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Oil Prices Rally As The Market Refocuses On Fundamentals

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Oil prices are still on track to finish out the week in the red, but crude prices saw a strong rally on Friday morning as the market attempts to rebalance itself from the disconnect between bearish sentiment and fundamentals.

Much of the previous week’s price slide can be attributed to a disappointing crude oil demand look out of China on the back of lackluster manufacturing activity, compounded by bank sector stressors in the United States. Nevertheless, little has changed in the way of oil market fundamentals, and the market is looking to make that correction.

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The price of WTI crude oil shot up $2.97 per barrel (+4.33%) on Friday morning to $71.44, undoing much—but not all—of the week’s earlier losses. Brent crude oil rose $2.89 (+3.99%) per barrel to $75.39 by 11:16 a.m. ET.

The price rebound follows Thursday’s notice from Saudi Aramco that it had lowered its Official Selling Price (OSP) of all crude grades to its prized market, Asia, for June 2023. It also comes despite market suspicions that Russia hasn’t cut production as much as it said it was going to—likely because Russia must keep the oil—and cash—flowing to support its shaky economy.

The crude oil price rally also came despite strong U.S. labor data that could prompt the Federal Reserve to continue hiking interest rates—a usual stressor on oil prices.

WTI prices are still about $40 per barrel under where they were this time last year, shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, and $9 per barrel under where they were a month ago today, despite increased pledges from the OPEC+ group to cut even more crude oil off its production quotas.

By Julianne Geiger for Oilprice.com

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WestJet shutting down discount airline Swoop – CBC News

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WestJet is shutting down its budget airline, Swoop.

The company made the announcement in a news release Friday, noting that the ratification of its recent deal with its pilots allows it to integrate all of its staff at various airlines into a single banner.

“As negotiated in the collective agreement, the WestJet Group will now begin integration efforts of its ultra-low-cost airline, Swoop,” the airline said.

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“Through an expedited process, the airline anticipates a full integration into its mainline operations by the end of October. To avoid traveller impact, Swoop will operate its existing network through to the end of its published schedule on October 28. Swoop employees will move to WestJet.”

The move comes as the Air Line Pilots Association (ALPA) announced its members had ratified their recent pact with the airline, one that brings in 24 per cent raises over four years, and puts Swoop pilots on a similar footing as WestJet’s in terms of seniority and compensation issues.

The union said 87 per cent voted in favour of the deal, “which goes a long way to recognizing the value and expertise the pilots bring to their airline and will help solve many of WestJet’s pilot attraction and retention issues.” 

Swoop was launched nearly five years ago, in June 2018. It offered heavily discounted rates with few frills to cost-conscious travellers. A handful of other so-called ultra low-cost carriers have taken to Canada’s skies in recent years, including Flair, Lynx and Canada Jetlines.

While Swoop’s demise will remove a major player in Canada’s discount travel space, WestJet CEO Alexis von Hoensbroech says the airline will continue to offer affordable options.

“This integration will enhance our ability to serve a broader spectrum of guests,” he said. “Instead of only 16 aircraft serving the ultra-low-cost market, each aircraft, in our 180-strong fleet, will offer ultra-affordable travel options through to a premium inflight experience.”

But ultimately the news is a bad development for consumers, according to John Gradek, a lecturer at McGill University who studies the airline industry.

“It has implications in terms of the choices that Canadians will have in terms of an alternative ultra-low-cost carrier,” he told CBC News.

Although it started in 1996 as a regionally focused airline with generally cheaper prices, WestJet is no longer a discount airline, Gradek says. “The loss of Swoop basically eliminates a carrier that was specializing in low cost and it’s going to be a loss to Canadian travellers.”

More moves to come?

Gradek says it is not surprising to see WestJet make the move, as one of the main advantages of Swoop in the first place was its lower cost base. 

“One of the conditions for creating Swoop was to have a different salary scale,” he said. “With the ALPA agreement that differential that allows you to have some competitive advantage price wise disappears.”

Gradek says he would not be surprised to see WestJet do something similar with another discount airline it recently bought, Sunwing.

“WestJet has choices — they’re now looking at Sunwing and that’s the next shoe that’s going to fall,” he said. “how far do you take this integration that started with Swoop — do you do the same thing with Sunwing?”

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GM and Ford to use Tesla’s plug, all but killing CCS in North America

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Tesla Supercharger Station PressSource: Tesla

Rival auto manufacturers GM and Ford have signed on to use Tesla’s NACS charging connector for their future electric cars in North America, a decision that has effectively signed the death certificate for the competing CCS1 charging connector standard.

We’re still in the early days of electric vehicles, but the rate of adoption is rapidly increasing as more manufacturers produce EVs in different shapes and sizes and prices, and as customers buy them up with vigor. And so there is a lot of jockeying happening not just for buyers, but for infrastructure to support them. The most interesting bifurcation has happened in charging standards with the division led primarily by Tesla.

Back in 2012 when Tesla unveiled its all-electric Model S sedan it did so with a new charging connector. At the time it was a proprietary connector, but it was already much more impressive and elegant than the highly engineered J1772 standard connector or almost comically bulky CCS1 and CHAdeMO standards that also offered DC charging. Tesla’s connector did all of that in a fraction of the footprint, with far less complexity in design or use. Yet, for the past decade, Tesla’s been trucking along with their own connector in North American markets while all other manufacturers remained committed to CCS1.

(Tesla was mandated by law to use the Type 2 IEC 60309 and CCS2 connectors for cars sold in Europe, and the GB/T connector in China)

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Tesla accounts for more than half of DC fast chargers in the USA — surely a selling point for Ford and GM

This led to the bifurcation of the US EV market, with Tesla leading in electric car sales ever since their first cars went on sale, and leading in the deployment of chargers with their expansive but exclusive Supercharger network. Tesla’s head start in charger installation gets us to where we are today, with Tesla’s Superchargers accounting for more than half of the DC fast chargers installed in the USA.

That’s all started to change. It began with the relatively quiet November 2022 announcement from Tesla that they were opening up the Tesla charging connector to other manufacturers as the NACS — the North American Charging Standard. But the big news arrived late last month with Ford switching to the Tesla NCAS connector in 2025. And now today, chief American rival GM revealed they are also adopting NACS. Both plan to make adapters for the existing CCS-equipped chargers, and Tesla already sells their own CSS adapter, and also has equipped a handful of its own Tesla-plugged charging stations with adapters to support CCS vehicles.

NACS Vs CCS1NACS Vs CCS1Source: Tesla
Telsa’s compact NACS connector overlaid on the much larger CCS1 connector.

Tesla, Ford, and GM today account for roughly 3/4 of all EV sales in the USA and the top three sales spots. This is a tipping point for EVs in the USA and thus North America — in the span of a few months Tesla’s NACS connector went from proprietary to the winning option. There are still other EV manufacturers that remain publicly committed to the CCS connector, including VW, Mercedes, Kia, and Rivian. Ford and GM are huge swings for NACS and will almost certainly lead to other companies adapting the standard.

Certainly, charging companies like Electrify America and ChargePoint are also going to race to install NACS connectors in the next two years so that the fleets of differently receptacled EVs can utilize their currently CCS-only chargers. Tesla will also have to invest in upgrading their existing charger stations with longer cables, though, since they’re basically the only manufacturer placing their charging port at the corner of the car. Charging a Ford F-150 at one of those adapter-equipped stations didn’t go so well because of the short Supercharger cables.

GM’s adoption of NACS signals the end of the line for CCS1. The standards body made some angry noises when Ford jumped ship, but the loss of GM means they no longer have America’s largest auto manufacturer and popular and well-known brands like Chevrolet, GMC, Ram, Buick, and Cadillac. Alas, CCS1, few people even knew your clunkiness. NACS will reign supreme from here on out.

 

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Bank of Canada rate hike a pleasant surprise for savers: Dale Jackson

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This week’s surprise interest rate hike by the Bank of Canada was another blow to the country’s over leveraged borrowers, but it was a double-blessing for the smaller sliver of the population that actually saves money.

The first benefit is obvious. After a 15-month period that took the benchmark rate from near zero to 4.75 per cent, yields on fixed income have skyrocketed. A basic one-year guaranteed investment certificate (GIC) – the most secure short-term savings vehicle available to the average investor – has topped five per cent. Savers were lucky to get one per cent before the rate hikes began.

The yield on the benchmark Government of Canada five-year bond is currently 3.75 per cent (from under 0.5 per cent), but is expected to rise further along with investment grade corporate bonds.

MACKLEM ON A MISSION

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The second blessing is the Bank of Canada’s aggressive and unwavering commitment to prevent their savings from being gobbled up by inflation. This week’s interest rate increase came with the stipulation that it will raise rates further in the coming months if cost of living increases don’t fall closer to its two per cent target rate.

Despite being late to react, policymakers led by Governor Tiff Macklem have taken a global leadership role in doing whatever it takes to ensure all Canadians don’t get crushed by runaway inflation; even if it requires some bloodletting.

We’re not out of the woods yet but the latest reading puts inflation at 4.3 per cent compared with last year when it topped eight per cent.

STRANGE NEW WORLD OF INVESTING

The Bank of Canada rate has not been this high since 2001. It’s a strange new world for a generation of investors who have never had the advantage of significant risk-free returns.

Strategically, having a significant portion of retirement savings in fixed income is essential to balance overall portfolio risk against the volatility of equities. Any rate of return is welcome if stock markets tank when retirees need a reliable cash supply for living expenses.

In addition to hedging risk, fixed-income investments can also generate tax savings in registered accounts such as a registered retirement savings plan (RRSP), tax-free savings account (TFSA), registered education savings plan (RESP) and the just-introduced first home savings account (FHSA). In comparison, fixed-income investments are fully taxed outside a registered account.

There are strategies for retirement investors to maximize fixed income returns by staggering maturities within a portfolio to take advantage of the best going yields as often as possible. The most common strategy, known as laddering, ladders maturities over a fixed period of time.

Most fixed income experts are currently recommending short durations on expectations persistent inflation will force rates even higher.

Prices on bonds fluctuate before maturity based on future interest rate speculation but that’s a problem only bond traders have. Retirement investors will generally hold fixed income to maturity, so they know exactly what to expect when that day comes.

There is no single set of rules when it comes to managing a fixed income portfolio for individuals. The portion of fixed income in the overall portfolio, the total duration of a ladder, and the types of fixed-income investments depend on when and how the investor wants to retire.

A qualified advisor should be able to help.

 

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