Mar 072019
 
 March 7, 2019  Posted by at 3:12 pm Primers Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Wassily Kandinsky Succession 1935

 

 

While we’re on the issue of the Green New Deal, here’s an article by Dr. D. with an intro by Dr. D., one he sent me in the mail that contained the actual article, and that I think shouldn’t go to waste. I hope he agrees.

Waste being the key term here, because he arrives at the same conclusion I’ve often remarked upon: that our societies and economies exist to maximize waste production. Make them more efficient and they collapse.

Ergo: no Green New Deal is any use if you don’t radically change the economic models. Let’s see AOC et al address that, and then we can talk. It’s not as if a shift towards wind and solar will decrease the economic need for waste production (though it may change the waste composition), and thus efficiency is merely a double-edged sword at the very best.

Here’s Dr. D. First intro, then article:

 

 

Dr. D: [..] of course there are a thousand things I can say, but I wanted to make just this one point:  that the economy as we know it is prohibited from contracting by its own system structure.  One thing I couldn’t expand on is that I believe it is almost entirely unconscious.  People like AOC, the Aspen Ecological Center, these people have in the back of their minds “What is possible” and “how things are done” and “can I sell this or will people turn away.” 
 
As I say, the idea of saying, “Everything will be perfect, just live like a Zen Monk” is a non-starter.  Why, I don’t know, as it’s very pleasant and quite provable. WHY that is in the back of OUR minds (and only ours, they often say “humans” are violent, mean or exploitative, but Algonquins or Kalahari Bushmen might show otherwise), is another whole question, however, it is the root of our, and only OUR, western culture: limitless growth and progress. A religion of Progress that replaces God himself, as the Archdruid would say.
 
However, here we are. And our system parameters, of our western system do NOT permit ANY contraction of growth or progress. At this point, the entire economic and financial system would collapse, and as we no longer have any religion, community, or moral framework, or possibly even reason, our whole society would collapse with it. 
 
That’s a lot to take on, so let’s just simply ask in public why we are calling for 20 years of furious concrete/CO2-producing growth must occur to rebuild those windmills and 4,000 buildings a day, or whether we should just take the Yankee mantra (and no doubt a Norwegian one too) to “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” There is so much wasted you could dumpster dive and Craigslist the first 10 years, giving us enormous resources to apply to raw energy use. But we won’t, and no one will even say it, although everyone knows it, has done it, and CLAIMS there’s an urgent crisis. 
 
So let’s start here and ask why we’re not doing the most stupid, basic, cheap, things, like turning down the thermostat and walking to the store AT ALL, instead of (sorry to pick on this) saving the bats in Mauritania, or the whales in Japan. Why?  Because then SOMEBODY ELSE has to take a boot to the teeth, not me in Brooklyn or London. And we will MAKE THEM take in the teeth for me, so I DON’T HAVE TO. We were already down this road in 1970 as the Archdruid has said, we already made this decision not to wear sweaters way back. Instead, I can claim rights to $100 Trillion in wealth and dole it out like the queen, making friends and fame without limit. 
 
But it won’t work, and we need to get on it right away. I believe the leaders already know we’re going to hit the wall and are purposefully trying to hit the accelerator as with outlawing seeds, meat, poisoning soil and water, outlawing gardens, controlling travel – these are all the foundations of Stalin about to approach Ukraine. I can see that in 20 approaches they’re pushing, but I don’t expect them to be very successful.  Such as, WE are going to have to do it, not the other guy. And I in fact do, but I’m pretty busy, so this is the best I can do right now. 
 
And perhaps you too.

 

 

The Real New Deal

 

Dr. D: The Green New Deal has taken front page headlines lately, and the discussion on how to green the economy and become more ecological is real. Certainly all sides have wide agreement, where while the Left may call for salvation from Global Warming, yet the Right will call for efficient resource use, preserved farmland and better hunting camps. Everyone loves National Parks, being one of the largest tourist draws in our nation and also for our fellow nations worldwide, nobody likes to see animals run down or the environment destroyed.

With so much agreement, so widespread, it’s difficult to see why a consensus cannot be agreed on. Even if the means are different – statist control vs volunteer capitalism – surely the goals would be reached in any case. Perhaps with two methods, approaches, and visions, attaining our common goals could be far easier. If so, then why does there seem to be such obstacles and reluctance in our joint moment into a greener, better future? The Left says it’s because of the Right, and the Right because of the Left. Yet I can tell you it’s neither: it’s simply math and physics.

An “Economy” is the “the wealth and resources of a country or region, especially in terms of the production and consumption of goods and services.” That is to say they are the static things, like land, rivers, and copper mines, as well as the specific ways in which those blank resources are put to use: the transportation of them to factories, their manufacture, sale, and disposal. This encompasses things not on-ledger, like where environmental and social costs are offloaded, and who is enjoying the benefit of a resource that will run out for our children. This is also the things that are on-ledger, such as who benefits from profits or productivity, and which sectors are subsidized and which are starved. The Financial System rides atop of the Economic System, simply accounting it, keeping track of it, and sending the messages to it about where the needs are and which products should go where.

But neither exist in a vacuum. Although we generally overlook it, the Economic and Financial Systems are an expression of our personal beliefs and values, and those of our nation and national culture or personality. So in the U.S., we have chosen to measure our national prosperity using headline metrics such as the S&P and the GDP. These change character from time to time, as we used to measure the GNP, and now follow the NASDAQ. And the way we characterize them is also relevant: in the U.S., for instance, we measure all government spending in GDP as if it were private spending; that is, as if it were a profit, not an expense.

Nor is this financial arcana: although when this choice was made to make it seem the economy was stronger during the Great Depression, “you optimize what you measure”, and now the government itself has become the economy, with $22T in debts owed, and is directing most resources, but at a LOSS, not a profit. We then record that loss as prosperity. Nor is that different for the S&P or NASDAQ: if the popular financial numbers decline, the Fed will openly take money from the people and push the numbers back up again to indicate “success” and “prosperity” as we measure it. Yet the money borrowed from the taxpayers, the currency holders, makes them poorer, not richer.

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2003 data from the International Energy Agency

 

What does this have to do with the Green New Deal and our joint goal of a cleaner, greener world? Well, the Green New Deal proposes to spend vast sums of money to transfer energy use to renewables and carbon-free sources, and there are unimaginable profits to be made should anyone do this. Unfortunately, the fact this hasn’t occurred is strong proof that it’s not possible. Not that green energy can’t be made or doesn’t exist, but that it’s not PROFITABLE to do so – that’s why the government, or rather the taxpayers, are asked to pay for it. But profit is only money, as the MMT-believers will avow.

What really matters is that thermodynamically, the EROEI, the “energy returned on energy invested” is too low. That is to say, you put in 90 calories and get out only 91. Or worse, put in 101 calories and get out only 90. This is easily shown in a wide variety of green projects, from solar – it’s estimated the electric produced over 20 years is equal to the glass-and-silicon manufacture – to ethanol, where despite enormous carbon, petrol, and water use in the cement, steel, shipping, and manufacturing of the distilling plant, the corn may only produce 10 units gain per 90 invested, or possibly none at all.

This is likely true for windmills, which if needing repair will add costs, while requiring a full-scale standing grid behind them at all times, as well as electric cars, which not only require a grid, but also may use more energy and cause more pollution in mining and smelting the batteries than the vehicle saves over a lifetime. Nor was this a surprise: again, as bad a system as financial accounting is in a system riddled with stock frauds and subsidies, nevertheless, if any of these saved energy, the huge drop in input costs – no gas used – would immediately render all these projects profitable, and not in need of a subsidy.

This is how coal replaced wood, and tractors replaced horses – sometimes in as little as 10 years. This is how LEDs instantly replaced incandescents, or the Prius replaced the K-car –lower costs, better products. And is how the U.S. has had one of the largest drops in CO2 emissions despite shutting down green subsidies and pulling out of the Paris Accord – organically, by market forces. Because despite our terrible, corrupt, interventionist system screwing up all the incentives, everybody loves a deal, and those arbitrages, those improvements still stand out.

 

Since we’re already using our technical limit, there is another way we can join together, reduce energy use, reduce waste and green the planet: lower demand.

The U.S. uses about half our energy for transportation, and if you’ve been to America, you know that most of that transportation is unnecessary: people live on average +20 minutes from work, and our oversized, centralized schools mean they are nearly as far. It’s not uncommon for every child to have a 40-minute bus ride each morning and night to and from school, and although more efficient than cars, there’s little need, only habit. We concentrated millions of small schools into a few huge ones from 1950 to 2000, just as we concentrated millions of small towns and shops into a few mega-centers. The remaining small businesses – dentists, phone stores, pizza shops – are randomly distributed, without any location in neighborhoods nor any access to public transit, and this would take decades to transform.

Nor is this a thing the people prefer. Commuting is one of the least-liked aspects of modern life as well as the most energy-intensive one. So instead of following massive hundred-trillion debt expenditures that show no promise of returning value, shouldn’t we grasp the low hanging fruit of efficiency? In fact, thermodynamically, efficiency is the only game in town, a 100 or 1,000:1 EROEI instead of 1.2:1. We have even done this from time to time during wars when massive campaigns led to massive efficiency, massive production, massive savings, ration books, and near-total recycling.

But nobody wants that. And that’s why the Green New Deal is structured exclusively as a SPENDING program, and not a SAVING one, because we don’t want to save, we want to SPEND. Part of this of course is that it’s more fun to spend than to save, but more importantly, it’s what we do, it’s what we measure. If you were to have a Green New Deal that is easy to implement and proven to work like the WWII model, GDP and profits would fall sharply. Although much, perhaps most, energy is wasted on unimportant things, the higher efficiencies would mean lower sales, lower production, and lower throughput EVEN IF IT MEANT A HIGHER QUALITY OF LIFE. This is easily seen in the U.S. vs Japan or Europe comparisons:

 


World energy consumption per capita based on 2013 data from the World Bank

 

The U.S. uses 10,000kg oil while Japan uses 5,000 and Portugal uses 2,500, and while there are important differences between nations, we don’t think of Japan or Portugal as sacrificing quality of life. This is strictly a choice, a design built up over lifetimes of effort. So if we could become as efficient as Japan and live far better too, why don’t we? This is a no-argument left-right win that can be implemented in hours, why isn’t capturing this easy gain the real target of the GND?

“You get what you incentivize.” If efficiency were the Real Green Deal, money would NOT be spent in Congress, Companies would NOT be paid, and lobbyists go home empty and poor. People would NOT be employed for the new projects and they would NOT vote for the new Congressmen. Government spending falls, even private-sector GDP would decline, and falling with it would be protected sectors of the economy like oil and utilities. How do you sell “Let’s cancel the party and stay home with the lights out”?

But it’s far worse than that in ways we don’t see. We think about New Deal SPENDING because spending has been exclusively incentivized for 100 years. The economy, the society, the financial system have all been built around GROWTH, not efficiency; MORE, not less, until the systems themselves can no longer function with anything less than unceasing expansion, ever-increasing, forever.

If GDP drops for any reason, even for efficiency and an easy increase in the quality of life – even to save all life on earth – consumption drops. A simpler life with fewer miles driven means less gas wasted and fewer cars sold. Fewer cars means fewer meals out. Sales drop. Employment drops. Stock markets drop. The lower valuation of companies means bond quality drops. Lower sales and lower activity mean tax revenue drops. Government programs drop. Treasury bonds drop and with it, military power drops. As stocks, bonds, and T-bill drop, pensions drop. Insurance drops. In short, the entire economy drops, contracts, goes into a sharp deflation and depression with world-wide unemployment and mass bankruptcies.

But worse than that. Economies come and go, wax and wane and adjust to the new realities. However, unlike previous eras, under a debt-based fiat-money system, one thing does NOT drop: debt. As the value of all things declines, the debt owed only increases. By companies. By citizens. By whole governments. And so soon as the numbers in a debt-based system stop increasing, that debt defaults.

 

Now in previous times, the relative values of debts, assets, and money would simply re-adjust. Bonds would fall, gold (cash) would rise. Bad companies and inefficiencies would be driven out, and the system would recover without the dead weight and bad ideas at a more accurate pricing. But that won’t happen this time. Because everything is so highly leveraged and centralized, and the financial system is our primary means of directing the economy, that system under a debt-based fiat system would almost entirely collapse, and the disruptions of reforming and restarting it would almost certainly take years, during which the economy itself, the production of wheat bread and toothpaste, heating oil and electric lights, would come to a virtual halt, threatening the lives of millions, hundred millions, even billions worldwide.

Wars would start. Nations would fall. So while we don’t think of these things, the reality is, if one were to have a major contraction, much less plan a voluntary, intentional one, the pressure to stop it would be overwhelming and from every side: retail, political, financial, human, ecological, economic, military; there is no way such a plan could be seriously considered, much less implemented. WE ARE NEVER MOVING TO EFFICIENCY UNDER A DEBT-BASED MONETARY SYSTEM. End of story. To the contrary: such a system incentivizes and even DEMANDS new waste and expensive, ruinous ideas like the Green New Deal. And even if they fail, they must ever-increase.

So why are we not having a Green New Deal of easy efficiency, one that we know works, but instead spending ever-more on ever more massive expenditures that are ever-less fruitful? Because this is what the system is designed to do. It’s what it depends on. And as you get what you incentivize, every body, everywhere in the system, will be incentivized to do this or die trying. And this will continue until we change the base assumptions, what we measure, what we capture and profit by. Left or Right, big or small, town or country, public or private, nothing can change in our system until we change it, until we change our beliefs about who we are, what we want, and what we are doing.

For me, I prefer easy, provable gains and a higher, easier quality of life, and I’m not afraid to make those changes that improve us without being at the expense of others. And we will need to face where we are and the challenges of the steps before us. Because essentially we all agree. We not only need a New Green Deal, we need a New Deal altogether. A better one, a fairer one. A possible one. One with a future. So let’s start acting like it and begin.

 

 

Aug 132018
 
 August 13, 2018  Posted by at 8:43 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , , , ,  


Vincent van Gogh The yellow house (The Street), Arles 1888

 

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)
Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)
Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)
Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)
Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)
Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)
Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)
China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)
Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)
Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

 

 

“Whatever it takes” is still popular. But there are limits. They’re cutting off FX trade and injecting liquidity. But what if they’re called on this? It’s only Monday… As I write this the lira has lost another 6.6% so far for the day.

Turkey Central Bank To Take ‘All Necessary Measures’ For Stability (AFP)

Turkey’s central bank on Monday announced it was ready to take “all necessary measures” to ensure financial stability after the collapse of the lira, promising to provide banks with liquidity. “The central bank will closely monitor the market depth and price formations, and take all necessary measures to maintain financial stability, if deemed necessary,” the bank said in a statement, vowing to provide “all the liquidity the banks need”. The statement came after the Turkish lira hit record lows against the dollar amid a widening diplomatic spat with the United States. The detention of US pastor Andrew Brunson since October 2016 on terrorism charges has sparked the most severe crisis in ties between the two NATO allies in years.

The central bank announced the series of measures on Monday, a day after Erdogan’s son-in-law Berat Albayrak, who is treasury and finance minister, announced an action plan was in the pipeline. “In the framework of intraday and overnight standing facilities, the Central Bank will provide all the liquidity the banks need,” the bank said. The bank also revised reserve requirement ratios for banks, in a move also aimed at staving off any liquidity issues. It said with the latest revision, approximately 10 billion lira, $6 billion, and $3 billion equivalent of gold liquidity will be provided to the financial system. The nominally independent central bank has defied pressure to hike interest rates which economists said would curb the fall of the lira.

Read more …

“I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty..”

Turkey Pledges Action To Calm Markets (BBC)

Turkey has pledged it will take action to calm markets after the lira plunged to a new record low in Asian trading. The details would be unveiled shortly, the country’s finance minister told Turkish newspaper Hurriyet. “From Monday morning onwards our institutions will take the necessary steps and will share the announcements with the market,” Berat Albayrak said. The lira lost 20% of its value versus the dollar on Friday. It had already fallen more than 40% in the past year. The latest blow came on Friday, when US President Donald Trump said he had approved the doubling of tariffs on Turkish steel and aluminium. Concerns about contagion prompted investors to sell riskier assets on Monday including emerging market currencies and stocks in Asia.

Mr Albayrak said the country would “act in a speedy manner” and its plan included help for the banks and small and medium-sized businesses most affected by the dramatic volatility in the lira. His assurance came after Turkey’s president blamed the lira’s plunge on a plot against the country. “What is the reason for all this storm in a tea cup? There is no economic reason… This is called carrying out an operation against Turkey,” he said. Recep Tayyip Erdogan once again urged Turks to sell dollars and buy liras to help boost the currency. “I am specifically addressing our manufacturers: Do not rush to the banks to buy dollars… You should know that to keep this nation standing is… also the manufacturers’ duty,” he said.

Read more …

It’s starting to spread. And hurt.

Euro Drops To One-Year Low On Lira Crisis Contagion Fears (G.)

The Turkish lira fell almost 9% in early trading on Monday and the euro hit a one-year low as investors feared that the country’s financial crisis could spread to European markets. Despite defiant words by the Turkish president Erdogan over the weekend pledging as yet unspecified action to reverse the slide, the currency slipped alarmingly against the US dollar on Monday. In early trading it reached an all-time low of 7.24 before bouncing back after the country’s banking regulator announced late on Sunday night that it would limit the ability of Turkish banks to swap the battered lira for foreign currency. Asian stock markets were also down on Monday. The Nikkei in Japan lost 1.7%, Hong Kong was off 1.8%, Shanghai -1.7%, Sydney -0.5% and the Taiwanese bourse fell 3%.

The FTSE100 was expected to open down 0.4% later on Monday morning while Germany’s Dax 30 was set for a 0.65% fall. The euro dropped 0.3% to a one-year low against the US dollar on Monday as the falling lira fuelled demand for safe havens, including the greenback, Swiss franc and yen. The Vix volatility index measuring turbulence in financial markets – also known as the fear index – jumped 16% on Monday. There was also concern that other emerging market currencies – already under pressure from the rising US dollar – could be dragged into the lira’s downward spiral. The South African rand hit a low level not seen since mid-2016, the Russian rouble slumped again and the Indian rupee slid to an all-time trough. The lira has tumbled more than 40% this year on worries about Erdogan’s increasing control over the economy and deteriorating relations with the United States ..

Read more …

The Fed is to blame for Turkey.

Beware the Dog Days of August (Pettifor)

Today’s financial turbulence can be traced back to Fed decisions in June 2017 to begin the “normalisation” of its balance sheet, gradually shedding its bond holdings in monthly stages. This monthly “runoff” of $10bn of maturing assets on to capital markets causes bond prices to fall, and yields to rise. On some estimates the Fed’s bond portfolio is expected to shrink by $315bn in 2018 and $437bn in 2019. This process of “normalisation” is no simple and stable matter. In the words of market analyst Kristina Hooper, it’s like “defusing a bomb”. To add to the strains caused by the “runoff” of assets, in June 2018, the Fed raised rates for the seventh time in three years and Libor followed suit.

These rising rates of interest have led to the strengthening of the dollar and capital flight from emerging markets. But above all, interest rate rises pose a threat to the heavily indebted global economy. In 2000, the stock of global private and public debt amounted to $142 trillion – 260% of global GDP or income. Today, 10 years after, the credit bubble at the heart of the GFC has nearly doubled to $247 trillion, or 318% of global GDP. Much of that debt is a result of the Federal Reserve’s largesse. Thanks to capital mobility, quantitative easing enabled companies, like many based in Turkey, to borrow in dollars on the international capital markets at low rates of interest.

Now, as Turkey’s currency and those of other emerging markets fall, the cost of servicing debt denominated in dollars rises dramatically, threatening default. But while it is necessary to point to the Fed’s actions to understand tremors in world markets, and to warn of the threat of another financial crisis, the fact is that central bankers should never have alone been held responsible for the restoration of macroeconomic stability.

[..] After the 1929 financial crisis, Keynes in 1931 and Roosevelt in 1933 got a grip, and as Erich Rauchway explains in his book The Money Makers, jointly began the process of ending the gold standard, and radically restructuring the global financial system to restore not just macroeconomic stability but, after 1945, a “golden age” in economics. Today, we are once again threatened by global financial turmoil. This may be the time to ditch economic orthodoxy, and revive the radical and revolutionary monetary theory and policies of John Maynard Keynes. Or do we have to endure another global crisis before economists come to their senses?

Read more …

“..we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election..”

Trump Gives Mueller Three Weeks For Sitdown (ZH)

President Trump is giving special counsel Robert Mueller until September 1st for a sit-down interview under limited conditions, as an interview beyond that window “could interfere with the midterm elections,” reports the Wall Street Journal, citing Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani. Trump’s attorneys sent Mueller’s team a proposal indicating that the president would be willing to take questions on collusion with Russia in the 2016 elections, but not obstruction of justice alleged to have occurred after he took office – as Giuliani has previously said it could become a perjury trap. “We certainly won’t do [an interview] after Sept. 1, because we’re not going to be the ones to interfere with the election,” Mr. Giuliani told the Journal.

“Let him [Mr. Mueller] get all the bad publicity and the attacks for that.” “I think we made the offer we can live with,” said Giuliani. “Based on a prior meeting with Mr. Mueller, Mr. Giuliani said he had believed prosecutors wanted to wrap up the inquiry by September. “Now they’re not really rushing us,” he said. Mr. Mueller has made some moves that suggest the inquiry itself could stretch beyond the midterm elections and certainly past the September timeline Mr. Giuliani laid out.” -WSJ Last week the special counsel subpoenaed Roger Credico, comedian and radio host that former Trump adviser Roger Stone claims was a back channel to Wikileaks. Credico has denied this – instead calling himself a “confirming source” due to his contacts with WikiLeaks attorneys. He is set to testify in front of Mueller’s grand jury on September 7.

Read more …

Can we get Comey under oath too?

Trump ‘Will Deny Under Oath’ Asking Comey For Flynn Leniency (AT)

If he has to testify under oath, US President Donald Trump will deny he ever asked former FBI director James Comey to treat former national security adviser Michael Flynn leniently, his lawyer said on Sunday. “There was no conversation about Michael Flynn,” Rudy Giuliani said on CNN’s State of the Union program regarding the February 14, 2017, meeting in the Oval Office. The private chat figures prominently in Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s probe into possible obstruction of justice in the Russia election interference case.

Comey testified in Congress last year that Trump tried to persuade him to go easy on Flynn the day after the president sacked his national security adviser for lying about his contact with the Russian ambassador. “I hope you can see your way to letting Flynn go. He’s a good guy. I hope you can let this go,” Comey quoted Trump as saying. Trump sacked Comey in May 2017, later admitting on TV that the FBI’s Russia investigation was on his mind when he made the decision.

Read more …

Nice analysis by Eric Zuesse. h/t ZH

Why Trump Cancelled the Iran Deal (Zuesse)

[..] whereas Fox News, Forbes, National Review, The Weekly Standard, American Spectator, Wall Street Journal, Investors Business Daily, Breitbart News, InfoWars, Reuters, and AP, are propagandists for the Republican Party; NPR, CNN, NBC, CBS, ABC, Mother Jones, The Atlantic, The New Republic, New Yorker, New York Magazine, New York Times, Washington Post, USA Today, Huffington Post, The Daily Beast, and Salon, are propagandists for the Democratic Party; but, they all draw their chief sponsors from the same small list of donors who are America’s billionaires, since these few people control the top advertisers, investors, and charities, and thus control nearly all of the nation’s propaganda. The same people who control the Government control the public; but, America isn’t a one-Party dictatorship. America is, instead, a multi-Party dictatorship. And this is how it functions.

Trump cancelled the Iran deal because a different group of billionaires are now in control of the White House, and of the rest of the US Government. Trump’s group demonize especially Iran; Obama’s group demonize especially Russia. That’s it, short. That’s America’s aristocratic tug-of-war; but both sides of it are for invasion, and for war. Thus, we’re in the condition of ‘permanent war for permanent peace’ — to satisfy the military contractors and the billionaires who control them. Any US President who would resist that, would invite assassination; but, perhaps in Trump’s case, impeachment, or other removal-from-office, would be likelier. In any case, the sponsors need to be satisfied — or else — and Trump knows this.

Trump is doing what he thinks he has to be doing, for his own safety. He’s just a figurehead for a different faction of the US aristocracy, than Obama was. He’s doing what he thinks he needs to be doing, for his survival. Political leadership is an extremely dangerous business. Trump is playing a slightly different game of it than Obama did, because he represents a different faction than Obama did. These two factions of the US aristocracy are also now battling each other for political control over Europe.

Read more …

Too much debt.

China Slashes Support For Solar Industry (R.)

China’s solar stress could burn more dealmakers. The industry faces a glut of raw materials and panels after the Chinese government slashed support for the heavily indebted sector. The first victim of the switch is industry giant GCL-Poly Energy, which scrapped plans to flog assets to state-backed Shanghai Electric. It won’t be the last. The loss of official support has cast a shadow over the business. After Beijing in June limited the number of new projects and cut tariffs it pays to solar generators, analysts lowered their forecasts for new installations of solar capacity this year by as much as a third. That signals dark days ahead, as new projects drive growth for both power plant operators and manufacturers.

The industry’s dependence on hefty leverage – a legacy of hasty expansion and delayed subsidy payouts – makes its position more precarious. Some solar companies, such as Panda Green Energy, were already struggling with net borrowing of more than 10 times EBITDA. The squeeze is especially hard on manufacturers of solar materials and equipment, which must splash cash on research to stay competitive. Meanwhile, overcapacity has depressed prices: Chinese solar modules now trade at a 15% discount to the global average, according to Macquarie. Distress should spur consolidation. The Solactive China Solar Index has fallen nearly 20% since the policy shift. As valuations sink, less indebted players like LONGi Green Energy Technology can go bargain-hunting.

Read more …

Stop trying to make it look like a recovery. It is not possible under present conditions.

Greek Bailout Drama ‘In Last Throes’ But The Hardship Is Not Over Yet (G.)

In an economy that has contracted by 26%, a fifth of the working population – two-fifths of young people – have been left unemployed, while about 500,000 people have fled, mostly to EU member states in Europe’s wealthier north. And the hardship isn’t over. The leftist-led government has signed up to a staggering array of ambitious targets. Post–bailout Greece has committed to produce primary surpluses of 3.5 % of GDP until 2022, a feat achieved by only a handful of countries since the 1970s, and 2.2 % until 2060. For Kevin Featherstone, who heads the Hellenic Observatory at the London School of Economics, such obligations amount to perpetual purgatory.

“No other government in Europe would choose to follow this path,” he said. “Greece has been saved in the sense of avoiding the armageddon of euro exit but how it has been saved is so disadvantageous that one can’t talk of a rescue or exit from crisis.” Although Tsipras is at pains to play down outside supervision, Greece will still be subject to a regime of enhanced surveillance initially. Further pension cuts are in store. In May he had unveiled a 106-page post-bailout growth plan. But no amount of preparation can conceal the country’s acute vulnerability to turbulence beyond its borders. Only days before the programme’s end, global market jitters saw yields on Greek bonds soared.

It is accepted that Greece has enough resources to meet funding needs for the next two years, but the IMF is far from persuaded that Athens will be able to sustain market access “over the longer run without further debt relief”. If so, the fund is likely to clamour ever more loudly that the landmark deal, reached in June, easing Greek debt repayments (extending maturities on some loans and improving interest rates on others) just does not go far enough. The crisis has lasted so long that many Greeks can no longer recall their country being “normal” or their pockets full. The middle class has been hardest hit with taxes as high as 70% of income earned. Controversial property levies have added to the toll. “In reality this exit will be a formality because in truth it isn’t going to change a thing,” said Stratos Paradias, who leads the Hellenic Property Federation.

Read more …

Great interview with Ecuador’s former consul to the UK, who became a close friend of Assange.

Those Who Think That They Will Break Julian Assange Are Mistaken (P.)

[..] conditions in the Latin American country’s embassy in Knightsbridge are now very different to those that Assange experienced during the six years beginning 19 June 2012, when he arrived seeking political asylum. Ecuador’s government at the time, and its president Rafael Correa, openly accepted his request, believing Assange’s life to be in danger and admiring his fight to defend freedom of information and expression. At that time the Consul of Ecuador in the UK was Fidel Narváez, who was tasked with accompanying Assange from the day he first set foot in the embassy. Narváez had contacted Julian and Wikileaks in April 2011 to request that the organisation publish all the cables relating to Ecuador.

At that moment an amicable relationship was born, one which has continued to grow throughout the years. Fidel is no longer Consul. He was relieved of his duties for issuing a letter of safe-conduct for Edward Snowden without consulting his government. It was, he states, a completely personal decision, and one for which he feels absolutely no regret. “If I found myself in the same situation now, I would do the same thing again. It was the correct decision, the just decision. I knew who Snowden was, what he had done, why he was being pursued, and I knew how important it was to protect him. I do not regret it. I am proud of what I did.”

Read more …

Jun 262017
 
 June 26, 2017  Posted by at 11:49 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Paul Klee Ghost of a Genius 1922

 

The Automatic Earth has written many articles on the topic of EROEI (Energy Return on Energy Invested) through the years, there’s a whole chapter on it in the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017 that Nicole assembled recently, which contains 17 different articles.

Still, since EROEI is the most important energy issue there is at present, and not the price of oil or some new gas find or a set of windmills or solar panels or thorium, it can’t hurt to repeat it once again, in someone else’s words and from someone else’s angle. This one comes from Brian Davey on his site CredoEconomics, part of his book “Credo”.

It can’t hurt to repeat it because not nearly enough people understand that in the end everything, the survival of our world, our way of life, is all about the ‘quality’ of energy, about what we get in return when we drill and pump and build infrastructure, what remains when we subtract all the energy used to ‘generate’ energy, from (or at) the bottom line.

Anno 2017, our overall ‘net energy’ is nowhere near where it was for the first 100 years or so after we started using oil. And there’s no energy source that comes close to -conventional- oil (and gas) when it comes to what we are left with once our efforts are discounted, in calories or Joules.

The upshot of this is that even if we can ‘gain’ 10 times more than we put in, in energy terms, that won’t save our complex societies. To achieve that, we would need at least a 15:1 ratio, a number straight from our friend Charlie Hall, which is probably still quite optimistic. And we simply don’t have it. Not anymore.

Also, not nearly enough people understand that it has absolutely nothing to do with money. That you can’t go out and buy more or better energy sources. Which is why we use EROEI instead of EROI (Energy Return on Investment), because the latter leaves some sort of financial interpretation open that doesn’t actually exist, it suggests that a financial price of energy plays a role.

First, here’s Nicole from the Automatic Earth Primer Guide 2017. Below that, Brian Davey’s article.

 

 

Nicole Foss: Energy is the master resource – the capacity to do work. Our modern society is the result of the enormous energy subsidy we have enjoyed in the form of fossil fuels, specifically fossil fuels with a very high energy profit ratio (EROEI). Energy surplus drove expansion, intensification, and the development of socioeconomic complexity, but now we stand on the edge of the net energy cliff. The surplus energy, beyond that which has to be reinvested in future energy production, is rapidly diminishing.

We would have to greatly increase gross production to make up for reduced energy profit ratio, but production is flat to falling so this is no longer an option. As both gross production and the energy profit ratio fall, the net energy available for all society’s other purposes will fall even more quickly than gross production declines would suggest. Every society rests on a minimum energy profit ratio. The implication of falling below that minimum for industrial society, as we are now poised to do, is that society will be forced to simplify.

A plethora of energy fantasies is making the rounds at the moment. Whether based on unconventional oil and gas or renewables (that are not actually renewable), these are stories we tell ourselves in order to deny that we are facing any kind of future energy scarcity, or that supply could be in any way a concern. They are an attempt to maintain the fiction that our society can continue in its current form, or even increase in complexity. This is a vain attempt to deny the existence of non-negotiable limits to growth. The touted alternatives are not energy sources for our current society, because low EROEI energy sources cannot sustain a society complex enough to produce them.

 

 

Using Energy to Extract Energy – The Dynamics of Depletion

 

Brian Davey: The “Limits to Growth Study” of 1972 was deeply controversial and criticised by many economists. Over 40 years later, it seems remarkably prophetic and on track in its predictions. The crucial concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is explained and the flaws in neoclassical reasoning which EROI highlights.

The continued functioning of the energy system is a “hub interdependency” that has become essential to the management of the increasing complexity of our society. The energy input into the UK economy is about 50 to 70 times as great as what the labour force could generate if working full time only with the power of their muscles, fuelled up with food. It is fossil fuels, refined to be used in vehicles and motors or converted into electricity that have created power inputs that makes possible the multiple round- about arrangements in a high complex economy. The other “hub interdependency” is a money and transaction system for exchange which has to continue to function to make vast production and trade networks viable. Without payment systems nothing functions.

Yet, as I will show, both types of hub interdependencies could conceivably fail. The smooth running of the energy system is dependent on ample supplies of cheaply available fossil fuels. However, there has been a rising cost of extracting and refining oil, gas and coal. Quite soon there is likely to be an absolute decline in their availability. To this should be added the climatic consequences of burning more carbon based fuels. To make the situation even worse, if the economy gets into difficulty because of rising energy costs then so too will the financial system – which can then have a knock-on consequence for the money system. The two hub interdependencies could break down together.

“Solutions” put forward by the techno optimists almost always assume growing complexity and new uses for energy with an increased energy cost. But this begs the question- because the problem is the growing cost of energy and its polluting and climate changing consequences.

 

The “Limits to Growth” study of 1972 – and its 40 year after evaluation

It was a view similar to this that underpinned the methodology of a famous study from the early 1970s. A group called the Club of Rome decided to commission a group of system scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology to explore how far economic growth would continue to be possible. Their research used a series of computer model runs based on various scenarios of the future. It was published in 1972 and produced an instant storm. Most economists were up in arms that their shibboleth, economic growth, had been challenged. (Meadows, Meadows, Randers, & BehrensIII, 1972)

This was because its message was that growth could continue for some time by running down “natural capital” (depletion) and degrading “ecological system services” (pollution) but that it could not go on forever. An analogy would be spending more than one earns. This is possible as long as one has savings to run down, or by running up debts payable in the future. However, a day of reckoning inevitably occurs. The MIT scientists ran a number of computer generated scenarios of the future including a “business as usual” projection, called the “standard run” which hit a global crisis in 2030.

It is now over 40 years since the original Limits to Growth study was published so it is legitimate to compare what was predicted in 1972 against what actually happened. This has now been done twice by Graham Turner who works at the Australian Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO). Turner did this with data for the rst 30 years and then for 40 years of data. His conclusion is as follows:

The Limits to Growth standard run scenario produced 40 years ago continues to align well with historical data that has been updated in this paper following a 30-year comparison by the author. The scenario results in collapse of the global economy and environment and subsequently, the population. Although the modelled fall in population occurs after about 2030 – with death rates reversing contemporary trends and rising from 2020 onward – the general onset of collapse first appears at about 2015 when per capita industrial output begins a sharp decline. (Turner, 2012)

So what brings about the collapse? In the Limits to Growth model there are essentially two kinds of limiting restraints. On the one hand, limitations on resource inputs (materials and energy). On the other hand, waste/pollution restraints which degrade the ecological system and human society (particularly climate change).

Turner finds that, so far it, is the former rather than the latter that is the more important. What happens is that, as resources like fossil fuels deplete, they become more expensive to extract. More industrial output has to be set aside for the extraction process and less industrial output is available for other purposes.

With signficant capital subsequently going into resource extraction, there is insufficient available to fully replace degrading capital within the industrial sector itself. Consequently, despite heightened industrial activity attempting to satisfy multiple demands from all sectors and the population, actual industrial output per capita begins to fall precipitously, from about 2015, while pollution from the industrial activity continues to grow. The reduction of inputs produced per capita. Similarly, services (e.g., health and education) are not maintained due to insufficient capital and inputs.

Diminishing per capita supply of services and food cause a rise in the death rate from about 2020 (and somewhat lower rise in the birth rate, due to reduced birth control options). The global population therefore falls, at about half a billion per decade, starting at about 2030. Following the collapse, the output of the World3 model for the standard run (figure 1 to figure 3) shows that average living standards for the aggregate population (material wealth, food and services per capita) resemble those of the early 20th century.(Turner, 2012, p. 121)

 

Energy Return on Energy Invested

A similar analysis has been made by Hall and Klitgaard. They argue that to run a modern society it is necessary that the energy return on energy invested must be at least 15 to 1. To understand why this should be so consider the following diagram from a lecture by Hall. (Hall, 2012)

eroei

The diagram illustrates the idea of the energy return on energy invested. For every 100 Mega Joules of energy tapped in an oil flow from a well, 10 MJ are needed to tap the well, leaving 90 MJ. A narrow measure of energy returned on energy invested at the wellhead in this example would therefore be 100 to 10 or 10 to 1.

However, to get a fuller picture we have to extend this kind of analysis. Of the net energy at the wellhead, 90 MJ, some energy has to be used to refine the oil and produce the by-products, leaving only 63 MJ.

Then, to transport the refined product to its point of use takes another 5 MJ leaving 58MJ. But of course, the infrastructure of roads and transport also requires energy for construction and maintenance before any of the refined oil can be used to power a vehicle to go from A to B. By this final stage there is only 20.5 MJ of the original 100MJ left.

We now have to take into account that depletion means that, at well heads around the world, the energy to produce energy is increasing. It takes energy to prospect for oil and gas and if the wells are smaller and more difficult to tap because, for example, they are out at sea under a huge amount of rock. Then it will take more energy to get the oil out in the first place.

So, instead of requiring 10MJ to produce the 100 MJ, let us imagine that it now takes 20 MJ. At the other end of the chain there would thus, only be 10.5MJ – a dramatic reduction in petroleum available to society.

The concept of Energy Return on Energy Invested is a ratio in physical quantities and it helps us to understand the flaw in neoclassical economic reasoning that draws on the idea of “the invisible hand” and the price mechanism. In simplistic economic thinking, markets should have no problems coping with depletion because a depleting resource will become more expensive. As its price rises, so the argument goes, the search for new sources of energy and substitutes will be incentivised while people and companies will adapt their purchases to rising prices. For example, if it is the price of energy that is rising then this will incentivise greater energy efficiency. Basta! Problem solved…

Except the problem is not solved… there are two flaws in the reasoning. Firstly, if the price of energy rises then so too does the cost of extracting energy – because energy is needed to extract energy. There will be gas and oil wells in favourable locations which are relatively cheap to tap, and the rising energy price will mean that the companies that own these wells will make a lot of money. This is what economists call “rent”. However, there will be some wells that are “marginal” because the underlying geology and location are not so favourable. If energy prices rise at these locations then rising energy prices will also put up the energy costs of production. Indeed, when the energy returned on energy invested falls as low as 1 to 1, the increase in the costs of energy inputs will cancel out any gains in revenues from higher priced energy outputs. As is clear when the EROI is less than one, energy extraction will not be profitable at any price.

Secondly, energy prices cannot in any case rise beyond a certain point without crashing the economy. The market for energy is not like the market for cans of baked beans. Energy is necessary for virtually every activity in the economy, for all production and all services. The price of energy is a big deal – energy prices going up and down have a similar significance to interest rates going up or down. There are “macro-economic” consequences for the level of activity in the economy. Thus, in the words of one analyst, Chris Skrebowski, there is a rise in the price of oil, gas and coal at which:

the cost of incremental supply exceeds the price economies can pay without destroying growth at a given point in time.(Skrebowski, 2011)

This kind of analysis has been further developed by Steven Kopits of the Douglas-Westwood consultancy. In a lecture to the Columbia University Center on Global Energy Policy in February of 2014, he explained how conventional “legacy” oil production peaked in 2005 and has not increased since. All the increase in oil production since that date has been from unconventional sources like the Alberta Tar sands, from shale oil or natural gas liquids that are a by-product of shale gas production. This is despite a massive increase in investment by the oil industry that has not yielded any increase in “conventional oil” production but has merely served to slow what would otherwise have been a faster decline.

More specifically, the total spend on upstream oil and gas exploration and production from 2005 to 2013 was $4 trillion. Of that amount, $3.5 trillion was spent on the “legacy” oil and gas system. This is a sum of money equal to the GDP of Germany. Despite all that investment in conventional oil production, it fell by 1 million barrels a day. By way of comparison, investment of $1.5 trillion between 1998 and 2005 yielded an increase in oil production of 8.6 million barrels a day.

Further to this, unfortunately for the oil industry, it has not been possible for oil prices to rise high enough to cover the increasing capital expenditure and operating costs. This is because high oil prices lead to recessionary conditions and slow or no growth in the economy. Because prices are not rising fast enough and costs are increasing, the costs of the independent oil majors are rising at 2 to 3% a year more than their revenues. Overall profitability is falling and some oil majors have had to borrow and sell assets to pay dividends. The next stage in this crisis has then been that investment projects are being cancelled – which suggests that oil production will soon begin to fall more rapidly.

The situation can be understood by reference to the nursery story of Goldilocks and the Three Bears. Goldilocks tries three kinds of porridge – some that is too hot, some that is too cold and some where the temperature is somewhere in the middle and therefore just right. The working assumption of mainstream economists is that there is an oil price that is not too high to undermine economic growth but also not too low so that the oil companies cannot cover their extraction costs – a price that is just right. The problem is that the Goldilocks situation no longer describes what is happening. Another story provides a better metaphor – that story is “Catch 22”. According to Kopits, the vast majority of the publically quoted oil majors require oil prices of over $100 a barrel to achieve positive cash flow and nearly a half need more than $120 a barrel.

But it is these oil prices that drag down the economies of the OECD economies. For several years, however, there have been some countries that have been able to afford the higher prices. The countries that have coped with the high energy prices best are the so called “emerging non OECD countries” and above all China. China has been bidding away an increasing part of the oil production and continuing to grow while higher energy prices have led to stagnation in the OECD economies. (Kopits, 2014)

Since the oil price is never “just right” it follows that it must oscillate between a price that is too high for macro-economic stability or too low to make it a paying proposition for high cost producers of oil (or gas) to invest in expanding production. In late 2014 we can see this drama at work. The faltering global economy has a lower demand for oil but OPEC, under the leadership of Saudi Arabia, have decided not to reduce oil production in order to keep oil prices from falling. On the contrary they want prices to fall. This is because they want to drive US shale oil and gas producers out of business.

The shale industry is described elsewhere in this book – suffice it here to refer to the claim of many commentators that the shale oil and gas boom in the United States is a bubble. A lot of money borrowed from Wall Street has been invested in the industry in anticipation of high profits but given the speed at which wells deplete it is doubtful whether many of the companies will be able to cover their debts. What has been possible so far has been largely because quantitative easing means capital for this industry has been made available with very low interest rates. There is a range of extraction production costs for different oil and gas wells and fields depending on the differing geology in different places. In some “sweet spots” the yield compared to cost is high but in a large number of cases the costs of production have been high and it is being said that it will be impossible to make money at the price to which oil has fallen ($65 in late 2014). This in turn could mean that companies funding their operations with junk bonds could find it difficult to service their debt. If interest rates rise the difficulty would become greater. Because the shale oil and gas sector has been so crucial to expansion in the USA then a large number of bankruptcies could have wider repercussions throughout the wider US and world economy.

 

Renewable Energy systems to the rescue?

Although it seems obvious that the depletion of fossil fuels can and should lead to the expansion of renewable energy systems like wind and solar power, we should beware of believing that renewable energy systems are a panacea that can rescue consumer society and its continued growth path. A very similar net energy analysis can, and ought to be done for the potential of renewable energy to match that already done for fossil fuels.

eroei-renewables

Before we get over-enthusiastic about the potential for renewable energy, we have to be aware of the need to subtract the energy costs particular to renewable energy systems from the gross energy that renewable energy systems generate. Not only must energy be used to manufacture and install the wind turbines, the solar panels and so on, but for a renewable based economy to be able to function, it must also devote energy to the creation of energy storage. This would allow for the fact that, when the wind and the sun are generating energy, is not necessarily the time when it is wanted.

Furthermore, the places where, for example, solar and wind potential are at this best – offshore for wind or in deserts without dust storms near the equator for solar – are usually a long distance from centres of use. Once again, a great deal of energy, materials and money must be spent getting the energy from where it is generated to where it will be used. For example, the “Energie Wende” (Energy Transformation) in Germany is involving huge effort, financial and energy costs, creating a transmission corridor to carry electricity from North Sea wind turbines down to Bavaria where the demand is greatest. Similarly, plans to develop concentrated solar power in North Africa for use in northern Europe which, if they ever come to anything, will require major investments in energy transmission. A further issue, connected to the requirement for energy storage, is the need for energy carriers which are not based on electricity. As before, conversions to put a current energy flux into a stored form, involve an energy cost.

Just as with fossil fuels, sources of renewable energy are of variable yield depending on local conditions: offshore wind is better than onshore for wind speed and wind reliability; there is more solar energy nearer the equator; some areas have less cloud cover; wave energy on the Atlantic coasts of the UK are much better than on other coastlines like those of the Irish Sea or North Sea. If we make a Ricardian assumption that best net yielding resources are developed first, then subsequent yields will be progressively inferior. In more conventional jargon – just as there are diminishing returns for fossil energy as fossil energy resources deplete, so there will eventually be diminishing returns for renewable energy systems. No doubt new technologies will partly buck this trend but the trend is there nonetheless. It is for reasons such as these that some energy experts are sceptical about the global potential of renewable energy to meet the energy demand of a growing economy. For example, two Australian academics at Monash University argue that world energy demand would grow to 1,000 EJ (EJ = 10 18 J) or more by 2050 if growth continued on the course of recent decades. Their analysis then looks at each renewable energy resource in turn, bearing in mind the energy costs of developing wind, solar, hydropower, biomass etc., taking into account diminishing returns, and bearing in mind too that climate change may limit the potential of renewable energy. (For example, river flow rates may change affecting hydropower). Their conclusion: “We nd that when the energy costs of energy are considered, it is unlikely that renewable energy can provide anywhere near a 1000 EJ by 2050.” (Moriarty & Honnery, 2012)

Now let’s put these insights back into a bigger picture of the future of the economy. In a presentation to the All Party Parliamentary Group on Peak Oil and Gas, Charles Hall showed a number of diagrams to express the consequences of depletion and rising energy costs of energy. I have taken just two of these diagrams here – comparing 1970 with what might be the case in 2030. (Hall C. , 2012) What they show is how the economy produces different sorts of stuff. Some of the production is consumer goods, either staples (essentials) or discretionary (luxury) goods. The rest of production is devoted to goods that are used in production i.e. investment goods in the form of machinery, equipment, buildings, roads, infrastracture and their maintenance. Some of these investment goods must take the form of energy acquisition equipment. As a society runs up against energy depletion and other problems, more and more production must go into energy acquisition, infrastructure and maintenance. Less and less is available for consumption, and particularly for discretionary consumption.

hall

Whether the economy would evolve in this way can be questioned. As we have seen, the increasing needs of the oil and gas sector implies a transfer of resources from elsewhere through rising prices. However, the rest of the economy cannot actually pay this extra without crashing. That is what the above diagrams show – a transfer of resources from discretionary consumption to investment in energy infrastructure. But such a transfer would be crushing for the other sectors and their decline would likely drag down the whole economy.

Over the last few years, central banks have had a policy of quantitative easing to try to keep interest rates low. The economy cannot pay high energy prices AND high interest rates so, in effect, the policy has been to try to bring down interest rates as low as possible to counter the stagnation. However, this has not really created production growth, it has instead created a succession of asset price bubbles. The underlying trend continues to be one of stagnation, decline and crisis and it will get a lot worse when oil production starts to fall more rapidly as a result of investment cut backs. The severity of the recessions may be variable in different countries because competitive strength in this model goes to those countries where energy is used most efficiently and which can afford to pay somewhat higher prices for energy. Such countries are likely to do better but will not escape the general decline if they stay wedded to the conventional growth model. Whatever the variability, this is still a dead end and, at some point, people will see that entirely different ways of thinking about economy and ecology are needed – unless they get drawn into conflicts and wars over energy by psychopathic policy idiots. There is no way out of the Catch 22 within the growth economy model. That’s why degrowth is needed.

Further ideas can be extrapolated from Hall’s way of presenting the end of the road for the growth economy. The only real option as a source for extra resources to be ploughed into changing the energy sector is from what Hall calls “discretionary consumption” aka luxury consumption. It would not be possible to take from “staples” without undermining the ability of ordinary people to survive day to day. Implicit here is a social justice agenda for the post growth – post carbon economy. Transferring resources out of the luxury consumption of the rich is a necessary part of the process of finding the wherewithal for energy conservation work and for developing renewable energy resources. These will be expensive and the resources cannot come from anywhere else than out of the consumption of the rich. It should be remembered too that the problems of depletion do not just apply to fossil energy extraction coal, oil and gas) but apply across all forms of mineral extraction. All minerals are depleted by use and that means the grade or ore declines over time. Projecting the consequences into the future ought to frighten the growth enthusiasts. To take in how industrial production can hit a brick wall of steeply rising costs, consider the following graph which shows the declining quality of ore grades mined in Australia.

mining-australia

As ores deplete there is a deterioration of ore grades. That means that more rock has to be shifted and processed to refine and extract the desired raw material, requiring more energy and leaving more wastes. This is occurring in parallel to the depletion in energy sources which means that more energy has to be used to extract a given quantity of energy and therefore, in turn, to extract from a given quantity of ore. Thus, the energy requirements to extract energy are rising at the very same time as the amount of energy required to extract given quantities of minerals are rising. More energy is needed just at the time that energy is itself becoming more expensive.

Now, on top of that, add to the picture the growing demand for minerals and materials if the economy is to grow.

At least there has been a recognition and acknowledgement in recent years that environmental problems exist. The problem is now somewhat different – the problem is the incredibly naive faith that markets and technology can solve all problems and keep on going. The main criticism of the limits to growth study was the claim that problems would be anticipated in forward markets and would then be made the subject of high tech innovation. In the next chapter, the destructive effects of these innovations are examined in more depth.

 

 

Feb 042017
 
 February 4, 2017  Posted by at 2:43 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , ,  


Esther Bubley Boy who rides to school daily on Greyhound bus, Washington Court House, Ohio 1943

 

It’s been a while since the Automatic Earth featured an article from Energy Matters, the site run by our longtime friend Euan Mearns, Honorary Research Fellow at The University of Aberdeen, and his co-conspirator Roger Andrews, a British engineer/geophysicist, semi-retired in Mexico. But I read a piece by Roger yesterday that I like, because it allows me to rant against all the false claims emanating from countries and companies about the share of renewable power in their total energy consumption.

Roger focuses on the railway system in the Netherlands, run by NS, which recently claimed that it operates on 100% wind power. This is of course, if you know anything about electricity generation and the grid, a preposterous claim, and that the company has the guts to make such a claim can only serve to prove how little the general public knows about the topic. Or they wouldn’t dare. Green is still so sexy in certain circles, and actual knowledge so poor, that companies like the NS feel no scruples about stretching their ‘greenness’ into absurd theater territory.

Google does something similar. And you might be inclined to think that the topic is so important for both the companies and the people they seek to please with their claims that grossly exaggerating the numbers would be out of the question, but not so. Instead, “Google announced that it will purchase enough renewable energy to match 100% of its operations in 2017”. And that is not the same as running on renewables, which is what is being suggested (in carefully cherry-picked terms). I like this assessment by electronicdesign.com:

Is Google’s Renewable Energy Plan What It Seems?

“Essentially, Google is contracting for green energy from places that can never reach its data centers. If it were as simple as Google claims, it would be easy to build a renewable power sector. New York City could execute a massive number of contracts with wind farms in upstate New York because they are on the same grid.“ [..]

Google is promising to buy—on an annual basis—the same amount of megawatt-hours (MWh) of renewable energy as the amount of megawatt-hours of electricity that it consumes for its worldwide operations. This approach will benefit the renewable energy market even though it is still generating the same amount of greenhouse gas emissions with or without its 100% renewable energy purchasing plan.

Google ‘buys renewable energy’ in various places around the world, but its servers don’t run on it. It’s exactly like companies buying carbon permits from poorer nations; an excuse to keep polluting. As both the permits and the renewables are traded in markets where prices are low and/or heavily subsidized. As for the scale involved, “In 2015, Google consumed 5.7 terawatt-hours (TWh) of electricity, which is nearly as much electricity as the city of San Francisco.” And don’t forget it keeps consuming ever more as the company grows. That’s a lot of fossil fuels. The medieval ‘principle’ of absolution inevitably comes to mind.

As for the Netherlands’ railways, Roger concludes below, after explaining why, that “the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.”

 

I would like to add that because of continuing issues related to intermittency and baseload, which are nowhere near being solved, the very grid itself that is used to deliver the ‘renewable’ electricity couldn’t exist without fossil fuels. Or, in other words, if there were only ‘green’ sources of electricity, there would be no grid. How much can be moved towards ‘green’ sources is still somewhat debatable, but just like solar panels and wind turbines cannot build themselves but need fossil fuels to be produced, there is a limit far far below the 100% both Google and the Dutch railways are (deceitfully?) toying around with. Here’s Roger:

 

 

a target=”new” href=”https://euanmearns.com/do-the-netherlands-trains-really-run-on-100-wind-power/”>Do The Netherlands’ Trains Really Run On 100% Wind Power?

This question generated a number of comments in the last Blowout so I thought I would take a quick look at it. I find that the electrified portion of the Dutch railway network (Nederlandse Spoorwegen, or NS) runs on grid electricity that comes dominantly from fossil fuel generation (natural gas and coal). NS claims 100% wind power because it has a contract with various wind farms to produce enough energy to power its rail system, but this is just an accounting transaction. Only a small fraction of the power delivered to its trains actually comes from wind.

First some details on the Netherlands’ electricity sector. As shown in the table below installed capacity is dominantly fossil fuel, with natural gas making up 61% of total installed capacity and coal 15%. Wind contributes 4,117MW, representing 13% of the capacity mix. (Data from ENTSO-E ):

No details on the current generation mix are readily available, but as shown in Figure 1 gas and coal supplied around 80% of the Netherlands’ electricity between 2000 and 2013 and it’s likely that this percentage still applies.

Figure 1: The Netherlands’ generation mix 2000-2013. Data from Frontier Economics

How much of the Netherlands’ electricity is supplied by wind? According to Cleantechnica
wind power in the Netherlands generates 7.4 billion kWh (7.4TWh) of electricity annually, and according to BP the Netherlands’ total electricity generation in 2015 was 109.6TWh. However, wind power consumption in the Netherlands in 2015 was 12.5TWh, indicating that about 5TWh of wind power was imported during the year. So while wind contributes about 7% to the Netherlands’ electricity generation it contributes about 11% to the country’s electricity consumption. Either figure comfortably exceeds the amount of electricity NS uses to power its electric trains, which is variously quoted as either 1.2 or 1.4TWh/year.

The Netherlands imports wind power basically because it’s falling behind its EU renewable energy targets. But how does NS know the power it imports is wind? Because Eneco, which contracts to supply NS with wind power, gets a “Guarantee of Origin” from the exporter under which the exporter confirms that the power came from wind and assigns the rights to it to NS. As Cleantechnica puts it: “the GoO system allows for the transfer of the rights to call electricity green from those who actually generate renewable energy to those who don’t but want to classify their power as such. The actual amount of green energy produced is unaffected.”

There is, however, a problem. For NS to use only wind power from wind farms to power its rail system the wind farms must be connected directly to NS’s railways. (Figure 2: Note the dotted lines showing non-electrified track. According to LJ Electrical only 2,231km of NS’s total 3,223km of track is electrified):

Figure 2: The Netherlands’ railway network.

And of course no such connections exist. The two Dutch wind farms that have contracted to sell power to NS (Noordoostpolder and Luchterduinen) are both connected directly to the Dutch grid, along with all the other power plants in the country, and NS draws its power from the grid:

Figure 3: The Netherlands’ electricity grid. Grid connections for the Luchterduinen and Nordpoostpolder wind farms (locations approximate) are shown in black.

When wind power is fed into a grid it becomes inextricably mixed with all the vibrating electrons from other generation sources to the point where there is no way of knowing where any power taken from the grid came from. Grid power in fact reflects the overall generation mix, which in the case of the Netherlands is dominantly gas and coal with only a small contribution from wind. How much wind? Over the course of this year the average will be around 11%, equal to wind power’s share of the Netherlands’ annual grid electricity consumption.

And only half of the wind power NS has contracted for comes from the Netherlands. The other half comes from “newly built wind farms in …. Belgium and Finland”. Wind power now supplies about 10% of Belgium’s electricity, so power imported from the Belgian grid will be about 10% wind. Wind power from Finland can be discounted. Only about 2% of Finland’s generation mix is wind, and by the time it passes through the Finnish, Swedish and German grids on its way to the Netherlands it will effectively have disappeared. Imports from the German grid, however, will contain about 14% wind power, although not wind power that NS has contracted for. Putting these numbers together indicates that only 10-15% of the electricity consumed annually by NS’s electric trains will come from wind, with the rest a mixture that includes mostly Dutch gas and coal plus a small amount of Belgian and German coal, nuclear and lignite – and maybe even a little German solar.

The supply of wind power to the Dutch grid will also not be constant. I have no wind records for the Netherlands but P.F. Bach supplies data for Belgium, which should be a close analogy, and Figure 4 shows Belgian wind generation for September 2014:

Figure 4: Belgian wind generation, September 2014

With an installed capacity of around 1850MW in this month the overall wind capacity factor was 11% and there were a number of occasions on which wind generation fell effectively to zero for hours on end. During these periods wind generation in the neighboring Netherlands would also have fallen to low levels. Were these conditions to repeat themselves now, and if NS’s trains were powered exclusively by wind, they would almost certainly come to a halt. (Although Eneco, NS’s wind power procurer, claims that its “wind farm portfolio guarantees sufficient capacity to cover such eventualities” . Apparently Eneco can make the wind blow to order.)

So how does NS justify the claim that all Dutch trains run on 100% wind power? Well, it actually claims that only the electrified portion runs on 100% wind. Only the Guardian has seen fit to publish a correction:

An earlier version said all Dutch trains were now 100% powered by wind-generated electricity, according to the national railway company NS. The company said all electric trains were now powered by wind energy. (my emphasis)

And how does NS justify this lesser claim? According to Railway Technology because it has a:

“green energy contract – thought to be among the largest yet signed in Europe – between power supplier Eneco and VIVENS, an energy procurement joint venture comprising Netherlands Railways (NS), Veolia, Arriva, Connexxion and rail freight firms”, and because

“NS and Eneco have carefully selected a list of wind farms that fulfil their criteria of being traceable, sustainable – or renewable – and additional, or new”, and because

“This partnership ensures that new investments can be made in even newer wind farms, which will increase the share of renewable energy. In this way, the Dutch railways aim to reduce the greatest negative environmental impact caused by CO2 in such a way that its demand actually contributes to the sustainable power generation in the Netherlands and Europe.”

The first two are “feel good” justifications that have no practical impact. The third – that by purchasing wind power that would otherwise have gone elsewhere NS is leaving the door open for more wind projects and more CO2 reductions – is the only one that offers any tangible benefits. But there is no guarantee that the unfilled demand will be met by renewables, and in any event the 1.2-1.4TWh/year consumed by NS represents barely more than 1% of the Netherlands’ annual electricity consumption and a totally negligible fraction of European consumption. This is hardly enough to make a big deal about.

And meanwhile the Netherlands’ electrified railways continue to be powered dominantly by fossil fuel electricity. The “Harried Dutch commuters” who are “travelling on one of the most environmentally friendly rail networks in the whole of Europe, if not the world” are being sold a bill of goods.

 

 

Dec 162016
 
 December 16, 2016  Posted by at 5:44 pm Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  


Parisians duck down to evade German sniper fire following Nazi surrender of Paris, 1945

 

If you ever wondered what the odds are of mankind surviving, let alone ‘defeating’, climate change, look no further than the essay the Guardian published this week, written by Michael Bloomberg and Mark Carney. It proves beyond a moonlight shadow of a doubt that the odds are infinitesimally close to absolute zero (Kelvin, no Hobbes).

Yes, Bloomberg is the media tycoon and former mayor of New York (which he famously turned into a 100% clean and recyclable city). And since central bankers are as we all know without exception experts on climate change, as much as they are on full-contact crochet, it makes perfect sense that Bank of England governor Carney adds his two -trillion- cents.

Conveniently, you don’t even have to read the piece, the headline tells you all you need and then some: “How To Make A Profit From Defeating Climate Change” really nails it. The entire mindset on display in just a few words. If that’s what they went for, kudo’s are due.

These fine gents probably actually believe that this is perfectly in line with our knowledge of, say, human history, of evolution, of the laws of physics, and of -mass- psychology. All of which undoubtedly indicate to them that we can and will defeat the problems we have created -and still are-, literally with the same tools and ideas -money and profit- that we use to create them with. Nothing ever made more sense.

That these problems originated in the same relentless quest for profit that they now claim will help us get rid of them, is likely a step too far for them; must have been a class they missed. “We destroyed it for profit” apparently does not in their eyes contradict “we’ll fix it for profit too”. Not one bit. It does, though. It’s indeed the very core of what is going wrong.

Profit, or money in general, is all these people live for, it’s their altar. That’s why they are successful in this world. It’s also why the world is doomed. Is there any chance I could persuade you to dwell on that for a few seconds? That, say, Bloomberg and Carney, and all they represent, are the problem dressed up as the solution? That our definition of success is what dooms us?

Philosophers, religious people, or you and me, may struggle with the question “what’s the purpose of life?”. These guys do not. The purpose of life is to make a profit. The earth and all the life it harbors exist to kill, drill, excavate and burn down, if that means you can make a profit. And after that you repair it all for a profit. In their view, the earth doesn’t turn of its own accord after all, it’s money that makes it go round.

 

The worrisome thing is that Mark and Michael will be listened to, that they are allowed a seat at the table in the first place, whereas you and I are not. A table that will be filled with plenty more of their ilk, as the announcement of Bill Gates’ billionaire philantropist energy fund says loud and clear:

Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and a group of high-profile executives are investing $1 billion in a fund to spur clean energy technology and address global climate change a year after the Paris climate agreement. Gates launched the Breakthrough Energy Ventures fund on Monday along with billionaire entrepreneurs such as Facebook head Mark Zuckerberg, Alibaba Chairman Jack Ma and Amazon.com chief Jeff Bezos. The fund seeks to increase financing of emerging energy research and reduce global greenhouse gas emissions to help meet goals set in Paris, according to a statement by the investor group known as the Breakthrough Energy Coalition.

Yes, many of the same folk and/or their minions were sitting at the table with Trump on Dec 14. To see if there are any profits to be made. When a profit is involved they have no trouble sitting down with the same guy they insulted and warned against day after grueling day mere weeks ago. They have no trouble doing it because they insulted him for a potential profit too. It’s business, it’s not personal.

Billionaires will save us from ourselves, and make us -and themselves- rich while doing it. What is not to like? Well, for one thing, has anybody lately checked the energy footprint of Messrs. Bloomberg, Gates, Ma, Zuckerberg, Bezos et al? Is it possible that perhaps they’re trying to pull our collective wool over our eyes by pretending to care about those footprints? That maybe these ‘clean energy’ initiatives are merely a veil behind which they intend to extend -and expand- said footprints?

The ones in that sphere who wind up being most successful are those who are most convincing in making us believe that all we need to do to avert a climate disaster is to use some different form of energy. That all the talk about zero emissions and clean energy is indeed reflecting our one and only possible reality.

That all we need to do is to switch to solar and wind and electric cars to save ourselves (and they’ll build them for a subsidy). That that will end the threat and we can keep on doing what we always did, and keep on growing it all and as the cherry on the cake, make a profit off the endeavor.

 

None of it flies even a little. First of all, as I said last week in Mass Extinction and Mass Insanity, there are many more problems with our present lifestyles than ‘only’ climate change, or the use of carbon. Like the extinction of two-thirds of all vertebrate life in just 50 years leading up to 2020. There’s -close to- nothing wind and solar will do to alleviate that.

Because it’s not oil itself, or carbon in general, that kills; our use of it does. And the rush to build an entire new global infrastructure that is needed to use new energy forms, which will depend on using huge amounts of carbon, is more likely to kill off that globe than to save it. “Carbon got us in this, let’s use lots more of it to get us out”.

The trillions in -public- investment that are would be needed will make us all dirt poor too, except for the gentlemen mentioned above and a handful of others who invent stuff that they manage to make us believe will save us. Still convinced?

 

The lifestyles of the last 10 generations of us, especially westerners, are characterized more than anything else by the huge increase in the use of energy, of calories and joules. As we went from wood to peat to coal to oil and gas, the energy return on energy investment kept going higher. But that stopped with oil and gas. And from now on in it will keep going down.

“Free carbon excess” was a one-off ‘gift’ from nature. It will not continue and it will not return. Different forms of carbon have offered us a one-time source of free energy that we will not have again. The idea that we can replace it with ‘clean energy’ is ludicrous. The energy return on energy investment doesn’t even come close. And you can’t run a society with our present levels of complexity on a much lower ‘net energy’. We must dress down. No profit in that, sorry.

We built what we have now with oil at an EROEI of 100:1. There are no forms of energy left that come remotely close, including new, unconventional, forms of oil itself. Peak oil has been a much maligned and misunderstood concept, but its essence stands: when it takes more energy to ‘produce’ energy than it delivers, there will be no production.

This graph is a few years old, and wind and solar may have gained a few percentage points in yield, but it’s still largely correct. And it will continue to be.

 

 

We have done with all that free energy what all other life forms do when ‘gifted’ with an excess of available energy: spend it as fast as possible, proliferate to speed up the process (we went from less than 1 billion people to 7 billion in under 200 years, 2 billion to 7 billion in 100 years) and, most of all, waste it.

Ever wonder why everybody drives a car that is ten times heavier then her/himself and has a 10% efficiency rate in its energy use? Why there’s an infrastructure everywhere that necessitates for every individual to use 1000 times more energy than it would take herself to get from A to B on foot? Sounds a lot like deliberately wasteful behavior, doesn’t it?

The essence here is that while we were building this entire wasteful world of us, we engaged in the denying and lying behavior that typifies us as a species more than anything: we disregarded externalities. And there is no reason to believe we would not continue to do just that when we make the illusionary switch to ‘clean’ energy.

To begin with, the 2nd law of thermodynamics says there’s no such thing as clean energy. So stop using the term. Second, that we call wind and solar ‘clean energy’ means we’re already ignoring externalities again. We pretend that producing windmills and solar panels does not produce pollution (or we wouldn’t call it ‘clean’). While enormous amounts of carbon are used in the production process, and it involves pollution, loss of land, loss of life, loss of resources (once you burn it it’s gone).

 

An example: If we want to ‘save’ the earth, we would do good to start by overthrowing the way we produce food. It presently easily takes more than 10 calories of energy -mostly carbon- for every calorie of food we make. Then we wrap it all in (oil-based) plastic and transport it sometimes 1000s of miles before it’s on our plates. And at the end of this process, we will have thrown away half of it. It’s hard to think of a more wasteful process.

It’s a process obviously devised and executed by idiots. But it’s profitable. There is a profit to be made in wasting precious resources. And there is a key lesson in that. There is no profit in producing food in a more efficient way. At least not for the industries that produce it. And perhaps not even for you, if you produce most of your food – it takes ‘precious’ time.

It would still be hugely beneficial, though. And there’s the key. There is no direct link between what is good for us, and the planet, on the one side, and profit, money, on the other. What follows from that is that it’s not the people whose entire lives are centered around money who are the most obvious choices to ‘save the planet’. If anything, they are the least obvious.

But in an economic and political system that is itself as focused on money as ours is, they are still the ones who are allowed to assume this role. It’s a circle jerk around, and then into, a drain.

 

Mankind’s only chance to not destroy its planet lies in diverging from all other species in that not all energy available to it, is used up as fast as possible. But that’s a big challenge. It would, speaking from a purely philosophical angle, truly separate us from nature for the first time ever, and we must wonder if that’s desirable.

We would need to gain much more knowledge of who we are and what makes us do what we do, and why. But that is not going to happen if we focus on making a profit. Using less energy means less waste means less profit.

Yes, there may be energy sources that produce a bit less waste, a bit less pollution, than those that are carbon based. But first, our whole infrastructure has been built by carbon, and second, even if another energy source would become available, we would push to grow its use ever more, and end up initially in the same mess, and then a worse one.

 

 

I stumbled upon an excellent example of the effects of all this today:

The Shattering Effect Of Roads On Nature

Rampant road building has shattered the Earth’s land into 600,000 fragments, most of which are too tiny to support significant wildlife, a new study has revealed. The researchers warn roadless areas are disappearing and that urgent action is needed to protect these last wildernesses, which help provide vital natural services to humanity such as clean water and air. The impact of roads extends far beyond the roads themselves, the scientists said, by enabling forest destruction, pollution, the splintering of animal populations and the introduction of deadly pests.

An international team of researchers analysed open-access maps of 36m km of road and found that over half of the 600,000 fragments of land in between roads are very small – less than 1km2. A mere 7% are bigger than 100km2, equivalent to a square area just 10km by 10km (6mi by 6 mi). Furthermore, only a third of the roadless areas were truly wild, with the rest affected by farming or people.

The last remaining large roadless areas are rainforests in the Amazon and Indonesia and the tundra and forests in the north of Russia and Canada. Virtually all of western Europe, the eastern US and Japan have no areas at all that are unaffected by roads.

 

 

It’s a good example because it raises the question: how much of this particular issue do you think will be solved by the promotion of electric cars, or windmills? How much of it do you think can be solved for a profit? Because if there’s no profit in it, it will not happen.

One more for the philosophy class: I know many people will be inclined to suggest options like nuclear fusion. Or zero point energy. And I would suggest that not only do these things exist in theory only, which is always a bad thing if you have an immediate problem. But more than that: imagine providing the human race with a source of endless energy, and then look at what it’s done with the free energy available to it over the past 10 generations.

Give man more energy and he’ll just destroy his world faster. It’s not about carbon, it’s about energy and about what you yourself do with it. And no, money and profit will not reverse climate change, or any other detrimental effects they have on our lives. They will only make them worse.

Oct 222016
 
 October 22, 2016  Posted by at 7:29 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Why The Global Economy Will Disintegrate Rapidly


Pamir, Last Commercial Sailing Ship To Round Cape Horn 1949

 

We have written little on the topic of energy lately, other than related to oil prices going up and down, empty OPEC ‘promises’ to cut oil production, and the incredible debt load threatening to crush US -and Canadian- unconventional oil and gas. It’s a logical outcome of focusing more on finance than energy, because we feel the former has a shorter timeline than the latter. Something that harks back to our Oil Drum days.

But that doesn’t mean that the idea and/or principle of peak oil has disappeared, or that we have completely forgotten it. It has just been snowed under by the financial crisis (and by unconventinal oil and gas). And while we continue to find that the financial world will dump us into a bigger crisis sooner than energy will, it’s useful to look at oil et al from time to time.

Please note: we don’t wish to deny that oil depletion has its own dynamics, but in our view those dynamics will be hugely affected by the financial crisis that is looming big and will strike first. A crisis that, by the way, will affect not just oil and gas, but solar and wind just as much. You can get only as much ‘alternative’ energy as you can pay for, and that is before we even mention solar and wind’s EROEI (Energy Return On Energy Investment).

What the world needs to do, but we very much doubt it will voluntarily, is not to look for other forms of energy to replace oil and gas, but to look for ways to use much less energy (90% or so) while still maintaining societies that function as best they can. We doubt this because man is no more made to volunteer for downsizing than any other species.

The interview below with Louis Arnoux by the SRSrocco Report, combined with an article Louis wrote in July on the site of our old friend Ugo Bardi (is Florence really 6 years ago already?), is an excellent opportunity to catch up on energy issues.

The discussion of energy relative to finance will no doubt continue, and Louis doesn’t seem to have the exact same view as us, but that’s fine, or at least it shouldn’t deter us from listening. This graph from his work, for instance, contains a great depiction of what EROEI really means, and how it works out, and that is important to know.

And yes, we are aware of the contradiction between the provocative title of this post (borrowed from SRSrocco Report) and our own view that it’s not energy that will bring the economy down; the internal dynamics of finance don’t need any help on their way towards crashing the system. But it’s a great title nonetheless.

 

 

First, here’s the SRSrocco Report interview, below it you’ll find the article. Note: this is part 1, links to parts 2 and 3 are provided.

 

 

 

Louis Arnoux: Some reflections on the Twilight of the Oil Age – part I:
Alice looking down the end of the barrel

 

 

This three-part post was inspired by Ugo’s recent post concerning Will Renewables Ever ReplaceFossils? and recent discussions within Ugo’s discussion group on how is it that “Economists still don’t get it”?  It integrates also numerous discussion and exchanges I have had with colleagues and business partners over the last three years.

Introduction


Since at least the end of 2014 there has been increasing confusions about oil prices, whether so-called “Peak Oil” has already happened, or will happen in the future and when, matters of EROI (or EROEI) values for current energy sources and for alternatives, climate change and the phantasmatic 2oC warming limit, and concerning the feasibility of shifting rapidly to renewables or sustainable sources of energy supply.  Overall, it matters a great deal whether a reasonable time horizon to act is say 50 years, i.e. in the main the troubles that we are contemplating are taking place way past 2050, or if we are already in deep trouble and the timeframe to try and extricate ourselves is some 10 years. Answering this kind of question requires paying close attention to system boundary definitions and scrutinising all matters taken for granted.

It took over 50 years for climatologists to be heard and for politicians to reach the Paris Agreement re climate change (CC) at the close of the COP21, late last year.  As you no doubt can gather from the title, I am of the view that we do not have 50 years to agonise about oil.  In the three sections of this post I will first briefly take stock of where we are oil wise; I will then consider how this situation calls upon us to do our utter best to extricate ourselves from the current prevailing confusion and think straight about our predicament; and in the third part I will offer a few considerations concerning the near term, the next ten years – how to approach it, what cannot work and what may work, and the urgency to act, without delay.

Part 1 – Alice looking down the end of the barrel


In his recent post, Ugo contrasted the views of the Doomstead Diner‘s readers  with that of energy experts regarding the feasibility of replacing fossil fuels within a reasonable timeframe.  In my view, the Doomstead’s guests had a much better sense of the situation than the “experts” in Ugo’s survey.  To be blunt, along current prevailing lines we are not going to make it.  I am not just referring here to “business-as-usual” (BAU) parties holding for dear life onto fossil fuels and nukes.  I also include all current efforts at implementing alternatives and combating CC.  Here is why.   

The energy cost of system replacement


What a great number of energy technology specialists miss are the challenges of whole system replacement – moving from fossil-based to 100% sustainable over a given period of time.  Of course, the prior question concerns the necessity or otherwise of whole system replacement.  For those of us who have already concluded that this is an urgent necessity, if only due to CC, no need to discuss this matter here.  For those who maybe are not yet clear on this point, hopefully, the matter will become a lot clearer a few paragraphs down.

So coming back for now to whole system replacement, the first challenge most remain blind to is the huge energy cost of whole system replacement in terms of both the 1st principle of thermodynamics (i.e. how much net energy is required to develop and deploy a whole alternative system, while the old one has to be kept going and be progressively replaced) and also concerning the 2nd principle (i.e. the waste heat involved in the whole system substitution process).  The implied issues are to figure out first how much total fossil primary energy is required by such a shift, in addition to what is required for ongoing BAU business and until such a time when any sustainable alternative has managed to become self-sustaining, and second to ascertain where this additional fossil energy may come from. 

The end of the Oil Age is now


If we had a whole century ahead of us to transition, it would be comparatively easy.  Unfortunately, we no longer have that leisure since the second key challenge is the remaining timeframe for whole system replacement.  What most people miss is that the rapid end of the Oil Age began in 2012 and will be over within some 10 years.  To the best of my knowledge, the most advanced material in this matter is the thermodynamic analysis of the oil industry taken as a whole system (OI) produced by The Hill’s Group (THG) over the last two years or so (https://www.thehillsgroup.org). 

THG are seasoned US oil industry engineers led by B.W. Hill.  I find its analysis elegant and rock hard.  For example, one of its outputs concerns oil prices.  Over a 56 year time period, its correlation factor with historical data is 0.995.  In consequence, they began to warn in 2013 about the oil price crash that began late 2014 (see: https://www.thehillsgroup.org/depletion2_022.htm).  In what follows I rely on THG’s report and my own work.
Three figures summarise the situation we are in rather well, in my view.
Figure 1 – End Game
For purely thermodynamic reasons net energy delivered to the globalised industrial world (GIW) per barrel by the oil industry (OI) is rapidly trending to zero.  By net energy we mean here what the OI delivers to the GIW, essentially in the form of transport fuels, after the energy used by the OI for exploration, production, transport, refining and end products delivery have been deducted. 
However, things break down well before reaching “ground zero”; i.e. within 10 years the OI as we know it will have disintegrated. Actually, a number of analysts from entities like Deloitte or Chatham House, reading financial tealeaves, are progressively reaching the same kind of conclusions.[1]

The Oil Age is finishing now, not in a slow, smooth, long slide down from “Peak Oil”, but in a rapid fizzling out of net energy.  This is now combining with things like climate change and the global debt issues to generate what I call a “Perfect Storm” big enough to bring the GIW to its knees.

In an Alice world


At present, under the prevailing paradigm, there is no known way to exit from the Perfect Storm within the emerging time constraint (available time has shrunk by one order of magnitude, from 100 to 10 years).  This is where I think that Doomstead Diner’s readers are guessing right.  Many readers are no doubt familiar with the so-called “Red Queen” effect illustrated in Figure 2 – to have to run fast to stay put, and even faster to be able to move forward.  The OI is fully caught in it.

Figure 2 – Stuck on a one track to nowhere

The top part of Figure 2 highlights that, due to declining net energy per barrel, the OI has to keep running faster and faster (i.e. pumping oil) to keep supplying the GIW with the net energy it requires.  What most people miss is that due to that same rapid decline of net energy/barrel towards nil, the OI can’t keep “running” for much more than a few years – e.g. B.W. Hill considers that within 10 years the number of petrol stations in the US will have shrunk by 75%…  

What people also neglect, depicted in the bottom part of Figure 2, is what I call the inverse Red Queen effect (1/RQ).  Building an alternative whole system takes energy that to a large extent initially has to come from the present fossil-fuelled system.  If the shift takes place too rapidly, the net energy drain literally kills the existing BAU system.[2] The shorter the transition time the harder is the 1/RQ.  

I estimate the limit growth rate for the alternative whole system at 7% growth per year.  

In other words, current growth rates for solar and wind, well above 20% and in some cases over 60%, are not viable globally.  However, the kind of growth rates, in the order of 35%, that are required for a very short transition under the Perfect Storm time frame are even less viable – if “we” stick to the prevailing paradigm, that is.  As the last part of Figure 2 suggests, there is a way out by focusing on current huge energy waste, but presently this is the road not taken.

On the way to Olduvai


In my view, given that nearly everything within the GIW requires transport and that said transport is still about 94% dependent on oil-derived fuels, the rapid fizzling out of net energy from oil must be considered as the defining event of the 21st century – it governs the operation of all other energy sources, as well as that of the entire GIW.  In this respect, the critical parameter to consider is not that absolute amount of oil mined (as even “peakoilers” do), such as Million barrels produced per year, but net energy from oil per head of global population, since when this gets too close to nil we must expect complete social breakdown, globally. 

The overall picture, as depicted ion Figure 3, is that of the “Mother of all Senecas” (to use Ugo’s expression).   It presents net energy from oil per head of global population.[3]  The Olduvai Gorge as a backdrop is a wink to Dr. Richard Duncan’s scenario (he used barrels of oil equivalent which was a mistake) and to stress the dire consequences if we do reach the “bottom of the Gorge” – a kind of “postmodern hunter-gatherer” fate.

Oil has been in use for thousands of year, in limited fashion at locations where it seeped naturally or where small well could be dug out by hand.  Oil sands began to be mined industrially in 1745 at Merkwiller-Pechelbronn in north east France (the birthplace of Schlumberger).  From such very modest beginnings to a peak in the early 1970s, the climb took over 220 years.  The fall back to nil will have taken about 50 years.

The amazing economic growth in the three post WWII decades was actually fuelled by a 321% growth in net energy/head.  The peak of 18GJ/head in around 1973, was actually in the order of some 40GJ/head for those who actually has access to oil at the time, i.e. the industrialised fraction of the global population.

Figure 3 – The “Mother of all Senecas”

In 2012 the OI began to use more energy per barrel in its own processes (from oil exploration to transport fuel deliveries at the petrol stations) than what it delivers net to the GIW.  We are now down below 4GJ/head and dropping fast.

This is what is now actually driving the oil prices: since 2014, through millions of trade transactions (functioning as the “invisible hand” of the markets), the reality is progressively filtering that the GIW can only afford oil prices in proportion to the amount of GDP growth that can be generated by a rapidly shrinking net energy delivered per barrel, which is no longer much.  Soon it will be nil. So oil prices are actually on a downtrend towards nil. 

To cope, the OI has been cannibalising itself since 2012.  This trend is accelerating but cannot continue for very long.  Even mainstream analysts have begun to recognise that the OI is no longer replenishing its reserves.  We have entered fire-sale times (as shown by the recent announcements by Saudi Arabia (whose main field, Ghawar, is probably over 90% depleted) to sell part of Aramco and make a rapid shift out of a near 100% dependence on oil and towards “solar”.

Given what Figure 1 to 3 depict, it should be obvious that resuming growth along BAU lines is no longer doable, that addressing CC as envisaged at the COP21 in Paris last year is not doable either, and that incurring ever more debt that can never be reimbursed is no longer a solution, not even short-term.  
Time to “pull up” and this requires a paradigm change capable of avoiding both the RQ and 1/RQ constraints.  After some 45 years of research, my colleagues and I think this is still doable.  Short of this, no, we are not going to make it, in terms of replacing fossil resources with renewable ones within the remaining timeframe, or in terms of the GIW’s survival.
Next: 

Part 2 – Enquiring into the appropriateness of the question

Part 3 – Standing slightly past the edge of the cliff

 

 

Bio: Dr Louis Arnoux is a scientist, engineer and entrepreneur committed to the development of sustainable ways of living and doing business.

 

 

Sep 152016
 
 September 15, 2016  Posted by at 8:59 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , , ,  Comments Off on Debt Rattle September 15 2016


Jack Delano Jewish stores in Colchester, Connecticut 1940

Bond Yields Are Surging Despite Deflation, And That Is Dangerous (AEP)
Wall Street ‘Fear Gauge’ Suggests Stock Market Is About To Get Wild (MW)
‘There’s Only So Much You Can Squeeze Out Of A Debt Cycle’: Ray Dalio (CNBC)
China Debt Default Looms As Growth Options Run Out: Nomura (VW)
PBOC Yuan Positions Drop to Lowest Since 2011 (BBG)
The Closing of the World Economy (Satyajit Das)
Wall Street’s Newest Money-Making Scheme Targets Your Home (MW)
Ford Shifting All US Small-Car Production To Mexico (DFP)
Vancouver Tax on Empty Homes to Target Near-Zero Rental Supply (BBG)
US Confidence In Media Hits Fresh Low (AFP)
US Rooftop Solar Boom Is Grinding To A Halt (BBG)
Latest Estimate Pegs US Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion (I’Cept)
Juncker Denies Alcohol Problem In Interview, Drinks 4 Glasses Of Champagne
Helping Homeless People Starts With Giving Them Homes (G.)

 

 

The Great Disconnect.

Bond Yields Are Surging Despite Deflation, And That Is Dangerous (AEP)

The growth rate of nominal GDP in the US has fallen to 2.4pc, the lowest level outside recession since the Second World War. It has been sliding relentlessly for almost two years, a warning signal that underlying deflationary forces may be tightening their grip on the US economy. Given this extraordinary backdrop, the violent spike in US and global bonds yields over the last four trading days is extremely odd. It is rare for AAA-rated safe-haven debt to fall out of favour at the same time as stock markets, and few explanations on offer make sense. We can all agree that oxygen is thinning as we enter the final phase of the economic cycle after 86 months of expansion. The MSCI world index of global equities has risen to a forward price-to-earnings ratio of 17, significantly higher than on the cusp of the Lehman crisis.

“We think that too much complacency has crept in,” says Mislav Matejka, equity strategist for JP Morgan. “After seven years of having a structural overweight stance on global equities, we believe the regime has fundamentally changed. We think that one should not be buying the dips any more, but use any rallies as selling opportunities,” he said. The correlation between bonds and equities has reached unprecedented levels, and that has the coiled the spring. The slightest rise in yields now has a potent magnifying effect across the spectrum of assets. Hence the angst over what is happening to US Treasuries. Yields on 10-year Treasuries – the benchmark borrowing cost for international finance – have jumped 19 basis points to 1.72pc since the middle of last week.

The amount of global government debt trading at rates below zero has suddenly fallen from $10 trillion to $8.3 trillion, with parallel effects for corporate bonds. You would have thought that inflation was picking up in the US and that the Fed was about to slam on the brakes, but that is not the case. The markets are pricing in a mere 15pc chance of a rate rise next week, and the figure has been falling.  If anything, the US inflation scare has subsided. There were grounds for worrying earlier this year that Fed would have to act. In February, core CPI inflation was steaming ahead at a rate of 2.9pc on a three-month annualized basis. This has since dropped back to 1.8pc. Other core measures are lower.

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Probably not going to calm down before next year.

Wall Street VIX ‘Fear Gauge’ Suggests Stock Market Is About To Get Wild (MW)

So much for the those calm markets. Wall Street’s “fear gauge” is rearing higher as U.S. equities logged a second sharp selloff in the past three sessions, as hand-wringing over central-bank monetary policy contributes to a renaissance of volatility. The CBOE Volatility Index often used as a measure of fear in the market, rose 18% on Tuesday at 17.85—its highest level since June 28 and implying that investors are starting to dial up bets that stocks could suffer further near-term swings turbulent. The VIX has hovered around 12 since mid-July. That level usually signals quiescence, while a reading of 20 or above indicates that investors are bracing for moves sharply south

The rise in the VIX comes as the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the S&P 500 index and the Nasdaq Composite relinquished all of the sharp gains racked up 24 hours ago. Monday’s rally followed another tumble on Friday that saw the VIX jump 40%—the largest daily move since Brexit on June 23. On Tuesday, volume in an exchange-traded fund that tracks the VIX, Barclays Bank PLC iPath S&P 500 VIX Short-Term Futures exceeded that of stocks on the S&P 500 for the first time ever, as Bloomberg highlights:

On Wednesday, the VIX ticked higher as the Dow and S&P 500 lost momentum to trade lower late in the session. Three straight days of swings of at least 1% for stocks, marks the first time since 1963 that the S&P 500 followed an extended period of calm—43 days—with a trio of such choppy trading days, according to Dow Jones data. That was the two-day period before and immediately following the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in November 1963, Dow Jones data show. “The pickup in volatility is notable, and typically characterizes pullbacks,” said Katie Stockton, chief market technician at BTIG.

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“We are to various degrees close to pushing on a string..”

‘There’s Only So Much You Can Squeeze Out Of A Debt Cycle’: Ray Dalio (CNBC)

The debt market is in a “dangerous situation” as central banks around the world lose their ability to stimulate growth, hedge fund giant Ray Dalio said Tuesday. As the world faces more than $11 trillion in negative-yielding debt, Dalio said central banks like the Fed, the ECB and the BOJ are facing a dilemma. “There’s only so much you can squeeze out of the debt cycle, and we’re there globally,” the head of Bridgewater Associates said at the Delivering Alpha conference presented by CNBC and Institutional Investor. “You can’t lower interest rates more.” Dalio spoke as Fed officials contemplate a rate hike at some point this year. Market-implied probability indicates that the Fed won’t hike until at least December. Its September meeting is next week. While monetary policy has been used as a fuel for growth and asset price appreciation, Dalio said its effectiveness is waning. “We are to various degrees close to pushing on a string,” he said.

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“..there is essentially only one practical way to reduce the stock of outstanding debts: defaults.”

China Debt Default Looms As Growth Options Run Out: Nomura (VW)

To alleviate its debt problem, China should adopt appropriate macro-economic policies encompassing currency depreciation and cutting interest rates to an ultra-low-level within two to three years, believe Nomura analysts. Yang Zhao and team said in their September 14 research piece titled “China: Solving the debt problem” that they believe RMB depreciation will continue and forecast USD/CNH at 7.1 at the end of 2017. Zhao and team highlight that debt-to-GDP ratio can be lowered either through reducing the numerator or increasing the denominator.

They believe that to contain or even reduce the debt-to-GDP ratio, the gap between debt growth and nominal GDP growth must shrink or turn negative. They believe lowering the ratio has to be premised on the acceptance of a slower rate of GDP growth: The Nomura analysts argue that default is the only practical way to trim the stock of outstanding debts. Instead of an outright default, per se, they suggest other approaches such as renegotiating terms, lowering interest rates, and tenure extension.

“Since increasing the denominator is unfeasible, policymakers must therefore look to lower the numerator. The only practical measures that can be taken to reduce the debt ratio are those aimed at reducing the growth of debt to below that of nominal GDP growth. “The outstanding stock of debt can only be reduced through either repayment or indeed default. One argument is that China’s corporate sector and/or local governments can, or should, simply repay their debts by selling the huge amount of assets that they have accumulated, but again, this is not a feasible solution.

The key reason behind the low level of corporate leverage despite the huge amount of debt is that asset prices have not collapsed. If the corporate sector or local governments repaid their debts by selling their assets – which are predominantly in real estate – their leverage will almost certainly spike higher due to the subsequent decline in the value of their remaining asset base. Hence, there is essentially only one practical way to reduce the stock of outstanding debts: defaults.”

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Selling USD to prepare for SDR basket?!

PBOC Yuan Positions Drop to Lowest Since 2011 (BBG)

The Chinese central bank’s yuan positions – which reflect the amount of foreign currency held on its balance sheet – fell to the lowest since 2011 in August, a sign that it sold dollars to support the yuan. The People’s Bank of China has been seen intervening in the market to stem the currency’s slide, with Bank of East Asia and Natixis saying that policy makers will prevent the exchange rate from slipping past 6.7 per dollar before its admission into the IMF’s basket of reserves on Oct. 1.

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The only thing left of globalization is a vague idea.

The Closing of the World Economy (Satyajit Das)

Pundits and policymakers everywhere are bemoaning the rise of a new, inward-looking populism. Led by the likes of Donald Trump and Nigel Farage, those who’ve felt only globalization’s ill effects, not its benefits, have mounted a fierce counterattack. Border-hopping elites fret that the whole process of opening up and knitting together the world through trade, capital flows and immigration may soon go into reverse. They’re missing the point. Support for freer trade and greater openness had in fact begun to falter well before economic nationalists like Trump and Farage took center stage. The same governments that count themselves among globalization’s greatest champions have been rolling it back steadily since the global financial crisis.

Their excuses are innocent-sounding and several: to protect national industries and iconic businesses; to secure export markets and competitive advantage; and above all, to prop up employment and incomes. Despite oft-repeated warnings about avoiding the beggar-thy-neighbor policies of the 1930s, these governments allowed global trade talks – the so-called Doha Round – to stall as early as 2008. Nations including the U.S. have instead pursued narrower bilateral and regional deals where they don’t have to satisfy so many different negotiating partners and can continue to protect key sectors. If these pacts are better than nothing, they more or less foreclose the possibility of a more ambitious multilateralism.

Meanwhile, between 2009 and 2015, three times as many discriminatory trade measures were introduced as liberalizing ones. In the first 10 months of 2015 alone, the latest Global Trade Alert database recorded 539 such initiatives adopted by governments worldwide that harmed foreign traders, investors, workers or owners of intellectual property – a record. Efforts to control trade flows have grown increasingly sophisticated. Most governments no longer impose tariffs or other crude roadblocks that would violate WTO rules. Instead countries from the U.S. – with the auto bailouts – to the U.K., China, Brazil, Canada and several EU members have funneled aid to domestic industries. State procurement rules – which in China, say, forbid buying strategic and defense technology from abroad – favor domestic suppliers, as do “buy local” campaigns like the ones launched since 2009 in the U.S., U.K. and Australia.

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Innovation!?

Wall Street’s Newest Money-Making Scheme Targets Your Home (MW)

Do you want Wall Street to get a piece of your house? On Tuesday, the noted venture capitalist Marc Andreesen announced that he’d invested in a startup called Point. Point casts itself as a solution to an intrinsic problem with home ownership: Most Americans have most of their wealth tied up in their home. There are mechanisms for “taking out” some of the equity built up as a mortgage is paid down, such as home-equity lines of credit or home-equity loans. But they require paying interest – not to mention having good credit. They also don’t help homeowners diversify their investments. Diversification was the driver behind an earlier version of what Point offers. Allan Weiss, who helped create the S&P/Case-Shiller price indexes, created a platform he calls “indexed fractional ownership.”

His idea came in part from a conversation with a neighbor who said he was looking forward to “cashing out” of an expensive home he’d owned for a long time – just before the housing market crashed. If you own a home and offer some of the equity to an investor like Point, the idea goes, you could take that money and invest it in a different asset class, like stocks. And what does Point get? If the house appreciates before it is sold, Point benefits. If the house depreciates, according to Andreessen Horowitz’s website, “Point gets paid back after the bank, but before the homeowner, in the event of a sale.” A blog post on Point’s site notes that, in addition to an initial appraisal, Point may require a “risk adjustment” that “offsets the chance that the home will depreciate before the end of the term.”

Yet Weiss and Andreessen Horowitz both envision their products gaining the critical mass to move beyond one-off agreements between investors and individual homeowners into what the latter calls a “broad basket” of homes. “It’s rethinking the fundamentals of residential real estate ownership – making single-family residential real estate a liquid, tradeable asset class,” the venture capitalists wrote.

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By now, this is crazy.

Ford Shifting All US Small-Car Production To Mexico (DFP)

Ford is shifting all North American small-car production from the U.S. to Mexico, CEO Mark Fields told investors today in Dearborn. “Over the next two to three years, we will have migrated all of our small-car production to Mexico and out of the United States,” Fields said. The industry has known for decades that domestic manufacturers struggle to make a profit on small cars. Shifting their assembly to Mexico can reduce costs to a point. But some of these cars are over-engineered. For example, Field said the current Ford Focus can be ordered in 300 different configurations of options and colors. Ford wants to reduce that to 30, which will make the production process simpler and less expensive.

But Americans prefer larger vehicles, especially pickups and higher-riding SUVs and crossover vehicles for their personal use. The future of smaller cars in the U.S. may depend on the ability to electrify their powertrains and introduce them to ride-sharing fleets where they can generate revenue from fares paid by multiple riders. Along those lines, Fields and other Ford executives Wednesday outlined an aggressive plan to invest $4.5 billion over the next four years. These will include new models in segments such as commercial vehicles, trucks, SUVs and performance vehicles. Ford also reiterated its commitment to developing an autonomous vehicle by 2021. The company believes that autonomous vehicles could account for up to 20% of vehicle sales by 2030.

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Smart. But it may make prices fall even faster.

Vancouver Tax on Empty Homes to Target Near-Zero Rental Supply (BBG)

Vancouver, suffering from a near-zero supply of homes available for rent, plans to slap investors sitting on vacant properties with a new tax in an effort to make housing more accessible in Canada’s most-expensive property market. The levy, which would start in January, may be as high as 2% of the property’s assessed value, Kathleen Llewellyn-Thomas, the city’s general manager of community services, told reporters Wednesday. That would mean a minimum C$20,000 ($15,000) annual payment for the typical C$1 million-plus detached home in Vancouver based on July 2015 assessment data, the most recent available. “Vancouver is in a rental housing crisis,” said Mayor Gregor Robertson, whose announcement follows a separate measure by the province in July to impose a 15% tax on foreign buyers.

“Dangerously low vacancy rates across the city are near zero.” While the city, ranked the world’s third-most-livable, has drawn attention for its sky-high purchase prices fomented by global money flows, the rental market has been just as contentious locally. Vacancies can get scooped up within hours, while bidding wars drive up the cost of leases. Public scrutiny has focused on absentee landlords, particularly from overseas, who are accused of sitting on investment properties where windows remain dark throughout the year. Robertson estimated that more than 10,000 homes are empty and an additional 10,000 are “under-utilized.” The tax aims to get those properties into the rental supply so that the vacancy rate rises to about 3 to 5% from near zero today, he said. The city expects to raise about C$2 million from the tax in the first year.

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People do recognize propaganda to an extent.

US Confidence In Media Hits Fresh Low (AFP)

Americans’ trust in the media has sunk to a new low, and a bitter presidential race may be to blame, a Gallup survey showed Wednesday. The poll asking whether the media report the news “fully, accurately and fairly” found just 32% of Americans have a great deal or fair amount of trust, the lowest level in Gallup polling history and 8 percentage points below last year. Gallup began asking the question in 1972, and has polled Americans on a yearly basis since 1997. Trust and confidence in the media hit its highest point in 1976, at 72% following the investigative journalism coverage of the Vietnam and the Watergate scandal, according to the research group. But confidence has been below 50% since 2007.

“While it is clear Americans’ trust in the media has been eroding over time, the election campaign may be the reason that it has fallen so sharply this year,” Gallup said in its report. “With many Republican leaders and conservative pundits saying (Democratic presidential nominee) Hillary Clinton has received overly positive media attention, while (Republican nominee) Donald Trump has been receiving unfair or negative attention, this may be the prime reason their relatively low trust in the media has evaporated even more.” Gallup said Trump’s sharp criticism of the press may also have had an impact on public opinion.

Just 14% of Republicans said they trust the media, down sharply from 32% a year ago and the lowest level of confidence among Republicans in 20 years, according to Gallup. Among Democrats, 51% expressed confidence in the media, down from 55% a year ago, while the number of independents trusting news organizations fell to 30% from 33%. Trust was also low among younger adults: just 26% of those between the ages of 18 and 49 said they felt confidence in the media compared with 38% of those 50 and older.

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Bubble.

US Rooftop Solar Boom Is Grinding To A Halt (BBG)

Rooftop solar, which has surged more than 1,000% since 2010, will barely grow at all next year. Residential installations are expected to increase by 21% this year, but in 2017 the figure will inch upward by about 0.3%. The change comes as utilities push back against mandates to buy the electricity and shifting tax policies curb demand. Throw in sliding electricity rates and it’s clear the economic benefits of rooftop panels are no longer so obvious to consumers. That’s forcing rooftop developers including Vivint Solar, Sunrun and Elon Musk-backed SolarCity to focus on profitability instead of growth.

“Much like PC manufacturers in the 1990s, solar installers need to realize substantial new customer sales each year just to tread water in terms of annual revenue,” Hugh Bromley at Bloomberg New Energy Finance said. Residential installations are already slowing from the 79% expansion in 2015. Developers are expected to add 2.76 gigawatts this year and that will inch upward to 2.77 gigawatts in 2017 as investment slips 6.4% to $6.8 billion, according to estimates from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “After growing as much as it has, sustaining high double-digit growth rate forever is not realistic,” said Pavel Molchanov at Raymond James Financial.

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US can’t afford to go to war anymore.

Latest Estimate Pegs US Cost of Wars at Nearly $5 Trillion (I’Cept)

The total US budgetary cost of war since 2001 is $4.79 trillion, according to a report released this week from Brown University’s Watson Institute. That’s the highest estimate yet. Neta Crawford of Boston University, the author of the report, included interest on borrowing, future veterans needs, and the cost of homeland security in her calculations. The amount of $4.79 trillion, “so large as to be almost incomprehensible,” she writes, adds up like this:

• The wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Syria, and other overseas operations already cost $1.7 trillion between 2001 and August 2016 with $103 billion more requested for 2017 • Homeland Security terrorism prevention costs from 2001 to 2016 were $548 billion. • The estimated DOD base budget was $733 billion and veterans spending was $213 billion. • Interest incurred on borrowing for wars was $453 billion. • Estimated future costs for veterans’ medical needs until the year 2053 is $1 trillion.

Crawford carried out a similar study in June 2014 that estimated the cost of war at $4.4 trillion. Her methodology mirrors that of the 2008 book The Three Trillion Dollar War: The True Costs of the Iraq Conflict by Linda Bilmes and Joseph Stiglitz. There are even more costs of war that Crawford does not include, she writes. For instance, “I have not included here state and local government expenses related to medical care of veterans and homeland security. Nor do I calculate the macro economic costs of war for the U.S. economy.” She also notes that she does not add the cost of war for other countries, nor try to put a dollar figures on the cost in human lives.

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How did he land that job again?

Juncker Denies Alcohol Problem In Interview, Drinks 4 Glasses Of Champagne

The controversial head of the European Commission has denied that he has a problem with alcohol during an interview in which he drank four glasses of champagne. Allegations have circulated around Brussels in recent years about Jean-Claude Juncker’s drinking and one senior diplomatic source has said he “has cognac for breakfast”. In an interview with a French newspaper he defended his record as he consumed numerous classes of champagne. In 2014 it emerged that Mr Juncker’s drinking habits had been discussed at the highest levels by European leaders who privately have concerns over his lifestyle. A week before the UK referendum vote a video emerged of an apparently-drunk Mr Juncker taken at a May 2015 EU summit welcoming Viktor Orban, the hardline Hungarian PM, as “the dictator” before giving him a playful slap on the cheek.

“The dictator is coming,” Mr Juncker is heard to say, before locking a shocked Mr Orban in a clumsy embrace while Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council looked on, visibly embarrassed. Defending himself in an interview with the Liberation, he said: “Orban, I always call dictator, I am like this. As soon as someone breaks the mould they are obviously crazy or an alcoholic. “You think I’d still be in office if I was having cognac for breakfast? It really makes me sad and it has even led my wife to question if I lie to her, as I do not drink when I’m home.” He also went on to blame his unsteady walking on problems with his leg after a serious car accident.

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Basic. Better. Cheaper.

Helping Homeless People Starts With Giving Them Homes (G.)

Finland is the only European country where homelessness has decreased in recent years. At the end of 2015 the number of single homeless people was for the first time under 7,000 and this number includes people living temporarily with friends and relatives, who constitute 80% of all homeless people. This development is mainly due to a national programme to reduce long-term homelessness. The main explanation for this success is quite simple: when the national programme started housing first was adopted as a mainstream national homelessness policy. This common framework made it possible to establish a wide partnership of state authorities, local communities and non-governmental organisations. Cooperation and targeted measures in the implementation of the programme led to the aforementioned results, which were backed up by independent international evaluations.

Implementing housing first is not reasonable without proper housing options. It should go without saying that you can’t offer homeless people homes if the homes do not exist. It is this scarcity of homes that engenders the system in Britain, with demand outstripping supply, and people in crisis forced to jump through hoops to avoid sleeping on the street. In Finland, housing options included the use of social housing, buying flats from the private market to be used as rental apartments for homeless people, and building new housing blocks for supported housing. An important part of the programme was the extensive conversion of shelters and dormitory-type hostels into supported housing, to address the huge need for accommodation that offered help to tenants.

The last big hostel for homeless people in Helsinki with 250 bed places was run by the Salvation Army. A couple of years ago this hostel was renovated and now consists of 80 independent apartments with on-site staff. The disappearance of temporary solutions like hostels has completely changed the landscape of Finnish homelessness policy in a very positive way, for vulnerable individuals and in combatting antisocial behaviour. All this costs money, but there is ample evidence from many countries that shows it is always more cost-effective to aim to end homelessness instead of simply trying to manage it. Investment in ending homelessness always pays back, to say nothing of the human and ethical reasons.

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Apr 232016
 
 April 23, 2016  Posted by at 9:33 am Finance Tagged with: , , , , , , , , ,  


Alfred Palmer New B-25 bomber at Kansas City plant of North American Aviation 1942

Albert Edwards: Central Bankers Lead Us On The Road To Perdition (ZH)
America’s Wealth Effect From Rising Home Prices Has Been Cut in Half (BBG)
China’s Great Ball of Money Is Rushing Into Commodities Futures (BBG)
Ex-BOJ Economist Suggests Tax to Make Japan Inc. Spend Their Cash (BBG)
US Oil Megaprojects Dreamed Up a Decade Ago Thrive Amid Price Slump (BBG)
Will the Fossil Fuel Industry Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It? (Ahmed)
SunEdison: Death Of A Solar Star (FT)
The Inside Story Of Vancouver’s Wildest Property Deal (ZH)
Greece’s Debt Crisis Looks Familiar, But Consequences May Be Worse (FT)
Lenders Tell Greece To Prepare Contingency Package Of Extra Reforms (R.)
The Economic Consequences Of The Eurozone (Coppola)
Refugee, Migrant Flow From Turkey To Greece Picking Up Again (Reuters)

“..Joe and Joanna Sixpack want to scream in rage. They are doing so by rejecting the establishment political parties and candidates at almost every electoral turn..”

Albert Edwards: Central Bankers Lead Us On The Road To Perdition (ZH)

Earlier this week we described the personal come to non-GAAP Jesus moment of trading commentator Richard Breslow, who confessed in no uncertain terms that he has had it with endless central banking intervention: “a portfolio built to only withstand stress thanks to central bank intervention is one destined to blow-up spectacularly. The embedded flaw in this new logic is that central banks give investors perfect foresight. And nothing can go wrong… You don’t need to be a Taleb or Mandelbrot to calculate that we have been having once in a hundred year events on a regular basis for the last thirty years.”

Today it is another famous skeptic, SocGen’s Albert Edwards who has had enough and says he feels “utterly depressed” because he has not “one scintilla of doubt that these central bankers will destroy the enfeebled world economy with their clumsy interventions and that political chaos will be the ugly result. The only people who will benefit are not investors, but anarchists who will embrace with delight the resulting chaos these policies will bring!” As he openly warns his readers : “I have long recognised my own contrariness (or is it bloody-mindedness) and hopefully put it to good use in my chosen profession. If you want the consensus bull-market cheerleading nonsense, readers know it is amply available elsewhere.” With that warning in place, here is why the man who popularized the deflationary “Ice Age” blows up”

“I am neither monetarist nor Keynesian. I see merit and demerit in both sides of a very fractious argument. But what I do know is when in the last few weeks I have heard that Janet Yellen sees no bubble in the US, when Ben Bernanke hones and restates his helicopter money speech, and when Mario Draghi says that the ECB’s policy of printing money and negative interest rates was working, I feel utterly depressed (I could also quote similar nonsense from Japan, the UK and China). I have not one scintilla of doubt that these central bankers will destroy the enfeebled world economy with their clumsy interventions and that political chaos will be the ugly result. The only people who will benefit are not investors, but anarchists who will embrace with delight the resulting chaos these policies will bring!”

We said in 2010 when the Fed launched QE2 that the ultimate outcome would be civil (or more than civil) war, so we thoroughly agree with Edwards “depression” because sadly he is right, but since stocks keep rising, few others seem to care. Edwards’ lament continues:

“I’m not really sure how much more of this I can take. So here we are 5, 6 or is it now 7 years into this economic recovery and it still remains pathetically weak. And so it should in the wake of one of the biggest private sector credit bubbles in history. The de-leveraging hangover was always going to be massive and so it is. Quick-fix monetary QE nonsense has made virtually no difference to the economic recoveries other than to inflate asset prices, make the rich richer, inequality worse and make Joe and Joanna Sixpack want to scream in rage. They are doing so by rejecting the establishment political parties and candidates at almost every electoral turn and seeking out more extreme alternatives at both ends of the political spectrum. And who can blame them apart from the chattering classes?

I have just returned from Germany on a marketing trip. I absolutely agreed with their Finance Minister Schäuble when he blamed ECB loose money policies for contributing to the rise in the extremist right Alternative for Germany party. Schäuble, “said to Mario Draghi…be very proud: you can attribute 50% of the results of a party that seems to be new and successful in Germany to the design of this [monetary] policy,” And this is not just a German phenomena – it is a global one. The people are angry and they are lashing out. But central bankers have painted themselves into a corner with their overconfident rhetoric and monetary experiments. They have now committed us all to their road to perdition.”

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Deflation 101: “..around the middle of 2005, households would spend an extra $3.40 in the event that their home gained in value by $100. Near the end of 2015, households would increase outlays by just $1.70..”

America’s Wealth Effect From Rising Home Prices Has Been Cut in Half (BBG)

The U.S. consumer might be the engine of global growth – just not the roaring V12 it used to be. From the fourth quarter of 2003 through 2006, amid the real estate bubble, personal consumption expenditures grew at an average annual clip of 3.5%. Since the S&P/Case-Shiller Composite 20-City Home Price Index bottomed out in March 2012, however, personal consumption expenditures have increased by just 2.3%, on average. In an economic letter published by the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, economists John Duca, Anthony Murphy, and Elizabeth Organ identify one reason why this American muscle car has lost its nitrous oxide. The researchers found that the wealth effect from real estate – that is, the extent to which home price appreciation juices consumer spending – has been cut in half since the mid-2000s:

The chart shows that around the middle of 2005, households would spend an extra $3.40 in the event that their home gained in value by $100. Near the end of 2015, households would increase outlays by just $1.70 if real estate values rose by the same amount. “In other words, home prices in 2015 need to rise double as fast as in 2005 in order to generate the same impact on consumer spending,” writes Torsten Slok, chief international economist at Deutsche Bank. “This weaker wealth effect is a key reason why the recovery since 2009 has been so weak.” This finding reinforces the challenge that monetary policymakers faced in reflating the U.S. economy via large-scale asset purchases, as this transmission channel didn’t pack the same punch it used to.

The wealth effect for liquid assets, such as bank deposits, is substantially higher than for illiquid assets like real estate, a testament to the ease with which the former can be deployed. The housing bubble of the aughts was characterized not only by soaring real estate values, but also households’ penchant for using real estate as a piggy bank to finance current consumption. In the wake of the crisis, access to credit by this channel was curtailed dramatically and the debt overhang served as a notable drag on consumption, to boot. “In the U.S., increased availability of consumer and mortgage credit, along with rising asset prices, contributed greatly to the consumption boom in the mid-2000s; reversals in these factors exacerbated the bust in consumption during the Great Recession,” the authors wrote.

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A huge bubble in things nobody wants. China gets nuttier by the day.

China’s Great Ball of Money Is Rushing Into Commodities Futures (BBG)

Chinese speculators have a new obsession: the commodities market. Trading in futures on everything from steel reinforcement bars and hot-rolled coils to cotton and polyvinyl chloride has soared this week, prompting exchanges in Shanghai, Dalian and Zhengzhou to boost fees or issue warnings to investors. While the underlying products may be anything but glamorous, the numbers are eye-popping: contracts on more than 223 million metric tons of rebar changed hands on Thursday, more than China’s full-year production of the material used to strengthen concrete. “The great ball of China money is moving away from bonds and stocks to commodities,” said Zhang Guoyu at Tebon Securities “We’ve seen a lot of people opening accounts for commodities futures recently.”

The frenzy echoes the activity that fueled China’s stock market last year before a rout erased $5 trillion, and follows earlier bubbles in property to garlic and even certain types of tea. China’s army of investors is honing in on raw materials amid signs of a pickup in demand and as the nation’s equities fall the most among global markets and corporate bond yields head for the steepest monthly rise in more than a year. Hao Hong, chief China strategist at Bocom International in Hong Kong, says the improvement in fundamentals and the availability of leverage to bet on commodities is making them irresistible to traders. “These guys are going nuts,” Hong said. “Leverage exaggerates the move of the way up, but also on the way down – much like what margin financing did to stocks in 2015.”

The gain in steel prices isn’t just on the futures market, with spot prices for the physical product also rallying amid a sudden shortage as construction activity accelerates. Rebar prices have risen 57% this year on average across China, according to Beijing Antaike Information Development, a state-owned consultancy. Even after output of steel increased to the highest monthly volume on record in March, rebar inventory is still falling, signaling a supply deficit.

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No-one wishes to acknowledge that it’s over. There’s a reason Japan Inc. is not investing.

Ex-BOJ Economist Suggests Tax to Make Japan Inc. Spend Their Cash (BBG)

Japanese policy makers have taken extraordinary measures in recent years to yank the nation clear of deflation and create a better environment for businesses. They’ve had mixed results, and corporate Japan is yet to reciprocate with higher spending and wages. That’s prompted some analysts to suggest more radical ways of compelling companies to deploy their cash hoard on capital investment and salaries. Hiromichi Shirakawa, a former central bank official who is now chief Japan economist at the Credit Suisse Group, is at the forefront of the debate with his plan to tax corporate savings. “We have to try this policy as a last resort for beating deflation,” he said in an interview by telephone from Tokyo. “We have been suffering deflation for twenty years and the current policy is still not working.”

Shirakawa’s thinking goes like this: Corporate savings have swelled since Prime Minister Shinzo Abe came to power at the end of 2012 and unleashed fiscal stimulus and unprecedented monetary easing via the Bank of Japan. The ultra-loose policy weakened the yen, boosting profits for exporters. These earning must now be put to work. Kozo Yamamoto, one of the key members of Abe’s brains-trust of reflationist advisers, thinks the idea is worth looking at. This month he called for more fiscal stimulus, a fresh round of easing from the central back and the consideration of a tax on corporate cash. Imposing a 2% levy tax on cash and deposits of non-financial corporations could spur them to redirect enough money into investment to boost GDP by 0.9%, according to one scenario explored by Shirakawa.

That’s a significant bump given that GDP is likely to expand about 0.5% this calendar year, based on the median of forecasts compiled by Bloomberg. Meanwhile, the BOJ’s preferred inflation gauge is hovering around zero. Businesses remain wary of boosting investment, given Japan’s low growth rate and the likelihood that the market for goods and services will contract as the population ages and declines. While ruling party lawmakers responsible for tax policy say they’re not currently looking at this option, the BOJ’s recent adoption of negative interest rates may open the door wider than ever before. By introducing the concept of a tax on savings – if only, for now, on a portion of cash that financial institutions park at the central bank – the move could in time spur a broader debate about fiscal measures to force companies to spend more.

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Follow the money.

US Oil Megaprojects Dreamed Up a Decade Ago Thrive Amid Price Slump (BBG)

Oil production in some of the riskiest, highest-cost regions of North America is still thriving, even as the worst slump in a generation takes a bite out of U.S. shale. Onshore U.S. output is poised to drop 22% from last year through 2017, according to the Energy Information Administration. However, new volumes coming on stream from developments envisioned years ago in Canada’s oil sands and the U.S. Gulf of Mexico are limiting North America’s total production decline. Exxon Mobil is among companies bringing platforms online in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico from discoveries made in the past decade, which will help boost offshore output by 18% from last year to a record high in 2017, the EIA forecast this month. In the oil sands, developers including Canadian Natural Resources are also expanding projects, leading to a 16% increase over the same period, Canadian Association of Petroleum Producers data show.

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Chicken and egg.

Will the Fossil Fuel Industry Take the Rest of the Economy Down With It? (Ahmed)

[..] Some analysts believe the hidden trillion-dollar black hole at the heart of the oil industry is set to trigger another global financial crisis, similar in scale to the Dot-Com crash. Jason Schenker, president and chief economist at Prestige Economics, says: “Oil prices simply aren’t going to rise fast enough to keep oil and energy companies from defaulting. Then there is a real contagion risk to financial companies and from there to the rest of the economy.” Schenker has been ranked by Bloomberg News as one of the most accurate financial forecasters in the world since 2010. The US economy, he forecasts, will dip into recession at the end of 2016 or early 2017. Mark Harrington, an oil industry consultant, goes further. He believes the resulting economic crisis from cascading debt defaults in the industry could make the 2007-8 financial crash look like a cakewalk.

“Oil and gas companies borrowed heavily when oil prices were soaring above $70 a barrel,” he wrote on CNBC in January. “But in the past 24 months, they’ve seen their values and cash flows erode ferociously as oil prices plunge—and that’s made it hard for some to pay back that debt. This could lead to a massive credit crunch like the one we saw in 2008. With our economy just getting back on its feet from the global 2008 financial crisis, timing could not be worse.” Ratings agency S&P reported this week that 46 companies have defaulted on their debt this year—the highest levels since the depths of the financial crisis in 2009. The total quantity in defaults so far is $50 billion. Half this year’s defaults are from the oil and gas industry, according to S&P, followed by the metals, mining and the steel sector. Among them was coal giant Peabody Energy.

Despite public reassurances, bank exposure to these energy risks from unfunded loan facilities remains high. Officially, only 2.5% of bank assets are exposed to energy risks. But it’s probably worse. Confidential Wall Street sources claim that the Dallas Fed has secretly advised major U.S. banks in closed-door meetings to cover-up potential energy-related losses. The Fed denies the allegations, but refuses to respond to Freedom of Information requests on internal meetings, on the obviously false pretext that it keeps no records of any of its meetings. According to Bronka Rzepkoswki at advisory firm Oxford Economics, over a third of the entire U.S. high yield bond index is vulnerable to low oil prices, increasing the risk of a tidal wave of corporate bankruptcies: “Conditions that usually pave the way for mounting defaults—such as growing bad debt, tightening monetary conditions, tightening of corporate credit standards and volatility spikes – are currently met in the U.S.”

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People’ll believe anything.

SunEdison: Death Of A Solar Star (FT)

The triumphant email message pinged into SunEdison chief executive Ahmad Chatila’s inbox with only moments to spare. “We are approved by the Independent Cmte,” it said, confirmation that his over-indebted solar energy company would be able to cheat death — at least that day. The email brought news of approval for a cash transfer from TerraForm Global, a company controlled by SunEdison, enough to pay off a $100m margin loan due by 3pm that afternoon. The drastic action that SunEdison took that day in November allowed it to postpone default for several months, but the company was already sliding towards the biggest bankruptcy the renewable energy industry has ever seen. Its fate became a little clearer on Thursday when the world’s largest developer of renewable power projects filed for bankruptcy with debts of $16.1bn, and assets valued at $20.7bn.

The collapse is full of the usual cautionary tales, of corporate hubris and excessive debt, but also offers a new one in its industry: the dangers of financial engineering taken to extremes. In 2009 Mr Chatila took charge at MEMC, a struggling supplier of silicon wafers for chip and solar panels, and set about transforming the company. Through a series of deals, he built a solar power development business, and in 2013 changed the group’s name to SunEdison, after one of the acquisitions. From a low point in 2012, the shares rose 20-fold to peak at $32.13 in July last year. Since then, they have dropped by 99%. The past 12 months have been rough on many US solar power companies, including SunPower and Elon Musk’s SolarCity, but SunEdison is the only one to have blown up in such a spectacular fashion. The root cause of this is its complex financial structure.

Solar power is fundamentally a low-risk business. Developers, unlike their counterparts in oil and gas, do not have to explore to find resources, and they do not have to manage wild swings in product costs. Projects are typically signed up on 20-year contracts with fixed or predictably rising prices, and the global market is growing rapidly as falling costs make solar increasingly competitive against fossil fuels. The downside of that stability is a crowded market in which returns are generally low. Mr Chatila, however, was thinking big. In a presentation to analysts in February last year, he suggested SunEdison was taking a tilt at the world’s most valuable energy company, ExxonMobil. “Their market cap is around $400bn,” he said. “That’s what we’re going after.” SunEdison’s market capitalisation at the time was about $6bn. A blitz of deals, fuelled by soaring debts, was intended to bring the company closer to realising that ambition. Instead, it sent it plunging to earth.

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Chinese will overpay by this much just to get money out of the country.

The Inside Story Of Vancouver’s Wildest Property Deal (ZH)

It was in fall last year that Bruno and Peter Wall received an offer too good to refuse. The prominent Vancouver property developers behind Wall Financial Corporation had spent C$16.8 million (HK$102 million) to buy two ageing walk-up apartment blocks on adjacent lots on Nelson Street in 2013. They had big plans for the downtown site: a glittering 60-storey residential skyscraper, taking advantage of the location within the city’s West End Community Plan, where a building could rise 168 metres tall under new zoning. The project was dubbed “Nelson on the Park” and the Walls turned to favourite designer Chris Doray to come up with what they hoped would be a new Vancouver landmark. But now a consortium of investors was proposing something even more remarkable.

They would pay the Walls C$60 million for the site alone, which had just been valued at C$15.6 million by BC Assessment. The huge profit was impossible to resist, and the sale was completed in late January. Doray, a 25-year veteran of the Vancouver development scene whose design has now been shelved, said he was “astonished” by the transaction, which he said set a new benchmark for commercial real estate in the city. “The price on this block of land has now thrown everybody in the industry out of whack,” said Doray. “The property is worth, what, C$20 million, and somebody pays C$60million? One wonders what’s going on. Is this New York? Is this Hong Kong?” The scale of the purchase, orchestrated by Sun Commercial Real Estate (Suncom) – a firm that specialises in pooling wealthy investors from Vancouver’s Chinese immigrant community – was exceptional enough.


1059 Nelson Street in downtown Vancouver, where property developers Bruno and Peter Wall had once hoped to build a 60-story skyscraper.

But an investigation by the South China Morning Post now reveals the strange and frantic backdrop to the transaction – including a two-hour stampede by Suncom’s investors, desperate for a slice of the deal. It is a transaction that also sheds light on the rush of Chinese money fuelling Vancouver’s soaring real estate market. The Post interviewed key players and pored over land titles, company directorship and address changes, and English and Chinese social media postings to understand a transaction that looked, from the outside, incomprehensible – and potentially disastrous. But Suncom, whose activities are being reviewed by the BC Securities Commission, knew exactly what it was doing. Because on February 29, one month after taking ownership of the Nelson Street site, the Suncom consortium flipped it, corporate records show. The price was C$68 million. And the Post met the new buyer, a rich Chinese immigrant named Gao Shan, last month.

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“While the IMF has demanded a restructuring of Greece’s debts, Germany has suddenly decided that no debt relief is needed at all. Still, it has insisted the IMF participate anyway.”

Greece’s Debt Crisis Looks Familiar, But Consequences May Be Worse (FT)

While Europe’s political class has been consumed with preventing refugees from entering the EU and Britain from exiting, the mother of all EU crises has slowly and quietly been gathering steam again: Greece. Eurozone finance ministers will meet on Friday after yet another round of fruitless talks in Athens where almost nobody agreed on the way forward. And just like the Greek crisis that gripped the EU last year, there is a hard stop arriving very soon: unless Athens receives its next round of bailout aid, it risks defaulting on €3.5bn in debt payments in July, raising anew the agonising prospect of Grexit. How could this be happening again? After a series of increasingly desperate summits nearly a year ago, EU leaders agreed an €86bn bailout that pulled Greece back from the brink.

Just months later, a chastened Alexis Tsipras, the far-left prime minister who made his political bones railing against two similar EU rescues, won re-election promising to implement the harsh fiscal measures included in a third programme. European Commission officials were touting Mr Tsipras as a changed man; shorn of his ornery finance minister Yanis Varoufakis, Brussels convinced itself that the long-time radical had transformed into a diligent economic reformer. But they overlooked the political realities in Athens — not to mention the financial realities of the bailout. In fact, last summer’s deal was less a cure-all for Greece’s economic woes than a collective kicking of the can down the road. It avoided default by loaning Athens €13bn very quickly in exchange for a narrowly focused set of pension and tax reforms.

Even then, much of the heavy lifting was put off until the new programme’s first quarterly review — including the politically combustible issue of debt relief. As if to underline how ephemeral the deal was, the International Monetary Fund made clear it was not participating and would put off any decision on whether to join until it was certain Mr Tsipras, who had become the first leader of a developed country to default on an IMF payment, would live up to his commitments. That first quarterly review has now stretched into two additional quarters, and the three-dimensional stand-off between Athens, Berlin and the IMF has only deepened. While the IMF has demanded a restructuring of Greece’s debts, Germany has suddenly decided that no debt relief is needed at all. Still, it has insisted the IMF participate anyway.

Meanwhile, the IMF has decided the agreement reached in July was badly constructed and should have lower budget surplus targets. As for Mr Tsipras, he has returned to an angry, defensive crouch, railing against outside forces. There is little political capacity in Athens to push through additional reforms or spending cuts even if Mr Tsipras wanted to. “Europe’s politicians have been distracted with other challenges and markets have become complacent about the inherent risks in Greece’s new bailout,” said Mujtaba Rahman, head of European analysis at the Eurasia Group risk consultancy. “But if Berlin doesn’t revise its approach, this is going to blow up in everyone’s faces.”

The players, the arguments and even the choreography have changed little since last year. But the consequences of failure may have. A year ago, EU leaders felt confident they had ringfenced Greece and that a Grexit, while severely damaging to the Greek economy, would have little impact on the rest of the eurozone. Now, however, they are deeply worried about the prospect of a failed EU member state with 50,000 Syrian, Iraqi and Afghan refugees stuck in deteriorating camps — a state the rest of the bloc is looking to as a front line against the influx of migrants into Europe.

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Succumbing to sadists.

Lenders Tell Greece To Prepare Contingency Package Of Extra Reforms (R.)

International lenders asked Greece on Friday to prepare a package of additional savings measures which would be passed into law now but implemented only if needed, to make sure the country reaches agreed fiscal targets. Once agreed, the set of contingent reforms, together with measures already under negotiation, would enable the disbursement of new loans to Athens and pave the way for debt relief. The idea of a contingency package appears to end a long dispute between the eurozone and the IMF over whether Greece’s current reforms are enough. “We came to the conclusion that the policy package should include a contingent package of additional measures that would be implemented only if necessary to reach the primary surplus target for 2018,” the chairman of euro zone finance ministers Jeroen Dijsselbloem told a news conference in Amsterdam after the ministers met.

The contingency measures needed to be “credible, legislated up-front, automatic and based on objective factors.” Greek Finance Minister Euclid Tsakalotos said Athens could not legislate “contingent measures” as Greek law did not allow it. But Dijsselbloem said a way would be found. “We need to work on how that mechanism is going to look like. Of course if there are legal constraints we can’t and won’t break legal constraints. We will design it in a way that delivers credibility …and (is) legally possible,” Dijsselbloem told a news conference. The contingency package is to produce savings of 2% of GDP, on top of savings of 3% that are to come from reforms under negotiation now, Dijsselbloem said. The amount is the difference between euro zone and IMF forecasts of what primary surplus Greece is likely to achieve in 2018.

The current reforms include a pension and income tax reform, the setting up of a privatization fund and a scheme to deal with bad loans. The content of the contingency set is not decided yet. Agreement on both reform packages – the regular and the contingent one – would mean euro zone ministers would meet again on Thursday to approve the deal and have a “serious discussion” on debt relief for Greece. The prospect of debt talks may encourage Athens to back the new package, and lenders reminded their Greek counterparts that there are time constraints. “The liquidity situation is becoming tight, there are debt service payments … there is a risk that the government may have to accumulate domestic arrears again,” the head of the euro zone bailout fund Klaus Regling said.

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It’s of little use to see this from an economic point of view; it makes no sense in that context. It’s purely a political power game, and economics are a side show at best.

The Economic Consequences Of The Eurozone (Coppola)

The latest round of Greek bailout negotiations is going anything but smoothly. In fact, the growing rift between Greece’s European creditors – notably Germany – and the IMF threatens to derail them completely. The IMF estimates that the proposed 3.5% primary surplus would turn out to be more like 1.5%, making debt relief essential. But Germany insists that a 3.5% of GDP primary surplus could be sustained indefinitely with the right reforms and no debt relief will be needed. Deadlock. But now we learn that an additional set of “contingent reforms” is to be imposed on Greece. The draft Memorandum of Understanding already specifies spending cuts and tax rises to the tune of 3% of GDP: the new set would make savings of a further 2% of GDP. These contingent measures are currently unspecified: apparently the Greek government is to propose them.

Once specified, they would be passed into law by the Greek government, though they would not come into force unless “needed” (i.e. if Greece missed its fiscal targets). But of one thing we can be certain. They will not be reforms aimed at restoring the Greek economy. No, their sole purpose will be to extract yet more money from Greek households and businesses, to the detriment of the health and wellbeing of the Greek people and the profitability of Greek businesses. The combination of the MOU with the new measures is brutal. No way can a fiscal tightening of 3% of GDP, plus a further tightening of 2% when (not if) Greece misses its fiscal targets, do anything but further economic damage. There is no monetary offset to soften the blow, since Greece is excluded from the ECB’s QE.

A fiscal tightening of this magnitude without central bank support is the equivalent of doing major surgery without anesthetic. The patient may survive the surgery, but the pain and shock will set back its recovery by years. And the surgery is counterproductive, too. It will not ensure that the creditors get their money back more quickly. On the contrary, it may mean they never get it back. The more damage is done to Greece’s economy, the harder it will find it to pay its creditors. To quote the great American economist Irving Fisher, “The more the debtors pay, the more they owe”. Fisher’s “The Debt Deflation Theory of Great Depressions”, from which this quotation is taken, should be required reading for anyone involved in the Greek bailout negotiations. Greece’s depression is now deeper and longer-lasting than the USA’s Great Depression – and it is far from over.

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“More than 3 million people have been displaced in the Lake Chad basin – in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad – by violence by the militant group Boko Haram..”

Refugee, Migrant Flow From Turkey To Greece Picking Up Again (Reuters)

The numbers of migrants landing in Greece from Turkey is starting to creep up again, showing efforts to close off the route are coming under strain, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said on Friday. Around 150 people a day had arrived over the last three days, still way off the numbers seen a month ago, the organisation added, but showing an increase since an EU deal with Turkey deal to stem the flow. “The arrivals in Greece which were down to literally zero some days this month, are beginning to creep back up,” IOM spokesman Joel Millman told a Geneva news briefing. “It could be the weather, it could be any number of things, it could be that smugglers are getting more creative.” Europe signed an agreement with Turkey last month to close off the main route into Europe for more than a million people, most fleeing war and poverty in the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

NATO sent ships into Greek and Turkish waters in the Aegean in March, though Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras said on Friday that Turkish demands were hampering the mission. “It could be that there is just still a lot of demand in Turkey … people have already spent months to get to Turkey and where there is a will and where there is means, people will try to satisfy them,” Millman told the briefing. “It still shows that hermetic sealing that seemed to be happening a month ago isn’t anymore.” There were also signs of increased numbers of people from sub-Saharan Africa taking the perilous route across the Mediterranean to Europe, he said. More than 3 million people have been displaced in the Lake Chad basin – in Nigeria, Niger, Cameroon and Chad – by violence by the militant group Boko Haram, he added.

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Aug 212014
 
 August 21, 2014  Posted by at 7:12 pm Energy, Finance Tagged with: , , , , ,  


Dorothea Lange Country filling station owned by tobacco farmer, Granville County, NC Jul 1939

I woke up today to a request to comment on an article I hadn’t even read yet at the time. Now, I don’t do requests, but when I saw that it was an article by my favorite nemesis Ambrose Evans-Pritchard, and I read it, I thought alright, let’s have a go. Just this once.

Ambrose sings the praise of solar and natural gas in this one, and that‘s not because he’s green, the only green he likes is the color of money. And that’s just why he’s interested in solar etc.: great fortunes to be made!

As is usual in his finance articles, Ambrose is great at collecting data, and far from great at interpreting them. He gets carried away by grand visions. But that, in my eyes, makes him charming too. Finance is easily dull enough that it needs its ‘color(ful) commentators’.

Since Ambrose talks a lot about the demise of oil, and the risk of prices falling further, I’ll start off with a Yahoo Finance article that features Dan Dicker, who’s not so sure about those price drops.

Personally, I would think too many people draw too many hasty and easy conclusions. All you need in today’s world to raise oil prices is one bomb in the wrong – or is that the right? – place, and to make that happen, I’m sure Big Oil would be more than happy to drop a Little Boy.

In my view betting against oil and gas is either for big time gamblers or for people who don’t think or know enough about 1) how volatile production and delivery is at the moment, and 2) what oil really is (unique carbon structures).

To top it off, I’ll conclude with the best take down I’ve seen in a while of the imaginary German solar miracle. Might as well throw that in too. First, then, Dan Dicker:

Crude Oil ‘Super Spike’ May Be Coming

Commodity traders and analysts have wondered why oil hasn’t gone higher. Geopolitical tensions abound across the world; the Middle East seemingly hasn’t been this unstable in years. In fact, some believe the commodity could actually go lower. [..]

Dan Dicker, president of MercBloc and author of Oil’s Endless Bid, says much has changed in the past few years, other factors also explain why oil has stagnated recently: Investment banks, particularly Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan have not only left oil trading but have also abandoned the oil marketing business, which used to bring a steady supply of new players to the energy market. Individual oil traders (including Dicker himself) have disappeared as well.

Dicker speculates around 3,000 traders have left the industry. Remaining funds are trend and algorithmic firms with long-term positions already established. The big alpha players remaining in the oil trading business are physical commodity, private firms like Glencore, Vitol, and Trifugura among others. Dicker believes these changes have all but killed immediate speculative activity, which has been good for consumers in the short term, but will be bad for the prospects of cheaper oil in the long term.

Without the liquidity provided by these players in the energy market, a crude oil ‘super-spike’ could be in the cards. The demise of offshore oil drilling could also be a catalyst in Dicker’s mind, not to mention oil supplies going offline in places like Libya, and decreasing in countries like Iran and Iraq.

This is leading to an upcoming oil supply crisis he says, and ultimately with liquidity not what it once was, and with the cost of oil now making it prohibitive to develop new sources, ultimately the fundamentals will have to matter again. “When you have an oil price that’s hanging around $95, you won’t see a $10 spike, you’ll see a $40 spike, because that’s what will be necessary to get these guys (oil exploration and production companies) ginned up” in order to produce more crude supply.

And then Ambrose’s big screen technicolor dreams about solar and great fortunes:

Oil Industry On Borrowed Time As Switch To Gas And Solar Accelerates

… world energy markets are entering a period of “extreme flux”, with oil caught in triple encirclement by cheap natural gas, much more efficient vehicles and breathtaking advances in solar power as scientists crack the secrets.

… eroding the assumptions that have underpinned a threefold rise in Western oil industry debt to $600bn since 2005, much of it to hunt for crude in prohibitively expensive places. Costs rose 9% in 2012 and 11% last year [..]

Gasoline demand in the OECD rich states has been sliding in absolute terms since 2007, punctuated by ups and downs, but dropping overall from 15.5m barrels a day (b/d) of crude to 14m b/d.

The ‘OECD rich states’ have gotten a lot less rich since 2007, not a trivial detail.

Citigroup’s report – “Energy 2020: The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” – says the average efficiency of new cars in the US has risen by 4.6 miles per gallon (mpg) since 2008 [..] Gasoline demand will slide by 900,000 b/d in the US alone by 2020. China has even more draconian curbs coming into force, with a 50mpg fuel economy mandate by 2020. Its output of electric cars is up 177% in a year, and hybrids are up 567%. India will reach 50mpg by 2021, Mexico by 2025.

What those percentages mean is that they had barely any hybrids or electric cars before; these kinds of increases are meaningless. And also: a 50mpg fuel economy mandate is not what I would call draconian.

[..] The US shale revolution has caused natural gas prices in North America to collapse. With a long delay, and by convoluted means, this effect is spreading to Asia, where liquefied natural gas (LNG) prices have halved this year. Natural gas lorries are expected to take around 4% of the US market this year as new taxes and pollution laws come to bear. “We think a large portion of the freight market could utilise LNG and penetration rates could ultimately top 40% … “

This may be so, but the revolution won’t last; we already know that. If we now hastily adapt our infrastructure thinking it will, we’ll be in deep doodoo soon.

The industry can at last tap a “large investor universe” through the market for asset-backed securities. It priced debt below 5% last year. Some US electric companies are starting to build solar farms for hard-headed commercial reasons as a hedge against future shifts in the gas price. Roughly 29% of all electricity capacity added in America last year came from solar. [..]

More empty numbers: what this means is simply that very little capacity was added in the US in 2013.

… installed solar power in the US across all sectors has dropped from $6 a watt to $2.59 in four years, largely due to the collapse in the cost of solar cells. [..] The clinching shift will come when the battery storage is cheap enough and lasts long enough for users to draw down their surplus generated during the day to cover needs at night, opening the way for mass exodus from the grid

Wow, wow! Any idea what a mass exodus from the grid would mean? First, there are plenty of things you can’t run on solar. Second, you can’t just close down half the grid. You’ll have to redo and redesign the whole thing if you lose large numbers of clients. Not everything scales up in simple ways, and not everything scales down easily either.

Harvard is working on an organic flow battery using quinones – from rhubarb – instead of rare earth metals. It hopes to cut battery costs by two-thirds within three years. Rivals at the University of Southern California think they can eventually slash the cost by 90% below today’s lithium-ion batteries.

I’m sure batteries will get better and cheaper. Whether that will happen at the pace Ambrose fantasizes about comes with a big question mark. I’m all for rhubarb batteries, but …

It is a fair bet that scientists will have conquered intermittency by the end of the decade, at which point the switch to renewables becomes a stampede. This is where great fortunes may be made, perhaps the mirror image of the wealth to be lost on fossil defaults. Brokers Sanford Bernstein call it the new order of “global energy deflation”. Technology momentum is unstoppable, and one-way only.

This is where we go from fact to techno happy fantasy. And the one about ‘great fortunes’, of course. I doubt it’s a ‘fair bet’ that all problems with intermittent energy sources will be solved over the next 5 years and 4 months. What’s going to do the trick, molten salt and rhubarb? Whenever someone says things like ‘technology momentum is unstoppable’, I want to go check on my cucumbers.

There’s enough hot air being sold in the shale industry, we don’t need another plot in the energy field that’s also nothing but pure financial speculation. We are never going to replace oil and gas one on one with some other miraculous source of energy, and if the reason why is not clear, there is a ton of information in the Automatic Earth archives that can explain.

Oil-patronage regimes violate the loose rule that societies with a per capita income above $10,000 become more tolerant, rational and pluralist over time, so we may be doing a favour for these nations if we curb our appetite for oil. Their revolutions may, however, be televised.

I never saw the ‘loose rule’ Ambrose mentions, but there can be no doubt that many regimes built on oil revenues face a very uncertain future as supplies dwindle. And as their own, often rapidly growing, populations use ever more of those resources themselves, as our friend Jeffrey Brown has explained for years in his Export Land Model. I just doubt that low global market prices will play the protagonist part in this.

And now that we’re so deep into the promises of solar, why not break them down to the ground in one fell swoop, so we can all have our own two feet solidly planted on that same ground? Unless you would rather fantasize with Ambrose, but rest assured, the vast majority of it is fantasy, founded upon dreams of multi trillion dollar wealth. In my view, reality is the better option, but I can’t decide for you.

From Robert Wilson at the Energy Collective:

Reality Check: Germany Does Not Get Half of its Energy from Solar Panels

The rise of the Internet means that simple factual issues can be checked quicker than would have been believed possible a generation ago. The rise of social media means that facts are not checked, they are retweeted. Such is the case with renewable energy in Germany, where it appears almost anything is to be believed.

Here is the most popular meme: “Germany now gets half of its energy from solar panels.” This does the rounds of Twitter and Facebook almost every day. In fact, it has now spread to more reputable outlets such as Popular Mechanics, and has even appeared on the website of Richard Dawkins, the inventor of the term meme, under the headline “Germany Now Produces Half Of Its Energy Using Solar.” The problem, of course, is that Germany does not get half of its energy from solar panels, and will not do so any time soon.

As with any myth there are multiple versions. In this case it is either that Germany gets half of its electricity or half its energy from solar panels. The latter version is easily refuted by pointing out that the majority of German energy consumption is not in the form of electricity. BMWs, Mercedes and Volkswagens run on petrol and diesel, not electricity. The more common version of the myth is debunked with simple reference to Germany’s official statistics for electricity generation.

And what they tell us is quite simple. Germany does not get half of its electricity from solar panels, instead the figure is around ten times lower. Last year only 4.5% of Germany’s gross electricity generation came from solar panels, far short of 50%. And if you want to think that half of Germany’s electricity comes from something green you will be disappointed. 46% of generation comes from coal. And just over half of coal powered electricity in Germany comes from burning lignite, perhaps the most polluting way to generate electricity on the planet.

GermanyElectricityMix

These statistics, then, make it clear that the “solar revolution” that has supposedly occurred in Germany is not worth the name, and is mostly just a combination of hype and wishful thinking. I can make this even clearer by comparing the growth of solar in Germany with that of more old fashioned forms of electricity generation.

In 1990, Britain got no electricity whatsoever from gas power plants. Yet, within one decade this went from zero to forty percent. This is a much more rapid growth than has been in German solar wind, or anything else. In fact, no country has grown any source of renewable electricity at such a speed. An even more sobering comparison, given Germany’s much trumped green credentials, is with the growth of coal power plants this decade. At the end of last year Germany had a total of 36 gigawatts of installed solar capacity, and this produced 28.3 terawatt hours of electricity.

However, between 2011 and 2015 Germany is opening 10.7 gigawatts of new coal power plant capacity. The consulting company Poyry projects that these new coal power plants will have average capacity factors of 80%. If so, they will have a combined average annual output of 75 terawatt hours. In other words, in five years Germany is opening coal capacity which will have an annual output of more than double that from all of its solar panels. However, this comparison is perhaps too generous. Solar panels typically last twenty to twenty five years, but coal power plants easily last twice that long.

What we are seeing in Germany, then, is much more of a coal lock-in than a solar revolution. And solar power in Germany faces fundamental problems. For obvious physical reasons – the sun always sets – there is absolutely no output from solar panels a lot of the time. In the case of Germany it is around 46% of the time. However, Germany can, on a sunny day, get a lot of its electricity demand from solar panels. On the occasional sunny day solar panel output can exceed half of total electricity demand. This is the source of the myth that Germany gets half of its electricity from solar panels. Media reports on solar in Germany focus on the peak, and not on the average. The average, well, that’s one tenth of the peak, but I guess not even half of the story.

[..] The new German government has put in place a long-term target of having between 2.5 and 3.5 gigawatts of solar panels installed each year. If we take the higher figure, and assume that 3.5 gigawatts is installed each year, it will take Germany almost ninety years to reach 50% solar electricity. This however is an underestimate. Solar panels must be replaced every twenty or twenty fives years, and 50% solar energy in Germany would require massive advances in energy storage techniques. Germany, then, is around a century away from getting half of its electricity from solar panels. Does this look like a revolution?

Note

Statistics for Germany’s energy consumption are available from BP and Eurostat. In total, solar energy was 2% of Germany’s primary energy consumption last year, using BP’s statistics. The precise percentage however will vary depending on how energy consumption is defined. If we used the IEA’s definition of primary energy consumption for solar, then the figure would be around 1%. I discussed the problem of measuring renewable energy consumption here.

There you go. 4.5% of German electricity, and 1% of its primary energy, came from solar in 2013. Since the intermittency of solar places hard limits on its use in the central electricity grid (of about 15%), Germany is increasing its coal – no, make that lignite – capacity, which is about the opposite of solar in an environmental sense.

Since Germany is hooked up to the European grid, it can rely to an extent on France’s nuclear power to balance out the intermittency issue – after it shut down its own nukes -, but that too comes with limits.

It seems like we’ll all just have to wait for, and dream about, yet to be invented veggie batteries and salty power storage. Something tells me even just the dreams will take a lot of money, from the already hugely – if not fatally – indebted economies we all live in.

Hoping for solutions on nation-wide scales doesn’t appear to be a wise choice. But you can do your own thing. Cut your energy use, even 90% is certainly possible. Be creative. There’s nothing wrong with solar, it’s just not a panacea for all our future troubles. We ourselves must be the solution.

Look, say you live in Germany and you get an electric car. Then you’re driving on 46% lignite. Nasty stuff. And another 16% nuclear. Is that what you want? It’ll take a very long time, if it ever happens (which is very doubtful), to change those numbers significantly towards more benign sources. Why not just drive less? It’s easier, faster, and a whole lot more likely to actually make a difference.

Don’t miss!

Coming Crash To Create A Human Tragedy Of Epic Proportions (John Embry)

Today a man who has been involved in the financial markets for 50 years warned King World News that the coming stock market crash is going to create a human tragedy of epic proportions. John Embry, who is business partners with billionaire Eric Sprott, also discussed what is really happening in the economy. Embry: “I was in downtown Minneapolis over the weekend and I was struck by how few people were in the major stores such as Saks. But there was massive amounts of inventory and the prices were astounding. I bought a leather bag with wheels on it so I could pull it. It was listed at $599. It was then marked down to under $300, and then they gave me another 30% discount when I bought it…. “So this is just more evidence of a struggling retail environment. My experience is indicative of the true state of the economy. We get so many falsified and bogus numbers about the alleged strength of the U.S. economy.

Now there are pockets of strength. I was just talking with someone about how robust things are in Texas. But the big problem is that the average citizen, who is the lead consumer in the United States, is getting seriously squeezed. That’s why they aren’t going to be able to carry the economy. And people need to remember that consumers represent 70% of the economy. So right now the price action in markets doesn’t have anything to do with reality. We’ve seen strength in the stock market this week and we have also seen renewed weakness in gold and silver. The stock market is extremely overvalued and it’s where it is because of monetary creation. They can’t allow that excess monetary creation to be exposed so they suppress the prices of gold and silver temporarily. That’s the reality as we see it today. It’s unsustainable, but for the time being they are able to maintain the illusion.

The central planners, led by the United States, came up with the ingenious plan to suppress gold and silver prices back in the 1990s because there was empirical evidence that gold prices were correlated with real interest rates. That was depicted in a paper that was co-authored by Lawrence Summers in the late 1980s. Thus, a rising gold price would be accompanied by rising real interest rates based on the historical evidence. And this would be problematic in the short run for the economy and financial assets. So they came up with the scheme to suppress both gold and silver prices together because they are interrelated. And this has worked quite well for years. These depressed gold and silver prices have permitted real interest rates to be driven down to negative levels, thus permitting financial asset prices to trade at preposterously high levels. The genius turned out to be in the use of derivatives, naked shorting, and all sorts of arcane financial practices that were designed to control gold and silver prices. This has also permitted fortunes to be made by the elites in financial markets.

And this has worked. You see this enormous split now between the upper 1, 2, 3%, and the rest of society. But unfortunately now we are on the cusp of the stupidity aspect of human behavior, which is what Einstein always believed to be infinite. We now have massive bubbles in stocks, bonds, and urban real estate, which are essentially the collateral for the ludicrously over-levered world financial system.

But with the global economy now weakening virtually everywhere, this bubble-mania has a limited shelf life. And when it comes crashing down it’s going to create a human tragedy of epic proportions. So this is human stupidity run amok. Now as I said last week, we are not debating the ultimate outcome. Instead, we will most likely have a global hyperinflation, followed by a debt clean-out and a new world currency system. However, what can’t be ruled out is a 1930s style debt deflation starting almost immediately in the event of critical mistakes by our so-called genius leaders who believe they have everything under control.

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The Italian Job: Borrowing And Printing Lead To Economic Dead End (Stockman)

Earlier this week Bloomberg published a devastating chart showing real hourly wage growth for the first 60 months of every cycle going back to 1949. The 11 cycle average gain was 9% and the largest was 19% a half century back. Fast forward to the 60 months of ZIRP and QE since the Great Recession officially ended in June 2009, however, and you get a drastically different picture: Real hourly wages have risen by just 0.5%, and in the great scheme of things that’s a rounding error.

Surely the above chart is also flat-out proof that massive money printing doesn’t work. After all, reflating wages, jobs and incomes is what the monetary politburo claims it’s all about. Indeed, the Fed has insouciantly cast a blind eye to the massive bubbles building everywhere in the financial system, and has kept money market rates relentlessly at zero for six years running on the grounds that it is not yet done “stimulating” the labor market. So why does this abysmally failed and dangerous experiment continue unabated—as Yellen will undoubtedly confirm at Jackson Hole? Self-evidently, it is irresistibly convenient to both Wall Street and Washington.

The former gorges on a massive diet of carry trade gambling windfalls thanks to ZIRP and the Greenspan/Bernanke/Yellen “put”; and the latter gets a fiscal get-out-of-jail-free card owing to the Fed’s massive repression of interest rates. Indeed, with the public debt now topping $17.7 trillion, the implicit (and fraudulent) debt service relief from current ultra-low interest rates amounts to upwards of $500 billion per year. Stated differently, where there should be extreme caution on Wall Street, there is actually irrational exuberance beyond Alan Greenspan’s wildest imagination back in December 1996. And where there should be fiscal panic in Washington owing to prospective red ink of another $15 trillion over the next decade (under “un-rosy scenario”), there is unmitigated and universal complacency.

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Well, not for a while.

The Fed Can Now Never Return To Quantitative Easing (MarketWatch)

“Money has never made man happy, nor will it, there is nothing in its nature to produce happiness. The more of it one has, the more one wants.” — Benjamin Franklin

The Federal Reserve is desperate to raise rates so that they can lower them again. Think about that statement for a second. By definition, every day that goes by, we are getting closer to a recession. Yes — a recession. Business cycles still exist, and recessions tend to happen when it seems like everything is good. Feel good about Draghi’s “whatever it takes” moment? Last I checked, Germany and Italy are suffering from contracting GDP, and deflaton risks are meaningfully rising in Europe. In the U.S., the Fed needs to raise rates to have ammunition to fight the next recession, which for all we know, may be coming much sooner than we think as global growth continues to be questioned, and disinflationary forces continue to permeate worldwide. Of course, it remains to be seen if the Fed can possibly do this when inflation remains muted.

There are some that are arguing that another round of quantiative easing is coming. The Fed isn’t done with bond buying because we are in the “QE4EVA” period. I disagree. I think the Fed may never do quantitative easing again. Why? Because if they do, then Yellen would be admitting that the Fed has turned Japanese, and the last thing the Fed wants is to lose credibility by being perceived as a different shade of the Bank of Japan that can never leave the marketplace Deflation is a real problem, and is decades in the making for developed economies. Remember — the problem for all central banks has never been the amount of money in the system. It was, is, and continues to be the usage of money throughout the system. The velocity of money simply isn’t turning in a way that suggests reflation is coming. If anything, the velocity of money has completely crashed despite all kinds of stimulus.

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I believe this means one thing and one thing only: Risk management will likely return with a vengeance on the realization that we are entering a dangerous phase of future economic growth and inflation expectations worldwide. People forget that, mathematically, what matters for longer-term wealth creation is not getting big upside gains, but avoiding big downside losses. Note that the velocity of money peaked some time around the mid 1990s — this is not a trend that happened after the 2008 financial crisis. This is something deeper, and I think another round of QE won’t help, won’t matter, and won’t reverse this trend. So what if the S&P 500 drops 20% in a correction? The Fed may not be able to do anything about it given that all of their tools have failed to actually increase reflationary pressure.

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Inside The Fed: How ZIRP Was Born Out Of Thin Air (Sheehan)

There is little else left in the asset-pricing world than central bankers. The redoubtable Ben Hunt, chief risk officer at Salient investment managers ($20 billion under management), wrote on David Stockman’s Contra Corner: “I’ve spent the past few weeks meeting Salient clients and partners across the country…. When I had conversations [with clients and partners] six months ago, I would get a fair amount of resistance to the notion that narratives dominate markets and that we’re in an Emperor’s New Clothes world. Today, everyone believes that market price levels are largely driven by monetary policy and that we are being played by politicians and central bankers using their words for effect rather than direct communication. No one requires convincing that markets are unsupported by real world economic activity. Everyone believes that this will all end badly, and the only real question is when.”

This might be referred to as “End-of the-Cycle Mispricing, but, what a cycle! End-of-the-Cycle Mispricing discussed the derangement of prices, in all assets. Money managers as a whole have not considered protection for their funds when everyone runs for the door at once. The “catastrophic bond” paper linked to the discussion was specific, but, there are plenty of avenues to construct such protection. What follows is a transcription of just how ignorant, moreover, willingly ignorant, and, it may be, enthusiastically ignorant, was the Bernanke Fed when it decided that holding interest rates at zero% would be its policy. Before plunging through the looking glass, here is the conclusion: If ever there was a time to protect one’s assets from further FOMC derangement, this is it. If you do not (and cannot) design a Personal Protection Plan, buy cash, gold nuggets, and silver eagles.

Reading the transcript from the December 15-16, 2008, FOMC meeting, it is clear the Federal Open Market Committee was embarking on its zero-interest rate policy (ZIRP – which is still all we’ve got) as an experiment. By way of background, the FOMC had cut the Fed funds rate cut from 5.25% on June 29, 2006 to 1.00% on October 29, 2014. Most of reduction had been over the previous few months as the pillars fell: Bear Stearns, Merrill Lynch, Lehman Brothers, Goldman Sachs, and Morgan Stanley. The last two converted to commercial banks and received government protection as well as deposit-taking authorization. The December meeting addressed whether the funds rate should be cut to zero (ZIRP), or, to some halfway house. As has been true throughout Bernanke’s chairmanship, the 284-page debate could only have been held in the Eccles Building. The funds rate had been trading below the declared rate for a couple of months. One can only imagine the ecstasy at the Fed on December 12, 2008, when the funds rate traded at 0.00%: the “zero-bound.” This had been Professor Bernanke’s ad pitch since the early 1990s.

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Central Bankers Are Getting Itchy (Bloomberg)

At his Aug. 13 press conference to present the Bank of England’s quarterly inflation report, Governor Mark Carney sashayed around a direct question asking whether an early interest-rate increase might be a helpful way to ensure borrowing costs rise only slowly and gradually. Minutes of the central bank’s most recent policy meeting, released today, suggest his discomfort was warranted — and that an increase is likely even before wages start to grow. Two of the nine Monetary Policy Committee members voted to raise the benchmark rate from its record low 0.5% when they met Aug. 6-7. It’s the first crack in the consensus since July 2011.

“An early rise would facilitate the committee’s aspiration that rises in bank rate should be only gradual,” was an argument put forward by Martin Weale and Ian McCafferty, the two dissenters. Economic circumstances, they said, were “sufficient to justify an immediate rise in bank rate.” The majority disagreed. “For most members, there remained insufficient evidence of inflationary pressures to justify an immediate increase. There would be merit in waiting to see firmer evidence that solid increases in pay growth were in prospect before tightening.” Note the words “in prospect.”

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Bring it!

Fed Officials Said Job Gains May Bring Faster Rate Increase (Bloomberg)

Federal Reserve officials raised the possibility they might raise rates sooner than anticipated, as they neared agreement on an exit strategy, according to minutes of their July meeting. “Many participants noted that if convergence toward the committee’s objectives occurred more quickly than expected, it might become appropriate to begin removing monetary policy accommodation sooner than they currently anticipated,” the minutes, released today in Washington, read. Fed Chair Janet Yellen has committed to use monetary policy to strengthen the labor market so long as inflation remains in check. “Many participants” at the meeting still also saw “a larger gap between current labor market conditions and those consistent with their assessments of normal levels of labor utilization,” the minutes showed.

The release of the minutes set the stage for Yellen’s speech on labor markets Aug. 22 at the Kansas City Fed’s annual symposium in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. She has focused on low labor-force participation, weak wage growth and elevated levels of long-term unemployment to emphasize continued slack. “She’s going to make the case that while some data points are better, universally all the data points aren’t strong, and because we’re not seeing a surge in inflation that gives the Fed a little more leeway to be cautious,” Phil Orlando, chief equity strategist at Pittsburgh-based Federated Investors Inc., said in an interview.

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More Ambrose equals more Keynes.

Nobel Economists Say Policy Blunders Pushing Europe Into Depression (AEP)

An array of Nobel economists have launched a blistering attack on the eurozone’s economic strategy, warning that contractionary policies risk years of depression and a fresh eruption of the debt crisis. “Historians are going to tar and feather Europe’s central bankers,” said Professor Peter Diamond, the world’s leading expert on unemployment. “Young people in Spain and Italy who hit the job market in this recession are going to be affected for decades. It is a terrible outcome, and it is surprising how little uproar there has been over policies that are so stunningly destructive,” he told The Telegraph at a gathering of Nobel laureates at Lake Constance. “It could be avoided with better use of stimulus, and spending on infrastructure. That would boost growth and helped the debt to GDP ratio,” Mr Diamond said, echoing a widely-heard critique among the Nobel elites that Europe’s policies have been self-defeating.

Professor Joseph Stiglitz said austerity policies had been a “disastrous failure” and are directly responsible for the failed recovery over the first half of this year, with Italy falling into a triple-dip recession, France registering zero growth and even Germany contracting in the second quarter. “There is a risk of a depression lasting years, leaving even Japan’s Lost Decade in the shade. The eurozone economy is 20pc below its trend growth rate,” he said. Mr Stiglitz said the eurozone authorities had massively underestimated the contractionary effects of austerity and continue to persist in error despite claims that the crisis is over. “I am very concerned about the future of monetary union, and they haven’t yet felt the impact of geopolitical tensions.” He said the eurozone needs joint debt issuance to repair the structural flaws of EMU, but almost no progress has been made. “Europe suffers from fatal politics,” he said.

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Pot and kettle.

Angela Merkel Scolds Italy And France Over Faltering Eurozone Recovery (Guardian)

Angela Merkel has delivered a sharp rebuke to Italy and France for hindering the eurozone’s recovery by breaking longstanding fiscal rules. The German chancellor, under pressure following a fall in GDP in the second quarter, said faltering growth was the direct result of the 18-member currency zone’s inability to punish those countries that ran high deficits in contravention of limits set by Brussels. She said Germany had shown it was possible to cut the government’s annual spending deficit while at the same time improve the economic situation. Speaking to an audience of Nobel prize-winning economists in the Bavarian town of Lindau, she said individual countries had ignored Brussels and the European Central Bank (ECB) to continue running larger deficits than allowed by the fiscal rules. “We have very little, if any, possibility of sanctioning those countries that break the rules,” she said.

Her comments echoed those of ECB president Mario Draghi, who last month warned that without moves to strengthen the fiscal pact and impose punishments on rule-breaking countries, the eurozone project could flounder. The two speeches highlight the growing frustration among senior eurozone policymakers at the failure of France and Italy to meet the 3% deficit target set by Brussels with Germany’s support. The eurozone economy stalled in the last quarter following poor output figures from France and Italy and a slowdown in Germany, much of it blamed on a drop in demand for German goods from its largest neighbours and the Ukraine crisis. However, critics of Merkel and her finance minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, argue that Germany is the source of the currency zone’s problems following its pursuit of balanced budgets while harder-hit countries have yet to rebuild their banking sectors and bolster consumer confidence.

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Euro-Area Shows Signs of Weakening as Surveys Miss Forecasts (Bloomberg)

Euro-area manufacturing and services activity slowed in August, signaling that the economy of the 18-nation region remains vulnerable to weak inflation and rising tensions with Russia. A Purchasing Managers Index for both industries fell to 52.8 from 53.8 in July, London-based Markit Economics said today. A reading exceeding 50 indicates expansion. Economists predicted a decline to 53.4, according to the median of 20 estimates in a Bloomberg News survey. While the gauge has signaled growth for more than a year, economic expansion in the euro area unexpectedly halted in the second quarter amid weakness in the region’s three largest economies.

With inflation below 1% since October, unemployment near record highs and rising political tensions, the European Central Bank unveiled a stimulus package in June that policy makers say will take months to show results. “If there was a risk of a strong impact from the Russia-Ukraine crisis, this data can be taken as a sign of resilience of the euro-area economy,” said Chiara Corsa, an economist with UniCredit SpA in Milan. Still, data signal “that the slowdown in global trade is hurting growth. This should ring an alarm bell for the outlook in the third quarter,” she said.

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2014 Consensus US GDP Growth Forecast Now Impossible (STA)

There is much hope pinned on continuing economic recovery in the United States despite a deterioration of the global economy virtually everywhere else. According to the May 2014 Blue Chip Economic Consensus Forecasts: “U.S. real GDP is expected to increase by 2.4% in 2014 as a whole, 0.5 of a%age point lower than the 2.9% growth rate projected in the February 2014 forecast. For 2015 the consensus forecast now expects an overall 3.0% growth in U.S. real GDP, same as the February 2014 forecast.”

Let’s do some quick math. Real, inflation-adjusted, Gross Domestic Product (GDP) for the first quarter of 2014 was -2.13% annualized after being revised slightly higher from -2.96%. The first estimate of the second quarter’s economic growth was 3.89% annualized. If we average the two together, the first half of 2014 is currently sporting an annualized growth rate of 0.88%. Got it? Here is my point. In order for real economic growth to hit the current target of 2.4% annualized for the entire year, the final two-quarters of 2014 must hit a minimum growth rate of 3.92%. The chart below shows the history of quarterly annual growth rates of the economy since 2006.

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Unexpected, anyone?

US Car Repos Soar 70% As Auto Subprime Bubble Pops (Zero Hedge)

While on the surface the US economy has been chugging along from GDP-crashing “snow in the winter” to GDP-cratering “warmer|cooler than expected weather in the spring|summer|fall”, with bouts of GDP-boosting inventory accumulation inbetween, in recent months two very disturbing trends about that all important dynamo behind the economy, the US consumer, have emerged. On one hand we wrote three weeks ago that a “shocking” 77 million, or one third, of Americans face debt collectiors: a statistic which crushes any suggestion that US household credit is substantially improving based on trends in 30, 60, or 90-day delinquency, as it means that the real pain is not at the near-end of the default/delinquency timetable, but the far end, which incidentally has just as dire an impact on one’s credit score as a plain vanilla default (and explains why none other than Fair Issac has jumped in to “adjust” its credit methodology to artificially boost FICO scores of these millions of Americans).

On the other hand, we have been closely following the ongoing deterioration of the car subprime loan bubble: something that both Bloomberg and the Fed have both also been paying close attention to recently, yet a bubble which nobody wants to burst, because as we wrote several days ago, it is none other than the subprime car loan bubble that allowed car production to surge the most last month since Obama’s Cash for Clunkers capital misallocation program, in the process lifting overall manufacturing and Industrial Production, and thus GDP. Earlier today Experian released its latest, Q2, metrics that tie these two very worrying trends together, namely the trend in delinquencies, defaults and repossessions. As NBC summarizes: “The repo man is getting very busy as a growing number of car and truck owners are struggling to make their monthly auto loan payments.

Experian, which analyses millions of auto loans, said Wednesday that the%age of those loans that were delinquent or ended up in default with the vehicle being repossessed surged in the second quarter of this year.” Hyperbole? Hardly. In fact, the auto loan subprime bubble may be the latest to burst (after student loans) as the rate of car repossessions jumped 70.2% in the second quarter, with much of that increase coming from finance companies not run by automakers, banks or credit unions. The good news: the%age of auto loans that end in default is just 0.62% of all auto loans. However, as everyone but the Fed knows, what matters is the flow, not the stock, and the direction and acceleration in defaults simply means that the maximum saturation point has been reached and going forward lenders will experience ever greater losses, which in turn will limit their willingness to offer subprime loans to US consumers desperate to find a house (because clearly one doesn’t need to home when one can sleep in their Chevy Tahoe).

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One of many bad numbers from China.

China’s Services Sector Growth Slows to Nine-Year Low (IBTimes)

China’s services sector growth has slowed, largely due to persisting weakness in the property market. The results of a survey, compiled by HSBC and Markit, showed that China’s services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) plummeted to a near nine-year low of 50.0 in July from a 15-month high of 53.1 in June. Meanwhile, a government-compiled services PMI for the non-manufacturing sector has eased to a six-month low of 54.2 in July from 55 in June, logging its weakest reading since January. A reading above the 50 threshold demarcates expanding activity from a contraction. Hongbin Qu, Chief Economist, China & Co-Head of Asian Economic Research at HSBC said: “…Both the new business and outstanding business indices declined from their levels in June.

“The weakness in the headline number likely reflects the impact of the ongoing property slowdown in many cities as property related activity, such as agencies and residential services, see less business. Meanwhile, the employment and business sentiment indices remain stable. In the coming months, we think the service sector may get some support from the recovery in investment. “But today’s data points to the need of continued policy support to offset the drag from the property correction and consolidate the economic recovery,” Hongbin added.

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Not nearly enough.

Bank of America Braced For $17 Billion Settlement Over Mortgages Case (FT)

The US Department of Justice is poised to announce a record $16bn-$17bn settlement with Bank of America over allegations it misled buyers of mortgage-backed securities that proved to be packaged with faulty loans. The record settlement, expected to be announced on Thursday, would be the largest arising from the subprime crisis, and one of the largest ever to be agreed in corporate America. US prosecutors are also preparing a civil lawsuit against Angelo Mozilo, co-founder of Countrywide Financial, in a final effort to target the figure most associated with the subprime mortgage boom which preceded the financial crisis. The US attorney’s office in Los Angeles is working on the case and plans charges against several other former Countrywide executives, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The pursuit of Mr Mozilo, first reported by Bloomberg News, could result in a suit being filed in the coming weeks. “We do not comment on rumours concerning any investigation. There is no sound basis, in law or fact, for the government to bring a claim against Mr Mozilo,” said David Siegel, a lawyer for the Countrywide co-founder. He added that his client “stands virtually alone among banking and mortgage executives to actually have been pursued by this government and already paid a record penalty in settlement”. BofA acquired Countrywide in 2008 in a $4bn deal that is widely considered to be one of the worst corporate acquisitions of all time, costing the bank billions of dollars in subsequent losses and litigation.

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To think that guy’s been out of prison all those years.

Countrywide’s Mozilo Said to Face U.S. Suit Over Loans (Bloomberg)

Countrywide Financial Corp. co-founder Angelo Mozilo hasn’t entirely escaped prosecutors’ wrath for his company’s risky lending. A U.S. government task force wielding an innovative legal strategy plans to bring a civil case against him over the excesses of the subprime-mortgage boom. The last-ditch effort comes three years after the Justice Department abandoned a criminal probe of Mozilo. In 2012, public anger over the lack of prosecutions stemming from the financial crisis spurred the Obama administration to create a team devoted to investigating fraud in mortgage-backed securities. The group has wrestled at least $20 billion from Wall Street banks using a law with a relatively low threshold for suing and a long period to bring cases.

Relying on the same anti-fraud law, the Financial Institutions Reform, Recovery and Enforcement Act, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles is preparing to sue Mozilo and as many as 10 other former Countrywide employees, according to two people with knowledge of the matter. The case may be helped along by an imminent U.S. settlement with Bank of America, which acquired Countrywide in 2008. That resolution may come as soon as today with Bank of America expected to pay as much as $17 billion and to acknowledge improper mortgage practices at Countrywide.

U.S. prosecutors dropped a criminal probe of Mozilo in early 2011, a person with knowledge of the matter said at the time. The Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a watchdog group, sued the Justice Department in June to try to obtain its records detailing investigations of Mozilo and Countrywide. The group faulted the government for failing to prosecute either Mozilo or the company “despite substantial evidence of wrongdoing.” Mozilo agreed to settle the SEC case in October 2010 by paying a $22.5 million fine and disgorging $45 million of gains from stock sales at what the regulator said were inflated prices. Bank of America covered a portion of his penalties.

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Oil Industry On Borrowed Time As Switch To Gas And Solar Accelerates (AEP)

There may be little point battling icebergs to drill in the Arctic, or in trying to extract oil from the ultra-deepwater fields in the mid-Atlantic, beneath layers of salt, three kilometres into the Earth. The props beneath the global oil industry are slowly decaying. The big traded energy companies resemble the telecom giants of the late 1990s, heavily leveraged to a business model already threatened by fast-moving technology. Citigroup warns – or cheerfully acclaims, depending on your point of view – that world energy markets are entering a period of “extreme flux”, with oil caught in triple encirclement by cheap natural gas, much more efficient vehicles and breathtaking advances in solar power as scientists crack the secrets.

The combined effect is to “bend” to the curve of global oil use over coming years, eroding the assumptions that have underpinned a threefold rise in Western oil industry debt to $600bn since 2005, much of it to hunt for crude in prohibitively expensive places. Costs rose 9% in 2012 and 11% last year, according to the US Energy Department. There may be little point battling icebergs to drill in the Arctic, or in trying to extract oil from the ultra-deepwater fields in the mid-Atlantic, beneath layers of salt, three kilometres into the Earth. The “oil intensity” of global GDP has already halved since 1980s. We are becoming more frugal. Gasoline demand in the OECD rich states has been sliding in absolute terms since 2007, punctuated by ups and downs, but dropping overall from 15.5m barrels a day (b/d) of crude to 14m b/d.

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TEXT

Crude Oil ‘Super Spike’ May Be Coming (Yahoo)

Another bad day for traders bullish on energy as WTI crude oil slid 2%, hitting its lowest level since January. Across the pond Brent crude traded at its lowest level in almost 14 months. From the heady days of mid-2008 when it traded at nearly $150 a barrel, crude oil has had quite a rocky ride. After sliding down to the $30s and rallying back around $120, crude has settled in around the $90 to $110 range for the past two years. Commodity traders and analysts have wondered why oil hasn’t gone higher. Geopolitical tensions abound across the world; the Middle East seemingly hasn’t been this unstable in years. In fact, some believe the commodity could actually go lower. Blake Morrow posits that with North American production rising, vehicles becoming more efficient, and crude oil’s inability to rally with global equities, all signs point to a bearish future for oil.

Dan Dicker, president of MercBloc and author of Oil’s Endless Bid says much has changed in the past few years, other factors also explain why oil has stagnated recently: Investment banks, particularly Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs, and JPMorgan have not only left oil trading but have also abandoned the oil marketing business, which used to bring a steady supply of new players to the energy market. Individual oil traders (including Dicker himself) have disappeared as well. Dicker speculates around 3,000 traders have left the industry. Remaining funds are trend and algorithmic firms with long-term positions already established. The big alpha players remaining in the oil trading business are physical commodity, private firms like Glencore, Vitol, and Trifugura among others. Dicker believes these changes have all but killed immediate speculative activity, which has been good for consumers in the short term, but will be bad for the prospects of cheaper oil in the long term.

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Ten Lumps of Coal Info (Energy Burrito)

While I’ve been digging into a bunch of different commodities recently, there have been a number of interesting bits and bobs relating to coal that I’ve been squirreling away. Hence, here are ten tidbits that I wanted to share:

1) Coal is currently used to meet 30% of global primary energy needs, which is the highest level since 1970. It is used to generate 41% of the world’s electricity and is used in the production of 70% of the world’s steel.

2) According to the World Resources Institute, almost 1,200 coal-fired power plants had been proposed globally in 2012, with China and Pakistan accounting for the majority of these projects.

3) Japan, a country with no natural energy resources to speak of, invested $19.7 billion in overseas coal projects in the last seven years according to the NRDC. Germany’s state development bank, KfW, followed a similar path, lending $3.7 billion in the last eight years to coal projects in Greece, India, Serbia, South Africa and Australia.

4) As the chart below from the IEA illustrates, international trade in coal is hardly on the wane. Coal exports totaled 1,300 million tonnes last year. The top five coal importers are China, Japan, India, Korea, and Chinese Taipei (note: all in Asia), while the top five exporters are Indonesia, Australia, Russia, the US and Colombia).

5) Recent research states as much as one fifth of global exports lose money at $72 a ton.

6) Over 2,000 smaller mines in China are expected to close by 2015, as a growing share of coal production is uneconomic. According to data from the National Bureau of Statistics, output in China – the world’s biggest producer – rose to 3.68 billion tons in 2013, up from 3.65 billion the previous year.

7) Beijing is banning coal use in six main districts of Beijing by 2020 in an effort to combat air pollution. It will stop the use of coal and coal products and shut down all coal-fired power plants and other coal facilities. Coal accounts for approximately one quarter of the city’s total energy consumption.

8) US coal consumption is expected to grow by 2.5% to 949 million short tons this year, according to the EIA, due to its relative attractiveness in the face of higher year-over-year natural gas prices. It is expected to drop by 2.7% in 2015, however, due to coal plant retirements (h/t the MATS ruling from the EPA).

9) US coal production is expected to grow 2.5% this year, according to the EIA, due to aforementioned higher consumption, as well as a need to replenish inventories.

10) Over 60% of Africa lacks access to electricity (aka over 600 million people). The EIA projects Africa to increase its coal consumption by 70% by 2040. It has 35 billion tons of recoverable coal reserves, but as the BP statistical review highlights, comparatively low levels of both production and consumption compared with other regions of the world.

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Ice loss contributes 1 centimeter (0.4 inch) per decade to sea level rise, and this rate has doubled since 2009.

Greenland, Antarctic Ice Loss Doubles In Past 5 Years (BBC)

A new assessment from Europe’s CryoSat spacecraft shows Greenland to be losing about 375 cu km of ice each year. Added to the discharges coming from Antarctica, it means Earth’s two big ice sheets are now dumping roughly 500 cu km of ice in the oceans annually. “The contribution of both ice sheets together to sea level rise has doubled since 2009,” said Angelika Humbert from Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute. “To us, that’s an incredible number,” she told BBC News. In its report to The Cryosphere journal, the AWI team does not actually calculate a sea-level rise equivalent number, but if this volume is considered to be all ice (a small part will be snow) then the contribution is likely to be on the order of just over a millimetre per year. This is the latest study to use the precision altimetry data being gathered by the European Space Agency’s CryoSat platform.

The satellite was launched in 2010 with a sophisticated radar instrument specifically designed to measure the shape of the polar ice sheets. The AWI group, led by senior researcher Veit Helm, has taken just over two years’ worth of data centred on 2012/2013 to build what are called digital elevation models (DEMs) of Greenland and Antarctica, and to asses their evolution. These models incorporate a total of 14 million individual height measurements for Greenland and another 200 million for Antarctica. When compared with similar data-sets assembled by the US space agency’s IceSat mission between 2003 and 2009, the scientists are able then to calculate changes in ice volume beyond just the CryoSat snapshot.

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China buys ivory. That’s why this happens. How hard is it to say the buck stops here?

Elephant Poaching Deaths Reach Tipping Point In Africa (BBC)

Africa’s elephants have reached a tipping point: more are being killed each year than are being born, a study suggests. Researchers believe that since 2010 an average of nearly 35,000 elephants have been killed annually on the continent. They warn that if the rate of poaching continues, the animals could be wiped out in 100 years. The work is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Lead author George Wittemyer, from Colorado State University, said: “We are shredding the fabric of elephant society and exterminating populations across the continent.”

The illegal trade in elephant tusks has soared in recent years, and a kilogram of ivory is now worth thousands of dollars. Much of the demand has been driven by a rapidly growing market in Asia. If this is sustained, then we will see significant declines over time.” While conservationists have long said the outlook was bleak, this study provides a detailed assessment of the impact this is having on Africa’s elephants. The researchers have found that between 2010 and 2013, Africa lost an average of 7% of its entire elephant population each year. Because elephant births boost the population by about 5% annually, this means that overall more of the animals are being killed than are being born.

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8000 earthquakes in 2 weeks.

Iceland Registers 300 Earthquakes In 8 Hours, Evacuates Volcano Area (BBC)

Iceland’s authorities have evacuated an area close to the country’s Bardarbunga volcano over fears it could erupt. The area, which is more than 300km (190 miles) from the capital Reykjavik, has no permanent residents but sits within a national park popular with tourists. The move came as geologists said about 300 earthquakes had been detected in the area since midnight on Tuesday. Iceland’s Eyjafjallajokull volcano erupted in 2010, producing an ash cloud that severely disrupted air travel. The national civil protection agency said the decision to evacuate more than 300 people close to Bardarbunga was a “precautionary” safety measure. “It cannot be ruled out that the seismic activity in Bardarbunga could lead to a volcanic eruption,” it added.

On Monday, Iceland’s meteorological office raised its assessment of the risk level to the aviation industry from yellow to orange. The orange alert, the fourth level on a five-grade scale, indicates that a volcano is showing “escalating unrest with increased potential of eruption”. The Bardarbunga volcanic system is located under the north-west region of Iceland’s Vatnajokull glacier. Authorities say any eruption in the volcano, which sits under an ice cap, could result in flooding of the area north of the glacier. The volcano was said to be stable on Wednesday but scientists warned that it is big enough to disrupt air traffic over the Atlantic if an eruption does occur. The Eyjafjallajokull eruption in April 2010 caused the largest closure of European airspace since World War Two, with losses estimated at between 1.5bn and 2.5bn euros (£1.3-2.2bn).

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