Renewable Power Trumps Fossils for First Time as UN Talks Stall – Bloomberg

Renewable Power Trumps Fossils for First Time as UN Talks Stall – Bloomberg.

Renewable energy is surpassing fossil fuels for the first time in new power-plant investments, shaking off setbacks from the financial crisis and an impasse at the United Nations global warming talks.

Electricity from the wind, sun, waves and biomass drew $187 billion last year compared with $157 billion for natural gas, oil and coal, according to calculations by Bloomberg New Energy Finance using the latest data. Accelerating installations of solar and wind-power plants led to lower equipment prices, making clean energy more competitive with coal.

“The progress of renewables has been nothing short of remarkable,” United Nations Environment Program Executive Secretary Achim Steiner said in an interview. “You have record investment in the midst of an economic and financial crisis.”

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Weekly Investment Commentary November 21, 2011 by Bob Doll at BlackRock

Bob Doll is Chief Equity Strategist for Fundamental Equities at BlackRock®, a premier provider of global investment management, risk management and advisory services. Mr. Doll is also Lead Portfolio Manager of BlackRock’s Large Cap Series Funds. Prior to joining the firm, Mr. Doll was President and Chief Investment Officer of Merrill Lynch Investment Managers.

Markets Weaken on Uncertainty

Last week was a tough one for equity markets. Investors grew uneasy in the face of renewed uncertainty about the state of the European debt crisis as well as growing indications that the US Congressional “super committee” charged with a massive deficit reduction task gave indications that they would be unsuccessful. For the week, the Dow Jones Industrial Average lost 2.9% to close at 11,796, the S&P 500 Index was down 3.8% to 1,215 and the Nasdaq Composite fell 4.0% to 2,572.

Concerns Over Europe Remain Key

In our view, the European debt situation remains the most important variable affecting the global financial markets. Concerns over Europe’s debt situation have been outweighing the positives coming from robust earnings reports and better-than-expected economic data as investors remain concerned over the possibility of a financial meltdown that could trigger a significant global economic slowdown or recession. Despite the ongoing fears, we do believe that some progress is being made.

The changes in government that have occurred in both Greece and Italy seem to be positive signs as new Prime Ministers Lucas Papademos and Mario Monti are well respected and are widely regarded as technocrats who appear committed to solving their nations’ debt problems. The question, of course, is whether or not any solutions implemented throughout Europe will take place fast enough to prevent widespread contagion.

US Super Committee Poised for Failure?

The Congressional super committee has been dominating headlines of late and current indications are that the committee may soon announce that it has failed to produce a framework for identifying the needed $1.2 trillion in deficit reduction that it was charged with. We had long suspected that the committee would pass on the toughest issues, but we had thought it was possible that the group would be able to identify cuts and savings of around $400 to $600 billion, coming up with a sort of half-victory. At present, the odds of the committee announcing that they have reached absolutely no deal are rising, which would set the stage for an across-the-board automatic set of cuts that would commence in January 2013.

Although the uncertainty surrounding the super committee is a concern for investors, it is important to remember that, unlike the debt ceiling debate that occurred over the summer, there is no looming threat of a government shutdown or any sort of debt default associated with the committee’s plans. As a result, the market impact of the committee’s plan (or lack thereof) should remain relatively contained. To us, the more important issue is whether or not Congress will be able or willing to extend unemployment benefits and payroll tax reductions. If these extensions do not occur, it would act as an economic drag into 2012.

Economic Acceleration Continues (For Now)

Although the news has been overshadowed by events in Europe and the anticipation of the super committee’s announcements, economic data has continued to be broadly encouraging. Retail sales for October were stronger than expected and initial unemployment claims recently fell to their lowest level since early 2011. A broader look back over the course of this year shows that economic growth has been accelerating. First-quarter gross domestic product grew by 0.4%, second quarter growth was 1.3%, third quarter growth was 2.5% and analysts are currently forecasting fourth-quarter growth of around 3.0%. While we do not expect this pace of economic acceleration to continue into 2012, we do think the data shows that the fears of a double-dip recession have largely passed.

Outlook Continues to Hinge on Europe

Notwithstanding last week’s market setback, conditions have improved noticeably over the last couple of months. In late summer, many were predicting that there was a greater-than-50% chance that the United States would sink back into recession, Europe was on the verge of falling apart and there were widespread fears of a hard economic landing in China. Today, it is growing more clear that not only has the United States avoided a recession, but it is actually showing signs of growth acceleration, Europe is showing signs of progress (although much more needs to be done) and China appears poised for a soft landing. As a result, equity markets in most parts of the world have appreciated by double-digit percentages since the height of these problems.

The question for investors, of course, is whether these sorts of gains will continue. We lean toward the optimistic side of this question, but recognize that it takes no small amount of faith to do so. We are hopeful that the economic momentum from the United States and elsewhere will remain a tailwind, but, as has been the case for months now, much hinges on the outcome of Europe’s debt problems.

Sources: BlackRock; Bank Credit Analyst. This material is not intended to be relied upon as a forecast, research or investment advice, and is not a recommendation, offer or solicitation to buy or sell any securities or to adopt any investment strategy. The opinions expressed are as of November 21, 2011, and may change as subsequent conditions vary. The information and opinions contained in this material are derived from proprietary and nonproprietary sources deemed by BlackRock to be reliable, are not necessarily all-inclusive and are not guaranteed as to accuracy. Past performance is no guarantee of future results. There is no guarantee that any forecasts made will come to pass. Reliance upon information in this material is at the sole discretion of the reader. Investment involves risks. International investing involves additional risks, including risks related to foreign currency, limited liquidity, less government regulation and the possibility of substantial volatility due to adverse political, economic or other developments. The two main risks related to fixed income investing are interest rate risk and credit risk. Typically, when interest rates rise, there is a corresponding decline in the market value of bonds. Credit risk refers to the possibility that the issuer of the bond will not be able to make principal and interest payments. Index performance is shown for illustrative purposes only. You cannot invest directly in an index.

BlackRock is a registered trademark of BlackRock, Inc. All other trademarks are the property of their respective owners.

FOR MORE INFORMATION:

www.blackrock.com

HARVARD BUSINESS REVIEW – GUIDE TO MANAGING STRESS

Guide to Managing Stress HBR 6-2011 (FULL TEXT)

(Sample) Stress. We all experience some level of it most days. We know that a certain amount of stress can make us more productive. Unfortunately, most of us are more familiar with the debilitating aspects of too much stress: headaches, irritability, lack of patience with colleagues and family, loss of focus and productivity, too much junk food, weight gain or loss, nails bitten to the quick. We all know what we’re supposed to do to reduce stress: Get more sleep. Exercise regularly. Avoid too much caffeine and alcohol. Set priorities. Work more efficiently. Plan ahead. And yet we’re more stressed out than ever, and our personal energy is tanking. Can we find new ways to boost our energy, and become more productive?

You’ll learn how to:

● Harness stress so that it spurs your productivity

● Renew yourself physically, emotionally, mentally, and

spiritually

● Juggle it all by proposing a flexible work schedule that

will benefit you—and your company

● Manage your online time—or step away from it

● Leave a bad day at the office at the office

● Calm your frayed nerves by venting, meditating, and/or

giving yourself a time out

● Vacation without your laptop—and without guilt

● Stretch at your desk to ease the physical tension of

spending too much time at your computer

● Help your people manage stress by giving them jobs with

purpose, eradicating meaningless tasks, and injecting fun

into the workplace

● Boost productivity by providing places to nap

The U.S. Needs a National Renewable Energy Standard | Sustainable Cities Collective

The U.S. Needs a National Renewable Energy Standard | Sustainable Cities Collective.

At The Atlantic Magazine‘s Green Intelligence forum, which has become an annual event in Washington, D.C., Carol Browner, who was very recently climate change “czarina” at the White House and once head of the Environmental Protection Agency (E.P.A.); Jim Connaughton, Constellation Energy, and former head of the Council for Environmental Quality under President George W. Bush; David Hawkins, Natural Resources Defense Council; and Dave McCurdy, American Gas Association, all emphasized the need for a national renewable energy standard given no big climate change and energy legislation will be coming out of Congress in the next 18 months to 2 years. A new national standard, many said, could also help achieve many of the goals of the failed 2010 climate change and energy legislation. As Senator Amy Klobuchar noted in an earlier speech that day, Minnesota’s “aggressive” renewable energy standard (25 percent renewable energy by 2025) had led to skyrocketing growth in wind, solar, and biofuels in her state.

No Big Climate Change Legislation Coming Soon

Asked by Ed Luce, The Financial Times, how the debate in Washington could get steered back to climate change, the panelists punted a bit. Browner said “we could pass legislation, but not large legislation anytime soon.” She said there’s a set of tools available to the administration, including new rules and standards, which are now being used to ensure cars hit 54 mpg by 2015. Browner noted that 65 percent of total emissions in the U.S. can be dealt with through existing laws, regulations, and administrative tools.

For Connaughton, who is said to be Mitt Romney’s choice as the head of the E.P.A., there are already “six different types of regulatory programs” in the U.S., including the mandatory cap and trade program approved in California. Also, at the Federal level, the House and the most recent administrations, through their many attempts to pass major climate change legislation, have already laid an important “foundation.” This solid base has led to “10 billion tons in carbon reductions.” He said the foundation is now in place for moving many smaller pieces of legislation, like a national renewable energy standard, that would help with the climate.

NRDC’s David Hawkins thought the big climate change legislative failure in 2010 was due to the economy, the slogan that got associated with climate change – it’s “a jobs-killing energy tax,” and the growing belief that “this is not a problem that needs to be addressed.” He thinks these issues are just a “dam and not a permanent fixture in the U.S. political economy,” meaning all these obstacles can be overcome.

According to Dave McCurdy, American Gas Association, which has been promoting fuel efficiency, there are “more opportunities on efficiency,” including fuel economy standards. He wants smarter incentives that can push firms to work with state governments and environmental groups, and said there needs to be a stronger emphasis on state action.

What Does Solyndra’s Failure Mean?

Will the failure of Solyndra, a major U.S. solar panel producer, which received nearly half a billion in recovery funds, do permanent damage to the case for investing in clean energy in the U.S.?, asked Luce. Browner said the U.S. has been making investments in energy and technology for more than 100 years, including long-term investments in the oil industry and nuclear power. “If we want a different future, we need to use the appropriate incentives.” She added that 100 years of pro-oil tax policies “have been enough.” Incentives, in the form of a national renewable energy standard, could lead to “huge investments” in cleaner energy. Connaughton basically argued that Solyndra was an “unfortunate, sad lesson” but it doesn’t change the overall program of government investment in clean energy.

For Hawkins, the government played its role. “Governments don’t give loan guarantees to companies that have no risk. If there was less risk, the private sector would do it.” He said Solyndra, which set its business model on rising prices for solar panels, was the “victim of progress in the solar industry.” Prices came down dramatically, which is good for the solar industry and consumers, but “bad for them.” McCurdy thought it was the “dynamic of the stimulus funds,” which had to “push lots of money out the door fast.” The result: some projects “fail, spectacularly.”

What Can Happen in the Near Term?

Connaughton says Congress was already questioning the value of big investments in clean energy before Solyndra failed. He wants mandates that are “performance-based,” meaning incentives that can enable the market’s competitive forces to do their stuff.

“Waxman-Markey (the 2010 comprehensive climate change and energy legislation) got too big, there were too many add-ons.” Interestingly, he added that cap and trade was ”originally a Republican idea,” but in this instance got swamped by excessive add-ons so the legislation lost its shape. He sees “phased-in standards” organized by sector as the way to go, then a process of “national simplication” to align the sector standards into a bigger picture.

He used a range of examples to show how “market structures have had impact on energy efficiency.” Browner seemed to agree in part, but added that what’s really key is ”incentives, investments, and creating demand so the private sector can make the changes needed. “

Hawkins reminded everyone that some Republicans are set on limiting the powers of the E.P.A. to regulate greenhouse gas emissions under the Clean Air Act. “We can’t dismantle these tools that exist” while hoping to make progress through standards and other approaches.

Interestingly, none of the panelists mentioned two of the most important recent stories that should figure in this conversation. The world’s population recently hit 7 billion, which means a complete “rethink of climate approaches” is needed, saysNational Geographic. According to its Newswatch site, climate change, population, and food production are all deeply linked: “Paul Ehrlich of Stanford University, famous for his book The Population Bomb, said people will have trouble feeding themselves as climate change worsens. But it’s a catch-22, he said, because we need to expand agriculture, but as it’s practiced today, it is also one of the biggest emitters of greenhouse gases.”

Also, according to The Guardian, World Energy Outlook 2011, a recent International Energy Agency (IEA) report, was very negative on the prospects of global energy system making the necessary changes to effectively combat climate change. The report said that ”the world is likely to build so many fossil-fuelled power stations, energy-guzzling factories and inefficient buildings in the next five years that it will become impossible to hold global warming to safe levels, and the last chance of combating dangerous climate change will be ‘lost for ever.’”

Image credit: Biomass power plant, Cadillac, Michigan / We Are Michigan

There’s Retail Sales, Retailers’ Earnings & Fed speak but Europe Could Keep Markets In Check – CNBC

There’s Retail Sales, Retailers’ Earnings & Fed speak but Europe Could Keep Markets In Check – CNBC.

Europe could keep markets on a short leash Tuesday.

Despite new governments in Italy and Greece, investor enthusiasm for risk assets waned Monday and yields on peripheral European debt again went wider against the benchmark German bund. On Tuesday investors will consider some important U.S. data reports, such as retail sales and PPI, but European GDP hits the tape ahead of the U.S. trading day and it is expected to be just barely positive…

Obama Would Face a Familiar Opponent in Romney: Albert R. Hunt – Bloomberg

Obama Would Face a Familiar Opponent in Romney: Albert R. Hunt – Bloomberg.

If Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face each other in the 2012 U.S. election, they might bring the highest combined IQ of any presidential race.

They are super smart men, who quickly absorb data, policy wonks able to analyze complicated choices.

Also, in a business that places a premium on personal and political relations, neither relishes that sort of camaraderie or cajoling; they both appear aloof and spend little quality time with fellow politicians.

There are profound differences between these two likely 2012 nominees. One is a 50-year-old African-American from a broken family, a community organizer who spent a dozen years in the state legislature and Senate, and a moderately liberal Democrat. The other is a 64-year-old Mormon, born to a family of financial and political means, a successful businessman with only four years of government experience, and a moderately conservative Republican…

Obama Should Let Mortgage Vultures Clean Up Housing Mess: View – Bloomberg

Obama Should Let Mortgage Vultures Clean Up Housing Mess: View – Bloomberg.

Here’s a unique proposal for the Obama administration, which has been casting around for ways to revive the housing sector: Let the market do its job.

Housing ranks among the biggest drags on the U.S. recovery. Almost 11 million households still owe more on their mortgages than their houses are worth. Foreclosures are piling up as banks take years to repossess and sell homes. Those who don’t want to walk away find themselves in a sort of debtor’s jail. They can’t sell, they can’t move for a new job and they can’t borrow money to start a business. As a result, houses don’t change hands, prices keep falling and the vitality of the entire economy suffers…