One of Britain’s most successful buyout specialists, the industrial conglomerate Melrose Industries, is going green with the creation of a division that will develop new methods of storing hydrogen.
Melrose, best known for buying, streamlining and selling engineering businesses, said it would use its expertise in metallic hydrides to create a new method for storing the gas.
GKN Powder Metallurgy, acquired as part of an £8bn hostile takeover of UK engineer GKN in 2018, has launched a dedicated hydrogen unit that will generate renewable or “green” forms of the gas that will then be stored.
Simon Peckham, Melrose chief executive, said “hydride plants locally make huge commercial and environmental sense”.
The FTSE 100 company, he added, has already invested about $10m into the business and would consider building an assembly plant in the UK to “satisfy increasing demand as it emerges”.
Hydrogen has long been heralded as a revolutionary alternative to fossil fuels, but high costs and numerous challenges, including how to store it, have held back progress to develop new economies centred around it.
Green hydrogen is the sector’s ultimate aim, but it only accounts for about 1 per cent of global hydrogen supply.
The “really big issue” is “making the green hydrogen in the first place”, said David Cebon, professor of mechanical engineering at Cambridge university.
Despite the challenges, targeted support from governments, notably in Europe, is driving a swath of investment into the industry.
The EU’s hydrogen strategy, launched last year, aims to install 6GW of green hydrogen capacity by 2025, rising to at least 40GW by 2030.
Like any gas, hydrogen can be compressed and stored, but its volume is much larger than that of other hydrocarbons.
Compressed hydrogen is, therefore, usually contained in highly pressurised containers that use special steels reinforced with carbon fibre.
Today’s fuel cell cars use compressed hydrogen gas, but vehicle manufacturers remain divided about how big the potential market will be.
GKN is among those that believe metal hydrides are the answer as they are able to store hydrogen at lower pressures in small spaces.
Identified as a potential efficient option for high-density hydrogen storage as long ago as the late 1970s, supporters of metal hydrides say the concept works because hydrogen molecules are chemically bonded within the metal compound structure and remain stable at atmospheric pressure.
GKN says its engineers have developed a new metal alloy powder from hydrides that is compacted into a high-density pellet, allowing the use of smaller tanks operating at lower pressure and temperature.
The company is finalising plans for increasing production of the powder at a site in Romania and is in the process of applying for EU funding to help subsidise the costs.
The initial focus, it says, will be on providing energy storage solutions between 80kWh and 66MWh — ideal for providing emergency power for critical infrastructure such as hospitals as well as off-grid locations.
Longer-term, the company says its system could provide enough energy to supply residential housing and power maritime transport.
The company has four pilot contracts under way, including one with an autonomous community in California, to provide short-term back-up power in the event that wildfires disrupt supply from the local electricity network. A further 11 pilots are due to start in the coming months.
“Everyone we speak to tells us that solving the transport and storage for hydrogen is the missing piece in the jigsaw,” said Peter Oberparleiter, head of GKN Powder Metallurgy. He expects to see “significant sales” of the company’s storage solution to “begin from 2023”.
Melrose will provide further details of its plans for the division at an investor day this month. If the new venture proves successful, it could be the next division to be sold, according to one analyst who wished to remain anonymous.
The group focuses on buying underperforming manufacturing businesses, restructuring them and selling them on, generating substantial returns for executives and shareholders in the process.
The group last month agreed to sell its US air conditioning unit Nortek Air Management for $3.65bn (£2.6bn).
HK fund takes action on alleged unpaid debts by Gupta’s GFG Alliance
A Hong-Kong based asset manager is behind an attempt to take control of a significant portion of the shares in a UK-listed renewable energy developer over alleged unpaid debts by Sanjeev Gupta’s GFG Alliance metals conglomerate.
TransAsia Private Capital in May appointed receivers over shares of GFG’s Simec UK Energy Holdings (SUEH) in Aim-listed tidal power group Simec Atlantis. SUEH owns about 43 per cent of the shares.
Court filings in Hong Kong, obtained by the Financial Times, reveal that TransAsia is claiming unpaid debts of more than $71m from Liberty Commodities, the trading arm of GFG.
Liberty Commodities borrowed money from TransAsia and in return received security over the listed shares in Simec Atlantis, three people familiar with the situation confirmed. Gupta had personally guaranteed the debt, two of the people said.
The situation, which first emerged when Simec Atlantis revealed on May 18 that its main shareholder faced “purported” administration proceedings, is the latest sign of the financial strains facing Gupta.
The industrialist, who owns Britain’s third-largest steelmaker, Liberty Steel, has been scrambling to salvage his empire after the collapse of his main lender, Greensill Capital, in March.
Attempts to refinance his British steel plants have so far failed to progress and Gupta last month put Stocksbridge, a speciality steel mill in Yorkshire, up for sale.
GFG is the subject of a Serious Fraud Office investigation into suspected fraud and money laundering. The company has said it will co-operate with the probe.
One person familiar with the situation over the unpaid debt said it was a serious development, but not Gupta’s biggest priority in his struggle to keep the GFG Alliance together.
Sources close to GFG said the parties, it and TransAsia, were working towards an amicable settlement.
GFG declined to comment. TransAsia was unavailable for comment.
Simec Atlantis said it would like to “make clear that it is an independent, Aim-listed company, whose focus has been, and will continue to be, in delivering its pioneering projects for all its investors”.
The company said it was not a “member of the GFG Alliance and has no connection with any of the funding mechanisms used in that organisation”.
Simec Atlantis is best known for its pioneering tidal power scheme, MeyGen in the Pentland Firth, which some consider a key test of the commercialisation of electricity generation from tidal streams. It is also converting the Uskmouth power station in Wales to run on biowaste.
SUEH has been a shareholder in Simec Atlantis since 2017 when it acquired an almost 50 per cent stake in what was then Atlantis Resources. At the same time, Atlantis bought a former coal-fired power plant in Uskmouth, South Wales from SUEH. Jay Hambro, chief investment officer at GFG, is a non-executive director at Simec Atlantis.
News of the administration proceedings sent shares in Simec Atlantis tumbling 26 per cent to 5.2p on May 18. They closed at 6.88p on Friday, valuing the company at about £34m.
Simec Atlantis this week had told investors that GFG had informed it that it had begun proceedings in the British Virgin Islands to challenge the “validity of the receiver’s appointment”.
Additional reporting by Michael Pooler in São Paulo
Air Force One delay is latest setback for Boeing
Air Force One is a recognisable symbol of American power, but the prestige the presidential plane generates for its manufacturer Boeing is diminishing amid a legal spat in Texas and the prospect of delay and higher costs for US taxpayers.
Boeing has told the US Air Force it expects a year-long delay to deliver the pair of retrofitted 747-8 aircraft. Each tri-level jet will be enhanced with a presidential office, a medical suite that can serve as an operating room and two galleys to feed up to 100 passengers.
Boeing also has asked the air force for more money. The contract to remake the planes sits at $3.9bn, down from $5bn after former president Donald Trump attacked the higher figure as “ridiculous”.
Meanwhile, Boeing and the bankrupt supplier GDC Technics are suing each other in a San Antonio, Texas court over who is to blame for the delay.
The programme represents a sliver of Boeing’s top-line, which totalled $58bn in 2020. Yet it concerns some analysts because it is another black eye in a string of problems ranging from minor to catastrophic: debris left in the USAF’s KC-46 refuelling tankers, the Starliner crew capsule that failed to reach the International Space Station, the halted 787 deliveries and the two crashes of the 737 Max that killed a combined 346 people.
The Air Force One problems contribute “to an overall impression of Boeing having serious programme management and execution deficiencies, both in their commercial and military businesses”, said Teal analyst Richard Aboulafia.
“It’s one on top of another, on top of another,” added Bank of America analyst Ron Epstein. “That’s the issue, not Air Force One per se. It’s yet another fumble . . . It really makes you question what’s going on in their engineering organisation.”
A Boeing spokeswoman said the company has brought together 50,000 engineers into a single function within the company to unify responsibility for safety, and appointed a chief aerospace safety officer in January. She added the KC-46 has flown more than 4,000 flights for the air force so far, Nasa and Boeing have successfully tested the Starliner’s software for a second attempt to reach the ISS and the Max is drawing orders.
While prestige projects seldom rack up profit, they do burnish a company’s reputation. The Air Force One call sign technically can apply to any plane carrying the US president, but since the 1960s it has referred to a specially outfitted jet, emblazoned with the presidential seal and American flag.
The two Boeing 747-200B jets that transport President Joe Biden have 4,000 square feet of space, can refuel in mid-air and have hardened onboard electronics to protect against disruption by electromagnetic pulse. The communications equipment is built so that the aircraft can function as a mobile command centre if the US is attacked.
The first of the current Air Force One jets entered service in 1990. The replacement planes are 747-8s that now-defunct Russian airline Transaero defaulted on that were sitting at an aeroplane “boneyard” in the Mojave desert. They are being refurbished in San Antonio, Texas.
Boeing contracted with GDC to design and build new interiors for the jets, as well as to do maintenance work on the current Air Force One planes. (The programmes are known as VC-25B and VC-25A, respectively.) On April 7, Boeing sued GDC in a state court, saying the contractor had fallen behind on the production schedule, failed to meet design specifications and, despite financial assistance from Boeing, lacked sufficient cash to pay other suppliers and employees.
“GDC’s precarious condition continues to put Boeing’s commitments to the [US Air Force] customer on both VC-25A and VC-25B at risk,” the lawsuit said. “Boeing was thus left with no choice but to cancel the VC-25B and VC-25A subcontracts.”
The company’s “failures have resulted in millions of dollars of damages”, Boeing said, and it demanded that GDC return parts, tools, drawings, raw materials and subcontractor contracts. The list of items the aerospace manufacturer wants back stretches 11 pages and includes 25 gallons of “Spa White” paint.
GDC countersued nine days later. In its lawsuit, the company said that while Boeing claimed it was terminating the contract because of GDC’s insolvency, the manufacturer “failed to inform the United States Air Force that GDC’s financial issues were substantially caused by Boeing’s breaches of its contracts with GDC”.
The supplier’s financial stress stems from Boeing owing more than $20m in payments, the GDC lawsuit said. It said the company was willing to return the materials after Boeing paid, but that the manufacturer had refused.
GDC’s lawsuit also said that Boeing mismanaged the Air Force One programme. It said GDC notified the Chicago-based company before Boeing sued that the “VC-25B programme as a whole has not been tracking to the contractual schedule for over 18 months, and GDC is currently waiting for a revised schedule from Boeing. GDC cannot be obligated to adhere to a schedule that it does not have.”
“Because of its problems with engineering, programme management and its own financial difficulties, Boeing has fallen behind in the project schedule for the aircraft,” the lawsuit said. “Boeing looked to GDC as a scapegoat.”
GDC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on April 26 and dismissed 223 employees.
Time for an investment step change
You aren’t saving enough. How do I know? Because fund management companies keep telling me so.
My inbox is jammed with press releases from them. “Is saving half your age into your pension enough?” asks one. Answer: No. Current auto-enrolment numbers are “simply not enough”, says another. “One in four women over 50 have less than £5,000 in their pension pot,” screams a third. Oh, and “two-thirds of people aged 50-65 are undersaving for their retirement,” and so on and so on.
You get the picture. It’s tinned soup and staycations all the way for you forever. Pandemic or no pandemic, you are not going down the Nile. Awful, isn’t it? I’m not convinced it is.
There are two things to remember here. The first is that fund management companies grow in two ways: by performing well (so their assets under management grow naturally) and by encouraging you to give them more of your money to manage so their income rises without the pesky problem of having to perform well (all fund managers charge you a percentage of your assets under management).
The upshot of this is that one of the industry’s main marketing strategies has to be the constant release of the kind of statistics that keep you in a state of perpetual anxiety about whether you have or have not saved enough.
The second is that there is a very good chance that you are saving enough, with the caveat that everyone has a different “enough”. In the UK almost everyone in work is auto-enrolled into a pension, with 8 per cent of their salary going in every year.
That might not seem enough to fund management marketeers (nothing will ever seem enough to them, I suspect). But if things go mostly OK in the market — say 4 to 5 per cent average annual growth — that will mean the average person on the average salary ends up with about £200,000-plus in their pot.
It’s not private jet stuff, but add it to your state pension and you have a base income of around £18,000. We are also saving plenty outside our pensions. UK residents put £75bn into 13m adult Isas in the 2019-20 tax year — £7.1bn more than the year before. The number of Lifetime Isas, from which you can withdraw cash for house purchases, more than doubled to 545,000. There is now £620bn in UK Isa accounts.
All this might begin to explain why, despite the best efforts of the industry, only 16 per cent of Generation X (41- to 55-year-olds) say they are concerned about being able to live comfortably in retirement. There’s a similar situation in the US where, despite relentlessly downbeat messages from the pensions industry, 80 per cent of US retirees say they have enough money to “live comfortably”.
Still, assuming you are one way or another saving “enough” or at least what you can, maintaining calm in the face of their marketing is only the beginning of your battle with the industry. The next part is attempting to make sure that the fund managers messing with your head do at least a reasonable job of managing your money once they have wheedled it out of you — and that they don’t take too much of it for themselves along the way.
The question of cost is ongoing. Nearly all fund managers still charge too much nearly all the time (check their margins) and the extent to which they do so really matters. Invest £5,000 a year, get a return of 5 per cent and pay 0.5 per cent in management fees and 30 years later you will have £320,820. You can fiddle with these numbers on the FT calculator here. Make that a 1 per cent fee and you’ll have £291,000.
You could argue that it doesn’t matter what you pay as long as you get outperformance. I’d argue that you can’t know when you commit to pay for a fund what kind of performance you might get so it is a slightly circular argument. Given that cost is the only known variable when you buy, you might as well go for low cost over high cost. Follow that to its logical extreme and you will also think that you might as well just buy passively run funds, which are generally cheaper than active ones.
Look at the US and that view seems vindicated. Over the past five years 75 per cent of large-cap US funds have failed to beat the S&P 500 and last year 60 per cent of them underperformed, even though active managers are supposed to thrive in a crisis. Why?
Over the past decade the top performers in the US have been the tech mega caps, such as Apple, Alphabet and Amazon. Thanks to their size, these are also the top holdings in all passive funds, hence the excellent performance of said passive funds. Active funds that were also (quite rightly) holding these will have underperformed passive funds due to their fees. Active funds not holding them will have underperformed simply because they weren’t holding them. There has been little way to win.
Things have been different in the UK. Over the past five years its mega companies have been a bit droopy, due in the main to their old-fashioned value bias (Shell, BHP and BP all feature in the top 10 in the FTSE 100). So active managers that have not held them — but held, say, mid caps instead — have easily outperformed. According to AJ Bell, 85 per cent have beaten the average tracker over the past 10 years. That’s why advisers often tell investors to go passive in the US and active in the UK. Good advice.
Or at least it was good advice. Something might have changed. Look at the past few months. So far this year 60 per cent of active fund managers have outperformed in the US. Last month, 70 per cent did.
The reason? As the world reopens and inflation is upon us, big tech is no longer outperforming: mid-caps are and so is anything with a value bias. That suggests that on your way to “enough”, you might want to consider a major change to the investing styles within your portfolio.
Go active in the US. If the market is no longer to be led by 10 to 20 huge growth stocks, there will be much more scope for active managers to outperform. And shift a bit more to passive in the UK. If big commodity, financial and pharmaceutical stocks are about to outperform here, there will be less scope for active managers to outperform the index. All change.
Oil demand to surpass pre-pandemic levels by end of 2022, says IEA
Oil demand is expected to exceed pre-coronavirus levels by the end of 2022, the International Energy Agency said on Friday, with the body calling on world producers to “open the taps”.
Consumption declined by a record 8.6m barrels a day last year as coronavirus raged around the world. It is expected to rebound by 5.4m b/d this year as vaccines are rolled out and countries open up again.
In 2022, the IEA expects a further 3.1m b/d increase, to average 99.5m b/d with an increase at the end of the year that will surpass the level of demand before the coronavirus crisis took hold.
Brent crude, the international oil benchmark, ticked 0.2 per cent higher to $72.66, after closing at its highest since May 2019 on Thursday.
The agency reiterated that Opec and its allies needed to “open the taps” to boost oil production and keep the world well supplied. The so-called Opec+ group is expected to raise production by 2m b/d between May and July.
Still, the Paris-based body warned in its monthly oil market report that “the recovery will be uneven not only among regions but across sectors and products”.
Slow vaccine distribution, it said, could “jeopardise” any rebound.
The aviation sector would be the slowest to recover as governments kept in place certain travel restrictions “until the pandemic is brought firmly under control”, the IEA said. Petrol demand could also take longer to recover as work-from-home practices continue and the rising adoption of electric vehicles offsets increased mobility.
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The IEA said one “wild card” for the market was the return of Iranian oil supply should the producer agree a deal with the US to lift sanctions. This could lead to production rising to almost 3.2m b/d by the end of the year, up 750,000 b/d from current levels, according to IEA estimates.
Yet the body, in a nod to its bombshell net-zero emissions road map published last month, said the short-term policies of producer economies stood in opposition to a call to end all new exploration of oil, gas and coal and funding of projects if the world is to meet the 2050 goal.
“This road map notes that most pledges by countries are not yet underpinned by near‐term policies and measures. In the meantime, oil demand looks set to continue to rise, underlining the enormous effort required to get on track to reach stated ambitions,” said the IEA.
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Great auto-themed products to splurge on this week
A road trip to learn about the past
About this series: With COVID-19 restrictions expected to ease over the next few months, Wheels wants to inspire you to get ready to explore — but only when it is safe to do so. This series of day trips and weekend drives highlights great experiences you can have in the province once conditions allow and show you why Ontario is “Ours to Discover” this summer and beyond.
The histories and contributions of Ontario’s Black community are often given short shrift in the greater Canadian historical context. A road trip through southern Ontario is an opportunity to meet the descendants of the incredible communities that, against all odds, thrived and survived in the province while also managing to leave lasting legacies that we all benefit from. This road-trip itinerary offers a taste of the heroism and resilience of the community while also showcasing the beauty of the landscapes of the region.
In the morning: Leave Toronto ahead of rush hour traffic and drive west along Highway 401, or Highway 403 to where it meets Highway 401 in Woodstock, for a roughly three-hour drive to the Chatham-Kent Region. Have breakfast before you leave or pack some fruits and light snacks knowing you’ll have lunch in the early afternoon.
Arrive in Chatham and head directly to the Chatham-Kent Black Historical Society & Black Mecca Museum. There you can peek around at the exhibits that showcase the legacy of the Black community in the area since the early 1800s. Don’t miss the exhibit case featuring the championship-winning Chatham Coloured All-Stars and ask about purchasing one of the retro baseball caps that honour them.
The museum tour includes an eye-opening historic film and the chance to take a guided or self-guided walk of the area, including stops at the First Baptist Church — where abolitionist John Brown once held meetings ahead of his failed raid at Harpers Ferry in the U.S. — and The BME Freedom Park. A bronze bust of Mary Ann Shad Cary, an anti-slavery activist and Canada’s first woman publisher, stands in the park on the site of the first Black Methodist Episcopal Church in the country.
In the afternoon: Grab lunch at the Williams Street Cafe for made-to-order sandwiches or wraps and lighter fare. Take it to go so you can enjoy at one of the picnic tables or sitting on the grass at the Buxton National Historic Site & Museum. This is the site of the original Elgin Settlement, an all-Black community established in 1849 by a reformed slave owner and home to both Free Blacks and those who’d escaped American bondage via the Underground Railroad.
A traditional home, built to replicate one from the 1850s, can be explored on-site, as well as the original 1861 schoolhouse that taught generations in the community. The museum itself offers some context and you’ll want to spend at least a few hours on-site. Don’t miss a chance to meet curator Shannon Prince, a sixth-generation Canadian who grew up in the area and traces her lineage directly to escaped American slaves.
In the evening: Check into Chatham’s Retro Suites Hotel where eclectic artwork and themed rooms will give you plenty of reasons to snap a photo inside. The corner where it is located has a history: The King William Block was built in 1888 and housed to the former Merrill Hotel. In those early years, like all hotels in downtown Chatham (including the famous William Pitt Hotel that once stood a few blocks away) Blacks would be hired for labour but they weren’t afforded service or access to hotel amenities, such as the dining room. If you prefer there are also a number of nearby bed and breakfasts.
Once you’re settled, head out to explore. The hotel is well positioned for an evening walk, taking in the murals, outdoor art and parkettes that provide a sense of what historic Chatham was like. For dinner, consider Mamma Maria’s Ristorante for a handmade pizza, pasta dish or an entree featuring perch or trout. Or check out nearby Sons of Kent Brewing Company for traditional pub grub and handcrafted beers, including a limited run that celebrated the Chatham Coloured All-Stars.
In the morning: Seize the day. Grab an early breakfast at the Chilled Cork or Eli’s and then set out for Uncle Tom’s Cabin Historic Site. There you’ll learn about Josiah Henson, who fled American enslavement with his family and returned several times to help others. Tours showcase an incredible array of artifacts as well as an opportunity to walk through original structures. Don’t skip the gift shop, where Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” based on Henson’s life, and Henson’s own autobiography are among the gems on the shelves.
Begin your three-hour drive to the Niagara Region by heading back on Highway 401 or taking the more rural Highway 3, which will add about 30 minutes to your trip. Order and pick up a pizza from Piezano’s before you leave Chatham-Kent so you can have lunch on the road. As you drive, take note that many of the fields you’re passing were once owned by Black farmers.
In the afternoon: Once you arrive in the Niagara Region, you won’t have time to waste. Skip the self-guided options and opt for a pre-booked, bespoke Niagara Bound Tour. Led by Lezlie Harper, a direct descendant of slaves who traversed the area, her tour brings a personal touch to the story of the Niagara Freedom Trail.
The trail stretches from Fort Erie to St. Catharines and Ancaster, with historic sites and buildings that help tell the story of the approximately 30,000 enslaved people who followed a network of secret routes and safe houses to escape to Canada between 1800 and 1865. The area’s connections to Harriet Tubman, who made 11 trips along the Underground Railroad to bring people to Canada, and the Coloured Corps, Black militia men who fought in the War of 1812, are all explored.
In the evening: If you have time, splurge on a dinner overlooking Horseshoe Falls at the Table Rock House Restaurant in Niagara Falls. It’ll give you a chance to truly take in the power of the waterway and also a sense of the dangers enslaved Black Africans faced as they risked their lives to cross the Niagara River to freedom. Then, start the drive back to Toronto knowing that you’ve only scratched the surface of the history here and are committed to continuing your understanding.
For the drive
Start your learning in the car by listening to Radio Canada International’s “Portraits of Black Canadians” series. The episodes featuring Josiah Henson, Mary Ann Shadd Cary and Harriet Tubman will help inform the spots you’re visiting. If you’ve got baseball fans with you, consider a deep dive into the story of the Chatham Coloured All-Stars (cdigs.uwindsor.ca/BreakingColourBarrier) ahead of your trip to get them excited.
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