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April 25 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Biggest Stock Markets Have Not Had Such Diverse Performances Since 2008

Here is the opening of this interesting article from Bloomberg:

The Chinese and U.S. stock markets are going in opposite directions.

An intensifying crackdown against leverage in Asia’s biggest economy has rocked the hither-to unflappable Shanghai Composite Index over the past week, sending it to a three-month low last session. In the U.S., the largest equity market is embracing a risk rally spurred by the French election, with the S&P 500 Index continuing to build on reflation-trade gains ignited by Donald Trump’s November victory.

The divergence means the two markets are the least in tune since August 2008 -- just before the collapse of Lehman Brothers Holdings Inc. unleashed chaos on the global financial system.

Chinese officials have mainly kept mainland stocks on a tight rein after routs in mid-2015 and the start of 2016 reverberated through world financial markets. Until Monday’s 1.4 percent slump, the Shanghai Composite Index hadn’t fallen more than 1 percent for 86 trading days.

As Beijing’s focus on reducing risk in the financial system shifted from money-market tightening and reducing leverage to containing speculation and irregular trading, the two markets starting moving in opposite directions in the past month.

The latest step by officials is targeted at entrusted investments -- read more about the deleveraging efforts here.

In one sense, it’s a sign that investors overseas aren’t as worried about Chinese market ructions as they were in previous years -- perhaps partly thanks to underlying strength in China’s economy. Given how mainland stocks have become increasingly linked to global markets, however, the divergence may prove to be a short-term phenomenon, according to Daniel So, a strategist at CMB International Securities Ltd. in Hong Kong.

“The Chinese government is squeezing speculation out of the market and while investors adjust, it will inevitably lag behind other parts of the world," So said.

David Fuller's view -

The apt opening for my comment on the article above is this quote from the memorable Benjamin Graham:

“In the short run, the market is a voting machine but in the long run, it is a weighing machine.”

In the short run market moves are a matter of confidence. If a sufficient number of influential investors in the market crowd are feeling optimistic, they will buy. When others see the market rising they will also be tempted to buy in what becomes a self-feeding bullish trend.  This will continue until most investors interested in the trend are already long. 

While the market holds its ground for a short period, most investors will remain hopeful.  However, when the market has clearly paused for longer than earlier on within the trend, some investors will be tempted to close their position. When the market has fallen back more sharply than previously seen, others will become pessimistic and also sell, causing a bearish trend to form which retraces more of the previous advance. 

International investors face many more choices and this can be confusing.  A practical way to monitor these markets is by looking at weekly price charts for the indices of interest, showing at least 10-years of back history for perspective.  They will quickly reveal Benjamin Graham’s voting machine results in terms of relative strength or weakness over the short to lengthy medium term.  Those longer term charts will also show bullish or bearish weighing machine characteristics.

So which stock markets look the most interesting?

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April 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 25 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on eating insects

Hello I keep seeing documentaries explaining that in the future in order to feed everyone more people will be eating insects, I hope they are wrong, but if it is true are there any ways to invest in this theme?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which appears to have made its way into the public arena for some reason. Interestingly my daughter assured me last night that we would all be eating insects in the future, at least according the Time for Kids she had just read at school. Personally I regard that as a pretty dystopian way of thinking about the future. I understand the argument that insects are easier to raise, require less water, grow faster and are packed with protein. However wouldn’t it be better if we just ate less meat to begin with? In my opinion the most compelling bullish case for farming insects is as food for other animals or fish. 



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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

France Braces for Runoff Between Nationalism and Globalism

Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg:

In the coming two weeks of the French campaign, Marine Le Pen’s challenge is to break through a wall of voter antipathy that she inherited from her father. Emmanuel Macron’s task is to persuade the French he has the gravitas and experience to be president.

The far-right Le Pen and centrist Macron both took just under a quarter of the vote in a contest with 11 candidates. Now they must convince the rest of the population that they have what it takes to lead the country after the May 7 runoff.

The next round will see two radically different visions. Macron embraces globalization and European integration, Le Pen channels the forces of discontent that triggered Brexit and brought Donald Trump to power. The runoff will also be unique in that it will be the first contested by neither of the major parties, giving Macron, 39, and Le Pen, 48, space to try to forge alliances that might have seemed unlikely until recently.

“Marine Le Pen’s toughest job is to break the traditional glass ceiling which her father Jean-Marie also suffered from,” said Yves-Marie Cann, a pollster at Elabe. “Even if her image is better than his was, the truth remains that most voters say they don’t share her ideas and have a bad opinion of the Front.”

Macron has still to convince voters he has the aura of a head of state and can reach out to a nation in which 40 percent of the electorate opted for anti-European extremes on both left and right. A snap Ipsos survey late on Sunday suggested that Macron, who’s aiming to be the country’s youngest head of state, would win by 62 percent to 38 percent for Le Pen, who would be the country’s first female president.

“Macron is not yet the president the French want,” said Frederic Lazorthes, a communications consultant who was an adviser to Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. “He needs to show that he can assume the great responsibility of a nation that is divided and convince the country that it can thrive in a globalized world.”

David Fuller's view -

Yes, Macron is young at 39 and inexperienced but he is also very smart, having defeated the two established French parties – the Socialists and the Republicans.  He also established his own centrist party En March! which I believe means Forward! or On The Move!

I would not underestimate Macron. Markets have already assumed that he will win next month’s runoff comfortably and I agree.     

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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 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On wind turbines and the fatality of birds:

Has anybody examined the effect of these turbines on fatality of seabirds eg seagulls, cormorants etc. flying into these huge "propellers".
Where does the green movement stand on this fatality factor?

David Fuller's view -

This service has certainly commented over the last decade on the danger of birds being killed by windmills.  It troubles many subscribers and is only the latest serious problem for wildlife.  The fact is, mankind’s increasing presence has had a devastating impact on virtually all forms of wildlife, driving many species to the brink of extinction.  We depend on livestock but our treatment of them through intensive farming has become increasingly cruel as we have supposedly become more civilised. This is a grim legacy for our species. 



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April 24 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Trump Plan Can Cut Taxes, But Only Temporarily

President Donald Trump has promised a “massive” tax cut for Americans. He may be able to achieve it -- but only temporarily, if the changes can’t meet the criteria needed by lawmakers to make permanent changes.

News that Trump’s plan isn’t likely to include a border-adjusted tax, or BAT, suggests his proposed tax measures won’t meet the standard of revenue neutrality. That’s because the border tax that House Speaker Paul Ryan has proposed would generate more than $1 trillion in revenue over a decade, helping to pay for individual and corporate rate cuts.

“BAT is a big number, so it makes you wonder how they get to revenue neutrality without it,” said economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin, the president of the conservative advocacy group American Action Forum in Washington and a supporter of the border-adjusted tax. “On the campaign, they didn’t mention revenue neutrality, so maybe they don’t care.”

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Saturday repeated the administration’s goal of getting “sustainable” economic growth of 3 percent or higher, and said Trump is counting on tax reforms to pay for themselves by boosting the economy and tax receipts along with it. Mnuchin in recent months has forecast growth as high as 4 percent.

“The difference of a little over 1 percent of GDP over a 10-year period of time can generate as much as $2 trillion of revenue in the U.S.,” Mnuchin said at the International Monetary Fund meeting in Washington. “There’s no question: we’re looking at reforms that will pay for themselves with growth.”

David Fuller's view -

Sensible tax cuts will boost economic confidence, lift the stock market and most importantly, increase US GDP growth.  



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April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on shipping

Many thanks for the ongoing quality of the service you are providing. I am writing to enquire about your opinion the dry bulk industry. Just by looking at the individual stocks' chart (SBLK, SB, GOGL, DRYS) as well as the dry bulk index, they seem to have bottomed out and in an initial stage of recovery. I am not very familiar with the drivers of this particular industry, but I find the chart action quite appealing. Any kind of input would be highly appreciated.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this topical question. Shipping is a highly cyclical business and has been in a funk since the decline that followed the heady days of the commodity boom. With high shipping rates, new ships were ordered and have been delivered. However the fall-off in global growth meant all that extra capacity contributed to a situation where there are plenty of ships to cater to the world’s freight requirements. So what has changed?



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April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on the lack of volatility

Hope all is well with you and family .  What do you make of the markets lack of volatility and remarkable resilience in the face of all the geopolitical risks that are occurring.  Is it because everyone is stuck in passive index funds?  Doesn't it make the rollover when it occurs more severe?  Maybe I'm getting old.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which I sense many people are asking. I agree the number of geopolitical questions which have arisen over the last couple of years represent an additional risk premium for markets. However the biggest question is whether these developments and potential future ramifications make the case for policy tightening more or less compelling. 



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April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 24 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings From the Oil Patch April 18th 2017

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

The worst downturn in the history of the oil industry has been followed by the fastest drilling rig recovery in history. From massive layoffs and corporate restructurings, oil and gas and along with oilfield service companies have had to switch gears and figure out how quickly and profitably they can grow along with the current recovery. As someone mentioned, the industry has crammed a year’s worth of rig activity growth into a few months – something that is creating a challenge for the oilfield industry. 

As the energy companies are about to start reporting financial results for the January - March 2017 period, numerous oilfield service company managements have already signaled that the numbers will likely not reflect the levels of profitability Wall Street analysts had expected due to the costs of responding to the explosion in activity, especially following OPEC’s surprise output cut to help drive a recovery in oil prices. From the rapid climb in the rig count, it is clear that not only had investors and analysts bought into the recovery scenario, but so too had exploration and production (E&P) company managements. 

There is an expression in English literature that “all things come to those who wait,” but that isn’t the case in the oil patch – especially if one wants to make money. In reality, the expression “the early bird gets the worm” is more appropriate to describe how people in the E&P business operate, but it is taking a toll on the pace of the recovery in oilfield service company profits. Service company managers have had to spend money to reactivate equipment and re-crew them before they can actually earn revenue. The more aggressive a company has been, or is, in ramping up its idle equipment, the greater are the costs incurred. At the present time, everyone is comfortable in the belief that the delay in gratification – increased profits – will be worth the effort, and the wait. Whether that proves a correct assumption or not will depend on how the recovery continues unfolding and what happens to well costs, which is what is driving the increased activity. Everyone has to make money going forward for the recovery to be sustained. That doesn’t mean, however, that everyone will enjoy the levels of profitability experienced during the era of $100+ a barrel oil prices. But, unless people make money, the industry will not be able to support additional activity, or possibly even support the current level of work. So where are we in this recovery?

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

Unconventional oil and gas wells are more expensive to drill and have prolific early supply surges which peak quickly. That means operators are uniquely positioned to respond to lower prices by cutting back on drilling and to higher prices by stepping up drilling. It might not be great news for worker job security but it means the USA is increasingly the swing producer in the global oil market. 



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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 21 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The EU Brexit Strategy Is to Play for Time

A leaked European Union paper outlining the bloc's initial negotiating position in Brexit talks hints at a clever zero-sum strategy. The EU's main goal is to deter other potential exiters and offload all the anxiety about the truly important issues in the divorce on the U.K. alone.

The paper (actually called a "non-paper" in EU parlance because it's still a draft) makes it clear that the EU wants to negotiate Britain's departure in stages. Just two contentious issues are to be addressed in Stage One: the treatment of EU citizens now living in the U.K. and the bill to be settled by the departing country. Essentially, the U.K. will be told that if it wants any kind of closure on a trade deal, it first needs to take care of the EU migrants and agree to pay a large sum of money (in euros, please) to honor previous commitments and move London-based EU agencies elsewhere. 

At the same time, the initial EU position makes agreement on both issues as difficult as possible. For the 3.5 million EU citizens living in Britain, including more than 900,000 Poles and more than half a million other eastern Europeans, the bloc wants a lifelong right to live and work in the U.K. on the same basis as locals; these EU citizens would also retain the right to claim U.K. benefits for children living in other countries, bring over relatives and confer resident status on third party nationals through marriage. And they would also be subject to the jurisdiction of European courts.

That won't be easy for Prime Minister Theresa May to swallow, even if she gets a decisive mandate in the June election. Immigration was a major issue for voters who backed Brexit. The government may argue that "grandfathering" the immigrants already in the U.K. is the lesser evil, but to the anti-foreigner voters this means the current situation -- the one that angered them in the first place -- will be frozen for decades.

In the letter May sent EU leaders when activating the Brexit procedure she, too, stressed the need for an early deal on EU citizens in the U.K., and U.K. citizens in the EU -- about 1.2 million people, many of them retirees in Spain and France. But the divergent nature of the two groups of migrants makes the EU's demands far weightier than the U.K.'s. EU workers in the U.K. are young, often needy and far more numerous, especially taking into account possible family reunification. There is no easy compromise to be reached, and that suits the EU fine. As the bigger trading partner that stands to lose less if there is no resulting trade deal, time is on its side.

Concerning the exit payment, the EU paper also lays out an extreme position: The bloc is going for a one-time pay-out big enough to anchor the expectations of other countries that may try to leave the union; and there's no mention of handing over its share of EU assets. No future campaign based on promises to invest in health care instead of contributing to the EU budget will fly if negotiators attain this goal. 

There is also no reason for EU negotiators to compromise here. Though Brexit leaves a hole in the union's budget, no political constituency important to the negotiators will be seriously hurt. A strong deterrent to more renegades is more important.

There's nothing expressly malicious in the bloc's initial negotiating position. The union is confidently laying its cards on the table; its position will likely be highly public throughout the process (there's hardly a choice given the many potential sources of leaks), while the U.K., under more pressure to make compromises, isn't likely to be as forthcoming.

The longer that game goes on, the better for the EU's cause of maintaining unity and discouraging further secession. With 27 member states, there's always a big election somewhere: In France right now, in Germany later this year, in Italy sometime soon. For pro-EU forces running in these elections, the more uncomfortable Brexit looks, the better.

A temporary extension of the U.K.'s membership, explicitly mentioned in draft negotiation guidelines the European Commission has written up for the bloc's Council of Ministers, would be a godsend to these centrist political forces: It would show that leaving is a cumbersome process that's far easier to initiate than to pursue, and that the two-year time frame that exists for it is unrealistic. A transition arrangement that drags on and becomes semi-permanent doesn't cost the EU anything, but it will likely hurt May's government badly.

If the EU knows how to do anything, it's to draw out inconclusive negotiations. That can be a useful skill.

David Fuller's view -

If Leonid Bershidsky is right (he has certainly added some relevant details to support my own views since the Brexit vote) then it shows just how short-sighted and desperate EU negotiators and politicians have become. 

Absurdly, they view the EU as a club which any reasonably democratic and predominantly Christian European nation can join - although there is a catch – they can never leave.  EU bureaucrats themselves pay lip service to democracy but often regard it as inconvenient and expendable, as subscribers may have noticed.

If the EU tries to carry out the policy detailed above, effectively attempting to punish the UK as an example to deter any other nations from trying to leave, this will only increase European-wide disillusion.  

Sterling strengthened on short covering following Theresa May’s announcement of a General Election on Monday, which was confirmed by a comfortable majority vote on Tuesday. Apparently, traders felt that an increased majority for the PM would make a so-called hard Brexit less likely.

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April 21 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Steven Mnuchin Talk of Tax Plan Soon Stirs Markets and Skeptics

Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg:

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin sent U.S. stock prices to a daytime high Thursday when he said the Trump administration will produce an ambitious plan to overhaul the U.S. tax code “soon.”

But it’s not the first time the administration has promised an imminent plan, and the obstacles to a sweeping tax-code rewrite of the sort Mnuchin described Thursday haven’t gotten any smaller. A key Senate committee has yet to see final details of a White House plan, a congressional aide said. And tax-related challenges presented by the 2010 Affordable Care Act remain in place amid Republicans’ disagreement on how to dismantle the health-care law they’ve criticized for years.

On top of that, House Speaker Paul Ryan’s proposal to tax U.S. companies’ domestic sales and imports -- while exempting their exports -- has stirred controversy among U.S. businesses, created conflict among Republicans and has yet to win President Donald Trump’s endorsement.

So even as stock traders welcomed Mnuchin’s pledge to enact comprehensive tax legislation before the end of this year, skeptics questioned the prospect.

“Clearly they’re saying what they’d like to believe is true,” said Jared Bernstein, a senior fellow at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, a progressive policy group in Washington. “We now know that we must heavily discount their assertions,” said Bernstein, who served as former Vice President Joe Biden’s chief economic adviser.

David Fuller's view -

Mnuchin’s success in bringing forward a commercially attractive tax plan, or otherwise, will probably be the biggest single factor in determining the extent of Wall Street’s stock market reaction / correction before significantly higher levels are seen.



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April 20 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain Led by Theresa May Will Become a European Haven of Order and Calm

Assuming that Theresa May wins a landslide victory on June 8, she will be the only leader of a major EU state with a crushing mandate and the backing of a unified parliamentary phalanx.

All others will be in varying states of internal disarray. None will have a workable majority in parliament. Bitter internal disputes will continue to fester over the loss of democratic control under monetary union, whether or not eurosceptic parties actually come to power.

This gives the Prime Minister formidable clout. We have moved a long way from the first chaotic weeks after the referendum when Belgian premier Charles Michel could suggest in all seriousness that the British institutional system was disintegrating, a country led by populist dreamers, disappearing into a "black hole". Such was the view in Brussels.

The tables have since turned. Britain will enter the Brexit talks led by an ancient and disciplined party of great governing credibility - solid on NATO, free trade, climate accords, and liberal principles - with UKIP and the ephemeral forces of populism scattered to the four winds.

Discord lies on the other side of the Channel. Let us suppose that the ardent Europeanist Emmanuel Macron makes it through to the presidential run-off in the French elections on Sunday - far from certain - and therefore captures the Elysee two weeks later. How is he going to govern and reform France?

His manifesto is studiously vague. The French parliament will be split five ways and Balkanized. Anti-EU candidates from hard-Left to hard-Right have garnered half the support in this extraordinary campaign, united on core complaints that the EU has eviscerated French sovereignty and that the euro has become a cloak for German interests.

There is much hope in French progressive circles that Mr Macron will be able to rebuild the eurozone on better foundations with a putative Chancellor Martin Schulz in Germany. Even if Mr Schulz were to beat Angela Merkel in October, this would be wishful thinking.

There is scant difference between the German Social Democrats and Christian Democrats on euro ideology. Both are captive to mercantilist thinking. Both think Germany's current account surplus of 8.5pc of GDP is a virtue. Both are opposed to fiscal union and pooling of debts. Both are wedded to creditor interests. There is only a German view.

Italy above all is a political accident waiting to happen. Beppe Grillo's Five Star movement leads the polls by a staggering eight percentage points. It has suffered no erosion after its latest plans for a parallel "fiscal currency", a Trojan horse for the lira.

David Fuller's view -

I think AEP is right, although Mrs May will need to be strong, wise and successful in her negotiations with the EU.  This was never going to be easy, especially as EU officials have so far shown a grab what you can mentality.

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



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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?

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



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April 20 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Nightmare Scenario for Florida Costal Homeowners

Here is an early section of this somewhat factual report from Bloomberg:

If property values start to fall, Cason said, banks could stop writing 30-year mortgages for coastal homes, shrinking the pool of able buyers and sending prices lower still. Those properties make up a quarter of the city’s tax base; if that revenue fell, the city would struggle to provide the services that make it such a desirable place to live, causing more sales and another drop in revenue.

And all of that could happen before the rising sea consumes a single home.

As President Donald Trump proposes dismantling federal programs aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, officials and residents in South Florida are grappling with the risk that climate change could drag down housing markets. Relative sea levels in South Florida are roughly four inches higher now than in 1992. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060. By the end of the century, according to projections by Zillow, some 934,000 existing Florida properties, worth more than $400 billion, are at risk of being submerged.

The impact is already being felt in South Florida. Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock. Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply. The area’s drainage canals rely on gravity; as oceans rise, the water utility has had to install giant pumps to push water out to the ocean.

The effects of climate-driven price drops could ripple across the economy, and eventually force the federal government to decide what is owed to people whose home values are ruined by climate change.

Sean Becketti, the chief economist at Freddie Mac, warned in a report last year of a housing crisis for coastal areas more severe than the Great Recession, one that could spread through banks, insurers and other industries. And, unlike the recession, there’s no hope of a bounce back in property values.

Citing Florida as a chief example, he wondered if values would decline gradually or precipitously. Will the catalyst be a bank refusing to issue a mortgage? Will it be an insurer refusing to issue a policy? Or, he asked, “Will the trigger be one or two homeowners who decide to sell defensively?” 

“Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is,” said Dan Kipnis, the chairman of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority, who has been trying to find a buyer for his home in Miami Beach for almost a year, and has already lowered his asking price twice.

Some South Florida homeowners, stuck in a twist on the prisoner’s dilemma, are deciding to sell now—not necessarily because they want to move, but because they’re worried their neighbors will sell first.

When Nancy Lee sold her house last summer in Aventura, halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, it wasn’t because she was worried about sea-level rise, rising insurance costs, nuisance impacts or any of the other risks associated with climate change. Rather, she worried those risks would soon push other people to sell their homes, crashing the region’s property values. So she decided to pull the trigger

“I didn’t want to be there when prices fell,” said Lee, an environmental writer.

Ross Hancock has the same worry, and sold his four-bedroom house in Coral Gables three years ago. He described South Florida’s real estate market as “pessimists selling to optimists,” and said he wanted to cash out while the latter still outnumbered the former.

“I was just worried about my life’s savings,” Hancock said. “You can’t fight Mother Nature.”

And:

A short drive through mangrove trees off Highway 1 in Key Largo, Stephanie Russo’s house backs onto a canal that opens into Blackwater Sound, and from there to the ocean; her neighbors lounge in shorts and flip-flops beside their boats.
A few months after Russo, a partner at a law firm in Miami, moved to Key Largo in 2015, the big fall tides brought 18 inches of water onto the road in front of their house. Unlike previous tidal floods, this one lasted 34 days.

“When we bought, there hadn’t been a flood like that for years,” said Russo, who was sitting at a table between the home’s outdoor bar and its pool.

“Ever,” interjected her husband Frank, who was working on the grill.

The saltwater ruined cars around the neighborhood, destroyed landscaping and sparked a mosquito infestation.
But the worst part might have been the trash.

“When people would drive, it creates a wake,” said Russo. “That knocks over all the garbage cans, and then everybody’s garbage is floating in the streets, and in the mangroves. It’s just disgusting.”

Officials in Monroe County agree there’s a problem, and plan to raise some roads in an attempt to reduce future flooding.

Russo says if she knew in 2015 what she knows now, she wouldn’t have purchased the house. People buying in her neighborhood today are probably just as clueless as she once was, she guesses. “I would bet money that the realtors are not telling them.”

David Fuller's view -

Apparently see levels in South Florida are approximately four inches higher than in 1992.  That is certainly a concern and a possible trend.  However, I would take the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prediction that sea levels near Miami will be three feet higher by 2016 with a grain of salt.  It is impossible to know.  However, the economic consequences of people voting with their feet right now are certainly an economic concern, as the article explains. 

My grumpy old man comment: look at those huge ugly apartment buildings which are completely ruining the coastline.  It looks like a scene from urban China. 

When I was a teenager, the Fuller family enjoyed a couple of Christmas holidays at Pompano Beach, not far from Miami in Florida but without the vulgarity.  Pompano was nice and quiet, with people mostly living in one story houses with decent gardens and a few swimming pools.  The occasional hotels were small.  The breach was never crowded.  There was nothing special about the food but I do recall an - “All you can eat for a dollar” – fried chicken restaurant which appealed to me after a good swim.  



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April 19 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Theresa May Wins Support from Parliament to Hold Early Election

LONDON, April 19 (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May won parliament's backing for an early election on Wednesday, a vote she said would strengthen her hand in divorce talks with the European Union and help heal divisions in Britain.

May surprised allies and opponents on Tuesday when she announced her plan to bring forward an election that was not due until 2020, saying she needed to avoid a clash of priorities in the sensitive final stages of the two-year Brexit talks.

After addressing a rowdy session of the House of Commons, May won the support of 522 lawmakers in the 650-seat parliament for an election on June 8. Only 13 voted against.

With May seen winning a new five-year mandate and boosting her majority in parliament by perhaps 100 seats, the pound held close to six-and-a-half month highs on hopes she may be able to clinch a smoother, more phased departure from the EU and minimise damage to the UK economy.

"I believe that at this moment of enormous national significance there should be unity here in Westminster, not division," she said.

"A general election will provide the country with five years of strong and stable leadership to see us through the negotiations and ensure we are able to go on to make a success as a result, and that is crucial."

The former interior minister, who became prime minister without an election when her predecessor David Cameron quit after last year's referendum vote for Brexit, enjoys a runaway lead over the main opposition Labour Party in opinion polls.

She has also played up the strength of the economy, which has so far defied predictions of a slowdown - a key campaign theme that her Conservative Party will use to try to undermine Labour in the election.

A victory would give May a powerful mandate extending until 2022, long enough to cover the Brexit negotiations plus a possible transition period into new trading arrangements with the EU.

David Fuller's view -

This was a bold, sensible move by Theresa May.  Initially, on taking over as Prime Minister following the Brexit vote, she did not wish to put the country through another General Election before full term.  However, Brexit remains inevitably controversial, albeit chosen by the UK electorate in the most democratic election that I have seen. 

With a majority of only 17 seats, which she inherited from Cameron, Mrs May found herself harried, mainly by dissatisfied Remainers who would inevitably weaken her negotiating position with the EU. The political gamble (there is always an element of uncertainty) was to call for a General Election which will hopefully give her a substantial overall majority. 

Today, Parliament voted to approve the election on 8th June. Subsequently, we now hear Westminster talk of a ragbag Coalition of mostly Labour, Liberal Democrats and Scottish Nationalists, hoping to defeat the Conservatives.  This would presumably be led by the reassuring hand of Jeremy Corbyn, with Nickola Sturgeon pulling the strings from behind. One would have to swallow hard before voting for that gaggle of has beens, incompetents and single-issue advocates.      



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April 19 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The French Rich Are Considering Exile If Melenchon Wins

Here is a middle section of this informative article from Bloomberg:

Melenchon strikes fear in the hearts of many wealthy voters who remember the early eighties, when Mitterrand ran with Communist backing and promised to nationalize banks. He won the election on May 10, 1981. Soviet tanks never did make it to Paris, but some of France’s wealthiest fled. LVMH Moet Hennessy Louis Vuitton SE’s billionaire Chief Executive Officer Bernard Arnault moved to the U.S. as did Nathaniel de Rothschild. Some others moved to Switzerland.

Melenchon wants to limit executive pay to 20 times that of the lowest-paid employee, ban companies from paying dividends if they’ve laid off workers for economic reasons, impose capital controls to fight tax fraud and expand the base of those paying the existing wealth tax.

“We’ve invented the universal tax,” Melenchon said in a speech in Dijon on Tuesday. “It’s not worth fleeing. There will be tax agents even in hell.”

Melenchon considers anyone earning more than 4,000 euros ($4,287) a month as “rich,” and would expect them to do more to further his aims for France. He would slap a 90 percent tax on anyone who makes more than 400,000 euros a year. He plans to make inheritance tax-free below 130,000 euros per child, compared with 100,000 euros now, but tax it more for higher amounts.

“We want to make those who can afford it pay more,” Manuel Bompard, his campaign chief of staff and son-in-law, said on La Chaine Parlementaire television on April 12. “There should be a cap on the accumulation of wealth in this country.”

David Fuller's view -

London remains a very popular destination for educated French entrepreneurs, or indeed similarly qualified people from other EU countries.  We welcome you because you contribute to the diversity, charm and character of this great city.     



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April 19 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Markets Start to Ponder the $13 Trillion Gorilla in the Room

Here is the opening of this article from Bloomberg on a potentially challenging environment for investors as central banks eventually switch from quantitative easing to quantitative tightening:

After heading into the uncharted territory of quantitative easing, the world’s central banks are starting to plan their course through the uncharted waters of quantitative tightening.

How the Federal Reserve, European Central Bank and -- eventually -- the Bank of Japan handle the transition could make the difference between a global rerun of the 2013 "taper tantrum," or the near undetectable market response to China’s run-down of U.S. Treasuries in recent years. Combined, the balance sheets of the three now total about $13 trillion, equating to greater than either China’s or the euro region’s economy.

Former Fed Chair Ben S. Bernanke -- who triggered the 2013 sell-off in risk assets with his quip on tapering asset purchases -- has argued for a pre-set strategy to shrink the balance sheet. Current Vice Chairman Stanley Fischer says he doesn’t see a replay of the 2013 tantrum, but the best laid plans of central bankers would soon go awry if markets can’t digest the great unwinding.

"You know what they say about mountaineering right? The descent is always more dangerous than the ascent," said Stephen Jen, London-based chief executive of hedge fund Eurizon SLJ Capital Ltd. "Shrinking the balance sheet will be the descent."

Economists and investors are stepping up analysis of the implications of balance-sheet contraction after minutes of the Federal Open Market Committee meeting last month showed officials favor kicking off the process as soon as this year. 

David Fuller's view -

We could speculate and fret about this endlessly but I wouldn’t worry about it until US 10-Yr Treasury Yields sustain a clear break above 3%.



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April 19 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day 3

On William Hague’s article posted on Tuesday:

A perceptive essay, marred only by the third from last paragraph which is delusional. Turkey was always going to go its own way.

David Fuller's view -

Since Erdogan is an Islamist leader who controversially became Prime Minister of Turkey in 2003, ending the country’s secular rule since the days of Ataturk, you may be right. However, I never thought the secular EU would accept open borders with Turkey and its large population, led by an Islamist government. Having not been invited to join the EU, Turkey is now going its own way. 

(Subscribers may find this article from The Telegraph interesting: Turkey’s most powerful president since Ataturk: A profile of Recep Tayyip Erdogan)



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April 18 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Theresa May Snap Election Call Is Right for Brexit Britain

Here is the opening of today's main story, from the Financial Times:

Even by her Sphinx-like standards, Theresa May’s announcement of a snap general election was a well-kept secret. It was also an abrupt reversal: since entering Number 10 after the vote for Brexit, the UK prime minister has insisted repeatedly there was no need for an election before the scheduled date in 2020. Nonetheless, this is the right decision.
 

Britain is embarking on the most important constitutional change in its postwar history. The Brexit negotiations, set to begin in earnest after the French and German elections, will be tough, and they will require trade-offs that many voters will find hard to accept. Since triggering Article 50, the government has shown welcome signs of realism — recognising that business needs a transitional period when Britain leaves the EU and acknowledging that many jobs cannot be filled without migrants.

A strong mandate will help Mrs May to remain on this pragmatic course. It lessens the risk of her being held hostage at every stage of the negotiations by minority pressure groups. With polls giving her Conservative party a 21-point lead over the dysfunctional Labour opposition, she appears likely to win by a landslide.

The prime minister is disingenuous, though, to claim the election has become necessary because of “game-playing” by opposition parties. In fact, resistance has been lame to the point of culpability. Mrs May wants to avoid the fate of her predecessor John Major, whose authority was destroyed by Eurosceptic rebels. Today, a growing number of pro-Brexit zealots are clamouring for a crash exit from the EU rather than Mrs May’s vision of a “deep and special partnership”.

How she chooses to interpret these words if and when she is handed a commanding majority is unclear. Mrs May was notionally against Brexit before last year’s referendum but is now a committed advocate. The decision to call a snap election is intended to free her from unwanted interference from the Remainers among her MPs, just as much as from hardliners on the right.

David Fuller's view -

This is a welcome move by Theresa May and her reasons are certainly not “disingenuous”, as suggested two paragraphs above.  She needs her own election victory and a strong majority to represent Britain most effectively in the important Brexit negotiations with the EU. 

While the PM favours a mutually beneficial Brexit Agreement, this may not be possible, at least initially.  The EU is a troubled, protectionist organisation, determined to extract the highest possible price from any country which decides to leave.  Therefore, instead of negotiating in line with the EU’s extortionist terms, Mrs May must be prepared to walk away (effectively, hard Brexit) before a sensible new trade relationship can be agreed. 

It would obviously be more difficult to do this with a slender overall majority of 17 seats, as EU Brexit negotiators certainly know.  Currently Conservatives have 330 seats, Labour 229, Scottish National Party 54, Liberal Democrats 9, Democratic Unionist Party 8, Independents 4 and Sinn Fein 4. 

Of the Parties currently holding less than 10 seats, my guess is that Liberal Democrats will see the biggest percentage gain, attracting some protest votes from disillusioned Remainers. The others could gain a seat or two, at best, as could UKIP or the Greens.  I think seats held by the Scottish National Party will decline below 50 in a rebuff to Nicola Sturgeon.  Divided Labour will see the biggest losses, falling well below 200 seats.  Conservatives are likely to have a significantly increased majority approaching 400 seats.

(See also: Theresa May announces snap general election on June 8 to ‘make a success of Brexit’, from The Telegraph)



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April 18 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Europe Drove Turkey Towards an Autocrat. We Cannot Now Turn Our Backs on His People

Here is the opening and also a latter section of this perceptive column by William Hague for The Telegraph:

From opposite corners of our continent, Britain and Turkey have for some decades shared a similar perspective on the European land mass between us. Both have looked to Europe to boost their prosperity and, through NATO, to reinforce their common security. Both have an imperial past and a strong sense of independence, but have tried to find a way to work within the EU nonetheless – Turkey by applying to join it as long ago as 1987.

A Europe that could have held on to Britain and accommodated Turkey in its ranks would have contained crucial gateways to both the transatlantic world of the west and the Muslim and Asian worlds of the east. Indeed, the great vision of a fully democratic Muslim nation becoming permanently anchored in Europe was what motivated British politicians to support EU membership for Turkey. This was a great strategic prize – the answer to any ‘clash of civilisations’, the proof that Islam and Christian democracies could join together, and a way of forcing the EU to be broad and decentralised at the same time.

Yet now the EU is not only losing Britain. Sunday’s referendum result and the events of recent years mean it has lost Turkey as well. Albeit by a very narrow margin in a referendum in which airtime was systematically denied to the opposition side, Turkish voters approved a new constitution giving sweeping powers to President Erdogan and set their country clearly on the path to becoming an autocratic and probably authoritarian state.

To any outside and friendly observer, this is not good news. As foreign secretary I made more visits to Turkey than I can remember, worked closely with ministers in Ankara, encouraged their aspirations to join the EU alongside us, and admired the revival of the Turkish economy and an outward looking foreign policy in the early years of Erdogan. But now, on the back of a failed coup used as a reason to purge and arrest tens of thousands of opponents, the same man is leading his country down a dead end of intolerance, division and repression.
The result will be a weakened economy, as international confidence in the rule of law is diminished. Even worse, the concentration of such power in a more centralised state will make it harder to reconcile the many divisions between Turks who happen to be secular, or religious conservatives, or Kurds. Tens of thousands of people are in jail for political reasons, media outlets are ruthlessly intimidated, and a 51 per cent victory will now be treated as a mandate to implement everything the President desires. Excessive faith is being placed in one man, who shows all the signs familiar through the ages of having too much power for too long: paranoia, extreme sensitivity to criticism and the destruction of all potential successors. Few countries have ever become prosperous or happy places on the basis of such rule.

This prospect is deeply disheartening to Turkey’s friends abroad. But it cannot be dismissed as just a random event brought about by one man and his cronies. The result in Turkey tells us some things that are very important about where the world is heading.

And:

A final lesson is that Europe’s collective mishandling of Turkey has been tragic. Year after year vital parts of Ankara’s accession negotiations were blocked, usually in Paris, Athens or Nicosia. Turkey was kept at a distance and obstructed in its efforts to become a European state, until eventually it has turned away, disillusioned and contemptuous. The EU could have embraced Turkey, just as it could probably have kept Britain as a member if it had been prepared to make compromises on migration. It lacks the collective will to do what is necessary for its own success.

The result of the referendum should therefore not be seen as Turks taking leave of their senses for reasons of their own, but as one manifestation of wider trends and failures, in their country but also around them. And that also means we must not turn our backs on them. They remain pivotal in resolving the war in Syria, and in attempting to manage flows of migration that seem destined to grow much larger. They are a vital ally and sit in one of the most strategically crucial points of the entire globe.

Even though they have voted to place their faith in one man in a way that British people think we never could, we still have a lot in common with the Turkish people. We should be sad for them this week. But, for the long-term, we should keep open to them our trade, alliances, understanding and friendship.

David Fuller's view -

A more business-savvy EU might have accepted Turkey but that never seemed to be a realistic possibility.  Erdogan won’t be there forever and I agree with William Hague that the UK should take a long-term view on Turkey, by reaching out to maintain an alliance based on understanding, friendship between our two countries and trade.  Erdogan might well respond, given David Cameron’s previous efforts and also Brexit.  

A PDF of William Hague's column is posted in the Subscriber's Area.



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April 18 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Trump Congratulates Erdogan on Referendum as Europe Seethes

Here is the opening of this topical article from Bloomberg:

President Donald Trump congratulated Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan on his referendum victory, a sharp departure from the critical reception many European officials have given the vote to expand Erdogan’s powers.

The Turkish leader stepped up his vitriol against European critics on Monday, telling a crowd of supporters, “We don’t care about the opinions of ‘Hans’ or ‘George’ or ‘Helga’.” All debates about the constitutional referendum “are now over,” he said.

European officials have deplored the concentration of so much power in one person’s hands, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe has faulted Sunday’s election process. The vote fell under suspicion because ballots that didn’t carry an official stamp were allowed to be tallied. The approval of expanded presidential powers won by a narrow majority of 51.4 percent.

David Fuller's view -

It appears that Trump holds a similar view to Hague on Turkey and also the EU.  I am sure this has been noted by both Prime Minister Theresa May and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.  



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April 18 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On compulsory military service:

Dear David Have only just caught up with Roger Bootle's column re: Defence Spending, and your comments. Was particularly interested in your suggestion re: 2 year military service as I am old enough to have done National Service 1953-55, in Egypt and Cyprus. At that time there we had 80,000 men "guarding" the 99 mile long Suez Canal, while the UK had many other worldwide military commitments and had been heavily involved in the Korean War. I believe that the estimated TOTAL size of our army within a few years will be - below 80,000! Apart from financial constraints the Army is facing a severe recruitment problem. I suggest this is partly to do with the lack of support that soldiers receive after discharge. A significant number finish up on the streets and in prison. The meagre government aid available to these heroes is clearly insufficient, and it is left to charities like "Walking With the Wounded" and "Help for Heroes" to try to bridge the gap. I commend them to your readers. With best wishes

David Fuller's view -

Thank you for this thoughtful email, which will certainly be of interest to many subscribers, not least those of a similar age.  A country can always do more to help solders who have suffered fiscal and mental injuries in battles. This should be a priority, in my opinion.  Government support is essential but it is also a national effort, involving charities and businesses.  Prince Harry’s efforts on behalf of wounded soldiers are both a credit to the Royal family and a testimony to his character.      



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April 13 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Jeff Bezos Shareholder Letter: Do Not Let the World Push You into Becoming a Day 2 Company

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos knows a thing or two about building a successful business. Several analysts have predicted that Amazon will be the world's first company with a trillion dollar valuation, and Bezos recently become the second richest person on earth.

In his latest letter to Amazon shareholders published Wednesday, Bezos explains why he believes that centering a business around "obsessive customer focus" is the best way to succeed.

He also touches on Amazon's use of machine learning and artificial intelligence, one of the biggest trends in tech, and how it touches nearly every part of the company.

"Jeff, what does Day 2 look like?"
That's a question I just got at our most recent all-hands meeting. I've been reminding people that it's Day 1 for a couple of decades. I work in an Amazon building named Day 1, and when I moved buildings, I took the name with me. I spend time thinking about this topic.

"Day 2 is stasis. Followed by irrelevance. Followed by excruciating, painful decline. Followed by death. And that is why it is always Day 1."

To be sure, this kind of decline would happen in extreme slow motion. An established company might harvest Day 2 for decades, but the final result would still come.

I'm interested in the question, how do you fend off Day 2? What are the techniques and tactics? How do you keep the vitality of Day 1, even inside a large organization?

Such a question can't have a simple answer. There will be many elements, multiple paths, and many traps. I don't know the whole answer, but I may know bits of it. Here's a starter pack of essentials for Day 1 defense: customer obsession, a skeptical view of proxies, the eager adoption of external trends, and high velocity decision making.

David Fuller's view -

I commend this letter to subscribers because Jeff Bezos is well known as one of the most successful people on the planet.  He is a creative, ambitious, original thinker and a perfectionist.  He is also very good at motivating his team, and not afraid of making a mistake.  



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April 13 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Europe Risks Nightmare as Anti-Euro Bolshevik Storms France

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

France suddenly faces the real possibility of a presidential run-off between the Eurosceptic hard-Left and the Eurosceptic hard-Right.

The meteoric rise of Jean-Luc Mélenchon on a Proudhonist - if not Bolshevik - platform has changed the equation. He is just as nationalist and radical as the Front National's Marine Le Pen, and certainly more dangerous for the owners of capital.

"Absolute catastrophe. Mélenchon is the Venezuela scenario, Le Pen is the Argentine scenario," warns Pierre Gattaz, head of the French employers' federation MEDEF.

Both candidates are anti-German, anti-American, anti-globalist, anti-NATO, and pro-Putin. Both want to rip up the EU Treaties. Both want some sort of parallel currency or sovereign monetary control.

Both are viscerally hostile to financial markets and to liberal labour reform. Both want a bigger French state financed by borrowing, and damn the deficit. The ideologies merge. 'Les extrêmes se touchent', as the French say.

If the complex arithmetic of the first-round election on April 23 leads to a duel between these two wings of the French Resistance, the outcome will be shattering for monetary union and the European project.

While it is true that neither would have a working majority in the French parliament, this alleged safeguard raises as many questions as it answers. Does anybody think that the euro experiment - already fragile and damaged - can survive for long if one of its two anchor states is embroiled in political civil war with no functioning government?

And:

It is fitting that Mr Mélenchon's "Left Front" movement has been renamed "France Insoumise" (Unsubjugated France). He is playing the Left-nationalist card as hard as Mrs Le Pen plays the Right-nationalist card. 

Among his policies are a 32-hour week, retirement at 60, a top tax rate of 90pc, effective confiscation of any income above €400,000, a higher wealth tax, a luxury tax, recruitment of 60,000 more health workers for a larger state heading for 60pc of GDP, and fiscal slippage of €175bn over five years according to the Coe-Rexecode institute. Mr Macron rightly calls him a "revolutionary Communist".

Whether voters really would vote for Mr Mélenchon's fiery cocktail in preference to Le Pen's more cautious bourgeois variant is far from clear, once they discover what he is actually proposing. Either way, a victory by one or the other would be an earthquake.

The political contours of Europe have changed in this election. It has shown that the Brussels and the EU system can no longer rely on the emotional consent of the French Left.

David Fuller's view -

This is all very exciting, or terrifying depending on your perspective. While interested, I am only a distant observer and although looks can be deceiving, in the photo posted in AEP’s column, Jean-Luc Mélenchon looks like a kindly gentleman and he has been described as articulate by the press. That does not remind me of a “revolutionary Communist”, as he has been described by Emmanuel Macron who currently has a slight lead in the French polls.  I expect revolutionary Communists to look more like the UK’s Corbynistas. 

What I do know, given Mélenchon’s policies mentioned above, is that they would drive even more of France’s entrepreneurial families to London, where they remain most welcome. 

My hunch is that the youthful, fresh faced former banker Macron will win, now that he has positioned himself at the political centre of French politics. 

However, if Le Pen or particularly Mélenchon becomes the next president of France, that should make the UK’s Brexit a little easier.      



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April 13 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

The Swamp Is Rooting for Kushner

Jared Kushner has only been in Washington for several months, but he's already benefiting from a law of bureaucratic nature: The right rivals make you look good.

In a White House awash in internecine warfare, the most prominent combatant is Kushner, President Donald Trump's son-in-law, who has been given a wide-ranging portfolio. Kushner's chief adversary is Steve Bannon, the nationalist champion of the alt-right who says he wants to deconstruct the administrative state. Not surprisingly, the capital establishment, not eager to be deconstructed, despises Bannon and thus puts its hopes on the 36-year-old Kushner.

Kushner's backers, including some closeted Democrats, argue that he's getting Trump to govern in a rational way. Some contend that he'll turn Trump into a mainstream Republican or even persuade the president to return to his roots as a conservative Democrat. Both notions are preposterous. The best critics can hope for is that Kushner will diminish the influence of Trumpist extremists, especially Bannon. The inside-the-Beltway betting is on Kushner.

Internal White House friction isn't unusual and there usually is an establishment favorite. Sometimes the favorite is also the best person: in President Ronald Reagan's White House, for example, the pragmatic Chief of Staff James Baker was more talented than his arch-conservative rival, the White House counselor Ed Meese. In President Bill Clinton's administration, by contrast, the conventional wisdom was that the Washington insider and White House counselor David Gergen would save the president from his inexperienced political aides; that was wrong.

David Fuller's view -

Jared Kushner appears to be a great find for Trump and his best asset is his smart, sensible wife, Ivanka Trump.



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April 12 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Trump Got Syria and China Right Last Week. That is a Start

The Trump administration’s foreign policy has been a dizzying spectacle of mixed messages and policy reversals during its first three months. But in last week’s crucial tests, President Trump made good decisions about Syria, Russia and China — moving his erratic administration a bit closer toward the pillars of traditional U.S. policy.

The decision to strike a Syrian air base was a confidence builder for an inexperienced and sometimes fractious White House, a senior official said. Trump couldn’t be sure when he launched the attack that a Russian wouldn’t be killed, or that some other freak mishap wouldn’t arise. The military option he chose had two virtues: It was quick, surprising Russians who hadn’t expected such prompt retaliation; and it was measured, sending a calibrated message rather than beginning an open-ended military intervention.

Trump famously likes to win, and he can probably claim a win here after weeks of chaotic setbacks. As a result, the Syria operation, generally praised at home and abroad, has consolidated the power of Trump’s core foreign policy team, in ways that may alter the political balance of this White House.

Here’s the consensus among top Republican and Democratic former officials I spoke with: National security adviser H.R. McMaster ran a tight interagency process; Defense Secretary Jim Mattis offered the president clear, manageable options. Trump mostly stayed off Twitter, encouraging his team members to do the work rather than disrupting them.

Perhaps the most visible beneficiary is Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who has found his voice after an agonizingly slow start. Tillerson clearly has gained Trump’s confidence and has also forged an alliance with the decisive backstage operator in this White House, senior adviser (and Trump’s son-in-law) Jared Kushner.

David Fuller's view -

Trump’s liabilities are better known than his assets. Nevertheless, he is a shrewd operator and flexible – good qualities for a president.  He also has a number of very good advisors.



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April 12 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

A Soaring Trump Dollar Would Risk Global Trade War and China Currency Crisis, Warns Posen

The world's leading currency institute is bracing for a dramatic rise in the US dollar as the Federal Reserve rushes to tighten monetary policy, setting the stage for a protectionist showdown and a fresh debt crisis in emerging markets.

Adam Posen, president of the Peterson Institute for International Economics, said investors have badly misjudged the confluence of forces at work in Washington.

They wrongly assume that fiscal stimulus will come to little under Donald Trump, and are equally wrong that Janet Yellen Fed's will remain dovish as the US nears full employment.

"The Fed is going to be far more aggressive than people think. Our view is that there will be three to four more rate rises this year," he told The Telegraph.

This would amount to a global monetary shock, all the more so since the Fed is also floating plans to reverse quantitative easing (QE) by halting the roll-over bonds as they mature. This move to shrink the Fed's $4.5 trillion balance sheet may come earlier than originally supposed, perhaps by the end of the year.

The effect of Fed tightening would be to drain dollar liquidity from the international financial system, the exact opposite of what happened in the emerging market boom earlier this decade when so much of the Fed's easy money leaked into East Asia, Latin America, Africa, and the Middle East.

"We expect the dollar to rise by another 10pc to 15pc. The concern is that this will suck capital out of the more fragile emerging markets and lead to fresh capital outflows from China," Mr Posen said.

"It may vary country by country but it could be like the 'taper tantrum'. Malaysia and Brazil look vulnerable to us," he said, speaking at the Ambrosetti forum of global economists on Lake Como.

A hawkish Fed could prove painful for investors still hoping that central banks will come to the rescue whenever there is trouble, be it the 'Yellen Put' in the US,  the 'Draghi Put' in Europe, or the 'PBOC Put' in China.

The Fed is itching to show that it is not a prisoner of Wall Street, after being forced to retreat many times in recent years. It effectively delayed rate rises last year due to China’s currency scare. Now the coast looks clear.

"Central bankers don't think policy should be constrained just because somebody in the markets is going to lose money," Mr Posen said.

David Fuller's view -

This sounds like a worst-case scenario to me, although I have a high regard for Adam Posen.  I do expect the Fed to raise rates at least two more times this year, strengthening the Dollar in the process.  The key for markets is the timing and extent of these moves.

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



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April 12 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On Brexit sentiment::

Dear David This article in the Sunday Telegraph summarises a poll of views of the UK population 9 months after the Brexit vote. Although one has to be a little sceptical about polls in general, the results do make a lot of sense. The title says it all: "Big decision has been made so just get on with it." http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/04/08/big-decision-has-made-just-get-writes-lord-ashcroft/

 Apparently the 'remain' camp is now a lot less than 48%! Top priority recorded was to stop paying anything at all into the EU budget and to be rid of the European Court of Justice. Those came higher than control of immigration. That shows what really drove the vote last summer. Best wishes 

David Fuller's view -

Thanks for this email and the link to Lord Ashcroft’s column in The Telegraph.  My impression is certainly that support to remain has shrunk considerably, not least because EU officials have not distinguished themselves with their adolescent bluster and threats of punishment since the Brexit vote.  Meanwhile, PM Theresa May has made it very clear that we are leaving the EU, not Europe with which we will continue to have strong links and mutual interests. 

Judging from voter priorities mentioned by Lord Ashcroft above, we need to leave the EU quickly.  That may be unsettling but not if one considers that mutually sensible trade agreements are much more likely to be agreed once we are free from EU red tape.  It was designed with the sole intention of deterring countries from exercising their democratic right and leaving the EU.     



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April 11 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Squaring Up Leaves Putin No Way to Save Face

Here is the opening of this psychologically perceptive article by Clare Foges for The Times, and a PDF version is also in the Subscriber’s Area:

A superbly sinister Reagan campaign ad from 1984 shows a bear stalking through undergrowth. Over the drum of a heartbeat a gravelly voice warns: “There is a bear in the woods. For some people the bear is easy to see. Others don’t see it at all. Some people say the bear is tame. Others say it’s vicious and dangerous. Since no one can really be sure who’s right, isn’t it smart to be as strong as the bear?”

In recent days the West has decided to approach the bear and flex its muscles. Over the weekend the foreign secretary Boris Johnson pulled out of a long-planned meeting with the Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov and called for more punitive economic sanctions. Sir Michael Fallon, the defence secretary, made the statement that Russia was “by proxy... responsible for every civilian death last week”. Yesterday the foreign ministers of the G7 met to agree a demand that President Putin withdraw military support from Assad. Tomorrow Rex Tillerson, the US secretary of state, goes to Moscow to deliver a “clear and co-ordinated message” that the Kremlin must toe the line.

The new approach is to square up to the bear: challenge Russia explicitly; demand a climbdown. Given that Moscow has failed to oversee the elimination of President Assad’s chemical weapons this is, of course, perfectly reasonable. Whether it will be successful is another thing. I fear this approach won’t work, because it does not pay due care to the critical thing: the psychology of the man who is Russia.

To talk of psychology in the field of international relations may seem lightweight to some. Experts in foreign affairs prefer the hard-edged lexicon of strategic interests to the fluffy language of feelings. But thinking on geopolitics too often forgets the human beings at its heart: their fears, insecurities and vanities. In a country where there are checks on power, the psychology of the leader matters less. Their emotional edges will be blunted by layers of process. In a system like the Kremlin, however, where the leadership is absolute, the mindset of the man matters profoundly. It should be factored more carefully into the western approach.

Humiliation, pride and status anxiety are central themes of the Putin story. A telling detail: as a teenager he was disturbed to see his peers developing faster, growing taller — so he took up judo to keep his “place in the pack”. Anything to avoid the humiliation of being slight, small, pushed around. Give me the boy and I’ll show you the man: the one who joins deep dives into Lake Baikal, discovers “ancient Greek urns” in the Black Sea, shoots an endangered tiger with a tranquilliser dart, rides bare-chested on horseback. Every adventure is staged to assert status, to keep his place at the top of the pack. Meetings with other leaders reek of power play and status anxiety, such as the notorious bilateral with Angela Merkel in which he introduced his labrador to a German chancellor known to fear dogs. Afterwards Merkel remarked: “I understand why he has to do this — to prove he’s a man. He’s afraid of his own weakness.” These absolutes emanate from Putin: nothing is less bearable than humiliation, nothing more important than pride.

David Fuller's view -

If this psychological profile is correct, and it makes sense to me, I think there is little chance that Putin would join other European nations, turning G7 into G8 once again. Even if he did join, he would most likely stay in character until told to leave as happened previously.  After all, Putin is the man who described the breakup of the Soviet Union “the greatest geopolitical disaster of the last century”.  He also said in 2004 that “there is no such thing as a former KGB man”, although they now call it the FSB.  



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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. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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April 11 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

World-Beating Stock Rally Hinges on Corporate India Profits

Here is the opening of this informative story from Bloomberg:

The fate of India’s world-beating stock-market rally hinges on a routine event: earnings season.

Equities are trading near record levels in Mumbai, bolstered by bets that a state election victory will embolden Prime Minister Narendra Modi to push ahead with his reform agenda. Valuations rose to the highest level since 2010 at the end of March and the S&P BSE Sensex index is the top-performing gauge this year among the world’s 10 biggest stock markets.

The gap between share prices and company profits has widened since 2014 on expectations economic growth will filter into bottom lines. That hasn’t happened consistently -- while India’s GDP expanded 7 percent or more in each of the last four quarters, Sensex profits fell in two of those periods amid a tepid investment climate and rising bad loans.

“The return expectations have to moderate,” said Mahesh Patil, who helps manage about $30 billion in assets as co-chief investment of Birla Sunlife Asset Management Co. “If expectations are more realistic, the market should be able to deliver that in the medium term.”

Earnings season kicks off Thursday, when software developer Infosys Ltd. is scheduled to report. Company results will show performance during the first full quarter since Modi ordered a recall of high-value currency notes in November in a bid to reduce graft.

Sensex members will post a 9.1 percent increase in net incomes for the three months ended March, helped by higher commodity prices, Deutsche Bank said last week. That would be the biggest quarterly climb in a year, data compiled by Bloomberg show.

David Fuller's view -

India remains a great story for long-term investors.  In terms of governance, India probably has the most effective leader of any country.  President Narendra Modi is brilliant, economically savvy, a strong leader, and a charismatic speaker from a humble background.

India also has by far the largest young population in the world. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area and discusses tactics.



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April 10 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Brexit Liberating if May Seizes the Chances in Asia

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

“I’m a Remainer but there are more important issues for the British economy than whether or not we are members of the European Union. Maybe even some good could come from leaving,” he said.

Whether Theresa May’s Tory Party is culturally disposed to meet this challenge is an open question. In his view the May government has been exasperatingly slow out of the starting gate: it has dropped the ball badly in Asia; and risks starving the country of vitally needed foreign talent with the wrong kind of immigration curbs.

Jim O’Neill, who resigned from his post as Treasury minister last year after a string of policy disputes, said Theresa May has been skillful in handling talks with the EU. Nobody in sophisticated circles pays much attention to the tabloid dichotomy of “hard” and “soft” Brexits at this stage, an issue that has been overtaken by events.

Yet she is surrounded by advisers with insular views who do not understand how fast the wider world is changing. “These people lack strategic perspective. We should have a minister almost permanently camped in China trying to do trade deals, but they simply don’t think about China when the get out of bed. It is not in their DNA,” he said.

And:

For all his criticism of the Government, he says the headline posturing over Brexit is largely aimed at placating elements of the Tory party and press. “The actual policy is much more nuanced,” he said.

There will have to be some kind of free trade deal for the car industry given the complex cross-border supply chains. “It must be something close to the single market. If we fall back to WTO rules, there will be serious trouble,” he said.

Surprisingly, Lord O’Neill is less worried about the City, where he had a ring-side seat for decades and learnt to judge the reflexes of the American and Asian finance houses.

“People have exaggerated the risks. As we creep through the weeks it is pretty obvious that the big global players are going to shift marginal operations out of London, but the idea that large swaths of the financial industry will decamp to Frankfurt and Paris is just crazy,” he said.

“They don’t have the social and human infrastructure, and the more imaginative EU leaders know that a flourishing City is actually good for Europe,” he said.

“I didn’t want Brexit but, basically, we can cope.”

David Fuller's view -

Theresa May’s Government has been “slow out of the starting gate” because no one in David Cameron’s government expected a national vote in favour of Brexit, least of all the former Prime Minister.  Slow is frustrating for those of us who voted for Brexit, but all but irrelevant relative to the long-term outlook for a country regaining its sovereignty and role as a global trading nation.

Most UK ministers will lack a strategic perspective and the international experience to deal with the challenges and opportunities of Brexit, having been locked within the closed-shop EU for most of their careers.  Additionally, they are career politicians.  Therefore, taking a leaf from Donald Trump, Mrs May would be wise to recruit a UK Development Organisation of highly experienced and internationally successful British bankers and businessmen, to work with the Government. 

Among Trump’s best decisions have been his choices of Cabinet Ministers.  They include few Republican Senators or Congressmen, but there has never been a more experienced US Cabinet, in my opinion.  Mrs May needs a similar team to put this country on its strongest footing.    

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



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April 10 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Why the Government Should be Spending More on Defence

Here is the opening and also a latter section of this sensible column by Roger Bootle for The Telegraph:

As regular readers know, I am not in the habit of recommending large increases in public expenditure. On the contrary, I want public spending to be kept under a tight rein so that the tax burden can be reduced, with consequent benefits from improved incentives and efficiency. But there is one area where I feel strongly that the British Government is not spending anywhere near enough – defence.

Over recent decades it has been common for the public, egged on by politicians, to expect the state to solve just about every sort of problem in their lives. This statist philosophy derives from a failure to understand the appropriate role of government in the economy and society. For most sorts of economic activity, and a good deal of the rest of national life, government’s primary job should be to keep out of it.

But there are several things that only the state can properly provide. Prime among these so called “public goods” is defence. Yet in the UK, defence spending has fallen sharply as a share of GDP. It is currently rumoured that the number of Royal Marines is about to be cut severely in order to save money. Meanwhile, the Royal Navy’s much depleted warship strength may also be reduced.

This potential scaling back is not because of any assessment that the threats to the UK’s security have diminished. On the contrary, they have surely increased. It is driven entirely by the urge to save money, accompanied by the hope (fingers crossed!) that the UK, its dependent territories or its allies won’t face attack. This is economism gone mad. Sometimes economic considerations should take a backseat.

Admittedly, the latest squeeze is prompted by the need to fund the construction of two large aircraft carriers. But the “economy drive” is nothing new. Before Mrs May took over as Prime Minister, the Cameron–Osborne duo devastated Britain’s armed forces in a bid to save what turned out to be comparatively small amounts of money. Meanwhile, quite apart from whatever they squandered elsewhere, they continued to honour the pledge to spend 0.7pc of GDP per annum on overseas aid, which has been enshrined in law.

This is nonsensical. Unless the May–Hammond duo wish to go down in history as similarly complacent about the UK’s protection, this law needs to be repealed and a substantial part of the money saved should be redirected towards the defence budget. Being largely spent in the UK, this extra money would boost aggregate demand and create jobs, especially in manufacturing.

And:

Something similar is true of relations with the US. The more we can persuade the Trump administration that we have serious military capabilities to deploy in conjunction with US forces, the more likely it is that the US will put effort into securing a favourable US–UK trade deal, which would probably lead on to other favourable trade deals around the world.

More fundamentally, military service brings large benefits to society, benefits that most members of recent British governments, with scarcely any military experience or connections, have failed to appreciate. Traditionally, people from working class backgrounds have gained a sense of discipline, self-worth and identification with the wider community through serving in the armed forces. Many of them have acquired trades and traits that have helped them to secure employment once they have rejoined “Civvy Street”.

With globalisation and technological progress eroding traditional job opportunities, the potential contribution to human development from military service has increased. Yet there has probably never been a time in the UK’s recent history when the proportion of the population serving in our armed forces, and the corresponding extent of their influence in society, have been so low.

Brexit isn’t the only challenge facing Mrs May. If she does not restore a good part of the UK’s fighting capability she will be judged by history as failing in a central part of her duties.

David Fuller's view -

I am pleased to see Roger Bootle state these views, especially when it is fashionable in many European countries to say that defence spending is a waste of money and unnecessary.  I also favour 2-year conscription (draft system) for all males.  This builds character at all levels of society by putting the nation first.  Among the larger economies within democratic Europe only the UK and France pay the minimum on defence of 2% and this really should be increased. 

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area with a review of some defence shares and also a PDF of Roger Bootle’s article.



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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 07 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 07 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

U.S. Launches Missile Strike on Syria in Response to Gas Attack

This article by Tony Capaccio and Nick Wadhams for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

At the United Nations, diplomats privately debated a resolution that would condemn the poison-gas attack and demand access to Syrian air bases by UN investigators. Russia, which has backed Assad militarily since late 2015, would probably veto that measure after putting forward a separate measure which wouldn’t compel Syria to provide such access.

At the UN Security Council on Wednesday, U.S. Ambassador Nikki Haley stood up at her desk to show diplomats photos of dying children gasping for air. She accused Russia of pushing a “false narrative” that blames rebel forces for the attack, and issued a new warning.

Safronkov, the Russian diplomat, said he’d been “very frank” in consultations with U.S. officials.
“We have to think of negative consequences, and all responsibility of military action will be on the shoulders of those who initiated such doubtful and tragic enterprise,” he told reporters at the UN

Syria’s government said pilots bombed what turned out to be a rebel-controlled chemical weapons stockpile, while Russian officials on Wednesday said it’s too soon to assign blame for the attack. Nonetheless, it appeared before Thursday night’s missile strike that Russia’s support for Assad hadn’t diminished.

Tillerson’s talk of creating a coalition “gives the impression that in the West there is a rush to use the situation to take from Assad the success in turning around the situation in the country and attain their previous goal: removing him from power at any cost,” Konstantin Kosachyov, chairman of international affairs committee in the Russian parliament’s upper house, said by email.

The State Department official said Thursday afternoon that Tillerson would go to Moscow as planned for meetings with senior officials on April 12. That visit was expected to include a meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Russia’s only Mediterranean port is in Syria. They cannot afford to lose it. With so many warring parties and a number of competing agendas the conflict is messy to say the least because it is far from clear what group would rule the country if the current regime were toppled. Nevertheless, Russia has one of the clearest objectives and the fact it is unwilling to rein in Assad’s most brutal tendencies is a testament to just how tenuous their combined control of the country is. 



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April 07 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Winners and losers of the Industrial Internet

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

Industrial end-markets are still at the beginning of their digitalization journey
The Industrial Internet is about optimizing entire manufacturing systems, including products, processes, supply chains and business models. We estimate digitized solutions could generate c.15% annual opex savings in industrial markets by making assets more efficient. This could reduce the addressable market size for traditional manufacturers of big iron machines. However, this should translate in a market opportunity of c.$200bn for IIoT suppliers in areas like predictive maintenance or operation optimization.

IIoT strategies are as much defensive as they are offensive 
Industrial companies will have to be good at software to remain successful as an increasing share of the manufacturing value chain could shift to providers of sensors, data analytics and industrial cloud architectures. For example, a key risk for the manufacturers of large pieces of equipment requiring maintenance/retrofit is that software companies specializing in analytics or 3D printing might take a growing share of the lucrative service business pie.

3 building blocks for success: Siemens and Schneider well placed
We believe successful companies in an IIoT world will combine an integrated platform of digital solutions; deep domain know-how to give context to data analytics and automation/control activities to in real-time the insights from data analysis on manufacturing processes. Siemens stands out for its comprehensive portfolio of automation and software tools but, the group faces significant digital disruption risks on servicing of its installed base. We rank Schneider and ABB highly. Both have relatively similar IIoT competencies but in different end-markets. We also estimate Schneider is running 5 years ahead of ABB in implementation of its group-wide digital platform and strategy.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

China’s labour costs have been on an upward trajectory for some time and they have already lost many low cost manufacturing jobs to even cheaper locales. With more than a billion people they have an interest in enhancing productivity to ensure they retain the moniker of “workshop of the world”. 



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April 07 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Europe: Complexity Rules

Thanks to a subscriber for this note from Henry H. McVey for KKR which may be of interest. Here is a section:

Our bottom line: We actually left feeling more encouraged about the prospects for risk assets in the near term, though some of our long-term concerns about the “Union” remain intact. See below for full details on our latest views, but our initial Thoughts from the Road are as follows:
Despite significant political uncertainty — and almost in spite of itself — European GDP continues to chug along at a steady clip. In fact, we are lifting our 2017 GDP forecast to 1.7% from 1.4% previously, driven by better than expected investment trends. Maybe more important, though, is that our quantitative GDP model is forecasting robust growth in Europe of 2.5% for 2017 (Exhibit 11). This forecast is driven largely by the powerful effects of the European Central Bank’s highly accommodative monetary policy regime, partially offset by stagnant housing market concerns. However, if mortgage lending growth does accelerate, implied growth by our model could be even stronger, though we fully acknowledge an overall political risk discount of 50-75 basis points to our quantitative growth model likely makes sense in the current environment.

Investors should continue to think about a European macro environment where consumption, particularly around experiences, remains compelling relative to overall trend growth. This viewpoint is consistent with an emphasis on sectors such as travel, health/beauty, and home improvement. By comparison, we remain cautious on global trade, and our research shows increasing examples of China insourcing manufacturing equipment that used to be built by leading European industrial enterprises (Exhibit 10). Our bigger picture conclusion is that globalization flows and production increasingly now appear to be moving towards more of a regional model, with a particular emphasis on Asia, Europe, and the Americas.

Europe continues to barrel down the path of a two-tiered economy, which is likely long-term unsustainable, in our view. Specifically, there is a large and growing dichotomy between Germany, with its strong growth, and the rest of Europe, Italy in particular. See below for details, but Italian GDP is now seven percent below its 2008 level in real terms; by comparison, Germany is a full eight percent above its 2008 level in real terms. During the next few quarters we believe that the ECB will allow Germany to run “hot,” leading to a further widening between Europe’s largest and fourth largest economies. Somewhat ironically, the better Germany’s GDP performs, the more German bunds the ECB has to buy, while Italy’s economic underperformance currently leads to less ECB purchases of Italian sovereign debt. We view these types of divergences as unsustainable, underscoring our belief that Europe will need to implement monetary and fiscal policies that better smooth economic growth and equality across the region; otherwise, we fear it will lead to even more dire populist reactions, particularly if immigration issues are not reconciled

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

These are common sense points from what we might consider to be a dispassionate observer of the evolving political and market situation in Europe. Europe is pushing through agreements like the Bank Resolution and Recovery Directive and the European Deposit Insurance Scheme. 



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April 07 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Chart Seminar 2017 - 5 days to the Singapore seminar

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Chart Seminar 2017 

Our venues for the 48th year of the seminar are:

Singapore April 12th and 13th at the M Hotel
London November 16th and 17th TBA

The CFA Institute has once more agreed to co-host the Singapore event and I will also provide certificates for continuous professional development to anyone who wants one. 

I now also have some copies of the Mandarin edition of Crowd Money so please specify which version you would like to receive at the seminar when booking. 

If you are interested in either of these venues or would like to suggest a venue please contact Sarah at [email protected]  I would be more than happy to plan a US based seminar next year if we have the critical mass to make it viable and I will be stopping off in Japan on the way back from the seminar in Singapore if there is any interest for an event in Tokyo.

The full rate for The Chart Seminar is £1799 + VAT. (Please note US, Australian and Asian delegates, as non EU residents are not liable for VAT). Subscribers are offered a discounted rate of £850. Anyone booking more than one place can also avail of the £850 rate for the second and subsequent delegates.



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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?

 This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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April 06 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Nicola Sturgeon Out of Touch With Scots Over Brexit as Poll Shows Support for Theresa May Vision

Here is the opening of this article from The Telegraph:

Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of being out of touch with Scotland about Brexit after a major survey found almost two-thirds of Scots oppose her demand for a different deal and support Theresa May’s UK-wide blueprint.

The First Minister’s justification for a second independence referendum was severely undermined by the NatCen research, which found 62 per cent of Scots think trade and immigration rules should be the same as in the rest of the UK.

An overwhelming majority also support Mrs May’s plan to curtail free movement from the EU and oppose the First Minister’s insistence that it continue, with 64 per cent believing that immigrants from the Continent should be subject to the same restrictions as those from elsewhere in the world.

The research concluded that Scots’ views are similar to those of people in the rest of Britain and warned Ms Sturgeon that her argument that the Prime Minister’s Brexit blueprint justifies an independence vote “is unlikely to prove particularly persuasive.”

The Conservatives said the survey showed it was Ms Sturgeon who is out of touch with Scots’ views on Brexit, with even a majority of independence supporters demanding curbs on immigration.

David Fuller's view -

The kindest thing I can say about Nicola Sturgeon is that she was shown Brave Heart at an impressionable age.

 PDF of The Telegraph’s article is posted in the Subscriber's Area..



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April 06 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

There is Nothing Wrong with Britain Playing Mr Nasty: Negotiating Brexit Will Require Tough Talk

Britain must embrace its new, nasty brand. As we enter negotiations with the EU, everything is going to be on the table. We are no longer partners in a project to create a harmonious Europe. We are a nation state bargaining for our people’s self-interest. We want the world to love us for our tea and decency. But on this occasion we’re going to have to fight – and if that means acting nasty to convince as nasty, so be it.

I know, I know – that’s a very simplistic narrative. In fact, Britain has always been regarded as an irritant on the continent. We begged to get into the Common Market. Once in, we said we weren’t all in, just halfway in. Now we say we want out. The Europeans must think we’re mad, especially since Theresa May tied the future security of Europe to a good trade deal with Britain. But the Government has not gone Looney Tunes Right-wing and nor is it really being nasty. It is simply stating the facts.

One fact is that the EU is not negotiating with a regular European state. This isn’t “so long Portugal and thanks for all the fish”. Britain has one of the best intelligence services in the world; we have nuclear weapons; we are at the heart of Nato. This is part of the context to these talks and it would be odd if the UK did not mention it. One reason why we’ve been running the fifth largest defence budget in the world is so that we can purchase clout.

Is this outrageous? No. It is rational. It was equally rational of Spain to insist that any decisions about Gibraltar that come up in the Brexit talks should be run by Madrid. Spain wants Gibraltar, just as the Argentinians want the Falklands. That’s an expression of national self-interest, that’s understood.

But it’s also rational of Britain to point out that the Gibraltarians voted by 99 per cent in 2002 to reject joint sovereignty with Spain. And it is equally rational to add that the UK has a commitment to maintaining Gibraltar’s status that is, implicitly, backed by force of arms.

David Fuller's view -

Agreed, and Mrs May should prepare the UK electorate for the probability that under the circumstances, we may well have to leave the EU quickly and before a mutually beneficial agreement is concluded.  The EU will negotiate more realistically when they are focussed on regaining sensible trade, rather than to negatively make an example of Britain while attempting to string out discussions in order to gain more revenue.

A PDF of Tim Stanley's column is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

 

Please note: I will be away on Friday.



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April 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The voter apathy that helped Donald Trump win is about to hit France

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

The paralysis has no quick fix. Last night (April 4), in an effort to lift spirits, France’s presidential debate organizers decided to trot out all 11 eligible candidates for the second televised debate, rather than just the top five. The barrage of small candidates on stage left each with “no room to develop an idea,” and voters no time “to exercise their judgment,” one critic (link in French) argued. “Does this really help the undecided to form an opinion?” another asked (link in French).
All the better for France’s far-right wing. Voter turnout in France (80% in 2012) has long upstaged that of neighboring Germany (71%), the UK (66%) and Switzerland (47%). But as that number drops in France’s multi-round system, the odds of a far-right win creep up.

That’s because fervent support for Le Pen in the first round will likely carry over to votes for her in the second. But candidates with more tepid support, including centrist Emmanuel Macron, conservative François Fillon, and socialist Benoît Hamon, may suffer if non-Le Pen voters abstain (paywall) in the second round. Right now, Le Pen and Macron are neck-and-neck in French polls for the first round.

The predicament was similar in 2002, when candidate Jacques Chirac’s famous slogan (link in French) “Vote for the Crook, not the Fascist” helped him secure a landslide victory against Le Pen’s father, Jean-Marie Le Pen, in the second round. This time, voters may have had their fill of crooks and fascists both.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Last night my 11-year old asked me what does ennui mean? My French classes from secondary school came roaring back with Mrs. O’Donoghue joking that ennui was roughly translated into boredom but the reaction of the class provided a much better definition than any she could come up with. Here is what Google comes up with “mid 18th century: French, from Latin mihi in odio est ‘it is hateful to me.’ and “a feeling of listlessness and dissatisfaction arising from a lack of occupation or excitement.” Ennui is a problem for entrenched politicians when they face a strident minority willing to vote. 



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April 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Bezos is selling $1 billion of Amazon stock a year to fund rocket venture

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

“My business model right now … for Blue Origin is I sell about $1 billion of Amazon stock a year and I use it to invest in Blue Origin," said Bezos, the chief executive of Amazon.com Inc (AMZN.O) and also the owner of The Washington Post newspaper.

Ultimately, the plan is for Blue Origin to become a profitable, self-sustaining enterprise, with a long-term goal to cut the cost of space flight so that millions of people can live and work off Earth, Bezos said.

Bezos is Amazon's largest shareholder, with 80.9 million shares, according to Thomson Reuters data. At Wednesday's closing share price of $909.28, Bezos would have to sell 1,099,771 shares to meet his pledge of selling $1 billion worth of Amazon stock. Bezos' total Amazon holdings, representing a 16.95 percent stake in the company, are worth $73.54 billion at Wednesday's closing price.

For now, Kent, Washington-based Blue Origin is working toward far shorter hops - 11 minute space rides that are not fast enough to put a spaceship into orbit around Earth.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Amazon is a behemoth which has benefitted enormously from Bezos’ stewardship over the last two decades. However it must raise the eyebrows of investors when they hear he is willing to dispense with a $1 billion in stock per annum to fund what is an interesting, potentially worthwhile but ultimately an expensive vanity project. 



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April 06 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Cheap Indian engineers now have no place in Donald Trump's America

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

The National Association of Software and Services Companies (NASSCOM), a trade group that represents the Indian IT industry, played down the possible impact of the new USCIS memo. “The clarifying guidance should have little impact on NASSCOM members as this has been the adjudicatory practice for years and also, as several of our member executives have noted recently, they are applying for visas for higher-level professionals this year,” the association said in an emailed statement.

The Indian IT sector has been preparing for this sort of tightening for some time now. For instance, TCS, India’s largest IT services company, has sharply reduced the number of US visa applications: In 2016, it filed only 4,000 compared to 14,000 the year before. In 2015, the company also began tweaking its business model to effectively operate in “a visa-constraint regime,” former TCS CEO N Chandrasekaran explained in January.

Late last year, Infosys, the second-largest in the sector, too, signalled that it would look to hire local talent more aggressively in the US, a far cry from the turn of the decade when such companies were infamously called out for “body shopping“—i.e, hiring Indian software professionals to use them on short-term projects elsewhere.

Despite all such evasive action, though, the US clampdown will hurt the sector. “It’ll be a short-term jolt,” said Sanjoy Sen, a former Deloitte partner and doctoral researcher at UK’s Aston Business School, although the exact magnitude of the impact will depend on the size of the companies and their levels of preparation. Smaller firms with a headcount in the hundreds, in particular, may be harder hit, Sen said.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The Indian outsourcing sector is one of the country’s primary foreign revenue generators  and the ability to send workers to the US for medium-term project work has been an important support for that business model. The new US administration is already changing how the foreign worker program function and that represents a challenge for outsourcing companies. However if time differences could be overcome the evolution of cloud computing and distributed work environments mean that the absolute requirement to have programmers based in Silicon valley could be reduced. 



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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

Britain Offers to Help to Wean Saudi Economy Off Oil Dependency

Here is the opening of this interesting article from Bloomberg:

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May plans to help Saudi Arabia lower its dependency on oil exports and increase the participation of women in the workforce as the Gulf kingdom seeks to modernize its economy.

Britain will help reform the Saudi Ministry of Defense, and foreign and trade ministers from both nations will hold six-monthly meetings under an agreement to be sealed in Riyadh on Wednesday when the premier is due to meet King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud.

U.K. tax and privatization experts will also advise Saudi officials on how to diversify the country’s economy away from oil, according to a statement from May’s office.

A week after triggering two years of talks to pull Britain out of the European Union, May is on a diplomatic drive to strengthen ties with Saudi Arabia, a major commercial partner that buys 40 percent of U.K. arms exports, as well as an ally in the fight against terrorism.

Saudi Arabia is seeking a sixfold increase in non-oil government revenue by 2030, and it also aims to increase the participation of women in its workforce to 30 percent from 22 percent.

On Monday, May refrained from criticizing Saudi Arabia’s record on human rights and the rights of women as she began a three-day trip to the Middle East, choosing instead to focus on “historical’’ ties. 

The premier also said her presence in Saudi Arabia would show “what women can achieve.’’ She disembarked from her plane in Riyadh on Tuesday to greet Saudi officials without wearing a headscarf, in contravention to the U.K. government’s own advice on women’s attire in the country.

David Fuller's view -

Smart move.  There is a gap in this market because Trump has offended Muslims and the EU continues to look inwards. 

It would have been ridiculous if Theresa May had marched in and criticised Saudi’s rulers on human rights, not to mention unproductive.  She is someone who can lead by example without offending her hosts.

Britain could and should have an extremely strong trade and advisory relationship with the Saudis, which is exactly what this country needs.  I hope the Prime Minister builds on this business development role.  Lead from the top if you want to open commercial doors. Then send in qualified teams who can help the Saudis or anyone else in developing numerous projects.

May’s positive leadership will also help in her in negotiations with the EU on Brexit.  Her can-do entrepreneurial approach will finally convince EU officials that, yes, Britain really is leaving and very likely to be more successful over the long term as an independent sovereign nation trading with the world.    



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April 05 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On job security over Brexit:

I am a professional gas and oil trader and see the impact on the industry and other related areas, most of it related to the changes with regards to a future Brexit that has not even happened yet. It made me wonder even last year when people who work in this industry argued (viciously even) - before the June referendum - in favor of it; people who will certainly lose their jobs over the next 2 years (aside the possibility of relocating to a EU country) from what I can see already happening.

Of course there are other aspects, but it would be quite hard to find positive aspects in terms of employment and opportunities for the industry I am working in at least.

These are hard facts and the arguments I am reading are pretty soft i.e. independence. Just some thoughts...

Best regards

Herbert (German national currently located in Vienna Austria)

David Fuller's view -

Many thanks for your important email.

Yes, there is considerable uncertainty, including for international traders in your position.  Responsible corporations will inevitably have various contingency plans.  Sensible people hope that the UK and EU will be able to agree on a mutually beneficial Brexit but we cannot count on this. Brexit is a development in progress. 

We know that the UK will leave the EU but we do not know what the terms of separation will be. Nevertheless, I see no reason why oil and gas trading will diminish anytime soon.  Moreover, successful multinational traders such as yourself will remain in demand.

Good luck and let me know how this plays out for you.



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April 05 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Brexit 1.0: Scientists Find Evidence of Britain Separation from Europe

My thanks to a subscriber for this fascinating report from Imperial College London. Here is the opening:

Nearly 450,000 years ago, when Earth was in the grip of an ice age, ice stretched right across the North Sea, from Britain to Scandinavia. The low sea levels meant that the entire English Channel was dry land, a frozen tundra landscape, crisscrossed by small rivers.

Britain’s separation from mainland Europe is believed to be the result of spill over from a proglacial lake - a type of lake formed in front of an ice sheet - in the North Sea, but this has remained unproven. Now, researchers from Imperial College London and their colleagues from institutes in Europe show that the opening of the Dover Strait in the English Channel occurred in two episodes, where an initial lake spill over was followed by catastrophic flooding. 

Ten years ago, the researchers from Imperial College London revealed geophysical evidence of giant valleys on the seafloor in the central part of English Channel. They believed these valley networks were evidence of a megaflood gouging out the land, which they speculated may have been caused by a catastrophic breach in a chalk rock ridge joining Britain to France.

The new study by the team, working with their colleagues in Europe, now shows for the first time the details of how this chalk ridge in the Dover Strait, between Dover and Calais, was breached. New geophysical data collected by colleagues from Belgium and France has been combined with seafloor data from the UK showing evidence of huge holes and a valley system located on the seafloor.

The team show that the chalk ridge acted like a huge dam and behind it was a proglacial lake. This lake was first hypothesised by scientists more than 100 years ago and the authors of today’s study show how the lake overflowed in giant waterfalls, eroding the rock escarpment, weakening it and eventually causing it to fail and release huge volumes of water onto the valley floor below.

The team believe that the huge holes that they analysed on the seafloor are plunge pools, created when water cascading over an escarpment hit the ground and eroded rock. The plunge pools in the Dover Strait are huge – up to several kilometres in diameter and around 100 metres deep and were drilled into solid rock. Around seven plunge pools run in a line from the ports of Calais to Dover. The researchers suggest these plunge pools are evidence of an overflow of water from the lake in the southern North Sea.

David Fuller's view -

Our subscriber added the comment:

And we loved our independence ever since!

Yes, and I’m forecasting that our second natural Brexit process will be slightly less traumatic.  



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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 05 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 05 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 05 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Global Shipping Fleet Braces for Chaos of $60 Billion Fuel Shock

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

Little more than 2 1/2 years from now, the global fleet of merchant ships will have to reduce drastically how much sulfur their engines belch into the atmosphere. While that will do good things -- like diminishing the threat of acid rain and helping asthma sufferers -- there’s a $60 billion sting in the tail.

That’s how much more seaborne vessels may be forced to spend each year on higher-quality fuel to comply with new emission rules that start in 2020, consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. estimates. For an industry that hauls everything from oil to steel to coal, higher operating costs will compound the financial strain on cash-strapped ship owners, whose vessels earn an average of 70 percent less than they did just before the 2008-09 recession.

The consequences may reach beyond the 90,000-ship merchant fleet, which handles about 90 percent of global trade. Possible confusion over which carriers comply with the new rules could lead to some vessels being barred from making deliveries, which would disrupt shipments, according to BIMCO, a group representing ship owners and operators in about 130 countries. Oil refiners still don’t have enough capacity to supply all the fuel that would be needed, and few vessels have embarked on costly retrofits.

“There will be an absolute chaos,” said Lars Robert Pedersen, the deputy secretary general of Denmark-based BIMCO. “We are talking about 2.5 million to 4 million barrels a day of fuel oil to basically shift into a different product.”

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Until ship owners have visibility on whether refiners will be changing the delivery conditions on futures contracts for fuel oil/gas oil, they will be unwilling to commit to multi-million dollar retrofits of existing ships. This news comes on top of last year’s decision by the Ballast Water Management Convention which requires all ships sailing in international waters to install a Ballast Water Management System by September 2017 which also necessitates a significant additional cost for maintaining existing shipping inventory. 



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April 05 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Musings from the Oil Patch April 4th 2017

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

As we contemplate the next cycle, we cast our view back on the industry’s history. The last great cycle came out of the explosion in oil prices in the latter half of the 1970s due to geopolitical events, but realistically it resulted from the peaking of U.S. oil output and the transferring of pricing power to the OPEC cartel. What broke the back of that price explosion was new, large sources of oil – offshore basins in the North Sea and West Africa, in particular, along with Alaska. Those were the resources that drove the industry over the subsequent 30 years. Shale is what is driving the industry now, and likely will drive it for the foreseeable future. What could that mean for oil prices? Look at Exhibit 1 where we show the inflation-adjusted oil prices from the late 1960s to 2016. After the bust of the early 1980s, the oil price traded for 18 years without ever going above $45 a barrel in current dollar prices except in response to one-off geopolitical events. 

The recent oil price bust followed a much longer period of super-high oil prices than in the 1970s. To our way of thinking, we are likely to experience another extended period of lower, but stable, oil prices. Will it be 18 years? We don’t know. Will oil prices stabilize around $45 a barrel? We don’t know. Might the price range be $55-$60 a barrel? It could be. Will it be $70 a barrel or more? We doubt it, except for brief periods. This isn’t because we think history always repeats itself, but rather because the oil industry is fighting maturing economies around the world, meaning slower demand growth. Developing economies are where oil demand is growing the fastest, but those countries have the benefit of employing the most recent equipment designs and technologies, suggesting their economies will be much more energy-efficient than earlier developing economies at the same point in time. Think about how no country now would consider string telephone wires to allow communication – cell towers are the answer. The oil industry is also fighting a global push to de-carbonize economies in order to fight the damage of climate change, which has the potential to significantly lower global oil consumption growth.

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

This piece rhymes very strongly with our long-held view that shale oil and gas represent game changers for the energy complex. This has resulted in US onshore shale now representing an important swing producer for the global market. 



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April 05 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Deutsche Bank Said Near Full Takeup for $8.5 Billion Share Sale

This article by Ruth David and Steven Arons for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Deutsche Bank AG is poised to receive orders for almost all of the 8 billion euros ($8.5 billion) of stock on offer to investors as the sale draws to a close, according to people familiar with the matter.

Investors have pledged to buy more than 95 percent of the stock on sale in the rights offer, which ends Thursday, said the people, asking not to be identified because the details aren’t public. About 80 percent of existing investors decided to participate in the capital increase, with some opting to boost their exposure and new investors buying the rest, said one person.

The shares are trading well above their offer price, a key factor in attracting demand.

The capital increase -- the bank’s fourth since 2010 -- is the centerpiece in Chief Executive Officer John Cryan’s new turnaround plan, which he announced in early March after Deutsche Bank failed to sell its Postbank unit to bolster capital. The company’s key Qatari shareholders are buying shares to maintain their stake, according to people familiar with the matter. Chinese investor HNA Group Co. has built up its stake to 4.76 percent, and that number may increase, said one person with knowledge of the firm’s strategy.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The German banking sector has been largely nationalised with only a handful still listed. Deutsche Bank represents the nation’s only truly international bank and every effort has been made to turn it around following what has been a very difficult decade. 



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April 04 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Deflation Danger Over for European Central Bank but Fresh Debt Drama Looms

The European Central Bank has declared victory over deflation in a watershed shift in policy, clearing the way for an end to negative rates and emergency bond purchases after years of deep economic malaise.

Triple tail-winds from QE, a cheap euro, and the end of fiscal austerity have all combined with powerful effect, at last lifting the economy out of a low-growth trap, or ‘Lost Decade’ as some economists describe it.

A blizzard of new figures paint a picture of accelerating growth across the region, with with unemployment falling to an eight-year low of 9.5pc - though it is still twice the level of the Anglo-Saxon and non-euro Nordic states. The eurozone’s jobless rolls have dropped by 1.24 million over the last year.

“Since the crisis we have had serious concerns about deflationary risks on several occasions in the euro area, but now we can say they have disappeared,” said Peter Praet, the ECB’s chief economist.

The comments are significant since Mr Praet has long been viewed as an arch-dove on the ECB’s executive council. Analysts at Citigroup say that German-led hawks in Frankfurt appear to be gaining the upper hand in their fight against quantitative easing (QE), raising the risk of a tightening signal over the next two policy meetings.

Mr Praet said last year’s blast of stimulus by G20 authorities in response to the Chinese currency panic had averted a worldwide downturn and was now feeding through into full-blown recovery.  “This coordinated reaction was very effective,” he told the Spanish newspaper Expansion.

What is not yet clear is whether the eurozone is entering a virtuous circle - driven by rising investment - or whether the current cyclical recovery is largely a sugar rush that will fade as stimulus is withdrawn.

David Fuller's view -

This is the second time in the last fortnight that AEP has reported a change in sentiment across at least the North American and European economic scene. Financial sector euphoria evidenced shortly following Donald Trump’s election victory has given way to a more sombre mood. 

The previously lagging S&P Banks Industry Group Index outperformed during the Trump rally.  JPMorgan CEO Jamie Dimon led the high-profile cheerleading, talking about the revival of ‘animal spirits’ in markets.  Many stock markets rose as did government bond yields.  Industrial commodities also extended their rallies.

The switch flipped after mid-March and guest commentators on Bloomberg and CNBC warn that stock markets are vulnerable.  They are also singing the praises of US 10-Year Treasury Bonds (weekly & daily) where yields have fallen back from just above 2.60%, as they did in December, and are now testing 4-month range lows near 2.30%. 

Is this the pause that refreshes or have we entered a quite different phase?

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



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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

April 04 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

What does the evolution of Tesla mean for everyone else?

Eoin Treacy's view -

Tesla broke out to new highs yesterday. The share’s stratospheric advance stopped three years ago when it announced it was going to build a battery “gigafactory” which would cost billions of Dollars it didn’t have. That investment is now over and the company is ramping up production. That’s great news for Tesla’s long suffering investors but what does it say about all the other car companies. 



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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

Outside the EU, Britain May be Small but More Perfectly Formed

Here is the opening and also a latter section of this informative column by Roger Bootle for The Telegraph:

Now that the process of leaving the EU has formally begun, I have been musing on the links between government and economic performance and the implications for the future of the EU and the UK. We have decided to leave the EU primarily for reasons of governance, that is to say, the desire to “take back control”. Nevertheless, this can potentially have decided economic effects.

Most Brexiteers do not believe they will be negative. On the contrary. Yet it seems that many European politicians and officials confidently believe that the UK has acted profoundly against its economic self-interest. Sometimes, they even seem to believe that, isolated and impoverished, the UK will barely manage to stay afloat at all. So they see Brexit as a futile but costly political gesture.

Our Remoaner MPs seem to believe something similar. It is amusing, although also troubling, to hear many of them on the Left, who have spent a lifetime trying to make things more difficult for British business, and whose closest brush with the harsh realities of finance is filling in their own expense forms, bewailing Britain’s fate if we don’t have “full access” to the single market – whatever they think that means.

But why are both domestic Remoaners and continental opponents of Brexit so pessimistic about our prospects? I think the answer is largely to do with their conception of the government/economy nexus. Many seem genuinely to believe that prosperity flows from the fountain pens of the politicians, officials and diplomats who make laws and sign agreements.

And:

Over the last 80 years, there have been only six countries in the whole of Europe that have escaped invasion or government by dictatorship – Switzerland, Sweden, Ireland, Malta, Cyprus and the UK. It is striking that the first three of these countries were neutral during the war while the fourth and fifth were part of the British Empire. They weren’t under dictatorship but neither were they normal democracies.

This history of recent political and national trauma explains why many European countries have been unperturbed by the cession of so much sovereignty to Brussels. Their own political cultures are riddled with the consequences of their troubled past. We stand out as not suffering from this problem.

As we are about to recover our independence, we now have the opportunity both to breathe new life into our own democracy and, through better governance, to improve the performance of our economy. I don’t see much sign of either of these things developing across the Channel.

David Fuller's view -

I think Roger Bootle’s points are very well taken. 

I also think that most EU bureaucrats and government officials cannot believe or accept that their 60-year project is failing, especially as the USA provided so much aid, encouragement and praise, at least at the beginning.  Those same EU officials will also be aware that they are not popular in their home countries.  They are also afraid that other EU countries will enact their own versions of Brexit when they see that the UK is actually better off under its own sovereign control. 

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



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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.

This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area.



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April 03 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Email of the day

On the difficulty of enacting Trump’s proposed tax cuts:

David,
I think you are underestimating the challenges of enacting a tax cut following the failure of the attempted overhaul of Obamacare. The budget savings in that bill were critical for paying for the tax cut. Now the maths only works if a boarder tax is included, and that, I am told, is a non starter in the senate. I have no doubt that Trump will turn his attention to corporate tax cuts, but the politics of that will likely be just as challenging as the ACA.

David Fuller's view -

Thanks for your thoughts.  You would know more about this than I do. I have not seen figures stating the potential savings from the attempted overhaul of Obamacare, or comments that Trump was relying on that for financing some of his proposed tax cuts. 

However, I would expect some Laffer Curve benefits from Trump's proposed tax cuts, which I assume would have sufficient cross-border support to pass.



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April 03 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

April 03 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

April 03 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on Japanese equity index composition

I wonder if you could please analyse why the historic charts of Japan's main equity market are so divergent? 

As you know, the Tokyo market reached its "bubble era" peak in Jan. 1990 at 38,564 but has since recovered to around 19,063. 

The Topix bank index peaked at the same time at 1,480 but is still languishing at a fraction of that level, 182.64 today. 

The Topix 2nd Section index on the other hand is now at an all-time high from its peak of 4,500 reached in 1990 to approaching 6,000. 

Normally the banks are the lead indicator but Japan's banks underwent immense restructuring so I can understand why they have languished but the discrepancy between these charts seems huge.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this email which raises important points worth covering with regard to Japan’s primary stock market indices. 

The Topix is also known as the Tokyo Stock Price Index. It is a free-float adjusted market capitalization-weighted index and comprised of all 1997 shares in the 1st Section of the Tokyo Stock Exchange. 

Here is where some of the idiosyncrasies of the system begin. The 1st Section is supposed to comprise all of the large companies and the 2nd Section holds whatever is left. However, at least 80 of the 567 companies in the 2nd Section have larger market caps than the smallest company in the Topix which highlights the fact that the weightings are not actively managed.

 



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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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April 03 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Email of the day on the Swiss Franc spot rate:

Is there a chart in the Chart Library of the CHF to USD exchange rate please? I found a chart the other way around i.e. USD to CHF but prefer to see it as CHF to USD. Many thanks

Eoin Treacy's view -

Thank you for this question which may be of interest to other subscribers. To find all of the Swiss Franc cross rate simply type CHF into the Chart Library’s search. CHF to USD is the first result and is followed by CHF to USD. 



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March 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

March 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Incredible Shrinking Universe of Stocks, The Causes and Consequences of Fewer U.S. Equities

Thanks to a subscriber for this report from Credit Suisse which contains a great deal of useful information. Here is a section: 

The number of listed companies in the U.S. rose 50 percent from 1976 to 1996 and fell 50 percent from 1996 to 2016. This has not happened in other parts of the world, opening a U.S. listing gap. This is important because the U.S. comprises one-half of the value of the world’s stock market.
A company’s decision to list involves weighing costs and benefits. Net benefits appeared to be positive in the first 20 years of this period and have turned negative in the last 20 years. As a result, delistings have exceeded new listings by a large margin since 1996.

Regulation appears to have played a role in two ways. The cost of being public, especially after the implementation of the Sarbanes-Oxley Act in 2002, has risen in the past two decades. That said, the shrinkage in the population of listed companies started well before that law was implemented. Further, relatively accommodative anti-trust enforcement allowed for robust M&A activity.

As a result, listed companies today are on average larger, older, and more profitable than they were 20 years ago. Further, they operate in industries that are generally more concentrated. The overall size and maturity of listed companies means they are more likely to pay out cash to shareholders in the form of dividends and share buybacks than companies were in the past.

We speculate that the maturation of listed companies has also contributed to informational efficiency in the stock market. Gaining edge in older and well established businesses is likely more difficult than it is in young businesses with uncertain outlooks. In turn, the greater efficiency may be one of the catalysts for the shift that investors are making from active to indexed or rule-based strategies.

The chief investment officer (CIO) of an institution in the mid-1970s could gain reasonable exposure to U.S. equities by investing in an early stage venture fund and a large market index such as the S&P 500 (itself not an easy thing to do at the time). Today, that CIO needs to participate in early- and late-stage venture capital, a private equity buyout fund, and the S&P 500. Only a few investors have access to all of these alternatives.

The universe of alternative investments, including venture capital, buyout funds, and hedge funds, has grown sharply in the past 20 years to provide some investors with access to more investment opportunities as well as to employ more sophisticated methods to generate excess returns. The growth of these asset classes has led to lower returns for investors.

Venture capital funds launched in the 1990s outperformed public markets. But funds started since 2000 have underperformed public markets, with an improvement in recent years. Buyout funds with vintage years before 2006 outperformed public markets, but those launched in the last decade have only equaled the returns of the market. Hedge funds have also seen diminishing excess returns in the past decade. The difference between the top and bottom performers is larger in venture capital than in buyout funds.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

Regulation and cost are a major obstacle to listing. Meanwhile the very low interest rate environment means venture funds are flush with cash to bid up the prices of private assets. Together that has contributed to the ability of unlisted companies to accrue massive valuations while also allowing established companies’ source capital for takeovers and buybacks. 



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March 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Mad Rush to Undo Online Privacy Rules

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

Republicans in Senate and then House did the opposite this past week, voting along party lines to reverse the consumer protections. Comcast, AT&T, Verizon, and other companies have long wished to leverage personal data, seeing Google and Facebook making billions from it through customized advertising revenue. Most web sites, including Bloomberg.com, track Web use in order to deliver relevant advertisements to users.

The ISP’s could not win a policy argument before the FCC, but Congress was willing to act quickly amid the flurry of big issues confronting the public in the first 100 days of the new administration.

Once President Trump signs this bill into law, as he has pledged to do as part of his assault on Obama-era regulation regardless of their value, these telecommunication companies will be able to monitor all sorts of data use and cross-reference it with a user’s location, the time of day, and even the concentration of other service users. As more commerce occurs through phones, these companies could launch payment applications that muscle out similar services from Apple or Google. That kind of consumer data is especially valuable. Then, telecommunication companies could sell ads on the locked or home screen of a phone -- something even Google and Facebook can’t do.

Beyond that, Congress is also removing regulations that made telecommunication companies responsible for the leads of valuable -- and possibly dangerous -- private information through security breaches.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

I can imagine that many US citizens are not particularly happy with the move to allow internet service providers to sell our household’s browsing history. Nevertheless, if this does in fact pass into law it will afford a number of, what are otherwise considered rather staid, companies the opportunity to compete for ad revenue with the likes of Google and Facebook. 



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March 31 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Empty reservoirs, dry rivers, thirsty cities' and our water reserves are running out

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

The gap between water supply and demand – predicted to reach 40% by 2030 – will not be filled by surface water resources, so aquifers are being exploited more and more for agriculture, power generation and daily use in fast-growing cities.

About 30% of the world’s freshwater comes from aquifers, yet a third of the 37 largest aquifers studied by the University of California between 2003-13 were severely depleted, receiving little or no replenishment from rainfall.

Some of the most stressed aquifers are in the world’s driest regions such as Asia, up to 88% of which is water-stressed. South Asia accounts for half the groundwater used globally, but the continent’s aquifers – many of which were formed millennia ago when areas like northern China had a more humid climate – are no longer being replenished regularly by rainfall.

Boreholes are getting deeper and water tables are falling. In Pakistan’s Punjab province, over-pumping is lowering the water table by up to a half a metre per year, threatening food and water security and making thirsty crops, such as sugarcane and rice, tougher to grow.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

The rapid pace of urbanisation as well as the steady migration of people towards the coasts is stressing both the ability of natural water resources to cater to the number of people as well as the ability of infrastructure to deliver adequate water supplies. That is as true of California as it is of Pakistan. The rising global population is quite another problem since there is little infrastructure where the majority of population growth is occurring. This map of where the least number of people have access to indoor toilets also highlights just how acute the lack of basic sanitation is. 



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March 30 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Fading Trump Rally Threatened by Rare Contraction of US Credit

Credit strategists are increasingly disturbed by a sudden and rare contraction of US bank lending, fearing a synchronised slowdown in the US and China this year that could catch euphoric markets badly off guard.

One key measure of US corporate borrowing is falling at the fastest rate since the onset of the Lehman Brothers crisis. Money supply growth in the US has also slowed markedly. These monetary and credit signals  tend to be leading indicators for the real economy.

Data from the US Federal Reserve shows that the $2 trillion market for commercial and industrial loans peaked in December. The sector has weakened abruptly as lenders tighten credit, especially for non-residential property. Over the last three months it has dropped at a rate of 5.4pc on annual basis, a pace of decline not seen since December 2008.

The deterioration in the broader $9 trillion market for loans and leases has been less dramatic but it too is shrinking, falling at a 1.6pc rate on a three-month basis. “Corporate lending has ground to a halt and I am staggered that the Fed is raising rates. They have made a very big mistake,” said Patrick Perret-Green from AdMacro.

Credit experts at several big US banks have issued warnings over recent days, albeit sotto voce. "We’ve been surprised how little attention the slowdown in US bank lending has garnered," said Matt King, global credit strategist at Citigroup.

While they are not yet alarmed, their concerns are worth heeding. Credit has tended to pick up signs of trouble several weeks before equity markets in recent episodes of financial stress.

"Without another big dose of momentum, the cracks in the global reflationary consensus are liable to grow bigger. All around, existing trends are being called into question," he said.

Net corporate bond issuance has also stalled, indicating that borrowing by US firms as a whole is in decline. "So much for a Trump-driven expansion. Beneath the surface, we think a seismic battle is taking place," he said.

Elga Bartsch and Chetan Ahya from Morgan Stanley said the credit squeeze is a warning sign and needs watching closely. “On our estimates, the credit impulse turned negative at the end of 2016. We have not seen such a sharp deceleration in bank lending to US corporates since the Great Financial Crisis,” they said.

“Historically, credit downturns have led recessions. The plunge could reignite concerns that a highly leveraged US corporate sector may react strongly to even limited interest rates increases,” they said.

Monetary tightening in the US so far this cycle has been equal to 13 rate rises under the Fed’s Wu-Xia model, which includes the effects of withdrawing stimulus from quantitative easing. Nobody knows where the pain threshold lies in a global financial system that is more leveraged than at any time in history, including Fed officials themselves.

A study by the International Monetary Fund of 122 recessions in rich economies since 1960 shows that these slumps are typically preceded by a slowdown in credit starting to four to five quarters earlier.

Morgan Stanley said there may be less to worry about this time since the M1 money supply is more or less holding up. This indicator has “reliably contracted” before eight of America’s post-war recessions.

David Fuller's view -

How serious is this?  It is certainly a warning, indicating that we are not fully out of the economic trough just yet and into the sunlit fields of sustainable economic recovery. 

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



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March 30 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

We Were Right to Join and We Are Right to Leave: Where Did the EU go Wrong?

In the early years of the EU’s existence, apart from the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP), which involved a ludicrous waste of money, it did not make any monumental economic mistakes. Nor was it obvious that the EU was going to become the bureaucratic nightmare that we know today. But before too long, the regulatory bandwagon started rolling. The single market became the mechanism through which the same crackpot over-regulation would be applied across the whole of the European Union.

For all its faults, provided that the world economy remained fairly stable, the EU would probably have been able to stagger on reasonably well. The trouble is, though, that over the past few decades the world has undergone three enormous shocks: the collapse of communism, the advent of globalisation and the communications revolution. These shocks demanded the utmost flexibility in order for the economy to adjust to them. But flexibility is exactly the thing the EU has learnt not to do.

Not only that, but more recently it has made three big mistakes. The first is the formation of the euro, which many economists, including me, correctly identified as a prosperity-destroying machine long before its inception. The second was the failure to amend the free movement rules once the EU had been extended to encompass the former communist countries of eastern Europe. The third was the introduction of the Schengen passport-free travel zone, which has proved to be a security nightmare at just the time that security is at a premium.

In my view, these bad decisions should not be viewed as one-offs. The EU is so badly formed and its institutions so weak and brittle that it has an in-built tendency to make poor decisions. This means that whenever a serious issue emerges that demands efficient decision–making and good governance, it will be likely to fall short.

There are also two big issues coming up in the lift that will pose serious challenges to the EU: the ageing population and the advent of artificial intelligence and robotics. I confidently expect the EU to make a botch of both.

I suppose you could say that the fundamental source of all its mistakes was there right from the beginning of the EU, namely the belief on the part of its elites that the countries of Europe should transform themselves into a single or federal state. In 1973 and 1975 I failed to see the full consequences of this vision. Today, in common with the majority of my fellow citizens, I can see them all too clearly.

David Fuller's view -

Yesterday, I described the EU as the biggest bureaucracy ever created.  Bureaucracies do not evolve beyond absorbing others.  They are obsessed with protecting what they have.  For the EU this meant creating an economic closed shop, within a club which countries could join but never leave, at least until Brexit.   

Bureaucracies dumb down creativity.  They fall into groupthink which is often negative and ultimately unproductive.  

Bureaucracies are often corrupt.  The EU buys loyalty by inviting failed politicians of note within its member states to join its cushy Members of the European Parliament (MEPs). 

(See also Wednesday’s Comment of the day)

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



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March 30 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

If Theresa May Is Not Prepared to Walk Away from Brexit Talks, How Will She Get a Better Deal Than Cameron?

While Theresa May was serving notice of Britain leaving the European Union, David Cameron was in Kiev discussing his own downfall. His heart was never really in the European project, he said, making him a rather unconvincing salesman during the referendum campaign.

But he skipped over his biggest mistake: entering talks with the EU with no plan for what to do if talks failed. He promised a new deal for UK membership but came away with almost nothing. Now he’s giving speeches for Ukrainian oligarchs. The moral of his sad story: never enter a negotiation unless you’re genuinely prepared to walk away.

Yet the Prime Minister now looks as if she might repeat the same mistake. She has said “no deal is better than a bad deal” but has never elaborated – and shows every sign of being terrified of the “no deal” option. She finds herself in precisely the same bind as her predecessor. She is aiming for success in her negotiations, so doesn’t want to talk about failure. But if the EU senses that she is not serious about walking away, and would sign anything, why should they be generous? 

When Mrs May talks about accepting “no deal” she can only be referring to one thing: World Trade Organisation rules under which countries trade if they have no other arrangement. This, the WTO option, is spoken of as a calamity, the hardest of hard Brexits, the cliff edge, the suicide option – and worse.

That it would mean losing access to European markets, tariffs coming up and walls being built around an island nation that naively thought it was voting for global free trade. Ministers have not dared to calculate what WTO deal might mean.

Which is odd, given that WTO rules are those which govern Britain’s trading relations with 111 countries – including our largest single customer, the United States. It’s hardly a disaster, given that our trade with such countries has grown much more quickly than it has with the EU for the last couple of decades.

There’s no question of Britain losing “access” to European markets: every country from Afghanistan to Zimbabwe can sell its wares in Europe. The only issue is tariffs, and everyone who signs the WTO rules (ie, most countries on earth) agree to keep the tariffs pretty low.

This is the point of the WTO: its rules are a huge achievement, a global ceasefire in trade wars, a worldwide truce that has lasted for decades. So the EU could not, really, punish Britain – now matter how much Jean-Claude Juncker might like to. It is unable to treat us any worse than it treats the US, which would mean – at worst – a tariff averaging about 4.5 per cent on our exports. As high as 10 per cent for cars.

But if Britain retaliated then the sales of BMWs and Renault would be hit hard. A fall in the pound would more than make up for tariffs on our exports, while imports (especially cars) would be pricier than ever. The most difficult question for Nissan’s plant in Sunderland is whether they’d be able to cope with demand.

David Fuller's view -

These are obvious points.  The EU played with Cameron, because it knew he wanted to stay in, at all costs. 

If Theresa May allows the EU to handle negotiation procedures, which it seems determined to do, she will be toyed with as well, only more sadistically. 

The problem is, Theresa May would understandably like a civilised and sensible negotiation process, achieving the best outcome for both sides.  Who wouldn’t? 

Unfortunately, this is not a vicarage tea party.  May needs to be very tough. Her team is not. I think she needs a bigger team.  If not, at minimum she should replace inexperienced Amanda Rudd with experienced, articulate Iain Duncan Smith.  

Early on in the discussions, EU reps will put May in a very disadvantageous position.  At that point, she needs to call the bluff and declare that if they are not willing to proceed on a mutually beneficial basis, discussions are over.  She and her team then need to walk out and initiate no further contact.  It might or might not work, depending on how self-destructive the EU wishes to be. 

A PDF of Fraser Nelson’s article is in the Subscriber’s Area.



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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 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

March 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Euro-Pound Hedging Costs Rise on Brexit Trigger, French Election

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

The premium on one-month options over the rate of actual market swings remains near a 10-week high set on Tuesday. It may increase further should Brexit-related negativity be less than feared in the near term, which would reduce realized volatility, and also as the implied rate should rise on capturing the second round of the French elections due May 7.

Realized volatility could find support as the euro-pound pair’s prospects look increasingly bearish on charts, with current market positioning significantly skewed toward sterling declines. Leveraged net short positions in the pound this month are at the highest level since November.

Not all investors have given up on the pound, with the British economy performing better than expected. BlackRock Inc., which reduced some of its exposure to sterling ahead of the triggering of Article 50, has said it is still marginally long as an expected slowdown of the U.K. hasn’t materialized.

With the latest reports suggesting that the European Central Bank isn’t anywhere close to reducing economic stimulus, a short-squeeze on the pound could materialize.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Now that Article 50 of the Nice Treaty has been triggered there are at least three big questions outstanding with regard to the Pound and the Euro. 

How willing is the Bank of England to run hot on inflation with the economy at full employment and economic growth continuing to surprise on the upside? 1-year notes yields pulled back today suggesting investors are less inclined to think an interest rate hike is anywhere on the horizon. 

 



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March 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

As Britain Exits, India Gets Single-Market Religion

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

Currently, selling across the borders of India's 29 states means paying a central sales levy, which can't be set off against tax paid on raw materials procured from within a company's home jurisdiction. Those input credits will now be available under a GST.

This would do two things: One, given enough competition, most manufactured goods should get cheaper, stoking demand. Two, more companies will want to engage in interstate commerce, which they avoid at present by moving goods (without selling) to their own small, inefficient warehouses around the country.

Smaller Indian industrial firms -- those with less than $1 billion in revenue -- end up carrying more than five times their annual sales as inventory, compared with just 36 percent in China. A narrowing of this gap would boost profitability. More centralized warehousing would also boost demand for higher- tonnage trucks made by Tata Motors Ltd. and Volvo AB. 

But GST is also causing some anxiety. As Gadfly wrote last year, India is planning to employ Jeff Bezos of Amazon Inc. as its tax collector. All e-commerce marketplaces will deduct 2 percent from what they pay sellers of merchandise and deposit the money with the government. Sellers would then have to claim input-tax credits. The increase in working capital may be problematic for small businesses working on thin margins. Amazon India estimates that 180,000 jobs could be at risk.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

India has a dismal record of collecting taxes which has led to all manner of levies on transactions to pad out state coffers. This has created an environment where business is penalised and interstate trade is less appealing than attempting to embark on overseas expansion. 



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March 30 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The Great Nevada Lithium Rush to Fuel the New Economy

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

Although electric vehicle adoption has been slower in the U.S. than expected, the price of battery packs has been dropping fast, to the point that auto industry observers see electric cars as poised to become cost-competitive with gas-powered vehicles—and thus to become popular outside the specialty markets of luxury buyers and those seeking green cred. Tesla’s soon-to-arrive Model 3 and the Chevy Bolt now in dealerships are priced at about $30,000 after subsidies, but a battery assembly that a few years ago might have cost Tesla $300 per kilowatt hour (a Model S uses 60 to 90 kilowatt hours’ worth of lithium ion batteries) today costs General Motors $145 per kilowatt hour for its Bolt. And the figure is hurtling toward $100, the number that HSBC Securities (USA) Inc. and consultant Wood Mackenzie Ltd. agree will make electric vehicles as cheap as gas-powered cars, freeing mass-market EVs from their current dependence on subsidies.

Eoin Treacy's view -

Lithium represents a “supply inelasticity meets rising demand” market. Higher prices are having the anticipated effect of encouraging investment in new supply but it takes time to build a brine or mining operation and the vagaries of developing operations in Argentina, Chile and Bolivia represent challenges for newcomers to the sector. That is why some smaller companies are focusing on more expensive plays closer to home such as in Nevada. China is also the fourth largest producer of lithium and its ability to achieve scale quickly in terms of manufacturing represents a significant wild card for the sector. 



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March 29 2017

Commentary by David Fuller

Britain is the Least of European Problems

The European Union is encircled on the outside, split three ways on the inside, and is saddled with a corrosive currency union that is still not established on workable foundations and is likely to lurch from crisis to crisis until patience is exhausted.

Europe’s economic “Lost Decade”, and the strategic consequences that stem partly from this failure, have emboldened enemies and turned the Continent into a dangerous neighbourhood. The EU now badly needs a friend on its Atlantic flank.

While it would be undignified for any British government to exploit these circumstances (and Theresa May is certainly not doing so) this is the diplomatic and military reality as Britain triggers Article 50.

Along an expanding arc across the East, the EU faces a pact of autocrats. Russia and Turkey are moving closer to an outright alliance - an ideological hybrid like Molotov-Ribbentrop - that cuts at the heart of Nato. Both are openly at war with the post-Second World War liberal order.

The Kremlin is meddling in the Baltics, the Balkans, and the EU’s internal democracies. Vladimir Putin acquired a military edge during the energy boom - when the EU was disarming to meet austerity targets - and now enjoys a window of opportunity to extract maximum advantage.

In the West, the EU faces Donald Trump. This is a US president who refused to shake the hand of German Chancellor Angela Merkel. For the first time since the launch of the European project in the 1950s, the US no longer sees the EU as an asset in the diplomatic equation. Many in the White House would happily see it broken up.

This means that Washington will no longer allow the eurozone to use, or misuse, the International Monetary Fund for its own internal purposes. The implications are already apparent in talks over Greece, but they do not stop there.

It would be lamentable statecraft for EU leaders to pick a fight with Britain in these circumstances. For all the noise over Brexit, the UK is really the least of their problems. A clash would be worse than futile, as Italian premier Paulo Gentiloni said in London. Key figures in Germany, Poland, and Spain have repeatedly made the same point.

As the initial bitterness over Brexit fades, EU leaders are pleasantly surprised to learn that they, like many, misunderstood the referendum. Britain is not resiling in any way from Western liberal principles. It upholds all its strategic commitments to Europe through Nato, and is stepping up its defence EU’s eastern border with infantry and aircraft; it remains a champion of global free trade (more so than the EU itself); it has stuck by its climate pledges.

The country does not have a populist government. The Prime Minister could hardly be more cautious and proper, a child of the vicarage. She has defended the European cause in US Republican circles, almost as if she were its ambassador. Her cordial overtures have for the most part been received well in EU capitals and the upper echelons of the Commission.

The constitutional caveat, of course, is that Britain will act as an independent nation. It cannot accept the permanent jurisdiction of the European Court over almost all areas of UK law and policy, the baneful and masked consequence of the Lisbon Treaty.

It was always on the cards that the UK would have to extract itself from a venture that spends most of its energy trying to hold the euro together. Monetary union must evolve into a full-fledged federal state, with a single EMU treasury, fiscal system, and government, if it is to survive. Britain obviously cannot be part of such a structure. Trying to obfuscate this constitutional fact helps nobody.

In short, nine months after the referendum, Europe’s leaders are reconciled to the necessity of separation. The debate has moved beyond the false dichotomy of soft and hard Brexits. Most welcome the clarity of British withdrawal from the single market, recognising that it may be healthier for both sides than a messy fudge based on the hybrid Norwegian model. Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon is barking up the wrong tree if she really thinks that the EU is pushing hard for Brexit Britain to stay in the single market.

There are, of course, discordant notes, especially in France, where much of the political elite is stuck in a time-warp. Emmanuel Macron, the electoral boy-wonder, offers little beyond ideological pedantry and the old EU Catechism when it comes to Brexit.

He is apt to dictate absolutist terms with an imperial tone. No such terms are imposed on Canada in its trade pact with the EU, and for obvious reasons: Canada is an independent state.

I doubt he will succeed in trying to chastise Britain since he also wants an unbreakable “Franco-German position” on Article 50 talks, and Germany has different interests. The old Rhineland axis was in any case rendered obsolete by the fall of the Berlin Wall. Any attempt to reconstitute it will merely underscore France’s painfully subordinate role in what has become (to the dismay of the German people) a German Europe. Better for France to hang on to the tight Franco-British defence and security pact for a little strategic ballast.

With or without Brexit, the EU has to keep living with the error of monetary union, so destructive that one leading voice of the French establishment has written a book, La Fin du Rêve Européen, calling for the euro to be broken up in order to save what remains of the European project.

The eurozone is horribly split into the creditor and debtors blocs, each with clashing macro-economic interests, and each clinging to their own narrative of what happened in the debt crisis. Quantitative easing by the European Central Bank and a cyclical economic upturn have masked the tension over the past two years, but the underlying North-South rift is still there.

The ECB will have to taper and ultimately end its bond purchases as global reflation builds. The markets know that once Frankfurt rolls back emergency stimulus, as it must do to avert a political storm in Germany over rising prices, Italy, Portugal, and Spain will lose a buyer-of-last-resort for their debt.

The core problem remains: the conflicting needs of Germany and the South cannot be reconciled within EMU. The gap in competitiveness and debt burdens is too great. They should not be sharing a currency union at all.

As matters now stand, Italy’s anti-EU Five Star movement leads the polls by a six-point margin with 32pc of the vote. The four anti-euro parties are likely to win over 50pc of the seats between them in the Italian parliament in the elections early next year.

David Fuller's view -

This is one of the most realistic and comprehensive assessments of the European Union’s political situation that we are likely to see, in my opinion.  Moreover, it is discussed in the context of the Western world. 

What is not mentioned in this fine article above, is the credit which the European Union has been generously given by other commentators, not least from across the Atlantic, for maintaining post WWII peace throughout much of Europe. 

I will quibble with this because the EU was not actually created before 1993, following the Maastricht Treaty, otherwise known as the Treaty on the European Union.  Considerably earlier, The European Economic Community (EEC) was created in 1957.  It was more familiarly known as the Common Market and also the European Free Trade Association (EFTA).

Peace within Europe or any other global region, I suggest, is more likely maintained by independent, democratic governments with successful economies.  This is what the European Common Market / EEC / EFTA, actually achieved, to their considerable credit. 

Sadly, the Maastricht Treaty’s creation of the EU in 1993 marked the beginning of the end for Continental Europe’s self-governing and mostly economically successful countries, which were being homogenised in what became the biggest bureaucracy ever created. 

The introduction of the Euro in 1999, purely for political reasons, has been nothing short of a tragedy in term of declining economic performance and rising unemployment.  Moreover, this failing system has become fractious, not only among European countries but also within individual nations, leading to populist uprisings.

What about Europe’s financial markets?

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



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March 29 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

March 29 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Britain's Article 50 letter: The full text of the Brexit trigger

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

The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.

If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.

It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.

Eoin Treacy's view -

The UK is not applying for membership of the EEA and is going for a free trade agreement with the EU. That’s a bold step and will require active engagement from the EU if it is to have any hope of being achieved. The question of money is going to be front and centre. The EU now has a hole in its budget in the order of €15 billion a year. Germany wants the UK to commit to paying up before negotiations start. It would be lunacy for the UK to agree to that since the issue of the EU budget is one of its trump cards (pardon the pun). 



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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 29 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Erdogan Races Against the Dollar in Campaign for Unrivaled Power

This article by Selcan Hacaoglu and Onur Ant for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has lambasted friend and foe alike in a campaign for vast new powers, but his political fate may hang on the one thing he’s stopped carping about: the price of money.

With the April 16 vote on strengthening the presidency too close for pollsters to call, Erdogan is no longer berating the central bank and commercial lenders over borrowing costs they’ve pushed to a five-year high. He’s betting any measures taken to arrest the lira’s plunge will pay off at the ballot box.

The lira’s value versus the dollar is more than just a pocketbook issue in Turkey, where millions of voters still remember the abrupt devaluations that ravaged their livelihoods in past decades and view the exchange rate as the most important indicator of the nation’s economic health.

Turkey’s trade deficit is the biggest of all top 50 economies relative to output and most of its imports and foreign debt are priced in dollars, so sharp declines in the lira can be ruinous for legions of entrepreneurs like Ramazan Saglam, who owns a print shop in a working-class neighborhood of Ankara.

“I bitterly recall when the dollar jumped in 1994 and 2001 -- my business collapsed both times,” Saglam said. “I’m supporting the new presidential system wholeheartedly because I don’t want to go bankrupt again.”

Eoin Treacy's view -

Turkey is a NATO member, it controls the Bosphorus so it’s in a strategic position geopolitically and it is flirting with becoming an outright dictatorship. That represents an uncomfortable problem for its NATO allies who will be all too aware that allowing Turkey to migrate towards Russia’s sphere of influence would be a serious loss. In addition, refugees represent an election catalyst for half a dozen European countries to which Turkey holds the key. That means there is little the EU can do but protest at the trend toward despotism. 



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March 28 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

March 28 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

Six Impossible Things Before Breakfast

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by James Montier for GMO which may be of interest. Here is a section:

It appears that asset markets are priced as if secular stagnation were a certainty. Certainty is a particularly dangerous assumption when it comes to investing. As Voltaire stated, “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is absurd.”

In order to believe that asset market pricing makes sense, I think you need to hold any number of “impossible” (by which I mean at best improbable, and at worst truly impossible) things to be true. This is certainly a different sort of experience from the bubble manias that Ben mentioned in the opening quotation, which are parsimoniously captured by Jeremy’s definition of bubbles – “excellent fundamentals, irrationally extrapolated.” This isn’t a mania in that sense. We aren’t seeing the insane behaviour that we saw during episodes like the Japanese land and equity bubble of the late 1980s, or the TMT bubble of the late 90s, at least not at the micro level. However, investors shouldn’t forget that the S&P 500 currently stands at a Shiller P/E of just over 28x – the third highest in history (see Exhibit 17).

The only two times that level was surpassed occurred in 1929 and in the run-up to the TMT bubble. Strangely enough, we aren’t hearing many exhortations to buy equities because it is just like 1929 or 1999. Today’s “believers” are more “sophisticated” than the “simple-minded maniacs” who drove some of the other well-known bubbles of history. But it would be foolish to conflate sophistication with correctness. Current arguments as to why this time is different are cloaked in the economics of secular stagnation and standard finance work horses like the equity risk premium model. Whilst these may lend a veneer of respectability to those dangerous words, taking arguments at face value without considering the evidence seems to me, at least, to be a common link with previous bubbles.  

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

I find myself agreeing with a great deal of what James Montier is arguing. I believe that it does not make sense to take a secular trend which is obviously at a highly developed stage and extrapolate it into infinity. That is just not how markets work. Yet that is exactly what we see in the bond markets. 



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March 28 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

The next move after a weak March could be a useful rally

Thanks to a subscriber for this report by Warwick Grigor for Far East Capital Limited focusing on Australia. Here is a section on the property market:

Have you noticed how much debate there is over so many issues that we confront? It is usually a face-off between those who can see an issue clearly in one corner, and those with vested interests in the other. As an example, the global warming debate is one that has been ongoing for a long time largely due to the inability to achieve consensus amongst scientists and the complications of obtaining meaningful measurements. But something that should be less controversial is the state of the property market in Australia. Do we have a bubble or don't we?

We do have an extraordinarily strong market that cannot go on forever. The bigger the cycle upturn the harder the fall on the other end. The collapse of the mining and resources boom was proof of that. After every party there is a hangover. We are seeing many initiatives being proposed, and some undertaken, that are designed to take the heat out of the market. Yet there will still be pain in due course especially for the inexperienced property investors who have been dragged into euphoria of booming property prices.

In the meantime we see arguments for and against a bubble and an impending collapse. Perhaps we should be focusing on sensible measures rather than trying to do a King Canute. You don't have to wait for direction from the government or the regulators in order to think ahead. Start getting your finances in order now so you can weather the storm.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

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

Australian government bond yields might not be as low as those in Europe, Japan or the USA but they have been trending lower for just as long. Relative seclusion from the credit crisis in the USA and sovereign debt and banking crisis in Europe as well as proximity to the commodity demand growth markets of Asia has allowed Australia to go a long time without a recession. That suggests what happens in China is likely to have much greater influence on Australia than anything that goes on in North America or Europe. 



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March 28 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy

A startup says it can now produce enough for 4 million meatless burgers a month

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

Brown and his team will have plenty of competition. In restaurants alone, more than 5 billion lb of ground beef are consumed every year. And then there’s the other meat-alternative companies that have charged into the space. Beyond Meat is another high-profile faux-beef company that’s looking to make inroads into the retail market, and Memphis Meats announced last week it created the world’s first meatless chicken tenders made from self-reproducing cells.

Until now, Impossible Foods has slowly entered the market by popping up in high-profile restaurants in New York City and San Francisco. The goal, though, is to get in front of the most devout meat lovers. In fact, that’s part of Brown’s metric for success. Forget the people obsessed with vegetables.

“Our definition of success is: we score zero points if a vegan or vegetarian buys our burger,” Brown says. “The more of a meat lover they are, the more they are our target customer.”

The company’s market research has shown that even the most devoted American meat eaters will never stop wanting it—but they would be interested in a product that tastes just as good and is also made of plants, Brown says. In other words, a product that comes from an animal is not part of the intrinsic value of a burger. It’s more about how delicious, nutritious, and affordable that product is.

 

Eoin Treacy's view -

Meat is big business but it is also highly water intensive and over consumption can contribute to a number of health issues. If every burger is a quarter-pounder then Impossible Burger is going after about 1% of the restaurant meat market in its first year. That’s an ambitious target and the company’s success will come down to both taste and cost. If the new breeds of veggie burgers have the same taste and texture as beef and are also cheaper, that represents a significant threat to the farming sector quite apart from the trend towards veganism. 



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March 27 2017

Commentary by Eoin Treacy