If you added up the impact that HousingWire’s Vanguard winners have had on the industry, you’d likely have a comprehensive list of the initiatives that have moved markets forward. These are the leaders who have dreamt, shaped and molded a better way to execute the home-buying journey. From injecting technology into the mortgage process to redefining the real estate agent and home shopper relationship, these leaders have laid the foundations for millions of homeowners. HousingWire sat down with three of these leaders: James O’Bryon, RE/MAX Gold Nation CEO, Cathleen Schreiner Gates, SimpleNexus CEO, and Phil Shoemaker, Homepoint president of originations, to learn more about the housing trends they’re closely watching, what they think will define 2022 and what they hope people remember them for when they retire.
Here is the interview with James O’Bryon, CEO at RE/MAX Gold Nation.
Brena Nath: First off, congrats on being named a 2021 Vanguard. Who would you want to thank for helping you get where you are today?
James O’Bryon: In that question, I would change one word, and that would be the “You” because really, there’s very little about me that allows me to win this award. It’s my partners. It’s the executives who lead this organization. It’s most obviously the 2,700 agents who are a part of the organization who perform at an extraordinary level consistently.
In everything we do, I can find a person who has done the heavy lifting, which I end up getting credit for, but I didn’t do it. So, the most obvious answer to the question would be, my partners, our leadership team, our incredible support group, the agents, it’s a community of 3,000 people. Because I’ve been in the industry as long as I have, I know what they do, and I know how challenging it is. I’ve done most of their jobs at one time or another. And I recognize that every single thing that each of them does, in its own way, is as challenging as what I do. And so, I get the collective credit for what it is that they’re all doing.
Brena Nath: What’s one accomplishment in your career that you’re really proud of?
James O’Bryon: This ties back to your first question. The thing that I’m most proud of is I have developed and kept relationships with people for decades. The relationships that I’ve been able to build and sustain are absolutely, above all else, what I’m most proud of.
And then secondary to that is the fact that those people have entrusted each other and entrusted me to build a vision, which has been consistent since its inception. So, the vision was to build the largest, most powerful, RE/MAX branded real estate organization in the world. And that vision was established in 1995, and it survived for 26 years. It survived, not by being the weight on my back, but also by being the weight on this collective back. Absolutely. The thing I’m most proud of would be those people that we talked about in question number one, combined with the fact that they were so indulgent with me when we first started talking about this concept when it seemed like it was crazy.
BN: How are you helping move markets forward?
JOJames O’Bryon: Historically, a brokerage in our industry was a single woman or a single man on an island attempting to drive a company. And historically, the amount of synergy it took to take different mind trusts and different perspectives and mesh them into something really extraordinary, it didn’t exist. I mean, it was this little company and a bunch of little fiefdoms out there trying to do their own thing. In terms of moving the industry forward, what we’ve managed to do is create a brain trust, which covers five states, and I’m anticipating will cover many more as the time goes by, with brilliant people who have different perspectives and come together to create this juggernaut presence. When we have meetings, we’ll come out of them smarter, stronger and more capable of driving this juggernaut than if we were trying to do it individually on our own.
I have the luxury of that with leaders across five states. The collective IQ becomes incredibly powerful because it’s not just me trying to figure out how to do stuff, or just me and our executive team trying to figure out how to do stuff. It’s their executive group and somebody else’s executive group. So, somebody will say, “Have we tried this?” And part of the leadership group will say, “I didn’t even know that existed what you’re talking about.” And then in some cases, we’ll try it, and it’ll be great. In other cases, we’ll try it, and it won’t be so great. But it moves the conversation forward because together, we’re so much smarter than we are individually.
BN: What are two trends in the mortgage and real estate industry that you’re closely watching?
James O’Bryon: One is just the overall global change that we’re seeing in a variety of different areas. So, the most obvious is the pandemic. There’s also, regardless of what one attributes them to, all of the natural disaster changes that we’re seeing. California right now has a 3-to-4-month fire season that it didn’t have 5 or 10 years ago.
So, the things that are global, that are largely beyond our control, and yet, we must accommodate. And usually, change that’s beyond our control is the most challenging and paralyzing because we figure that we can’t do anything about it. And in these instances, there’s very little we can do about a pandemic, and there’s very little we can do about the natural changes in the environment. There’s also is very little we can do about regulatory change, but we have to adjust and accommodate each of those things.
So, watching those things and how they impact our market and what needs to be done in the future, that’s probably for me number one, right now. Much of what else we do, we can control to some extent or another, but those previous things, we really can’t, so we need to figure out a way to accommodate. It’s kind of like a river. Sometimes the river can flow and break down rocks, but sometimes it’s got to go around rocks. So, those things are like the rocks, we’ve got to figure out a way for the river to go around.
Then the other thing is much more pragmatic than those. It’s the overall issue of housing affordability. I recognize each state is different and each region is different when it comes to housing affordability, but across most of our existing footprint, housing affordability has become a pretty compelling issue where many of those who otherwise would be able to buy homes just aren’t able to. And as a result, they become generational renters, and then pass it on to the next generation. So, working toward creating a system for the creation of affordable housing, that is something that I am definitely watching, and I think a lot of people in our industry are watching right now and to some extent.
BN: The past two years have been filled with a lot of uncertainty; what factors do you think will define 2022?
James O’Bryon: I think the year ahead is going to be a time of great healing. I think 2022 is going to be our opportunity to get some things right. And I think it’s going to be our opportunity for people to relearn social skills, social graces and the ability to get along with one another to coexist in the same space.
I do believe that people are going to, as soon as they possibly can, and feel safe about doing it, go back to being in each other’s presence. And we’ve seen that sporadically in other venues, like the restaurant business. It’s a feast or famine thing right now, where if the restaurants are open, they’re packed.
A lot of the things we’ve seen in the last year and a half, in terms of our industry and our environment, have been driven by a set of circumstances, which is extremely artificial. So, in 2022, I believe people will want to go back to social environments and they’ll want to be in group settings. They’ll tune more into what their true focus is and why they’re in the business.
So, without even speaking to all of those things that we cannot control, I think in the areas that we will be able to control if the pandemic relaxes enough that in 2022 people can return to some state of normalcy, it’s going to be a spectacular year. I am very much looking forward to it.
BN: After you’re finished with your career, what do you hope people remember you for?
James O’Bryon: I reduced it down to one thing, “He did the right thing.” Because in meetings for years, and the group that I directly work with, they all know these words. When we’re talking about a dilemma, or a crisis, or litigation challenge, or a client issue, or a vendor relationship, what we’ve consistently said over the years is, “Okay, what’s the right thing to do?” And then even if it costs us money, we do it. And that has worked so consistently, and it’s become so sustainable that I suspect that, you know, if we put something on my gravestone, I would want it to be, “He did the right thing.”
BN: To wrap, what’s one piece of advice you would give people in this industry?
James O’Bryon: No matter what your role in the industry is, whether you’re a real estate agent, real estate manager, a real estate executive, or in the horizontal part of our business, which is the brokerage business, or the vertical parts of our business, I think it’s very important to define what your role is going to be.
It’s important to define that for yourself, and then, share that with others. Then, do everything you can to commit yourself to that role and to act accordingly. And I’ve seen that work consistently over the years, and it is certainly what’s worked for us.
And what I see not working consistently over the years is where people define, then redefine, then redefine their roles and jump around to the extent that all they’re really ever doing is attempting to gain proficiency or expert status in a different environment or something new.
What I see in our mission and the definition of our mission is primarily to serve our agents in serving their clients.
And that’s how I would describe it. And as such, we have extraordinary agents who receive extraordinary reviews from their clients because their clients know why they’re in the business.
So, their clients don’t think, “I wonder if my agent is in the business for selfish or individualistic or ulterior motives,” they understand, “My agent has chosen to associate with RE/MAX Gold Nation to serve me.” So, there’s no lack of clarity as to what the objective of the agent is or what the objective of the organization is. So, my advice to anybody who plans on making a career of this, choose it, define it, share it, stick with it.
To read the full October/November Issue, click here.
The post RE/MAX Gold Nation’s James O’Bryon on growing a top real estate brokerage appeared first on HousingWire.real estate pandemic gold
What Are the Advantages of Wind Energy and Solar Energy?
Wind power and solar power are considered the two primary choices for clean energy.As clean technologies, both solar energy and wind power significantly decrease pollution and have minimal operational costs. These are attractive reasons to make the switch
Wind power and solar power are considered the two primary choices for clean energy.
As clean technologies, both solar energy and wind power significantly decrease pollution and have minimal operational costs. These are attractive reasons to make the switch to clean energy solutions — but there's certainly more to wind and solar energy than that.
Here the Investing News Network provides a brief introduction to wind energy and solar energy, from the advantages of renewable energy to the future outlook for these clean energy technologies.
What are wind energy and solar energy?
Putting it simply, wind energy is the process of using the air flowing through wind turbines to automatically generate power by converting the kinetic energy in wind into mechanical power.
Wind energy can provide electricity for utility grids and homes, and can be used to charge batteries and pump water. The three main kinds of wind power are broken down as follows by the American Wind Energy Association:
- Utility-scale wind: Wind turbines bigger than 100 kilowatts that deliver electricity to power grids and end users via electric utilities or power system operators.
- Distributed wind: Wind turbines smaller than 100 kilowatts that are used to directly provide power to homes, farms or small businesses.
- Offshore wind: Wind turbines placed in large bodies of water, generally on the continental shelf.
Interestingly, wind energy can also be considered an indirect form of solar energy. That's because winds are widely described as being caused by the uneven heating of the atmosphere by the sun, the irregularities of the Earth's surface and rotation of the Earth.
Solar power is energy derived from the sun's rays and then converted into thermal or electrical energy.
According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, solar energy can be created in the following three ways: photovoltaics, solar heating and cooling and concentrating solar power.
- Photovoltaics: Generates electricity directly from sunlight via an electronic process to power small electronics, road signs, homes and large commercial businesses.
- Solar heating and cooling: Uses the heat generated by the sun to provide water heating or space heating and cooling.
- Concentrating solar power: Uses the heat generated by the sun to run traditional electricity-generating turbines.
What are the advantages of wind energy and solar energy?
With the basics of wind and solar energy in mind, let's look at the advantages of these two clean energy sources.
As carbon-free, renewable energy sources, wind and solar can help reduce the world's dependence on oil and gas. These carbon fuels are responsible for harmful greenhouse gas emissions that affect air, water and soil quality, and contribute to environmental degradation and climate change.
Aside from that, wind and solar energy can give homeowners and businesses the ability to generate and store electricity onsite, giving them backup power when their needs cannot be filled by the traditional utilities grid.
For example, during California's most recent wildfire season, large-scale utilities companies such as PG&E (NYSE:PCG) shut off power to tens of thousands of people in an effort to prevent fires like those linked to downed power lines. In cases like this, solar energy generated onsite could not only help fight climate change, but also act as a reliable backup source of energy.
Solar panel installations are easy to do and can also create energy bill savings. In some regions, users may qualify for tax breaks or energy rebates if they produce excess energy that can be delivered to the utility grid. In Canada, there are at least 78 clean energy incentive programs available that offer a combined total of 285 energy-efficiency rebates and 27 renewable energy rebates.
Both solar energy and wind energy are on the path to becoming the world's most affordable sources of energy.
"Land-based utility-scale wind is one of the lowest-priced energy sources available today, costing 1-2 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh) after the production tax credit," according to the US Department of Energy. "Because the electricity from wind farms is sold at a fixed price over a long period of time (e.g. 20+ years) and its fuel is free, wind energy mitigates the price uncertainty that fuel costs add to traditional sources of energy."
The price of harnessing the sun's power is dropping each year due to technology advancements. In fact, the cost of residential photovoltaic solar power has slid from US$0.50 per kWh in 2010 to US$0.128 per kWh in 2020, according to US Department of Energy figures. The US agency estimates that solar costs will fall further to US$0.05 by 2030. On a grander scale, utility photovoltaic costs already sat at only US$0.045 as of 2020.
Future outlook for wind energy and solar energy
Looking ahead for wind energy, the Global Wind Energy Council estimates that 435 gigawatts (GW) of new capacity will be added from 2021 to 2025. Government support will be a key driver, giving way to market-based growth.
"The world needs to be installing an average of 180 GW of new wind energy every year to limit global warming to well below 2°C above pre-industrial levels," state the report's authors, "and will need to install up to 280 GW annually from 2030 onwards to maintain a pathway compliant with meeting net zero by 2050."
As for solar energy, the International Energy Association's (IEA) World Energy Outlook 2021 report pegs solar as now cheaper than coal. Along with wind energy, solar energy is expected to make up 80 percent of the global electric energy market by 2030. "Since 2016, global investment in the power sector has consistently been higher than in oil and gas supply," explains the IEA report. "The faster that clean energy transitions proceed, the wider this gap becomes, and as a result electricity becomes the central arena for energy-related financial transactions."
Lux Research predicts that the transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy sources will be accelerated by several years due to the impact COVID-19 is having on energy markets all over the world.
The firm notes that economic relief packages contain trillions of dollars for renewable energy technology research and development, and for the deployment of low- and zero-carbon infrastructure. By 2025, Lux sees COVID-19 resulting in accelerated investment in energy storage and power-generation projects.
Ways to invest in wind and solar energy
There are many investment opportunities in the renewable energy markets.
For investors interested in wind energy, there is the First Trust ISE Global Wind Energy Index Fund (ARCA:FAN), which was created on June 16, 2008. It tracks 50 holdings, including wind energy giants Vestas Wind Systems (OTC Pink:VWSYF), Boralex (TSX:BLX) and Siemens Gamesa Renewable Energy (OTC Pink:GCTAF), to name a few.
Our list of renewable energy stocks on the TSX may also be worth considering.
This is an updated version of an article first published by the Investing News Network in 2018.
Don't forget to follow us @INN_Technology for real-time news updates!
Securities Disclosure: I, Melissa Pistlli, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.tsx stocks covid-19 otc oil canada
Gold Trends 2021: Price Sheds 6 Percent Following Record 2020
Click here to read the previous gold trends article. After soaring to an all-time high of US$2,058.40 per ounce during 2020, gold has faced headwinds in 2021.Values for the yellow metal started the year at US$1,898, but the level proved unsustainable…
Click here to read the previous gold trends article.
After soaring to an all-time high of US$2,058.40 per ounce during 2020, gold has faced headwinds in 2021.
Values for the yellow metal started the year at US$1,898, but the level proved unsustainable and gold had sunk to US$1,700 — still its year-to-date low — by the end of the first quarter.
Positivity in the second quarter pushed the precious metal to its annual high in May, when the price touched US$1,903; however, it soon retreated to the US$1,760 range a few weeks later.
Since then, the currency metal has struggled to breach US$1,800, and many experts are pinning its price volatility on broader monetary issues. Read on for a look at trends that impacted gold in 2021.
Gold trends 2021: Key headwinds keeping the metal down
Speaking to the Investing News Network, Brian Leni, editor of Junior Stock Review, explained that 2020’s pandemic response led to a massive expansion of global debt and was accompanied by low interest rates, “which the market knows is a recipe for disaster, but it keeps the ‘party’ going, so to speak.”
This environment facilitated gold’s 32 percent price increase between January and August of last year, and ultimately allowed the yellow metal to end 2020 up 21.18 percent from its January start of US$1,552.30.
“Over the last year, however, the gold price has drifted mostly downward,” Leni said.
“In my view, this isn’t because of any fundamental gold market reason. I think that negative price action is the market predicting or expecting the US Federal Reserve to raise interest rates to quell the rampant inflation that we have endured over the last 12 to 16 months.”
With economic stimulus winding down and growing uncertainty emerging around new COVID-19 variants, the Fed is in a precarious position.
“The problem for the Fed is twofold,” Leni said. “First, debt levels are so high that any significant interest rate hikes at this point could easily destabilize the market, causing a cascade effect around the world.”
He continued, “Second, the broader stock market is at all-time highs. Easy money, low interest and lockdowns have given the public more access or interest in the stock market than ever.”
The result is a delicate situation the Fed will have trouble balancing.
“If the Fed raises rates and begins its tightening process, I have no doubt that this will be negative for the broader stock market,” Leni noted. “It’s a big risk to many people’s savings, and the Fed knows it.”
Because of this, he thinks it will be challenging for the Fed to raise rates to the projected 0.25 or 0.5 percent amount in 2022 without causing a widespread ripple effect.
“Ultimately, an investment in gold is an investment in real money,” added Leni. “Real money that can’t be debased and is not simultaneously someone else’s liability.”
Gold trends 2021: ETF outflows preventing price growth
After dropping to a year-to-date low of US$1,700 in Q1 and rallying to this year's high point of US$1,903 in Q2, gold remained rangebound between US$1,700 and US$1,800 for most of Q3.
In addition to the factors mentioned by Leni, gold's flat price performance in the third quarter has been attributed to a 7 percent decline in investment demand from the exchange-traded fund (ETF) segment. This trend continued in October, when gold ETF holdings shed 25.5 tonnes.
"Global gold ETF holdings fell to 3,567 tonnes (US$203 billion) during the month — notching year-to-date low levels — as investor appetite for gold diminished in the ETF space following price declines in August and September," an October World Gold Council gold ETF report states.
In comparison to 2020’s record-setting 877 tonnes of inflows, so far 2021 has seen outflows of 269.1 tonnes and modest inflows of 87.6 tonnes. What's more, six of the last 10 months have registered net outflows in the gold-backed ETF segment. The ETF exodus has been attributed to investors adding more risk to their portfolios.
That said, Juan-Carlos Artigas, head of research at the World Gold Council, noted that 2021’s outflows seem disproportionate because 2020, especially Q3, was such a record-setting period for the gold ETF space.
However, he did point out that significant moves in the gold price tend to be influenced by the investment demand segment on a short- to mid-term basis. Looking longer term, overall demand from all segments — including jewelry, technology and bars and coins — is the price driver.
As investment demand shed 7 percent, or 831 tonnes, the gold price was further impacted by total mine production, which ballooned to 959.46 tonnes, up almost 90 tonnes from Q2’s 876.77 tonnes and significantly higher than the 842.72 tonnes mined in the first quarter.
All of gold’s headwinds combined in late September, forcing the metal to a six month low of US$1,726.10.
Gold trends 2021: Inflation threat gaining traction
As new lockdowns began to emerge toward the end of the year, and stronger variants of COVID-19 started to be detected, some positivity in the broader markets began to erode.
This uncertainty benefited the yellow metal, which edged higher throughout October, starting the session at US$1,761 and ending the 31 day period at US$1,775.
“Gold price strength happened amid higher nominal yields: gold had been generally inversely correlated with nominal bond yields this year,” a November WGC report notes. “However, a rise in inflation expectations outweighed the move in nominal rates and resulted in lower real rates.”
As inflation began to exhibit signs of being more structural and less transitory in the fourth quarter, gold appeared to benefit from the looming uncertainty.
"If you look at the performance of interest rates versus gold over the last 20 years, as interest rates go up, gold sells off,” said Gareth Soloway, chief market strategist at InTheMoneyStocks.com, in early November.
"We haven't seen gold sell off, we've seen gold more chop sideways over the last couple of months as interest rates have gone up. And what that again tells us is that the market is starting to realize inflation is here, and big money is buying every single dip on gold. So I continue to be very, very bullish on gold over the longer term.”
Watch Soloway discuss where gold may go in the months ahead.
These factors are anticipated to be further heightened by changes in asset allocation, which have been fueled by historically low interest rates, pushing investors to add risk to their portfolios earlier in the year. “Because of that, investors are looking for ways to hedge some of that exposure, and that can be supportive of gold,” Artigas said.
By the end of November, gold had rallied to a 60 day high of US$1,803.20 ahead of December volatility courtesy of the Omicron variant, which hampered air travel and forced countries to reimplement quarantine-style protocols.
The spreading variant pushed markets lower during the first week of trading in December. However, gold also faced headwinds, retracting to the US$1,762 level before rebounding to the US$1,780 range.
Gold trends 2021: Industry waiting for a market correction
Despite gold's lackluster 2021 performance, those in the industry have a positive outlook for next year, with many suggesting that the Fed won't be able to stay in control for much longer.
Barisheff explains why gold is the best investment right now.
"The market is due for a major correction. What will cause it and when it will happen is anybody's guess — it could be tomorrow, it could be six months from now," said Nick Barisheff, CEO of BMG Group, who advises investors shed some of their risk when initial losses start to mount.
Rather than rushing to cash, a popular move amid market turmoil, he has other ideas. "Instead of taking your money off the table and going into cash … you go to gold (because cash is devaluing daily),” Barisheff said.
“Gold will at least hold its own and probably appreciate ... so by sitting it out in gold you can wait until the market finishes correcting and then buy back in.”
Don't forget to follow us @INN_Resource for real-time updates!
Securities Disclosure: I, Georgia Williams, hold no direct investment interest in any company mentioned in this article.
Editorial Disclosure: The Investing News Network does not guarantee the accuracy or thoroughness of the information reported in the interviews it conducts. The opinions expressed in these interviews do not reflect the opinions of the Investing News Network and do not constitute investment advice. All readers are encouraged to perform their own due diligence.stimulus pandemic covid-19 fed federal reserve etf quarantine interest rates stimulus gold
Lessons From Pearl Harbour And Future Threats
Lessons From Pearl Harbour And Future Threats
Authored by Bill Blain via MorningPorridge.com,
“May God have mercy upon our enemies, because I won’t.”
On the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbour, it’s worth asking could it ever happen…
“May God have mercy upon our enemies, because I won’t.”
On the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbour, it’s worth asking could it ever happen again? A conventional war over Ukraine is clearly a threat – but is it one the Russians would risk without first trying to significantly weaken the West’s resilience though a cyberstrike? As they sow, so would they reap.
Today is the 80th anniversary of Pearl Harbour. “A Day that will live in Infamy”, said President FD Roosevelt. It was the pivotal moment of the Second World War – the event that precipitated the US into the conflict. Many modern historians believe the administration was secretly relieved it happened – overcoming isolationists at a stroke. Although the death toll was lower than 9/11, Pearl Harbour still reverberates around the globe – don’t poke the hornet’s nest. There is nothing like this Morning’s quote above from General George S. Patton to sum up the American attitude to an unprovoked war.
Churchill said he slept “the sleep of the saved” on hearing the news, delighted the Arsenal of Democracy had finally joined the fight. He was right – whatever short-term reverses and stumbles subsequently occurred, the USA’s economic might and production capacity ensured final victory. It’s worth remembering America never declared war on Germany. The Reich declared war on America on Dec 11th – thus also reaping the Allied whirlwind.
We’re all familiar with the story of Japan’s mistake.
The Japanese simply didn’t understand America. They bet the farm on a quick devasting strike, hoping it would encourage the Americans to negotiate on embargos. They achieved a solid tactical win sinking 7 old Battleships, but it was a strategic disaster. They failed to cripple America by sinking the two American Aircraft Carriers on exercise close to the Islands, although they probably could have by adopting a more flexible approach to operational planning. American emerged pre-eminent from the conflict. Japan remains the only nation to have been nuclear bombed into submission.
Does Pearl Harbour hold many lessons for the modern age?
Later today Joe Biden will meet President Putin on the diplomatic equivalent of the Zoom call. Biden will warn about Russia’s troop build-up around Ukraine, while Putin will confabulate about Ukraine being a Nato thorn through Mother Russia’s heart.
It will be a poker game. Putin is betting the West will prove unwilling to sacrifice “boots-on-the-ground” defending an Eastern European nation that essentially was part of Russia for centuries. As is typical in today’s geopolitics, it all accompanied by fake news, misleading headlines, bots and outright misdirection – designed to persuade western audiences its hardly worth intervening.
The US intelligence services sound pretty certain Putin intends us to think he will make a play for Ukraine early in the new year. The units around the border can quickly be brought up to strength with reservists. However, defence analysts have pointed out Russia has limited economic resources, and even scarcer military ones, to sustain any conflict with NATO – should it go to Ukraine’s aid. The days of 8000 Soviet tanks and 57 divisions set to roll over the North German plane are history.
What if Putin has no intention of risking his precious military assets on recovering Ukraine? His best hope is persuading the West to let him have it. The troops on the border may be there as part of a maskirovka – the finely honed Russian strategy and art of deception. Let the enemy see one thing while doing something else.
Maybe the maskirovka is to cover joint action with China – the Ukraine being a front for something gruesome in Taiwan. Unlikely.
What else might it be? The threat of withholding gas from Europe? It would certainly cause misery, but with the ultimate consequence of bankrupting Russia if Europe permanently disengages as a purchaser. A move against the Baltics would be met by trip-wire Nato forces and harden European attitudes even more than a move against Russia.
Perhaps war by other means?
Asymmetric warfare is commonly understood as a bunch of Kalashnikov wielding tribesmen swamping a modern, trained army. A tad embarrassing, and an effective way to undermine apparent military credibility. Just because the Americans so decisively “advanced backwards” from Afghanistan has little bearing on Ukraine.
The other end of the military spectrum – hypersonic missiles able to take out US Carrier groups in the South China Seas and Drone Swarms set to clear the beaches of Taiwan are also unlikely. Ukraine is more likely to be conventional slog – should it come to that.
The threat is more likely to come from another vector.
The West’s critical vulnerability could prove our addiction to digitisation. Western Economies have gone fully digital, making them vulnerable as a prime cyberwar target. The Russians, as we know, are no slouches when it comes to cybercrime.
Yesterday I fired up my new company laptop for the first time. It takes longer to boot up because it’s got multiple new security features built in, plus dual factor authentication. I now use a 12 character password – which would take a normal computer decades to break. The delay is a momentary distraction, but its state of the art software keeps my data and the firm safe. Unfortunately, most UK banks are running code nearly as old as me, and I can pretty much guarantee many businesses are running programmes on a host of obsolete operating systems.
Could the Russians be planning a major cyberstrike to break the West’s resilience ahead of any move on Ukraine? Over the last few years they have attacked and brought down many of the key elements of Ukraine’s economy – and made it clear it was them, demonstrating their abilities. Power, transport and banking have all been attacked, serving notice they won’t hesitate to do it again.
If the Russians can add to the current coronavirus gloom and deepen the sense of foreboding about the stagflationary threat, then why not further break the resilience of the West, and deepen the sense of siege mentality by taking out hospitals, transport, power and mobile phones with targeted cyber-attacks? All of these attack vectors have been tried and tested.
We tend to think the West are the good guys when it comes to Cyberwarfare. As well as hacking into Hillary Clinton’s email, we’ve all read about the Ruskies trying to take out US pipelines and infiltrate Nuclear power stations. There is a great story how a Chinese cyber-warfare unit hacked their way into US oil rig systems by means of a back door via the internet menu of a local Chinese takeaway restaurant. Cyber warfare has evolved fast.
But so have the Americans and Brits. Under Trump the Whitehouse made no secret it was hitting back at Russian systems. The most successful cyber attack of all time was under Obama’s watch: the Stuxnet worm in 2010, when the Americans and Israelis took out Iran’s nuclear processing ability, got the programme inside the computers and caused uranium refining centrifuges to spin out of control. Earlier this year, the Israelis did it again – taking out a newer layer of Iranian machines.
The Americans let the information on the attack leak out, apparently convinced Iran would never catch up in terms of its cyberwar abilities. How wrong they were. Iran took out Aramco just a few years later with a strike leaving an image of a burning American flag on every PC in the firm. Since then they’ve attacked banks and infrastructure across the US.
The cyberwarfare risks to markets are perhaps as great as a conventional attack. Crashing western banks could trigger a chain of defaults. Banks are effectively only as strong as their counterparties. Even if most banks have strengthened their cyber defences, even one banking default could spread all kinds of financial mayhem.
If the attack is made on soft-targets, hospitals and transport, the effects could make Covid look like a picnic. Taking out satellites and coms would be equally destructive.
The West is more vulnerable because we are now totally reliant on digital apps and function. If the Russians can collapse our system the damage will be greater than anything we can immediately inflict on them.
But, here’s the key lesson from Pearl Harbour. A cyberstrike may well cripple the West. It could prove a devasting tactical victory. Yet, it would ultimately prove a strategic defeat as you can bet the Americans and the West will get more than even over time.
Keep an eye on the Cyber space.
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