Renewable Energy

Get ready to buy Boral & ABC rather than watch a market swim in concrete shoes

Governments rarely have imagination during crises. Usually, it involves chucking uncosted cash around. How many projects have we seen run way over the promised budget? Submarines anyone? NBN?

Handing out $750 cheques to 6 million struggling Aussies in the hopes they’ll spend it is a bit of a wing and a prayer strategy. Maybe those struggling will just use it to pay down debts of previous consumption rather than ignite a new spending splurge.

At some stage, large-scale infrastructure spending will return to the headlines to stem the economic slowdown. Look at the state of national infra spending forecasts in the chart above.

Bridges to nowhere. Tunnels, highways, schools and hospitals. New projects to get people back to work. It happens pretty much every downturn. So why should we expect anything different?

A read of the latest infrastructure report states quite clearly there are 4 areas to address:

  1. Population growth has become a major point of contention in infrastructure debates. In our largest cities, ageing assets have been put under growing strain, with rising road congestion, crowding on public transport and growing demands on social infrastructure, such as health, education and green space.
  2. Energy affordability has also deteriorated over recent years. A steep rise in network costs has driven energy bills 35% higher over the past decade, and up by 56% per unit of electricity consumed in real terms.
  3. In telecommunications, the nbn rollout continues to face challenges. In the 4.8 million households in which it has activated, services have not met the expectations of many users.
  4. In the water sector, the past four years have seen mixed results. Many metropolitan utilities are increasing the sustainability and quality of their services through innovation, supporting the liveability of our cities. But many regional areas are suffering from growing water security fears as large parts of the country are in drought.  

Cement companies play straight at the heart of three of these four distinct areas. Roads, rail, hospitals, schools, dams and so on. In the energy space, whatever direction we take (solar, wind, coal, gas or nuke), cement, asphalt and aggregates will be required to achieve it.

Bellwether Boral (BLD) is perhaps best positioned to benefit as it makes railway ballast, asphalt, cement, concrete. Boral shares have yet to be kicked as hard as others. Boral hit a GFC low around the $1.92 mark. It stands at $3.00, 33% above that level.

BLDAX

50% of Boral’s Aussie revenue comes from NSW, the state with by far the healthiest balance sheet and the biggest infrastructure projects. 50% of revenue is Australian based with another 38% coming from the US which has huge infrastructure needs. 25% of group revenue comes from roads, highways, subdivisions and bridges. Good leverage.

Adelaide Brighton (ABC) has been bludgeoned in this market meltdown and $1.35 is the level it hit at the pits of the GFC in 2008. If it starts to sink below that level, it will start to look interesting again. If you look at the chart you can see it has slid from almost $7 in 2018 to its current price of $2.24.

Adelaide

A read through ABC’s last set of results points to the difficulties in the market for its cement and aggregates business. It has also embarked on a rationalisation program before all of this coronavirus hysteria.

We hold no positions in ABC or BLD as yet but will look to accumulate should the market continue its sell-off towards these 2008/9 lows.

The national government is out of options but to build out locally. They have already used the bushfires excuse to ditch the budget surplus plans so might as well push a bold infrastructure plan to save us all!  The best plan would be a high-speed rail project which addresses real long term needs of Australians.

Heathrow jettisons reality for religion

Forget economic planning for the next 20-30 years. Drag up the non-binding Paris Climate Accord (of 2015) and use it as an excuse to hobble economic growth by claiming the third runway at Heathrow Airport is illegal. Forget the fact that passenger growth is a true underlying reflection of travellers’ true feelings about climate change. When it comes to offsetting one’s own carbon footprint by electing to pay a penalty, the truth is that 98% of people couldn’t care less.

Stopping Heathrow’s 3rd runway follows a dangerous path. Surely councils can see airport expansion benefits the community more than impedes it. Why do councils fall for tales of doom spewed by activists who often haven’t the first clue about what they are protesting about other than what they have read in The Guardian or heard from Hollywood star Emma Thomson who flew in from NY to tell them to panic?

Officers at Uttlesford District Council in Essex had recommended the approval of proposals to increase London Stansted Airport’s passenger cap to 43mpa in 2018 from 35m. However, the council’s special planning committee members rejected the scheme in January 2020.

Bristol Airport applied to the North Somerset Council to expand capacity by 30% in 2017, to keep up with the faster than expected demand. It was recommended for the jobs that would be created but the council rejected it, despite assurances the airport itself would be net-zero emissions in its operations.

While the activists may well rejoice at stopping the expansion, some fast facts about Heathrow Airport should send chills down the spines of Westminster:

  1. Currently operating at 98% capacity with 473,000 flights a year (capped at 480,000). It was 350,000 in 1991.
  2. Civil Aviation Authority notes Heathrow handled 80.9m passengers in 2019 up from 63m in 2002 and 40m in 1991. 
  3. Heathrow handles 50% of all London’s flights and 27% of all UK flights.
  4. Heathrow estimates 30% for business, 35% for holidays and 35% for visiting friends and relatives.
  5. 65% of passengers are going to the UK. 35% use Heathrow as a hub to connect.
  6. 76,000 are employed at Heathrow Airport.
  7. Heathrow is the 7th busiest airport in the world.

Demand is growing. Moreover, Britain’s population is expected to swell from 66m today to over 73m by 2045, the largest country in Europe.

The simple thing is facts don’t matter. Despite today’s modern fleet of aircraft burning 15-20% less fuel and spewing far lower emissions of planes even 10 years old, hysteria wins the day.

By the International Air Transport Association’s (IATA) own admission, global air travel in totality is only 2% of man-made CO2 emissions. That is to say that all air travel is responsible for 0.00003% of CO2 in the atmosphere. Heathrow makes up 0.1% of all commercial flights globally.

Not to worry, IATA has got behind the movement to do its bit for climate change too. In a two page flyer, it covered the idea that we reckless passengers must consider our carbon footprint but at the same time help the U.N. raise $40bn in taxes, sorry ‘climate finance,’ between 2021 and 2035.

The Carbon Offsetting & Reduction Scheme for International Aviation (CORSIA) is the vehicle which the UN’s International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) intends to liberate us from our sins and help fund the waste so endemic in the NY based cabal. Wherever the UN is involved expect a sinister agenda behind the virtue.

All airlines have been required to monitor, report and verify their emissions on international flights since Jan 1, 2019. Operators will be required to buy “emissions units” from the UN. If one asked the UN would it prefer emissions to be cut or taxes to be raised, it would select the latter every time.

What of the UN IPCC summits going forward? How will activists, government officials and observers manage to get to upcoming climate conferences if their ability to fly is curtailed? Best allow for expansion to ensure their vacuous jollies remain uninterrupted, especially after Greta Thunberg’s efforts caused a 50% rebound in attendees at Madrid.

Forget fears of Brexit hurting the economy. Just let green councils run amock based on religion. The ultimate irony will be when airlines, bursting at the seams, request to put on larger aircraft to cope with the growth that has been restrained by the infrastructure.

Jo Nova tears strips off the BoM

Jo Nova has published a thought-provoking piece on the Bureau of Meteorology.

For generations, it was a Guinness Book of Records type thing. Now it’s gone.
In 1924 Marble Bar set a world record of the most consecutive days of 100 °F (37.8 °C) or above, during an incredible period of 160 days starting in 1923. It was legend — but thanks to the genius homogenized adjustments, we now find out all along it was wrong. It’s another ACORN triumph, rewriting history, extinguishing the hot days of days long gone. The experts at the Australian Bureau of Meteorology (BoM) have reanalyzed the temperatures from 4000 km away and nine decades in the future and apparently it wasn’t that hot…

…But never fear, the brilliant minds of the BoM are correcting past mistakes with secret methods they cannot explain to mere mortals outside the sacred guild of weather druids. Luckily for us, the new super-sensitive small box electronic gizmos that record one-second spikes of warmth from passing trucks and radiated heat from tarmac and walls is The Truth Hallelujah Brother. In another ten years, the climate of Marble Bar circa 1924 will be so much cooler. I bet the dead will be delighted. I can’t imagine why the BoM didn’t issue a press release to let the world know that Australia now doesn’t hold the longest hottest record which now goes to Death Valley.”

The rest of the article can be found here. We need a Royal Commission into BoM.

On the face of it, if the BoM is to be regarded as the hall monitor for our government to set climate policy prescriptions against, shouldn’t taxpayers and our lawmakers be entitled to 100% transparency of how BoM derives its predictions? And no, it shouldn’t be a question of we mere peons not being of sufficient intellect to be able to interpret it.

There should be standards that can face proper scrutiny and are comparable to other global meteorological bodies. If BoM’s methodology is superior, why isn’t it sharing it with the world and beating its chest to make us revere it even more? Isn’t that how we save the planet by promoting our own as the best in class that others should follow? As it stands, ASX listed companies aren’t allowed to audit their own accounts so why is BoM allowed to escape independent scrutiny of its publicly funded procedures? Given 85% of the BoM is in senior management, we might be justified in asking further questions as to whether other factors are at play.

CSIRO cost energy transition at $1tn (oh plus $175bn to integrate renewables)

CSIRO

As our political class push for net-zero emissions by 2050, we shouldn’t be surprised that there aren’t costings. In reality, we would prefer politicians pave the roadmap to where the mystical decarbonized industries that will replace all of the jobs we will give up in mining, agriculture and transport will come from to fund it all? One way to cut our emissions is to tank the economy. Job done. After all being on the right side of history involves sacrifice. Our grandkids will thank us for it. Greta assures us.

The bigger question is why haven’t our politicians made a b-line to reference our CSIRO’s energy transition costings which exceed $1 trillion with a “T” out to 2050 (p.135)? Note this report isn’t a net-zero study – just lower emissions. So by that logic, net-zero will cost even more. 

You will feel even warm and fuzzier after reading the next sentence.

CSIRO assures us that “these costs do not include the full integration costs of renewables, but that these costs are expected to be significantly less than $175 billion.” Who cares about billions in a world of trillions? Significantly less? Can anyone name a government project that has come in on time and on budget? Submarines? NBN? The beauty of spending other people’s money.

The power generation pathways are quite interesting. In Pathways 1 & 3, solar and wind are capped at 45%. Pathway 1 relies on biomass (actually dirtier than brown coal) with Pathway 3 allowed to include HELE coal, nuclear and geothermal. In Pathway 2 renewables are uncapped with battery storage. Pathway 4 is the same as Pathway 1 but with additional electricity consumption from hydrogen electrolysis for transport.

Electricity wholesale prices are contained on p.231. Even in the best-case scenario, we should expect a 50% increase in electricity costs. In the worst-case scenario on Pathway 3, wholesale prices will surge over 4x. Politicians should proudly tout to the public that they have energy prices under control.

Retail prices remain the cheapest on a no abatement basis (p.233)…who knew? In 2016 dollars, no abatement electricity will rise 40%, Pathways 1-3 +60% and Pathway 4 +80%.

CSIRO also assumes that by 2030, 5% of rooftop solar owners elect to leave the grid increasing to 10% by 2050.

Why aren’t our politicians looking at the world’s biggest renewable crash test dummy – Germany? As we wrote, Germany’s Federal Court of Auditors is even more forthright about the failures…The shift to renewables, the federal auditors say, has cost at least 160 billion euros in the last five years. Meanwhile, the expenditures “are in extreme disproportion to the results…

Note 330,000 German households are in a state of energy poverty and have had their electricity provider cut them off. Australia is around 45,000.

We have a home-grown movement to reference commitment to climate change. 98.9% of households in the electorate of Warringah, that supposedly voted Zali Steggall OAM in on a climate change ticket, still haven’t signed up to her ‘Roadmap to Zero’ plans. Maybe they are just too busy filling their high powered V8 SUVs on Military Rd to get around to it.

If we want to stop global warming, at the very least politicians should stop creating all this hot air. This net-zero policy is an economic suicide note.

When climate alarmists start trusting bankers

If global warming alarmists ever wanted to pick an industry as steeped in unreliable forecasts as climate scientists, one would find it hard to beat investment banking. Having been in that industry for two decades, the list of woefully misguided and poorly researched puff pieces is endless. There is a reason global banks are trading at fractions of their former peaks. They don’t add much value and most never picked the GFC of 2008. If they were smarter, greed wouldn’t require recessions.

Never mind. When JP Morgan economists are portending climate doom, why not hitch them to your global warming wagon? There is a kind of conflict of interest. Evil, greedy fat bonus paying tax avoiding corporates preaching virtue on climate.

By the way, you won’t find a research analyst who believes they don’t deserve air travel at the pointy end and luxury limousine transfers to and from the airport.

Yet they are aligned with the hypocrites at the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) which told us at the 1500 private jet junket at Davos that it’s central bank members are “climate rescuers of last resort.” This despite their monetary policies having played a major part in fueling overconsumption via the debt bubble. Ultra low interest rates will ultimately have a profound effect on carbon emissions – a global economic crisis of epic proportions which won’t require one wind turbine or solar farm to achieve. They’ll save the climate by destroying the wellbeing of so many in the process.

On the one hand, JP Morgan can now claim some kudos for allowing such free thinking which isn’t at the behest of the investment banking team.

Maybe it’s worth pointing out that most banks keep meticulous (but useless) data on the readership of such reports. Much like the media chasing advertising dollars through clickbait, research analysts strive for internal point scoring to boost their year end review chances to push for bigger bonuses to their excel spreadsheet obsessed line managers who look at quantity, not quality. So if a warmest piece can create noise, irrespective of the quality of the content, then that serves a purpose for internal bosses.

Such has been the hollowing out of investment banking research teams, the last remaining life jackets are in short supply. It was only last year that Deutsche Bank closed its entire global equity platform. While regulation is part of the problem, there is simply very little value add to convince clients to pay for.

While the report supposedly chastised the bank’s lending of $75bn to the fossil fuel industry, in a world of ESG, which puts ideology ahead of risk assessment, JP Morgan can now claim it has seen the light so it can hopefully fool green tech companies in need of cash that they are worthy environmentally friendly financiers. This will also give the public relations team a welcome talking piece to the media and ESG retirement fund managers that they practice social responsibility.

Back to the report. On what pretense do the JP Morgan analysts have for the climate crisis threatening the human race? Citing the IPCC (where scientists have slammed the processes which prioritize gender and ethnicity over ability and qualification) and the IMF (which couldn’t pick economic growth it it tried) are hardly the sort of data one would gladly source as gospel to compile a report.

It seems everyone is an expert on climate change nowadays. Central banks, ASIC, APRA, RBA, the Australian Medical Association and now investment banks. As we pointed out earlier in the week, where were the scientists who made a b-line to speak at the National Climate Emergency summit in Melbourne? That’s right 2/3rds were activists, lobbyists, left-wing media and academics with no scientific background.

You know when alarmists are channeling bankers, that they are running out of credible evidence. Even worse, most banks have an uncanny ability to act as contrarian indicators.

We can be sure that a whole lot of malinvestment will continue thanks to governments trying to declare emergencies to justify infrastructure spending to replace sensible business friendly structural reforms that would have a far better chance of keeping them in power for longer.

In closing, it seems even the media has lost faith in investment bank research, choosing to channel NY Mets baseball pitchers for commentary on stocks instead.

Nothing to be proud about

Biz Ivest

Flipping through the latest RBA Chart Pack, it is no surprise that business investment keeps sliding off a cliff. As a % of GDP, it has slid from a peak of 18% off the short-term trough of 14% (GFC) to 11%, which now puts it at 1994 levels. It proves the old adage that businesses don’t invest because interest rates are low, they invest because they have confidence in the cycle.

Our government should be looking at this with alarm bells. It doesn’t take too much imagination to work out that political instability has played its part.

Australia was once regarded as the vanguard of political stability in the region which made it a sensible investment choice for domestic and international investors as a place to do business. There was a comfort in knowing that there wouldn’t be revolving door prime ministers and flip flops on policy positions. After all, much business investment takes years to get to the production stage.

The Howard years saw our business investment surge. Sensible fiscal policy was a feature too. While Rudd can be forgiven for GFC causing a slump in business investment it resumed until political instability put the mocker on business confidence.

We have been running deficits ever since and cranking up the national debt (we wrote about it here) because it is clear we don’t have sensible free-market conditions to self sustain direct investment at anywhere the levels we need.

Instead, we kowtow to radical activists who try to stop investment in projects like Adani and conduct illegal secondary boycotts on businesses like Greyhound Australia and Siemens without repercussions.

Whether coal is evil or not is irrelevant. The problem is such activism, which is further supported by ideologically corrupted government environmental departments – that push their own agenda on granting approvals – doesn’t endear domestic industries or foreigners to invest in us. These are dangerous precedents. All of this tokenism when we only need look at the realities of what will happen down the line.

Don’t take our word for it. Even our domestic businesses are leaving.

Thanks to Australia’s ridiculous energy prices, Aussie company Bluescope confirmed the expansion of capacity in Ohio. In Feb 2019, the company CEO said, “much cheaper energy in the United States is a major driver of the company’s preparedness to invest in a $1 billion expansion in Ohio.”

In 2017, Tomago Aluminium reported, “We have to grow to be competitive and to be ahead of the curve, but when the spot price went to $14,000 [per megawatt hour] we had to take that load off. It’s just not sustainable. You can’t smelt at that price. We have had to curtail or modulate the load [on occasions] or we get hammered by the price…We cannot continue to keep paying those prices. We have to find a solution. The prices are crippling”

Aust Manuf.png

Unfortunately, 28 years of unfettered economic expansion has made us complacent. We think this economical miracle has no off-ramp.

None of this is remotely surprising.

Can we honestly say that the impact of higher electricity prices hasn’t been a factor in pushing away investment in engineering and manufacturing? So this mad push for renewables will not alleviate this pressure. Germany is the perfect beta-test crash dummy. It predicted flat prices. They doubled from those forecasts.

GEP.png

Yet our political class is playing with fire.

We never thought Australia was realistically going to have a surplus when it was announced. Secretly there must be a sigh of relief in Treasury that the impacts of the bushfires and coronavirus will provide a convenient scapegoat to miss those targets under the premise of ‘doing the right thing.’  And no that does not mean the government is glad those two catastrophes have happened from a humanistic approach.

We need proper reforms. We need to ditch these notions of political correctness in public policy. We are as unimaginative as many other governments around the world. Living on a low-interest rate fuelled debt bomb. Kicking the can down the road simply does not work. Why aren’t politicians convicting their cases with evidence rather than folding to ideological positions held by fringe dwellers on Twitter?

When we visited Israel on a business delegation in 2018, Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu uttered the only 4 words that mattered for investors – “we want your business.” The innovation nation knows what it is good at and is prepared to back it to the hilt.

It would be so nice if our government spent some time in Israel to discover that we have it all wrong. Because we are only storing up a rude awakening. When our economy does suffer from the eventual ramifications of all of that lack of investment, the public will be howling that they can’t pay their mortgages, that they can’t get decent jobs and they can’t keep the lights on. None of that would have been necessary if they had been more open to business.

The ultimate result will be that we’ll put ourselves deeper into debt to fund some monster infrastructure projects that will provide short term relief, not long term solutions.

The foreign investors that could have helped had we treated them in a more dignified fashion will just buy our assets at fire-sale prices instead. Then we’ll have another moment to howl at the moon.

That will be the true price of our complacency. Experience is a hard teacher. You get the test first and the lesson afterwards.

A worthwhile 20 minutes on nuclear

Michael Shellenberger makes a sensible case for nuclear power. A worthwhile 20 minutes with a lot of interesting statistics especially in comparing nuke power to renewables in terms of life cycle costs.

Some interesting stats are as follows:

Germany’s carbon emissions have been flat since 2009, despite an investment of $580 billion by 2025 in a renewables-heavy electrical grid, a 50 percent rise in electricity cost.

“Consider California. Between 2011–17 the cost of solar panels declined about 75 percent, and yet our electricity prices rose five times more than they did in the rest of the U.S.”

Building a solar farm is a lot like building any other kind of farm. You have to clear the whole area of wildlife…Thanks to its energy density, nuclear plants require far less land than renewables. Even in sunny California, a solar farm requires 450 times more land to produce the same amount of energy as a nuclear plant.”

“Solar panels require 17 times more materials in the form of cement, glass, concrete, and steel than do nuclear plants, and create over 200 times more waste…We tend to think of solar panels as clean, but the truth is that there is no plan anywhere to deal with solar panels at the end of their 20 to 25-year lifespan…Experts fear solar panels will be shipped, along with other forms of electronic waste, to be disassembled—or, more often, smashed with hammers—by poor communities in Africa and Asia, whose residents will be exposed to the dust from toxic heavy metals including lead, cadmium, and chromium.