Monday, November 24, 2008

Great Depression, China, US, War, defaults and other comments

Yves Smith, my favourite financial commentator, has one great post titled China's Smoot Hawley- a reaction to Micheal Pettis (another of my favourites) article. Its an awesome post and worth read - including the comments. I was naturally late to this friday party - so here are my comments on the post!
Hunger of deprived and hunger of developed is different
So pre-Mao chinese hunger and post-Den Chinese hunger are two different animals. If a developed country goes hungry, violence is also a fallout. Sale of guns has risen in US for a good reason. We have to realise that people on ground know best.

China wants to run this game for a wee-bit longer
China has nearly 1.5-2 trillion dollars in USD assets. Now China wants just a little bit of time to save some of it. China believes that this is their sweat money. The way around as they see it is to
let CNY depreciate against the dollar. But this relation is difficult to hold if USD depreciates and commodities rise.

With 2 trillion at stake - War is not yet a possibility
The cost of Iraq war was about a trillion (vague recollection). And it was a trillion dollar
"stimulus". As one part of the world's "skin in the US game" increases the probability of war will
increase. War has many benefits for regimes. It aggregates the population, it creates employment, creates a stimulus, creates an enemy outside of the regime. In this matter India is lethargic and will never have enough "mind in this game". But war is on the horizon - and I am scared.

China and India must become consumers - US must become producer
I have been making this point for like ages now (even in comments to your posts). A recovery without demand from China and India will not happen. US is not going to be a consumer - it has to be a producer. The best way to get these 3 billion people into consumption fold is by letting exchange rates correct. SE Asia and other surplus countries will need to do the same.

Import restriction response is a threat
I hope there is enough sense to not impose import restrictions. Yet, I fear India and China will impose them eventually. There will be a race to corner the "able" consumers for domestic industries. China has a difficult decision to make then. The domestic consumer will be a loser and their money will be looted by domestic corporation. Though it will be done sophisticatedly as a economic process.The best way to get domestic consumption going is to first get the latent demand for best brands going. For that you need to keep imports open.

USD and Gold - Printing currency does not matter
There is a lot of talk that Us can print its way out of the crisis. It is surely doing that. However,
real value is able to discount this printing phenomenon. The only way this might work is - if US has some means where it can aggregate this printed money and destroy it as write-down or something. Printing will set the new money in motion and it has to be collected and destroyed else there will be devaluation.
Currently"US denominate" (in terms of thoughts) people are asking this question hence possibility of US dollar depreciating does not seem feasible - it never does to local as it does not matter so long as other things remain equal. But "other things" like commodities do not remain equal - hence the effect is actually measured as rise in commodity prices. (Or conversely - commodity tries to retain value - whereas USD depreciates).
Further one must understand that equity is open to risks whereas debt has the habit of correcting / adjusting for currency changes. (Particularly cross currency debt).

In sum
Welcome to eye of the storm!!
Links:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Soverign Wealth accumulation and wealth dispersion process efficiency

The last decade was characterised by excessive accumulation of wealth by soverign entities. Central Banks accumulated large surplus - that was parked in US treasuries and later in riskier asset classes (through SWFs). This is one of the primary drivers of the current crisis. VoxEu examines the reason for soverign wealth accumulation and suggests that this was primarily done to avoid exchange rate appreciation.

Economy as a Wealth managing engine
Any domestic economy serves as wealth creating and wealth distributing engine. We can imagine an economy as equivalent to two different motors linked in tandem (feeding into each other). Entreprenuership is common name given to the wealth creation motor. Governments add inefficieny into this motor by interfearing with it. What governments are really concerned about is the woking of the other motor - the wealth distribution motor.

In case of economies creating wealth using labour arbitrage, it is the wealth distribution motor that matters more. If this motor is working perfectly then the national income is able to percolate to the lowest rungs of the society. Unfortunately this is not so in developing Asia. The local governments role is of creating, improving and efficiently running this engine. But the measures taken by developing Asian governments had, intentionally or otherwise, no such effect. Indian government is talking of inclusive development - but its only lip-service. Only China built infrastructure but followed policy of enforced migration (to and from) and managed this to certain extent. These indicate a weakness of this critical motor in developing Asia.

The policy of accumulating further wealth while leaving the wealth distribution mechanism broken has lead to rise of very-high income population in developing Asia while low end remains poor. It is interesting that this is a good policy so long as reserve build-up is within a certain limit. Beyond this limit, a policy of allowing exchange rate appreciation may have achieved better wealth dispersion (at least globally) - than what we have achieved. This policy would have raised inflation, and consequently incomes across the income pyramid.

In Sum
There is a need to put this VoxEu research under further scrutiny. There is definitely a lot of merit in the argument. We need to understand the wealth distribution/dispersion process in more detail. Obviously the theory I suggested above has holes and needs thorough examination.

Links:
Asian Exchange Rate asymmetry - Voxeu.org

Financial Crisis - Moving Towards a solution

Finally the quest for solution, both long term and short term, has began. It was going on in hapazard manner across blogs and opinions in newspapers but the most intelligent response comes from Voxeu.org.
They have published and edited version of essays suggesting action plan for G20 leaders to stabilise the economy and fix the financial system. Its 76 pages all worth reading!! Enjoy!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Core of the organisation - the Honda story

I have read a lot of talk about Core-competency in the past decade. I have seen companies make a mockery of the core-competency issue. I often look at the top management and check how many of the top management team came from "core-competency team". In most - hardly any. Many in fact absued it so much that management gurus like Tom Peters were left screming on their blogs!
Organisations have to evolve an ethic of honouring its core-competency. Forbes highlights how Honda promotes in engineers to top ranks - and not marketers or accountants - engineers! This is the truest way to honour your commitment to "core competency".
Hat tip - Paul Buchheit

Friday, November 14, 2008

Are the store-shelves empty?

We are precariously placed in the recession। Sadly my reading of political and economic news tells me that the top honchos have just messed up pretty big. I am looking for validation.

Just want to know if the store shelves in major super markets are full or empty। At this time, they should start stacking up for Christmas sale - so it should be full।

Can you help me with feedback over next few days? If possible can you post pictures? or email them to rahuldeodhar (-a-t-) yahoo (d-o-t) com! Do include brief store details - name, area, city etc.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Chinese Dilemma!

There is an interesting post at Marginal Revolution on Chinese model. Tyler Cowen smartly collects lot of pros and cons on the matter. Yet, this is very critical at this stage.

World economy had predominantly two engines of growth - the US consumer and Chinese producer. Both had second and third order effects that accelerated the economy. Now US consumer is dysfunctional - at least for some time to come. So the world looks at China!

China is also aware of the issue. It wants the huge savings rate to translate into consumption and therefore demand. The only way to get the saving population to start spending and kick-start consumption is to let them buy brands that have build up aspirations in their minds. This will be possible with letting CNY appreciate and letting the products be available freely.

The trouble is this will make non-china manufacturing cheaper - leading to job loss from manufacturing sector. However if China really wants to move to a consumption driven economy then there will be job shift to services and out of manufacturing.

This is more critical now। If China misses a step then we are all goner! The question is will china bite the bullet!
Links:
Marginal Revolution - Tyler cowen - This is another premium blog on finance and economics.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

We were warned!!

I was really surprised when I realised that entire credit crunch and related problems were highlighted and we were warned back in 16th century itself.

"How to avoid the credit crunch?"

For Rating Agencies
See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

For investors - particularly those who misguide people on CNBC
Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.

For US / UK and European Consumers
Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,

For Mortgage dealers (they heeded but CDS borrowers didnt)
Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,

For all market operators
This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man

By now you must have recognised this is Shakespeare's Hamlet! Edited snippets from Lord Polonius' advice to son Lartes.

-Full advice-
Yet here, Laertes! aboard, aboard, for shame!
The wind sits in the shoulder of your sail,
And you are stay'd for. There; my blessing with thee!
And these few precepts in thy memory

See thou character. Give thy thoughts no tongue,
Nor any unproportioned thought his act.

Be thou familiar, but by no means vulgar.
Those friends thou hast, and their adoption tried,
Grapple them to thy soul with hoops of steel;
But do not dull thy palm with entertainment
Of each new-hatch'd, unfledged comrade. Beware
Of entrance to a quarrel, but being in,
Bear't that the opposed may beware of thee.

Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice;
Take each man's censure, but reserve thy judgment.

Costly thy habit as thy purse can buy,
But not express'd in fancy; rich, not gaudy;
For the apparel oft proclaims the man,
And they in France of the best rank and station
Are of a most select and generous chief in that.

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.

This above all: to thine ownself be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
Farewell: my blessing season this in thee!

- Shakespeare in Hamlet (Lord Polonius advice to son Lartes)

Hat tip - to Free exchange blog from The Economist (for inspiration!)

Monday, November 03, 2008

Interesting reading about China

All roads lead to China -by Richard Burbaker has a post with interesting link to China Dilemma - a collection of 18 chapters though he mentions 19.


Link:
The Big Picture | All Roads Lead To China

Sunday, November 02, 2008

"Commodities as Anti-Dollar"?

Yves Smith has a recent post on whether commodities, particularly oil is finding favour as anti-dollar. In the comments, you will find some arguments about oil demand and fundamentals.

I think Oil price movement were retro-fitted to fundamentals. In other words, the movement in oil was primarily as a value retainer against dollar. But two things happened that twisted the outcomes. First, dollar strengthened (for whatever reasons) and second more money rushed into oil taking it too far away from retro-fitted fundamentals.

Now we are about to witness a second flight into "value". Are we foreseeing another commodity upswing? I think we need to watch Oil, Gold and other key commodities. But one thing is sure - perishable agri-commodities will not be able to retain value for the length of time that we are looking at.

Time to watch out and hold tight!

Links