From Kate Mackenzie, former Alphavillain and current climate-finance think-tanker ______________ Warren Buffett’s annual letter last week badly lets down any reader hoping to understand the implications of climate change for the general insurance and reinsurance sector. If Buffett had said climate change impacts are not a problem for ‘his’ insurance companies, because his managers are managing the risks thusly, that would be fine. It’d also be a fascinating read, if it went into some detail — unlikely though, because that would reveal competitive information. Unfortunately he chose to apply it to all of the insurance sector:
Plunging oil prices mean BG Group will take a $500m charge and Shell’s fourth quarter profits are set to fall 40 per cent. Shell plans to shed 10,000 jobs if its deal to buy BG is approved by shareholders this month. FT Opening Quote, with commentary by City Editor Jonathan Guthrie, is your early Square Mile briefing. You can sign up for the full newsletter here.
- Angela Nagle on identity politics and puritanical internet purges
- Nouriel Roubini outlines the 2020 recession risk
- Will Davies on populism, data and experts.
- Robert Kaplan on jobs, oil and credit
- Mithril Capital's Ajay Royan on the next growth frontier
- Banking culture since the crisis
- Weak spots and worries in the global financial system
- The most complicated debt restructuring in history
- Yanis Varoufakis on “radical Europeanism”, erratic Marxism and... Pamela Anderson
- Alphachat on immigration: This time is (mostly) like the others
- Our Bond villain technocracy
- Is the eurozone fixable?
- Could climate change spark the next financial crisis?
- Mehrsa Baradaran on “opportunity zones”
- The math wizard who became a customer loyalty scheme guru
- Alphachat is back! Vol 2.
- Alphachat is back! Vol. 1
- Jim Millstein discusses the financialisation of America
- Alphachat is on hiatus this week
- Benn Steil explains the Marshall Plan
A reminder that you’ll have a chance to win a Kindle by recommending ways to improve Alphachat at www.ft.com/alphasurvey. Help us out!
Elsewhere on Monday, - Davies: so far there is little sign of a global recession starting, - Snapchat wants to manage your money. - The farce awakens. - Nevsky’s prospects: China, fat tails and opaque markets. - So much for QE. - The cost of the Bristol Pound.
One of the problems with green energy finance is the nature of the asset. Unlike fossil fuel developments, which spread the capital cost of development and production across the lifespan of the asset, most renewable projects have to be entirely capital funded up front. According to Citi’s Anthony Yuen and Ed Morse, that means the cost of financing is the key determinant in making these projects competitive and viable — an increasingly pressing objective in the context of falling fossil fuel prices, which reduce the competitive position of renewables in the energy complex.
About three months ago, Dr Simon Stringer, a leading scientist in the field of artificial intelligence at the Oxford centre for theoretical neuroscience and AI, fell down some stairs and broke his leg. The convalescence period proved unexpectedly fruitful.
In two weeks time, 195 delegations at COP21 will gather in Paris in an attempt to tackle climate change. The goal of the 2015 UN climate change talks? A deal to keep global warming below 2 degrees Celsius. But it’s unclear exactly what will come out of Paris. Beyond any overarching agreement or policy, attendees would do well to remember the actual people who would be working in the changing energy landscape. With the difficulties of transitioning from a high carbon to low carbon environment, plus the potential disruption of automation and robots, going green is filled with many potential landmines for the workforce. Just last week, BoE chief economist Andy Haldane sounded the alarm about the threat of robot labour to the tune of 15m UK jobs. And the most at-risk occupations from automation — involving administrative, clerical and production tasks — typically are the lowest paid. Plus, moving toward a low carbon economy will likely require trillions of dollars in investments just over the next 15 years. What will happen to employment as the energy sector and governments make moves to go green?
This guest post is from Kate Mackenzie, a former Alphavillian who now works with The Climate Institute in Australia. ________ Anytime a public figure mentions climate change, you can guarantee a fierce response — and, sure enough, it happened again with Mark Carney’s speech on climate risk.
ESG stands for Environment, Social, Governance. And it’s an increasingly big thing in the asset management world. The basic premise is that if you can get the biggest investment managers to collectively commit to ESG-focused principles in their strategies — whether that be through active engagement as shareholders or divestment strategies — capital will eventually be pulled from the type of corporations that routinely undermine or undercut the standards society judges to be important — from pollution and environment, to labour rights and fraud — forcing them to adapt their behaviour. The idea is to send bad corporates to capital-unavailable Coventry.
Climate campaigners have popularised the notion that fossil fuel assets might one day become “stranded” because, if global warming is to stay within the internationally agreed two degree Celsius limit, they can’t realistically be burned. It’s a view that has gained a lot of traction with investment managers leading to growing debates about strategies to de-risk portfolios by way of active engagement at the shareholder level or outright divestment.
At last week’s FT125 forum Bill Gates called for more investment in breakthrough clean technology research like high-altitude wind, which attempts to capture energy from the the fast flowing narrow air currents found in the earth’s atmosphere. Gates also said he is planning to double his personal investment in transformational green tech to $2bn over the next five years in an attempt to “bend the curve” in combating climate change. But another less expected message from Gates was that billionaire entrepreneurs like him operating in the private sector can’t be depended upon to change the energy paradigm alone — what some might describe as a slap in the face of those American tech entrepreneurs who favour fiercely laissez faire approaches to such challenges.
At the FT’s 125 forum on Wednesday night, Bill Gates, Microsoft co-founder and Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation co-chair spoke with the FT’s editor Lionel Barber about topics as far ranging as philanthropy, AI, climate change and management. But if there was one core takeaway from the evening’s discussion it was Bill Gates’ adamant stance on the pace of innovation, which he described as currently taking place at its fastest rate ever. All this, he suggested was leading to a “supply-side miracle” with hugely deflationary consequences for the global economy as a whole. (A truncated version of the interview is now available here.)
You can sign up to receive the email here. An eleventh-hour deal between Greece and its bailout creditors has slipped away – it seems the difference between Greek ministers and their bailout creditors is too wide to breach. Talks collapsed on Sunday evening after a new economic reform proposal submitted by Athens was deemed inadequate for negotiations to continue.
Institutions like Carbon Tracker have proved that reframing collective action arguments in dollar cost terms can be highly effective at mobilising the world’s top asset holders to take action. In the case of climate change, asset holders took note when the associated risks were presented as a carbon bubble threat on the basis that fossil fuel assets aren’t really wealth if they can never be burned (at least not if we’re to spare the planet from life-threatening climate change) . But, it turns out, there may be another equally effective way of framing the argument.
UK Oil & Gas, the company at the heart of a collection of companies associated with David Lenigas and the Horse Hill project to explore oil under Gatwick, has announced discussions about raising at least £4.5m from shareholders. The move follows the release of the executive summary of a report by reputable oil services group Schlumberger about what resources may lie under the patch of South East England. It says confidential down the side, but we checked with Schlumberger and they gave permission to publish. One other thing the spokesperson mentioned: the report is about the resources down there, it says nothing about their extractability, or the economic viability of any future attempts to do so.
You can sign up to receive the email here. G7 vows to clean up, HSBC to cut up to 25,000 jobs, tracking your career The Group of Seven industrial powers took a historic step in the fight against climate change by throwing their weight behind a cut in greenhouse gas emissions by 40 to 70 per cent by 2050 from 2010 levels. That’s the first time they have backed such a precise long-term target.
In 2008, it was fairly common practice to blame any of the following (evil passive index investors — hedge funds—oil traders—Opec) for driving oil prices up to $145 per barrel. The standard narrative was either that irresponsible and greedy institutions were synthetically pumping the price higher — and in so doing imposing a needless energy tax on the global economy — or, alternatively, that the smart-money was taking advantage of oil scarcity for their own future profitability. But with prices back at $60-65 per barrel levels, and the world facing something of a fossil fuel oil glut, is it time to frame the reality of 2008 in a different perspective? Perhaps, by providing the world with the incentive it desperately needed to get its collective butt into action on alternative fuel investment and development, speculators/passive investors/Opec cartels/banks actually did everyone a massive favour, albeit costly favour, in 2008.
It was Climate Finance Day in Paris last week, a conference convened under the auspices of UNEP and the UNPRI to address the specific challenges and issues of redirecting capital towards a resilient low-carbon global economy ahead of the United Nations Climate Change Conference also to be held in Paris, in December. The big takeaway was consensus is shifting, especially among asset managers and real money investors who no longer view environmental sustainability as a fringe theme. Climate is a bona fide risk for beneficiaries which professional investors must guard against to fulfil their fiduciary duties. To do nothing, essentially, is to encourage a disorderly capital transition and, potentially, a financial panic. As example, Axa’s chief executive pledged the insurer would divest €500m of coal assets between now and the end of the year.
You’ve got to hand it to Alan Rusbridger: he’s a great contrarian indicator. The editor of The Guardian launched his valedictory campaign to demand divestment from fossil fuels with a wrap-around promotion and the paper’s full moral force.
Solo Oil plc today announces that it has raised £2,000,000 gross proceeds through the issue of 363,636,364 new ordinary shares of 0.01 pence each in the Company (“Placing Shares”) at a price of 0.55 pence per share (the “Placing”). The Placing Shares which were issued at a discount of approximately 8% to yesterday’s closing bid market price represent approximately 6.59% of the Company’s enlarged issued share capital. Solo Oil will be using the money to fund working capital as it works with partners on such projects as Horse Hill in the Weald Basin. One partner is David Lenigas, director at Solo as well as UK Oil & Gas Investments PLC, the company which prompted some rather fevered press coverage about Gatwick’s potential as the new Saudi Arabia. Do note the clarification which followed a week later:
You can sign up to receive the email here. The EU will launch one of the defining antitrust cases of the internet era today, formally charging Google with abusing its dominance of the internet search market in Europe. (FT) The European competition commissioner will accuse the US group of breaching antitrust rules by diverting traffic from rivals to favour its own services. Brussels will also launch a formal investigation into Google’s Android platform, focused on its distribution terms and compatibility tests for apps.
You can sign up to receive the email here. Bond investors are betting that the Fed is making like Michael Jackson and doing a moonwalk – it looks like you’re going forward but you’re actually moving back. Thus undeterred by the Fed’s ditched pledge to be patient about lifting rates, plenty of the smart money is on US rates staying near historic lows.
The oil world’s been full of speculation about the shift of strategy last year by Saudi Arabia which saw it keep the pumps running even as the price fell, turning an initial drop into a plunge. There may be a simpler explanation for Saudi’s willingness to see prices slide than an attack on US shale or a “political plot” against regional rival Iran, though: a change in the Saudi view on peak oil. The Saudis have two choices with their oil: sell it now, or sell it later.
We know central banks have the power to support asset classes and to move markets, and do so frequently in the name of financial stability. But are there other social threats that could be stabilised or mitigated by central banks in a similar way? For example, should central bank monetary policy be charged with a green agenda? Should central banks take it upon themselves to encourage and support the formation of liquid environmentally-focused markets?
This guest post is from the co-authors of UBS’s white paper for the WEF meeting 2015 in Davos, which started on Wednesday. Note that one of the co-authors, UBS Investment Bank’s chief economist Larry Hatheway, will be fielding questions on the energy chapter on Friday at 11:30am during Markets Live.
For seasoned oil watchers the latest spew of “informed commentary” hitting the media waves is probably becoming nauseating. That’s because everyone from Robert Peston and Peter Hitchens to Vitol’s Ian Taylor seem to have a view on the oil price decline, some making claims that “the market may have hit bottom”, others hinting that the fall was too “mysterious” to be market led and the latter even admitting that even oil traders can’t predict what’s going to happen next. But it’s the words of Saudi Oil Minister Ali Naimi that matters most. And as he explained to Mees Energy on December 21 — echoing what FT Alphaville has been saying for a long time now — in a price war, everything turns into a market-share-based game of chicken, meaning there’s no incentive for the world’s most efficient and financially buffered producer to cut at all. (H/T Neil Hume for the Mees report.)
Elsewhere on Tuesday, - Getting the Germany argument right. - “In sum, it is highly likely that the Saudis are not crazy, and aren’t acting crazy, but are instead responding rationally to existing market conditions.” - Coal and the industrial revolution, retold.