Philippines’ PLDT: Competition, Underinvestment led to Overrun

(Bloomberg) — PLDT Inc., the Philippines’ biggest phone company by revenue, said intense competition and years of underinvestment led to a 48-billion peso ($870 milion) overspending that prompted investigations by the securities regulator and the stock exchange.

The company said there was “no fraud, no anomalies, no evidence of overpricing, and no unrecorded transactions” in relation to what it calls a capital spending budget overrun that covered four years from 2019.

PLDT said its overspending was spurred by several factors including intense market competition and that PLDT had to regain market leadership after years of underinvestment. 

The Covid-19 pandemic led to lockdowns and quarantines, detaining most people in their homes and requiring faster internet connections that “pushed network teams to fast-track rollouts”, PLDT said in a statement to the stock exchange Thursday, citing CEO Alfredo Panlilio.

PLDT also said it expects its earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation this year to remain unaffected by the overspending and to hit 100 billion pesos.

It also sees its telco core income this year at 32.6 billion pesos to 33 billion pesos, in line with its guidance.

PLDT shares rose as much as 2.8% in early trading, extending Wednesday’s rebound that followed a days-long rout as its budget overrun raised questions about corporate governance and fiscal controls at the company.

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Energy crisis fuels renewables boom: IEA

The energy crisis is fuelling an acceleration of the rollout of renewable power, raising hopes for efforts to meet ambitious targets against global warming, the International Energy Agency said Tuesday.

Total renewables capacity worldwide is set to almost double in the next five years and overtake coal as the largest source of electricity generation by 2025, the IEA said in a report.

The 2,400-gigawatt growth between 2022-2027 is almost a third higher than last year’s IEA forecast, according to the Paris-based agency, which advises developed nations.

This would help “keep alive the possibility of limiting global warming to 1.5 (degrees Celsius)”, the IEA said, referring to the preferrable target set in the 2015 Paris Agreement to prevent a climate catastrophe.

The invasion of Ukraine by major oil and gas exporter Russia has triggered an energy crunch and prompted countries in Europe, which were highly dependent on Russian deliveries, to diversify their supplies.

“Renewables were already expanding quickly, but the global energy crisis has kicked them into an extraordinary new phase of even faster growth as countries seek to capitalise on their energy security benefits,” said IEA executive director Fatih Birol.

“The world is set to add as much renewable power in the next five years as it did in the previous 20 years,” Birol said in a statement.

“This is a clear example of how the current energy crisis can be a historic turning point towards a cleaner and more secure future world energy system.”

The amount of renewable power capacity added in Europe between 2022-2027 is forecast to be twice as high as in the previous five-year period, the IEA said.

EU nations could deploy wind and solar power even faster if they were to quickly streamline the process for receiving permits, the report said.

The IEA’s revised forecast is also driven by new policies and market reforms being implemented more quickly than previously planned.

China is expected to account for almost half of new global renewable power capacity additions in the next five years, the report said.

Cougars of LA imperiled by more frequent wildfires

They are beautiful, powerful and stalk the hills above Los Angeles.

But more frequent wildfires caused by climate change have placed the survival of the city’s last remaining mountain lions in doubt, by increasing their exposures to car collisions and hostile encounters with their own kind.

Rachel Blakey of the University of California, Los Angeles led a study published Thursday in Current Biology examining the impact of the 2018 Woolsey fire, which scorched half the big cats’ habitat in the Santa Monica mountains.

The biggest takeaway: “It’s not just about how many animals perished in that fire — in this case two mountain lions,” she told AFP.

“We need to think about how that change in the landscape is then going to influence how these animals experience all the other stresses that they’re currently dealing with.”

Blakey, a native of Australia who has been researching California’s wildlife for about seven years, says she was “blown away” to learn that a city of 10 million people supported a population of mountain lions, also known as cougars.

The apex predators are one of two large cat species in the Western Hemisphere, along with jaguars found further south in Mexico and Central America.

Generally speaking, the species is healthy enough, explained Blakey, though their range was once much bigger, roaming from coast to coast before the arrival of Europeans to the Americas.

But there are pockets within California where the lions are hemmed in by urban areas and freeways, decreasing their genetic diversity and placing great pressures on their survival. Los Angeles is one such region. 

– More crossings, more fights – 

Over the past 20 years, the National Park Service (NPS) has been tracking this isolated population, which generally numbers around 10-12 individuals.

They had already noticed worrying signs of inbreeding, such as kinked tails and low-quality sperm, but the lions were nonetheless clinging on.

Blakey and NPS colleagues decided to leverage GPS and accelerometer data from tags on the animals to understand the impacts of the Woolsey fire, which burned 97,000 acres (40,000 hectares) in November 2018.

What they found was far from encouraging.

After the fire, the lions avoided the burned areas, which they previously used as cover to ambush their prey — deer and small mammals — as well as to avoid conflicts between males.

They also placed themselves at great risk by crossing more roads, including freeways.

Their rate of crossing Highway 101, a busy 10-lane freeway, increased from once every two years to once every four months.

Blakey said this change was “very, very striking considering these roads are the major source of mortality for this population.” 

The lions also had to put in a lot more work to eke out survival. 

They traveled nearly 400 kilometers a month on average compared to 250 kilometers, increasing their food needs and placing them at further risk of lethal skirmishes with other mountain lions. 

– Animal crossing –

One piece of good news from the study: contrary to residents’ fears, the lions remained deeply shy of humans, spending only four or five percent of their time in urban areas both before and after the fire.

Co-author Seth Riley of the NPS told AFP that while the population had since returned to their former range after the forest recovered, and the lions were back to their pre-fire numbers, climate change continued to pose risks.

“With climate change, there’s concern about more and bigger fires, and drought doesn’t help, which is something we’ve been experiencing for quite a while here,” he said.

Researchers and conservationists are placing great hope on the Wallis Annenberg wildlife crossing, a vegetated overpass currently under construction that was designed with the lions and other species in mind.

Some animals will of course continue to get hit, said Riley.

But they believe the crossing will help restore connectivity between the Santa Monica lions and other populations to the north, providing a much-needed boost to genetic exchange.

Sri Lanka grinds to a halt as fuel reserves shrink

Sri Lanka has less than a day’s worth of fuel left, the energy minister said Sunday, with public transport grinding to a halt as the country’s economic crisis deepened.

Petrol and diesel queues snaked through the capital for kilometres, though most pumping stations have been without fuel for days.

Energy minister Kanchana Wijesekera said petrol reserves in the country were about 4,000 tonnes, just below one day’s worth of consumption.

“The next petrol shipment is expected between the 22nd and 23rd (of July),” Wijesekera told reporters in Colombo. 

“We have contacted other suppliers, but we can’t confirm any new supplies before the 22nd.”

Last week, cash-strapped Sri Lanka announced a two-week halt to all fuel sales except for essential services to save petrol and diesel for emergencies.

Most shops were closed Sunday, with the situation expected to worsen when banks and offices reopen on Monday. 

Desperate people were seen trying to flag down the few vehicles on the road hoping for a ride.

Privately owned buses, which account for two-thirds of the country’s fleet, said they operated a skeleton service on Sunday as they were badly affected by the fuel shortage.

“We operated about 1,000 busses across the country out of the 20,000 owned by our members,” Private Bus Operators Association chairman Gemunu Wijeratne said.

“The situation will certainly get worse tomorrow because we have no way of getting diesel.”   

He said services would be curtailed further on Monday and saw no immediate solution.

Three-wheel taxis — a popular last-mile transport — were also off the streets, with most seen in days-long queues to get a ration of six litres of petrol.

A shortage of foreign currency to finance even the most essential imports has led to the country’s worst economic crisis, with its 22 million people facing severe hardships daily.

The country has also faced record-high inflation and lengthy power blackouts since late last year.

All non-essential government institutions and schools have been ordered shut until July 10 to reduce commuting and save energy. 

Local media reported there had been sporadic clashes outside fuel stations. 

Last week, troops opened fire to disperse a mob protesting against the military jumping the queue.

Sri Lanka is currently in talks with the International Monetary Fund for a possible bailout after the country defaulted on its $51 billion external debt in April.

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Quick take: Rand steady while Godongwana delivers tax-friendly Budget

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