Elitist Lies About Inflation

The editors at Issues and Insights reveal false and misleading statements by a leading elitist spokesperson, US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen.  The article is  See If You Can Follow Yellen’s Bouncing Inflation Ball.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said over the weekend that we’re going to have to “put up with inflation for a while longer,” which means that she has now held just about every possible — and almost always wrong — position on an issue about which she is supposedly an expert. Is it any wonder nobody trusts elites anymore?

Yellen was on CNBC over the weekend and, when asked whether inflation had peaked, said:

“Well, it may have peaked, but … I think the shocks emanating from this unjustified attack on Ukraine will prolong inflationary pressures. So, the outlook is uncertain. As you know, the Fed is taking steps to bring inflation down, but I think we will have to put up with high inflation for a while longer.”

Let’s leave aside Yellen’s dubious claim that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has had any meaningful impact on inflation. Why would it? Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, which was far more disruptive to the global oil market, bumped oil prices up for a short period but had no broader inflationary effect.

The Putin-is-to-blame for skyrocketing prices is one of team Biden’s big lies
meant to deflect blame. But the press never calls them on it.

No, what’s really troubling is the fact that Biden’s Treasury secretary has been so utterly clueless about inflation since joining his cabinet.

Let’s look at what Yellen has claimed about inflation since early last year and the actual results. The chart shows what inflation was doing when she made these statements.

  1. February 2021: “I’ve spent many years studying inflation and worrying about inflation, and I can tell you, we have the tools to deal with that risk if it materializes.”
  2. March 2021: “I don’t think it’s a significant risk. And if it materializes, we’ll certainly monitor for it, but we have tools to address it.”
  3. May 2021: “I don’t think there’s going to be an inflationary problem, but if there is, the Fed can be counted on.”
  4. June 2021: “Supply bottlenecks have developed that have caused inflation. I believe that they’re transitory, but that doesn’t mean they’ll go away over the next several months.”
  5. October 2021: “I don’t think we’re about to lose control of inflation.
  6. November 2021: “If we want to get inflation down, I think continuing to make progress against the pandemic is the most important thing we can do.”
  7. January 2022: “If we’re successful in controlling the pandemic, I expect inflation to diminish over the course of the year and hopefully revert to normal levels by the end of the year around 2%.”
  8. February 2022: “I think people heard ‘transitory,’ and to them it meant a couple of months. Maybe a better word could have been chosen.”
  9. March 2022: “We’re likely to see another year in which 12-month inflation numbers remain very uncomfortably high.”

Keep in mind who we are talking about here. Yellen has a sterling resume. A doctorate in economics from Yale. Professorships at Harvard and the University of California, Berkeley. On the faculty of the London School of Economics. President of the Western Economic Association and vice president of the American Economic Association. Head of the Council of Economic Advisors under President Bill Clinton. President of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco. Chairwoman of the Federal Reserve.

So how in the world can her pronouncements about inflation under President Joe Biden be as reliable as the weather forecast? Is her understanding of economics tainted by liberal ideology? Is she just doing the bidding of an incompetent and desperate Biden administration?

Does it matter? Yellen is a shining example of why so many in this country
feel betrayed by the people who claim lordship over them.

 

 

 

#1 Security Threat: Net Zero Asset Managers

Rupert Darwall writes at Real Clear Energy Woke Investors Threaten the West’s Security.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

In an era of rising geopolitical tensions, it is folly
to let Wall Street determine the nation’s energy policy.

As the West grapples with the energy implications of a hostile Sino-Russian alliance, the steering group of the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance, whose members manage over $10.4 trillion of assets, issued a statement urging Western governments not to sacrifice climate goals for energy security. “The world is still heading for an excess of fossil fuel-based energy use that will vastly exceed the carbon budget needed to meet the 1.5° Celsius Paris agreement goal. This trend must be halted,” the United Nations-backed alliance said in its April 8 statement, arguing that “the national security argument for accelerating the net-zero transition has strengthened considerably.”

What, one might ask, is the standing of asset managers to opine on national security matters? They have no expertise in this domain. It turns out that their understanding of the economics of energy policy is defective, too.

The Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance claims that development of new oil and gas reserves will lock in fossil fuel subsidies, exacerbating market distortions. In fact, the International Energy Agency (IEA) in its 2021 net-zero report states that under its net-zero pathway, tax revenues from oil and gas retail sales fall by about 40% over the next twenty years. “Managing this decline will require long-term fiscal planning and budget reforms,” the IEA warns. Similarly, Britain’s Office of Budget Responsibility estimates that net zero policies will result in the loss of tax receipts representing 1.6% of GDP. So much for the fossil fuel subsidy myth.

If fossil fuels were heavily subsidized, eliminating them would mean fossil fuel subsidies disappear. Instead, it’s tax revenues that would melt away to zero.

The net-zero investors cite figures for the decline in solar and wind energy costs. These numbers are based on so-called levelized cost of energy (LCOE), a metric that aims to measure a plant’s lifetime costs. Wind and solar power are intermittent, but LCOE metrics exclude the costs of intermittency, which increase the more wind and solar are put on the grid. Because wind and solar output responds to weather and not to demand, the value of this output declines the more installed wind and solar capacity is available. It was for these reasons that MIT professor of economics Paul Joskow concluded in a foundational 2011 paper that using LCOE metrics to compare intermittent and dispatchable generating technologies, such as coal and natural gas, is a “meaningless exercise.”  [ See proper energy costing here: Cutting Through the Fog of Renewable Power Costs ]

Wind and solar investors don’t need to understand the economics of the grid to make money – they are shielded from the intermittency costs their investments inflict on the rest of the grid, which is one reason why their views on energy policy can be taken with a pinch of salt. Their economic illiteracy does, however, make it easy for them to subscribe to the green fairy tale of 100% renewables. They’re not responsible for keeping the lights on – that depends on traditional power plants staying fueled up and ready to spin, which is what Germany can’t do without Russian gas. Adopt the net-zero alliance’s call for no new fossil-fuel investment, and the cost of energy is bound to spiral. And if the lights go out, politicians – not woke investors – get the blame.

Investors’ opinions on energy and national security would matter less if they didn’t have political power. Bloomberg opinion writer Matt Levine argues that asset managers of giant funds form a parallel system of government that exercises overlapping legislative powers with those of governments. These government-by-asset-managers, as Levine calls them, tell companies to do things they think are good for society as a whole, “making big collective decisions about how society should be run, not just business decisions but also decisions about the environment and workers’ rights and racial inequality and other controversial political topics.”

Foremost among these areas is climate policy. Although the Biden administration has set a net-zero goal, Congress has not legislated it, and it lacks the force of law. The absence of legislation passed by democratically accountable legislators, however, presents no barrier to government-by-asset-managers legislating climate policy for the companies in which they invest. “Investors are making net zero commitments for themselves and demanding that companies issue greenhouse gas reduction targets and transition plans for meeting those targets,” says the Reverend Kirsten Snow Spalding of the not-for-profit Ceres Investor Network on Climate Risk and Sustainability.

Neither Spalding nor the Net-Zero Asset Owner Alliance make a case that forcing net-zero targets on companies will boost investor returns, demonstrating that this is not about investors’ traditional concerns – making money – but about pursuing politics by other means. In this, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is working hand in glove with woke climate investors. Commenting on the SEC’s newly proposed rule on climate-risk disclosure, Spalding says that for investors who have committed zero emissions by 2050, “this draft rule is absolutely critical.”

Unlike elected politicians, woke climate investors are not accountable for the effects of their climate policies: They exercise power without responsibility. This arrangement weakens America’s ability to respond to the geopolitical challenges of a revanchist Russia and an expansionist China. “We are on a war footing – an emergency,” Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm declared at the CERA energy conference in Houston last month. “We have to responsibly increase short-term supply where we can right now to stabilize the market and to minimize harm to American families.” Addressing oil executives in the audience, Granholm told them: “I hope your investors are saying these words to you as well: In this moment of crisis, we need more supply . . . right now, we need oil and gas production to rise to meet current demand.”

As Granholm suggested, woke investors have been trying to do the opposite. Despite the war in Ukraine, there has been no let-up in investor pressure on oil and gas companies to scale down their operations. Whatever criticisms might be made of the Biden administration’s handling of the war in Ukraine, it is responsible for taking the awesome decisions that war involves. Investors, by contrast, have no responsibility for the nation’s security and America’s ability to lead the West. By helping investors impose their desired energy policies on American oil and gas companies, the SEC is undermining the national security prerogatives of the Biden administration and eroding America’s ability to meet the challenges of a dangerous world. The SEC is playing in a domain that it has no business being in.

Investors Resisting Corporate Climate Activism

Jerry Bowyer writes at Real Clear Markets Return-Focused Investors Are Starting to Notice the Politicization of Corporations.   Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

We monitor and analyze proposals placed before shareholders for annual meetings held by publicly traded companies for funds, financial advisors and individual stockholders. For far too long, investors who are actually focused on returns have thrown annual proxies into the wastebasket while highly organized activist groups motivated chiefly by political considerations have been using shares as a mechanism to promote their own particular brand of social change. Recently, however, return-focused investors have begun to notice the degree to which a small minority has been politicizing corporate life, and a backlash has clearly formed against that.

One of the main issues has been increasing attempts to use shareholder engagement against fossil fuel usage, which came to a head last year when three anti-oil board members were elected to board seats at Exxon, a major oil company (Activist firm Engine No. 1 claims third Exxon board seat (cnbc.com)). A small activist fund received some assists in this campaign from a number of government employee pension funds and Blackrock. There was understandable backlash from public pension plans of energy-producing states, which received media coverage. Blackrock executives have tried to walk back some of the more heated rhetoric from CEO Larry Fink when dealing with energy-friendly clients.

Climatists storming the Exxon Bastion, here seen without their shareholder disguises.

What we are seeing so far in the early phase of this year’s annual shareholder meeting season is a spate of proposals, typically from political activist groups, pushing more aggressive anti-carbon measures. We’re also seeing investors rejecting such proposals. For example, as of this writing, the tentative vote counts for Royal Bank of Canada show shareholders voting down all of the items placed on the ballot by activists, including several having to do with fossil fuels. This is consistent with the pattern we’ve seen so far.

We’ll leave aside self-imposed fossil fuel divestment plans put forward by management under the moniker “Climate Action Plan”, as we’ve dealt with that issue here (How “sustainable investing” emboldens Putin | Analysis News (christianpost.com)). This analysis is focused on activists’ recent attempts to go even further in opposition to fossil fuels. In general, management teams have opposed these types of proposals, but it is arguable that they are somewhat responsible for bringing them about: advocates frequently cite public statements about environmental commitments and statements about the risks of climate change made by the company and argue that they are simply asking the company to live up to its public posturing.

Managers of these companies are beginning to see that public political pronouncements
do not assuage, but rather embolden, activist demands.

Let’s look at some of the proposals which are showing up on proxies this year:

♦  Annual Advisory Vote Policy on the Bank’s Environmental and Climate Change Action Plan and Objectives

Climate action plans in general have not been rigorously shown to be of benefit to shareholders, nor even to reduce GHG emissions (since nothing prevents other banks from financing the fossil fuels companies which would be de-banked by the proposed plan). So adding an extra level of institutional pressure to managers in the form of automatic annual votes is not warranted. If there is adequate support for a vote in any given year, shareholders of even modest scale can place it on the ballot.

♦  Annual Advisory Vote Policy on the Bank’s Environmental and Climate Change Action Plan

The proposal fails to make a rigorous case for shareholder benefit. The proposal is ostensibly modeled on the Paris Accords, but the Paris Accords are a proposal for regulations which governments would impose on industry, not for limitations which industry would impose on itself. When businesses, for example banks, limit customers on some basis other than profitability, that likely subtracts from shareholder value. And the limitation fails to decrease carbon emissions unless there are broad global restrictions on carbon emissions. Such arbitrary (from a revenue point of view) restriction of potential customers for banking services doesn’t shrink emissions, it simply transfers that business opportunity to other companies and countries. 

♦  Set Up a Climate Change and Environment Committee.

The proposal is for the board to set up a standalone committee focusing exclusively on environmental issues. The support statements tend to be thinly argued, doing little more than asserting that climate change is an important issue and navigating it is a matter of some complexity. In some cases boards of directors have argued against such resolutions by pointing out that there are several committees already which deal with environmental issues, including risk committees. To the degree that environmental issues are specifically of shareholder concern and not just general social concern, it is because of the potential risks, therefore environmental concerns seem most properly housed in the risk committee where they typically reside. There, environmental risks can be analyzed in relation to all risks, not elevated above them as a unique concern above all other risks.

♦  Avoid Bank Participation in Pollution-Intensive Asset Privatizations

When we have seen this proposal it has come from a labor union which tends to engage on political issues. This appears to be an anti-privatization measure with an environmental element added perhaps to get broader support. Financing of privatization is a standard banking practice because it is of potential benefit to shareholders. Whether privatization is beneficial or detrimental to society as a whole is a matter of long debate. In addition, in the case we’ve seen, the proponents make no argument to establish that an operation currently operated by government, which produces environmental impact, would become more environmentally harmful if it were transferred to the private sector, and so it provides no environmental reason why banks should not engage in the otherwise profitable business of financing such transfers.

♦  Update the Bank’s Criteria for Sustainable Finance to Preclude Fossil Fuel Activity and Projects Opposing Indigenous Peoples

This resolution was submitted by an activist group, Investors for Paris Compliance, on behalf of two shareholders (this is a common practice in regards to ESG proxy proposals). This proposal strongly overreaches standard climate plans, in that it precludes, rather than just reduces, investment in certain energy sources. In addition, the inclusion of the indigenous peoples element seems tangential to the main issues. Per comments made live at the shareholder’s meeting for Royal Bank of Canada, this is not about situations in which indigenous people actually own the property and therefore can legally block the projects. The rhetoric has instead invoked situations in which indigenous peoples opposed development on land they did not own, and were arrested for protesting on the property of others. It can reasonably be postulated that this is an attempt to bolster the anti-fossil fuels agenda by tapping into the indigenous people’s cause which is currently quite prominent in Canadian politics.

It seems plausible that the politicization of corporate governance in and around climate change may well have gone farther than corporate managers, in this case, Canadian banks, are willing to go in terms of sacrificing profit for the protection of alleged “reputational risk”. Even more interesting is the fact that a largely Canadian investor base also seem unenthusiastic about such proposals.

Jerry Bowyer is the President of Bowyer Research, an economic and financial research and consulting firm.

Supply Chains Doomed by Carbon Accounting

Vince Bielski explains how proposed SEC accounting for CO2 emissions will grind product supply chains to a halt.  His Real Clear Investigations article is The Green U.S. Supply-Chain Rules Set to Unspool and Rattle the Global Economy. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

Making a box of Cocoa Puffs is a complicated global affair. It could start with cocoa farms in Africa, corn fields in the U.S. or sugar plantations in Latin America. Then thousands of processors, transporters, packagers, distributors, office workers and retailers join the supply chain before a kid in Minnesota, where General Mills is based, pours the cereal into a bowl.

Now imagine the challenge that General Mills faces in counting the greenhouse gas emissions from all of these people, machines, vehicles, buildings and other products involved in this Cocoa Puff supply chain – then multiply that by the 100-plus brands belonging to the food giant.

Thousands of public companies may soon have such a daunting task to comply with a new set of climate rules proposed by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Hailed by prominent environmental groups as a long sought victory, the sweeping plan released in late March would force companies to grapple with the unpredictable impact of climate change by disclosing reams of new information to investors. What are your company’s climate risks, such as severe weather, and the possible financial impacts? How have the threats affected your business strategies and what’s the plan to avoid the dangers? The most consequential and controversial piece of the SEC’s proposed regulations would require corporations to calculate their total greenhouse gas footprint, including from the supply chain.

The regulations also carry political weight for Democrats in the runup to the midterms in November. The Biden administration and centrist Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia are trying once again to breathe life into clean energy legislation that died earlier this year amid a feud between them. If this latest effort at compromise fails – with Manchin reportedly looking for federal support for fossil fuels as well as renewable energy – then much of President Biden’s ambitious climate agenda will be left riding on the SEC proposal.

SEC head Gary Gensler says shareholders are demanding climate risk disclosures to make smarter investment decisions and hold companies accountable for “greenwashing” their operations. The regulations will also provide investors in the Environmental, Social, Governance (ESG) movement more leverage in their ongoing campaigns to pressure companies to reduce their carbon footprints.

While many companies like Walmart and business groups like the Chamber of Commerce generally support the idea of required climate disclosures, they object to what they see as the SEC’s heavy-handedness in standardizing rules across the economy. The Chamber is calling for flexibility so companies can customize their climate disclosures based on what’s relevant to their businesses and investors.

Measuring the global supply chain is a tall order — “mind-boggling and certainly unprecedented.” Pixabay

The biggest beef from companies is the rule that would require them to calculate and disclose supply chain emissions, called Scope 3.

Big companies have thousands of suppliers operating in hundreds of countries, making the task of coming up with a reasonable accounting enormously complicated. First of all, many suppliers of products and services are private companies not under the control of the SEC. They may refuse to cooperate in a count because of the costs and the implications that they might have to change their business practices to reduce emissions, said Professor Gerald Patchell, who has analyzed the problems of supply chain reporting.

Another obstacle is that many smaller suppliers, like General Mills’ cocoa farmers in Africa, don’t have the capacity to measure the emissions from their own fertilizers, tractors and farming practices. So companies will have to rely on broad country or industry averages that likely don’t reflect the actual emissions created by the suppliers, according to researchers.

“The data that companies will be asked to collect from thousands of suppliers is mind-boggling and certainly unprecedented,” said Patchell, who researches environmental policy and business. “It’s an idealized concept of what can actually be done by a company.”

The upshot is that regulations meant to bring clarity to investors on climate risk may end up providing highly unreliable emissions disclosures, leaving them “worse off,” wrote SEC Commissioner Hester Peirce, a Trump appointee who voted against the 500-page proposal. It “forces investors to view companies through the eyes of a vocal set of stakeholders, for whom a company’s climate reputation is of equal or greater importance than a company’s financial performance.”

“Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.” — Ronald Reagan

Resources

SEC Agency Aims to Legislate US Climate Policy

SEC Warned Off Climate Disclosures Rule

 

 

ESG Funds Buy Russian Over Canadian Oil

More evidence that ESG investing is poppycock is revealed in Jeff Lagerquist’s Yahoo Finance article Why ESG funds ‘shockingly’ buy Russian oil instead of Canadian crude.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

Russia’s war on Ukraine continues to expose uncomfortable realities for environmental, social and governance-focused (ESG) investments, prompting calls for the asset management industry to rethink the loosely-defined term as analysts point to “shocking” holdings within some funds.

A new report from CIBC Capital Markets shows many of the 10 largest energy holdings across ESG funds have pared down or exited investments in Canada’s oil sands, while half stayed invested in Russia. At the end of 2021, the bank found ESG funds owned twice as much Russian oil and gas as Canadian oil and gas.

“Perhaps most shockingly, the ratio of dollars held in Gazprom (a Russian state-owned energy firm) was six times that of Suncor,” the CIBC analysts wrote in research published on Monday.

According to the report, the big four Russian energy companies, NK Lukoil, Novatek, Gazprom and NK Rosneft, accounted for about 0.2 per cent of the global ESG holdings. That’s double the size of investments in Canada’s TC Energy (TRP.TO)(TRP), Suncor Energy (SU.TO)(SU) and Canadian Natural Resources (CNQ.TO)(CNQ), the bank said.

“Russia and Saudi Arabia may well emit less CO2 per produced barrel of oil equivalent than some North American firms, but they also invariably have less robust social and governance oversight,” the CIBC analysts wrote.

“This says nothing of the reality many of their energy entities are de-facto state controlled and often aligned (read: weaponized) with foreign policy objectives – many of which will be an affront to mainstream ESG investors.”

Several of the world’s largest companies and institutional investors have moved to cut ties to Russia in recent weeks, amid increasingly violent attacks on Ukraine’s population. ESG funds held at least US$8.3 billion in Russian assets before Russia invaded Ukraine, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Those include the country’s financial firms. Bloomberg News recently reported that Vanguard Group and Northern Trust upped their stakes in Russia’s leading bank through their respective index-based ESG funds in January, as Vladimir Putin’s forces amassed on Ukraine’s borders.

Vlad Tasevski, chief operating officer and head of product at Purpose Investments, says these examples show the need to rebalance the trio of ESG priorities. He says the environmental “E” in ESG is being over-emphasized, likely due to the greater challenge of measuring the social and governance variables, compared to hard carbon emissions data.

Tasevski isn’t overly surprised by the lack of enthusiasm for Canadian fossil fuel producers across ESG funds. He says Canadian producers have been “overwhelmingly negatively impacted by the ESG movement,” even as the industry has worked to shrink its carbon footprint, and invested in technology like carbon capture and storage.

CIBC says global flows into ESG funds were down more than 50 per cent through the first two months of this year, after setting records in 2020 and 2021. The bank says flows out of ESG funds have outpaced net outflows from other asset classes.

 

SEC Agency Aims to Legislate US Climate Policy

Jay Clayton and Patrick McHenry explain in their Wall Street Journal article The SEC’s Climate-Change Overreach.  Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

Congress shouldn’t palm off its responsibility for social and economic policy
on financial regulators.

The Securities and Exchange Commission will propose sweeping new rules this week requiring publicly traded, and perhaps even private, companies to disclose extensive climate-related data and additional “climate risks.”

Setting climate policy is the job of lawmakers, not the SEC, whose role is to facilitate the investment decision-making process.

Companies choose how best to comply and thrive under those polices, and investors decide which business strategies to back. That approach addresses many societal issues—think vaccines—and enhances global welfare. Taking a new, activist approach to climate policy—an area far outside the SEC’s authority, jurisdiction and expertise—will deservedly draw legal challenges.

What’s worse, it puts our time-tested approach to capital allocation, as well as the agency’s independence and credibility, at risk.

Understanding and addressing global climate change is one of the most complex and significant issues of our time. Some predict we face inevitable catastrophe, while others say the costs of the transition to a “net-zero world” outweigh the benefits  We know four things for sure.

♦  First, implementing an economywide emissions-reduction policy will have a profound impact on the domestic energy, labor, transportation and housing markets, among others. Many jobs will be destroyed while others are created. Some businesses will close while others will flourish. Even if the long-term benefits outweigh the costs, near-term stresses on working Americans are inevitable and will be distributed unequally.

♦  Second, leaving policy decisions this significant to a single regulator—or even a patchwork of regulators—has failed time and again. Tellingly, there is no indication that the SEC has meaningfully coordinated with any of the other relevant federal agencies and departments on the policy choices embedded in its proposed rules.

♦  Third, Russia’s war against Ukraine demonstrates again the clear and longstanding links between energy policy, global stability and competing national interests. America’s ability to lead on the global stage depends on our economic and military strength, and energy policy is a key to both. These issues are far outside a financial regulator’s depth and mandate.

♦  Fourth, the body that the Constitution prescribes for weighing the relevant trade-offs in this area is Congress. Congress, duly elected by and responsible to the people, is precisely where climate policy, in all its complexities and consequences, should be resolved. Yet over decades, elected leaders have pushed hard policy questions to federal agencies staffed by unelected bureaucrats, whose decisions are reviewed only by unelected judges.

This is at best bad for democracy and at worst unconstitutional.

Demanding that the SEC “act on climate change” allows politicians to say that they are working on their constituents’ behalf without accepting responsibility for the hard choices involved in crafting policy.

Executive branch and independent agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency; the Transportation, Labor, State and Treasury departments; and other financial regulators, have a role to play. They should work to inform Congress during the policy-making process and then implement legislative mandates in their respective areas of expertise.

Unfortunately, because the SEC has decided to move forward unilaterally, the debate will shift not to Congress, where it belongs, but to the courts. The commission’s chosen path will allow the political buck-passing to continue and delay thoughtful, appropriate and democratically accountable policy.

If and until Congress acts on climate policy, the message to regulators must be clear: Stay in your lane.

Mr. Clayton served as SEC chairman, 2017-20. Mr. McHenry, a North Carolina Republican, is ranking member of the House Financial Services Committee.

See Background Post SEC Warned Off Climate Disclosures

Big Oil Embraces Its Demise for the Honor of Saving the Planet.

Robert Romano asks and answers the pressing energy question in his Daily Torch article Why aren’t oil companies drilling more? Look no further than the ESG goals in their corporate annual reports. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.  H/T John Ray

The largest oil producers in the U.S. do not appear to have major plans to increase production through 2025, a review of U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) data and corporate reports of U.S.-based oil companies reveals, despite oil prices being over $100 per barrel and inflation raging at 7.9 percent the last twelve months.

According to EIA, U.S. oil production will reach 12 million barrels per day in 2022 and 12.6 million barrels per day in 2023, a return to pre-Covid production levels that peaked at 12.9 million barrels per day in Nov. 2019.

But what about over the long term? A look at top U.S. oil producers reveals that these companies have been pivoting away from carbon-based energy for years. In short, they’re going green.

[ExxonMobil and Chevron are two examples where] explicit Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) goals are being pursued by the largest oil companies in the U.S., particularly goals to support the Paris Climate Accords and to reduce carbon emissions to zero.

In both companies’ cases, the strategies short-term include deploying carbon capture technologies as well as reducing onsite carbon emissions on existing production facilities, and more investment in green energies.

Long term, however, they are sealing the fate of carbon-based energies, by embracing an investment model that calls for their extinction.

Ultimately, that will mean almost no oil production or consumption, a goal that would be contrary to an oil company’s continued existence and profitability.

ESG investing has increased dramatically the past decade via private retirement funds regulated under the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA) thanks to a regulation by the Obama Labor Department in 2015.

In addition, the $762 billion federal Thrift Savings Plan (TSP) for federal employee retirees will begin investing in ESG funds in 2022, following state government employee retirement funds in California, New York, Colorado, Connecticut, Maine, Maryland and Oregon.

The combination of these incentives and subsidies has led to an unprecedented rise of ESG investment: $38 trillion out more than $100 trillion global assets under management, will grow to $53 trillion by 2025, according to Bloomberg News. That’s about one-third of all assets under management, not necessarily seeking profitability, but to save the world.

BlackRock, a hedge fund with more than $9 trillion of assets under management, have placed green activists onto the board of Exxon to make it a “not-oil” company, thanks to ESG. Other hedge funds like Vanguard also make significant ESG investments.

But it has led to catastrophe. Besides making Europe and the West increasingly dependent on energy from adversaries like Russia, inflation is on fire. Thanks to the energy crisis, even major ESG beneficiaries like Tesla CEO Elon Musk are calling for an increase in oil and gas production in a bid to offset Russia, writing on Twitter on March 8: “Hate to say it, but we need to increase oil & gas output immediately. Extraordinary times demand extraordinary measures.”

Musk is right. It’s time to expand production dramatically. But ESG won’t let us. That’s a big problem.

The net result of these policies incentivizing and subsidizing ESG investments has been to restrict capitalization and financing to carbon-based oil, coal and natural gas energies in favor of green energies such as solar, wind and electric vehicles — and endangering the West.

As it turns out, energy security is national security, and with ESG, we do not have energy security.

See also Wake Up and Smell the Fossil Fuel Insanity

Wake Up and Smell the Fossil Fuel Insanity

Terry Etam writes a BOE Report Column: The world faces both a hydrocarbon shortage and a divest fossil fuels movement. What next, oil patch? Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

Today’s question is one only the hydrocarbon crowd can answer:  What’s your game plan from here forward?

 There are a thousand occupations and situations, each with its own decision tree.  Despite the potential variance, it’s still a valid question, because we globally we are at a crossroads of some major significance. The well-being of much of the world’s population depends on what the hydrocarbon industry does over the next few years. At the same time, the pressure is building for the hydrocarbon industry to shrink and wither (as in the wildly successful divest fossil fuels campaign, or banks cutting back on oil/gas loans to curry favour with Those That Matter).

The question is not an easy one given the dramatic reframing of the hydrocarbon industry over the past few years. We used to be the good guys, the world’s fuel providers, a dynamic and entrepreneurial and fast-moving assembly of doers.

Then the narrative changed, and the industry went from relative obscurity to Public Enemy Number One. By 2019, public animosity towards it reached a peak, with orchestrated mass protests around the globe. 2020 brought a near-death experience as Russia and OPEC decided to decimate prices in a battle for market control, and all the anti-hydrocarbon protesters switched from protesting to cheering, famously claiming that “oil was dead”, that oil prices would never recover because EVs were causing rapid demand destruction, and that the humane thing to do now was to justly transition all hydrocarbon workers to other industries.

Even typing that stuff now sounds like an alien experience, like walking around in a crowd without a mask.

The reason those conversations feel so outdated is because, today, it is clear that oil is about as dead as the internet. Some will of course say that high oil prices will hasten a transition to renewables, and that is true that it will make renewables more cost competitive (though still no match on the reliability front).

But consider that a rapid transition to renewables is impossible from a mining perspective alone.

The IEA has said that a global Net Zero 2050 transition would require four times the number of critical mineral mines by 2040 (a virtual impossibility when governments are making mining harder everywhere).  And the Geological Society of Finland calculated that a full transition via renewables/EVs would require more critical metals and minerals than there are known global reserves.

If you are still on the fence as to whether hydrocarbons’ days are numbered, consider that Germany, the world’s most advanced energy-transition country, just days ago mused that drilling for new oil/gas deposits in the arctic sounds like a pretty good idea.

Consider also that this is the new-ish Green-led government saying this. Keep in mind also that any arctic development takes years at a minimum, so these developments have nothing to do with this immediate crisis. If Germany is plotting decade-length oil/gas developments, that tells you all you need to know about the demise of hydrocarbons. There isn’t one.

But that doesn’t answer the question at hand. What will people in the industry do? Will they bolt and get retrained in something else? There are a variety of situations of course, but one is far more ominous than the others. Here’s a bit of a dissection.

Process people will most likely keep processing; any occupations that are in perpetual flow states will likely not stop because of a lack of employees. If you are a gas marketer or pipeline scheduler or refinery manager, there isn’t a visible break point in the continuity of business.

But producers are different. Much different. Next year’s barrel of production won’t necessarily and automatically appear as part of a continuous flow. A lot of very capable brain power needs to be enacted, crews hired and managed, etc. Finding and developing new oil/gas flows is a choice.

If no one chooses to find and produce more petroleum, the flow slows, then stops. If geological talent dries up/retires/moves on, new production doesn’t just happen. Same with drilling crews or completions experts or – dare I say it – truckers.

Anti-hydrocarbon sentiment rums deep in academic institutions, yet it is those very institutions new employees will have to navigate if they are to land in the oil patch. It is no longer “just another option”. There is stigma attached to petroleum programs.

There is venom coming your way from complete strangers. It should then be no surprise that students are acting accordingly; they are going elsewhere. In one US study, from 2016-19, the US petroleum engineering student count fell by 60 percent, and no doubt has fallen further since. Even here in the heart of the Canadian oil patch, the University of Calgary has suspended the petroleum engineering program after the student count fell to an all time low of 10 – and that’s over a two year period.

What if no one chooses to look for oil anymore? Yes, ten thousand western elites will cheer wildly, but billions of trucker-grade people around the world that need that fuel for survival will say WTF, or some such local equivalent.

Those ten thousand western elites will tell all the global plebeians Hey, don’t worry! Solar panels are on the way. And the billions will say Yeah…but can I get a fridge that has power for more than six hours a day? And western elites will say Nope! But don’t worry batteries are on the way. And billions of those plebeians will say Great! When? And western elites will say Battery storage is cheaper than its ever been! And the plebes will say Great! When? And western elites will say Death to fossil fuels! And the plebes will ponder in awe the presumed mysticism and superiority of elite non-sequiturs, little conversational re-directs that the great unwashed masses simply aren’t worthy of comprehending, and then they will starve to death.

And the hydrocarbon producers will be sitting there wondering what to do next. They’ll answer the phone and second cousin Moonbeam from Toronto or San Francisco will be shrieking about how you’re killing the planet.  But you’ll turn on the news and hear that it is a moral imperative to produce more oil since all you oil guys are rolling in money which will be true.  But then the politicians will be saying ‘We’ll take that windfall money btw and then whatever is left better be going into green projects.  But yes you had better increase production right now and we mean right now but only for this year and then everyone should divest fossil fuels.  And we’ll see you in court for all the emissions you’ve unilaterally created over the past century, and maybe the fines will be deductible from the windfall tax and maybe not.  We’ll let you know when we’re good and ready.’.

If this sounds melodramatic it isn’t. In fact, the situation is far more critical than it sounds, in terms of global impact: there is a multi-trillion dollar behemoth of a fuel system that keeps humanity alive. It is 80 per cent hydrocarbon-based. There is at present no substitute. Most parts of that system function conditionally – they require a non-stop flow of hydrocarbons.

The various components of this huge system have “something to do” because, and only because, a relatively small group of people and entities at the origin of that system, the upstream, choose to keep it full. This small group looks at seismic, looks at well logs, drills wells, does production plans, builds small scale infrastructure to bring this energy life-blood on stream. Without those few people the system withers just as does a plant pulled from the ground.

A lack of expertise and/or interest in bringing new hydrocarbons to market will mean that the world’s supply dries up. Good, the ten thousand activists will say. Good, you might say, let’s see who needs who. But these other seven-plus billion won’t be too thrilled at all. No fuel, no fertilizer, no food. All because of choices we’ve made here in the west.

So? Will you continue to power the world or not? A lot of hungry mouths are desperate to hear a yes. Those in power here in the west, the ones that control your economic destiny, have a crazed and volatile look in their eyes as they try to figure it all out, but are publicly unable to support you because they’ve been kicking you in the ribs for a long time and it’s kind of hard at that point to stop and call all the other kickers bullies.

Don’t look at me, I have no idea what happens next. All I can say is that at the point it becomes optional, I will choose not to put my head in the vise any longer. I suspect I am not alone.

Postscript on Petroleum Companies \Outlook and Viability

Outlook 2022: Oil Industry from Proshare

Chart 22: Global oil demand (mb/d) 2019 -2022

Source: OPEC, Proshare Research * OPEC’s Predictions

In the OECD countries, there were larger-than-expected oil demands in H1 2021. However, oil demand struggled to recover to the pre-pandemic level due to lower demand for industrial and transportation fuels for the rest of the year. Oil demand within the OECD for 2021 mirrored the slow phase of economic growth due to supply chain disruptions and the uptick in COVID-19 cases.

Meanwhile, non-OECD’s oil demand in 2021 fluctuated for the better part of the year on demand swings from China and India. China’s crude imports started the year relatively high but fell to an average of 8.9 mb/d in October, the lowest since February, as refiners lacked import quotas and mobility remained limited on the back of the Zero-Covid-19 policy implemented in the country. India’s crude imports also fell to an average of 4.0 mb/d in October, following 2 months of successive gains. Thus, the Covid-19 and supply chain induced soft patches in H2 2021 across Asia impacted considerably on the global oil demand in 2021.

Illustration 30: Determinants of Crude Demand in 2021

Oil Supply

The global oil supply for the year 2021 was driven mainly by the decision of OPEC+, which strived to achieve balance in the oil market.

The share of OPEC in global oil production stood at about 27.7% in 2021, with an average production of about 26.32 mb/d (see chart 24 below).

Chart 24: Global Oil Supply (mb/d) 2019 – 2022

Source: OPEC, Proshare Research * OPEC’s Predictions

Oil Prices

The tightness in the market kept oil prices elevated in 2021. Despite the lingering Covid-19 pandemic, demand had more robust fundamentals while supply was constrained by underinvestment, low spare capacity, and outages. The global oil market began the new year 2021 with a price rally above the 2020 average, and both benchmark contracts reached their 2021 highest in October, with Brent at US$86.70 and WTI at US$85.41 per barrel. Brent price averaged US$71.2 per barrel in 2021, up by 63.3% Y-o-Y above the US$43.6 per barrel average in 2020. Brent increased from about US$51 per barrel in January 2021 to about US$79 per barrel in December 2021, representing a gain of about +55% YTD (see chart 25 below).

Chart 25: Brent Crude Price in 2021 (US$/barrel)

Source: Oilprice, Proshare Research

 

 

 

 

 

Federal Climatists Target US Personal Pension Funds

The green tentacles of global warming/climate change activism are closing in on personal retirement funds. Rupert Darwall writes at Tennessee Star The Biden Administration’s ERISA Work-Around. Excerpts in italics with my bolds and added images.

Rising inflation threatens the value of Americans’ retirement savings. Now the Biden administration is finalizing a rule to loosen safeguards under the Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 (“ERISA”) that protect private retirement savings. The new rule, “Prudence and Loyalty in Selecting Plan Investments and Exercising Shareholder Rights,” stems from President Biden’s May 20, 2021, Executive Order on Climate-Related Financial Risk, which directed senior White House advisers to develop a strategy for financing the administration’s net-zero climate goals, including the use of private savings.

Predictably, Wall Street is cheering the prospect of undoing ERISA safeguards. According to one analysis, 97% of comment letters support the proposal. But as I show in my RealClear Foundation report The Biden Administration’s ERISA Work-Around, it’s the remaining three percent that should give the Department of Labor (DOL) cause to rethink its deeply flawed approach.

Under ERISA, retirement savings must be invested for the exclusive purpose of providing retirement benefits.

The May 2021 executive order illustrates the very danger that ERISA’s exclusive-purpose rule is designed to guard against. To achieve the goals set out in the order, DOL is instructed to “suspend, revise or rescind” two Trump-era rules designed to uphold ERISA’s exclusive-purpose rule.

The stratagem adopted by DOL to carry this out is breathtaking in its audacity. The effect of the rule—if finalized as proposed—is to embed ESG investing in retirement plans and nullify the clear, unambiguous intent of ERISA’s exclusive-purpose rule. It’s audacious—and it’s high risk. In December, GOP senators Pat Toomey, Mike Crapo, Richard Burr, and Tim Scott warned the Secretary of Labor, Martin Walsh, against the proposed rule’s use of “inchoate” ESG terminology and reminded him that in 2020, DOL had been convinced by its review of public comments that the term is “not a clear or helpful lexicon for a regulatory standard.”

ESG—environmental, social, and governance—investing embodies two incompatible propositions.

The first is that investing should be about more than financial returns and have regard to wider societal concerns. In a January 2022 interview with Barron’s, Amy Domini, who cofounded KLD Research & Analytics in 1984, objected to rules that require investing based solely on economic value. “We have got to get rid of this concept of economic value,” Domini told Barron’s. “I don’t care if I’ve got an extra 50 bucks in my pocket if it’s dangerous to walk down the sidewalk, or if my grandson has leukemia because the water system is so polluted.”

The second ESG proposition contradicts the first. Far from sacrificing financial returns, ESG investing boosts them. “Our investment conviction,” BlackRock states in its comment letter to DOL, “is that incorporating sustainability-related factors—which are often characterized and grouped into ESG categories—can provide better risk-adjusted returns to investors over the long-term” (emphasis added).

BlackRock’s corporate strategy is to market ESG-style investment products to millennials, who, BlackRock believes, are less interested in financial returns than boomers. In his 2019 letter to CEOs, BlackRock CEO Larry Fink cited a survey of millennials. When asked what the primary purpose of businesses should be, 63% more said “improving society” than said “generating profit.” Three years later, in his 2022 letter to CEOs, Fink was pivoting away from ESG and undercutting BlackRock’s special pleading to DOL. “Make no mistake,” Fink wrote, “the fair pursuit of profit is still what animates markets; and long-term profitability is the measure by which markets will ultimately determine your company’s success.”

According to Jonathan Berry, DOL’s former Acting Assistant Secretary for Policy under the previous administration, career staff at DOL’s Employee Benefits Security Administration (EBSA) initiated secretive private meetings after the November 2020 election to build support and find cause to overturn the 2020 rules. Who were these parties? In its comment letter on the proposed rule, BlackRock lets the cat out of the bag in praising DOL for its “thoughtful analysis of the challenges presented by the 2020 rules” and for incorporating feedback from a “wide range of stakeholders.”

The outcome was a DOL press release on March 10, 2021, announcing the nonenforcement of the two 2020 rules. “These rules have created a perception that fiduciaries are at risk if they include any environmental, social and governance factors in the financial evaluation of plan investments,” said Ali Khawar, EBSA Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary. In fact, references to ESG had been removed from the text of the 2020 Financial Factors rule. Far from ruling out consideration of any ESG factor, its preamble accepted that “ESG considerations may present issues of material business risk or opportunities.” Why hasn’t DOL issued a FAQ and held a public meeting to dispel misperceptions about the 2020 rule?

Because the White House has instructed DOL to nix the rule.

The proposal also seeks to rewrite the December 2020 DOL rule on proxy voting in order to push fiduciaries to outsource their voting to the proxy-advisory duopoly of Institutional Shareholder Services and Glass, Lewis and their bias in support of ESG-type goals in proxy votes. Furthermore, the proposed replacement rule doesn’t tackle the vexed issue of “empty voting,” when, for example, the likes of three big index-tracker providers vote proxies in respect of shares that they don’t have an economic interest in. Shouldn’t DOL be clarifying that ERISA fiduciaries have a duty to investigate the voting policies of firms to which they delegate voting authority?, asks RealClear Foundation senior fellow Bernard Sharfman and Manhattan Institute’s James Copland.

Failure to do so, they suggest, could constitute grounds for a legal challenge under the Administrative Procedure Act.

In their letter to Secretary Walsh, the four GOP senators also invoke the specter of the rule having its fate decided by the courts. “The use of such [ESG] terminology in the proposal is arbitrary and capricious under the Administrative Procedure Act,” the senators warn. As drafted, the proposed rule would invert the primacy of statute law over executive-agency rulemaking.

It would also fundamentally alter the nature of American capitalism, corralling capital for political ends, enabled by multitrillion-dollar investment advisers eyeing the prospect of higher fees.

Will the rule of law prevail?

 

Financial Systems Have Little Risk from Climate

At John Cochrane’s blog readers can access studies showing how activists like Mark Carney are distorting and exploiting imaginary risks to the financial system from global warming/climate change.  Firstly Cochrane discusses a current Federal Reserve research document How Bad Are Weather Disasters for Banks?   Excerpts in italics with my bolds and images are from his blog article Fed Courage

How Bad Are Weather Disasters for Banks?

Kristian S. Blickle, Sarah N. Hamerling, and Donald P. Morgan

Federal Reserve Bank of New York Staff Reports, no. 990 November 2021

Abstract

Not very. We find that weather disasters over the last quarter century had insignificant or small effects on U.S. banks’ performance. This stability seems endogenous rather than a mere reflection of federal aid. Disasters increase loan demand, which offsets losses and actually boosts profits at larger banks. Local banks tend to avoid mortgage lending where floods are more common than official flood maps would predict, suggesting that local knowledge may also mitigate disaster impacts.

Key words: hurricanes, wildfires, floods, climate change, weather disasters, FEMA, banks, financial stability, local knowledge

In addition to the paper’s good analysis, there is a useful literature review,

Our main findings are generally consistent with the few papers that study the bank stability effects of disaster. Looking across countries, Klomp (2014) finds that disasters do not effect default risk of banks in developed countries. Brei et al. (2019) find that hurricanes (the most destructive weather disaster) do not significantly weaken Caribbean banks. Koetter et al. (2019) finds increased lending and profits at German banks exposed to flooding along the Elbe River. The study closest to ours by Noth and Schuewer (2018) finds default risk increases at U.S. banks following disasters but the effects are small and short-lived. Barth et al. (2019) find higher profits and interest spreads at U.S. banks after disasters but did not look at bank risk.

Based on four case studies of extreme disasters and small banks, FDIC (2005) concluded that …”historically, natural disasters did not appear to have a significant negative impact on bank performance.”

This is a courageous paper to write, and to write so clearly. The fantasy of “climate risks to the financial system” is passed around and around in order to justify using financial regulation to implement this Administration’s climate policies, centering on defunding fossil fuel development and subsidizing deployment of particular technologies such as electric cars and windmills. Documenting that this particular emperor has no clothes takes great courage.

As a small indicator of the forces at work, Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen offered an eloquent summary of a the “whole-of-government’ effort to integrate climate into financial regulation

“FSOC is recognizing that climate change is an emerging and increasing threat to U.S. financial stability. This report puts climate change squarely at the forefront of the agenda of its member agencies..”

News that climate change is not a threat to financial stability will not go down well.

Governor Lael Brainard, currently a leading candidate for Fed Chair, is a strong proponent of “climate risks to the financial system.” = Just read here speeches. Here, for example,

Climate change is projected to have profound effects on the economy and the financial system, and it is already inflicting damage.

We can already see the growing costs associated with the increasing frequency and severity of climate-related events.

Here,

It is increasingly clear that climate change could have important implications for the Federal Reserve … Given the implications of climate change for both individual financial institutions and the financial sector as a whole...,

Climate change and the transition to a sustainable economy also pose risks to the stability of the broader financial system. …

And a hint of the vast institutional commitment to these ideas

To complement the work of the SCC, the Federal Reserve Board is establishing a Financial Stability Climate Committee (FSCC) to identify, assess, and address climate-related risks to financial stability.

“We looked and there is nothing here” is not going to go down well. It’s hard to publish papers and get jobs as climate and finance researchers these days if you come up with the “wrong” answers.

New Zealand Study Confirms Financial System Safety from Climate Change

A commenter at the blog provided a link to another recent NZ study Climate Change and the risk to Financial Stability.  Reality or overreaction? Excerpts in italics with my bolds.

The Reserve Bank is not alone in suggesting that climate change could represent some kind of existential threat to the financial system. Over recent years a number of central banks, supervisors and international financial institutions have made claims that global warming poses a serious risk to financial stability. The Network for Greening the Financial System (NGFS), a club of central banks and supervisors, is pushing a more coordinated international approach. Further, the Ministry for the Environment (MfE) has identified financial stability as one of the two major economic risks in its recent Climate Change Risk Assessment report.

At first sight it is difficult to understand what is driving the Reserve Bank’s concern. The physical risks from climate change to the New Zealand economy are small, and over the period up to 2100 the benefits of a warmer climate may well exceed the costs. While there will be some impacts as the economy adapts to a zero carbon future, economies have always been changing and, with some exceptions, financial systems have been able to accommodate those changes. To cite an obvious example, the US substantially shifted from horse to motorized transport in the space of 20 years, without any one being in charge or worrying about systemic risk to the financial system.

As the physical effects of climate change are slow-moving and relatively predictable over relevant time horizons, we should expect the financial systems to adapt to this changing world, and readily accommodate the impacts of climate events such as a slowly rising sea levels and the occasional stronger storms.

The issue we address in this report is whether climate change is such an exception to this benign adaptation picture, that central banks and supervisors need to respond to the ‘challenge’ with some urgency. Or is this just a case of the Reserve Bank wanting to be seen to be ‘relevant’ and getting into the action in what is one of the biggest issues of our time?

The main purpose of this report is to assess the papers on the Bank’s list and other relevant documents on the impact of climate change on financial systems. We have also focused on climate change risk disclosures, which have become a flavour of the month in regulatory quarters, and are set to become mandatory for larger New Zealand institutions.

The focus of our analysis is on the banking sector, which is the core of the New Zealand financial system. We have paid less attention to risks to the insurance sector because it is generally accepted it can readily manage climate risks by adjusting its exposures and pricing.

Our conclusions are very clear. We have reviewed a large number of documents and despite the best efforts of many supervisors none have been able to come up with convincing evidence that climate change represents a threat, let alone a systemic threat. For example a very recent full scale stress test for France found that the transition costs to a zero carbon economy would at most be four or five basis points and that it did not matter whether the transition was early or late. The physical risks from climate change were so slight that they could not be analysed.

We did find a disturbing pattern of exaggerations and misrepresentations. For example the Bank of England instructed banks, when stress testing, to assume that all river flooding defences would be removed, in an effort to inflate the costs of future flooding events. The United Nations Environment Programme used climate change assumptions for 2100 to assess financial system impacts for 2025 and 2045.

Climate change does not represent some kind of existential threat to the New Zealand financial system.

The Governnor is over-reacting. This climate change ‘hysteria’ is mostly noise, but it might have some efficiency costs for the system, which could be avoided if a more measured approach is taken. The Reserve Bank’s role should be to correct and hose down ill-informed responses, not to create them.

Footnote:

Background from John H. Cochrane writing on central banks mistaken preoccupation with global warming/climate change at post Deception: Climate Financial Risk

Also Cochrane’s remarks at European Central Bank’s Conference on Monetary Policy. Synopsis at post Bankers Should Mind Their Own Business, not the Climate