Axios Generate

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February 13, 2020

Good morning! (Today's Smart Brevity count: 1,089 words, 4 minutes.)

And at this moment in 1999, Cool Breeze (and some talented friends) were atop Billboard's rap charts with today's intro tune...

1 big thing: Coronavirus throws oil demand into reverse for now

New International Energy Agency estimates this morning put the economic effect of the novel coronavirus into sharp relief.

Driving the news: IEA's monthly market analysis says global oil demand will fall by 435,000 barrels per day in this quarter compared to the same period a year ago.

Why it matters: It's the first quarterly contraction in over a decade(!). The agency also revised its total 2020 demand growth figure.

  • Officials now see global oil thirst growing by 825,000 barrels per day this year, which is 365,000 lower than their previous forecast.
  • That would be the smallest expansion since 2011, IEA said as it noted "significant" market consequences from the tragedy.

The big picture: The report underscores something we highlighted last week — China's enormous influence on global energy markets and the spillover effect when travel and economic activity is curtailed.

Last year China accounted for over three-quarters of global demand growth, IEA notes.

  • "While the SARS epidemic of 2003 is widely used as a reference point for analysis of Covid-19, China has changed enormously since then," they said.
  • "Today, it is central to global supply chains and there has been an enormous increase in travel to and from the country, thus heightening the risk of the virus spreading."

But, but, but: While today's report puts a highlighter pen over all this, crude markets have already priced in a lot of the demand shock.

  • Crude prices have tumbled sharply over the last few weeks to their lowest levels since early last year as the outbreak worsened, but have made up some ground in recent days.
  • Oil moved slightly down again this morning but it's not in freefall. The global benchmark Brent crude was trading at $55.69.

Go deeper: Coronavirus cases spike after China revises diagnosis criteria

2. The right's turn for climate tension

It was probably inevitable: As Capitol Hill Republicans start pushing their own climate policies, there's new tension on the right.

Driving the news: House GOP leaders yesterday promoted four bills (here, here, here and here) focused on carbon capture and storage and tree planting.

It includes measures to make credits for industrial capture permanently available and increase their value.

The intrigue: That drew a tsk-tsk from the conservative American Energy Alliance, which called it a "slippery slope to a slightly less intrusive Green New Deal."

  • Myron Ebell of the Competitive Enterprise Institute, who disputes consensus science on warming and its effects, attacked the proposals, too.
  • He knocked the permanent credits for "commercially uncompetitive" carbon capture and said that would help make the case for making permanent other credits he opposes for renewables.

What we're watching: Whether the new criticisms on the right are a harbinger of wider conservative pushback.

My Axios colleague Amy Harder reports that its organizers are working to prevent that from happening. Per Amy...

  • Multiple people close to the dynamics, both on and off Capitol Hill, say that one of the key goals of this GOP push on climate change is to ensure Republicans who have in the past openly mocked or questioned mainstream climate change are quiet about that.

Go deeper: Exclusive: What’s in Republicans’ new climate-change push

3. BP's climate move means new pressure on Exxon

Illustration of gloved hands pricking an oil drum with pins.
Illustration: Rebecca Zisser/Axios 

Let's spend more time with something I just grazed Wednesday: how BP's new emissions pledges could create more pressure on U.S.-based giants Exxon and Chevron.

Catch up fast: BP vowed "net-zero" emissions from its operations and oil and gas it produces by 2050 and a 50% cut in emissions intensity from products it sells.

Why it matters: European oil behemoths have been more active on climate than their U.S. counterparts.

Now the question is whether BP's plan — which is the most aggressive among super-majors, albeit lacking detail — will change the landscape.

A good Bloomberg piece yesterday dives into this.

  • “If we do see capital flowing into BP, that may force the U.S. majors to rethink the speed at which they move on carbon reduction targets,” Noah Barrett of the asset management firm Janus Henderson says in the story.
  • But he does not see the U.S. companies "adopting a BP-like strategy in the near future."

Where it stands: One big dividing line between European and U.S. majors is companies' willingness to set any kind of goals around Scope 3 emissions.

  • Those are the emissions from the use of a company's products in the economy from driving and so forth, and they're vastly larger than emissions from companies' direct operations and energy use.
  • BP's Scope 3 target is a mix of commitments: an absolute net-zero target for the use of the oil and gas it produces, but the intensity target once you include the oil and gas they buy from other companies to process and sell.
  • The New York Times' Brad Plumer dissects it here.

What they're saying: An HSBC note this morning calls the new plan "potentially a game-changer for the company and the industry."

  • "For a company of BP’s scale, a net zero scope 3 footprint from its own production introduces a climate-related ambition on an unprecedented scale," they note.
  • "It also points to a dramatic transformation of the business, including an inevitable shrinkage of the upstream business over time."

4. Ride-hailing's congestion effects

Reproduced from Tarduno, 2019, “The Congestion Costs of Uber and Lyft”; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios
Reproduced from Tarduno, 2019, “The Congestion Costs of Uber and Lyft”; Chart: Naema Ahmed/Axios

Traffic moved faster in Austin after Uber and Lyft left the city, Axios' Felix Salmon writes.

  • Daytime traffic sped up by about 3.4%, according to a new paper from Matthew Tarduno, a graduate student at UC Berkeley. That's about 0.1 minutes per mile.

Why it matters: Tarduno's paper shows that Uber and Lyft increase the number of cars on the road, increase congestion and decrease traffic speeds — even if the effects in Austin were relatively modest.

Background: After Austin insisted that Uber and Lyft drivers pass background checks, both companies ceased operations in the city overnight. (They eventually returned after the state of Texas effectively overruled the city.)

The bottom line: Tarduno calculates that while faster traffic is worth $61 million a year to Austinites, that's roughly the same as the value to citizens of having Uber and Lyft (also known as transportation network companies) in the first place.

  • "TNC activity can be viewed roughly as a transfer," he concludes. "The consumer surplus enjoyed by TNC passengers is of similar size to the time loss incident on incumbent drivers."

5. Catch up fast: Climate, earnings, pollution

Climate: "European lawmakers have called on the European Central Bank (ECB) to put climate change at the centre of the bank’s review of its monetary policy strategy this year, endorsing the bank’s chief vision for “gradually eliminating” carbon assets." (Climate Home News)

Natural gas: "Centrica Plc became the first energy company to book a major writedown on production assets in Europe as the global natural gas glut slashed valuations on both sides of the Atlantic." (Bloomberg)

Offshore drilling: "The spread of oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico was far worse than previously believed, new research has found." (Washington Post)