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Shanghai China auto show flying cars; Buffett-backed BYD stays clear

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Less than half a year since revealing a flying vehicle prototype, Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng unveiled a second model at the Shanghai auto show in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

SHANGHAI – Flying cars may have made headlines at this year’s Shanghai Auto Show, but China’s BYD — which is backed by Warren Buffett — is sticking to ground vehicles for now.

This week, Chinese electric car start-up Xpeng debuted its second prototype for a flying vehicle the company claims has already undergone eight years of development. The new model resembles a flying car more than the initial version revealed in Beijing in September, which looked more like a human-carrying drone.

Geely showed off a Volocopter electric-powered “air taxi” for the first time in China at the Shanghai auto show in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Xpeng isn’t the only one looking to the skies.

Companies including Hyundai, German start-up Lilium, and China-based Ehang are developing flying vehicles that can carry individuals.

Hangzhou, China-based Geely, which owns Volvo, showed off in Shanghai an “air taxi” developed by its joint venture partner Volocopter.

‘We’re more focused on road transportation’

One of the companies’ selling points for flying vehicles is the country’s growing urban street traffic. However, while the level of consumer demand remains unclear, regulation has prevented wider use of flying cars.

But there are many ways to fix the problem of street congestion, said Li Yunfei, a spokesperson for BYD, in comments that CNBC translated from Mandarin. “Right now,” he said, “we’re more focused on road transportation.”

Li said the flying models aren’t all that different from helicopters.

Backed by investing guru Buffett, BYD sold more than 100,000 cars in the first quarter, more than half of which were new energy vehicles, a category which includes pure electric and hybrid cars.

The company announced at the auto show a new version of its electric car operating system that comes with its internally developed “Blade” battery. BYD plans to sell this battery system to third-party automakers and already counts state-owned high-end Chinese car maker Hongqi as customer for the Blade battery, Li said.

Buyers of BYD’s luxury Han electric car can customize the interior, as shown in this model displayed at the auto show in Shanghai in April 2021.

Evelyn Cheng | CNBC

Last summer, BYD’s luxury Han sedan became the company’s first car to use the Blade battery. The vehicle has become one of the most popular in the new energy category, ranking third in sales nationwide during the first quarter. Only the Hongguang Mini EV and Tesla‘s Model 3 outsold it, according to the China Passenger Car Association’s sales rankings.

Li said 70% of Han vehicles sold are pure-electric battery-powered models. Beginning this month, BYD said it plans to use the “Blade” battery in all of its pure-electric cars.

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Cases, fatalities rise as oxygen shortage persists

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A Covid-19 coronavirus patient breathes with the help of oxygen provided by a Gurdwara, a place of worship for Sikhs, under a tent installed along the roadside in Ghaziabad on May 6, 2021.

Prakash Singh | AFP | Getty Images

India once again reported a record number of cases and fatalities on Thursday as it faces a devastating second wave of Covid-19 infections that has pushed its health-care system to the brink of collapse.

Health ministry data showed there were 412,262 new reported cases of infections over a 24-hour period, pushing the total tally to over 21 million — days after crossing the 20 million mark on Tuesday.

India also reported its highest daily death toll, with 3,980 fatalities. But media reports suggest that the death rate is being underreported.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is facing criticism for allowing large crowds to gather for election rallies and religious festivals earlier this year as well as for failing to anticipate or prepare for a second wave.

India’s oxygen crisis

“That means essentially the requirement for oxygen (is) also moving up,” he said Tuesday on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.

“Typically an ICU requires two-and-a-half to three times the amount of oxygen a ward or a patient in a bed requires. So, as criticality moves up, as mortality moves up, you are going to see the requirement of oxygen also move up,” he said.

Soi explained that Max Healthcare conducts about 4,000 RT-PCR tests in the Delhi area per day and about a week ago, those Covid-19 tests had a positivity rate of over 50%, which has since come down to about 31%.

“So what you are going to see right now is people who were infected about seven, eight days ago, coming into hospitals,” he said, adding these patients need a host of medicines and support, including oxygen.

Courts step in

On Wednesday, India’s Supreme Court ordered the central government to present a comprehensive plan by Thursday outlining steps it will take to meet medical oxygen requirements for hospitals in Delhi, including sources of supply and transport provisions. The country’s top court also stayed a contempt notice issued by the High Court of Delhi on May 4 to the central government for not complying with its orders to supply sufficient oxygen to hospitals in Delhi.

Delhi high court justices Vipin Sanghi and Rekha Palli noted on Tuesday that hospitals and nursing homes have had to reduce the number of beds offered because they are unable to service their existing capacities due to a shortage of medical oxygen.

The National Capital Territory of Delhi, which includes India’s capital New Delhi, is one of several areas that saw a rapid surge in cases, forcing the local government to step up restrictions to try and break the chain of transmission.

Logistics issue

India has sufficient oxygen available, but the main issue lies around logistics, according to Siddharth Jain, director of Inox Air Products, one of India’s prominent industrial and medical gases manufacturers.

Jain told CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia” on Wednesday that the country’s oxygen manufacturers have stepped up production by more than 30% in recent weeks. He said over 9,000 tons of oxygen is available in India per day while consumption of medical oxygen is slightly higher than 7,500 tons.

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Vaccinated people who had Covid may have more protection against variants

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a White House press briefing, at the James Brady Press Briefing Room of the White House January 21, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Alex Wong | Getty Images

People who have had Covid-19 and later got vaccinated may have more protection against highly contagious variants, White House chief medical officer Dr. Anthony Fauci said Wednesday.

Fauci cited a study published in late April that found that after one dose of the PfizerBioNTech vaccine, people with prior coronavirus infections had better immune responses against B.1.1.7 and B.1.351, the variants first identified in the U.K. and South Africa, compared with those who hadn’t had Covid.

He cited an additional study, which was published online and not yet peer-reviewed, that found people with prior infections who were later boosted with two doses of an mRNA vaccine had “increased protection” protection against variants.

The studies provide more evidence on the benefits of getting vaccinated, Fauci said.

“Vaccines are highly efficacious,” Fauci said during a White House Covid briefing. “They are better than the response you get from natural infection.”

His comments come amid the Biden administration’s push to get 70% of U.S. adults partially vaccinated and 160 million adults fully vaccinated by the Fourth of July, a date the administration hopes will be a turning point in the pandemic.

In recent weeks, the pace of individuals receiving their first vaccine doses has fallen, though U.S. health officials say they are working to improve access to the shots as well as encourage more hesitant Americans to get vaccinated.

Earlier Wednesday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a new report that projected Covid-19 cases would surge through May before sharply declining by July as vaccinations drive down infections.

Highly contagious variants, namely the highly contagious B.1.1.7 first identified in the U.K., remain a wild card, U.S. health officials said, urging Americans to get vaccinated and practice pandemic safety measures.

“We are seeing that our current vaccines are protecting against the contaminant variants circulating in the country. Simply put, the sooner we get more and more people vaccinated, the sooner we will all get back to normal,”  CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said during the press briefing.

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Copper is ‘the new oil’ and could hit $20,000 per ton, analysts say

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A worker labels copper products at Truong Phu cable factory in northern Hai Duong province, outside Hanoi, Vietnam August 11, 2017.

Kham | Reuters

The world risks “running out of copper” amid widening supply and demand deficits, according to Bank of America, and prices could hit $20,000 per metric ton by 2025.

In a note Tuesday, Bank of America commodity strategist Michael Widmer highlighted inventories measured in tons are now at levels seen 15 years ago, implying that stocks currently cover just over three weeks of demand. This comes as the global economy is beginning to open up and reflate.

“Linked to that, we forecast copper market deficits, and further inventory declines, this year and next,” Widmer said.

“With (London Metal Exchange) inventories close to the pinch-point at which time spreads can move violently, there is a risk backwardation, driven by a rally in nearby prices, may increase.”

Backwardation is when an underlying asset is trading at a higher price than the futures market for that asset.

Widmer also highlighted that a rise in volatility resulting from falling inventories was not without precedent, since nickel shortages in LME warehouses in 2006/7 drove nickel prices more than 300% higher.

Given the fundamental environment and the depleted inventories, Widmer suggested that copper may spike to $13,000/t in the coming years after notching $10,000 last week for the first time in a decade.

Copper prices stood at just under $4.54 per pound as of 5:30 a.m. London time on Thursday, up 30% for the session.

After deficits in 2021 and 2022, BofA expects the copper market to rebalance in 2023 and 2024 before fresh shortfalls and a further draw down on inventories kick in from 2025.

“In our view, scrap supply is critical and our analysis suggests that scrap usage at smelters/refiners could increase from around 4,200t in 2016 to 6,700t by 2025,” Widmer said.

“If our expectation of increased supply in secondary material, a non-transparent market, did not materialize, inventories could deplete within the next three years, giving rise to even more violent price swings that could take the red metal above $20,000/t ($9.07/lb).”

‘The new oil’

Along with the broader economic recovery, demand for copper is also being boosted by its vital role in a number of rapidly growing industrial sectors, such as electric vehicle batteries and semiconductor wiring.

David Neuhauser, founder and managing director of U.S. hedge fund Livermore Partners, told CNBC on Wednesday that metals were receiving a general tailwind from a weaker dollar and increasing moves toward green infrastructure.

Commodity prices rose 3% in April, taking the global index up 80% since April 2020, and HSBC commodity analysts highlighted in a note Wednesday that demand for copper is being supported by investment in electrification as emission reduction strategies are further bolstered by policymakers.

Copper remains Livermore’s favorite commodity at present, Neuhauser said.

“I think copper is the new oil and I think copper, for the next five to 10 years, is going to look tremendous with the potential for $20,000 per metric ton,” Neuhauser said.

“We think there are some very solid small cap companies that have massive production potential, and valuations are attractive, and Livermore could make great return on investment.”

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