International Energy Agency Forecasts The Biggest Decline In Electricity Consumption Since The Great Depression

Pandemic Sparks Slump in Electricity Prices.



Wall Street trading floors have emptied. Spring has arrived north of the equator. Oil and gas markets have cratered. The result is a precipitous decline in electricity prices in the U.S., Europe and parts of Asia.

Closures of office blocks, shops and factories have throttled power demand, dwarfing the amount of electricity required to work from home. Globally, the International Energy Agency expects the biggest decline in electricity consumption since the Great Depression. It is as if Germany and France were both turned off for the year.

In the U.S., the drop has been most severe in New York City, center of the nation’s epidemic and home to a services sector that usually devours electricity. Wholesale power prices averaged $16.57 a megawatt-hour in the first six days of May, according to S&P Global Platts, down by more than a quarter from the start of the 2020.

Electricity trades in much the same way as raw materials like oil. In much of the U.S., power-plant owners sell electricity to utilities in a competitive wholesale market overseen by regional operators. Utilities then distribute power to customers. Both power companies and utilities protect themselves against price swings with futures, which investors use to bet whether the market is going up or down.

A key difference between electricity and oil is that power is hard to store. When there is too much to go around, particularly on windy days in places like Northern Europe, producers sometimes pay to give power away. U.S. crude futures behaved like electricity when storage space for oil dwindled in April, dropping below $0 a barrel for the first time.

In Europe, negative electricity prices have become commonplace. In auctions for the joint Germany-Luxembourg market on the European Power Exchange, prices turned negative five times in the year through April, more than all of 2019.

The crunch is shifting the math of electricity production in favor of renewable energy sources. Coal plants, among the costliest to run in the U.S., typically deliver bursts of power to the grid when demand increases. Much of that electricity isn’t needed right now. Forty percent of the world’s electricity could be generated from low-carbon sources—nuclear, wind and solar power, plus other renewables—this year, according to the IEA. That would be the highest level on record.



The 12 Minute Affiliate System

12 Minute Affiliate is a revolutionary new system that simplifies the process of making online commissions with affiliate marketing.



Electricity prices were falling before the pandemic due to a surfeit of cheap natural gas, said Paul Cusenza, chief executive of Nodal Exchange, which runs a market for power futures. A 30% drop in U.S. gas prices over the past year—accelerated by the recent crash in energy markets—has pushed electricity prices down.

“Less demand, more low-cost generation and cheap gas,” said Dan Eager, principal analyst for European power at Wood Mackenzie. “You add that together and you have very, very low prices.”

Electricity takes an intricate route from the station where it is generated to the device it powers, hurtling down a 160,000-mile network of high-voltage cables that crisscross the U.S. before traveling to consumers along one of millions of low-voltage lines.

Wholesale prices are largely set a day ahead of time. Regional authorities forecast how much electricity will be needed at every hour the following day, based on factors like the weather. Producers bid to generate that power. Smaller trades take place on the day itself, fine-tuning supply to meet demand.

A bump in prices that takes place each weekday morning as New York City gets to work now comes an hour later, and is less pronounced, because offices aren’t opening at the same time. The city’s electricity prices were less than half their average for the time of year at the end of April, according to Nodal Exchange.

Electricity usage has started to creep higher in states that are relaxing restrictions. Still, mainland U.S. demand was 5% lower in early May than it would have been without quarantine measures, said Platts analyst Manan Ahuja.

The world will consume 5% less electricity this year than in 2019, the IEA forecasts. That is eight times the size of the decline that took place during the 2009 financial crisis. It equates to more than 1,000 terawatt-hours in lost demand, enough to power France and Germany combined.

Electricity prices normally fall in spring, before rising when air conditioners are turned on for the summer. The coronavirus shutdown has exacerbated that seasonal slump, slashing New York City’s electricity demand by 14%, according to the New York Independent Service Operator, which runs the state grid.


⇑⇓ Start Trading Now or Try a FREE Demo Account ⇓⇑

“There’s still a very, very large number of [coronavirus] cases in New York City,” said Richard Dewey, president and chief executive of the NY-ISO. “I don’t anticipate the demand going up very much, at least not measurably, for probably a few weeks.”




+




Global Economic Downturn – Today’s Downturn Is Comparable In Scale To That Of The 1930s

News stories often describe the coronavirus-induced global economic downturn as the worst since the Great Depression. This is likely to be literally true. Yet for many, the comparison does more to terrify than clarify. Economists say there is likely to be a big difference between a downturn that is the worst since the Depression and conditions as bad as the Depression.

“I don’t find comparing the current downturn with the Great Depression to be very helpful,” said former Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke, who has studied that 1930s era. “The expected duration is much less, and the causes are very different.”

The trajectory of the pandemic and economy remains uncertain. How quickly health officials can contain the crisis, how much the public will cooperate and whether policies will spark a swift recovery remains to be seen. Even so, many economists find a scenario rivaling the Great Depression in severity and duration hard to imagine.

“The breakdown of the financial system was a major reason for both the Great Depression and the 2007-09 recession,” Mr. Bernanke said. Today, however, “the banks are stronger and much better capitalized.”

By most estimates, the current downturn is likely to be comparable in scale and duration to that 2000s recession and the other major post-World War II recession, in the early 1980s.



Comparisons with the Depression are difficult because most of the data sets collected today didn’t exist in the 1930s. But some rough measures are available, including global trade tallies from the League of Nations, Federal Reserve data on factories and Works Progress Administration records on joblessness.

In the 1930s, industrial production fell by more than half. Production slowly made up ground for almost four years, only to decline sharply again in 1937-38. By contrast, production declined by about 15% in 2007-09 and 10% in the early 1980s.

When the coronavirus hit, industrial production had already been dipping as a result of the recent trade wars. While many factories closed as consumer demand shrunk, some are rapidly retooling. Auto makers General Motors Co. and Ford Motor Co., for example, have switched from making cars to ventilators. Medical-supply factories are struggling to keep pace with demand.

From 1929 to 1933, the economy shrank for 43 consecutive months, according to contemporaneous estimates. Unemployment climbed to nearly 25% before slowly beginning its descent, but it remained above 10% for an entire decade.

That compares with a 16-month decline in the early 1980s and an 18-month fall from 2007 to 2009. This time, many economists believe a rebound could begin this year or early next year if the virus is sufficiently contained.

While unemployment in the U.S. hit 14.7% in April and is likely to rise further, the blow today is softened by safety-net programs such as unemployment insurance.

“Many people are suffering now, and the economy won’t recover in only a quarter or two,” Mr. Bernanke said. “But if we’re able to get reasonable control of the virus, the economy will substantially recover, and this downturn should be much shorter than the Great Depression.”

The second quarter of 2020 is likely to be the worst ever for many economies. The median estimate of economists surveyed by The Wall Street Journal calls for a decline of 25% at an annual rate in the U.S. Some estimates are closer to 50%.

But annualized rates can be misleading. They assume that one quarter’s pace continues for a year. If 10% of the economy shuts down for one quarter, that would be considered a 40% decline at an annual rate.



“We’ve had this very abrupt, very sharp, immediate reduction in economic activity, driven by government policies to shut down economies. And because it’s very abrupt, the numbers are astronomical,” said Douglas Irwin, a professor at Dartmouth College who has studied U.S. trade policy during the Depression.

By contrast, he said, “The way the world evolved into the Great Depression was a slow and steady decline. It was a slow strangulation of the economy.”

As in the Depression, today’s collapse is global. But the scale is smaller, Gita Gopinath, chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, said in a briefing last month. The IMF estimates the world economy shrank about 10% during the Great Depression, versus an expectation of about 3% this year and an expected return to growth next year. Advanced economies shrank about 16% in the Depression, compared with about 6% forecast for this year.

A series of severe policy mistakes around the world exacerbated the length and severity of the Great Depression. Central banks tightened monetary policy to maintain the gold standard, which no longer exists. The result was severe deflation, which increased the value of debt and lowered incomes.

Governments also initially cut spending in reaction to declining revenue. And as economies deteriorated, countries raised trade barriers in an effort to protect their domestic industries. The result, though, was a global contraction in demand, which only deepened the depression.

This time, central banks around the world quickly slashed interest rates and deployed programs to prop up credit markets. Governments approved massive spending measures, including the roughly $2 trillion stimulus in the U.S., to help keep businesses afloat and protect jobs. And they haven’t raised trade barriers in response to the pandemic.

“I’m not going to say that everything in the policy is right, but we understand that delay worsens the economic outcomes,” said Catherine Mann, global chief economist at Citigroup.



+



MOST POPULAR ARTICLES