forward P/E vs. their growth prospects. Our top Buys are Nexteer and Joyson considering their advanced ADAS knowhow, which can rival global peers’. Sector upside risks include faster-than-expected ADAS adoption and positive scale effects. Downside risks include a slow pick-up in ADAS sales and local players’ inability to compete with foreign suppliers.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

Traditional auto parts manufacturers are facing an existential challenge because the rise of electric vehicles means demand growth for their products is evaporating. That leaves open potential for wide disparities in performance between companies within the sector with the delineating factor being how well leveraged they are to supplying the kinds of sensors, cameras and motors new technologies require. 



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June 14 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Copper demand from electric vehicles to be nine times higher by 2027

This piece from the International Copper Association may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Electric vehicles use a substantial amount of copper in their batteries, and in the windings and copper rotors used in electric motors. A single car can have up to six kilometers of copper wiring. The metal is also required for busbars, used to connect modules and cells in battery packs, and in charging infrastructure.

Whilst most cars use internal combustion engines that require up to 23 kg of copper, the IDTechEX research found that a hybrid electric vehicle uses 40 kg of copper, a plug-in hybrid electric vehicle uses 60 kg, a battery electric vehicle 83 kg, and a hybrid electric bus 89 kg. A battery-powered electric bus can use 224–369 kg of copper, depending on the size of battery used.

“Copper has the highest conductivity of any non-precious metal, and plays an important role in all energy production, but it is particularly important for future sustainable Technology applications such as electric vehicles,” said Colin Bennett, Market Analysis and Outreach, ICA. “Copper increases the efficiency and reliability of these vehicles and is itself a sustainable material, as it is 100% recyclable without loss of properties.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The automotive sector is betting big on electric vehicles while also attempting to figure out how autonomy will function and what that means for ownership and miles driven assumptions. With battery Technology improving all the time and with considerable investment flowing into the sector the potential for the electric vehicle market to grow from its current relatively modest footprint is considerable. 



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June 13 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Russian hackers breached voting systems in 39 US states

This article by Cara McGoogan for The Telegraph may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Russian tampering with US voting systems ahead of the presidential election last November was more widespread than initially thought with almost double the number of states affected investigators have revealed.

Investigators told Bloomberg that hackers linked to Russia breached the voting systems of as many as 39 states ahead of the election in which Donald Trump became president.

Cyber attackers accessed voter databases and software used by poll workers, according to Bloomberg. Campaign finance details were accessed in at least one state. And in Illinois the hackers attempted to edit or delete voter information, investigators found.  

The Obama administration complained to Russia about the intrusions in an unprecedented use of a modern-day "red phone", a secure messaging channel between the countries.  

The news follows the leak of classified National Security Agency documents to the Intercept, which showed Russia's military intelligence department conducted a cyber-attack against at least one major US voting supplier.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

This article from Wired focusing on the use of a new program to target key pieces of utility infrastructure is an additional aspect to the evolving cybersecurity theme. 



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June 12 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Rejection of Theresa May's Little Englander 'Brexit' is Splendid News

The EEA would in principle allow Britain to preserve open trade with the EU single market and retain passporting rights for the City of London, the goose that lays the golden egg for a very vulnerable British economy.

“We should use the EEA as a vehicle to lengthen the transition time,” said Lord (David) Owen, one-time Labour foreign secretary and doyen of the EEA camp.

“Theresa May’s massive mistake has been to allow talk of a hard Brexit to run and run, and to refuse to frame a deal in a way that makes sense for the Europeans. The logic of the EEA is irrefutable,” he said.

Lord Owen said the EU’s withdrawal clause, ‘Article 50’, is designed as a deterrent to stop any country leaving. It leads to a cliff-edge, facing Britain with a take-it or leave-it choice when the clock stops ticking. “This puts us in a dangerous position,” he said. The EEA is a way to overleap this Article 50 trap.

Meredith Crowley, a trade expert at Cambridge University, says the great worry is that tariff barriers into the EU will jump to 12pc or 15pc overnight on UK exports of cars, engines, auto parts, and a range of machinery, setting off an exodus of foreign investment. “Joining the EEA would shut that threat down,” she said.

Critics argue that the Norwegian route is tantamount to remaining in the EU, but on worse terms, with no vote over policy: “While they pay, they don’t have a say,” said David Cameron before the Referendum.

This is a canard. EEA states are exempt from the EU's farming and fisheries policies, as well as from foreign affairs, defence, and justice. They are free from great swathes of EU dominion established by the Amsterdam, Nice, and Lisbon Treaties.

Above all, EEA states are not subject to the European Court’s (ECJ) limitless writ over almost all areas of law through elastic invocation of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights. The ECJ would no longer be able to exploit the Charter - in breach of Britain’s opt-out under Protocol 30 - whenever it feels like it. We would no longer be under an EU supreme court asserting effective sovereignty. These are not small matters. They are elemental.

Yes, the Norwegian option is a compromise. We would continue paying into the EU budget. This would do much to defuse the escalating showdown over the €100bn bill for EU reparations, poisonous because of the way it is presented. The transfers would become an access fee instead. Norway’s net payments in 2014 were £106 a head. Let us not die in a ditch over such trivia.

Britain would have to tolerate relatively open flows of migrant workers. But contrary to widespread belief, the EEA does not entail full acceptance of the EU’s “four freedoms” - movement of goods, services, capital, and people. Nor does it give the European Court full sway on these issues.

The arrangement allows “a lesser degree” of free movement than within the EU. The language covers the issue of residence, an entirely different matter from the rights of EU citizenship created by the Maastricht Treaty. The EEA permits the sort of emergency brake on migrant flows that was denied to Mr Cameron in his last-ditch talks with the EU before the Referendum.

The point in any case is that the EEA would be a temporary way-station for ten years or so, giving us time to negotiate 80 trade deals with the US, China, Japan, India, Mercorsur, and others without a gun held to our head.

David Fuller's view -

Events can turn quickly in our modern world and not only due to Technology. Theresa May’s sudden announcement of an election campaign, after she had repeatedly said there would be no new contest, was clearly an opportunistic gamble even if it appeared justified given the Tories lead in public opinion polls.

Unfortunately, her disastrous, control freakery, narcissistic campaign - including a silence order for other Tory MPs - resulted in what I had previously described as the worst Conservative Party campaign that I have ever seen. What possessed this otherwise nice and seemingly capable woman?

Everyone has a view but as we so often see in politics, Governance is everything. Having squandered the Tory majority Mrs May cannot survive as Prime Minister.  However, the UK and its Tory party need to avoid a lengthy, let alone contentious leadership contest at this vulnerable time.

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



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June 12 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Just Five Stocks Account for Nearly 75% of the Nasdaq's Plunge

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

When it comes to the ongoing Technology beat-down in the stock market, it appears not all shares are created equal.

Indeed, just five names account for nearly 75 percent of the drop in the Nasdaq Composite Index, which has fallen more than 2.1 percent since June 7. Meanwhile, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 Index are roughly unchanged over the same time frame.

Much of this dynamic is due to giants like Apple Inc., Microsoft Corp. and Goggle parent Alphabet Inc. falling as much as 6.5 percent. Those companies account for nearly 30 percent of the index’s weighting, and their outsize impact has driven the gauge lower even though the bulk of the stocks are doing fine.

This selloff was “way overdue given the extreme out- performance and positioning in Technology shares,” Morgan Stanley analyst Michael Wilson wrote in a note to clients Monday, Shares of Apple, for instance, are still up 25 percent this year, giving them room to fall.

But while Wilson expects the drubbing to continue in the short-term, he doesn’t think the market has seen a peak in tech shares.

“We would be surprised if this is the end for Technology stocks given the very strong earnings growth we are witnessing,” he wrote.

Analysts now believe performance in Technology will depend on the economic outlook. And if conditions change, finance will be the likely beneficiary.

“If the current economic ‘Goldilocks’ environment persists, Technology and other growth stocks should continue to outperform, despite today’s price declines,” Goldman Sachs Group Inc. analysts led by David Kostin wrote in a note to clients late Friday. “However, if investors recalibrate expectations for inflation and Fed policy to match the growth optimism suggested by the S&P 500 level, higher rates should lead to financial sector outperformance.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Mega-cap Technology shares dominate the Nasdaq-100 and accounted for much of the Index’s outperformance over the last few months so it stands to reason they represent a headwind as a potential reversionary process unfolds.



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June 09 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Renault plans foray into energy market with mega battery

This article by Christoph Steitz and Edward Taylor for Reuters may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Large batteries can help stabilize the primary reserve electricity market, which is responsible for ensuring the grid has at least 50 Hertz. Carmakers can also earn money competing with conventional power stations to guarantee the provision of electricity during periods of high demand or volatility.

"We forecast the combined market for electric passenger vehicles, electric buses and battery storage to increase eight-fold to over $200 billion by 2020, a five-year compound annual growth rate of more than 50 percent," Berenberg analysts said.

With about 4 million electric cars expected to be on the roads by 2020, vehicle manufacturers looking at ways to recycle batteries, including Tesla, which already sells everything from solar panels to batteries and electric cars.

Daimler, BMW, Volkswagen and China's BYD Co Ltd are also exploring so-called second-life storage projects with batteries.

That includes partnerships such as the recent collaboration between BMW and Vattenfall, in which the luxury automaker will deliver up to 1,000 lithium-ion batteries to the Swedish utility for storage projects this year.

"What will end up happening is that BMW and Daimler will ... become utilities themselves," said Gerard Reid, founder of Alexa Capital LLP, a corporate advisor in the energy, power infrastructure and Technology sectors.

"They use Vattenfall now because they need to learn but I think the amount of batteries coming back will be so big that I think they'll end up engaging directly with the end customer themselves. And they've got the brand name to do that."  

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The diesel scandal took a heavy toll on the growth ambitions of a number of auto manufacturers. There are now scrambling to come up with a way of ensuring their next clean energy gambit is successful. Since the batteries going into electric vehicles are a lot like bigger versions of those in phones we know that they lose capacity after a few hundred recharges. That means finding new uses for old batteries is a major field of endeavour if the price is to be kept under control. 



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June 08 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

No One Has Ever Made a Corruption Machine Like This One

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

By Odebrecht’s admission in U.S. District Court in Brooklyn last December, Structured Operations doled out some $788 million in bribes in Brazil and 11 other countries, securing more than 100 contracts that generated $3.3 billion of profit for the company. Odebrecht and petrochemicals affiliate Braskem SA agreed to pay $3.5 billion in fines to Brazil, the U.S., and Switzerland tied to the activities of the division in Miami and beyond. It’s the biggest corruption-related fine ever levied on a company, eclipsing a $3.16 billion fine in Brazil tied to corruption allegations against another target of the Car Wash probe, Brazilian beef giant JBS SA.

For decades, Odebrecht has cultivated a certain corporate lore. It goes something like this: The company’s ascent to the upper ranks of the world’s engineering and construction companies came from an obsession with hard work, expertise, and customer service. Top executives imbibe the teachings of the company’s founder, the late Norberto Odebrecht, via his three-volume guide to best practices, the Odebrecht Business Technology system. But last Dec. 13, when Emílio Odebrecht, Norberto’s 72-year-old son, took a seat before a microphone in a 1970s-era attorney general’s building in Brasília, Brazil’s capital, he described a family empire built on graft.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The “Car Wash” scandal has enmeshed just about everyone in public office in Brazil including both sitting and past presidents as well as officials in a slew of neighbouring countries. Everyone has always known that corruption was part and parcel of doing business in the region but it has now been quantified and put on display for the world to see which has resulted in a blow to sentiment. 



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June 05 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Tech That Takes the Controls from Terrorists

Governments ought to offer less generic reactions to the forms terror is taking. Of the three U.K. attacks this year, two started as attempts to mow people down with vehicles. This is an increasingly frequent terrorist practice, which has recently yielded gory results in Nice, Columbus and Berlin as well.

At least this part of the attacks (though not the subsequent knifings) could have been prevented or at least mitigated by modern Technology known as autonomous emergency braking. This is generally a life-saving Technology that has been shown to reduce rear-end collisions by 38 percent, and that, in its current forms, will stop a vehicle before it hits a pedestrian. In Berlin, the truck used by Anis Amri to plow into a Christmas market last December was equipped by an AEB system; it ultimately stopped the vehicle, preventing more deaths than the final casualty count of 12. The reason it didn't stop earlier is that the driver can ignore the system's initial warning, overriding it for a short while; in such a scenario, brakes are only applied after the collision.

The European regulation, adopted in 2012, required that all new vehicles come equipped with AEB starting in 2015. It decrees that the driver should be able to shut off the automatic braking function. The latter wasn't a problem in Amri's case -- he apparently didn't even consider whether the Polish-owned truck he had commandeered was equipped with the anti-collision system. But regulators would clearly make life much harder for terrorists planning to weaponize vehicles if they required that the systems couldn't be manually overridden when a collision with a human is imminent. That wouldn't make cars more dangerous: Current Technology allows the vehicle to "see" the full range of options in a dangerous situation more effectively than a human driver can.

The EU regulation was a major step forward (in the U.S., automakers have agreed with regulators they would equip every new car with AEB only by 2022). Before it entered into force, only some 32 percent of new cars sold in the Netherlands, 25 percent in Germany and 21 percent in the U.K. came with autonomous emergency braking. Banning manual overrides would be another useful step.

David Fuller's view -

With or without increased terrorist attacks Autonomous Emergency Braking (AEB) systems seem like an inexpensive partial solution to loss of life due to runaway vehicles.  



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June 01 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Japan Business Investment Rebounds as Corporate Profits Jump

This note by Connor Cislo and Maiko Takahashi for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here it is in full:

Capital spending in Japan topped estimates during the first quarter of the year as the tightest job market in more than two decades drove investment in labor-saving technologies.

Highlights

Capital expenditure rose 4.5 percent in the first quarter of 2017 from a year earlier (estimate +4 percent).Corporate profits climbed 26.6 percent. Company sales rose 5.6 percent.

Key Takeaways

A moderate economic recovery and a labor shortage have created a favorable environment for business spending, prompting companies to invest in Technology. Today’s figures will be used to revise first-quarter growth, with the result due to be released next week. The preliminary reading showed an annualized expansion of 2.2 percent.

Economist Views

* “Non-manufacturers are taking the lead” as they try to save manpower to deal with the labor shortage, said Takeshi Minami, chief economist at Norinchukin Research Institute. “That’s a good trend. It’s long been said that old production systems are weighing on productivity.”

* “The business-spending figure in the GDP report may be revised up slightly” after the data, said Hiroaki Muto, chief economist at Tokai Tokyo Research Center in Tokyo. “With corporate profits rebounding a lot, companies are probably making investments to renew their old facilities and equipment or to boost productivity.”

Other Details

* Spending minus software rose 5.2 percent from a year earlier (estimate +4.1 percent).

Eoin Treacy's view -

Japan is growing at a G-7 beating 2.2%. That’s not something we hear very often for a country that has been mired in deflation for what feels like forever. The fact it is occurring against a background of full employment and an increasing labour shortage suggests companies will be investing more in Technology, automation and may as a last resort have to raise wages. 



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May 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch May 30th 2017

Thanks to a subscriber for this edition of Allen Brooks’ report which has a number of particularly interesting items this week. Here is a section on the pace of Technology adoption: 

When the pace of adoption of technologies is examined, there are a number of interesting questions that bear on the projections of how quickly EVs and AEVs, as well as on-demand ride services, will be accepted. Are they going to be adopted as consumer Technology items or truly revolutionary technologies and labor-saving devices? As shown in Exhibit 10, proponents of rapid Technology adoption point to the cellphone, which took about a decade to go from zero to 60% penetration. That was about the same time span as the internet, but maybe only slightly longer than the VCR. On the other hand, the telephone needed nearly 50 years, while electricity needed only about 25 years, to reach the 60% penetration level. However, maybe we should look at these vehicle technologies as akin to those that brought significant lifestyle changes such as the stove, the clothes washer and the dishwasher, which needed between 35 and 50 years to reach 60% of American homes.

Our best guess is that the adoption rate will be somewhere between the cellphone and electricity, 10 to 25 years, but with a bias toward the longer timeframe. Why do we say that? It is important to understand that vehicles play an important role in family evolutions, something that hasn’t changed over generations. The hyped concern about millennials not getting married, starting families and buying homes, which was very popular during the years immediately following the global financial crisis of 2008, is disappearing. We now see millennials coming out of their parents’ basements, getting married, starting families and buying homes – although maybe not of the same size or in the same locations as their parents. These millennials are, however, continuing the generational pattern of societal evolution, although they are taking longer than previous generations to take some of the steps down that road. Given the pace of this phenomenon’s development, it is important to remember that automobiles remain the second largest purchase after homes for families. These purchases are not made frequently, they usually require significant research and time to reach a decision, and the decisions are often based on economic considerations involving all aspects of families’ lives and not just social concerns, such as climate change.

Given the factors involved in new car purchases, those forecasting the demise of petroleum must explain how those with limited incomes and wealth will voluntarily give up their perfectly functioning fossil fuel vehicle for an expensive EV, which because of battery Technology may not get anywhere close to the advertised performance due to the climate where they reside. Their lives will become more complex until electric charging stations are as ubiquitous as gasoline stations, since they may not be able to afford the wait for battery recharges nor the cost of an installed charger in their home, if that option even exists for them.

There is also the question of what happens to the economics of EVs versus ICE cars when the values of used ICE cars go essentially to zero? In that case, unless gasoline and diesel fuels are banned, which may be the next target of environmental activists, it will be much cheaper to own and operate ICE cars than EVs.

There is also the question of how quickly the fleet of American vehicles can be converted to EVs or AEVs. For the past several years, Americans have purchased 17 million or slightly more new vehicles each year. At that pace, it will take 15 1/3 years to completely replace the approximately 260 million vehicles currently on America’s roads. To reach the magic 60% penetration rate, Americans must buy 17 million new EVs every year for more than nine years. Despite the high number of EVs in the fleet, it still leaves 104 million ICE vehicles on the roads burning fossil fuels.

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

Something that has always been at the back of my mind when reading comparisons about the pace of adoption of technologies is whether it is appropriate to compare adoption rates over more than a century. The pace of life has accelerated considerably in only the last decade so that we find it hard to imagine how anyone lived without the benefit of wifi or indeed indoor plumbing more than a century ago. My kids for example can’t imagine a world without iPhones, iPads and YouTube.



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May 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Trouble Brews for OPEC as Expensive Deep-Sea Oil Turns Cheap

This article by Serene Cheong, Sharon Cho and Dan Murtaugh for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The falling costs make it more likely that investors will approve pumping crude from such large deep-water projects, the process for which is more complex and risky than drilling traditional fields on land. That may compete with OPEC’s oil to meet future supply gaps that the group sees forming as demand increases and output from existing wells naturally declines.

Saudi Arabia’s Al-Naimi left his post shortly after his speech targeting high-cost producers, and his successor Khalid Al-Falih organized production cuts by OPEC and some other nations that are set to run through March 2018. In a speech in Malaysia this month, Al-Falih bemoaned the lack of investment in higher-cost projects and said he fears the lack of them could cause demand to spike above supply in the future.

Warnings from OPEC of a looming shortage are “overstated and misleading,” Citigroup Inc. said in a report earlier this month. The revolution in unconventional supplies like shale is “unstoppable” unless prices fall below $40 a barrel, and deep- water output could grow by more than 1 million barrels a day by 2022, according to the bank.

Royal Dutch Shell Plc in February approved its Kaikias deep-water project in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico, saying it would break even with prices below $40 a barrel. That followed BP Plc’s decision in December to move forward with its Mad Dog Phase 2 project in the Gulf, with costs estimated at $9 billion compared to $20 billion as originally planned.

Over the next three years, eight offshore projects may be approved with break-even prices below $50, according to a Transocean Ltd. presentation at the Scotia Howard Weil Energy Conference in New Orleans in March. Eni SpA could reach a final investment decision on a $10 billion Nigeria deep-water project by October.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Oil producers spent a decade investing in additional supply and while they went right on investing until prices declined, the reality is that a lot of that investment was in new Technology which is now being used to drive prices down while exploration has been abandoned. 



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May 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The rise of the QR code and how it has forever changed China's social habits

Thanks to a subscriber for this article from the South China Morning Post which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Chen said what seems like disruptive Technology today eventually will be diffused into society and become an element of normal life tomorrow.

“The younger generation in China will grow up in a world full of two-dimensional barcodes,” he said. “They may develop a new understanding of money.”

“Maybe, in their eyes, money [will be seen as] not just a means to purchase commodities and services, but also socialise.”

Mobile payments began to grow in China as people increasingly used social media platforms such as WeChat to distribute the red money envelopes known as hongbao in Mandarin, or lai see in Cantonese, to friends and relatives in the traditional Spring Festival. Last year, the average WeChat user sent out 28 packets of hongbao every month, according to the platform. Much of the money was used to compliment a well-taken photo or well-written post.

Such behavioural changes are poised to profoundly affect the Chinese economy, according to Chen.

“When the credit card emerged, consumers were found to spend more than when they used cash. The QR code is even more convenient than the credit card, so we have good reason to expect it will increase consumption,” he said.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

One of the reasons QR codes have not taken off in the West is because of the security concerns they represent. Any link can be embedded in a QR code so the potential for malicious codes to be used alongside commercial ones represents a significant security risk. Nevertheless the evolution of digital wallet solutions is undeniable and cash is increasingly looked on as an inconvenience. 



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May 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Big Green Bang: how renewable energy became unstoppable

Thanks to a subscriber for this article by Pilita Clark for the FT which may be of interest. Here is a section: 

“I have been early twice in financing the low carbon energy transition,” says Bruce Huber, cofounder of the Alexa Capital advisory group. “But we feel it’s third time lucky.”

One reason for his optimism is what he calls the “tectonic plateshifting” in the car industry that is driving down the cost of energy storage. Storing clean power has long been a holy green grail but prohibitive costs have put it out of reach. This has begun to change as battery production has ramped up to meet an expected boom in electric cars.

Lithium ion battery prices have halved since 2014, and many analysts think prices will fall further as a slew of large battery factories are built.

The best known is Tesla and Panasonic’s huge Nevada “gigafactory”. Tesla claims that once it reaches full capacity next year, it will produce more lithium ion batteries annually than were made worldwide in 2013.

It is only one of at least 14 megafactories being built or planned, says Benchmark Minerals, a research group. Nine are in China, where the government is backing electric cars with the zeal it has directed at the solar industry.

Could this lead to a China-led glut like the one that helped drive solar industry writeoffs and crashing prices after the global financial crisis?

“It’s something to watch,” says Francesco Starace, chief executive of Italy’s Enel, Europe’s largest power company.

The thirst for electric cars, not least in China, means “the dynamics of demand are completely different” for batteries than for solar panels, he adds.

Still, Enel’s internal forecasts show battery costs falling by about 30 per cent between 2018 and 2021 and it is among the companies already pairing batteries with solar panels to produce electricity after dark in sunny places where power is expensive, such as the Chilean desert.

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

The main objections to renewable energy are focused on intermittency and their reliance on subsidies. However economies of scale and the application of Technology represent reasons for why we should be optimistic these can be overcome over the medium term. That represents a significant challenge for both the established energy and utility sectors. 

Right now we are talking about a time when solar and wind will be able to compete without subsidies on an increasing number of projects. However if we continue on that path there is potential for the sector to be a victim of its own success because the lower prices go and the more fixed prices are abandoned the greater the potential for volatility in energy pricing. 



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May 23 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global cyberattack 'highly likely' linked to North Korea group

This article by Sherisse Pham for CNN may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

But here's the puzzling thing -- Symantec says that despite the links to Lazarus, "the WannaCry attacks do not bear the hallmarks of a nation-state campaign."

Cyberattacks backed by governments "are usually impeccable, they don't make rookie mistakes," said Thakur. "In the case of WannaCry, we saw some of those mistakes."

For example, early versions of WannaCry had a bug in the code that prevented victims from paying the ransom.

While it's possible Lazarus thought they could make a lot of money with WannaCry, "they totally botched it up and got almost nothing," Thakur said.

The ransomware has so far collected about $108,000 in ransom. Security researchers and government agencies advised businesses not to pay the ransom.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The latest global ransomware attack might have been botched but that didn’t stop it from causing a great deal of inconvenience for consumers not least in the UK where trains didn’t run and hospital appointments were cancelled. The problem of course is that even if this attempt was not as successful as the originators hoped if will act as inspiration for ambitious criminal organisations to get it right next time. 



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May 22 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

If you bought $100 of bitcoin 7 years ago, you'd be sitting on $75 million now

This article from CNBC highlights the current spate of excitement about bitcoin. Here is a section:

On May 22, 2010, Hanyecz asked a fellow enthusiast on a bitcoin forum to accept 10,000 bitcoin for two Papa John's Pizzas. At the time, Hanyecz believed that the coins he had "mined" on his computer were worth around 0.003 cents each.

Bitcoin mining involves solving a complex mathematical solution with the miner being rewarded in bitcoin. This is how Hanyecz got his initial coins.

The cryptocurrency has many doubters as it continues to be associated with criminal activity, but it has still seen a stunning rally. Here are two facts, on Bitcoin Pizza Day, however, that highlight this:

While being worth $30 at the time, Hanyecz pizzas would now cost $22.5 million at current bitcoin prices.

If you bought $100 of bitcoin at the 0.003 cent price on May 22, 2010, you'd now be sitting on around $75 million.

A number of factors have been driving the rally:

Recently passed legislation in Japan that allows retailers to start accepting bitcoin as a legal currency has boosted trading in yen, which now accounts for over 40 percent of all bitcoin trade

Political uncertainty globally has driven demand for bitcoin as a safe haven asset

A debate within the bitcoin community about the future of the underlying Technology behind bitcoin known as the blockchain has been taking place. There was fear at one point this could lead to the creation of two separate cryptocurrencies but those worries have largely subsided with an alternative, more palatable option now being put forward. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

At the Tech Symposium I spoke at in London last week Charlie Morris made a number of important points about bitcoin which I found very educative. The most important of these was his point relating to the fact that bitcoin is a digital asset rather than a currency so it is a misnomer to describe it as a cryptocurrency. The best way to value bitcoin is in the strength of the network supporting it and therefore it is a barometer for the prevalence and acceptance of blockchain. 



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May 19 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

CAD Software Firm Autodesk Soars On Quarterly Earnings Beat

This article by Patrick Seitz for Investor’s Business Daily may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Analysts were modeling Autodesk to lose 15 cents a share on sales of $488 million.

Autodesk's annualized recurring revenue rose 18% year over year to $1.74 billion in the first quarter because of strong sales of subscription plans.

"Broad-based strength across all subscription types and geographies led to another record quarter for total subscription additions and a fantastic start of the new fiscal year," Amar Hanspal, Autodesk co-CEO and chief product officer, said in a statement. "Customers continue to embrace the subscription model, and we're expanding our market opportunity with continued momentum of our cloud-based offerings, such as BIM 360 and Fusion 360."

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Subscription models have some pretty impressive advantages for companies not least because they get steady streams of income, do not have to worry about how well the next softward update is going to sell and have less pressure to discount. Consumers pay less upfront costs, have better ability to plan their expenditure and are always guaranteed to have the latest product so it is a win-win relationship.



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May 19 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

China successfully mines flammable ice from the South Sea

This article by Cecilia Jamasmie for mining.com may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

During the mining trial done at a depth of 4,153 feet, engineers extracted each day around 16,000 cubic metres of gas, with methane content of up to 99.5%, Minister of Land and Resources Jiang Daming said.

The new energy source, while revolutionary, is not exempt of risks. The release of methane into the atmosphere as permafrost melts is regarded for those who believe in climate change as one of the worst potential accelerator mechanisms for it. Methane hydrate is also hard to extract, which makes the cost of producing it high.

Test drillings have also taken place in the US, Canada and Japan, with the latter announcing earlier this month that it was successful at producing the natural gas on the pacific coast and will continue mining it for around three to four weeks.

Sources of methane hydrate are so large that the US Department of Energy has estimated the world's total amount could exceed the combined energy content of all other fossil fuels.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Methane hydrate is uneconomical using today’s methods of extraction and current prices However, its existence highlights the important fact that any argument referring to peak oil must be prefaced with details of costs of production and timeframes. There is no shortage of natural gas or fossil fuels for that matter. Their supply is limited only by a combination of technological innovation and price. Technology is improving all the time so it is inevitable that major important countries like China and japan will continue to work on how to bring down the cost of methane hydrate.



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May 15 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The End of Petrol and Diesel Cars? All Vehicles Will be Electric by 2025, Says Expert

No more petrol or diesel cars, buses, or trucks will be sold anywhere in the world within eight years. The entire market for land transport will switch to electrification, leading to a collapse of oil prices and the demise of the petroleum industry as we have known it for a century.

This is the futuristic forecast by Stanford University economist Tony Seba. His report, with the deceptively bland title Rethinking Transportation 2020-2030, has gone viral in green circles and is causing spasms of anxiety in the established industries.

Prof Seba’s premise is that people will stop driving altogether. They will switch en masse to self-drive electric vehicles (EVs) that are ten times cheaper to run than fossil-based cars, with a near-zero marginal cost of fuel and an expected lifespan of 1m miles.

Only nostalgics will cling to the old habit of car ownership. The rest will adapt to vehicles on demand. It will become harder to find a petrol station, spares, or anybody to fix the 2,000 moving parts that bedevil the internal combustion engine. Dealers will disappear by 2024.

Cities will ban human drivers once the data confirms how dangerous they can be behind a wheel. This will spread to suburbs, and then beyond. There will be a “mass stranding of existing vehicles”. The value of second-hard cars will plunge. You will have to pay to dispose of your old vehicle.

It is a twin “death spiral” for big oil and big autos, with ugly implications for some big companies on the London Stock Exchange unless they adapt in time.

The long-term price of crude will fall to $25 a barrel. Most forms of shale and deep-water drilling will no longer be viable. Assets will be stranded. Scotland will forfeit any North Sea bonanza. Russia, Saudi Arabia, Nigeria, and Venezuela will be in trouble.

It is an existential threat to Ford, General Motors, and the German car industry. They will face a choice between manufacturing EVs in a brutal low-profit market, or reinventing themselves a self-drive service companies, variants of Uber and Lyft.

They are in the wrong business. The next generation of cars will be “computers on wheels”. Google, Apple, and Foxconn have the disruptive edge, and are going in for the kill. Silicon Valley is where the auto action is, not Detroit, Wolfsburg, or Toyota City.

The shift, according to Prof Seba, is driven by Technology, not climate policies. Market forces are bringing it about with a speed and ferocity that governments could never hope to achieve.

David Fuller's view -

In the accelerating rate of technological innovation which this service has long forecast, many of the most important changes occur much more quickly than expected.  Nevertheless, I think Professor Seba is forecasting a rate of change which may be technologically feasible but impossible in terms of practicalities.  My guess is that it will take at least five to ten years longer before his views are confirmed. 

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



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May 12 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Stretching Thin

Thanks to a subscriber for this heavyweight 114-page emerging market fixed income focused for report from Deutsche Bank which may be of interest. Here is a section on Saudi Arabia: 

Large FX buffers buy time despite high fiscal breakeven KSA also has a high fiscal breakeven, expected to reach USD84 in 2017 according to the IMF and somewhat lower according to our estimates at USD72. As such fiscal reform is a priority, but over USD500 billion of SAMA reserves and the potential for part-sale of oil assets give flexibility of timing. However, arguably, the size and conservative nature of the Kingdom makes early reform a necessity.

Saudi Arabia’s approach to breaking its hydrocarbon habit has been to undertake something akin to a revolution in the country, as outlined in the Vision 2030 document and the shorter-term National Transformation Program 2020. The challenges are significant, given the elevated fiscal breakevens, delivering 11% budget deficit in 2017. Ambitions for achieving a balanced budget by 2020 (“Fiscal Balance Program 2020”), suggests the bulk of the social and economic overhaul should be front-loaded. 

The National Project Management Office (NPMO), announced in September 2015 and tasked with moving projects forward in a coordinated fashion, has stalled. Furthermore, headline projects such as the Makkah Metro or the North-South rail line have been pushed out. Of the USD1 trillion pipeline, the only actual new project awards have been limited to Aramco investments. Until the NPMO is fully in place, any major project awards will be exceptions.

By contrast the establishment of the Bureau of Capital and Operational Spending Rationalization – an entity aimed at reviewing the feasibility of projects less than 25 per cent complete has moved forward with a review of some of the SAR1.4 trillion of projects in development. On the first round, approximately SAR100 billion of costs have been cut. Some projects will be cancelled, others retendered or converted to self-financing PPP-style contracts, but the certainty is that these cannot continue to be financed substantially from the public purse. There has also been additional controls on current spending with cuts in civil service allowances. The switch from an Islamic contract year to a slightly longer Gregorian one amounts to a 3% pay cut.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

With significant reserves Saudi Arabia has time to deal with a relatively low oil price environment and the effect that is having on its fiscal condition. Rolling back spending commitments would leave the country in a much healthier position to compete considering its abundant resources and low cost of production. The new administration has embraced the need for change both in terms of domestic reform and investing in sectors outside of energy. The soon to launch $100 billion Softbank Technology Fund is a case in point. 



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May 10 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Day One for President Moon Sees Korea Stocks in Retreat With Won

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

The Kospi index dropped the most since March as North Korea reiterating its pledge to push forward with another nuclear test showed Moon Jae-in, the victor in Tuesday’s presidential vote, is unlikely to get a honeymoon. While Citigroup Inc. to Morgan Stanley are betting on further upside for South Korea’s record- setting stocks, analysts and investors are seeking more from Moon, who ran on a platform of corporate reform and rapprochement with North Korea.

“Markets will take this on the chin,” said James Soutter, who helps manage the equivalent of about $500 million at K2 Asset Management in Melbourne, referring to the election.
“Rumblings out of North Korea on further nuclear tests should have a bigger influence on markets than the election.”

While Korean Technology shares rallied on bets Moon will bolster the sector as a way of delivering more jobs, the Kospi spiked lower, declining 1 percent Wednesday -- the most since March 3 -- as utilities and banks paced losses. Markets in Seoul were closed for the election Tuesday, so the drop came after a 2.3 percent surge in the Kospi on Monday, its best day since September 2015

Eoin Treacy's view -

The South Korean Kospi Index has been ranging for six years but broke out ahead of the election to new all-time highs. Increased tensions with North Korea coinciding with a short-term overbought condition suggest there is scope for some consolidation of the recent run-up. However a sustained move below the trend mean would be required to question medium-term scope for additional upside. 



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May 10 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Biotechnology Sector update

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Oppenheimer dated in April which may be of interest. Here is a section:  

Industry’s sales/earnings growth and margin structure are enviable, M&A on-tap
1. With increases in sales and earnings power and improving product approval rates, large-cap biotech has stuck to its knitting, i.e., developing products for smaller, more focused disease areas with high unmet needs.
2. 2015 was a banner year for worldwide biopharma M&A. After downturns, such as seen in 2016, M&A typically picks up as valuations become realistic.
3. Drug pricing, recent slowdown in large-cap sales/earnings momentum, many companies between product cycles and some clinical disappointments, are all still overhangs.

And 

1. Sales/earnings growth deceleration following peak sales/earnings in 2014 for the large-cap companies.
2. Has led to generalist and momentum money reducing exposure/abandoning the sector.
3. This deceleration in sales/earnings growth to trough in 2017, then rapidly start accelerating again.
4. Currently GILD is the laggard in its peer group for expected sales/earnings growth over the next three years.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

R&D is expensive, riddled with uncertainty and big bureaucracies tend to stifle the creativity necessary for the kind of out of the box thinking which leads to breakthroughs. The result is that large pharmaceuticals companies often buy promising bioTechnology companies, usually at a premium, rather than invest in the uncertainty of in-house development. 



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May 05 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Tech and Talent Must Top the Next Government's Wishlist

In the race for international tech talent and inward investment, the UK ranks third in Europe behind Finland and Sweden for digital inclusion and skills (EC Digital Economy and Society Index – DESI). But the new government should not forget that around half of our most valuable tech workers hail from overseas with some 30pc coming from the EU and 20pc from further afield. To avoid a post-Brexit brain drain, the UK must remain a destination for international talent, with an immigration policy to match.

And to ensure that in the future more of our tech capability is grown at home with jobs filled by British citizens, the next government must 
do even more to encourage the 
take up of science, Technology, engineering and maths (STEM) subjects in schools.

Of the 320,000 students in England studying for A-levels last year, the number taking STEM subjects was largely stable, according to Department for Education data. Where it is increasing, it is in tiny increments.

Last year, the number of students entered for A-level computing increased by just 0.3 pc to 1.7 pc. And the 23.8 pc of A-level students entered for mathematics represented an increase of just 0.5 pc. STEM subjects need to move further up the education agenda accompanied by more support for targeted vocational training and apprenticeships.

Continued investment in infrastructure to support an increasingly digitised marketplace is also vital. Applications and productivity gains requiring world-class connectivity can only gather momentum if the physical backbone is there to provide the necessary support.

The last government’s “Universal Service Obligation” aimed to give every business and individual in the country the right to request an affordable high-speed broadband connection. The intention was laudable, but in practice today the UK ranks no higher than sixth for overall European connectivity and just 10th for Next Generation Access. Further investment in digital infrastructure should remain a key priority for the next government.

The UK is the fifth largest global economy and renowned for innovation and our entrepreneurial spirit. We are home to many world class businesses spanning Technology, hi-tech engineering and pharma research, financial services, the professions, education and the creative arts. Government initiatives to cultivate the smartest talent and encourage the right investment will help capitalise on these strengths and accelerate our position at the vanguard of the 4IR.

David Fuller's view -

Thankfully, the long, sad history of the UK surrendering its sovereignty within the EU is now ending.  Britain will soon have the freedom to welcome additional talent from all over the globe, not just the EU.  A newly competitive economic environment will be ideal for expanding our tech industries. 

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



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May 02 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch May 2nd 2017

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

As automobiles transition from being completely under the control of a human driver to being totally controlled by machines and computers, several things can happen. If cars can operate without having accidents, highway speeds can be increased, which could reduce vehicle fuel-efficiency, boosting fuel consumption. Fully-autonomous driving will also enable classes of the population currently unable to utilize vehicles, adding more vehicle miles traveled to the nation’s transportation system and increasing fuel consumption. Those classes of people include non-drivers, along with the elderly, disabled and young people. A study by Carnegie Mellon University estimates that this expansion of the driving population could increase vehicle miles traveled by 14%, or adding 295 billion miles of driving annually. That will mean more fuel consumed, regardless of how fuel-efficient the vehicles are that these classes of people utilize. A rough calculation based on vehicles with 30 miles per gallon ratings, means about 675,000 barrels a day of additional gasoline, or approximately a 7% increase on today’s gasoline consumption. Fully-autonomous driving suggests more vehicle use, more miles driven and more fuel consumed. The offset is if fully-autonomous vehicles dominate the growing car/ride-sharing segment of the transportation sector, which could act to reduce fuel consumption. 

Whether the vehicles of the future are ICE-powered or derive their power from some other fuel source will be influenced by the outcomes of the other two broad trends. For example, if we become a nation of car-sharers, there will be fewer vehicles needed, vehicle miles traveled might decline, although they just as easily could increase. A fully-autonomous vehicle provides the possibility of having a greater impact on fuel consumption than human-driven vehicles. First, cars that don’t have accidents can be made from lighter materials that facilitates more EVs since greater battery weight will be offset by lighter vehicle bodies and frames. That could help EVs overcome some of the range-anxiety challenges for many potential buyers. It could help accelerate the electrification of the automobile fleet, which would have a significant negative impact on vehicle fuel consumption. On the other hand, if ICE powered vehicles remain the popular option, fuel consumption might not be as impacted as in an EV-favored scenario. With fully-autonomous vehicles offering the potential for increased vehicle use, fuel consumption is likely to increase. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

The Jevons Paradox suggests that if the price of a vital commodity falls use will increase so that the greater efficiency achieved through advancing Technology is absorbed by demand growth. In fact the only commodity I can think of that has been completely obviated from popular use is whale oil. In every other case uses might have changed and costs might collapse but we end up using more of it. 



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April 27 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

With Education and Technology, Brexit Britain Can Engineer Its Way to Greater Prosperity.

The world is gripped by a Technology race and those countries or companies that fail to recognise this will very quickly fall behind. My constant refrain to all politicians is: “Put your faith in engineers and in revolutionary Technology – invest in them and give them a supportive environment that encourages risk-taking and new ideas.”

Britain is now in a uniquely advantageous position to become a world leader in Technology, exploiting the new-found trading freedom that comes from leaving the European Union. We can operate in a business-friendly regulatory environment, negotiate directly with other markets (in particular, Asia) and sell our high-Technology goods, boosting the balance of payments in the process.

Singapore is not a bad model to look to. They are focused on developing and exporting high-Technology products harnessing their highly skilled workforce.

But Britain’s success in this regard is contingent on quickly deepening the skills in our economy. Education is where it all begins: it is young people who will create the technologies that we export in future. Yet Britain will be one million engineers short by 2022. It is time for a new approach and recognition that engineers are among the best wealth-generators an economy could hope for.

It was refreshing, after continued pleas to successive government ministers, that Jo Johnson, minister of state for universities, science, research and innovation, challenged me to open a new kind of university on Dyson’s Malmesbury campus. He is pushing through the Higher Education and Research Bill to encourage the creation of a new generation of universities. We intend to be the first to take advantage of it, and I hope others will follow.

Johnson has spotted that it is companies which are experimenting, investing and developing to create the future, and has concluded that they are well placed to educate and equip the next generation. Dyson files more patents per year than any UK university Technology transfer office. This inventiveness could be put to good use, inspiring and educating future prolific patent filers.

The legislation will allow us to attain university status and achieve degree-awarding powers of our own. Until then, we will partner with Warwick University. Regardless of the legislative outcome, the Dyson Institute of Engineering and Technology will welcome its first undergraduate students in September. They will work on “live” projects from the off, and will be mentored by practising scientists and engineers – world experts in their field – who will teach alongside academics from Warwick University, an institution renowned for engineering.

Rather than hypothesising about what it is like to be an engineer from the lecture hall, they will find themselves in the risk-filled world of inventing new, real-world Technology.

David Fuller's view -

This is a terrific idea from Jo Johnson and James Dyson.  For decades we have seen Dyson’s frustration over the lack of qualified engineers in the UK.  The potential is certainly there and now he will be able to train more of his own staff.  This is an excellent opportunity for smart, ambitious students.  



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April 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Inside China's Plans for World Robot Domination

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

Under a sweeping proposal called “Made in China 2025,” as well as a five-year robot plan launched last April, Beijing plans to focus on automating key sectors of the economy including car manufacturing, electronics, home appliances, logistics, and food production. At the same time, the government wants to increase the share of indigenous-branded robots in China to more than 50 percent of total sales volume by 2020 from 31 percent last year.

Robot makers and the companies that automate will be eligible for subsidies, low-interest loans, tax waivers, and rent-free land. “Fair or unfair, you can expect Chinese companies will get a lot of preferential treatment and funding,” said Rose with Boston Consulting. “They actually have a comprehensive plan to get there. And their track record isn’t terrible either.”

Industrial automation is crucial for China, home to an aging population and shrinking labor force. Manufacturing wages have more than doubled in the last decade. Also, younger Chinese workers, “don’t want to do repetitive work,” said James Li, President of ABB Robotics China, the local unit of Switzerland’s ABB Ltd. and one of the first robot companies to set up in China. It supplies machines that spray paint cars and man electronics assembly lines. “Robotics is hot,” said Li, who notes that local governments are investing heavily in industrial parks to develop the Technology.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The big question for robot manufacturers is will China do for their sector what it did for the solar sector? My sense of the challenges involved is that Chinese dominance of the robotics sector is a medium-term rather than short-term possibility. The companies involved have a lot of progress than needs to be made in developing software, optics and interfaces to truly challenge incumbents. However we can be reasonably assured they will be get better every year.  



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April 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Exxon, Shell Join Ivanka Trump to Defend Paris Climate Pact

Here is a brief section of this interesting article from Bloomberg:

As President Donald Trump contemplates whether to make good on his campaign promise to yank the United States out of the Paris climate accord, an unlikely lobbying force is hoping to talk him out of it: oil and coal producers. 

A pro-Paris bloc within the administration has recruited energy companies to lend their support to the global pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions, according to two people familiar with the effort who asked not to be identified.

Cheniere Energy Inc., which exports liquefied natural gas, became the latest company to weigh in for the pact to cut greenhouse gas emissions in a letter Monday to White House energy adviser G. David Banks. 

"Domestic energy companies are better positioned to compete globally if the United States remains a party to the Paris agreement," Cheniere wrote. The accord "is a useful instrument for fostering demand for America’s energy resources and supporting the continued growth of American industry."

Exxon Mobil Corp., previously led by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, Royal Dutch Shell Plc and BP Plc also have endorsed the pact.

The industry campaign to stick with the Paris accord comes amid deep divisions in the Trump administration over the carbon-cutting agreement. Both the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, a White House special adviser, have urged the president to stay in the deal, along with Tillerson. 

Climate Change Pact That Made History Now Faces Trump: QuickTake

On the other side are senior adviser Stephen Bannon and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who on Friday said "we need to exit" the pact.

Gas producers and exporters are highlighting the value of the agreement, which could help prod a worldwide move toward that fossil fuel.

Exxon Mobil argued in a letter last month that U.S. slashed its carbon emissions to 20-year lows because of greater use of natural gas, and "this success can be replicated globally” as part of the accord.

BP spokesman Geoff Morrell said the company continues to support the Paris deal, noting that "it’s possible to provide the energy the world needs while also addressing the climate challenge." And Shell spokesman Curtis Smith said the company remains "strongly in favor" of the agreement.

What Trump’s Climate Views Might Mean for World: QuickTake Q&A

Coal producers Cloud Peak Energy Inc. and Peabody Energy Corp. also are lobbying in favor of the accord, even though the miners could be disadvantaged by a global shift toward cleaner sources of electricity. Cloud Peak pitches the Paris agreement as a platform for the U.S. to advocate using carbon capture and other high-efficiency, low-emissions Technology to generate electricity from coal.

Trump is nearing a decision on whether he will fulfill repeated pledges to withdraw the U.S. from the accord he previously derided as "bad for U.S. business." The White House postponed a planned Tuesday meeting of senior administration officials, including Pruitt, Tillerson, Kushner and Bannon, to go over the pros and cons of staying in the agreement, according to an aide citing a scheduling conflict.

David Fuller's view -

There is not a single good reason that I have heard for leaving the Paris Climate Pact.  Stay in and at least you know what everyone is saying, and you can agree or disagree, and offer any other suggestions. Leave the Pact and you will be regarded as a petulant pariah state.  The USA should be at the table of any important international Pact, if only in the interests of good will. 



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April 21 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Gigantic Wind Turbines Signal Era of Subsidy-Free Green Power

Here is the opening of this encouraging article from Bloomberg:

Offshore wind turbines are about to become higher than the Eiffel Tower, allowing the industry to supply subsidy-free clean power to the grid on a massive scale for the first time.

Manufacturers led by Siemens AG are working to almost double the capacity of the current range of turbines, which already have wing spans that surpass those of the largest jumbo jets. The expectation those machines will be on the market by 2025 was at the heart of contracts won by German and Danish developers last week to supply electricity from offshore wind farms at market prices by 2025.

Just three years ago, offshore wind was a fringe Technology more expensive than nuclear reactors and sometimes twice the cost of turbines planted on land. The fact that developers such as Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG and Dong Energy A/S are offering to plant giant turbines in stormy seas without government support show the economics of the energy business are shifting quicker than anyone thought possible -- and adding competitive pressure on the dominant power generation fuels coal and natural gas.

“Dong and EnBW are banking on turbines that are three to four times bigger than those today,” said Keegan Kruger, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “They will be crucial to bringing down the cost of energy.”

About 50 miles (80 kilometers) off the coastline in the German North Sea, where the local fish and seagulls don’t complain about the view of turbines in their back yards, offshore wind Technology is limited only to how big the turbines can grow. Dong has said it expects machines able to produce 13 to 15 megawatts each for its projects when they’re due to be completed in the middle of the next decade -- much bigger than the 8-megawatt machines on the market now.

Just one giant 15-megawatt turbine would produce power more cheaply than five 3-megawatt machines, or even two with an 8-megawatt capacity. That’s because bigger turbines can produce the same power from a fewer number of foundations and less complex grid connections. The wind farm’s layout can be made more efficient, and fewer machines means less maintenance.

“Right now, we are developing a bigger turbine,” said Bent Christensen, head of cost of energy at Siemens Wind Power A/S, in a phone interview. “But how big it will be we don’t know yet.”

David Fuller's view -

I did not predict this 3 to 4 years ago but I am delighted that wind power is now becoming much more competitive and self-sufficient.  I still have concerns about maintenance costs relative to solar power but we will see.  One should not underestimate technological innovation in this era. 



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April 20 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Why the Market for Fossil Fuels Is All Burnt Out

If Helm is to be believed the oil market downturn is only getting started. The latest collapse is the harbinger of a global energy revolution which could spell the end-game for fossil fuels. These theories were laughable less than a decade ago when oil prices grazed highs of more than $140 a barrel. But the burn out of the oil industry is approaching quicker than was first thought, and the most senior leaders within the industry are beginning to take note.

In the past, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has faced down criticism that its global energy market forecasts have overestimated the role of oil and underplayed the boom in renewable energy sources. But last month the tone changed. The agency warned oil and gas companies that failing to adapt to the climate policy shift away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy would leave a total of $1 trillion in oil assets and $300bn in natural gas assets stranded.

For oil companies who heed Helm’s advice, the route ahead is a ruthless harvest-and-exit strategy. This would mean an aggressive slashing of capital expenditure, pumping of remaining oil reserves while keeping costs to the floor and paying out very high dividends.

“They’d never do it because no company board would contemplate running a smaller company tomorrow than today. It’s not in the zeitgeist of the corporate world we’re in, but that’s what they should do,” Helm says.

BP and Royal Dutch Shell are slowly shifting from oil to gas and making even more tentative steps in the direction of low-carbon energy. But Helm is not entirely convinced that oil companies have grasped the speed with which the industry is undergoing irrevocable change.

“As the oil price fell, at each point, oil executives said that the price would go back up again,” says Helm. “What the oil companies did was borrow to pay their dividends on the assumption that this is a temporary problem. It’s my view that it is permanent,” he adds.

For a start, there is scant precedent for the price highs of recent decades. Between 1900 to the late Sixties oil prices fluctuated in a range between $15 a barrel to just above $30 a barrel – even through two world wars, population growth and a revolution in transport and industry.

It was geopolitical events which caused oil prices to surge by more than $100 a barrel following the Middle East oil embargoes of the late sixties and early seventies. They collapsed back to $20 by the Eighties.

So, what drove oil prices to the heady levels of $140 a barrel just less than 10 years ago?

“China,” says Helm, barely missing a beat. “If you look at both the rapid growth in emissions and the rapid growth of oil, fossil fuel and all commodity prices, it was while China was doubling its economy every seven years. This is a phenomenal rate.

David Fuller's view -

Oil prices spiked above $140 a barrel in 2008 because of supply reductions from OPEC countries, not least due to regional wars.  This has never been fully recognised as a huge factor in what is generally remembered as the credit crisis recession which followed.  

In 2009 OPEC lowered production once again, leading to a move back above $120 a barrel two years later.  By 2014 subsidised renewables were gradually eroding the market for crude oil. However, the really big change was the US development of fracking Technology, leading to a surge in the production of crude oil and natural gas. 

We should always remember these two adages, particularly with commodities: 1) the cure for high prices is high prices.  These lower demand somewhat but the bigger overall influence is an increase in supply.  Conversely, the cure for low prices is low prices.  Demand increases somewhat when prices are lower but more importantly, supply is eventually reduced. 

How have these adages influenced commodity prices in recent years and what can we expect over the lengthy medium term?

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April 11 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

North Korea State Media Warns of Nuclear Strike if Provoked as U.S. Warships Approach

North Korean state media on Tuesday warned of a nuclear attack on the United States at any sign of U.S. aggression as a U.S. Navy strike group steamed towards the western Pacific.

U.S. President Donald Trump, who has urged China to do more to rein in its impoverished neighbour, said in a Tweet North Korea was "looking for trouble" and the United States would "solve the problem" with or without China's help.

Tension has escalated sharply on the Korean peninsula with talk of military action by the United States gaining traction following its strikes last week against Syria and amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test.

North Korea's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper said the country was prepared to respond to any aggression by the United States.

"Our revolutionary strong army is keenly watching every move by enemy elements with our nuclear sight focused on the U.S. invasionary bases not only in South Korea and the Pacific operation theatre but also in the U.S. mainland," it said.

South Korean acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn warned of "greater provocations" by North Korea and ordered the military to intensify monitoring and to ensure close communication with the United States.

"It is possible the North may wage greater provocations such as a nuclear test timed with various anniversaries including the Supreme People's Assembly," said Hwang, acting leader since former president Park Geun-hye was removed amid a graft scandal.

Trump said in a Tweet a trade deal between China and the United States would be "far better for them if they solved the North Korea problem".

"If China decides to help, that would be great," he said. "If not, we will solve the problem without them!"

Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, met in Florida last week and Trump pressed Xi to do more to rein in North Korea.

The North convened a Supreme People's Assembly session on Tuesday, one of its twice-yearly sessions in which major appointments are announced and national policy goals are formally approved. It did not immediately release details.

But South Korean officials took pains to quell talk in social media of an impending security crisis or outbreak of war.

"We'd like to ask precaution so as not to get blinded by exaggerated assessment about the security situation on the Korean peninsula," Defence Ministry spokesman Moon Sang-kyun said.

Saturday is the 105th anniversary of the birth of Kim Il Sung, the country's founding father and grandfather of current ruler, Kim Jong Un.

A military parade is expected in the North's capital, Pyongyang, to mark the day. North Korea often also marks important anniversaries with tests of its nuclear or missile capabilities in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

David Fuller's view -

Is the world a marginally more dangerous place since the end of the 20th Century?

I think so for five reasons: 1) The global economy has been weaker in the 21st Century to date; 2) The aging and unhealthy President Boris Yeltsin resigned as President of Russia on 31st December 1999, and handed over presidential powers to Prime Minister Vladimir Putin; 3) Communist China has become a global superpower; 4) There was a dearth of Western geopolitical leadership over the last eight years which has emboldened rogue regimes; 5) The advance of Technology and globalisation enable more countries to become nuclear powers. 

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April 10 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Nuclear Fusion Energy News: Infinite Power by 2030 with Nuclear Fusion Reactor?

Nuclear fusion energy has often been sarcastically said to be always 30 years away. This scientific inside joke is meant to suggest we will never have the Technology to make a working commercial nuclear fusion reactor. But despite the disappointments and failed promises over the last 50 years, the latest news suggests we might have reached a turning point in fusion energy research.

Many people confuse nuclear fusion reactors with nuclear fission reactors. But fission operates on the principle of placing enough fissionable radioactive material – uranium or plutonium – together that a chain reaction will take place in which particles given off by the fuel smash into other atoms in the material to produce excess energy.

This reaction has to be carefully managed through various means – including non-fissionable control rods – to avoid a disastrous runaway reaction.

But all of the concerns that people have about fission reactors – and these concerns are definitely justified following the incidents at Chernobyl and Fukushima – don’t apply to a fusion reactor. Nuclear fusion reactors cannot melt down, explode, or otherwise fail catastrophically in a way that threatens the environment.

If a nuclear fusion reactor did have a problem, it would simply stop working. In addition, the nuclear fusion energy production process produces very little radioactive waste – and what waste is produced has a much shorter half-life than the long-lasting, highly dangerous radioactive byproducts created by fission.

Another advantage that a commercial fusion reactor would have over fission reactors is that fissionable materials are extremely difficult to find and process for use, making them very expensive and essentially a limited resource. A nuclear fusion reactor would likely use deuterium, which can be extracted from ordinary seawater in virtually unlimited quantities.

Energy production via a nuclear fusion reactor has been on the wish list of many governments around the world, which is why an international project known as ITER was established to construct a massive experimental tokamak fusion reactor. As reported by the Manufacturer, the purpose is to confirm the feasibility of large-scale production of fusion energy.

The ultimate goal of the project is for ITER to be the first fusion reactor to achieve the production of more energy than it requires to operate. Reaching this breakeven point has been the Holy Grail of fusion research. Thirty-eight nations have joined this effort to construct the experimental ITER reactor in southern France – with the cost being astronomical.

However, the scientists, engineers and bureaucrats running this program admit that it will be many decades – perhaps as far away as 2050 – before an actual commercial reactor based on ITER will be in operation.

It has become virtually a mantra for nuclear fusion energy researchers that bigger is, in fact, better when it comes to building a nuclear fusion reactor. This is why governments are pouring tens of billions of dollars into the construction of the colossal experimental ITER reactor – that itself will not produce energy for consumption.

Fortunately, a number of other private organizations and companies around the world are trying to make fusion power a reality much quicker, perhaps even as soon as 2030. In addition, several individual governments have their own private nuclear fusion energy programs apart from ITER.

David Fuller's view -

Nuclear fusion has long been the holy grail of global energy, with no Parsifal equivalent in sight.  That may be changing, although it would not make a great opera.  However, more wealthy people, governments and university science departments are investing increasingly large sums of money to achieve nuclear fusion.   

When they succeed, which I would define as generating far more energy than they use in the process of creating nuclear fusion, it will be the greatest invention of all time. 



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April 06 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Vanguard has a Growing Dominance but Customer Service Takes a Hit as it receives Epic Inflows of Cash

Here is a section of this topical article from philly.com:

Vanguard's legacy was set by founder John Bogle, now retired, whose revolutionary idea was a low-cost index fund that kept fees low and returns higher -- as much as 0.50 percent higher annually over time.

That consumer-friendly concept has drawn in more than 20 million investors since its founding in 1975, and it's an edge that Vanguard is keen to maintain. 

When Fidelity Investments recently ran full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times touting its "lower-than-Vanguard" expense ratios on several funds and ETFs, Vanguard hit back and lowered those of several funds,  said Dan Wiener, editor of the Independent Adviser for Vanguard Investors. “What we’re talking about here is bragging rights.”

Indeed, Vanguard says its fee cuts this year alone have created $143 million in savings across 124 funds.  

So much money has poured into Vanguard’s largest funds – the $465 billion Total Stock Market Index and S&P 500 – that the team that runs those along with 200 more index funds has grown to 80 people today, led by Portfolio Manager Gerry O’Reilly and co-heads of trading Mike Buek and Ryan Ludt, from just a small team two decades ago.

Online, Vanguard fans are giving the firm the benefit of the doubt — for now.

After all, Vanguard’s assets have tripled in a decade, rising by $1 trillion to $4.2 trillion in just the last five years. Costs have fallen from 0.68 percent to 0.13 percent on average since 1975, McIsaac added.

“Until recently the quality of customer and operational service, and Technology was always superb.  Virtually error free,” wrote a client named Larry Mariasis on the Wall Street Journal’s comment pages. “But the pace of recent growth has impacted negatively the quality of service. ... Vanguard needs to seriously consider slowing down its growth ... to catch up with staff hiring and training.  Otherwise Vanguard risks tarnishing an amazing reputation.”

David L. Zalles, a Blue Bell accountant, says his peers complain about mistakes in record-keeping at Vanguard. He said he personally had been "disappointed" about the tax cost basis record-keeping. "No one at Vanguard apparently understands the actual reporting requirements."

Vanguard spokeswoman Arianna Stefanoni Sherlock said that the company had seen "an uptick in service-related complaints in sporadic months of last year," but that the stress "has all but abated," due in part to hiring here and for its Arizona and North Carolina locations.  

David Fuller's view -

I saw a somewhat different version of this article on Bloomberg Intelligence last night but it cannot be taken off the terminal.  So I asked Eoin, who joined FTM from Bloomberg over a decade ago, and he forwarded this related article above.

Vanguard’s biggest fan is Warren Buffett, who has long been a critic of fund management fees, because they mostly underperform stock market indices. I think it was about two years ago that Buffett announced that most of the money for his wife would be placed in Vanguard’s S&P 500 tracker.

The hero of Vanguard’s low fees is founder Jack Bogle, now retired.  His success has inevitably attracted competition, so Vanguard has continued to lower fees, to currently 0.13% for the S&P tracker.  It can do this because of all the money it holds.

What about the current problems with customer service delays?

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April 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Speaking engagements

Eoin Treacy's view -

It was a pleasure to be interviewed by Jonathan Davis for his Money Makers podcast series on Monday and I will post a link to it as soon as I have one. 

I have also agreed to participate in the 2017 Tech Investor’s Symposium hosted by Southbank Research in London on May 15th where I will be talking about evolving Technology trends. 

 



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April 05 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Robots Could Replace Humans Within the Next Few Hundred Years, Astronomer Royal Predicts

Robots could wipe out humans within the next few hundred years, according to Astronomer Royal Lord Rees.

The astrophysicist predicted that "within a few centuries machines will have taken over", with the potential of billions of years of history ahead of them - longer than humanity has had. 

It would make human dominance on Earth just a small transitional phase in the planet's history. 

Speaking to website The Conversation, Lord Rees, Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge, said within the next 10 or 20 years we could expect to have Technology that will allow us to search for alien life. 

However he said even if there is life out there, it may not necessarily be "intelligent life". 

"My guess is that if we do detect an alien intelligence, it will be nothing like us. It will be some sort of electronic entity," he said. "If we look at our history on Earth, it has taken about 4 billion years to get from the first protozoa to our current, technological civilisation. 

"But if we look into the future, then it’s quite likely that within a few centuries, machines will have taken over – and they will then have billions of years ahead of them.

"In other words, the period of time occupied by organic intelligence is just a thin sliver between early life and the long era of the machines.

"Because such civilisations would develop at different rates, it’s extremely unlikely that we will find intelligent life at the same stage of development as us. More likely, that life will still be either far simpler, or an already fully electronic intelligence."

David Fuller's view -

Do you think the super-intelligent robots will also say that they are created in God’s image?

Mrs Fuller and I have enjoyed hearing Lord Rees speak on a number of occasions, including at the Hay-on-Wye Festival.  He regards the ascendency of robots as a natural, inevitable progression.  Lord Rees is certainly not alone in this view.  A number of top intellects in science and tech industries agree.

Oh well, at least it should end global pollution. 



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April 04 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Equity View: Global Investment Themes

My thanks to Riverfront Investment Group for this topical publication.  Here is a brief sample:

Global Technology: We currently prefer non-mega-cap Technology globally.  US Technology stocks trade at close to a market multiple, despite the fact that they are forecasted to grow earnings at a faster rate.  In our view, the key positioning strategy in Technology is to avoid the mega-caps.  Mega-caps tend to have the least growth and can often carry the greatest expectations.  We prefer an equal-weighted basket of tech stocks.

David Fuller's view -

Charles Elliott also favoured smaller-cap Technology companies for their better valuations and often faster growth, in his excellent presentation at The Markets Now recently. 

I will add that fashionable mega-cap Technology firms are often pushed higher by Exchange Traded Funds and market momentum programmes.  That can be impressive but it is risky for people to chase the strong rallies, which shed gains quickly in the next correction.  



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April 04 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on desalination

Dear Eoin, concerning today's posting on the water situation, I recently visited one of Israel's 5 water desalination plants. Over the last 10 years Israel has totally overcome its historic water shortage problem by desalinating sea water. It has done so in collaboration with Veolia. In addition this new Technology is being exported worldwide. Once again we have an example of how human genius is applied to important problems and how new Technology is overcoming them. Great to be able to be positive when pessimism reigns around the world.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this first-hand account and I agree that solving Israel’s water challenges is a significant victory for a country where water security is highly politicised. This article from MIT Technology Review carries more information. Here is a section: 

The Sorek plant incorporates a number of engineering improvements that make it more efficient than previous RO facilities. It is the first large desalination plant to use pressure tubes that are 16 inches in diameter rather than eight inches. The payoff is that it needs only a fourth as much piping and other hardware, slashing costs. The plant also has highly efficient pumps and energy recovery devices. “This is indeed the cheapest water from seawater desalination produced in the world,” says Raphael Semiat, a chemical engineer and desalination expert at the Israel Institute of Technology, or Technion, in Haifa. “We don’t have to fight over water, like we did in the past.” Australia, Singapore, and several countries in the Persian Gulf are already heavy users of seawater desalination, and California is also starting to embrace the Technology (see “Desalination Out of Desperation”). Smaller-scale RO technologies that are energy-efficient and relatively cheap could also be deployed widely in regions with particularly acute water problems—even far from the sea, where brackish underground water could be tapped.

Earlier in development are advanced membranes made of atom-thick sheets of carbon, which hold the promise of further cutting the energy needs of desalination plants.

 



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April 03 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Graphene-Based Sieve Turns Seawater Into Drinking Water.

My thanks to a subscriber for this interesting article from BBC News, Science & Environment.  Here is the opening:

The promising graphene oxide sieve could be highly efficient at filtering salts, and will now be tested against existing desalination membranes.

It has previously been difficult to manufacture graphene-based barriers on an industrial scale.

Reporting their results in the journal Nature NanoTechnology, scientists from the University of Manchester, led by Dr Rahul Nair, shows how they solved some of the challenges by using a chemical derivative called graphene oxide.

Isolated and characterised by a University of Manchester-led team in 2004, graphene comprises a single layer of carbon atoms arranged in a hexagonal lattice. Its unusual properties, such as extraordinary tensile strength and electrical conductivity, have earmarked it as one of the most promising materials for future applications.

But it has been difficult to produce large quantities of single-layer graphene using existing methods, such as chemical vapour deposition (CVD). Current production routes are also quite costly.

On the other hand, said Dr Nair, "graphene oxide can be produced by simple oxidation in the lab".

He told BBC News: "As an ink or solution, we can compose it on a substrate or porous material. Then we can use it as a membrane.

"In terms of scalability and the cost of the material, graphene oxide has a potential advantage over single-layered graphene."

Of the single-layer graphene he added: "To make it permeable, you need to drill small holes in the membrane. But if the hole size is larger than one nanometre, the salts go through that hole. You have to make a membrane with a very uniform less-than-one-nanometre hole size to make it useful for desalination. It is a really challenging job."

Graphene oxide membranes have already proven their worth in sieving out small nanoparticles, organic molecules and even large salts. But until now, they couldn't be used to filter out common salts, which require even smaller sieves.

Previous work had shown that graphene oxide membranes became slightly swollen when immersed in water, allowing smaller salts to flow through the pores along with water molecules.

Now, Dr Nair and colleagues demonstrated that placing walls made of epoxy resin (a substance used in coatings and glues) on either side of the graphene oxide membrane was sufficient to stop the expansion.

Restricting the swelling in this way also allowed the scientists to tune the properties of the membrane, letting through less or more common salt for example.

David Fuller's view -

Graphene is one of the most useful products ever invented but apparently difficult to use on a commercial scale, at least so far.  Mrs Fuller drew my attention to graphene years ago and wanted to know how to invest in it?  I remain convinced that it will eventually have many applications which remain almost unimaginable today.

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April 03 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Europe's Diesel Decay Set to Accelerate in VW Cheating Fallout

This article by Elisabeth Behrmann and Tom Lavell for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Diesel cars’ popularity in Europe has been waning as Volkswagen’s emissions-test manipulation scandal, which emerged in late 2015, compounded concerns that pollutants from the fuel are outweighing the benefits of its lower CO2 emissions. Mercedes outlined plans last week to accelerate a rollout of battery-powered cars by 2022, saying combustion engines would continue to be refined only for a transitional period.

“Diesel’s share in Europe has been declining for years because of stricter emissions regulation making the Technology more expensive,” and potential restrictions on the models in cities such as Munich will probably damp sales further, Thomas Schlick, an automotive consultant at Roland Berger, said by phone. “The longer-term implications for a drop in combustion- engine demand are significant for the industry as by our calculations about one-third of jobs in the auto industry are related to drive-train Technology.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

The German automotive industry received a robust defence from Angela Merkel when the diesel cheating scandal broke. That means the sector has been given ample time to transfer away from what is a serious polluting influence on major cities not least in relation to nitrogen oxide emissions. If they are to now meet the strict emissions controls which we can expect will be enforced then more efficient internal combustion engines, hybrids and electric vehicles are inevitable.



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March 30 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

We filled the Morrison Room on Monday with several people from overseas and far more delegates from across the UK than London.  We are fortunate to have experienced delegates and we all learn more thanks to their contributions.

March 29 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on hydrogen versus electric vehicles

I hope you are well. I was wondering what you thought of this article (Japan gambles on Toyota’s hydrogen powered car) about Toyota’s lack of faith in electric vehicles because 'a battery breakthrough is not in prospect'

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email raising an important issue regarding energy density. Here is a section from the article:

Fuel cell vehicles, by contrast, need all the manufacturing skills of a car company. “From the industrial strategy point of view, fuel cell Technology is extremely difficult, it’s in the world of chemistry not machinery,” says Hiroshi Katayama at the advanced energy systems and structure division of the ministry of economy, trade and industry (METI). If auto Technology goes down the hydrogen path, Japan will be well placed. But if it doesn’t, Tokyo will have made a major miscalculation.

Toyota’s faith in hydrogen is best understood by looking at a car it never made: a pure electric vehicle. For the 20 years since it invented the Prius hybrid, Toyota has been the carmaker best-placed to launch a fully electric vehicle. It had the batteries, the motors and the power electronics but chose not to deploy them because of concerns about range limits, refuelling time and the risk of batteries degrading as they age.

It has announced plans for its own electric vehicle to exploit the demand from the premium segment opened up by Tesla and to meet emissions standards in the US and China. Yet Toyota’s fundamental doubts about battery-powered vehicles have not gone away.

The long dreamt-of Sakichi battery would store energy at the same density as the chemical bonds in petrol: roughly 10,000 watt-hours per litre — enough to power a family car for hundreds of kilometres on a single tank. The low energy density of the best batteries, about one-twentieth that of petrol, is why today’s electric cars have limited range.



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March 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Monday’s seminar in The Caledonian Club’s excellent Morrison Room on the ground floor is now fully booked.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

I am looking forward to another lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include a short presentation from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

 

Please note: I will be away on Monday with The Markets Now preparations and also on Tuesday for a minor corrective medical procedure. 



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March 23 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

American Strategic Decline Is a Myth Donald Trump Continues to Peddle

Contrary to widespread belief, the US is not facing economic and strategic decline in any foreseeable future.

It had already reclaimed its superpower lead before Donald Trump swept into office vowing to make America great again. With hindsight we can see ever more clearly that the Lehman crisis was a false alarm.

Loss of dominance has long been a staple of US discourse. John Kennedy decried the ballistic "missile gap" with the Soviet Union before the 1960 election, when Russia had just four missiles and the US had thousands with explosive power equal to 1.3 million Hiroshima-sized bombs.

Ever since I began covering the US as a journalist in the early Reagan years, there have been bouts of soul-searching.  Paul Kennedy's theory of imperial over-stretch in Rise and Fall of the Great Powers was all the rage in the late 1980s, when the Washington clerisy thought Japan destined for economic leadership.

Edward Luttwack upped the ante in 1994 with Endangered American Dream, warning that the US was turning into a third world nation. This was just as the US was about establish its undisputed hegemony over the digital age.

US decline was a myth then, and remains a myth today. Putative rivals have all run into trouble or face structural limits that will be obvious within a decade. India's time has not yet come.

And:

A decade ago the US was preparing to import liquefied natural gas (LNG) on a large scale. The terminals have since switched into export hubs. American shale gas is being shipped to Europe.

The effect is to force down the market price of gas in EU, depriving Russia's Gazprom of its lockhold on prices. Lithuania's "Independence" terminal can now import LNG, eliminating dependence on the Kremlin. Poland is following suit. That strategic implications are profound.

As Goldman Sachs said this week, US shale oil can go from zero to peak output within six to nine months. It can do so on a big enough scale to hold down global crude prices, and for long enough to bleed OPEC and the Kremlin almost white.

The Permian Basin in West Texas alone could match Saudi Arabia's Ghawar field within five years, topping 5m barrels a day. Fracking Technology has cut break-even costs so fast that old "super-basins" are poised for stunning revivals. It is no longer a question of whether the US will become a net oil exporter, but how soon.

While the US "manufacturing renaissance" has been patchy, cheap gas has restored the fortunes of the plastics, chemical, and glass industries. The American Chemistry Council is tracking $130bn of new investment along the Gulf Coast, expected to create 460,000 jobs by 2022. The US unemployment rate is 4.7pc, near a  half-century low

This is the recovery that Donald Trump managed to turn into a landscape of “rusted-out factories scattered like tombstones” in his dystopian inaugural address.

It is of course standard fare for opposition candidates to decry the decline of America during campaigns. What is different about President Trump is that he continues to push this line after taking office, presumably because he believes his own wild claims.

We all have to reach our own conclusions about Donald Trump. My view is that he matters less than we now think. His presidency may prove no more than a four-year embarrassment, leaving few traces.

His plans to slash science and Technology funding by 20pc would indeed risk the sort of decline he rails against. But his budget is dead on arrival in Congress.

His contempt for allies and the multilateral bodies that vastly lever America's strategic power is folly but the US Senate is likely to take charge and run foreign policy on traditional lines. Grown-ups at the helm of the State, Defence, and Treasury departments will navigate the reefs. America's institutions and courts will contain Mr Trump.

David Fuller's view -

Donald Trump won the US Presidential election for two very different reasons.

1) He recognised that vast stretches of America between the East and West Coasts contained plenty of angry voters, who Hillary Clinton once described unwisely as “the deplorables”. Job losses due to accelerating technological innovation were a big problem, especially for less skilled workers.  For instance, people were working at Walmart for $9 an hour, while a little over a generation earlier their ancestors earned $30 an hour in steel mills.  That was before globalisation and competition from developing Asian economies led to many of the US’s rust belts.   

2) Most of the financial community and a considerable number of Republican business people were fed up with onerous financial regulations, high taxation and limited economic growth. The Lehman crisis was no “false alarm”, as stated above, because it could have triggered a depression without a massive monetary stimulus from the Federal Reserve and also central banks in other countries.  Unfortunately, Barack Obama was far more interested in regulation than economic stimulus.

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



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March 23 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

This seminar on Monday 27th March in The Caledonian Club’s excellent Morrison Room on the ground floor is now fully booked.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

I am looking forward to another lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include a short presentation from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 



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March 23 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Energy Stat: Are Electric and Autonomous Vehicles Heading Down the Road to Peak Oil Demand?

Thanks to a subscriber for this fascinating report by Pavel Mulchanov for Raymond James which may be of interest. Here is a section:

There is no law of nature that dictates that global oil demand must eventually reach a peak and then begin an irreversible decline. The well-known “law” of Hubbert’s Peak applies to supply, not demand, and the advent of modern Technology (fracking, horizontal drilling, enhanced recovery, etc.) has led to a fundamental rethink of whether oil supply will peak after all. In this context, we see comments such as the one from Shell, suggesting that peak demand will come first, rendering peak supply a moot point.

There is no direct historical precedent for worldwide demand for a major energy commodity to peak on a sustained basis. (Sorry, whale oil doesn’t count.) Despite all of the regulatory and other headwinds, for example, global consumption of coal is still growing. But it is true that there is precedent for national and even regional demand to peak. Coal demand in Europe peaked in the 1960s, and has since fallen to substantially lower levels. Oil demand in Japan peaked in the 1990s. Oil demand in Europe peaked more recently, in 2006, one year after the U.S. By definition, a peak is something that can only be known in retrospect, but with a decade having passed, it seems abundantly clear that European oil demand will never get back to its pre-2006 levels. With regard to the U.S., the situation is less clear-cut because of the demand recovery in recent years, but 2005 may well be the all-time peak. The theory of peak global oil demand holds that when enough parts of the world reach a peak, a global peak will result, because the few places still growing will not be enough to offset the decliners. In this sense, the theory is conceptually valid. Thus, we would not argue with the notion that peak oil demand is a matter of time. The real question is: how much time?

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

I had not previously seen the statistics about peak demand for Europe and Japan so I found this report enlightening and commend it to subscribers. Peak demand is an important theme and explains why Saudi Arabia guards its Asian markets so jealously; offering discounts again as recently as two weeks ago. Asia and Africa represent the two big growth markets for international oil products just as they represent the major growth areas for coal consumption. 



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March 23 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Dow's Merck Swipes Immuno-Oncology Share From Heavyweight Rivals

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

Four immuno-oncology drugs from Merck, Bristol-Myers and Roche brought in $464 million in February, declining 4% from $483 million in January, Leerink analyst Seamus Fernandez said, citing data from tracker Symphony Health.

But February was a shorter month, which could be partly responsible for the decrease, Fernandez said in a research report. Despite the slowdown, Merck's Keytruda sales grew 2% in February vs. the prior month.

Meanwhile, Bristol-Myers' drugs Opdivo and Yervoy held on to a collective 69% market share, falling 1% vs. January. Merck's Keytruda now has 24% of the market, up from 23% the prior month. Roche's Tecentriq was flat at 7% share.

Immuno-oncology drugs fight cancer by teaching the body's immune system to identify cancer cells hiding behind specific proteins. Those proteins are called checkpoints.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

CRISPR-Cas9 gene editing is quickly revolutionising the genetics sector by reducing the cost and increasing the speed of innovation. That is particularly good news for cancer treatments because there are so many different mutations and each needs a tailored approach. In fact the end point of research and another area receiving a great deal of interest is the synthetic biology sector where custom viruses can be written to attack a patient’s personal cancer. 



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March 21 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Big Oil Plan to Buy Into the Shale Boom

American shale with gusto, planning to spend a combined $10 billion this year, up from next to nothing only a few years ago.

The giants are gaining a foothold in West Texas with such projects as Bongo 76-43, a well which is being drilled 10,000 feet beneath the table-flat, sage-scented desert, and which then extends horizontally for a mile, blasting through rock to capture light crude from the sprawling Permian Basin.

While the first chapter of the U.S. shale revolution belonged to wildcatters such as Harold Hamm and the late Aubrey McClendon, who parlayed borrowed money into billions, Bongo 76-43 is financed by Shell.

If the big boys are successful, they’ll scramble the U.S. energy business, boost American oil production, keep prices low, and steal influence from big producers, such as Saudi Arabia. And even with their enviable balance sheets, the majors have been as relentless in transforming shale drilling into a more economical operation as the pioneering wildcatters before them.

“We’ve turned shale drilling from art into science,” Cindy Taff, Shell’s vice president of unconventional wells, said on a recent visit to Bongo 76-43, about 100 miles (160 kilometers) west of Midland, Texas, capital of the Permian.

Bongo 76-43, named after an African antelope, is an example of a leaner, faster industry nicknamed “Shale 2.0” after the 2014 oil-price crash. Traditionally, oil companies drilled one well per pad—the flat area they clear to put in the rig. At Bongo 76-43, Shell is drilling five wells in a single pad for the first time, each about 20 feet apart. That saves money otherwise spent moving rigs from site to site. Shell said it’s now able to drill 16 wells with a single rig every year, up from six in 2013.

With multiple wells on the same pad, a single fracking crew can work several weeks consecutively without having to travel from one pad to other. At Bongo 76-43, Shell is using three times more sand and fluids to break up the shale, a process called fracking, than it did four years ago. The company said it spends about $5.5 million per well today in the Permian, down nearly 60 percent from 2013.

“We’re literally down to measuring efficiency in minutes, rather than hours or days,” said Bryan Boyles, Bongo 76-43’s manager.

Exxon, Shell, and Chevron will be able to spend more than independents can for service contracts and prime drilling acreage. But if the majors pursue acquisition deals, as they’ve done before, the wildcatters stand to reap the benefits.

Exxon invested big in shale in 2010 when it bought XTO Energy Inc. in a deal valued at $41 billion. For years, however, the major companies spent little on shale, instead focusing on their traditional turf: multibillion-dollar engineering marvels in the middle of nowhere that took years to build. The wells that Big Oil drilled were mostly in deep water, where a single hole could cost $100 million, rather than shale wells that can be set up for as little as $5 million each.

And:

Chevron said it estimates its shale output will increase as much as 30 percent per year for the next decade, with production expanding to 500,000 barrels a day by 2020, from about 100,000 now. “We can see production above 700,000 barrels a day within a decade,” Chevron Chief Executive Officer John Watson told investors this month.

Exxon said it plans to spend one-third of its drilling budget this year on shale, with a goal to lift output to nearly 800,000 barrels a day by 2025, up from less than 200,000 barrels now. The company doubled its Permian footprint with a $6.6 billion acquisition of properties from the billionaire Bass family. Darren Woods, Exxon’s new CEO, said shale isn’t “on a discovery mode, it’s in an extraction mode.”

David Fuller's view -

The US is now the swing producer of crude oil, increasing output in the Permian Basin and other sites when prices are attractive relative to production costs, while cutting back domestic supplies and buying in oil when they are much lower. 

Prices of WTI Crude oil have fallen back from $55 this month, mainly because US production has increased sharply and some OPEC producers are quietly abandoning their previously announced ‘cutbacks’.  Russia promised OPEC that it would lower production but that was mainly due to the freezing weather in Siberia during January and February, and they have been increasing production subsequently. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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March 21 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates, currently up to 25 and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

I am looking forward to another lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include a short presentation from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



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March 20 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates, currently up to 25 and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

I am looking forward to another lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include a short presentation from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



This section continues in the Subscriber's Area. Back to top
March 17 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

There are a few seats left, so come along and join us if you can, for another very lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include an introduction from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Meanwhile, Trump has generated plenty of political and economic controversy. Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



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March 16 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Real Problem Is We Are All Over-Taxed

Here is the latter part of an excellent, common sense column by Allister Heath for The Telegraph.

The great economist Ronald Coase taught us that corporations are only the best vehicle for economic activity when the transaction costs of working in a hierarchical, closely managed organisation is lower than the costs involved in getting freelancers or independent agents to cooperate. But tech means that the economics have tilted at least a little away from the corporation, and more towards smaller firms, contractors and freelancers advertising their wares via platforms, and this is panicking our social-democratic establishment, who fear losing the last levers they still retain over our society and economy.

So they have enrolled the Government – including Philip Hammond, the Chancellor – in their quest to slow down change. Their strategy has been to point out the inconsistencies in current rules. Take the jobs market: some people are obviously employees, and others are pure self-employed freelancers.

But what of workers who rely primarily for their income on a platform like Uber? The drivers own their own cars, pay for their own operating expenses and choose their own hours; almost all of them are happy. But are they really, fully self-employed, or are they part of some third way which isn’t (yet) recognised in law and in the tax code?

It is obviously true that the present classification makes little sense. But sometimes it’s best not to change a broken system, for fear of making it even worse, and that is exactly what Hammond should have realised before he decided to raid the self-employed. The problem isn’t that the self-employed are “under-taxed” to the tune of £5.1bn a year, as many establishment economists have been saying. The problem is that employees are over-taxed to the tune of many more billions – overtaxed in the sense that a much lower overall tax rate, accompanied by a much smaller state, is, in my view, the only way Britain will prosper and thrive as an independent, free trading economy in the 21st century.

But until the day that the Government can drastically slash taxes at the same time as it radically simplifies the system – the model recommended by the 2020 Tax Commission, which I chaired – it would be better for it to do nothing. It should certainly not seek to undermine or campaign against self-employment, on the spurious grounds that it’s an “inferior” form of employment.

It should not seek to extend the welfare state’s net ever wider, showering the self-employed with more benefits. And the last thing it should do is plot to whack the likes of Uber with a 13.8pc payroll tax, which would be the logical (but job destroying and price raising) outcome of any system that sought to tax “platform workers” like the employed. This is a Tory government, and it is high time it began behaving like one.

David Fuller's view -

This is one of the most sensible comments on our fast moving, Technology driven economies (not just the UK) that I have seen.

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



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March 16 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

There are a few seats left, so come along and join us if you can, for another very lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include an introduction from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Meanwhile, Trump has generated plenty of political and economic controversy. Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



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March 14 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

There are a few seats left, so come along and join us if you can, for another very lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include an introduction from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Meanwhile, Trump has generated plenty of political and economic controversy. Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



This section continues in the Subscriber's Area. Back to top
March 13 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

There are a few seats left, so come along and join us if you can, for another very lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include an introduction from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Meanwhile, Trump has generated plenty of political and economic controversy. Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



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March 13 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Intel to Acquire Mobileye

This press release may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

“As cars progress from assisted driving to fully autonomous, they are increasingly becoming data centers on wheels. Intel expects that by 2020, autonomous vehicles will generate 4,000 GB of data per day, which plays to Intel’s strengths in high-performance computing and network connectivity. The complexity and computing power of highly and fully autonomous cars creates large-scale opportunities for high-end Intel® Xeon® processors and high-performance EyeQ®4 and EyeQ®5 SoCs, high-performance FPGAs, memory, high-bandwidth connectivity, and computer vision Technology.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Intel missed a trick when mobile phones took off. It had simply ignored the market for years, preferring instead to concentrate on desktops where it has a strong lead in what is a declining market. When mobile phone demand exploded in popularity companies like ARM Holdings and Qualcomm took the initiative and the bulk of the profits. Since the market for desktop computers is shrinking Intel can’t afford to miss out on the evolution of autonomous vehicles since it is likely to become a major destination for both chips and sensors over the next decades. 



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March 10 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Race to Bottom on Costs May Cause Oil to Choke on Supplies

Here is the opening of this topical article by Bloomberg:

Houston hosted two events this week: the nation’s largest energy conference and the town’s famous rodeo. They have more in common than you’d think.

In both cases, the key for top performers is how efficiently they perform. For cowboys, it means tightly controlling every muscle to stick on a bucking bronco. For energy executives, it means controlling every cost to lower the break-even price and survive what’s been a wild ride on the oil market.

When companies can lower the price at which they break-even, it means they can approve more projects and produce more oil, keeping dividends safe and investors happy. The risk: By drilling up their share price, they can also end up drilling down the price of oil. Welcome to 2017, the year after a two-year market rout made companies more efficient. At the CERAWeek by IHS Markit conference this week, fears of too much supply were palpable.

"Everyone is driving break-even prices down," Deborah Byers, head of U.S. oil and gas at consultants Ernst & Young LLP in Houston, said in an interview at the meeting, the largest annual gathering of industry executives in the world. "It isn’t just shale companies; it’s everyone, from deep-water to conventional."

As the conference was ongoing, those fears took physical form as West Texas Intermediate, the U.S. crude benchmark, plunged 9.1 percent this week, closing below the key $50-a-barrel level for the first time this year. It settled at $48.49 on Friday.

The slump came as Scott Sheffield, chairman of Pioneer Natural Resources Co., said prices could fall to $40 if OPEC doesn’t extend its existing agreement to cut production. Shale billionaire Harold Hamm, the CEO of Continental Resources Inc., warned undisciplined growth could "kill" the oil market.

The buzzword was efficiency. In panel discussions and keynote speeches, executive after executive tried to outdo rivals in announcing their low break-even prices. Eldar Saetre, head of the Norwegian oil giant Statoil ASA, told delegates that break even for his company’s next generation of projects had fallen from $70-plus to "well below" $30 a barrel.

David Fuller's view -

Analysis of the international oil market today is simple, albeit very different from what the industry has experienced in earlier decades.  Thanks to Technology, oil companies around the world can now produce more crude at $50 a barrel than the global economy can consume.  Furthermore, the average cost of production is still declining and is likely to be considerably lower ten to twenty years from now. 

The world will never run out of oil, even when the global economy is booming with the help of cheaper energy prices.  This is not because the supply of oil in the ground is infinite, which it is not.  Instead, the world is approaching peak oil demand within the next decade, because other forms of energy continue to become more competitive, thanks to Technology, and they cause less pollution.

The only way oil prices can move considerably higher than today’s levels for both Brent and WTI crude, is if production is sharply curtailed, for one reason or another.  While theoretically possible, this is unlikely beyond the short term, if at all.  

(See also this week's earlier comments.)



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March 10 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

David Fuller's view -

We already have another interesting list of experienced delegates and certainly not just from London. In fact, they are attending from far and wide. 

There are a few seats left, so come along and join us if you can, for another very lively and enjoyable evening, which will now include an introduction from a fourth speaker well known to Iain Little.

Meanwhile, Trump has generated plenty of political and economic controversy.  Among markets, Technology has never been more interesting in our lifetime so Charles Elliott’s latest comments will be most welcome. 

Whatever your investments, we will need to keep an eye on these two charts as the year progresses – Dollar Index and US 10-Yr T-Bond Yields.



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March 10 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

New Infrastructure Themes and Top Ideas

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Deutsche Bank highlighting the growth potential in new Technology infrastructure. Here is a section:

A core insight in our theme report is the meaningful shift in spending priorities that our primary research notes at Hyperscale Clouds, Enterprises, and Service Providers. In particular, we highlight +50% Y/Y capex intensity at major Clouds for Terabit Scale Optical Interconnects; required for running Web Scale Applications such as Google Maps, Azure Cloud, AWS, GCP, etc.

A corollary insight is the accelerating IT demand for Software and SaaS based tools for Network and Application Analytics, AI and Machine Learning, and Automation tools – for “structurally lowering” the costs of running complex IT infrastructures at Hyperscale Clouds, Large Enterprises, and Carriers.

A case in point is CSCO “doubling down” on Security, Analytics, AI/ML, and Automation Software capabilities (Meraki, AppDynamics, Jasper, Tetration, etc) to drive incremental Top Line and EPS growth through a “recurring revenue” model – laddering upon CSCO’s +250B networking installed base.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

There is a lot of tech-speak in this report but the three main themes it is promulgating are the growth and increasing sophistication of cloud computing, the growth of fibre optics where Terabit speeds are potentially possible and the rollout of 5G mobile networks. 

Most of what has made headlines in the Technology sector over the last decade has been software related. In fact the pinnacle of this reliance on other company’s infrastructure might be Snap’s IPO. The company runs none of its own infrastructure, at least so far, and has instead chosen to outsource everything from managing the backend to client acquisition to third parties like Google and Amazon. However software relies on hardware and infrastructure to grow and if the aspirations of companies that depend on it like Netflix and Facebook are going to be realised then major connectivity investment needs to take place. 

 



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March 10 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Park's Ouster Raises Prospect of Reset With China, Kim Jong Un

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

The impeachment of Park Geun-hye opens the door for a reset in ties with North Korea and China.

The leading candidates to replace Park, who was ousted as president by South Korea’s constitutional court on Friday, favor a softer touch with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. They’re also open to rethinking the deployment of the Thaad missile shield, which has spurred Chinese retaliation against South Korean companies.

“The liberals believe that if you engage with North Korea, then they could get some kind of missile-test moratorium,” said John Delury, an associate professor of Chinese studies at Yonsei University in Seoul. “The Chinese strategy will be to push just hard enough so the South Korean public sees the cost of having Thaad, but not too hard that you unleash outrage.”

The election campaign -- a vote must be held within 60 days -- will spur fresh debate on how to stop Kim from acquiring more powerful nuclear weapons and missiles. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson plans to seek a new approach to dealing with North Korea in a trip to the region next week, though China’s calls for talks have been rebuffed by the U.S., Japan and South Korea.

Earlier this week, the U.S. military unloaded two mobile missile launchers in South Korea to start deployment of Thaad. It came as North Korea launched four ballistic missiles that landed in waters near Japan.    

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The potential for a reset with North Korea is a double-edged sword. After all this is a regime whose main export has been nuclear Technology to any country willing to pay for it, but most particularly those which are at odds with Western interests. In that regard it is reasonable to conclude North Korea’s actions are those of a Chinese puppet state. Too often the liberal attitude to negotiations has been to give the recalcitrant threatening aggressor whatever they want just to make them go away. Unfortunately, that only emboldens them to ask make even more ambitious demands. 



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March 09 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the current brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

March 08 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

March 06 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Permain Shale Boom in Texas Is Devastating for OPEC

The Opec oil cartel is waking up to an unpleasant surprise. Shale output from the Permian Basin in Texas is expanding faster than the world thought humanly possible.

The scale threatens to neutralise output cuts agreed by Saudi Arabia and a Russian-led bloc last November, and ultimately threatens to break their strategic lockhold on the global crude market for a generation.

"People just don't seem to realise how big the Permian is. It will eventually pass the Ghawar field in Saudi Arabia, and that is the biggest in the world," said Scott Sheffield, founder of Pioneer Natural Resources and acclaimed 'King of the Permian'.

"We think it could produce 8-10m barrels a day (b/d) within ten years. We're telling our investors that Pioneer could reach one million," he said. Roughly 70pc of this would be crude oil, and the rest in gas and liquids.

And:

The beauty of the Permian rock is that it has up to twelve layers "stacked" on top of each other down to a depth of 12,000 ft, offering multiple seams and perfectly suited to horizontal drilling.

The reservoirs are not cursed by saltwater zones. They hold 75pc oil, compared to 40-50pc in other fracking regions. A nexus of pipelines is already in place. Pioneer can send crude to the Gulf coast for $2.50 a barrel in transport costs.

And:

There is no longer any question that US shale has profoundly disrupted the global oil markets. Saudi Arabia's campaign to break the fracking industry has been a costly war of attrition, depleting a quarter trillion dollars of the Kingdom's foreign exchange reserves without halting the juggernaut.

OPEC members face a Permian headwind that may cap crude prices far below levels needed to balance their budgets. In the end, the 40pc collapse in worldwide oil and gas investment over the last two years will lead to a supply crunch. But oil bulls betting on a return to $80 may have to be patient.

Mr Sheffield said the strategic blunder made by the Saudis was to let prices rise so high for so long in the great China boom. It gave US shale the window to reach critical mass and critical Technology.

 "It was the $100 oil environment for four years that allowed us to do what we did. It they had kept oil down at $70 to $75, it would have been a helluva a lot slower," he said.

David Fuller's view -

The concluding sentence above is another example of the commodity adage: The cure for high prices is high prices.  They lead to a decline in consumption, substitution, and increased production.  Conversely: The cure for low prices is low prices.  They eventually lead to a decline in production, stockpiling, and increased consumption. 

I actually think AE-P is too optimistic in his excellent column above.  When he says that Permian Basin output “ultimately threatens to break their [OPEC’s] strategic lockhold on the global crude market for a generation”, that already happened in the second half of 2014. 

Almost a decade from now, output from Permian Basin and other leading shale fields is likely to be higher, provided oil prices have not fallen sharply from current levels.  Moreover, any developed country which wants to produce its own shale oil will be doing so if it has been able to overcome political objections.  The production of solar power will have increased enormously.  Electric vehicles will have made huge inroads into the market for petrol driven cars and trucks. 

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



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March 06 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

March 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Hammond to Offer $674 Million to Boost Innovation in Budget

This article by Svenja O'Donnell for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

U.K. Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond will use Wednesday’s budget to allocate more than 550 million pounds ($674 million) to boost innovation and Technology, as he focuses on targeted measures while keeping back the Treasury’s firepower to offset any turbulence from Brexit. 

The money, from the National Productivity Fund, will support work in areas including electric vehicles, robotics and artificial intelligence, the Treasury said in a briefing note. Hammond will also set out details on work to boost 5G mobile phone coverage in Britain.

The plan comes as Hammond pledged on Sunday to set aside money to cushion the economy as Britain prepares to start negotiations to exit the European Union. He warned the budget would not include any spending commitments funded by borrowing as he seeks to balance the books in the next parliamentary term.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The UK needs a competitive advantage in how it navigates its post Brexit reality. The City, defence and the domestic oil business have all played a role in sustaining the UK’s independence in the past but some of the biggest questions posed by Brexit are whether these will be enough to sustain the economy in future. Streamlined common sense regulation and attractive tax policies are going to have to form part of the solution in order to delineate the UK from its neighbours. However intellectual property and the ability to leverage technological knowhow on a global scale are the hallmarks of successful enterprises and countries and will also be essential to plotting a success independent strategy of the UK. 



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March 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

IBM thinks it's ready to turn quantum computing into an actual business

This article by Mike Murphy for Quartz may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: 

As it stands, IBM’s largest quantum computer has five qubits. By contrast the average laptop has hundreds of millions of bits in its processors, although the two types of computers are not directly comparable. IBM hopes, however, to continue its research with the aim of building quantum computers with roughly 50 qubits. For comparison, an IBM spokesperson told Quartz, you can simulate the computational power of a 25-qubit quantum computer on a regular laptop. At about 45 qubits, you’d need the world’s fastest supercomputers, and above 50, “you couldn’t build large enough classical computing systems to simulate that size of a quantum system.”

In IBM’s vision of the future, quantum computers could be used for discovering new drugs, securing the internet, modeling the economy, or potentially even building far more powerful artificial intelligence systems—all sorts of exceedingly complicated tasks. One area the company is looking at right now is in chemistry, attempting to simulate what’s going on in a molecule. “Even for simple molecules like caffeine, the number of quantum states in the molecule can be astoundingly large,” the spokesperson said, “so large that all the conventional computing memory and processing power scientists could ever build could not handle the problem.”

When Quartz visited IBM’s quantum computing lab in Yorktown Heights in 2015, the work being done was viewed as fundamental—research for the sake of research—rather than anything tied to specific business goals. But then again, so was the research that has since led to the creation of Watson. Originally conceived of to take on the question-as-answers gameshow of Jeopardy!, which researchers saw as a “unique and compelling AI question,” Watson has become a set of machine-learning and AI services that IBM sells, and intends to invest $1 billion into.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

IBM is still in the throes of a major transition from physical hardware manufacturing to an almost total focus on knowledge based services. Artificial intelligence (Watson), and the tools to leverage that Technology (massive & fast processing power) represent the key areas of focus in what is a new era for the company. 



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March 03 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

March 02 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Dyson Expands in U.K. With New Technology Campus

Here is the opening of this informative article from Bloomberg:

Dyson Ltd., the U.K. maker of high-end vacuum cleaners and hand dryers, said it's creating a new 517-acre campus in the English countryside to expand its research and development of robotics, batteries, vision systems and artificial intelligence.  

James Dyson, the company's founder, announced the expansion today at the new site in the Cotswolds, about 100 miles west of London on a former military barracks and flying school. Work will start with the restoration of a former World War II airplane hangar in May with the goal of it opening by the end of the year.  

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May said in a statement that the company's expansion is a vote of confidence for the British economy following the country's decision to leave the European Union. "Dyson’s exporting strength and commitment to creating jobs in Britain is a real success story that demonstrates the opportunity that our plan to create a truly global Britain can present," May said. 

Still, Dyson said the U.K. lacks enough skilled workers. An additional 640,000 engineers are needed in the U.K. by 2020, according to the company. To fill the gap, the firm pledged 15 million pounds ($18.6 million) over the next five years to create an alternative to going to university. Talented engineers will be able to work and study at the company for four years to gain hands-on experience.

“The U.K.’s skills shortage is holding Dyson back as we look to increase the amount of Technology we develop and export from the U.K.," Dyson said in a statement. "We are taking matters into our own hands." 

Dyson employs 3,500 people in the U.K. Its global headquarters is in nearby Malmesbury, a campus that in addition to research and engineering labs has a helicopter in the parking lot and a jet plane hanging from the cafeteria ceiling. The company also recently opened a Technology center in Singapore where it employs 1,100 people. 

While best known for its vacuum cleaners, Dyson is expanding into new areas. A $400 hair dryer introduced in 2016 took four years and $70 million to develop. The company said it has committed 2.5 billion pounds to future technologies. In 2015, the company bought the battery startup Sakti3 for $90 million, and has pledged to spend 1 billion pounds on battery development. The work has contributed to speculation the company is working on an electric car.  

David Fuller's view -

James Dyson is a tireless genius who continues to expand his product range.  The Fuller household has numerous Dyson products which have the quality achieved by a true perfectionist. 

Dyson voted for Brexit because he was tired of Brussels’ red tape and the EU was a shrinking market. 



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March 02 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

March 01 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Economists May Be Underestimating How Fast the Robots Are Coming

Here is the opening of this informative article from Bloomberg:

Economists may be underestimating the impact on labor markets of increasing automation and the rise of artificial intelligence, according to a post published on the Bank of England’s staff blog on Wednesday.

“The potential for simultaneous and rapid disruption, coupled with the breadth of human functions that AI might replicate, may have profound implications for labor markets,” BOE regional agents Mauricio Armellini and Tim Pike wrote in the Bank Underground post. “Economists should seriously consider the possibility that millions of people may be at risk of unemployment, should these technologies be widely adopted.”

Robots and intelligent machines threaten to replace workers in industries from finance to retail to haulage, with BOE Chief Economist Andrew Haldane estimating in 2015 that 15 million British jobs and 80 million in the U.S. could be lost to automation. Past periods of technological upheaval, such as the industrial revolution, may not be a useful guide as the pace of change was slower, giving society longer to mitigate the potential consequences of increasing job displacement and inequality, according to Armellini and Pike.

“Economists looking at previous industrial revolutions observe that none of these risks have transpired,” they wrote. “However, this possibly underestimates the very different nature of the technological advances currently in progress, in terms of their much broader industrial and occupational applications and their speed of diffusion.”

“It would be a mistake, therefore, to dismiss the risks associated with these new technologies too lightly,” they said.

David Fuller's view -

It is easy to overlook the speed of technological innovation which is occurring.  After all, we have not experienced it previously and we have also lived through eight difficult years of slow GDP growth due to the severe credit crisis recession commencing in 2008.

Nevertheless, just consider for a moment the dramatic technological changes that you have witnessed and often benefited from over the last decade.  Consider just three of many examples which may be personal to you: 1) changes in your mobile phone over the last decade; 2) improvements in your computer software; 3) the advanced Technology in your car if you purchased a new one in the last year or two.

Think how few of the technologies which you take for granted today were not available only twenty years ago.  Ten years from now the changes will be even more dramatic because we are living in an era of accelerating technological innovation, which will not end because we run out of new ideas. 

Yes, it will include many more robots.  However, very few of them will have visually human characteristics.  The big robots will be ever smarter industrial machines.  Many others will be miniature and all but invisible.  Most of these will be in the form of smart, fast chips or processors in computers and also larger machines.  There is no limit to their usefulness.  



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March 01 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

February 28 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

February 27 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

February 27 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Wal-Mart launches new front in U.S. price war, targets Aldi in grocery aisle

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

The big box retailer also held meetings last week in Bentonville, Arkansas with food and consumer products vendors, including Procter & Gamble (PG.N), Unilever PLC (ULVR.L), Conagra Brands Inc (CAG.N), and demanded they reduce the cost they charge the retailer by 15 percent, sources said.

Wal-Mart also said it expects suppliers to help the company beat rivals on head-to-head pricing 80 percent of the time, these vendor sources said. The wide-ranging meeting with suppliers - where Wal-Mart discussed other topics - was also attended by Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) and Kraft Heinz Co (KHC.O), among others, sources told Reuters. The consumer goods companies did not respond to Reuters requests seeking comment.

These Wal-Mart moves signal a new front in the price war for U.S. shoppers, as the pioneer of everyday low pricing seeks to regain its competitive pricing advantage in traditional retailing.
For more than a year, Wal-Mart said it is investing in price while not sharing specifics. When asked by Reuters about the test and demands on grocery suppliers, Wal-Mart spokesman Lorenzo Lopez said the company is "not in a position to share our strategy for competitive reasons."

Germany-based discount grocer Aldi is one of the relatively new rivals quickly gaining market share in the hotly competitive grocery sector, which already boasts Kroger, Albertsons Cos Inc and Publix Super Markets as stiff competitors on price. A second Germany-based discount grocer, Lidl, is planning to enter the U.S. market this year, and together the German discounters pose a serious threat to Wal-Mart's U.S. grocery business.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Wal-Mart is investing heavily to take on Amazon in the online arena but faces attacks on its home turf of low cost retailing from interlopers like Aldi and Lidl which it has little choice but to outbid for custom. With progressively more competition in the consumer sector major producers of packaged goods are likely to come under increasing pressure to trim margins. That suggests they will invest even more heavily in Technology and branding to protect their market shares. 



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February 27 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Super-smart robots will outnumber humans by FOUR BILLION within three decades, Softbank CEO says

This article appeared on the Daily Mail’s site today and may be of interest. Here is a section:

Mr Son said the growing number of microchip 'brain cells' opens up a huge opportunity for smart and connected objects.

'This is why I spent $32 billion (£26 billion) to acquire ARM,' Mr Son said, explaining his 30-year-vision of a world where the artificial computer brain will have 10,000 intelligence quotient (IQ) capabilities compared with 100 for the average human.

Jennifer Belissent, an analyst at Forrester Research who attended Son's keynote speech, said the numbers he mentioned were very dramatic.

'The greater connectivity and new artificial IQ capabilities offer so much potential. It sets the scene for a Marvel movie,' she said.
'Now, the key question is how to make that new Technology available to everyone.

'It's not the number of new devices that is relevant but what you make out of it in terms of analytical capabilities.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Connectivity remains a secular theme. 4G has just been rolled out in India, enabling the economy to jump several stages of web development and Verizon is now introducing 5G in the USA. As the speed with which we can access the internet increases the range of potential applications for web-enabled functions multiplies.  The Internet of Things is a logical iteration of that evolution and suggests the number of connected devices is only going to increase as the relative cost of connectivity trends lower. 



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February 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

It Is Time for Luddites to Relax: Robots Will Not Take Over the World

Ever since the Industrial Revolution, the great fear has always been that automation would create mass, permanent unemployment. The most famous early scare came shortly after James Hargreaves, a brilliant innovator, came up with a multi-spindle spinning frame in 1764. Hargreaves, one of an army of free-thinkers who drove an explosion in economic growth, was born near Blackburn, a cotton producing part of Lancashire.

The local textiles industry couldn’t cope with demand, and Hargreaves’ innovation allowed a massive increase in productivity. But our inventor kept his device secret, using it only for his own production. He was right to be prudent: after his output helped depress prices – and hence deliver consumers a windfall – angry textile workers eventually broke into his property and vandalised his machines, forcing him to flee to Nottingham.

But progress wasn’t to be stopped, and automation has gone hand in hand over the past 250 years with an explosive increase in wages and employment. The reason? Machines increase output per person, and thus the demand for labour and wages. New jobs are created to replace old jobs, and then as these are automated even newer jobs emerge to replace the next lot of losses, and so on, ad infinitum. The main problem is one of mismatching skills: the process of creative destruction requires capital and labour to adapt constantly.

Yet there are many today who doubt that this overwhelmingly benign process will continue, especially with the advent of artificial intelligence, robotics, self-driving cars, drones and a new generation of learning machines. They are convinced that this is a new phase, and that millions of middle class jobs are about to be wiped out, with nothing to replace them.

David Fuller's view -

Allister Heath is one of the brightest, most upbeat and creative journalists out there.  I always read his prolific columns and often publish them. 

So, do I agree with this column above?  I think he will be right for the next few years, and possibly a decade or so.  However, the accelerating rate of technological innovation which I have written about for a number of years is clearly evident if you think about the changes you have witnessed over the last ten or twenty years.  Moreover, we are only in the foothills of this acceleration which has no natural ending.  In other words, it could continue indefinitely.   

Once intelligent machines have the capacity to develop and reproduce themselves, they will evolve much more quickly than our organic human brains.  The best projections suggest this will occur before the end of this century.

Don’t take my word for it – see what Bill Gates, Stephen Hawking, Elon Musk and many others are saying.  Here is a sample from Tech World

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



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February 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

February 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

British Airways Poised to Join Long-Haul Narrow-Body Craze

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

Walsh spoke a day after Norwegian Air presented details of flights from five locations in Britain and Ireland to three low- fee airfields in New York state, Rhode Island and Connecticut, to be served by Boeing Co.’s 737 Max 8 model from June with one- way fares starting at 69 pounds or 69 euros ($86/$73).

While the Boeing jets will be operating close to the limits of their range, Norwegian Air has also ordered 30 A321neoLRs with which it could connect dozens of smaller cities either side of the Atlantic in the medium term.

Aer Lingus already operates long-haul flights with a fleet of Boeing 757s, the only narrow-body model to see regular use on non-stop Europe-U.S. services, but which ceased production in 2004. The seven A321s on order will serve as replacements while also adding new routes. The Irish unit began serving Hartford from Dublin last year and IAG has said that several other smaller U.S. airports are keen to attract flights with competitive fees.

Walsh said on a conference call with analysts that the introductory fares offered this week by Norwegian Air aren’t sustainable. “Norwegian has a very small margin of profitability and the fares that they’ve launched are clearly just designed to get some headline media coverage,” he said.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Michael O’Leary at Ryanair has been talking about initiating Trans-Atlantic flights for years but to no avail so far. That is a testament to how difficult it is to achieve sustainable economics for what is a long flight for a narrow body aircraft. Nevertheless, Technology has improved, aircraft are more fuel efficient and Europe has a much lower fares than the USA which raises the prospect of disruption when it could well cost less to fly to the UK than Florida over the summer. 



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February 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The second stage of disruption

This article by Alex Pollak for Loftus Peak appeared in Australia’s Livewire letter and may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

But it’s what inside that counts. Autos and components are a significant part of consumer discretionary, as are media, retail and staples including food. A major component of Industrials is transport – road, rail, marine, airline, construction material and heavy trucks.

Virtually all the automakers have electric and self-driving models in the works. But, as we have noted before, the more successful they are with these, the more the potential for write-offs in their internal combustion engine business – which is basically the whole business.

Banking disruption has started but hasn’t hit the mainstream – yet.

But fund managers typically invest looking to the existing make-up of the global economy, through the GIC’s sectors, which are composed of the companies in those industries. So the fund manager will have investment in oil, automakers, energy and transport, at time when those sectors are heading for massive disruption. In essence, the fund manager is investing by looking backwards!
This is a poor long-term strategy, and one which has already begun to cause drag in portfolios which are underweight ‘Technology’ shares (because they form a small part of the index, at the expense of sectors like basic materials and utilities, which are large now but are de-weighting as disruption takes hold.)

We are at a particular point in the economic history where disruptive companies are moving into industries which were previously considered inviolable, companies which couldn’t be damaged because demand for the underlying physical good was thought to stretch out to the horizon. In fact, the demand may still be there, but the way it is delivered, because of technological change, is affecting virtually all industries.

It's why we invest in disruption, and the reason our returns have been solid.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Technological innovation is accelerating at an exponential rate and it is having a transformative effect on just about everything. That is why we concentrate so heavily on the sector. Technology is deflationary in many respects but it is perhaps better to think about that influence in terms of lower costs contributing to better margins. That gives a clear advantage to the originators of disruptive Technology as well as early adopters. 



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February 23 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Markets Now

Here is the new brochure.  I am pleased to say that as in January, we will once again be in the excellent Morrison Room, which is spacious and conveniently on the ground floor.

February 22 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Trump Eyes Easing Obama Rules for Sprawling Pipeline Network

Here is the opening of this article from Bloomberg:

The hints of a pipeline spill are subtle: the hiss of rushing fluid, a streak of rainbow sheen. Tucked far below ground, a ruptured line can escape notice for days or even weeks, especially in the backcountry, where inspectors rarely venture. 

Regulators in the waning hours of the Obama era wrote rules aimed at changing that, and the industry is looking forward to the new administration rolling them back. The Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration “has gone overboard,” said Brigham McCown, a former head of the PHMSA who served on President Donald Trump’s infrastructure transition team. “They built a Cadillac instead of the Chevrolet that Congress told them to build.”

The oversight agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Transportation, is just one of many where Barack Obama’s policies are in the Trump team’s sights. The battle lines are predictable, with companies on one side and safety and environmental activists on the other. What’s particularly worrying the latter is timing, because the rules could be upended as new shipping routes go into service across the country.

The president, a fan of fossil fuels, has revived two controversial pipelines, TransCanada Corp.’s Keystone XL and Energy Transfer Partners LP’s Dakota Access. They would add 2,300 miles (3,700 kilometers) to the U.S. network with room to transport 1.1 million barrels a day. As it is, there are more than 200,000 miles of pipe cutting across the country carrying crude, gasoline and other hazardous liquids -- about 18 billion barrels worth annually. Many other projects are on the map; in Houston alone, planned lines are expected to increase capacity by 550,000 barrels a day in the next few years.

“I’m terrified about what is going to happen under Trump,” said Jane Kleeb, president of the Bold Alliance, a coalition of groups opposing Keystone XL. “My worry is that they will just budget-starve PHMSA.”

Read More: Why Keystone counts

While Obama was president, the PHMSA budget grew by 61 percent. Then, seven days before Trump’s inauguration, the agency finalized a ruletoughening up inspection and repair demands, mandating, for example, that companies have leak-detection systems in populated areas and requiring they examine lines within 72 hours of flooding or another so-called extreme weather event. The American Petroleum Institute, the oil and gas industry’s main trade group, characterized it all as overreaching and unnecessary.

David Fuller's view -

The extraction of industrial resources from the earth has always been a messy business.  Pollution risks remain although they are declining in the 21st Century, thanks to Technology, regulation and more sensible management. 

Effective energy independence is a key aspect of the USA’s long-term GDP growth potential.  It means that the USA can produce more energy domestically when prices are higher, perhaps even selling some excess capacity, or increase imports of energy when they are lower.  An effective pipeline system is necessary for energy efficiency in a large country such as the USA.    



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February 22 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Mark Zuckerberg Manifesto Is a Blueprint for Destroying Journalism

This article by Adrienne Lafrance for The Atlantic may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

In other words, Facebook is building a global newsroom run by robot editors and its own readers.

This strategy may be right for Facebook, which has a strong track record of predicting what its users want. You certainly don’t rake in nearly $9 billion a quarter by building something people aren’t interested in. But if journalism is an indispensable component of the global community Zuckerberg is trying to build, he must also realize that what he’s building is a grave threat to journalism.

“A strong news industry is also critical to building an informed community,” Zuckerberg wrote in his manifesto. “There is more we must do to support the news industry to make sure this vital social function is sustainable—from growing local news, to developing formats best suited to mobile devices, to improving the range of business models news organizations rely on.”

There is more Facebook must do. But what? Lip service to the crucial function of the Fourth Estate is not enough to sustain it. All of this is the news industry’s problem; not Zuckerberg’s. But it’s also a problem for anyone who believes in and relies on quality journalism to make sense of the world.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I’ve been ruminating over the last couple of weeks on the role of journalism in modern society. This bell curve of where news organisations fall on the political spectrum is a testament to the tendency of journalists to write for well-defined demographics in service to the maxim “Give the people what they want”, or at least some of the people. 



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February 20 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Why Britain Should Consider Unilateral Free Trade

The debate about our trading relationships after we have left the EU is now hotting up.

Most economists would agree about the optimum end result, namely free trade between the UK and both the EU and the rest of the world. But there are disagreements about the best route from here to there.

The case for free trade is essentially the same as the case for free markets in general, that is to say, left to its own devices the market allocates available resources to their best possible use, given consumer preferences and the production possibilities afforded by existing Technology.

There is no point in trying to be self-sufficient for its own sake in any, let alone all, forms of economic production. If we so chose, the UK could be self-sufficient in bananas. But the cost of doing this would be prohibitively high. It makes much more sense for us to produce the things in which we have a comparative advantage relative to other countries and to exchange whatever we produce for bananas (and any and everything else) that we wish to buy from other countries.

Of course, just as there are arguments to restrain, correct or encourage market forces in a purely domestic setting, so there are some arguments for sometimes restricting trade across borders. But they are limited. The word “protection” is misleading. It suggests the warm embrace of cuddly caring. Who would not want that? It might be better if it were replaced by “trade interference”. Unfortunately, the apparent attractions of trade interference mean that it is resorted to far too frequently.

Naturally, each producer group would like its output to be protected against foreign competition. Those who suffer from such measures are everybody else in the economy who would buy its output, or the output of its foreign competitors. They will now have to pay higher prices. This group overwhelmingly consists of consumers. So there is a tension in debates about trade between producers and consumers.

Producers are much more concentrated than consumers. This gives them a substantial advantage in the battle for hearts and minds. Indeed, in such discussions the consumer interest hardly gets a look in. At international trade negotiations, the discussion is about the competing interests of producers in different countries.

David Fuller's view -

A country cannot suddenly become a successful unilateral free trade entity at the flip of a switch.  It needs to constantly hone its competitiveness from quality control to management and skilled personnel.  It needs research triangles from universities with strengths in the sciences and engineering, to corporations and government incentives including competitive taxation, to develop and also attract skilled entrepreneurs. 

The UK is already doing this but it can always do more.  In today’s competitive and increasingly high-tech world, the opportunities are greater than ever before but a country needs to keep moving forward to remain competitive.

http://A PDF of Roger Bootle’s column is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.



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February 20 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on the cost of gold mining

Thank you for another very well done Friday audio. Your comments on gold were very interesting for me. I wonder if you or the collective have an idea about the possibility of technological innovation that might make gold production cheaper, the way oil production has become cheaper.. Thanks in advance

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for your kind words and I am delighted you are enjoying the new format of videos and audios. Anglogold Ashanti have been pioneering a number of new technologies not least reef boring and thermal spawning. Both are designed to economically extract gold from previously uneconomic regions such as very thin reefs or the supporting walls of old mines. As with any new Technology, development takes time but the company is hopeful about the prospects for future production. This informative section from Anglogold Ashanti’s site may also be of interest. 



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February 17 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Beyond The Supercycle How Technology is Reshaping Resources

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

First came the “fly-up,” the price spike on world markets for oil, gas, and a broad range of natural resources that began in 2003. Then came the abrupt bust, as prices tumbled and global spending on natural resources dropped by half in the course of 2015 alone. Now, even as resource companies and exporting countries pick up the pieces after this commodity “supercycle,” the sector is facing a new wave of disruption.1 Shifts taking place in the way resources are consumed as well as produced—less noticed than the rollercoaster commodity price ride but no less significant—will have major first- and second order effects on both the sector and the global economy. These shifts are the result of technological innovation, including the adoption of robotics, Internet of Things Technology, and data analytics, along with macroeconomic trends and changing consumer behavior.

We see three principal effects of this technological revolution:
Consumption of energy will become less intense as people use energy more efficiently thanks to smart thermostats and other energy-saving devices in homes and offices, and the use of analytics and automation to optimize factory usage. Transportation, the largest user of oil, will be especially affected, by more fuel-efficient engines and by the burgeoning use of autonomous and electric vehicles and ride sharing.

Technological advances will continue to bring down the cost of renewable energies such as solar and wind energy, as well as the cost of storing them. This will hand renewables a greater role in the global economy’s energy mix, with significant first- and second-order effects on producers and consumers of fossil fuels.

Resource producers will be able to deploy a range of technologies in their operations, putting mines and wells that were once inaccessible within reach, raising the efficiency of extraction techniques, shifting to predictive maintenance, and using sophisticated data analysis to identify, extract, and manage resources.

Scenarios we have modeled suggest that these developments have the potential to unlock $900 billion to $1.6 trillion in incremental cost savings throughout the global economy in 2035, an amount equivalent to the current GDP of Indonesia or, at the top end, Canada. As a result of lower energy intensity and technological advances that improve efficiency, energy productivity in the global economy could increase by 40 to 70 percent in 2035. We believe these changes will have profound implications not just for companies in the resource sector and for countries that export resources, but also for businesses and consumers everywhere.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

The long-term cycles of supply and demand can be boiled down into the simply maxim that high prices encourage consumers to be efficient and suppliers to invest in expansion. Low prices encourage consumers to use more while suppliers are forced to be more efficient. Following a decade long super cycle producers are now much more efficient while consumers are really only beginning to increase demand as economic growth picks up. 



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February 17 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Biotechnology rotation

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Nasdaq BioTechnology Index is going through a significant rotation. Some of the biggest companies that led on the breakout from the long-term base in 2012 are now trending lower. Gilead Sciences is representative. It was among the best performers on the breakout but peaked in 2015 and has continued to trend lower while many of the other major constituents have spent a year ranging. 

The focus thrown on drug pricing during the US Presidential Election has long lasting repercussions because it has highlighted the practice of raising prices for legacy drugs. That is the exact opposite of what we see in other sectors where competition forces prices lower over time. The Trump administration is now talking about bringing down drug prices and enhancing the ability of Medicare to negotiate bulk prices and allow consumers to buy drugs overseas. These issues represents a significant issue for legacy pharmaceutical companies and established biotech companies without the compensating factor of a promising drug pipeline. It also means demand for M&A is likely to continue to increase. 

 



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February 13 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Demise of Deadly Diesel

Here is the opening of this sobering article from Bloomberg:

Diesels make up about half of Europe's car sales. In 10 years time, I'd wager the percentage will be far closer to zero and that diesel's demise is going to cost the autos industry billions.

In Britain, the government is toying with the idea of a diesel scrappage plan to tackle the nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions that kill about 75,000 Europeans prematurely each year.

EUROPEAN NOX-RELATED DEATHS EACH YEAR

75,000

It’s the latest in a succession of European measures which could see diesel cars barred from cities, their fuel incentives removed and parking made more expensive. Last month London issued a “black" alert because of high air pollution, prompting one school to restrict the time kids were able to play outside. Diesel is becoming stigmatized: sales have started to decline in the U.K. and Germany, albeit slowly.  

Diesel Downer

Diesel sales in Germany have fallen as a percentage of total vehicles sold

Last month, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV became the latest automaker to be accused by the U.S. of violating pollution laws over its diesel emissions. Meanwhile, France has referred Peugeot and Renault to prosecutors. Elzbieta Bienkowska, the EU industry commissioner overseeing the VW scandal told the Financial Times that her patience was wearing thin with national regulators over their lack of haste in examining carmakers other than VW.

VW's rivals all deny wrongdoing, and it's possible none has broken the law. "Existing models comply with the EU law against which they were approved," the European Automobile Manufacturers' Association (ACEA) says of the large discrepancies between laboratory and real-world emissions.  

But given the deaths from disease linked to air pollution, it seems a little arcane to be arguing about whether Technology that -- for example -- switches off NOx emission controls at low temperature fits the legal definition of a "defeat device". At the very least, carmakers have done a poor job of explaining that diesel cars are much dirtier than the public had reason to expect.

David Fuller's view -

The emissions discrepancies of automobile companies were outrageous, and a number of them have been fined.  Many others will suffer financially because they are holding billions of euros in diesel vehicles for which the market is rapidly vanishing.  However, the bigger scandal was the push by European governments and their advisors to favour diesel vehicles.  They did this in spite of evidence from the USA that NOx pollution from diesel was lethal. 



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February 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Why Hollywood As We Know It Is Already Over

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

When Netflix started creating its own content, in 2013, it shook the industry. The scariest part for entertainment executives wasn’t simply that Netflix was shooting and bankrolling TV and film projects, essentially rendering irrelevant the line between the two. (Indeed, what’s a movie without a theater? Or a show that comes available in a set of a dozen episodes?) The real threat was that Netflix was doing it all with the power of computing. Soon after House of Cards’ remarkable debut, the late David Carr presciently noted in the Times, “The spooky part . . . ? Executives at the company knew it would be a hit before anyone shouted ‘action.’ Big bets are now being informed by Big Data.”

Carr’s point underscores a larger, more significant trend. Netflix is competing not so much with the established Hollywood infrastructure as with its real nemeses: Facebook, Apple, Google (the parent company of YouTube), and others. There was a time not long ago when Technology companies appeared to stay in their lanes, so to speak: Apple made computers; Google engineered search; Microsoft focused on office software. It was all genial enough that the C.E.O. of one tech giant could sit on the board of another, as Google’s Eric Schmidt did at Apple.

These days, however, all the major tech companies are competing viciously for the same thing: your attention. Four years after the debut of House of Cards, Netflix, which earned an astounding 54 Emmy nominations in 2016, is spending $6 billion a year on original content. Amazon isn’t far behind. Apple, Facebook, Twitter, and Snapchat are all experimenting with original content of their own. Microsoft owns one of the most profitable products in your living room, the Xbox, a gaming platform that is also a hub for TV, film, and social media. As The Hollywood Reporter noted this year, traditional TV executives are petrified that Netflix and its ilk will continue to pour money into original shows and films and continue to lap up the small puddle of creative talent in the industry. In July, at a meeting of the Television Critics Association in Beverly Hills, FX Networks’ president, John Landgraf, said, “I think it would be bad for storytellers in general if one company was able to seize a 40, 50, 60 percent share in storytelling.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The march of Technology enabled content creation is undeniable and irreversible. The simple reason from a business perspective is that relying on human beings to be individually creative is fraught with uncertainty, ambiguity and time management issues. Computers on the other hand excel at getting the job done on time and within budget. The challenge has always been to try and teach computers how to be creative. 



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January 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The retreat of the global company

Thanks to a subscriber for this article from the Economist which may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

It looks as if, in the future, the global business scene will have three elements. A smaller top tier of multinational firms will burrow deeper into the economies of their hosts, helping to assuage nationalistic concerns. General Electric is localising its production, supply chains and management. Emerson, a conglomerate that has over 100 factories outside America, sources about 80% of its production in the region where it is sold. Some foreign firms will invest more deeply in American-based production in order to avoid tariffs, if Mr Trump imposes them, much as Japanese car firms did in the 1980s. This is doable if you are large. Siemens, a German industrial giant, employs 50,000 in America and has 60 factories there. But midsized industrial firms will struggle to muster the resources to invest more deeply in all their markets.

Politicians will increasingly insist that companies buying foreign firms promise to preserve their national character, including jobs, R&D activity and tax payments. SoftBank, a Japanese firm that bought ARM, a British chip company, in 2016, agreed to such commitments. So has Sinochem, a Chinese chemicals firm that is buying Syngenta, a Swiss rival. The boom in foreign takeovers by Chinese firms, meanwhile, may fizzle out or explode. Many such deals, reliant on subsidised loans from state banks, probably make little financial sense.

The second element will be a brittle layer of global digital and intellectual-property multinationals: Technology firms, such as Google and Netflix; drugs companies; and companies that use franchising deals with local firms as a cheap way to maintain a global footprint and the market advantage that brings. The hotel industry, with its large branding firms such as Hilton and Intercontinental, is a prime example of the tactic. McDonald’s is shifting to a franchising model in Asia. These intangible multinationals will grow fast. But because they create few direct jobs, often involve oligopolies and do not benefit from the protection of global trade rules, which for the most part only look after physical goods, they will be vulnerable to nationalist backlashes.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Since I wrote a book championing the big global companies, which dominate their respective niches, we refer to as Autonomies and co-manage a fund devoted to investing in them I think it is safe to say I have a bias in commenting on this story. Nevertheless, it raises some important questions.

Big global companies do well when the global economy is expanding so a transition from synchronized global monetary stimulus to synchronized global fiscal stimulus is a positive potential development which is already being reflected in stock prices. In addition, the potential for lower US corporate taxes is an important consideration since it is still the world’s largest economy by a long shot.  



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January 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Tesla's Battery Revolution Just Reached Critical Mass

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

Three massive battery storage plants—built by Tesla, AES Corp., and Altagas Ltd.—are all officially going live in southern California at about the same time. Any one of these projects would have been the largest battery storage facility ever built. Combined, they amount to 15 percent of the battery storage installed planet-wide last year.

Ribbons will be cut and executives will take their bows. But this is a revolution that’s just getting started, Tesla Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel said in an interview on Friday. “It’s sort of hard to comprehend sometimes the speed all this is going at,” he said. “Our storage is growing as fast as we can humanly scale it.”

A Fossil-Fuel Disaster
The new battery projects were commissioned in response to a fossil-fuel disaster—the natural gas leak at Aliso Canyon, near the Los Angeles neighborhood of Porter Ranch. It released thousands of tons of methane into the air before it was sealed last February.

In its wake, Southern California Electric (SCE) rushed to deploy energy storage deals to alleviate the risk of winter blackouts. There wasn’t any time to waste: All of the projects rolling out this week were completed within 6 months, an unprecedented feat. Tesla moved particularly nimbly, completing in just three months a project that in the past would have taken years. 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Porter Ranch gas leak made headlines in Los Angeles all last summer but it was a blessing for Tesla because it gave the company an opportunity to demonstrate how it can deploy its batteries at scale in a tight timeframe. 

Batteries are an essential piece of the renewable energy, electric vehicle puzzle. Every innovation that brings down battery costs has an outsized effect on a host of other sectors. Tesla, with its now completed giga-factory, is well placed to benefit from these emerging themes. 

 



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January 27 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

US Shale Surge Stalls Weekly Oil Price Gains

The steady rise of US shale production has stalled a strong week of oil price gains, as market fears grow that the extra oil flows could scupper Opec plans to drain the oversupplied market knocked a dollar from the price.

Oil prices have been buoyed this week by optimism that the deal between producers in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries and major producers outside of the cartel is beginning to relieve the global glut.

The market climbed from around $54 a barrel late last week to $56.42, almost 5.5pc higher than the price before Opec agreed the historic supply deal in November.

By midday the oil price had retreated to $55.60 after new data showing the extent of the US shale industry recovery reignited market jitters.

US oil and gas flows were decimated by the two year oil rout due to higher costs for rig operators in shale-rich pockets of the States than in major producers in the Middle East and Russia.

As oil prices have doubled over the last year from lows of less than $28 a barrel to over $50 many shale producers have been able to restart flows, threatening the price rises which have allowed their revival in the first place.

Analysts at brokerage Cenkos said that the latest data shows that US output has risen by more than 6.3pc over the last six months, with some concerned that further rises will offset moves by Opec to curb output.

“Traders will look closely at the weekly rig count data, set to be released this afternoon,” Cenkos added.

David Fuller's view -

Crude oil may still be the world’s most important commodity in terms of production and consumption but its price volatility this year will probably be less than what we see for most other resources.

OPEC has abandoned its ruinous death spiral policy with which it was trying to wipe out the US shale oil industry.  Less productive shale resources have been abandoned and debt-leveraged shale companies have closed, but the US is still a major producer.  Moreover, the Technology of shale production is now more efficient than ever. 

Therefore we are very unlikely to see further attempts by OPEC to flood the market with oil.  And while it was inevitable that US shale production would increase as the price rose above $50, the US oil industry has no interest in driving crude oil prices back below $30. 

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



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January 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Chan Zuckerberg Initiative's AI Acquisition Will Make Science Free for All

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

But the importance of Meta in the context of making science accessible to everyone is anchored in its AI-driven Technology. Thousands of scientific papers are published every day, and the sheer volume of available data means it’s hard to whittle it down to what’s most important to individual studies. Ultimately, access is just one part of the challenge. For access to information to truly empower the scientific community, one has to be able to systematically analyze and review all the available data available. That’s where Meta comes in. It can easily find the most relevant material that will further the research in a fraction of the time it would take a human.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Isaac Newton is reputed to have said “If I have seen further than others, it is by standing upon the shoulders of giants.” He successfully built on the work of those who had come before him. One of the greatest challenges in human history has not only been to come up with ingenious solutions to difficult problems, but to also ensure we don’t forget or lose them. 

The printing press allowed us to duplicate manuscripts which reduced the risk of losing knowledge. The internet has been a similarly disruptive innovation for a whole range of reasons but perhaps most important is that by distributing availability of knowledge it further reduces the risk it will be lost. With so much research now being conducted, the evolution of artificial intelligence to greatly enhance the ability of researchers to find the shoulders of giants on which to stand is a further iteration of this trend. 

The commercial viability of artificial intelligence is coming hot on the heels of the internet from an historical perspective and represents a powerful tailwind for the continued acceleration of technological innovation. 

 



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January 23 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Woman dies from antibiotic-resistant bacteria when no antibiotics worked

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

The death of a hospitalized patient in Reno Nevada for whom no available antibiotics worked highlights what World Health Organization and other public-health experts have been warning: antibiotic resistance is a serious threat and has gone global.

The patient — a female in her 70s — was admitted in for an infection and died in September 2016 from septic shock the CDC announced on Jan. 13. The patient had been treated for multiple infections in India before traveling to the United States. The infection that led to her hospitalization in Reno was caused by a strain of carbapenem-resistant Enterobacteriaceae (CRE)* bacteria known as Klebsiella pneumoniae. Although not all strains of Klebsiella pneumonia are CRE, the strain that infected this patient was resistant to all available antibiotics, according to the CDC. (Carbapeneum is a “drug of last resort.”)

In a paper in The Lancet in October, researchers reported that more than a third of blood infections in newborn babies involving Klebsiella pneumoniae and similar bacteria were resistant to multiple drugs to the point they were virtually untreatable and “threaten the return of a pre-antibiotic era in Indian neonatal intensive care units,” the study’s authors warned.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Antibiotic resistance is a vital topic of conversation because it affects all of us and represents perhaps the single biggest risk to general health we can fathom. The pace of technological innovation is perhaps the greatest hope we have of finding a solution that does not rely on fighting a losing war against an enemy capable of changing tactics to overcome conventional responses. This article from NewAtlas highlights one such solution. Here is a section: 

The study combined the new PPMO with meropenem, a type of carbapenem antibiotic that's effective against a broad range of bugs, and pitted it against three different types of bacteria that make use of NDM-1. In all cases, the PPMO restored meropenem's ability to kill the bacteria in vitro, and also managed to kill off an NDM-1-expressing strain of E. coli in tests in mice.

"We're targeting a resistance mechanism that's shared by a whole bunch of pathogens," says Geller. "It's the same gene in different types of bacteria, so you only have to have one PPMO that's effective for all of them, which is different than other PPMOs that are genus specific." Geller says the new drug should be ready for human testing in about three years.


There is every reason for optimism that this problem can be overcome but it requires constant vigilance and Technology represents our best chance to overcome it. It is not a problem that will just go away.  

 



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January 19 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Bond Guru Who Called Last Bear Market 40 Years Ago Says Go Long

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

Money velocity isn’t a bullet-proof economic indicator. Financial innovation, and the rise of shadow banking, have made it hard to measure exactly how much money is floating around in the financial system. And some would say that "money" itself is going through an identity crisis these days.

Hunt isn’t the only one seeing the record-low pace as an ominous sign. The fact that money velocity declined rapidly during years of near-zero interest rates may signal aggressive monetary easing actually led to deflation instead of inflation, economists at the St. Louis Fed wrote back in 2014.

"In this regard, the unconventional monetary policy has reinforced the recession by stimulating the private sector’s money demand through pursuing an excessively low interest rate policy," economists Yi Wen and Maria A. Arias wrote.

"I know I’m the minority here,” Hunt said. “I’m just trying to see the world as I think it should be seen.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I have long argued that the disintermediation associated with the internet and technological innovation is a major contributor in the decline in the velocity of money. The downtrend in the data from 1997 offers a graphic representation of the deflationary influence of Technology. It also helps to explain why the surge in the quantity of money associated with quantitative easing has not resulted in high inflation. 



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January 18 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Just Like In the 1980s, Theresa May Faces Chaos From Militant Unions. And Just Like Margaret Thatcher, She Must Not Flinch

Philip Hammond has rightly warned the EU that “we will do whatever we have to do”. So, in addition to pursuing trade agreements around the globe, what could we actually do, to convince the world that we have good enough plans for them to start buying pounds?

Here are five ideas:

  1. Establish Free Ports. My very talented successor as MP for Richmond, Yorkshire, Rishi Sunak, has pointed out how Free Ports could bring a major boost to the economy, manufacturing and the north. This would allow goods to be imported, manufactured and re-exported without any duties or taxes because they would not officially enter the UK. The jobs created could run into tens of thousands, and the merchandise handled into hundreds of billions of pounds.
  2. Give tax incentives to key global industries. Special tax relief for the film industry has been a huge success: major new studios have been built in Britain, over 200 films a year are being made here and we have 260,000 jobs thriving on the back of them. Every £1 of tax relief is meant to bring £12 back into the economy. We could give similar carefully targeted incentives to other creative, scientific and high-Technology businesses, helping aerospace, bioTechnology and others to see the UK as especially attractive.

This item continues in the Subscriber's Area.

David Fuller's view -

Philip Hammond’s comment that “we will do whatever we have to do” was the perfect response to the EU, and from a former Remainer who previously sounded very pessimistic.    

Here are my brief responses to William Hague’s five ideas:

“Establish Free Ports.”  I had not thought of this but it makes sense to me. 

“Give tax incentives to key global industries.”  I would favour across the board tax cuts which could be revenue neutral or even positive if the UK economy grew sufficiently as a consequence.  Special tax relief did create a booming film industry in the UK and helping the scientific and high-Technology businesses is certainly a very good idea since they represent the future.  However, less glamorous industries are also important for a diversified economy and why cherry pick?  We do not want to create unnecessary resentment and damage other contributing industries. 

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



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