Investors could be relieved of their anxieties through capital cycle
One investors’ dilemma these days is whether the use of hydrocarbons vaporizes over the coming years or its dependence will linger on in the decades to come.
Oil giant BP belongs rather to the first school of thought, saying that share of fossil fuels in final energy consumption must fall to 20%.
But that will happen only if governments are to realize their pledges to reduce net carbon emissions to zero by 2050. In theory, the energy crisis triggered by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine should also speed up that transition.
The current level of fossil fuels’ share in final energy consumption is at 65%. That’s why such a dramatic reduction – of almost 70% – makes energy companies hesitant to invest in costly projects with multi-decade payoffs.
Some analysts like Canadian scientist Vaclav Smil, author of “How the World Really Works”, belong to the second school of thought.
He dismisses the notion that world economies are on the verge of giving up fossil fuels.
Everything that’s essential in the current way of living, like steel, concrete, plastics and ammonia – which is being used for fertilizer – depend on hydrocarbons as an essential input.
Also, it’s unlikely that low-income countries with enormous infrastructure needs will give up conventional transport and heating, just naming a few of the areas where fossil fuels are essential.
However you put it, the general idea is that transition to green power will, in the medium term, boost demand for hydrocarbons.
Adam Rozencwajg, managing partner at natural resources investment firm Goehring and Rozencwajg, cited by Reuters, argues that renewable energy has huge upfront costs. It’s consuming large amounts of conventional energy and raw materials, from steel and concrete, to copper.
So, it takes several years for renewable sources of power such as wind and solar to pay back the energy used in their construction.
At the end of October, in U.S. dollar terms, the prices of most commodities, including oil, copper and iron, have declined from their recent peaks amid concerns of an impending global recession.
Besides the logical phenomenon of fluctuating demand depending on economic activity, there is another explanation for this drop.
The investments made in conventional energy and raw materials in recent year have been scarce. Capital spending by energy firms and miners has declined since the investment boom peaked in the middle of the last decade.
The capital cycle approach recommends investors to direct their attention from future demand to current supply.
This way it is possible that commodities will deliver positive returns even as the economy contracts. Since 2008, the growing demand for oil has been mostly met by increased output of U.S. shale oil.
But shale resources run dry much more rapidly than conventional oil fields and their output is not being replaced, according to Reuters. Sources of extra supply are nearly exhausted.
In weaning the world off hydrocarbons, copper plays a major role. The annual supply must grow by 5% a year by 2035, for the energy transition.
This is roughly double the rate between 2000 and 2020. But even current demand is hard to meet, since mining firms aren’t investing enough.
The current situation in energy and mining sectors is more comparable to the late 1920s. Back then, commodity investment was curtailed as capital flowed into new technologies like electricity, automobiles and radio.
Being left without cash, oil and mining stocks delivered positive returns between 1929 and 1937, while the U.S. stock market was cut in half.
So even if the global economy were to collapse once again, the capital cycle could allow commodities producers to deliver positive returns.