Britain Led by Theresa May Will Become a European Haven of Order and Calm
Here is the opening of this incisive column by Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for The Telegraph:
Assuming that Theresa May wins a landslide victory on June 8, she will be the only leader of a major EU state with a crushing mandate and the backing of a unified parliamentary phalanx.
All others will be in varying states of internal disarray. None will have a workable majority in parliament. Bitter internal disputes will continue to fester over the loss of democratic control under monetary union, whether or not eurosceptic parties actually come to power.
This gives the Prime Minister formidable clout. We have moved a long way from the first chaotic weeks after the referendum when Belgian premier Charles Michel could suggest in all seriousness that the British institutional system was disintegrating, a country led by populist dreamers, disappearing into a "black hole". Such was the view in Brussels.
The tables have since turned. Britain will enter the Brexit talks led by an ancient and disciplined party of great governing credibility - solid on NATO, free trade, climate accords, and liberal principles - with UKIP and the ephemeral forces of populism scattered to the four winds.
Discord lies on the other side of the Channel. Let us suppose that the ardent Europeanist Emmanuel Macron makes it through to the presidential run-off in the French elections on Sunday - far from certain - and therefore captures the Elysee two weeks later. How is he going to govern and reform France?
His manifesto is studiously vague. The French parliament will be split five ways and Balkanized. Anti-EU candidates from hard-Left to hard-Right have garnered half the support in this extraordinary campaign, united on core complaints that the EU has eviscerated French sovereignty and that the euro has become a cloak for German interests.
There is much hope in French progressive circles that Mr Macron will be able to rebuild the eurozone on better foundations with a putative Chancellor Martin Schulz in Germany. Even if Mr Schulz were to beat Angela Merkel in October, this would be wishful thinking.
There is scant difference between the German Social Democrats and Christian Democrats on euro ideology. Both are captive to mercantilist thinking. Both think Germany's current account surplus of 8.5pc of GDP is a virtue. Both are opposed to fiscal union and pooling of debts. Both are wedded to creditor interests. There is only a German view.
Italy above all is a political accident waiting to happen. Beppe Grillo's Five Star movement leads the polls by a staggering eight percentage points. It has suffered no erosion after its latest plans for a parallel "fiscal currency", a Trojan horse for the lira.
David Fuller's view
I think AEP is right, although Mrs May will need to be strong, wise and successful in her negotiations with the EU. This was never going to be easy, especially as EU officials have so far shown a grab what you can mentality.
A PDF of AEP’s article is posted in the Subscriber’s Area.
Why the Market for Fossil Fuels Is All Burnt Out
Here is an early section of this interesting article by Jillian Ambrose for The Telegraph:
If Helm is to be believed the oil market downturn is only getting started. The latest collapse is the harbinger of a global energy revolution which could spell the end-game for fossil fuels. These theories were laughable less than a decade ago when oil prices grazed highs of more than $140 a barrel. But the burn out of the oil industry is approaching quicker than was first thought, and the most senior leaders within the industry are beginning to take note.
In the past, the International Energy Agency (IEA) has faced down criticism that its global energy market forecasts have overestimated the role of oil and underplayed the boom in renewable energy sources. But last month the tone changed. The agency warned oil and gas companies that failing to adapt to the climate policy shift away from fossil fuels and towards cleaner energy would leave a total of $1 trillion in oil assets and $300bn in natural gas assets stranded.
For oil companies who heed Helm’s advice, the route ahead is a ruthless harvest-and-exit strategy. This would mean an aggressive slashing of capital expenditure, pumping of remaining oil reserves while keeping costs to the floor and paying out very high dividends.
“They’d never do it because no company board would contemplate running a smaller company tomorrow than today. It’s not in the zeitgeist of the corporate world we’re in, but that’s what they should do,” Helm says.
BP and Royal Dutch Shell are slowly shifting from oil to gas and making even more tentative steps in the direction of low-carbon energy. But Helm is not entirely convinced that oil companies have grasped the speed with which the industry is undergoing irrevocable change.
“As the oil price fell, at each point, oil executives said that the price would go back up again,” says Helm. “What the oil companies did was borrow to pay their dividends on the assumption that this is a temporary problem. It’s my view that it is permanent,” he adds.
For a start, there is scant precedent for the price highs of recent decades. Between 1900 to the late Sixties oil prices fluctuated in a range between $15 a barrel to just above $30 a barrel – even through two world wars, population growth and a revolution in transport and industry.
It was geopolitical events which caused oil prices to surge by more than $100 a barrel following the Middle East oil embargoes of the late sixties and early seventies. They collapsed back to $20 by the Eighties.
So, what drove oil prices to the heady levels of $140 a barrel just less than 10 years ago?
“China,” says Helm, barely missing a beat. “If you look at both the rapid growth in emissions and the rapid growth of oil, fossil fuel and all commodity prices, it was while China was doubling its economy every seven years. This is a phenomenal rate.
David Fuller's view
Oil prices spiked above $140 a barrel in 2008 because of supply reductions from OPEC countries, not least due to regional wars. This has never been fully recognised as a huge factor in what is generally remembered as the credit crisis recession which followed.
In 2009 OPEC lowered production once again, leading to a move back above $120 a barrel two years later. By 2014 subsidised renewables were gradually eroding the market for crude oil. However, the really big change was the US development of fracking technology, leading to a surge in the production of crude oil and natural gas.
We should always remember these two adages, particularly with commodities: 1) the cure for high prices is high prices. These lower demand somewhat but the bigger overall influence is an increase in supply. Conversely, the cure for low prices is low prices. Demand increases somewhat when prices are lower but more importantly, supply is eventually reduced.
How have these adages influenced commodity prices in recent years and what can we expect over the lengthy medium term?
This item continues in the Subscriber’s Area, where a PDF of the article is also posted.
The Nightmare Scenario for Florida Costal Homeowners
Here is an early section of this somewhat factual report from Bloomberg:
If property values start to fall, Cason said, banks could stop writing 30-year mortgages for coastal homes, shrinking the pool of able buyers and sending prices lower still. Those properties make up a quarter of the city’s tax base; if that revenue fell, the city would struggle to provide the services that make it such a desirable place to live, causing more sales and another drop in revenue.
And all of that could happen before the rising sea consumes a single home.
As President Donald Trump proposes dismantling federal programs aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions, officials and residents in South Florida are grappling with the risk that climate change could drag down housing markets. Relative sea levels in South Florida are roughly four inches higher now than in 1992. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts sea levels will rise as much as three feet in Miami by 2060. By the end of the century, according to projections by Zillow, some 934,000 existing Florida properties, worth more than $400 billion, are at risk of being submerged.
The impact is already being felt in South Florida. Tidal flooding now predictably drenches inland streets, even when the sun is out, thanks to the region’s porous limestone bedrock. Saltwater is creeping into the drinking water supply. The area’s drainage canals rely on gravity; as oceans rise, the water utility has had to install giant pumps to push water out to the ocean.
The effects of climate-driven price drops could ripple across the economy, and eventually force the federal government to decide what is owed to people whose home values are ruined by climate change.
Sean Becketti, the chief economist at Freddie Mac, warned in a report last year of a housing crisis for coastal areas more severe than the Great Recession, one that could spread through banks, insurers and other industries. And, unlike the recession, there’s no hope of a bounce back in property values.
Citing Florida as a chief example, he wondered if values would decline gradually or precipitously. Will the catalyst be a bank refusing to issue a mortgage? Will it be an insurer refusing to issue a policy? Or, he asked, “Will the trigger be one or two homeowners who decide to sell defensively?”
“Nobody thinks it’s coming as fast as it is,” said Dan Kipnis, the chairman of Miami Beach’s Marine and Waterfront Protection Authority, who has been trying to find a buyer for his home in Miami Beach for almost a year, and has already lowered his asking price twice.
Some South Florida homeowners, stuck in a twist on the prisoner’s dilemma, are deciding to sell now—not necessarily because they want to move, but because they’re worried their neighbors will sell first.
When Nancy Lee sold her house last summer in Aventura, halfway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, it wasn’t because she was worried about sea-level rise, rising insurance costs, nuisance impacts or any of the other risks associated with climate change. Rather, she worried those risks would soon push other people to sell their homes, crashing the region’s property values. So she decided to pull the trigger
“I didn’t want to be there when prices fell,” said Lee, an environmental writer.
Ross Hancock has the same worry, and sold his four-bedroom house in Coral Gables three years ago. He described South Florida’s real estate market as “pessimists selling to optimists,” and said he wanted to cash out while the latter still outnumbered the former.
“I was just worried about my life’s savings,” Hancock said. “You can’t fight Mother Nature.”
A short drive through mangrove trees off Highway 1 in Key Largo, Stephanie Russo’s house backs onto a canal that opens into Blackwater Sound, and from there to the ocean; her neighbors lounge in shorts and flip-flops beside their boats.
A few months after Russo, a partner at a law firm in Miami, moved to Key Largo in 2015, the big fall tides brought 18 inches of water onto the road in front of their house. Unlike previous tidal floods, this one lasted 34 days.
“When we bought, there hadn’t been a flood like that for years,” said Russo, who was sitting at a table between the home’s outdoor bar and its pool.
“Ever,” interjected her husband Frank, who was working on the grill.
The saltwater ruined cars around the neighborhood, destroyed landscaping and sparked a mosquito infestation.
But the worst part might have been the trash.
“When people would drive, it creates a wake,” said Russo. “That knocks over all the garbage cans, and then everybody’s garbage is floating in the streets, and in the mangroves. It’s just disgusting.”
Officials in Monroe County agree there’s a problem, and plan to raise some roads in an attempt to reduce future flooding.
Russo says if she knew in 2015 what she knows now, she wouldn’t have purchased the house. People buying in her neighborhood today are probably just as clueless as she once was, she guesses. “I would bet money that the realtors are not telling them.”
David Fuller's view
Apparently see levels in South Florida are approximately four inches higher than in 1992. That is certainly a concern and a possible trend. However, I would take the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s prediction that sea levels near Miami will be three feet higher by 2016 with a grain of salt. It is impossible to know. However, the economic consequences of people voting with their feet right now are certainly an economic concern, as the article explains.
My grumpy old man comment: look at those huge ugly apartment buildings which are completely ruining the coastline. It looks like a scene from urban China.
When I was a teenager, the Fuller family enjoyed a couple of Christmas holidays at Pompano Beach, not far from Miami in Florida but without the vulgarity. Pompano was nice and quiet, with people mostly living in one story houses with decent gardens and a few swimming pools. The occasional hotels were small. The breach was never crowded. There was nothing special about the food but I do recall an - “All you can eat for a dollar” – fried chicken restaurant which appealed to me after a good swim.