Disruptive Discoveries Journal

productivity

The "New" Great Game - The Race to Win an Electrified Future

Chris Berry2 Comments

By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

For a PDF version of this note, please click here.   

 

 

In the 19th century, geopolitical tensions were at the fore as Great Britain and Russia jockeyed for position in much of Central Asia with an eye on protecting British interests in India. At risk was control of land and sea routes for trade. Ultimately, other countries including China, Afghanistan, and some in Europe would be drawn in and would set the stage for geopolitical rivalries which still exist today.

This geopolitical chess match became known as The Great Game, a phrase coined by Arthur Conolly, a British intelligence officer in India at the time. Control of land and sea meant not only economic security, but also the ability to project economic and political power far beyond one’s borders. The common belief that the sun “never set on the British Empire” was at risk.

About the same time (late 19th Century) in Germany, a self-taught engineer named Ferdinand Porsche built what is widely believed to be the first electric vehicle. Mr. Porsche wouldn’t found his famous automobile company until 1948. He could have hardly realized it at the time, but this invention would be the eventual catalyst for the emergence of a “new” Great Game. However, today it isn’t countries that are the main players and it isn’t trade routes that are at stake. The new players are companies and what is at stake is energy usage for mobility and continued enhancement quality of life. 

The Key To The Way Forward In The Mining Sector

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By Chris Berry (@cberry1)

 

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·       The mining sector remains challenged by multiple headwinds including a lack of investment, currency headwinds, slower productivity, excess capacity, and deficient global demand.

·       Debt overhangs and slowing emerging markets – specifically China – appear to be the culprits behind slack demand. These forces must be reckoned with.

·       Longer-term, however, innovation, sustainability, and urbanization are legitimate drivers of growth and help promulgate “good” deflation which enhances productivity and can drive returns.

·       This note examines these phenomena and which sector(s) of the mining industry may benefit.

 

Groundhog Day

After three-plus years of a dismal mining investment environment and the potential for it to continue for some time, a number of questions arise from the soul searching many of us have done to try and make sense of this. According to Bloomberg, the value of the TSXV has fallen from its peak by almost 72%. This market environment necessitates a different method of thinking and evaluation about publicly traded mining companies. The good news is that it appears that many metals prices have bottomed, though this doesn’t mean that the cycle has definitively turned. The bad news is that the global economy still appears to be struggling with excess capacity AND muted demand. China, the seemingly endless engine of metals demand is unquestionably altering its paradigm for economic growth from one of infrastructure build out and exports to one more focused on internal consumption. With China’s debt to GDP ratio of 282% according to McKinsey, this move to a new growth model is absolutely necessary to maintain a sustainable growth rate, but there is no overnight fix to achieve this type of change. The success of this transition won’t be known for years, though the effects are already being felt.

Productivity and Energy Metals: You Can't Have One Without The Other

Chris BerryComment

By Chris Berry (@cberry1) 

For a PDF of this note, please click here

 

“Love and marriage, love and marriage,

Go together like a horse and carriage.

This I tell ya, brother, you can’t have one without the other.”

– Frank Sinatra

 

Ol’ Blue Eyes Was Right

With structural challenges still facing the metals sector as we head into 2015, finding a way to lower production costs is a must. A company’s sustainability (regardless of where it sits on the value chain) is arguably the most important issue for investors to consider. Lowering costs through either reducing operating or capital expenditures is the most obvious and easiest method, but this doesn’t create lasting value. The key is enhancing productivity through investment. It’s paradoxical to think that increasing investment can lead to lower costs in the long run, but this has been proven again and again many times.

Increased investment implies increased commodity intensity and this is why I used the Frank Sinatra quote above. Productivity goes hand-in-hand with increased investment and commodity use. In other words – you can’t have one (productivity or growth) without the other (increased metals use).

 To be sure, there are other ways to drive productivity. In his excellent book Capital in the 21st CenturyThomas Piketty argues that favorable demographics – specifically population growth – can, in part, spur overall economic growth and the productivity gains which go along with it. The challenge here is that it takes decades for this phenomenon to play out.