Basis Points – February 20, 2020

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Above the Fold

More Potential Bad News for Automakers

We recently discussed the growing number of catalysts for the electric vehicles market, but another “literal catalyst” could incentivize automakers to go electric sooner than later. Palladium may be the “white elephant” of combustion transportation as it’s an increasingly essential part of the exhaust systems needed to meet governments’ growing restrictions on emissions — it’s also becoming a huge cost burden.

Used in catalytic converters, palladium, along with other elements like platinum, help convert up to 98% of harmful fumes produced by engines into less damaging gases. But even though COVID-19 has put a damper on an already slowing global automotive market, the price of the precious metal has more than doubled since the end of 2018 to nearly $2,500 an ounce. The biggest problem is obviously not growing consumption per se, but years of stalled production by miners. Automakers could switch to platinum, but both markets are dominated by a handful of producers who tend to keep supply tight, and the prices of both will be driving higher as demand returns and restrictions on emissions increase.

Three Things

  1. Boy Scout Bankruptcy – As it copes with fiscal pressures due to sex-abuse lawsuits and declining membership, the 110-year-old youth organization declared bankruptcy on Tuesday. Recent changes in more than a dozen states’ laws allowed victims to seek compensation for incidents that were previously outside the statute of limitations. The Boy Scouts of America (BSA) hopes to protect the 261 local scouting councils and billions of dollars in assets held by those entities.  
  2. It’s Not Just Cords Getting Cut – There’s been much talk about the tens of millions of consumers who’ve already disconnected their cable service, but satellite providers are also being dealt a “cord-cutting” blow. Dish Network lost 336,000 TV customers in 2019 alone. The owner of DirecTV, AT&T Inc. announced a loss of 4 million subscribers during the same period.  
  3. Gravity as Earth’s Best Renewable Resource? – Switzerland’s Energy Vault is one of several startups working to exploit an infinite resource, gravity. The company will erect towers with six-headed cranes that hoist 35-ton blocks using extra energy in the grid. When energy is needed, the blocks are then lowered slowly to the ground, where their kinetic energy turns generators for electricity.  

Did You Know?

A Little About Leap Year

For those of you keeping track, February will have 29 days this year. The modification was devised to sync up our Gregorian calendar with the Earth’s orbit and consequent seasons. If we didn’t have leap years, the seasons would shift by about 24 calendar days every 100 years. Julius Caesar first created the leap year, but his math was just slightly off, drifting the tropical year off by one day every 128 years.

The easy way to tell if it’s a leap year is if the last two digits of the current year are divisible by 4. New centuries are the exception to this rule, those have to be divisible by 400. The odds of people being born on February 29 (also called leaplings) are 1 in 1,461 or 1 in 1,506 if you’re taking the long view and accounting for the one leap year removed every 400 years.

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