Friday, 6 July 2012

Cold British summer: Shoppers stocking up on warming and comfort foods

In Britain the cold and rainy summer has led to some unusual behavior

Yet another predictably wet and even cold summer time in the United Kingdom has led to a flurry of homeowners showing an unseasonal interest in home improvements

Many in the industry are surprised by the fact that households are turning to such methods in the month of June, but the frosty winds and relentless rain has given many little choice.

Food stores like Waitrose have also noticed some surprising consumer behavior

Total sales at Waitrose last week were 3.2pc higher than the same week last year, driven by shoppers stocking up on warming and comfort foods which are more reminiscent of the winter months.

Apples and cherries will be in short supply because of the cold and rainy summer : 

FRUIT farmers in the Tonbridge area this week warned that the "nightmarish" summer weather could reduce this year's apple crop by half.
And cherries are likely to be even worse hit, according to Golden Green farmer Mike Hibbs, who said a dry spring followed by weeks of cold, wind and rain had left him with nothing to harvest from five acres of orchards.
Describing the situation as a "nightmare", he said: "The weather has affected crops immensely. This is the worst season we've ever known."

Finnish finance minister: "Finland will not hang itself to the euro"

Finland, one of the few EU countries still enjoying triple-A credit rating, will not accept an integration model in which it would have to pay other countries´ debts. That is the tough message of Finnish finance minister Jutta Urpilainen

Finland would rather leave the euro zone than pay down the debt of other countries in the currency bloc, Finnish Finance Minister Jutta Urpilainen said in a newspaper interview Friday.
"Finland is committed to being a member of the euro zone, and we think that the euro is useful for Finland," Urpilainen told financial daily Kauppalehti, adding though that "Finland will not hang itself to the euro at any cost and we are prepared for all scenarios."
"Collective responsiability for other countries' debt, economics and risks; this is not what we should be prepared for," she added.
In her interview with Kauppalehti, the finance minister meanwhile insisted that Finland, one of only a few EU countries to still enjoy a triple-A credit rating, would not agree to an integration model in which countries are collectively responsible for member states' debts and risks.
She also insisted that a proposed banking union would not work if it was based on joint liability.
Urpilainen also acknowledged in an interview with the Helsingin Sanomat daily Thursday that Finland "represents a tough line" when it comes to the euro-zone bailouts.
"We are constructive and want to solve the crisis, but not on any terms," she said.
As part of its tough stance, Finland has said it will begin negotiations with Spain next week in order to obtain collateral in exchange for taking part in a bailout for ailing Spanish banks.
Read the entire article here

What this means is that Finland will not accept the kind of deeper integration that some are proposing as a solution to the euro crisis. Urpilainen is stating the obvious, as the overwhelming majority of Finns would not accept a model leading to a more federal Europe. (Neither would a majority of Germans accept it).

Germany: Solar energy "threatening to become the costliest mistake in the history of German energy policy"

German Der Spiegel reports about one of the greatest failures of Angela Merkel´s government - the disastrous and costly solar energy policy:

A new study by Georg Erdmann, professor of energy systems at Berlin's Technical University, reveals just how far Germany's current center-right governing coalition -- made up of Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU and the business-friendly Free Democrats (FDP) -- has strayed from its own self-imposed goals. Erdmann has calculated the effects that the latest changes to the EEG (Renewable Energy Sources Act, NNoN) will have between now and 2030. He believes that subsidies for renewable energy, including an expansion of the power grid, will saddle energy consumers with costs well over €300 billion ($377 billion). 
Photovoltaics are threatening to become the costliest mistake in the history of German energy policy. Photovoltaic power plant operators and homeowners with solar panels on their rooftops are expected to pocket around €9 billion ($11.3 billion) this year, yet they contribute barely 4 percent of the country's power supply, and only erratically at that.
When night falls, all solar modules go offline in one fell swoop; in the winter, they barely generate power during the daytime. During the summer, meanwhile, they sometimes generate too much power around midday, without enough storage capacity to capture it all. The distribution network is also not laid out in a way that would allow the country's thousands of owners of photovoltaic arrays -- a term used to denote an installation of several panels working together -- to feed into the grid as well as draw power from it.
To keep the lights on, Germany ends up importing nuclear power from France and the Czech Republic. Grid operator Tennet even resorted to tapping an aging fossil fuel-fired power plant in Austria to compensate for shortages in solar power.

Lobbyists for the solar industry like to impress the public with big numbers concerning their products' theoretical capabilities. And it's true that all currently installed photovoltaic arrays, theoretically, add up to more than 25 gigawatts of capacity, easily double the power generated by all nuclear power plants still operating in Germany.
Unfortunately, solar arrays provide peak performance only with maximum light exposure when the sun is at the perfect vertical angle and the modules at the ideal temperature -- in other words, under laboratory conditions. In reality, all of Germany's photovoltaic arrays together generate less power than two nuclear reactors. And they can't even replace those reactors unless they have enough storage capacity available. The figures on peak performance of photovoltaic arrays lead to misunderstandings, the German Physical Society writes in an expert opinion, stating, "Photovoltaics are fundamentally incapable of replacing any other type of power plant." Essentially, every solar array must be backed up with a conventional power plant as a reserve, creating an expensive double infrastructure.

So far the powerful  wind and solar energy lobby has got almost everything it has demanded from Merkel´s weak government, but when the German economic engine begins to stall - and there are already signs of it happening - then whoever is in charge at the time will have to make huge changes in the country´s energy policy. 

Thursday, 5 July 2012

Greenpeace activists arrested by Dutch police

Congratulations to the Dutch Police for a job well done:

Four Greenpeace activists who have been preventing an Australian-bound super-trawler from leaving a port in the Netherlands were arrested on Tuesday.
"THIS morning we arrested four people: two men and two women who were preventing the ship's departure," Evy Elschot told AFP from Ijmuiden, 30km northeast of Amsterdam.
The Lithuanian-flagged FV Margiris, which is to be re-flagged as Australian and deployed to catch baitfish off Tasmania, was stopped by the Greenpeace team on June 27 as it tried to leave the Dutch port.
The 143-metre, 9,500-tonne Margiris is one of the world's largest fishing trawlers, and has been accused by Greenpeace in the past of over-fishing off West Africa.
Activists hung on cables between the quay and the ship and put a chain around the trawler's propeller.
"We first asked the activists to leave the boat, which did not happen," said Elschot, adding the activists were then arrested "but remained calm."

Read the entire article here

The illegal Greenpeace activities should be condemned. There is absolutely no justifiable reason to sabotage the Australian bound fishing vessel:

 Australian Fisheries Management Authority has dismissed over-fishing concerns, saying the Margiris would have little if any impact on the broader eco-system with strict catch limits in place.
According to AFMA the trawler will be allowed to catch just 10 percent of available fish - a highly precautionary figure it says is well below international standards.

Putin will never be able to reform the system he created

Time magazine journalist Michael Schuman has written a decent description of Russia´s dependence on oil. However, there is something clearly missing in Schuman´s conclusions: 
The only way out of the trap is to decrease Russia’s dependence on oil. That will require a much higher rate of investment, and especially private sector investment, to develop new industries and create better jobs. Improving the poor investment climate, however, will take a long list of reforms, which include fixing inefficient state enterprises, allowing greater competition, stopping the state from crowding out the private sector, and fighting widespread corruption. Putin himself has repeatedly advocated for just such reforms, as he did in a speech at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum in June:
“We are well aware of serious long-term and medium-term challenges for our economy. The economy is still not properly diversified. Much of the added value is created in commodities sectors. There is a high proportion of non-competitive old plants and the level of Russia’s dependence on oil prices remains high. We must reduce the dangerously high [budget] deficit if oil revenues are not taken into account. This…is the Achilles’ heel of our economy…We understand very well that we must offer investors exclusive conditions to compete for these investments, so that the investors ultimately choose Russia. This is why we feel creating an investment climate that is not just favorable, but truly better and more competitive, is a key issue in state policy…Today I want to reaffirm our principled position: the state will gradually withdraw from a variety of industries and assets…Unfortunately corruption is without exaggeration the biggest threat to our development. The risks are even worse than the fluctuation of oil prices.”
Yet Putin and his political allies have said all this stuff before, and little has changed. Achieving Putin’s stated goals will require drastic changes in the Putin state, changes he has so far shown little willingness to make.
He may have to, though. In a June 21 report, Capital Economics forecast growth would slow sharply, to 3.8% in 2012 and as low as 2.5% in 2013, from the 4.3% achieved in 2011. Without reform, the fate of Putin’s economy — and his legacy — will rest on the unpredictable swings in commodities markets.
Schuman is of course right when saying that Putin has said "all this stuff before, and little has changed". But he seems to believe that Putin somehow still might be able to make the necessary changes in order to safeguard his "legacy".
Schuman also takes Putin´s words "unfortunately corruption is without exaggeration the biggest threat to our development" at face value. Obviously he does not understand that the entire system Putin has created is based on corruption and theft. That is why all Putin´s "reforms"  will remain nothing but worthless words. The only way to save Russia from an economic collapse is to get rid of Putin. Fortunately there are signs that more and more Russians agree ....
Read the entire article here

Mark Adomanis - Putin´s PR officer in the US

During the Soviet era there were quite a number of useful idiots in the West, who - for various ideological/pecuniary/opportunistic reasons - were willing to praise the corrupted communist rulers. Fortunately there not many western observers and commentators who perform the same type of services for the present corrupt and criminal master(s) in the Kremlin

That´s why it is all the more surprising that the renowned Forbes Magazine has chose a person like Mark Adomanis - a de facto Public Relations officer for Putin and a contributor to Russia´s propaganda outlet Russia Today - as its "Russia hand".  
Here are a couple of recent samples: 
However, while recognizing that it exists and can be quite ugly, I’ve long thought that it is a mistake to focus only on the irascible and anti-Western side of Putin. Doing so is a mistake because if you focus only on the anti-Western bits you miss a pragmatic and realistic streak that, on some issues, makes Putin eminently comfortable with close cooperation with Western countries. Much more comfortable than many Russians at the high levels of the foreign policy and defense bureaucracies who really do dislike and distrust the West as a matter of principle. Indeed I would argue that Putin’s realist streak is a lot more important in understanding his foreign policy, and his conception of where Russia fits in the world, than his often ham-handed attacks on Western interventionism, arrogance, and hypocrisy. “Realist” doesn’t mean “good” or “warm” or “cuddly,” but it does mean that Putin is absolutely not someone who is comprehensively “anti-Western” in outlook.
Read the entire article here

Something that I’ve always found more than a little bit annoying about Western coverage of Putin is the accusation, more common among right-wingers but hardly limited to their ranks, that he is “re-creating the Soviet Union” or somehow trying to pull communism off of history’s ash-heap where it, deservedly, lies. Putin’s Soviet predilections are usually confirmed either through vague notions that he still retains loyalty to the KGB or through repetition of his well-known quote that the collapse of the Soviet Union was the “greatest geopolitical catastrophe of the century.”
Read the entire article here
 Americans need to get used to a world and a media environment in which we do not always shape the narratives or frame the coverage. That is, other non-Western countries and cultures, who do not necessarily share a belief in the United States’ inherent goodness or in the “seriousness” of its major media outlets, are becoming increasingly difficult to ignore. So if, like Weigel, you think RT is distasteful and off-putting just wait: over the coming years the Western, and especially American, media’s near monopoly on setting the agenda is going to evaporate and voices from China, India, Brazil, and other swiftly developing countries are going to be heard.
And that, I think, is what galls people so much about RT, they don’t play by the normal rules. As Josh Kucera, a journalist who has covered Russia and the former Soviet space, tweeted: “RT covers the US like US media covers Russia — emphasizing decline, interviewing marginal dissidents.” It turns out that it’s not very fun to be the target of over-hyped and sensationalized news coverage that obsessively details your country’s every real or perceived failure and which interviews an unrepresentative sampling of people who are deeply unsatisfied with the current state of things. There’s a deeper lesson in there somewhere, and it’s not simply “RT bad! Mainstream media good!”
Read the entire article here

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Schwarzenegger´s legacy in California: Like a Hollywood horror movie

Arnold Schwarzenegger´s legacy is slowly beginning to dawn on Californian companies and ordinary taxpayers. And it is more and more looking like a Hollywood horror movie: 
Andrew Chang & Company, which conducted the latest fiscal and economic impact study on behalf of CMTA, found that the average California family will end up paying an additional $2,500 annually by 2020 when AB 32 (Schwarzenegger´s global warming law, NNoN) is fully implemented. In addition, the state is expected to lose an additional 262,000 jobs, 5.6 percent of the gross state product, and a whopping $7.4 billion through decreased annual state and local tax revenues as a result. Figures from the study were based on more conservative estimates, suggesting that expected costs could actually range much higher.
This new information comes at a time when state government is already struggling to maintain funding for some of California’s most basic services, and economic recovery remains anemic- prompting calls for further consideration of the law.
“These policies will create a large but hidden tax on families and will add new burdens to a fragile state economy,” said Jack Stewart, President of the California Manufacturers and Technology Association (CMTA). “This new tax is not what we need while Californians struggle to find jobs, meet mortgage payments and maintain a reasonable quality of life.”
The consequences appear even more severe for California’s small business community.
According to John Kabateck, California Executive Director of the National Federation of Independent Business:
“This comprehensive report tells us that small business will get hit from all sides.  Consumers will have less money to buy our products, employers will be forced to purchase more affordable products outside of California, and our own energy costs will make it nearly impossible to stay in business.”
Read the entire article here

Karl Rove has not heard about the American shale gas revolution?

It appears that Republican strategist Karl Rove has not heard about the shale gas (and oil) revolution in the US
Renewal of federal tax credits for wind energy can save U.S. jobs and reduce dependence on foreign oil, according to Karl Rove, an adviser to former President George W. Bush.
“We’ve got a growing economy that’s increasing energy consumption and wind energy should be part of the solution,” Rove said today on a panel at a wind conference in Atlanta. Extending the so-called production tax credit “should be a priority.”
Read the entire article here
Maybe somebody would tell Rove about this

Extreme winter weather in Peru: Government sending blankets to freezing people

It may be warm in parts of the US, but in Peru the government is trying to keep freezing people warm:

Peru’s government on Monday sent 18 trucks carrying 97,000 blankets to villages in the Andean highlands, where the populations endure freezing temperatures.
The blankets were sent to Puno, Apurimac, Ayacucho, Junin, Huancavelica, Huanuco, Ancash and La Libertad regions, daily La Republica reported.
The shipment is part of the national government plan to provide support to people who are not properly equipped to weather the cold.
Children and the elderly are often the most vulnerable to the cold temperatures, and every year a number of people in the highlands die during Peru’s cold winter months of June through August.
Last week, temperatures in the district of Mazocruz, located some 4,000 meters above sea level in the Puno region, dipped to -18 degrees Celsius, which is the lowest temperature in the department so far this year.

Putin has created a powder keg in Russia

 Maхim Trudolyubov, Editorial Page Editor at Vedomosti, Russia’s most influential and independent business daily, has written an interesting analysis of how Putin and his cronies have created the conditions for revolution: 

But despite all their efforts, it is the country’s current rulers that have created the conditions for revolution. By rewriting Russia’s electoral legislation (the last few years have seen amendments to 55 laws relating to electoral processes), the Kremlin’s political managers have made elections controllable. Businesses have been intimidated by expropriation, their owners prevented from financing undesirable political activity. The development of a civil society has been strangled by restrictions on the not-for-profit sector. The entire thrust of Putin’s policies has been to eliminate everything natural and unpredictable.
The result has been that all genuine, not imitation, political activity has been excluded from the political arena. The Kremlin’s apparatchiks spent years working out how to restrict the opposition’s legal room to manoeuvre, and they succeeded: they destroyed the conditions necessary for the development of a political mainstream. And by doing so, they created a powder keg.
Read the entire article here

Tuesday, 3 July 2012

Cold English summer: Bring your own broccoli to the London Olympics?

Cold English summer: Broccoli in short supply during London  Olympics?

The start of the Great British summer might typically see people seek shelter from the sunshine.
But in one of the wettest, coldest and dullest June's since records began, taking refuge under a sink from yet another downpour was all part of the start of summer for youngsters attending a Gloucestershire show.
And elsewhere, the story wasn't much different as storms and hailstones as big as golf balls were all scenes which unfolded due to June's unseasonable weather.

Record cold and wet weather in England threatens the availability of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage for the soon to begin Olympic games in London. Chefs are encouraged think about alternatives: 

Over the past three months the cold and wet weather conditions across the country has stunted the growth of broccoli, cauliflower and some cabbage varieties.
"We just do not have the volumes of UK field-grown broccoli that should be available now from growers in Lincolnshire, Cornwall, Kent or even Scotland" said Zeenat Anjari, business development manager at New Covent Garden Market Authority (CGMA). 
The CGMA is encouraging chefs to think about some alternatives. There is a lot of marrow available now, as well as peas and broad beans.
Read the entire article here
(image by wikipedia)

The euro crisis: A voice of sanity from the Free State of Bavaria

Seehofer wouldn't accept the transfer of major powers to a "European monster state."

Angela Merkel  should now listen very carefully to the voice of sanity from Germany´s economic powerhouse, the Free State of Bavaria:

Bavarian governor Horst Seehofer, the leader of the conservative Christian Social Union party (CSU) which is part of Chancellor Angela Merkel's center-right federal government coalition, has criticized the outcome of last week's European Union summit and threatened to let the government collapse if Berlin makes any further financial concessions to ailing euro member states.
"The time will come when the Bavarian government and the CSU can no longer say yes. And I wouldn't then be able to support that personally either," Seehofer said in an interview with Stern magazine released on Tuesday. "And the coalition has no majority without the CSU's seats."
The CSU is the Bavarian sister party to Merkel's Christian Democratic Union.
Germany's billions of euros in aid and guarantees were already "borderline," said Seehofer, who is known in Germany for his combative, occasionally populist style. "My biggest fear is that the financial markets will ask: Can Germany cope with all that? That is the point I regard as the most dangerous of all."
Seehofer said several euro countries needed to drop their debt mentality.
"The fact that others want to get at our money without asking too much of themselves is deeply human," he said. "But it won't solve the problem."
Seehofer has repeatedly attacked the German government on a number of issues in recent weeks including a controversial childcare benefit for stay-at-home mothers, a pet project of his party.
He told Stern that the government needed to explain the agreements made at the EU summit, where Merkel backed down and agreed to demands from Italy, Spain and France that troubled banks should receive aid directly from the permanent bailout fund, the European Stability Mechanism (ESM).
'European Monster State'
"We were debating about the stability pact in the Bundestag (Germany's federal parliament)And at exactly that time the government leaders of some euro countries were working to soften precisely those stability criteria. Who is supposed to understand that?"
Seehofer also criticized a suggestion by Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble that Germany should hold a referendum on a new constitution that could relinquish national powers to Brussels. "Hands off our constitution! We have this constitution to thank for the most stable state and the most stable democracy there has ever been in German history. We don't want a different constitution," said Seehofer.
He said he wouldn't accept the transfer of major powers to a "European monster state." He said he would turn the next general election and the Bavarian regional election, both scheduled for 2013, into a vote on Europe. "We will put this question to the people."
Merkel on Tuesday denied there were any differences between her and Seehofer on European policy. She said her coalition was united on the issue.

Read the entire article here

Merkel clearly chooses to act like nothing would have changed. She may come to regret that ...

And Merkel´s problems do not end here:

The common currency union was supposed to benefit the economy of the entire European Union. Now that the euro is struggling, however, it is bringing growth down with it. Germany's economy, once seemingly immune to the crisis, is now facing mounting difficulties.

Monday, 2 July 2012

The future of wind turbine maker Vestas hangs in the balance

The future of Danish Vestas, the world´s largest wind turbine manufacturer, hangs in the balance: 

Vestas Wind Systems A/S (VWS) fell the most in four weeks after a report that the turbine maker is in talks with two banks about restructuring debts after drawing a 300 million-euro ($379 million) credit line.
The shares tumbled 8.1 percent in Copenhagen after the Sunday Times reported that Royal Bank of Scotland Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc (HSBA) demanded Vestas submit a comprehensive financial plan from Vestas. The British newspaper said Vestas hired PwC and the banks appointed Ernst & Young LLP to advise on the plan.
And it is not only Vestas that is doing badly: 
Vestas along with rivals General Electric Co. (GE) andSiemens AG (SIE) is struggling with declining turbine prices and excess capacity as nations from the U.S. to Germany rein in support for renewable energy.
"Banks are no longer willing to finance large projects constrained by their own financial issues while delays in grid connection and legal reasons in promising offshore wind markets inhibit growth, he said. “Also, the market is in overcapacity and there is price pressure from China.” 
Read the entire article here
The crisis for wind turbine manufacturers should not come as a surprise to anybody. An industry which is totally dependent on government (tax payer) subsidies will never be successful in the long term. 

Sunday, 1 July 2012

The extended family of China´s next president have amassed enormous riches

Corruption is literally built into the foundations of modern China. The construction and infrastructure sectors are two of the most corrupt in country, putting at risk China's vaunted development, and also potentially endangering its neighbors.
Cleo Pascal, Associate Fellow, Royal Institute of International Affairs

The gap between rich and poor has become so inflammatory and unsustainable that the Chinese government has simply stopped releasing an official measure of the distribution of wealth. (Unofficial studies now put China’s inequality beyond the point that a former Prime Minister once estimated would trigger social unrest.)
Evan Osnos, The New Yorker

There are differences between the current regimes in Russia and China, but the countries share one common characteristic; both are run by a bunch of corrupt thieves. 

And it does not look that matters are going to improve very much either, with Vladimir Putin as the de facto lifetime president in Russia and Xi Jinping as the new president in China.

Bloomberg has compiled some interesting facts about Xi and his extended family: 

Xi Jinping, the man in line to be China’s next president, warned officials on a 2004 anti-graft conference call: “Rein in your spouses, children, relatives, friends and staff, and vow not to use power for personal gain.”
As Xi climbed the Communist Party ranks, his extended family expanded their business interests to include minerals, real estate and mobile-phone equipment, according to public documents compiled by Bloomberg.
Those interests include investments in companies with total assets of $376 million; an 18 percent indirect stake in a rare- earths company with $1.73 billion in assets; and a $20.2 million holding in a publicly traded technology company. The figures don’t account for liabilities and thus don’t reflect the family’s net worth.
Most of the extended Xi family’s assets traced by Bloomberg were owned by Xi’s older sister,Qi Qiaoqiao, 63; her husband Deng Jiagui, 61; and Qi’s daughter Zhang Yannan, 33, according to public records compiled by Bloomberg.
Deng, reached on his mobile phone, said he was retired. When asked about his wife, Zhang and their businesses across the country, he said: “It’s not convenient for me to talk to you about this too much.” Attempts to reach Qi and Zhang directly or through their companies by phone and fax, as well as visits to addresses found on filings, were unsuccessful.
The trail also leads to a hillside villa overlooking the South China Sea in Hong Kong, with an estimated value of $31.5 million. The doorbell ringer dangles from its wires, and neighbors say the house has been empty for years. The family owns at least six other Hong Kong properties with a combined estimated value of $24.1 million.
The Bloomberg team adds: 
No assets were traced to Xi, who turns 59 this month; his wife Peng Liyuan, 49, a famous People’s Liberation Army singer; or their daughter, the documents show. There is no indication Xi intervened to advance his relatives’ business transactions, or of any wrongdoing by Xi or his extended family.
It is of course no surprise that it cannot be proven that Xi, his wife and their daughter are directly involved in the family´s business deals, but nobody believes that the extended family´s enormous riches would have been possible without the political influence of Xi.

Neither is this a surprise:

China blocked access to Bloomberg’s website on the mainland after the business and financial news agency published a report Friday detailing the multimillion-dollar assets of relatives of the man set to become the country’s next president.