Category Archives: Natural Resources

Carbon Footprint – NZ v UK primary industry

Useful video on Food’s true carbon cost from the FT – mentions New Zealand apples being sold in the UK not necessarily having a greater global footprint. Apples kept in cold storage would cause a greater carbon footprint than apples being shipped from New Zealand.

Previously food miles (the total distance traveled as food is transported from its place of origin to the consumer’s plate) was one measure of the global footprint and New Zealand is particularly vulnerable due its large quantities of agricultural exports and its geographical isolation. However, transport had been taken out as it was difficult to single out one part of the food system and conclude that because it has come from thousands of miles away it is automatically less sustainable. Therefore, the food miles argument for favouring domestic produce was only valid if food is produced using identical processes around the globe.

In order to reduce CO2 emissions, merely taxing imported food can’t be seen as the answer. As CO2 is emitted at roughly all stages of the process of transporting food to the dining room table, an appraisal of the environmental cost of devouring food from different countries should assess CO2 emissions throughout the product’s complete lifecycle. Stages in a food’s lifecycle include sowing, growing, harvesting, packaging, storage, transportation and consumption. Every phase uses energy and consequently create CO2. These include; Direct Inputs, Indirect Inputs, and Capital Inputs. A simplified flow chart representation of these inputs and the farm outputs, including environmental impacts, but excluding the transport occurring outside the farm gate is shown in Figure 1. Although it was done in 2006 a study by Saunders et al assessed the total CO2 emissions released in the supply of four New Zealand and UK food products to British markets. The report showed (see Table 1 for report data) that in the case of dairy and sheepmeat production NZ is by far more energy efficient even including the transport cost than the UK, twice as efficient in the case of dairy, and four times as efficient in case of sheepmeat.

In the case of apples NZ is more energy efficient even though the energy embodied in capital items and other inputs data was not available for the UK. Onions – where transport emissions account for around two-thirds of all CO2 resulting form the supply of New Zealand crops – are the only product for which UK consumers can reduce CO2 emissions by favouring domestic produce.

A major contributor to New Zealand’s relative CO2 efficiency in dairy production is that New Zealand agriculture tends to apply less fertilisers (which require large amounts of energy to produce and cause significant CO2 emissions) and animals are able to graze year round outside eating grass instead large quantities of brought-in feed such as concentrates. European dairy farms involve housing animals for extended periods of time. The fact that New Zealand farmers do not require subsidies to be internationally competitive, unlike their British counterparts, indicates these efficiencies of production.

Covid-19 hits oil prices hard

With the demand for oil dropping over covid-19 and the over supply in the market, oil prices have collapsed. Brent crude fell by more than half in March to below $23 per barrel. For many years OPEC – Organisation of the Petroleum Exporting Countries – has manipulated supply to maintain higher prices. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

The Economist – 26th March 2020

Cost of extraction v Price of a barrel

Like any business you need to consider costs relative to the price of your good or service. Some shale oil wells in the US may have a break-even point of $40 a barrel despite the high fracking costs. However some sources say that it is above $60 a barrel with the higher-cost wells coming in at over $90 a barrel. These industries cannot survive in this environment of such low oil prices. Also the Canadian tar sands are another costly method of extracting oil and this could lead to a shut down of production.

By contrast in Saudi Arabia the extraction cost is around $9/barrel with Russia coming slightly higher at $15/barrel. The Middle East and North Africa are also very efficient, producing oil as cheaply as $20 per barrel. Worldwide, conventional oil production typically costs between $30 to $40 a barrel.

Nevertheless countries like Venezuela and Nigeria depend hugely on oil revenue for their spending. Although Russia and Saudi Arabia have significant foreign reserves the more the virus persists and demand keeps falling the greater the damage. Useful video from Al Jazeera below.

Saudi Arabia and Russia – oil price war

Below is a very good video from the FT outlining the latest disagreement between the USA and Saudi Arabia. Since 2017 both Saudi Arabia and Russia have been working together to prop up oil prices but have had a falling out over Saudi Arabia’s insistence on cutting oil supplies by 1.5 million barrels per day.

China the biggest importer of oil has cut back on oil consumption because of the coronavirus outbreak was bringing the economy to a standstill. Oil prices had their biggest one-day fall since the 1991 Gulf Crisis – some are expecting prices to go to $20 a barrel. What is at the heart of the fallout? Russia’s anger over sanctions targeted at its oil giant, Rosneft Trading. Washington imposed the sanctions last month over its continued support in selling Venezuela’s oil. Moscow was hoping to get Riyadh on its side to inflict economic pain on US shale producers, who Moscow feels have been getting a free ride on the back of OPEC+ production cuts. Shale production has pushed the United States into the number one spot as the world’s biggest producer of oil. Moscow hopes it could lead to the collapse of some of those businesses, if oil prices remain below $40 a barrel.

Source: Al Jazerra- Counting the Cost.

Why dearer oil impacts developing economies more.

It wasn’t long ago that $100 for a barrel of oil was the norm but with the advent of the shale market the production increased which depressed prices. It was felt that the flexibility of large scale shale production from the USA could act as a stabiliser to global oil prices.

Oil shocks – supply or demand?

Oil shocks are not all the same. They tend to be associated with supply issues caused by conflict or OPEC reducing daily production targets. In the case of an increase in global growth there is the demand side for oil which increases the price. However this doesn’t have a great effect as in such cases the rising cost of imported oil is offset by the increasing export revenue. However today’s increase has a bit of both:

Demand – global consumption has increased as the advanced economies recover after the GFC especially China
Supply – supply constraints in Venezuela from the economic crisis. Also tighter American sanctions on Iran and OPEC producers are not increasing supply with the higher price.

Higher oil prices do squeeze household budgets and therefore reduce demand. Lower prices are expected to act as a stimulus to consumer spending but it can also have negative effects on the petroleum industries.

Emerging economies the impact of higher oil prices

Oil importing emerging economies are badly impacted by higher oil prices:

  • Terms of trade deteriorate as the price of their imports rise relative to their exports
  • Exports pay for fewer imports = importers’ current-account deficits widen.
  • Normally this leads to a depreciation a a country’s currency which makes exports cheaper and imports more expensive.

However this is not the case today. World trade is slowing and with it manufacturing orders therefore higher oil prices make the current account worse which in turn depreciates the exchange rate. For emerging economies who have borrowed from other countries or organisations a weaker exchange rate intensifies the burden of dollar-denominated debt. Companies in emerging economies have borrowed large amounts of money being spurred on by very low interest rates but they earn income in the domestic currency but owe in dollars – a weaker exchange rate means they have to spend more of their local currency to pay off their debt. Therefore indebted borrowers feel the financial squeeze and may reduce investment and layoff workers.

Another problem for emerging economies, as well as higher oil prices, is that central banks are looking to tighten monetary policy (interest rates) with the chance of higher inflation.

Source: The Economist – Crude Awaking – September 29th 2018

Clean energy – winners and losers

The impact of energy flows on the power and influence of nations has mostly been about the need for oil. Securing oil supply by ensuring its shipment, protecting the countries that produce it to the extent of going to war in an oil producing country has been prevalent in the 20th century. Oil being inelastic in demand has meant that as it becomes more scarce the price increases will result in higher revenue for the oil producing oligopoly. Countries dependent on the importing of oil have been at the wrath of higher oil prices caused by embargoes, wars, a financial crisis to name but a few – see graph below.

In fact the USA has been the most aggressive in protecting its oil supply to the extent that it saw it as their right to use military force in the Middle East – 2003 – second Iraq War. The reason given was to remove Saddam Hussein but this just disguised their real motive was to protect the oil fields. If they were so concerned about Saddam Hussein’s regime why didn’t they do anything about Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe? The answer is Zimbabwe doesn’t have oil. Remember the Gulf War in 1990 was a UN sanctioned operation involving many countries not just the USA and UK.

However the idea of scarcity is coming to an end thanks to 3 big developments.

  1. The shale revolution in the US has lead to them being the biggest combined producer of oil and gas – the US now pumps 10m barrels a day and it is making the country less reliant on imported oil. Also increases in US supply has added to the global market reducing the price.
  2. China is now moving to a more service based economy and in the process is moderating its demand for coal and oil, slowing the consumption of electricity. More importantly though it is deploying gas and renewable energies and stopping the growth of carbon-dioxide emissions. It’s dependence on imported fossils fuels has been the catalyst to develop more of its own wind and sunlight for energy sources as well as it planner more electric vehicles.
  3. Climate change requires low-carbon energy and the Paris accord of 2015 is a start to fight climate change. To achieve this goal trillions of dollars will have to be invested in wind and solar energy, batteries, electricity grids and a range of more experimental clean-energy sources. Ultimately this creates significant competition between countries in developing these technologies but also but at risk the access to rare earths and minerals to make the hardware. It seems that energy is now driven by the technology not the natural resource we are so used to.

Energy transitions since the Industrial Revolution has seen the following:

Coal ——> oil ——> technology and clean energy.

The obvious losers from this change will be those who have an endowment of fossil-fuel reserves and have relied for too long on oil without reforming their economies.

Traditional energy system (oil etc) is constrained by scarcity
The abundant renewable energy system is contained by variability

Ultimately the challenge for countries in future will be who can produce the most energy and who has the best technology. Those that don’t embrace clean-energy transition will be losers in the future.

Source: The Economist – Special Report ‘The Geopolitics of Energy’ 17th March 2018

Oil price rises a sign of a healthy global economy.

Oil prices have been irregular over the last four years with the price of a barrel of oil being over $100 in 2014. This price had been suggested as the new $20 due to scarcity of oil reserves. However by 2016 the price had dropped to $28 a barrel the talk was that there was a global glut. Today the price is around $70 and analysts have been perplexed as to what is behind this increase. According to The Economist three significant questions arise:

1. Why has the oil price more than doubled in the space of two years against all expectations?

The 2016 slump in prices ($28) was in part due to the weak demand and an abundance of supply – simple economics. But demand recovered quickly and in particular the Chinese economy quickly pepped up its economy with fastest growth rates. On the supply side OPEC were able to restrict output and stocks of oil in the US started to fall. This saw D > S = P↑. Usually when there is an increase in price it attracts other sources of oil which are more expensive to extract – eg shale oil in the US and the tar sands in Canada. This is in turn will increase the supply and lower the price. But small suppliers are finding it harder to increase output as the financiers want more focus on profit rather than output. It can take months before oil actually comes on-stream.

Source: The Economist 20th January 2018

2. Why have stockmarkets been pleased with higher oil prices when it is usually associated with economic crisis?

The overall impact of higher oil prices has been to reduce aggregate demand in the global economy. With higher prices one might expect that the profits would be pumped back into the circular flow and therefore stimulating AD. However the Middle East producers tend to be big savers of oil profits at the expense of oil consumers in the West. Also countries have become less reliant on oil – demand peaked in 2005. Oil exporters depended on high oil prices to fund their government spending as well as importing consumers goods – Venezuela is a classic example of an economy that has relied on oil revenue for over 80% of government spending. Most big oil producers in the Middle East need the price of oil to be above $40 a barrel in order to cover their import bill. But a rising price of oil is usually a healthy sign that China is growing as it is the world’s biggest importer of oil.

3. What will be the ‘normal’ price of oil?

The critical change in the oil market from 30 years ago is that there is now an abundance of oil. Back then it was seen as an asset rather than a consumer good – oil in the ground was like money in the bank. But new sources of oil such as shale and tar sands have amounted to the existence of plentiful reserves. It must be added on the demand side the gaining momentum of mass-market for electric cars have reduced the demand for oil. It is being suggested that not all oil will extracted as there will not be enough demand. It makes sense that the five big producers in the Middle East – Saudi Arabia, UAE, Iran, Iraq and Kuwait – which can extract oil for under $10 a barrel, to undercut high-cost producers and capture the market share. So it is better to have money in the bank rather than in the ground. Will oil prices plunge? Unlikely especially when oil exporters are cannot sustain low prices for very long – in order to fund their expenditure they need oil prices of $60 barrel.

Source: The Economist 20th January 2018 – ‘Crude Thinking’

 

Norway sovereign wealth fund takes an ethical stance

Norway’s soveriegn-weatlh fund surpassed US$11trn in assets on September 19th this year. With its significant revenue from North Sea oil and gas getting invested overseas it is likely to get even bigger to the extent that Norway can start to shape ideas abroad. It is increasingly speaking out on ethical behaviour of companies and is an increasingly activist shareholder. The ethics watchdog for the fund recommends that it excludes several firms in oil, cement and steel industries for emitting too much greenhouse gas. This may seem hypocritical in that Norway produces significant amounts of oil but it operates under its own ethical guideline set by parliament.

Source: The Economist – 23-9-17

Missing out on billions of dollars

Norway’s sovereign wealth fund has share in 9,000 companies, 1.3% of the entire world’s listed equity. It has lost out on billions of dollars of revenue by its government prohibiting any investment in tobacco companies and manufactures of certain weapons. The fund is forbidden by law from investing in firms that produce nuclear weapons or landmines, or are involved in serious and systematic human rights violations, among other criteria. These include Boeing, Airbus, Imperial Tobacco, Philip Morris. Last year the council looked into the construction industry in Qatar – host of the 2022 soccer World Cup – and neighboring countries, after reports of abuse by human rights groups. Since then new regulations have been implemented which protect the rights and living and working conditions of labour in the construction industry. This includes the right of immigrant workers to hold onto their passport. There is a broad consensus in Norway that the fund should not make money from companies that take people’s lives.

Norway and coase theorem

Another way Norway is trying to influence global warming is by using its sovereign wealth fund to change behaviors of other countries. Ronald Coase argued that bargaining between parties could produce a mutually beneficial and efficient solution to problems like pollution. An example of this was the a deal between Liberia and Norway. Norway will give $150m in aid in return for Liberia stopping the destruction of its forests.

Stick and Carrot

The stick approach of trying to force Liberia to stop cutting down its trees might give way to a more effective carrot approach by paying Liberia to do so. This makes both sides better off. Liberia still gets the aid and Norway gets to preserve biodiversity and take a small step against climate change.

5 or 6 more China’s

The reality is that the planet can’t stand another 5 or 6 China’s but developing countries still need to grow and, like their developed country counterparts, it will involve greenhouse gas emissions. If we are to curb global emissions developing countries will have to leapfrog to new technologies as the burning of traditional fossil fuels will just exacerbate the problem. However developing countries have neither the resources nor the incentive to reduce dependence on fossil fuels on their own as their main focus is economic growth. Whilst developed countries have a lot to lose from developing-world emissions it is in their interest to pay the latter to curb emissions e.g. Norway paying Liberia not to chop down its trees. Although this looks a simple enough policy politicians will not be so enthused by it as money that is paid overseas to cut climate change is not very popular with the electorate and therefore the government.

China stops subsidising farmers

In 2000 the Chinese government introduced price supports for farmers with the floors raised annually to stimulate production even when global prices fell. There were three reasons for price supports:

  1. ensure production of key commodities
  2. provide a degree of food security
  3. improve the well-being of farmers

China starts to abolish minimum prices

The last three years has seen the Chinese authorities start to abolish minimum prices for the following commodities – cotton, soybeans, corn and sugar. Without the minimum price the supply on the domestic market has dropped – grain production fell for the first time in 13 years. Remember with the minimum price being above the equilibrium it encourages producers to supply more but the demand will drop at the higher price.

When the minimum price was in operation the Chinese authorities had been stockpiling significant amounts of food and have been able to compensate for the reduction in supply from the farming community. However once these stockpiles have been diminished the only other alternative will be to import food which will be a positive for farmers from Brazil, US and Thailand. This might be sooner than later as the Chinese government is facing capacity challenges as warehouses and silos are overflowing but still China is not able to meet its domestic needs. According to the US Department of Agriculture, China is sitting on 54% of the world’s cotton stocks, 45% of the world’s corn and 22% of the world’s sugar reserves, but many analysts think that a lot of this stock is starting to perish.

Self-sufficiency in feeding the Chinese population still remains a priority for Beijing but after 2014 authorities have stated that they need to make rational use of the global agricultural market and import various food products. However China still spends a lot on supporting its agricultural sector:

2016 – $246.9 billion = 2.2% of GDP. Four times the average of OECD countries.

Although money is still spent on price supports a growing share is going into ways to improve productivity with R&D etc. China is in a position that they could revert back to the price supports if they feel the pain of reform is too great, but analysts think that they will be more accepting of global supply.

Source: China Cut Agricultural Subsidies and American Farmers Have a Lot to Gain


EU example

This policy of subsidising farmers is not unlike that of the European Union – see previous blog post ‘CAP reforms unlikely to benefit New Zealand farmers.’ – with the introduction of the Common Agricultural Policy (CAP). At the outset of the EU, one of the main objectives was the system of intervention in agricultural markets and protection of the farming sector has been known as the common agricultural policy – CAP. The CAP was established under Article Thirty Nine of the Treaty of Rome, and its objectives – the justification for the CAP – are as follows:

1. Raise and maintain farm incomes, through the establishment of high prices for food. Such prices are often in excess of the free market equilibrium. This necessarily means support buying of surpluses and raising tariffs on cheaper imported food to give domestic preference.
2. To reduce the wide fluctuations that often occur in the price of agricultural products due to uncertain supplies.
3. To increase the mobility of resources in farming and to increase the efficiency of all units. To reduce the number of farms and farmers especially in monoculturalistic agriculture.
4. To stimulate increased production to achieve European self sufficiency to satisfy the consumption of food from our own resources.
5. To protect consumers from violent price changes and to guarantee a wide choice in the shop, without shortages.

CAP Intervention Price

An intervention price is the price at which the CAP would be ready to come into the market and to buy the surpluses, thus preventing the price from falling below the intervention price. This is illustrated below in Figure 1. Here the European supply of lamb drives the price down to the equilibrium 0Pfm – the free market price, where supply and demand curves intersect and quantity demanded and quantity supplied equal 0Qm. However, the intervention price (0Pint) is located above the equilibrium and it has the following effects:

CAP Int Price1. It encourages an increase in European production. Consequently, output is raised to 0Qs1.
2. At intervention price, there is a production surplus equal to the horizontal distance AB which is the excess of supply above demand at the intervention price.
3. In buying the surplus, the intervention agency incurs costs equal to the area ABCD. It will then incur the cost of storing the surplus or of destroying it.
4. There is a contraction in domestic consumption to 0Qd1
Consumers pay a higher price to the extent that the intervention price exceeds the notional free market price.


 

 

 

The Doughnut Model of Economics

A recent book entitled “Doughnut Economics: Seven Ways to Think Like a 21st-Century Economist” by Kate Raworth of Oxford University’s Environmental Change Institute, offers an alternative to the all too familiar policy of economic growth to solve the issues of poverty, inequality, unemployment in the global economy. Simon Kuznets, who normalised the measurement of economic growth, stated that national income cannot be a accurate measure of total welfare in an economy as it only measures annual flows of money and not stocks of wealth and their distribution. Raworth states that the current model of endless economic growth using up the finite resources of the planet is not the way forward. Most textbooks refer to the circular flow as the model of the economic system – households, firms, banks, overseas markets and the government which bears little relationship to reality today. Instead Raworth goes beyond this simple circular flow model and includes social and environmental issues – energy, the environment, raw materials, water pollution etc.

The Doughnut
Raworth’s circular flow consists of two rings – see graphic below.

Doughnut Economics.jpeg

Inner Ring – this consists of the social foundation and those things we need for a good life – food, water, health, education, peace and justice etc. People living within this ring in the hole in the middle are in a state of deprivation.

Outer Ring – this consists of the earth environmental limits – climate change, ozone depletion, water pollution, loss of species etc.

The area between the two rings is the “ecologically safe and socially just space” in which humanity should strive to live. As stated in The Guardian review, the purpose of economics should be to help us enter that space and stay there. As the graphic shows we breach both rings as billions of people live below the poverty line and climate conditions, biodiversity loss, land conversion etc are at concerning levels. The video below is a useful explanation.

Copper prices on the rise with strike action

Copper Prices 2017.pngOver the last few years Chinese demand (or weakness of) has been the main cause of volatile commodity prices. Copper has been one of those commodities but supply factors have also been influential in pushing copper prices to their highest level in the last two years. Strikes and supply disruptions (see graph below) in two of the world’s biggest mines will have a significant impact:

Escondido in Chile (the largest in the world) and Grasberg in Indonesia.

Both mines account for 9% of mined copper supply. One-month shutdown at both mines removes 140,000 tonnes which equates to 0.7% of world output. In both mines labour contracts are up for renewal and they account for 14% of production. The video below from Al Jazeera looks at the strike action by miners at Escondido in Chile where workers are rallying against cuts to pay and benefits by owners BHP Billiton which are designed to  improve productivity. However, in the last three years productivity in the mine is up 48% and the labour force has been cup by 17%.


Add to this more demand from China and there is only one way copper prices can go – it is up 20%.  Resolutions to labour relations are needed in both Chile and Indonesia if supply is to be restored to pre-dispute levels. Furthermore the outlook for copper demand is strong with its importance to electric vehicles and wind and solar energy units. In the long-term, depletion of copper ores will also put pressure on prices northwards.

Source: The Economist 16th Feb 2017. Al Jazeera 23rd Feb 2017