Cans

There is a bubble” he tutted; valuations are “crazy”, assets “too scarce”. It could be any analyst or investor talking about everything from cryptocurrency, to software companies, to loss making IPOs; but it was in fact the CEO of oil super major Total, Patrick Pouyanne, talking to a wide-eyed FT analyst about the frenzied buying up of renewable energy assets. The recent auction of unwitting UK seabeds by the Crown Estate, appears to have sharpened the focus on the sums of money being thrown around, and the prospect of ever diminishing returns for those doing the throwing. “When we come, we don’t pay” added Pouyanne, just to make his point clear. As companies chase scarce assets so too, do investors. In January renewable developer EDPR’s market cap was bigger than its parent company EDP, after high tailing it 50% higher in a month. Hydro generator Verbund was chased up a more pedestrian 35%, over the same period. Orsted, similarly, trades on a valuation that many seasoned utility analysts can’t quite add up. Driving such stocks higher, are the plethora of ESG funds, recently re-branded strategies and a “booming” sustainable ETF market. They too – like Pouyanne’s peers – are chasing scarce assets. Chasing scarce assets clearly comes with a price, and in many regards, it often isn’t a good one. There are, though, other ways to buy into the clean and green and here-to-stay thematic, of ESG. Take cans. Aluminium cans. Companies like Coca-Cola, recently fingered as the top corporate polluter for a third year in a row, are desperately trying to pivot away from plastic, use more recycled plastic, and use more cans. Indeed, it appears everyone wants more cans. From the Coca-Colas, to trendy start-ups pushing us on-trend spiked seltzers. The problem for the drinks executives is that there are not enough cans. This has transformed the outlook for a once ex-growth category which, in the US, is dominated by just two players: one of which trades on half the multiple of the other, despite enjoying the same durable long-term tailwind. And on a valuation that is a fraction of many of Europe’s renewable stocks, that are being run red hot by newly minted sustainable funds and passive products. The latter that are more broadly, in many minds, perhaps the biggest bubble of them all.