WORLD Cup draw conspiracy theories, bids for the 2026 World Cup, the $5.66 billion ticket target to be met, and rainbow flags will be tolerated in Russia.

Ahead of the Russia World Cup draw, it’s another edition of our new column: 2018 World Cup Scout.

PHANTOM DRAW: FIFA flip to break 2018 World Cup draw wide open

SURPRISES BUT NO CONSPIRACIES FOR WC DRAW

Conspiracy theories around the World Cup draw were scotched before any talk arises of warm or cold plastic balls in Moscow.

Friday’s draw at the State Kremlin Palace will be a purely random affair, a FIFA competition official insisted, when asked about the possibilities of tournament draws being fixed.

Past draws have attracted their fair share of speculation about the use of warmer or colder plastic balls placed in the various pots used for seeded teams and groups.

After the draw in Brazil four years ago, reports emerged in Argentina that said reporters were told in advance which group the team would be in. But FIFA director of competitions Chris Unger says he can assure everyone the balls are exactly the same.

“There is no truth in that … it is entirely random,” said Unger, who has been involved in two previous competition draws.

“I can invite you up to the stage and you can convince yourself that there are balls with different colours (hosts Russia will have a red ball) but there is no difference otherwise. They are the same size and temperature.”

Ex-FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup.
Camera IconEx-FIFA President Sepp Blatter announces Qatar as host for the 2022 World Cup.Picture: AP

Former FIFA president Sepp Blatter, now serving a football ban, claimed last year that European draws had been fixed with hot and cold balls.

Asked by Argentina’s La Nacion newspaper about the easy-looking group Argentina were drawn in during the last World Cup, Blatter said all the draws he had been involved in were “clean to the last detail” but he knew of other draws that had been fixed.

“Of course, you can put a signal in the balls, warming them or cooling them,” he said.

“It didn’t exist at FIFA but I was a witness at draws, at a European level, where that happened. But never at FIFA. It certainly can be done but in my time it never happened. Never.”

UEFA said Blatter’s claims were “absurd”.

Foxsports.com.au will have a live blog of the draw tonight (2am AEDT), and all the reaction and analysis, while Fox Sports News will have a full reaction show at 9.30am on Saturday with Daniel Garb, Mark Bosnich, Craig Moore and John Kosmina.

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Former England international Gary Lineker is conducting the draw, but said he wouldn’t have been able to if Blatter was still president of FIFA.

“They are making lots of changes there, a massive amount,” he said, according to The Times.

“There is hardly anyone left from the old guard. If Blatter had still been in charge, I would not have done it.

“Most of the old guard, the ones responsible for the corruption, are now thankfully either suspended or locked up or about to be locked up.”

MOROCCO AND USA/CANADA/MEXICO CONFIRM 2026 BIDS

Morocco and the three-nation ticket of the United States, Mexico, and Canada formally confirmed their bids to host the 2026 World Cup on Thursday’s deadline.

That World Cup will be the first to include 48 teams, rather than the 32 who will compete in Russia next year and in Qatar in 2022.

The next stage will be the submission of complete candidacy dossiers by the candidates on March 16.

The host will be chosen on June 13 next year, but the way the choice is made marks a change by FIFA, the governing body of world football.

The decision used to be made by FIFA’s executive committee, but following the suspicions that hovered over its selection of Russia and Qatar in December 2010, and the subsequent scandal that dethroned president Sepp Blatter, the committee was stripped of some power and renamed the FIFA Council.

The new-look council must rubberstamp the bids, but the final decision will be taken in a vote of the 211 national federations at a congress in Moscow.

Christian Pulisic of the U.S. National Team.
Camera IconChristian Pulisic of the U.S. National Team.Picture: AFP

FIFA SET TO HIT $5.66 BILLION TICKETS TARGET

Even taking a financial hit from Italy and the United States failing to qualify, FIFA’s top salesman insists the 2018 World Cup will make its income target.

Italy’s loss in the playoffs wiped tens of millions of dollars off the value of an unsold broadcasting deal. One of FIFA’s most valuable markets is typically worth $200 million per World Cup.

The surprise U.S. elimination – as Panama qualified – affects finding four North American sponsors in a new, and stalled, regional sales program. Just one of 20 slots has sold worldwide, to an oligarch-owned bank in host nation Russia. “Everybody is annoyed with the non-qualification of the U.S. which was not expected, to be honest,” said FIFA commercial director Philippe Le Floc’h, who has targeted deals with American tech firms.

Still, the French-Swiss official insists FIFA will reach a $5.66 billion income target for the 2015-18 sales period even with gaps in the line-up of 34 potential sponsors.

“Obviously the more positions we fill the better. On the other hand, we are not going to go cheap,” Le Floc’h told The Associated Press on Thursday in his first media interview since joining FIFA 14 months ago.

“The job we have to do is make sure that our financial projections, our budget numbers, are delivered. And they will be delivered,” he said.

Fabio Cannavaro of Italy greets a Super Fan on the stage as Diego Forlan of Uruguay looks on.
Camera IconFabio Cannavaro of Italy greets a Super Fan on the stage as Diego Forlan of Uruguay looks on.Picture: Getty Images

RUSSIA SIGNALS RAINBOW FLAGS TOLERATED AT WORLD CUP

Russia’s top anti-discrimination official for football has indicated spectators will be allowed to fly rainbow flags at the World Cup.

Alexei Smertin, a World Cup ambassador and the Russian Football Union’s anti- racism and anti-discrimination inspector, says spectators won’t be affected by a Russian law prohibiting “propaganda” of homosexuality to minors.

Smertin says, “There will definitely be no ban on wearing rainbow symbols in Russia. It’s clear you can come here and not be fined for expressing feelings.”

The former Russia and Chelsea midfielder adds its unlikely gay fans could fall foul of Russian law, saying “The law is about propaganda to minors … I can’t imagine that anyone is going to go into a school and speak.”

Famous Everton supporter 'Speedo Mick' holds up a rainbow flag in the crowd, in support of Stonewall's rainbow laces campaign during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Everton.
Camera IconFamous Everton supporter ‘Speedo Mick’ holds up a rainbow flag in the crowd, in support of Stonewall’s rainbow laces campaign during the English Premier League football match between Southampton and Everton.Picture: AFP

RUSSIA VOWS ‘NO WHITE ELEPHANTS’ AFTER WORLD CUP

Russia’s World Cup organising committee chief vowed to AFP on Thursday that next year’s addition of the showpiece football competition will leave behind no abandoned “white elephant” stadiums or hotels.

Speaking on the eve of Friday’s group stage draw for the June 14-July 15 tournament, Alexei Sorokin said in an interview inside the State Kremlin Palace that Western sanctions on Russia did not impact its preparations in any way.

And he admitted that the national squad faced strong pressure to do well at home, but stressed that Russia liked to play up to the level of its competition and did not fear giants such as defending champions Germany or other big teams.

Nations have begun to shy away from staging major sport tournaments such as the Olympic Games because of the costs involved and the risk of much of the infrastructure falling into disuse, angering the public about wasted resources.

Alexei Sorokin (R), 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organizing Committee CEO.
Camera IconAlexei Sorokin (R), 2018 FIFA World Cup Russia Local Organizing Committee CEO.Picture: AFP

Sorokin said this was not the case with Russia because many of the 11 host cities required overdue upgrades such as new airports and hotels — not to mention football-specific stadiums that could improve fan interest and attendance.

“Needless to say, it is infrastructure that would have been built anyway — nothing was built specifically for the World Cup,” said Sorokin.

“No white elephants, nothing unneeded, nothing superfluous, everything will be put to use for Russian citizens in the coming years,” he said in English.

The entire project will officially cost $11.5 billion (9.7 billion euros), with roughly a third of that coming from private funding.

Sorokin said Russia was already “80 per cent” ready and that each of the seven brand new stadiums would host three matches ahead of the World Cup to make sure they were fully prepared.

BYD Co Ltd (OTCPK:OTCPK:BYDDF) is looking to seize energy storage business opportunities around the world. Recent contract wins in both residential and commercial emphasize the company’s worldwide reach and competitive position. Many other companies, including Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA), are optimistic about the business as well. BYD may have the competitive advantage, though. Its founder and chairman has very ambitious targets for future growth.

North America

Energy storage systems are benefiting everywhere from a combination of rapidly falling costs, improved capability and greater industry expertise. Many Governments are looking to subsidize the business short-term. Consumer interest is showing strong levels. The World Bank has predicted that 378.1GW of solar and wind generating capacity will come on-stream between 2017 and 2022. They see the main barrier as up-front cost. However costs are falling across the board. Thus payback times are shortening. The affluent USA did lead in such early applications, but may now fall behind the rest of the world.

Energy storage systems are still increasing in the USA. It is estimated that 260 MW was installed last year. This has been encouraged by a decline in net metering. This makes it now more viable for the consumer to store energy. Commercially the market will be hampered by the lack of clear direction and policy initiatives from the Federal Government. Individual States very much have individual policies.

BYD has had a lot of success with its commercial systems in the USA. It claims to have 25% of the commercial energy storage systems market in the country. Worldwide it has installed 350 MWh of energy storage systems. Most recently it secured a contract through Green Charge for the largest system of its kind in Massachusetts. The 3MW/6MWh system will supply energy to the Holyoke Gas & Electricity utility.

Its residential systems are just starting to be introduced into the North American market. It should be noted that BYD also has manufacturing facilities and sales organizations around South America. It recently set up an initiative for energy storage in Argentina for instance.

BYD has a successful e-bus manufacturing plant in California. However the pro-fossil fuel stance of the Trump Administration may lead to caution in the U.S. market. It was noticeable that their recent announcement of an e-truck factory in North America was for a facility in Canada rather than the USA.

Europe

The EU has a target to generate 50% of its energy needs from renewables by 2030. Some countries are already having days when all their energy needs are met from renewables, whether it be hydro, wind or solar. The EU cites energy storage as one of its “strategic initiatives.” Large battery plants are on the drawing board.

In September BYD announced their first contract for the recently developed “B-Box” modular system. This was specifically developed for use with solar roof-top systems. It uses BYD’s own patented lithium ferro phosphate batteries. This modular system allows for more capacity to be put in place if capacity requirement is needed at later date. It is scalable from 2.5kWH to 442 kWH. One such is pictured below:

The company claims that it has the big advantage of reducing conversion losses. This is because it uses serial connection of battery cells rather than having to convert from a low-volt battery as has been standard practice.

It is an intelligent product which allows for feeding to and fromthe Grid depending upon time and thus rates. “B-Box” is an extension on from the company’s existing “MiniES” residential product.

The success or otherwise of residential sales in Europe for BYD will be followed with interest. It is not a sure-fire thing. One way they are trying to increase their sales there is by co-operation deals with big European players. These include Swiss power supply and automation giant ABB (NYSE:ABB), Italian energy company ENEL, Swiss distributor Passivhaul and French flywheel manufacturer Levissys.

Australia

Australia is an interesting example of what might happen soon in many countries around the world.

BYD launched their energy storage systems in Australia in February this year. Already they claim to have supplied over 1500 “storage solutions” in the country. Australia is a great potential market for this product. The country has a combination of high usage of solar panels and high electricity tariffs. There is in addition an unusual use, for off-grid systems in remote areas of the far-flung country.

In a previous article, I gave details of this huge potential in Australia. There has been a rapid growth in both solar roofs and energy storage systems. Morgan Stanley have estimated that the Australian energy storage market will reach a value of US$24 billion in the next few years.

Ironically though, coal is the country’s second biggest export, after iron ore. The industry employs 40,000 people and provides about two-thirds of the country’s electricity. An indication of the way the wind is blowing though is shown by a major controversy. This is over the planned US$12.5 billion investment by Chinese interests in a thermal coal plant in Queensland. It could even indirectly threaten the existence of the Government.

In another link with the energy storage market, Australia will be a major source for the minerals required for lithium-ion battery manufacture. These comprise mainly lithium, cobalt and nickel. Another Chinese EV manufacturer, Great Wall Motors (OTCMKTS:OTCPK:GWLLY), in fact recently invested in a major lithium mining project in Australia. EV bears who argue that companies such as Tesla will be hit by a shortage of lithium are probably mistaken. Lithium reserves in Australia alone are huge. Cobalt is another mineral with substantial potential reserves in Australia.

Sourcing from Australia has the additional benefit of not having the ethical issues of sourcing from companies such as Katanga Mining (OTCPK:OTCPK:KATFF) in the Democratic Republic of Congo. African suppliers are infamous for corruption and exploitation of child labor and it is hard for international mining companies to avoid that, even if they wanted to. There are a number of promising mining operations for the minerals under way in South America.

In a well-publicized move earlier this year Tesla leaped into a huge energy storage contract for the South Australia State Government. There were many doubters as to Tesla’s ability to meet the strict timing of the contract. However recent reports seem to confirm that Tesla has successfully supplied the world’s largest lithium-ion battery installation on time.

It does not seem as though Tesla have secured many day-to-day contracts though. On a positive note it has been reported that they will be supplying batteries to a substantial combined wind and solar plant in Queensland.

Australia already has over 1.7 million homes with solar rooftops. So it has attracted the big industry players in general. These include notably Sonnen from Germany and LG Chemicals from South Korea. BYD seems to have got the strongest start in the country. This is despite the fact that previously the Australian Authorities had considered measures not to allow lithium batteries inside residences due to perceived fire risks.

As I detailed recently, Tesla has similar advantages to BYD. It has the strength of its Gigafactory and partnership with Panasonic (OTCMKTS:OTCPK:PCRFY). Despite assertions to the contrary, as I pointed out in an article sometime ago, independent analysts cite Tesla as being amongst the top two or three most competitive battery suppliers across their range of product.

BYD is however a step ahead. It is the world’s largest EV manufacturer and the world’s largest lithium battery manufacturer. Its longevity in the business and healthy finances mean it has the people on the ground to secure the contracts.

Tesla supplied 110 MWh of energy storage systems in Q3. These were mainly of their “Powerwall” product. Outside of the USA though, Tesla is falling quite short in marketing back-up. Tesla’s plans to combine their products on a worldwide retail footprint have some way to go. They seem more geared at the moment to a few prestige products rather than building continuing contractual business.

Asia

Emerging markets in general will see the fastest growth in energy storage systems. The graph below shows the prediction from the World Bank:

This shows the emphasis being put on what might be termed BYD’s home territory of Asia.

As I detailed in a previous article, Asia is going to be the world’s largest market for renwables. With pollution problems rampant, China and India are going full-out for renewables. India has a target to generate 57% of its energy needs from renewables by 2027. The Government anticipates an installation of 100 GW of solar PV capacity by 2022. Japan is the world’s second largest renewables energy market.

The International Energy Agency sees Asia as taking the lead in the growth of renewables. China alone will represent 40% of global renewable growth. However even there renewables, on present trends, will not grow as rapidly as the increase in electricity demand. In the EU, Japan and North America it is expected that additional renewable generation will manage to outpace electricity demand growth.

BYD has an existing market in Asia already, especially in China. There may not be many solar roofs in high density housing China. However batteries are being used increasingly just to store energy from lower tariff times of day. The graph below from the World Bank shows the huge growth expected in the country:

BYD is thought to have the lowest costs of any major battery manufacturer. There will be plenty of competition of course. Chinese rival CATL is said to be ramping up battery production at a rapid rate. At least 8 large-scale battery manufacturing plants are currently being built in the country.

Goldman Sachs estimates that the lithium-ion battery market will be worth US$40 billion by 2025 and be dominated by the Chinese. This would be at the expense of mainly South Korean and Japanese suppliers. They are traditionally the major battery manufacturing countries and will no doubt ramp up production themselves.

Chinese battery manufacturers are forecast to have a production capacity of 121GWh by 2020. For comparison, the Tesla Gigafactory is slated to have a 35 GWh capacity when completed. Those Tesla bears who see the Tesla Gigafactory as a giant white elephant are being totally counter-intuitive to what is happening in the world. Chinese companies are also buying up cobalt and lithium mining assets around the world to ensure the supply of raw materials.

Recent estimates by the Asia Europe Clean Energy Advisory show a fast rising trend. They estimate energy storage systems in China were up from 26 MW in 2015 to 101 MW in 2016 and will reach 325 MW this year. In marked contrast to the USA, there is a strong drive coming from the Chinese Central Government. The country is focusing not just on storage capacity through batteries but also on grid frequency regulation and renewables integration.

The government recognizes the country has curtailment issues due to the previously inefficient State planning and historic reliance on coal. They have instituted a 15 year “Energy Technology Innovation Action Plan”. They are pushing a range of energy storage solution policies. These include huge investment in pumped hydro storage, in which water is pumped into reservoirs and later passed through turbines to generate power.

Conclusion

BYD founder and chairman Wang Chuanfu recently declared very ambitious targets for his company. He is looking for sales of 1 trillion yuan (US$151 billion) by 2025. He said this will entail some restructuring and new priorities. It would also entail an incredible increase in revenues. This year revenues are likely to come to about US$17 billion. Stockholders may question whether the company could maintain profitability levels and at the same time have such an increase in revenues.

Only a portion of such a huge increase would be in EV’s. The company is targeting sales of 200,000 EV’s next year. That would comprise a doubling of this year’s likely volume. That is not unlikely when one sees figures for EV sales in general around the world in the first 9 months of this year. These show strong growth rates with the USA the laggard:

China + 66%.

Japan + 100%.

Europe + 39%.

USA + 31%.

Obviously EV’s can only be one factor in the plan. One should not under-estimate the company’s potential in its monorail business. Battery production though is likely to be one of the priorities as Wang talks about new “clusters of businesses”

What both BYD and Tesla enjoy over their rivals is the benefit of vertical integration. This gives them advantages in cost and in technological development. There is a complementary advantage in that people who buy EV’s are more likely to look at energy storage for their homes and solar panels on their roofs.

BYD has the economies of scale some of its competitors (including Tesla) do not have. It has the worldwide manufacturing and marketing network from its existing battery, electric vehicles and solar businesses. It has the advantage of being headquartered in China with that country’s enormous energy storage plans for the future. It has the rest of Asia on its doorstep.

It is difficult at this point to make accurate forward dollar projections for the storage business. The company’s plans for revenues by 2025 give an indication. The potential is undoubtedly very substantial. Energy storage is likely to be the main factor in the company’s targeted revenue increases. It supports a continuing bullish thesis for the company.

Disclosure: I am/we are long BYDDF.

I wrote this article myself, and it expresses my own opinions. I am not receiving compensation for it (other than from Seeking Alpha). I have no business relationship with any company whose stock is mentioned in this article.

Editor’s Note: This article discusses one or more securities that do not trade on a major U.S. exchange. Please be aware of the risks associated with these stocks.