Disclaimer

Disclaimer. After nearly 40 years managing money for some of the largest life offices and investment managers in the world, I think I have something to offer. But I can't by law give you advice, and I do make mistakes. Remember: the unexpected sometimes happens. Oddly enough, the expected does too, but all too often it takes longer than you thought it would, or on the other hand happens more quickly than you expected. The Goddess of Markets punishes (eventually) greed, folly, laziness and arrogance. No matter how many years you've served Her. Take care. Be humble. And don't blame me.

BTW, clicking on most charts will produce the original-sized, i.e., bigger version.

Thursday, July 31, 2014

10 reasons to be hopeful ...

... that we'll do something about climate change.

An article from The Guardian, full of interesting data.


Wednesday, July 30, 2014

World IP holding up despite Europe

World industrial production is holding up despite a very weak Europe. The US is strong and Asia has started to turn up again. Together they are more than 50% of World IP, enough to offset Europe at 20%.



No excuse not to switch

Denmark has just reported that its wind power is cheaper than new coal-fired power stations.

For according to a recent report from the government of Denmark, new wind power coming online in 2016 will cost half that of energy now provided from current coal and natural gas based power plants. The net price would be equal to 5.4 cents (US) per kilowatt hour.

Half!  Wow.  For your info, in Victoria, retail electricity costs 29 c per kWh, and the feed-in tariff for surplus solar (or wind) is just 8 cents per kWh. In the US (Texas, for example) electricity costs around 11 c per kWh.

Note that this ignores the cost of carbon pollution and also excludes subsidies to wind.

The image below is fascinating chiefly because of the scale.  Note the workman inside the turbine.

A GE wind turbine with built in battery storage.  Source SmartPlanet

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Why solar costs are going to keep on falling

Relatively easy and inexpensive to produce, solar cells using perovskite as a semiconductor
 hold promise for moving photovoltaics toward grid parity.
 Photo by Dennis Schroeder / NREL.
Source: 
http://reneweconomy.com.au/2014/solars-time-rise-shine-81126


It's a matter of efficiency and materials, and the former is improving by leaps and bounds while the latter is dropping as newer cheaper materials are found to work as well as the traditional more expensive ones.

We’re in a Renaissance period of photovoltaic research, in which constant innovation is driving up efficiencies across all types of solar cells — from the most conventional crystalline silicon, to thin-film cadmium telluride, to much-buzzed-about new discoveries such as perovskite cells. World records are being broken at a breakneck rate, and the researchers behind this latest record-setter know better than to celebrate for too long.
Read more here.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Global Warming Stats

I mentioned to someone the other day the words "global warming" and he shrugged and pointed to the chilly outdoors visible through the window.  It is of course midwinter here in Oz, so, especially in the far south it is likely to be cold.  That doesn't mean that just because we have a cold day in midwinter that global warming is nonsense.  Nor, equally, does it mean if we have a warmer than usual day in summer, that global warming is true.  But, if each year the number of extreme heat events is rising and the number of extreme cold events falling, year by year, decade by decade, then what it means is that the mean of the distributions for these events is shifting.  What used to be something that happened four times a year (a 1% event) is now something which happens once every 40 or 10 times a year, as the tail of the distribution shifts in line with its mean. Note that this says nothing about how the distribution itself changes, i.e., whether the standard deviation increases or decreases.  It's just a move of the whole distribution along the x-axis.

But you can also look at the mean, the moving average itself, to get an idea of what's happening.  In the chart below (via NOAA), I've plotted the 60 month (five year) moving average to June.  After record global temperature in May and June I suspected that the 5 year average would be high, and it is.  In fact it's equal hottest to the five years to June 2007.  And it's clear that there isn't much of a "pause" in the inexorable rise in temperatures.

So what about the long pause from the 40s to the end of the 70s?  My guess is that that was due to the releases of aerosols (sulphur dioxide) as industrialisation proceeded apace.  Aerosols reduce global warming.  When the impacts of acid rain became clearer over time, sulphur dioxide emissions were slashed, but carbon dioxide emissions kept on rising, so global temps resumed their rise.  But much of the world's industrial production growth in the last decade or so has come in China and India, where aerosol emissions are prodigious (look at the images of Chinese skies).  This has been one factor (I suspect: others are ENSO and the sunspot cycle) ) keeping the world cooler just as it was (I suspect) between 1940 and 1970.  Which means that as China and India clean up their air, by cutting CO2 and SO2 emissions, global temps will resume their uptrend even as CO2 emissions peak and start to decline.  A terrifying prospect.


Global Warming Denial ... and Speaking English



The countries where hoi polloi are most skeptical of global warming denial are English-speaking.   Countries where the media are dominated by Uncle Rupe.  Countries where the so-called "neo-liberal", "free market" obsession has taken grip.

Read more here.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The perils of ill-advised austerity

Europe's real GDP, i.e., after adjusting for price rises, is still below the pre-GFC peak.  An astonishing achievement.  This assumes a small rise in QII (data not yet available), which may not happen given the state of PMIs across Europe.  IP (industrial production) across core Europe is slowing, GDP will surely follow.  7 years of blunder and failure.  A triumph.  Provisional PMI for July out tomorrow.  We'll see what that shows.


Hottest June ever

Source

After the hottest May ever, we get another new GLOBAL record.  Hottest June ever.

Yep.  Climate change is crap.  Sure thing.  Just ask The Cane Toad.



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Chinese data dodgy


Everybody knows that Chinese economic data are suss.  When they say growth was 7.5%, it could be 6% or 9%.  The numbers are collected by the central statistical office from the regions, and there's always pressure to meet the target.  And "massaged" stats often differ from other time series which should move broadly together with the manipulated data.

So this article in Melbourne's The Age is interesting.  


Friday, July 18, 2014

US Growth Accelerating

Two of the earliest data points for the month are the Philadelphia Fed and the Empire State surveys.  They're now out for July.

The chart below shows a three month moving of the average for these two surveys compared with the 3 month percentage change in my US Coinciding Index.  (BTW, the slower patch in 2011, 2012 was caused by Federal budget balancing measures.)

Of course, this late in the cycle, strong growth brings a heightened risk of monetary tightening by the Fed.


Lib vs Lab lies

The Daily Telegraph is a Murdoch paper. 'Nuff said.



Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Renewable energy cheaper than new fossil fuels



This is a report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance, from last year:

Sydney, 7 February 2013 – Unsubsidised renewable energy is now cheaper than electricity from new-build coal- and gas-fired power stations in Australia, according to new analysis from research firm Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

This new ranking of Australia’s energy resources is the product of BNEF’s Sydney analysis team, which comprehensively modelled the cost of generating electricity in Australia from different sources. The study shows that electricity can be supplied from a new wind farm at a cost of AUD 80/MWh (USD 83), compared to AUD 143/MWh from a new coal plant or AUD 116/MWh from a new baseload gas plant, including the cost of emissions under the Gillard government’s carbon pricing scheme. However even without a carbon price (the most efficient way to reduce economy-wide emissions) wind energy is 14% cheaper than new coal and 18% cheaper than new gas.
“The perception that fossil fuels are cheap and renewables are expensive is now out of date”, said Michael Liebreich, chief executive of Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “The fact that wind power is now cheaper than coal and gas in a country with some of the world’s best fossil fuel resources shows that clean energy is a game changer which promises to turn the economics of power systems on its head,” he said.

[Read more here]

Since then, of course, new solar and wind electricity costs have fallen.  The coal price has fallen, too, though gas and oil have gone up, but of course, the fossil fuel costs are only part of the total operating cost of a power station.  As the report points out, power stations which have been fully depreciated still produce cheaper electricity than solar and wind.  But for how much longer?  PV (solar panel) costs are falling by 18% per annum, wind power by 5% per annum, batteries by 13% per annum.  The decline in solar and wind power costs and in battery costs is inexorable. If it totals a 10% per annum fall for some mixture of the three, it will fall by 40% in 5 years.  40%!!!!  That will make new renewables half the cost of new power stations.  And equal to the cost of existing power stations.

It would be better to plan for this, at government and utility and coal mine level than to pretend it's not happening.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

What budget emergency?

The Abbott government argues that its swingeing budget cuts are necessary because of a "budget emergency".  As my mate Saul Eslake comments:

Saul Eslake of Bank of America Merrill Lynch said the incoming Conservative government in Britain had faced a "budget crisis" and a "debt emergency" in 2010. The projected deficit was 10 per cent of gross domestic product, and net public debt was in excess of 60 per cent of GDP.

To apply similar terms to Australia with a prospective deficit of 2 per cent of GDP and net public debt of 15 per cent of GDP was "to abuse the English language".

Indeed.


But even if it was a budget emergency, why is the burden being born by the poor alone?  Because the so-called "libs" are hostile to the poor.  The budget emergency is confected, not real.  And they're using it to rush through cuts to welfare dear to the hearts of the rabid right.



Saturday, July 12, 2014

Miss me yet?

The new, sadly misnamed "liberal" government has been so appalling I suspect there are many out there who will answer "yes". Or even "YES!"


Climate change is flooding the East Coast

[of the US, that is]

Not just Miami.

Here is the original Reuters article.

Source: Reuters

But of course, climate change is crap. Ask Tony.

Miami's Drowning

Another piece on how Miami is vulnerable to the rising seas.  And how everybody is intent on ignoring it.  And economists maintain that the free market is rational!



Miami and its surroundings are facing a calamity worthy of the Old Testament. It is an astonishing story. Despite its vast wealth, the city might soon be consumed by the waves, for even if all emissions of carbon dioxide were halted tomorrow – a very unlikely event given their consistent rise over the decades – there is probably enough of the gas in the atmosphere to continue to warm our planet, heat and expand our seas, and melt polar ice. In short, there seems there is nothing that can stop the waters washing over Miami completely.
It a devastating scenario. But what really surprises visitors and observers is the city's response, or to be more accurate, its almost total lack of reaction. The local population is steadily increasing; land prices continue to surge; and building is progressing at a generous pace. During my visit last month, signs of construction – new shopping malls, cranes towering over new condominiums and scaffolding enclosing freshly built apartment blocks – could be seen across the city, its backers apparently oblivious of scientists' warnings that the foundations of their buildings may be awash very soon.
Not that they are alone. Most of Florida's senior politicians – in particular,Senator Marco Rubio, former governor Jeb Bush and current governor Rick Scott, all Republican climate-change deniers – have refused to act or respond to warnings of people like Wanless or Harlem or to give media interviews to explain their stance, though Rubio, a Republican party star and a possible 2016 presidential contender, has made his views clear in speeches. "I do not believe that human activity is causing these dramatic changes to our climate the way these scientists are portraying it. I do not believe that the laws that they propose we pass will do anything about it, except it will destroy our economy," he said recently. Miami is in denial in every sense, it would seem. Or as Wanless puts it: "People are simply sticking their heads in the sand. It is mind-boggling."
Not surprisingly, Rubio's insistence that his state is no danger from climate change has brought him into conflict with local people. Philip Stoddard, the mayor of South Miami, has a particularly succinct view of the man and his stance. "Rubio is an idiot," says Stoddard. "He says he is not a scientist so he doesn't have a view about climate change and sea-level rise and so won't do anything about it. Yet Florida's other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, is holding field hearings where scientists can tell people what the data means. Unfortunately, not enough people follow his example. And all the time, the waters are rising."
"The thing about Miami is that when it goes, it will all be gone," says Stoddard. "I used to work at Cornell University and every morning, when I went to work, I climbed more elevation than exists in the entire state of Florida. Our living-room floor here in south Miami is at an elevation of 10 feet above sea level at present. There are significant parts of south Florida that are less than six feet above sea level and which are now under serious threat of inundation."
Nor will south Florida have to wait that long for the devastation to come. Long before the seas have risen a further three or four feet, there will be irreversible breakdowns in society, he says. "Another foot of sea-level rise will be enough to bring salt water into our fresh water supplies and our sewage system. Those services will be lost when that happens," says Stoddard.
"You won't be able to flush away your sewage and taps will no longer provide homes with fresh water. Then you will find you will no longer be able to get flood insurance for your home. Land and property values will plummet and people will start to leave. Places like South Miami will no longer be able to raise enough taxes to run our neighbourhoods. Where will we find the money to fund police to protect us or fire services to tackle house fires? Will there even be enough water pressure for their fire hoses? It takes us into all sorts of post-apocalyptic scenarios. And that is only with a one-foot sea-level rise. It makes one thing clear though: mayhem is coming."

[Read the rest of the article here]

Friday, July 11, 2014

US Early Indicator down a tad

My US early release indicator (generated from stats released in the first week of the month) fell a little in June.  But the trend is clearly still up.  The US recovery just keeps going.  So much so, that the first tentative signs of rising inflation are appearing (more of that in another post)


Monday, July 7, 2014

Utility Death Spiral


Finally the doom loop facing the utilities reaches the mainstream media.  They've been discussing it at Renew Economy for months --- see this piece.

It is called ''the death spiral'' and it is terrifying power suppliers.

At the moment they are awarded price rises to cover the cost of their spending on cables and substations. If power usage slides (as it has been), they are granted further price rises to ensure they can continue to recover those costs.

It has not been a big problem [my comment : for utilities!] because their customers have had nowhere else to go. Until now.

Energy specialist Lucy Carter of the Grattan Institute outlined the horror scenario for suppliers while launching a new report to be released on Monday about why we are paying too much for power.

She says network charges account for most of the increase in electricity prices. The carbon tax is small by comparison.
''The risk for the companies is that when people get the option of putting solar panels on their roofs and installing batteries and cutting the cord, demand will fall sharply. The people who end up left on the network will be the only ones left paying.'' They will be stuck with extremely high network charges, forcing even more people off the network, pushing network charges higher still. It is what Ms Carter calls ''your death spiral scenario''.

She says it is not upon us yet, but if battery storage improves and network costs keep rising, it will be.

Read more here.  The original Grattan Institute report is here.


In this context, this report is highly relevant.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

More on BC's Carbon Tax



Carbon taxes work.   Contrary to our esteemed PM's gabble before the the introduction of Oz's carbon tax, there was no slowdown in Australia's  economy after it came in, just as there wasn't in British Columbia, which introduced one before we did with huge success  Yet in both Australia and BC carbon use fell.  As Grist's article points out, it's likely that BC, Oregon, Washington and California will join up into a single coordinated carbon pricing zone.  This will complement the east coast RGGI and the schemes in Quebec and Ontario.  And Mexico has started to move towards solar power as costs drop (table in Wikipedia piece out of date).  By my calculations roughly half of North America will be part of major carbon emission control measures. And that's before President Obama's new initiatives.

I'm still hoping that sense will prevail.