Image courtesy of REUTERS/Scott Morgan, Berkshire Hathaway Chairman Warren Buffett (left) and Vice Chairman Charlie Munger are seen at the annual Berkshire shareholder shopping day in Omaha, Nebraska, U.S., May 3, 2019.
Berkshire Hathaway Inc.’s annual shareholder meeting, which is often called “Woodstock for capitalists,” is an occasion for tens of thousands of the company’s shareholders to descend upon Omaha, Nebraska, to hear famed investor Warren Buffett and his longtime business partner, Charlie Munger, offer their assessments of the company’s recent performance and of broader trends in the economy and politics. This year’s meeting, which convened on May 6, came at a time when aspects of Berkshire’s recent investment strategy have run headlong into a geopolitical storm arising from the intensifying US-China rivalry.
This graphic charts the volume of Russian arms exports to China from 1992-2016. For more on the strengthening China-Russia relationship, see Brian Carlson’s chapter for Strategic Trends 2018 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on proliferation, click here.
This graphic charts US oil and gas production from 1980 to 2015 and forecasts production up to 2020. For more on the interplay between technological innovation and the geopolitics of energy, see Severin Fischer ‘s chapter for Strategic Trends 2018 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on natural resources, click here.
This graphic plots the volume of trade between Russia, China, the US and the EU in 2016. For more on the China-Russia relationship, see Brian Carlson’s chapter for Strategic Trends 2018 here. For more CSS charts, maps and graphics on economics, click here.
In the latest sign of how new entrants are upending the space launch industry, the Air Force announced last week that an $83 million contract awarded to SpaceX to put a GPS satellite into orbit would cost the government 40 percent less than the competing bid from United Launch Alliance (ULA), a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin. As impressive as that is, SpaceX’s competitiveness is set to increase further after the firm achieved a milestone in the history of space exploration. After numerous failed attempts, SpaceX successfully landed the first stage of one of its rockets on a “drone ship” floating in the Atlantic Ocean. The rocket’s payload, a cargo delivery to the International Space Station (ISS), was successfully lifted into orbit.
The achievement is a first step towards the reuse of SpaceX rockets (or more precisely the first of the rocket’s two stages), which previously would be lost after a single use. The next step will be to attempt to refurbish and reuse a rocket — potentially many times over — at acceptable cost and risk. The Space Shuttle’s solid rocket boosters parachuted to sea and were recovered by ship, but they did not themselves lift payloads into orbit and were very expensive to refurbish. Another rocketry firm, Blue Origin, has also managed to safely land its rockets after launch, but those are sub-orbital vehicles not meant to reach the ISS or place satellites aloft. ULA has studied reusability but has not implemented it.
The major implication of rocket reusability – and the reason it has been so feverishly pursued — is to reduce the price of placing a payload into orbit. SpaceX’s per-launch price is reportedly $60 million, well below the $200 million charged by ULA or the $137 million charged by Europe’s Arianespace launch consortium. Rocket reuse stands to reduce SpaceX’s price even further, to perhaps just $40 million. To put that in perspective, it is about the same as it costs to stage the Oscars.