Friday, January 22, 2021

"Google threatens to withdraw search engine from Australia"

A deep dive from the BBC:

Google has threatened to remove its search engine from Australia over the nation's attempt to make the tech giant share royalties with news publishers.

Australia is introducing a world-first law to make Google, Facebook and potentially other tech companies pay media outlets for their news content.

But the US firms have fought back, warning the law would make them withdraw some of their services.

Australian PM Scott Morrison said lawmakers would not yield to "threats".

Though Australia is far from Google's largest market, the proposed news code is seen as a possible global test case for how governments could seek to regulate big tech firms.

Australia's code would tie Google and Facebook to mediated negotiations with publishers over the value of news content, if no agreement could be reached first.

Google Australia managing director Mel Silva told a Senate hearing on Friday that the laws were "unworkable".

"If this version of the code were to become law, it would give us no real choice but to stop making Google Search available in Australia," she said....

"Elon Musk to offer $100 million prize for 'best' carbon capture tech"

Carbon capture is an approach the Norwegians among others are exploring but it is not easy. Because the concentrations of CO2 in air are so low, ~415 parts per million, you have to move a lot of air through your systems to get meaningful amounts of CO2 to sequester.

The other reasons are ideological. A lot of folks in the authoritarian crowd don't like it because it means that things don't have to change as much as they would like things to change. Wealth transferers don't like carbon capture because it directly attacks their rationalization for "climate reparations", always set with a starting point far enough back in time so that only Northern Hemisphere and in particular, western, countries owe x-number of trillions of dollars to southern and eastern countries. And then there are the....

Yeah, I've been doing this a long time.

Putting all that aside, prizes are good, a very efficient way to mobilize talent and creativity in a focused pursuit. I may even see if I can recruit a team of folks smarter than I to claim Elon's money.

Here's Reuters with the headline story:

Tesla Inc chief and billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk on Thursday took to Twitter to promise a $100 million prize for development of the “best” technology to capture carbon dioxide emissions.

Capturing planet-warming emissions is becoming a critical part of many plans to keep climate change in check, but very little progress has been made on the technology to date, with efforts focused on cutting emissions rather than taking carbon out of the air.

The International Energy Agency said late last year that a sharp rise in the deployment of carbon capture technology was needed if countries are to meet net-zero emissions targets.

“Am donating $100M towards a prize for best carbon capture technology,” Musk wrote in a tweet, followed by a second tweet that promised “Details next week.”

Tesla officials did not immediately respond to a request for additional information.

Musk, who co-founded and sold Internet payments company PayPal Holdings Inc, now leads some of the most futuristic companies in the world....


Some of the hundreds of posts we have on carbon capture and storage:

Whale Poo and You, Redux

October 2020 "Breakingviews - Stored carbon could morph into investment gold"
Our preferred end-product* has always been some sort of solid binding the carbon, calcium carbonate (pearls, marble) being one example, or sodium bicarbonate (baking soda) but sadly the cost for this more secure option is still out of reach. So it is gaseous CO2 that gets the focus despite the risk of carbon dioxide burps that could release an awful lot of the stuff if there are any flaws in the engineering.
July 2019 "A (Very) Close Look at Carbon Capture and Storage"
I too have heard the siren song of carbon capture and storage.
There are two ways to use carbon once it is captured (still theoretical because of price but the cost is dropping, see below), either sequester it and remove it from the carbon cycle or reuse it in a closed loop hydrocarbon fuel infrastructure.

From 2007: "Can baking soda curb global warming?":

I have a fascination with calcium carbonate. But, being flexible, I am willing to consider the bicarbonate of various metals.
Some scientists have proposed compressing carbon dioxide and sticking it in underground caves as a way to cut down on greenhouse gases. Joe David Jones wants to make baking soda out of it.
Jones, the founder and CEO of Skyonic, has come up with an industrial process called SkyMine that captures 90 percent of the carbon dioxide coming out of smoke stacks and mixes it with sodium hydroxide to make sodium bicarbonate, or baking soda. The energy required for the reaction to turn the chemicals into baking soda comes from the waste heat from the factory.
"It is cleaner than food-grade (baking soda)," he said.
The system also removes 97 percent of the heavy metals, as well as most of the sulfur and nitrogen compounds, Jones said.
And a few months earlier:
... Right now I'm looking at calcium carbonate. Literally. Got a hunk of limestone. CaCO3. That's sequestered carbon, right?. Hmmm.
Make a green pitch, wrap it in recycled fiberboard; et voila! Return of the Pet Rock, eco-version! And seashells, same stuff, calcite. There's the hook! Mom, you're going to Miami Beach.

And many, many more. Use the 'search blog' box if interested.
Here's another approach to capture, from IEEE Spectrum:
A material called ZIF-8 swells up when carbon dioxide molecules are trapped inside, new images reveal....

Capital Markets: "Faltering Friday"

 From Marc to Market:

Overview: Fear that social restrictions may have to be broadened and extended is helping spur a wave of profit-taking and de-risking, which has also been encouraged by disappointingly high-frequency data. The equity rally seemed to falter a bit in the US, as the S&P 500 eked out a minor 0.03% gain yesterday. In the Asia Pacific region, Hong Kong shares, which had been the high-flyers this week, got hit the hardest today, falling by 1.6% (still up 3% on the week), while India and several smaller bourses also fell by more than 1%. On the back of soft preliminary PMIs, Europe's Dow Jones Stoxx 600 is off 1% to give back this week's gains. 

The S&P 500 is up 2.25% on the week coming into today, and the benchmark is trading about 0.75% lower. The US 10-year is slightly lower, around 1.09%, while most European bond yields are softer, but Italy and Greece. Australia and New Zealand yields jumped 5-6 bp. The dollar is mostly higher against the major and emerging market currencies. Those currencies that were the better performers this week, like sterling, the Australian and Canadian dollar, and the Norwegian krone, are leading to the downside today. The JP Morgan Emerging Market Currency Index is off for the second consecutive session. Recall that it had fallen for the past four straight weeks. With the 0.2% decline today, it is holding on to about a 0.35% gain on the week. Gold's recovery from the test on $1800 at the start of the week stalled yesterday near $1875, and it is trading nearly $30 off its peak in the European morning. March WTI failed in the middle of the week to rise above $54 and eased a little yesterday (~-0.35%) but has come under stronger selling pressure today, ostensibly on demand worries. Near $51.80, it is off around 1.2% on the week, which would snap a three-week, nearly $5 advance.

Asia Pacific
Japan reported both December CPI and the preliminary January PMI. Note too that press accounts suggest the Suga government is on the verge of concluding that the summer Olympics need to be canceled.
Japan is still gripped by deflationary forces. Headline CPI stands at -1.2% after -0.9% in November. The core rate, which excludes fresh food, is at -1.1% (-0.9% in November). Even if fresh food and energy are removed, Japan's deflationary conditions remain (-0.4%). The preliminary PMI shows the difficult straits the third-largest economy is facing. The manufacturing PMI slipped to 49.7 from 50.0. The service sector contraction deepened (45.7 vs. 47.7), pushing the composite to 46.7 (from 48.5).

Australia's economy is holding up better. The manufacturing PMI rose to 57.2 from 55.7, though the service PMI softened to 55.8 from 57.0. The composite was shaved to 56.0 from 56.6. Australia also reported a disappointingly large decline in December retail sales. The economists surveyed by Bloomberg expected a 1.5% decline. Instead, the preliminary estimate points to a 4.2% decline, denting November's 7.1% gain. Separately, news that New Zealand's inflation was firmer than expected (unchanged at 1.4% in Q4 20 rather than easing to 1.1%) may deter the central bank from fresh measures.

China is threatening to strike out at Sweden for blocking Huawei and ZTE from its 5G rollout. While Sweden would not be the first to be subject to Beijing's wrath, it seems ill-advised. The EU and China struck an investment deal after several years of negotiations at the end of last year. The approval process is not complete. China's actions could put the treaty at risk.... 


Thursday, January 21, 2021

Lab-Grown Seafood Company Raises Another $60 Million

 From The Fish Site:

BlueNalu lands $60[sic] funding

Cell-based seafood producer BlueNalu has closed a $60 million funding round – the largest financing to date in the cell-based seafood industry worldwide.

The financing is intended to enable BlueNalu to achieve several significant milestones over the coming year, including opening a nearly 40,000 square foot pilot production facility, completing FDA regulatory review for its first products, and initiating marketplace testing in a variety of foodservice establishments throughout the United States.

It follows on from the completion of its Series A round of $20 million in early 2020, and its Series Seed round of $4.5 million in early 2018....


Forget Faux and Farmed Fish: $1 Trillion Awaits Those Who Crack The Cellular Fish Business
Lab Grown Fish: "Wild Type Announced a $12.5M Series A for Cell Cultured Salmon"
"Hong Kong’s Avant nets $3m funding to expand cultured seafood range"
"‘Sushi-grade’ fish from salmon cells grown in lab by California startup"
And Now It's Lab Grown Shrimp In Singapore
UPDATED, CORRECTED—Disruption: 9 Alternative Seafood Companies

"China at the heart of rising Nile River conflict"

From Asia Times, January 19:

China-financed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam is Africa's largest and most divisive development project 

The Chinese-financed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), despite a recent breakdown in talks on Africa’s largest development project, risks powering up a range of downstream tensions and rivalries.

These run from rising rivalry between Egypt and Ethiopia to a festering border war between Ethiopia and neighboring Sudan. At stake, too, is the future of almost 90% of the water in the Nile River, the world’s longest waterway. 

Egypt, where millions depend on the river for their livelihoods, considers control of the Nile an “existential” issue. Sudan, meanwhile, fears the GERD may seriously endanger its own dams, which depend on water flowing from upstream neighbor Ethiopia.

Yet for Addis Ababa, the GERD is a chance to bring electricity to millions who currently live without power.

Finding a way to address the fears and hopes of all three states has so far eluded negotiators, with frustrated African Union (AU) mediator Naledi Pandor declaring last week that the talks had regretfully “reached a dead end.”

Grand Renaissance

Nearly a mile wide and taking nearly a decade to build, the US$5 billion GERD is “the largest development project in Africa,” Ashok Swain, UNESCO Chair on International Water Cooperation, told Asia Times.

Spanning the Blue Nile – the eastern and far more voluminous of the two branches feeding the river – GERD is also the world’s seventh-largest dam and by far the largest in Africa.

When its giant, 74 billion cubic meter reservoir finally fills – a process begun last summer and which could take 5-15 years – the GERD’s turbines could start generating some 6,000 megawatts a year of electricity....


I blame Tedros, the bought-and-paid-for Chinese mouthpiece at the WHO, formerly terrorizer of Tigray and Ethiopian cholera coverup artist.


"'It'll cause a water war': divisions run deep as filling of Nile dam nears"
"Will Ethiopia’s Disputed Dam Collapse?"
Water Wars: "What is going on between Egypt and Sudan?"
"‘Water war’ escalates between Egypt, Sudan"

Shipping: As Another Container Vessel Loses A Huge Number Of Boxes, Calls For Load Limits

From The Loadstar: 

Carriers face load restrictions after new container spill, from Maersk Essen

There are calls for an urgent review of container lashing practices and stack height restrictions after another box ship lost a huge number of containers in the Pacific Ocean.

The 13,092 teu Maersk Essen, en route from China to Los Angeles, lost approximately 750 containers on Saturday during heavy seas, confirmed the carrier.

Maersk said “all crewmembers are safe and a detailed cargo assessment is ongoing” as the ship continues its voyage.

According to a FleetMon report, up to 100 containers have been sighted drifting north-west of Honolulu. In their mostly submerged state, they will remain a serious hazard to small craft.

This is the third such serious incident on the tradelane in less than two months, the ONE Apus loss of more than 1,800 containers on 30 November the largest....


Sensors detect rare 'musical note' from magnetosphere over Norway

And rather surprisingly it was the opening chord from the Beatles' "A Hard Days Night".

Test your musical knowledge: What was that chord?

  • A dominant 9th of F in the key of C
  • G-C-F-Bb-D-G
  • C-Bb-D-F-G-C in the key of C
  • A polytriad ii7/V in Ab major
  • G7sus4 (open position)
  • D7sus4 (open position)
  • G7 with added 9th and suspended 4th
  • A superimposition of Dm, F, and G
  • Gsus4/D
  • G11sus4
  • G7sus7/A
  • Dm11 with no 9th
  • Gm7add11
  • G9sus4/D

Answer below. And now from SpaceWeather:

...A MUSICAL NOTE FROM THE MAGNETOSPHERE: High above the Arctic Circle in Lofoten, Norway, citizen scientist Rob Stammes operates a space weather monitoring station. His sensors detect ground currents, auroras, radio bursts, and disturbances in Earth's magnetic field. Yesterday, he says, "I received a musical note from the magnetosphere."

"Around 05.30 UTC on Jan. 18th, our local magnetic field began to swing back and forth in a rhythmic pattern," he says. "Electrical currents in the ground did the same thing. It was a nearly pure sine wave--like a low frequency musical note. The episode lastesd for more than 2 hours."

Stammes has received such notes before, but they are rare. "I see a pattern like this only about once a year," he says.

Space physicists call this phenomenon a "pulsation continuous" or "Pc" for short. Imagine blowing across a piece of paper, making it flutter with your breath. Solar wind does the same thing to magnetic fields. Pc waves are essentially flutters propagating down the flanks of Earth's magnetosphere excited by the breath of the sun.... 


If you guessed the opening chord of A Hard Day's Night is an F add9 you are correct!!

And I lied, that was not what was heard in the skies above Norway.

However, you can see The Beatles Bible for even more on this unique opening.

Or just listen to the song. 

"Michelin awards first star to a vegan restaurant in France"

 Two from the New York Post. First up, the headline story:

Michelin no longer has beef with France’s vegan restaurants.

The culinary institution has, for the first time, awarded one of its coveted stars to an eatery with an animal-free menu.

ONA is “the first vegan restaurant in France to win a star,” a Michelin Guide spokeswoman confirmed to AFP.

The lucky restaurant, southwestern France’s ONA (an acronym for Origine Non Animale), is just 4 years old and almost didn’t get off the ground.

Restaurant runner Claire Vallée initially struggled to get the money she needed to start her venture, with French banks not sold on the business. “They said the outlook for veganism and plant-based food was too uncertain,” she said, according to the Guardian. Her location, on the Atlantic Ocean’s Arcachon Bay, was also not considered sufficiently promising....MORE 

Sure, Pierre Troisgros dies and this happens.


France’s Michelin Guide awards stars in virtual ceremony 

France’s Michelin Guide, which has long served as a bible for foodies, is adapting its awards ceremony in Paris for the year that was like no other – 2020. It is handing out its stars for the shuttered industry at a virtual ceremony to a virtual public.

From the panoramic splendor of the Jules Verne restaurant on the Eiffel Tower’s second floor, judges are giving out this year’s stars for their 2021 France guide — based on reviews of eateries that have for large periods of time been completely closed nationwide.

The country famed for its cuisine saw restaurants shut for large parts of last year during what was one of Europe’s harshest lockdowns, while strict curfews disrupted the dinner service....MORE

"Electric Cars’ Looming Recycling Problem"

From Undark, January 21:

Financial incentives to recycle spent electric vehicle batteries are eroding. That could spell environmental disaster.

In September, Tesla announced that it would be phasing out the use of cobalt in its batteries, in an effort to produce a $25,000 electric vehicle within three years. If successful, this bold move will be an industry game changer, making electric vehicles competitive with conventional counterparts. But the announcement also underscores one of the fundamental challenges that will complicate the transition to electric vehicles. Without cobalt, there may be little financial incentive to recycle the massive batteries used to power the cars — and that could lead to an environmental disaster.

The switch to electric vehicles has been promoted as a major, necessary step to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in order to stave off the worst effects of a changing climate. The switch would also significantly reduce health risks associated with vehicle emissions. Every major auto manufacturer now has at least one electric vehicle in production, and some — including Daimler, Volkswagen, and General Motors — have pledged to phase out the production of gas and diesel engines entirely. More than a dozen countries, including many in Europe, have said they plan to ban sales of gasoline and diesel cars by 2040 or sooner. California also just announced a plan to phase out gas and diesel cars by 2035.

But electric cars have their own dirty little secret: Every electric vehicle, and most hybrid vehicles, rely on large lithium-ion batteries weighing hundreds of pounds. One of the largest, the battery for the Mercedes-Benz EQC, comes in at 1,400 pounds. Typically made with cobalt, nickel, and manganese, among other components, these batteries cost thousands of dollars and come with an environmental burden: They require ingredients sourced from polluting mines and smelters around the world, and they can ultimately contaminate soil and water supplies if improperly disposed.

In the rush to embrace this technology, auto companies are adopting the same pretense that has been embraced by the plastics industry: They are claiming that used batteries will be recycled. However, the truth is being swept under the rug. None of the lithium-ion batteries in electric vehicles are recyclable in the same sense that paper, glass, and lead car batteries are. Although efforts to improve recycling methods are underway, generally only around half the materials in these batteries is currently extracted and repurposed. And without the most valuable ingredients, there will be little economic incentive to invest in recycling technologies. The result, if nothing is done to tip the scales, could be a massive health and environmental crisis.

Despite ongoing research into recycling technology, this situation is unlikely to resolve itself. Lithium-ion battery makers have yet to develop the technology that can economically extract components in a form that can be used to make new lithium-ion batteries. Rather, the batteries are typically processed to remove the cobalt and a few other expensive metals, with much of the remainder released as air emissions or used as filler in concrete or other construction products. This is one reason why less than 5 percent of lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled.... 


"EU batteries regulation aims to reduce reliance on China imports"
"Renault batteries find ‘megawatt-scale’ 2nd life use in Belgium"
This is not the future, Umicore is also working on that, but it is a way to extract some value from what is essentially toxic waste....
UPDATED—"Automakers Need to Start Worrying About the Batteries Lurking in Older Electric Vehicles" (plus some M&A speculation from Markets Live)

World's Largest Single-site Solar Power Plant in Abu Dhabi

From the Economic Times:

A video released on Wednesday by Abu Dhabi Media Office offers a stunning look at the plant that will eventually replace existing conventional gas-fired power plants.

Abu Dhabi: An hour's drive southeast of Abu Dhabi is the world's largest single-site solar plant. Located at Sweihan in Abu Dhabi, Noor Abu Dhabi (which means 'light' in Arabic) features 3.2 million solar panels. The clean, renewable energy produced here will power the daily lives of 90,000 families in the emirate.

A video released on Wednesday by Abu Dhabi Media Office offers a stunning look at the plant that will eventually replace existing conventional gas-fired power plants, the Khaleej Times reported....MORE

Ahead of Tomorrow's EIA Natural Gas Storage Report: "Drop in LNG Exports Could Become Big Worry for Long Speculators"

Front futures down 0.074 (-2.91%) at 2.465.

 From FX Empire:

Looking ahead to Friday’s government storage report, Natural Gas Intelligence’s model is predicting a 191 Bcf withdrawal for the week-ending Jan 15.

Natural gas futures are trading lower on Thursday while continuing to straddle a key support area that could determine its near-term direction. The market is also trading inside yesterday’s range, which suggests investor indecision and impending volatility.

The lack of cold temperatures has been the main reason for the recent drop in prices, but bullish speculators face another issue that could wipe out most of the gains seen since late December. Demand could be dropping for liquefied natural gas (LNG) after a report showed a drop in export volumes.

At 14:37 GMT, March natural gas futures are trading $2.498, down $0.035 or -1.38%.

Short-Term Weather Outlook

According to for January 21 to January 27, “Cool to cold conditions will spread across the northern U.S. the next few days with highs of 20s to lower 40s for stronger national demand. The West will be cool and unsettled with areas of rain and snow and highs of 20s to 50s. The central and southern U.S. will be mild to warm with highs of 40s to 70s for light demand. After a brief break Monday across the Midwest and East, another chilly cold shot will arrive mid-next week with lows of 0s to 30s for a return to strong national demand. Overall, low demand today, then increasing to high by Saturday.”...

Related via WorldOil, January 17:
February cancellations amounted to ten shipments, so far announced cancellations for March are running at half that.

"Electricity generating capacity additions & retirements in 2021, and the long-term change in the power mix"

 From Wolf Street, January 12:

Electricity Has Been in a Slump for 14 Years, But All Heck Has Broken Loose in How it’s Generated 

In 2021, developers and power plant owners plan to bring 39.7 gigawatts (GW) of new electricity generating capacity on line, and retire 9.1 GW in generating capacity, for a net increase in capacity of 30.6 GW, according to the EIA today. 70% of the capacity additions will be from wind and solar, 16% will be from natural gas, and 3% will be from a nuclear reactor. These are utility-scale power generators and exclude rooftop solar. Of the retirements, 86% will be coal and nuclear.

Electricity generation in the US has been a no-growth business since 2006, as efficiencies in electrical equipment (LED lights, appliances, air conditioning, etc.) and further offshoring of manufacturing have kept consumption roughly stable despite growth in the economy and population. But where all heck has broken loose is in how this power is being generated (data via the EIA).

Coal-fired power generation has collapsed by over 60% in 12 years, from around 169 GW hours per month on average in 2008 to 65 GW hours per month on average over the past 12 months, according to data from the EIA. It went from “King Coal” by a wide margin in 2008 (black line in the chart below) to #3, after surging natural gas-fired power generation (green line) blew by it in 2015 as the US has become the largest NG producer in world. And toward the end of 2020, coal fell even below nuclear power (brown line).

In a few years, wind and solar combined (red line) will blow by coal as well. With wind and solar, the big enticement for power generators is that the “fuel” is free and that there won’t be any “fuel” price increases in the future, no matter what inflation will do:

The decline of coal has long been lamented by railroads. In 2020, according to the Association of American Railroads, coal carloads plunged by 24.6% from 2019, to just 3.01 million carloads, the lowest annual total on record....


Gates, Bezos, Bloomberg Backed Fund Raises Another Billion For Greentech/Cleantech/AltEnergy

 From Seattle's own Geekwire:

Gates-led Breakthrough Energy Ventures raises another $1B for investing in climate innovation

Breakthrough Energy Ventures — an initiative to help the planet reach zero carbon emissions through innovation — has raised its second $1 billion round of funding.

The new capital will fund some 40-50 startups, according to Bloomberg News, and will focus on some of the trickier green technologies in development, including climate-friendlier steel and cement production, long-haul transportation, and technologies for capturing carbon from the air.

Breakthrough Energy Ventures is led by Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and publicly launched in December 2016. Its investors and board of directors include more than two-dozen ultra-wealthy tech and business leaders from around the globe, including Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson, LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman, Alibaba’s Jack Ma, and Michael Bloomberg.

Startups already backed by the fund are working on wide-ranging technologies including batteries, fusion reactors, biofuels, geothermal power, cleaner fertilizer and alternative protein sources....


Meanwhile in London: Dope

The founder of FT Alphaville, Paul Murphy, has moved on to the editorship of FT Investigations but stops by da 'Ville from time to time with some thoughts, oftentimes connected to Alphaville or the Financial Times. Here it is an easy familiarity with a very old part of London.

From FT Alphaville:

The Worshipful Company of Stoners
Sir Joseph Nathaniel Lyons DL will be spinning in his grave.

Trudging through a dank and deserted Square Mile this week, turning the corner at Old Broad Street onto Throgmorton Street, an Alphaville regular came across this . . . 


Those are plastic pots for holding plants. Pot plants. Weed. 

This is the subterranean site of the long-closed, but Grade 1-listed, Throgmorton Bars and Restaurant, that included The Long Room — gossip-central for stock market traders until the closure of the London Stock Exchange floor in the late 80s. 

It was the inspiration for Alphaville’s own Long Room forum. 

Thorgmortons sits deep underground, beneath the Worshipful Company of Drapers, who have been there since 1543, when the livery hall purchased the London mansion of Thomas Cromwell from King Henry VIII. Cromwell had lost his head three years earlier, of course....


It was because of Throgmortons that I learned Izabella Kaminska had become editor of FT Alphaville.

November 26, 2017
UPDATED - Gambling, Investing and Congratulations to Izabella Kaminska of the Financial Times

Last week the Throgmorton Restaurant came up in conversation and later I was googling around for it and ended up at the Wikipedia page for FT Alphaville and started screaming like a lunatic: "Would you look at this! Look at this!"
Being the only person in the room the response I received was muted but this is what I saw:

FT Alphaville is a daily news and commentary service for financial market professionals created by the Financial Times in October 2006.[1] The founding editor was Paul Murphy he was succeeded in 2017 by Izabella Kaminska....
There had been no announcement (that I saw) at FTAV regarding who Mr. Murphy's successor would be (he's now doing deep-dive investigations), and not being easily convinced of pretty much anything I had to visit Alphaville's Meet the Team page and son-of-a-gun, words fail but for a sincere: Well Done Izabella.

Now, with that introduction I am going to do something I very rarely do, copy out more than a sentence or three from the FT itself vs. copy-n-paste from the the online flagship which we do at least weekly. I'll explain why after the jump. Here is Ms Kaminska writing at the Financial Times, November 21:....


.... And why did I end up at Alphaville's Wikipedia page? The FTAV Long Room!:

..."The Long Room" is named after a dining room of a City of London bar/restaurant on Throgmorton Street[2][3] that used to be frequented by stockbrokers, bankers and insurance brokers when the London Stock Exchange was located on Threadneedle Street.[6][7]
Which had a couple of the search keywords for what had been my target:
Throgmorton Restaurant
The Throgmorton Restaurant, situated at the heart of London's business centre between the Stock Exchange and the Bank of England, was opened on 15 October 1900. Lyons had secured an 80-year lease on a property in Throgmorton Street in 1897 from the Worshipful Company of Drapers and spent £30,000 in building the restaurant and offices above.....MUCH MORE

Wrapping up: good luck to Ms Kaminska in her new position and to Mr Murphy in his.
(although for some reason I am picturing Paul heading up the Zambezi to rendezvous with Joseph Cotterill and continuing on to Lubumbashi DRC to do some ambush journalism on....damn, that's a screenplay) 

Our only other mentions of Throgmorton Street were in a 2011 piece on David Ricardo:

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Hydrogen: Fertilizer Majors Yara; CF Industries Repurposing Ammonia Plants To Produce Marine Fuel (CF; YAR.O)

From Reuters:

Two of the world’s biggest fertilizer producers, CF Industries Holdings Inc and Yara International Asa, are seeking to cash in on the green energy transition by reconfiguring ammonia plants in the United States and Norway to produce clean energy to power ships.

The consumption of oil for transportation is one of the top contributors to global greenhouse gas emissions that cause climate change, and fertilizer producers join a growing list of companies adjusting their business models to profit from a future lower-carbon economy.

By altering the production process for ammonia normally used for fertilizer, the companies told Reuters they can produce hydrogen for fuel or a form of carbon-free ammonia used either as a carrier for hydrogen or as a marine fuel to power cargo and even cruise ships.

The shift may improve their standing with environment-minded investors as fertilizer emissions attract greater government scrutiny in North America and Europe.

But the green fuels are not yet commercial and will require significant investment to turn a profit - a reality that has the world’s largest fertilizer producer, Canada’s Nutrien Ltd, staying out of the space for now. Oslo-based Yara is seeking government subsidies to proceed.

Still, renewable ammonia represents a 6 billion-euro ($7.25 billion) opportunity for fertilizer producers by 2030, according to Citibank, based on 20 million tonnes of annual sales globally for clean power and shipping fuel compared with virtually none now. Global ammonia sales currently amount to 180 million tonnes.

“We absolutely could be known more for being a clean energy company than an ag supplier,” CF Chief Executive Tony Will said in an interview, speaking of long-term prospects for the Illinois-based company.


Fertilizer plants separate hydrogen from natural gas and combine it with nitrogen taken from the air to make ammonia, which farmers inject into soil to maximize crop growth.

Production generates carbon emissions that CF says it can avoid by extracting hydrogen instead from water charged with electricity. It can then combine that hydrogen with nitrogen to make green ammonia, which the marine industry is testing as fuel.

CF is in discussions about selling green ammonia to a Japanese power consortium including Mitsubishi Corp, but buyers will break most of it down to pure hydrogen for use in transportation sectors.

“This is a market that easily can exceed what the total ammonia (fertilizer) market is,” Will said. “We’re going to grow into that over the next 20-25 years.”....


TD Ameritrade Founder Launching News Outlet

 Without fear or favor. "Without opinion or bias,”

From Reuters:

Billionaire businessman and founder of TD Ameritrade Joe Ricketts is launching a new national outlet to deliver news “without opinion or bias,” a spokesperson said on Tuesday.

The news of the venture was first reported by the Omaha World-Herald here, which describes Joe Ricketts as a leading funder of national conservative causes. The Center for Responsive Politics has listed him as a Republican megadonor.

The news outlet, called Straight Arrow News, will be based in Omaha, Nebraska, and is expected to launch this year, according to the spokesperson.

“The name speaks to the company’s mission of being a trustworthy source of news and information – a straight arrow that hits the bullseye,” Joe Ricketts said through a spokesperson.

News of the launch comes as President Donald Trump has lost access to key media platforms, prompting speculation that he could launch his own media company or strike a deal or partnership with an existing player. Trump has been without a media platform since Twitter, Facebook and other tech companies banned him following the Jan. 6 pro-Trump riots at the U.S. Capitol.

The outgoing president has been critical of Rupert Murdoch’s Fox Corp -owned Fox News cable channel and has promoted the two cable outlets to the right of Fox - Newsmax and One America News Network (OAN) - helping them grow....


"The Unauthorized Story of Andreessen Horowitz"

 From Eric Newcomer writing at Medium, January 19:

Why media whisperer Margit Wennmachers is going direct.

Benedict Evans, Andreessen Horowitz’s former in-house analyst, has mused over the years that “A16Z is a media company that monetizes through VC.”

That observation becomes truer by the day.

While there’s a lot of loose talk on Twitter about cutting out the media and “going direct” – publishing your own story to the world without the press as an intermediary – Andreessen Horowitz is really doing it, consciously and methodically. The firm’s strategy has dramatic implications for the future of media and the venture capital industry.

This is the story of how Andreessen Horowitz disrupted the world of venture capital by cozying up to the media and then, how they purposefully threw that relationship away.

Let me tell you the story from the beginning.

About a decade ago, Margit Wennmachers sent an email to reporter Kara Swisher.

Swisher took a break from horseback riding to write that Wennmachers was leaving Outcast, the communications agency she co-founded with Caryn Marooney. Wennmachers was joining the one-year-old venture capital firm Andreessen Horowitz as a full partner – a rare title for a woman in Silicon Valley, especially in 2010.

Wennmachers explained her strategy for positioning the firm in the early days, in an interview on Andreessen Horowitz’s in-house podcast. “I wanted to try and get a cover story because – this sounds old fashioned now, because everybody reads their news on Twitter and it's all online whatever – but there's still a statement that comes with a cover story that is in print, that you see at the airport,” she recalled.

With Wennmachers’ press savvy, Marc Andreessen’s idea-a-second patter, and Ben Horowitz’s gravitas, the trio took Silicon Valley by storm. The firm outbid competitors for sought-after companies, spun up a slew of services for founders, and pitched its story relentlessly to the press.

With Wennmachers’ encouragement Andreessen penned a now historic Op-Ed in the Wall Street Journal in 2011, titled, “Why Software is Eating the World.” The phrase became so ubiquitous that it can seem like everything eats the world these days.

“Margit is really a hidden founder of this firm,” a startup founder who has raised money from the firm told me. “The power dynamics there is, Marc, Ben, and Margit.”

Communications executives and reporters alike are in awe of Wennmachers for her sway with the media. “Comms in the Valley – she's the number 1 draft pick. She's very good,” one public relations person said. “I would never want to be crosswise with her.”

While Wennmachers’ strategy in that early period would have been familiar to many in Hollywood and Washington, it was less common in clubby and decorous Silicon Valley at the time. “She would say that was her job – to manage information so that she could shape the narrative,” one person who knows Wennmachers said.

Wennmachers deployed industry gossip and access to her firm’s partners to stay in the good favor of many reporters.

One communications executive at an Andreessen Horowitz portfolio company recalled Wennmachers fishing for information about an upcoming story on behalf of reporters. Wennmachers pushed to deliver the information to the reporters herself, this executive said.

A high-powered rival PR executive described Wennmachers as an enforcer: “You don't cross us and if you do, we shut off the information flow.

One member of the press recalled Wennmachers chasing down a potential bit of news. When Wennmachers returned the call and threw cold water on the story, the reporter took it in stride. Wennmachers told the reporter that they were now a “friend of the firm.” The comment struck the reporter as odd. They were just trying to get the facts right. But Wennmachers’ attitude seemed to reflect a coziness that she had come to expect from reporters dutifully covering Silicon Valley. 

Wennmachers regularly hosted salon-style dinners at her home near the Presidio in San Francisco with reporters, portfolio companies, and the firm’s partners. While it’s not unusual for a venture capital firm to host reporters for a dinner, Wennmachers did it better than anyone else. When I attended one of her dinners in 2014, it felt like I’d finally gotten invited inside the Silicon Valley.  

“I was invited to dinner at her house with members of the media. It was incredible,” one founder recalled. “That was like a cool invitation. If you were in the press you were really excited about getting dinner at Margit’s house, which is kind of mind-blowing if you think about it.”

Wennmachers can put on a friendly façade, but if you spend much time with her you come to realize that she’s a profoundly serious person. She doesn’t win over reporters because she’s fun. It’s because she cuts through the bullshit. She fundamentally understands what makes a good story. She knows what motivates reporters better than many reporters. That’s part of what makes the firm’s turn against the media so worrying.

Back in that early media heyday, Wennmachers doled the firm’s partners out to media companies who were eager to have them speak at lucrative conferences. And the firm’s partners were game to prophesize in audacious terms about what the future might look like, filling column inches.

Swisher and Wennmachers – two women who climbed their way to dominance in an industry overrun with men – are friendly to this day. Many Silicon Valley insiders strongly suspect that Wennmachers was one of Swisher’s sources when she covered Silicon Valley’s day-to-day dramas. But Swisher describes Wennmachers as fiercely loyal to her own companies, though Wennmachers “also did not pretend a problem I might call about was not one.”....


"Hollywood and hyper-surveillance: the incredible story of Gorgon Stare"

From the journal Nature, June 11, 2019:

Sharon Weinberger commends a book on how a film inspired the United States to develop technology to capture everyone’s every move. 

Eyes in the Sky: The Secret Rise of Gorgon Stare and How It Will Watch Us All Arthur Holland Michel Houghton Mifflin Harcourt (2019)

In the 1998 Hollywood thriller Enemy of the State, an innocent man (played by Will Smith) is pursued by a rogue spy agency that uses the advanced satellite “Big Daddy” to monitor his every move. The film — released 15 years before Edward Snowden blew the whistle on a global surveillance complex — has achieved a cult following.

It was, however, much more than just prescient: it was also an inspiration, even a blueprint, for one of the most powerful surveillance technologies ever created. So contends technology writer and researcher Arthur Holland Michel in his compelling book Eyes in the Sky. He notes that a researcher (unnamed) at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California who saw the movie at its debut decided to “explore — theoretically, at first — how emerging digital-imaging technology could be affixed to a satellite” to craft something like Big Daddy, despite the “nightmare scenario” it unleashes in the film. Holland Michel repeatedly notes this contradiction between military scientists’ good intentions and a technology based on a dystopian Hollywood plot.

He traces the development of that technology, called wide-area motion imagery (WAMI, pronounced ‘whammy’), by the US military from 2001. A camera on steroids, WAMI can capture images of large areas, in some cases an entire city. The technology got its big break after 2003, in the chaotic period following the US-led invasion of Iraq, where home-made bombs — improvised explosive devices (IEDs) — became the leading killer of US and coalition troops. Defence officials began to call for a Manhattan Project to spot and tackle the devices.

In 2006, the cinematically inspired research was picked up by DARPA, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, which is tasked with US military innovation (D. Kaiser Nature 543, 176–177; 2017). DARPA funded the building of an aircraft-mounted camera with a capacity of almost two billion pixels. The Air Force had dubbed the project Gorgon Stare, after the monsters of penetrating gaze from classical Greek mythology, whose horrifying appearance turned observers to stone. (DARPA called its programme Argus, after another mythical creature: a giant with 100 eyes.)....


Previously on Gorgon Stare: 

The smart city is moving beyond cameras and microphones to stranger surveillance tools.

NFIB Survey: Sends A Strong Warning About Small-Cap Stocks (IWM)

Although we use the Russell 2000 ETF as shorthand for the small cap stock universe it is really too broad for most purposes. That said it has been on a tear since the March 2020 lows, far outstripping both the S&P 500 and emerging markets:

BigCharts (also on blogroll at right)

And that combined with the article below may be where opportunity lies.

From Lance Roberts of Real Investment Advice via Advisor Perspectives, January 19:

In September 2019, I wrote “NFIB Survey Trips Economic Alarms,” Of course, it was just a few short months later the U.S. economy fell into the deepest recession since the “Great Depression.” The latest NFIB survey is sending a strong warning to investors piling into small-cap stocks.

While the mainstream media overlooks the NFIB data, they really shouldn’t. There are currently 30.7 million small businesses in the United States. Small businesses (defined as fewer than 500 employees) account for 99% of all enterprises, employ 60 million people, and account for nearly 70% of employment. The chart below shows the breakdown of firms and jobs from the 2019 Census Bureau Data.

NFIB Small-Cap Stocks, NFIB Survey: Sends A Strong Warning About Small-Cap Stocks

Despite all the headlines about Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, and others, small businesses drive the economy, employment, and wages. Therefore, what the NFIB says is relevant to what happens in the economy.

NFIB Shows Confidence Drop

In December, the survey declined to 95.9 from a peak of 108.8. Notably, many suggest the drop was “politically driven” by conservative owned businesses. While there was indeed a drop following the election, the decline continues what started in 2018.

NFIB Small-Cap Stocks, NFIB Survey: Sends A Strong Warning About Small-Cap Stocks

As I discussed when the index hit its record high previously:

“Record levels of anything are records for a reason. It is the point where the sustainability of activity can not be increased further. Therefore, when a ‘record level’ is reached, it is NOT THE BEGINNING, but rather an indication of the MATURITY, of a cycle.”

That point of “exuberance” was the peak of the economy.

Before we dig into the details, let me remind you this is a “sentiment” based survey. Such is a crucial concept to understand as “Planning” to do something is a far different factor than actually “doing” it.

An Economic Boom Will Require Participation

Currently, many analysts expect a massive economic boom in 2021. The basis of those expectations is massive “pent-up” demand when the economy reopens.

I would agree with that expectation had there been no stimulus programs or expanded unemployment benefits. Those inflows allowed individuals to spend during a recession where such would not usually be the case. Those artificial inputs dragged forward future or “pent-up” consumption into the present.

However, the NFIB survey also suggests much the same.

Small businesses are susceptible to economic downturns and don’t have access to public markets for debt or secondary offerings. As such, they tend to focus heavily on operating efficiencies and profitability.

If businesses were expecting a massive surge in “pent up” demand, they would be doing several things to prepare for it. Such includes planning to increase capital expenditures to meet expected demand. Unfortunately, those expectations peaked in 2018 and are lower again.

NFIB Small-Cap Stocks, NFIB Survey: Sends A Strong Warning About Small-Cap Stocks

There are important implications to the economy since “business investment” is a GDP calculation component. Small business capital expenditure “plans” have a high correlation with real gross private investment. The plunge in “CapEx” expectations suggests business investment will drop sharply next month.....


IWM $214.96 

Professor Shiller's Update To The CAPE Index: "Making Sense of Sky-High Stock Prices"

Via Financial Advisor, November 30, 2020:

Making Sense of Sky-High Stock Prices

There has been much puzzlement that the world’s stock markets haven’t collapsed in the face of the Covid-19 pandemic, and especially in the United States, which has recently been setting record highs for new cases. But maybe it isn’t such a puzzle. A measure we call the Excess CAPE Yield (ECY) puts the long-term outlook for the world’s stock markets in better perspective.

Indisputably, asset markets are substantially driven by psychology and narratives. As the Nobel laureate Daniel Kahneman wrote, “familiarity breeds liking,” and several familiar narratives have emerged in the world’s stock markets this year, following the initial Covid-19 shock in the first quarter. For example, there is the V-shaped recovery narrative and the FOMO (fear of missing out) narrative; both might be helping to drive markets to new highs. There is also the work-from-home narrative, which has specifically benefited technology and communication stocks. But are these narratives the only reason why all of us have not considered just pulling our money out of stocks and putting it into safer alternatives such as bonds, or even under the mattress at home? 

The cyclically adjusted price-to-earnings (CAPE) ratio, which captures the ratio of the real (inflation-adjusted) share price to the ten-year average of real earnings per share, appears to forecast real long-term stock-market returns well in five influential world regions. When the CAPE ratio is high, long-term returns tend to be low over the next ten years, and vice versa. Since the Covid-19 shock, CAPE ratios have mostly recovered to their pre-pandemic levels. For example, the US CAPE ratio in November 2020 is 33, exceeding its level prior to the start of the Covid-19 pandemic; in fact, it is now back to the same level as the high of 33 in January 2018.

There are only two other periods when the CAPE ratio in the US was above 30: the late 1920s and the early 2000s.China’s CAPE ratio is also higher than it was prior to the pandemic. The stock markets in both regions are skewed toward the technology, communication services, and consumer discretionary sectors, all of which have benefited from the major narratives of the Covid-19 pandemic, which may partly explain their higher CAPE ratios relative to other regions.

As for Europe and Japan, their CAPE ratios are largely back at their pre-Covid-19 levels, while only the United Kingdom is still well below its pre-pandemic level and longer-term average. Notably, these regions have lower exposure to the technology, communication services, and consumer discretionary sectors.

Market observers have noted the potential role of low interest rates in pushing up CAPE ratios. In traditional financial theory, interest rates are a key component of valuation models. When interest rates fall, the discount rate used in these models decreases and the price of the equity asset should appreciate, assuming all other model inputs stay constant. So, interest-rate cuts by central banks may be used to justify higher equity prices and CAPE ratios. Thus, the level of interest rates is an increasingly important element to consider when valuing equities.

To capture these effects and compare investments in stocks versus bonds, we developed the ECY, which considers both equity valuation and interest-rate levels. To calculate the ECY, we simply invert the CAPE ratio to get a yield and then subtract the ten-year real interest rate. This measure is somewhat like the equity market premium and is a useful way to consider the interplay of long-term valuations and interest rates. A higher measure indicates that equities are more attractive. The ECY in the US, for example, is 4%, derived from a CAPE yield of 3% and then subtracting a ten-year real interest rate of -1.0% (adjusted using the preceding ten years’ average inflation rate of 2%).

We looked back in time for our five world regions—up to 40 years, where the data would allow—and found some striking results....


And this type of thinking is why we have been so fixated on the 10-year's yield since August and on reported inflation since September.

If interested see:

San Francisco Fed: Covid-19 Demand Shock Currently Has The Upper Hand In The Inflation Puzzle
"Inflation Is Already Here—For the Stuff You Actually Want to Buy"
Today's Producer Price Index Inflation Report (maybe not as bad as it appears)
Barron's Matthew C Klein Is Monitoring Inflation in Paper Towels and Cleaning Supplies
PPI Inflation: "Core Producer Price Growth Slows In October But Food Prices Surge"
"Breakeven Inflation Is Breaking Out"
Inflation: "Producer Prices Rise At Fastest Pace Since February"
"Why Albert Edwards Is Starting To Panic About Soaring Food Prices"
St. Louis Fed: Food Prices As An Indicator Of Future Inflation

That last piece in particular is worth a look