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Entries in economy (18)


We need to talk about Egypt

Nice piece by Roula Khala in the FT on the unfolding crisis that is Egypt’s economy.  To no one’s surprise, the Muslim Brotherhood has proven rather inept at economic management – much less reform.  One can hope that the learning curve, while steep, is rapidly surmounted, but there’s always the temptation of long, out-of-power revolutionary types to imagine that “now is our time to prove there is an [INSERT NATIONALITY HERE] way of doing things!”

Over time, genuine economic development forces convergence:  there are a few models out there (centralized socialism, oligarchic capitalism, state-run capitalism, big-firm capitalism and entrepreneurial capitalism) and there are pathways from one to the other (e.g., Russia from centralized socialism to oligarchic capitalism, China from centralized socialism to state-run capitalism, Japan from state-run capitalism to big-firm capitalism, Singapore from state-run capitalism to entrepreneurial capitalism, America from big-firm capitalism to a hybrid of that +  entrepreneurial capitalism (i.e., industry sectors dominated by a handful of go-to-market options, surrounded by a sea of entrepreneurial small firms)).  But everyone ends up running the same pathways – to wit, state-run China dreams of achieving its own Goldilock-style mature capitalism by “going global” in the direction of big-firm capitalism, pursuing “indigenous innovation” in the direction of entrepreneurial capitalism, and splitting the difference with domestic-led consumption (basically, the US model).

So no, there isn’t anything new under the sun; there’s just the same old game of hopscotch.

The fundamental flaw of the MB in power to date, according to Khalaf:

Mr Morse, an Islamist, has yet to understand that politics and the economy cannot be managed separately.  A lack of political consensus is destroying his chances of taking difficult austerity measures, including cutting a costly subsidies bill and raising taxes, all of which are required by the IMF.

The IMF only matters here because of a $5B loan agreement on the table.  Yes, Mr. Morsi can try to sell Egypt to China for a similar amount, but there he might find that the new neo-colonialism practiced by Beijing (you sell us raw materials and we sell you finished goods) isn’t the great liberation it’s made out to be for a country with such massive underemployment (and no serious material wealth).  It’s hard to follow the China model unless you’re China, which means it’s not really a model at all.

Khalaf preaches an IMF programme (oops, went Brit there for a few strokes) “accompanied by substantial funding from an international support group made up of Western powers and Middle East oil states.  

Me?  I would hope Egypt might split the difference and go for a bigger international support group that includes rising Eastern economies.  Because if it’s just the West and oil-rich sheikhs making demands, that gives Morsi the ideological “out” of resistance.  So including China and India et al. in such things would be a nice way of evening out the demands, the message, and sense of us-against-them.


Nice side-by-side capture of globalization dynamics (guest post)

From Thomas Frazel of Tulane:

Heinz Sold as Deals Take Off

"We've been prospecting in the emerging world for a long time, and now they're prospecting here,"Heinz's Mr. Johnson said in an interview. "You're seeing a shrinking world and an equilibrium of wealth creation, and this kind of activity is only going to accelerate over the next five to 10 years."

In the interview, Mr. Johnson said he was surprised that firms from emerging markets would be capable of taking over America's most established companies.  "I didn't see this happening eight weeks ago, let alone five years ago," he said.

First Bud, Now Heinz, Tycoon Grabs Brands

Though Mr. Lemann is a Brazilian business icon, he moved his family to Switzerland more than a decade ago following a kidnapping attempt in Brazil, a stark reminder of persistent problems of crime in the South American nation. Mr. Lemann's family is of Swiss descent. He declined an interview request through an associate, and has denied past requests as well.

Frazel's comment:

It was too perfect to see these things side-by-side — money in the Gap, instability in the Gap.

The more sophisticated read of PENTAGON'S NEW MAP was that the Gap would experience more instability as globalization rapidly improved things.  Change destabilizes.  It's as simple as that.  

The security challenge that results more resembles small-wars than large - thus the call for the SysAdmin force. It's about seeing the world as it is - what really matters in terms of structural change, and staying true to America's several-decade effort to replicate its core dynamics on a global scale.

What did we get for our effort?  Our blood and treasure?

The best and most radically improving period in world history.

Many other powers had their versions of globalization before ours came along.  And they were all far less fair and far more bloody. Ours is hardly perfect, but much like a democratic republic, ours is the best worst version yet.

Our challenge:  China and India will be the shapers of this system in the future - more than us. That is why understanding those two powers and joining with them in co-managing this world is America's number 1 long-term foreign policy objective.

And this is why I find Obama's Asian pivot so idiotically misguided. Scratch that - too harsh. He is ideologically misguided.  He mistrusts US power and does not acknowledge the decades of effort that I cite - nor its success.

THAT America did far more good than harm, but he does see that America.

And so he does trust the future that that America made possible.


The micro-corollary of sovereign land sales: wooing foreigners to unsold properties

Again just back to a pet notion of mine:  all this debt + demographic aging in the West is going to lead to some countries selling off or making available for sale things that otherwise would not be considered to outsiders they would also not otherwise tolerate.

Point came up in recent Wikistrat sim on the Arctic:  Can you imagine China buying its way onto the Arctic Council by so bankrolling/purchasing/whatever a member state (bankrupt Iceland, independence-minded Greenland, etc.) that it effectively captures its seat.  I know, it sounds impossible, but then you remember how America got its seat (Alaska).  But then you say, those were different times when bankrupt states or overstretched regimes would sell off that which they could no longer manage/exploit/defend (like Russia on Alaska).

But then I wonder:  why can't we collectively head back into that territory with all this debt and demographic aging in the West.  Is this not the elderly couple downsizing their house - just writ large?

So you look at Spain right now, and the NYT headline reads, "Spain woos foreigners to thin its investory of unsold homes."

Now, Spain has always been sort of interesting on immigration - as in, innovative.  They wooed foreign workers in the good times, and then subsidized their return home in the bad times.  So now they're being aggressively innovative in the bankrupt times.

But it gets you thinking, huh?


Chart of the day: US-China economic ties deepen across Great Recession

Click smaller image for larger version.

Go here for interactive one you can peruse in depth.

BusinessWeek post by way of Craig Nordin.

Some basics:


  • Both imports from, and exports to, China grow since 2008.
  • Chinese investment creates 8,000 US jobs in 2007 and now 27,000 in 2012.  "If investment from China remains on track, Chinese businesses will employ 200,000 to 400,000 Americans by 2020."
  • Applications for enterpreneur visas to US:  About 500 Chinese in 2008 equals about 40% of total, and almost 3,000 Chinese applications in 2011 = about 80%.
  • Chinese students in US up 135% since 2008 (84,000 --> 197,000).
  • Chinese holdings of US Treasuries up 158% since 2008.
  • Patent applications: 4-5,000 Chinese applications in US in 2008 and 10-11,000 in 2011; and US applications in China 24-25,000 in 2008 and 28-29,000 in 2011.
  • Top 10 US exports to China are power generation equipment, oil seeds and fruits, electrical machinery/equipment, vehicles, aircraft and spacecraft, optics and med equipment, plastics, pulp and paperboard, copper, organic chems.
  • Top 10 US imports from China are electrical machinery/equipment, power generation equipment, toys-games-sports equipment, furniture, footwear, apparel, plastics, iron and steel, vehicles.

It is dismaying to listen to the crude level of discourse in this presidential election regarding China.  Something to remember when we blame domestic Chinese politics on similarly crude behavior/talk from the Beijing.

Yes, the clever wags will point out that we've outsourced more jobs to China than they've created over here.  But the interesting point is that China is already creating jobs over here and that that number is growing rapidly. That tells you how quickly that worm has already begun turning. Moreover, while some of those jobs will invariably return as China's wages rise, most will simply continue their long-term global migration to the next great sources of cheap labor - as they should (unless you believe America should, for example, attempt to become the most expensive manufacturer of low-cost, low-tech items in the world).



Too few immigrants = an absolute ag industry loss

WSJ story on how 1/4 of second-biggest crop ever of Washington State apples is going to rot on the tree/ground due to a severe shortage of immigrant labor.  Compounding the insult, the apple crops elsewhere in the nation are dramatically down this year due to drought conditions, so the nation's is really screwing itself on an agricultural bright spot this year thanks to our inspired national crackdown on illegal immigration.

Apples are Washington's top ag produce earner: $7B supporting 60k permannent jobs in the ag sector.

But it doesn't work without the access to seasonal farm workers....

Yes, they have tried with prison labor in the past.  Turns out prisoners don't work very hard - go figure.

Damn (lack of) illegal immigrants are ruining this country!


Smart argument on handling America's water advantage

Smart op-ed in WSJ.

America is sending over huge amounts of alfalfa to China.  Alfalfa is a VERY water-intensive crop.  China uses it to feed their cattle which produce beef and dairy products.

Point of the article:  why not send beef and dairy to China instead and reap the better profit margin for our valuable water?

That's how New Zealand does it.  Its highest-value export is powdered milk, notes the authors of the piece.

The culprit?  America's antiquated and byzantine water-regulation practices - especially in the West.


Wikistrat briefing on China slowdown (part 1 of 4)

In March of 2012, Wikistrat ran a multi-week simulation that explored the possible future pathways for China as its encounters various developmental "walls" surrounding its attempted shift from extensive growth (more inputs) to intensive growth (more productivity) and thus avoid the so-called middle-income trap (i.e., it's far harder to shift from medium to high income than it is from low to medium). 

Dr. Thomas P.M. Barnett Discusses the results and take-away insights from the simulation.

Part 1 of 4


Charts of the day: the US "oil recovery"

Alas, our inevitable "Mad Max" future a bit . . . modified.

From a WSJ interview with Daniel Yergin.

Production up (25% since 2008), drilling way up (didn't Obama and the Dems sabotage all that?), and imports falling.  US demand relatively flat - like Europe's, so the rising production means a substantial drop in import share.  Was 60% in 2005, now 42%, and expected to be roughly a third by 2035 (though I think it happens MUCH earlier).

Of course, now we'll never have to fight a war overseas . . .


The rest of Asia's hopes for China next stimulus package

Turns out China's one-party state is pretty predictable in its spoils system:  new leaders get in, investment boom follows, and you can bet the best connected princelings clean up.

So while the US resorts to QE3, the world waits and hopes for China's pattern to continue.  The biggest hopes for this path are located in Asia, where China's economic slowdown is causing the same for South Korea and Japan.

The Asian Union integration process has already begun.  Memberships were offered and accepted in the form of FDI flows and absorption into China's vast processing trade networks.  

Asia sinks or swims together, which makes for a new burden for China regarding leadership transparency (where in the world was/is Xi?), because Beijing's decisions matter far beyond China's borders.


The irony: as America executes "strategic pivot" to contain Chinese military, the US economy continues to open up to Chinese FDI 

FT p. 1 story: "US opens up to Chinese takeovers with record figures for M&A deals."

Almost $8b of deals announced so far for this year.  Biggest is Dalian Wanda buying my favorite movie theater chain from my college years - AMC Entertainment.  Next is a Sinopec purchase of a stake in Devon Energy.

Best year of Chinese FDI to date is $8.9b, so 2012 likely to set new record.

Why this matters: the more China buys into the US economy, the harder it gets for Washington to treat it as the military "other," because stakeholders accumulate inside the US - in addition to all those who export to China.  All these jobs add up.


China's looming populist problem

It's right out of 1880s America:

In China, less than 1% of households control more than 70% of private financial wealth.

So noteth the WSJ.

In the US today, we're talking somewhere between 40 and 45 percent.

Globally, says, John Bussey in the WSJ, the number is "nearly 40%," so America's not much off the norm.

But here's the biggest problem for China: a great deal of the wealth is connected to people with political positions (aka, the princelings like Bo Xilai and his now imprisoned wife).  In the US, if you want to get rich, you need to stay out of government (or get rich before you go in, aka, the "fuck you money" that allows you to behave yourself while in power and quit on principle if need be).

For China to truly advance and become a genuine competitive threat, the political system has to decide to divorce wealth from political power.  Otherwise we're looking at decay and decline and a very short "Chinese century."

US hit that moment and launched itself into a multi-decade progressive era that cleaned up a lot of things but government most of all.

As I have said many times, the world needs a small army of Teddy Roosevelts right now - but China most of all.


When - and why - GMOs will attract a lot less criticism/resistance

WAPO story on how a few select US farmers are waiting on pins and needles to see how a planting of GMO corn ultimately handles the worst US drought in half a century - one that costs the US economy about $18B just after last year's TX-centric drought cost $8B.

In western Kansas, the corn looks unsalvageable. The landscape is rife with curled brown leaves, an unmistakable sign of severe drought.

Yet beneath those wilted leaves, some of the corn shows promise. The kernels have held up surprisingly well in a few places given this summer’s swelter. At hundreds of sites across the Great Plains, seed companies such as Monsanto and Pioneer are testing a slew of corn varieties engineered to withstand drought. As the harvest approaches, they’re anxious to see the results . . . farmers are more interested than ever in innovations that could make crops more resilient. That includes improved farming practices, better plant-breeding techniques and even — most controversially — genetic engineering . . . “I’ve been surprised so far. The plants are responding well,” said Clay Scott, a Kansas farmer who planted two plots of Monsanto’s genetically engineered DroughtGard Hybrids among his 3,000 acres of corn. The experimental strain, which carries a gene that helps it draw water more gradually from the soil, is slated for wider release in 2013. “The ear size, kernel counts, the ear weights look good,” Scott said. But, he cautioned, “pretty corn doesn’t always result in yield.”

For Scott, who lives in a region prone to dry spells, where irrigation water from the nearby Ogallala Aquifer needs to be conserved, these crops could prove indispensable.

It’s a pitched battle between nature and human ingenuity that will only grow more difficult. Earth’s population has soared past 7 billion. Climate models suggest that drought will become more frequent in North America. Water will become increasingly precious. Feeding the world will require wringing as much food as possible from every last drop of water.

It’s far from assured that human ingenuity will win out.

Human greed will win out.  US farmers and the US economy will want that income in order to exploit the wider human greed for better and longer lives through improved nutrient and caloric intake.

Yes, as the story points out, GMOs are only part of the equation.  There are plenty of tactics that improve yields and make crops more resistant to drought - but water is water, and climate change is undeniably here (to all but those who abandon facts for faith).

In the future, GMOs will constitute a clear margin between life and death.


Something to watch re: global stability

FT piece on how the intense heat and drought currently across most of the US farm belt is causing grain futures to rise.

From lead:

Few farmers in America's corn belt have seen anything like it. Only weeks ago, they were looking at a record-breaking harves.  Those hopes are fast turning into a mirage.

The hote summer in the US, the world's biggest exporter of corn, soyabeans and wheat, could have far-reaching effects on global agricultural markets, where memories of the 2008-08 food crisis are still fresh and price have been volatile on the back of a drought in South America.

Indiana is a big corn and soybean producer, and I can tell you that, after a very dry winter and unusually non-rainy spring, we haven't seen significant (more than half an inch) rain since 1 May.  We are thus phenomenally dry - as in, unless you irrigate your lawn, you're done mowing (as I have been) for about 4 weeks now.

Example of US corn: farmers here planted 5% more acreage this year, and under reasonable circumstances, there were very solid expectations for record harvest.

Point being, we are looking at very far-reaching - as in, global - repurcussions on food prices, which - by extension, determine a lot of political stability in countries with high import requirments (Southwest Asia leads the way) and where well over half of family household budget is spent on food (virtually the entire Gap).


The Apprentice . . . without that jackass Trump

Fascinating WSJ piece from a few days back describing how German companies excel at training up their poorly prepared new workers so well that they're starting to spread their best practices globally.  It's basically a revival of classic apprenticeship training, and apparently German firms like VW are so good at it that companies and states and the fed in the US are looking to copy their methods.


There are 600,000 skilled, middle-class manufacturing jobs in the US that are - get this! - currently unfillable.

The VW HR person's blunt statement:

We've learned it is better to build our own workforce instead of just relying on the market.

VW's apprenticeship program runs 3 years.

I've gotten asked such questions about the US education system for years at my briefings all over America.  And I've always answered with some variation on the need for companies to both train up poorly prepared workers and reach down into educational systems to do much the same (what if VW oversaw the same sort of thing - for profit - at the right colleges/votec/institutes/etc.?).

But I've never actually come across an MSM article that captured it like this one does.


In Germany, nearly two-thirds of the country's workers are trained through partnerships among companies, technical schools and trade guids. Last year, German companies took on and trained nearly 600,000 paid apprentices

Nice numerical symmetry there - huh?

Story talks also about Charlotte community college that is pursuing the same sort of collaboration with 18 local firms - mostly European.  As one German exec put it:

We think we've found the missing link in the education system between high school and starting college.

In the U.S., falling into that gap costs lifetime earnings that are stunning.

This seems like a way of filling in that void.

It's one of those everything-old-is-new-again stories.


The political/generational impact of the Great Recession

Check out this bit from today's NYT:

In the four years since President Obama swept into office in large part with the support of a vast army of young people, a new corps of men and women have come of voting age with views shaped largely by the recession. And unlike their counterparts in the millennial generation who showed high levels of enthusiasm for Mr. Obama at this point in 2008, the nation’s first-time voters are less enthusiastic about him, are significantly more likely to identify as conservative and cite a growing lack of faith in government in general, according to interviews, experts and recent polls.

Polls show that Americans under 30 are still inclined to support Mr. Obama by a wide margin. But the president may face a particular challenge among voters ages 18 to 24. In that group, his lead over Mitt Romney — 12 points — is about half of what it is among 25- to 29-year-olds, according to an online survey this spring by the Harvard Institute of Politics.  And among whites in the younger group, Mr. Obama’s lead vanishes altogether.

Among all 18- to 29-year-olds, the poll found a high level of undecided voters; 30 percent indicated that they had not yet made up their mind. And turnout among this group is expected to be significantly lower than for older voters.

“The concern for Obama, and the opportunity for Romney, is in the 18- to 24-year-olds who don’t have the historical or direct connection to the campaign or the movement of four years ago,” said John Della Volpe, director of polling at the Harvard Institute of Politics. “We’re also seeing that these younger members of this generation are beginning to show some more conservative traits. It doesn’t mean they are Republican. It means Republicans have an opportunity.”

There is the strong evidence that a minority-white/majority non-white America favors the Dems long term, but history also says that an extended "tough time" favors the GOP, especially when you remember that the average voters behaves - over the course of his or her life - much like a car-buyer, meaning your first "purchase" typically creates a brand loyalty that is highly consistent over your life (meaning, it has an imprinting function that is profound).  Simple example:  If the first car you buy is a Ford, you will  - on average - buy more Fords over the rest of your life than any other car - hands down.  Same is true in voting for president.

Point being, while the demographic shift will still favor Dems (as currently defined) against Republicans (as currently configured), this long recession will have its own profound imprinting impact as well.  I see it in kids through the prism of my 20-year-old daughter (now in college).  They face a hostile labor market not unlike the one my generation faced in the early 1980s.  Between that point and 2008, college-age cohorts faced a fantastically (in historical terms) consistent positive labor environment. But my impression is that those days are gone - probably for good given the competitive landscape now created by a maturing globalization.

So, again, you have your demographic trends and you have your economic realities trend.  Both are profound influencers. I'm just saying nothing is carved in stone in terms of long-run trends, especially as I expect both parties to be significantly reshaped by these dueling trends over the next decade or so.

Still, I see little in any of these reports that convinces me Obama will fall in the Fall.


Chart of the day: US economic interdependence with globalization

From the Financial Times and very interesting.

Key fact:  goods and services trade only 1/5th of US economy in 1980.  Now it's one-third.


Other key data:


  • US outward FDI stock 13% of GDP in 1990 and 33% now.
  • Inward is 9% in 1990 and 24% now.
  • So combined = 22% of GDP in 1990 and 57% now.


We also have the highest percentage of foreign born citizens since 1920.


Western serial entrepreneurs, meet African parallel entrepreneurs

Nifty Economist story on what economist George Ayitteh likes to dub the "cheetah generation" of Africa's business community (they're young, they're agile, and - unlike the preceeding "hippo generation" they don't blame Africa's woes on former colonialists but instead aim to fix things themselves by pursuing better business practices).  

Article contrasts serial entrpreneurs (who start company after company in sequence over their lives) with parallel entrepreneurs (who start mini-conglomerates of companies and seek to grow them all synergistically over time). The Economist argues that this is really the way things are unfolding in successful African economies.

Speaking from experience, I couldn't agree more.  Virtually every deal I'm currently structuring or pursuing in Africa involves these parallel entrepreneurs.  They all seem about 35 and they're all running this cluster of companies that involve them in all manner of adjacent opportunities and economies (most of these clusters extend over several African states).  They're amazing ambitious "young" people (I'm 50 . . . ahum!) and they approach every opportunity with a lot of vigor and near-perfect business manners, making them a dream to work with.

Outside investors, says the article, worrying that jacks-of-all-trades means good at none, but, according to one business analyst:

It makes African business leaders agile and adaptable - both good skills that are absent in many developed economies.

The key, I find, is to pair these types with financial players close enough to Africa (geographically and mentally) to realize their business worth.

Entrepreneurs are the life blood of an economy, because they create jobs and nothing is more important to sustainable growth.


Time's Battleland: CHINA | The Perfectly Ironic Chinese Foreign Direct Investment

Tuesday’s Wall Street Journal story of how Chinese state bank (China Development Bank) is pumping $1.7 billion into two long-stalled redevelopment projects in the San Francisco Bay area – namely, Hunter’s Point (a Navy base until 1974) and Treasure Island (same until 1996) — is worth noting.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.