Wednesday, July 5, 2017

An electric future for car makers; UK productivity below 2007 level; Signs of a Canadian housing bubble

1 An electric future for car makers (Adam Vaughan in The Guardian) Volvo’s decision to exclusively build electrified or hybrid cars is the beginning of the end of the company’s relationship with fossil fuels, according to one motoring organisation.

One Swedish car maker starting down the road to a zero emissions future will not solve global warming alone. But the whole automotive industry following suit would begin to make a serious difference in reducing oil demand and emissions.

Transportation accounts for 14% of global greenhouse gas emissions and, as the US Environmental Protection Agency notes, almost all of the energy – 95% – powering those cars, planes, trains and ships still comes from petrol and diesel.

Electric cars show a route off that dependence, but their take-up has repeatedly disappointed. There are now 2m globally, out of more than 1bn cars in total, showing the mountain that still needs to be climbed. Bloomberg predicts 41m electric car sales a year in 2040, while BP this year revised its prediction to a total of 100m on the roads by 2035.

Renault-Nissan has arguably led the way in 100% electric cars so far, with 350,000 sold in total. VW, looking to clean up its image after the diesel scandal, plans to sell 1m electric cars a year by 2025. Volvo’s target is to sell 1m electric vehicles – that includes plug-ins and hybrids as well as pure battery-powered cars – by 2025.

2 UK productivity below 2007 level (BBC) The productivity of UK workers has dropped back to pre-financial crisis levels, according to official figures. Hourly output fell 0.5% in the first three months of the year, the Office for National Statistics said.

At the end of 2016, productivity returned to the level seen before the downturn, overturning years of decline which has weighed on wages. But it has now slipped back again and is 0.4% below the peak recorded at the end of 2007, according to the ONS.

Economists have warned that the UK's productivity continues to lag behind its major trading partners such as the US, France and Germany.

3 Signs of a Canadian housing bubble (Matein Khalid in Gulf News) The Canadian housing bubble has gone so ballistic that the Ontario government is considering a 15 per cent tax on foreign buyers to cool down the speculative spiral in Toronto condominiums.

The smart money on Wall Street' latest trade is to short Canadian banks and property developers, the fabled hedge fund Great White Short. Canadian property prices have doubled in the past decade, thanks to low interest rates, high-end immigration, flight capital from China/Southeast Asia, with Toronto and Vancouver the epicentre of the housing bubble.

A housing bubble is a money-spinning feast for speculators since they only put down 10-25 per cent as an initial downpayment. Yet as some learnt the hard way, leverage wipes out investor equity when a housing bubble bursts, often taking down entire banking systems and consumer economies.

In countries that criminalise bankruptcy, the choice for a leveraged homeowner when a bubble bursts is to either face jail or flee. This is not the case in the US the Canada, where non-recourse mortgages make home price speculation a one-way bet when prices soar in a speculative bubble.

Canadian home prices have gone parabolic since 2010, up 60 per cent despite the plunge in crude oil prices and the election of a Liberal Party Prime Minister in Ottawa. Yet there are now unmistakable signs that the Canadian housing bubble is about to pop. New home sales have plunged even though prices are at record highs.

Ontario's Fair Housing Plan only tells me this time the wolf is here. The near collapse of subprime mortgage lender. Home Capital Group has eerie echoes of the failure of Lehman Brothers. Home Capital shares fell 90 per cent before Warren Buffet financed C$2.4 billion lifeboat.

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