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Entries in global economy (177)

10:24AM

The robot-v-worker debate on job losses/gains

Subject is, do robots kill more jobs than they create?

We've approached this question many times in various Wikistrat sims, and they are many thoughts on the subject.

In a macro sense, the nightmare scenario is silly:  no society is going to job-destroy its way to rule by robots.  The amateur economist in me believes life just migrates into new areas, so there are plenty of jobs creating robots and economic activity moves on to new challenges/spheres/what have you.

But in the near-term sense, people's perceptions of the disruptive churn (sure to happen) matter a whole lot.

So this NYT report by the always smart John Markoff on a recent robotic industry conference that sought to allay some of these fears (robots everywhere!).

Some counter-arguments:

 

  • US automating and using more robots but it's still the biggest manufacturing country in terms of dollar value (I thought Germany was, but we're up there, so point taken), so we have to remember that that "manufacturing produces more jobs in associated areas than anything else."
  • Neither Europe nor Japan seems to share our fears on this subject.
  • Without automation, you can't compete globally. So if you want to steel back those jobs from China, this is how you do it.
  • "Countries that have high productivity can afford to have a good social system and a good health system."  Germany and Sweden are considered great examples of this.

 

Hmm.  Not exactly decisive, but you get the idea.  Nobody wants to own the world's most manpower-intensive manufacturing sector - except maybe Bangladesh.  So there's no way to go except onward and upward, as my Dad used to say.  Manufacturing, if highly productive, still wins and creates wider wins in your economy.  

But yeah, you still have to beat the next guy - and his robot.

8:38AM

The long-term threat of debt

Interesting FT column by Satyajit Das.

Two important factoids:

 

  • By 2008, $4-5 of US debt is required to create $1 of GDP growth; and
  • China now needs $6-8 of credit to do the same.

 

There was a time for both countries (US in 1950s and China at end of Cold War) where $1-2 of debt would do.

Then an almost Marxian critique:

Debt became a mechanism for hiding disparities in the wealth distribution within many societies.  Increased credit availabiliby allowed lower income groups to borrow and spend, encouraging housing booms, in order to deal with the underlying problem of stagnant real incomes.

A bit skewed in its causality.  Credit has always been the mainstay of growth in a capitalist society.  Reducing its function to "hiding disparities" is a very narrow view.

The stagnant real incomes problem is hardly universal in this current era of globalization.  It is felt primarily in the West, where jobs easily cordoned off from global competition now suffer it greatly.  This is the "cost" of letting so much of the world into the global party called globalization.  We can decry this, but the cost of our privilieged standard of living in the past was the vast exploitation/disconnection of much of the world, or the have/have-not divide that Europe begat in its previous extension of colonial-globalization.

Is it worth to me to live in a far more just world to suffer this income stagnation?  

As a Christian who believes I'm not just here to hoard and tell others to go f#$K themselves, yes, it is worth it.

Did we get addicted to cheap debt in the vast transaction strategy we ran with the world so as to spread the international liberal trade order already deeply embedded in these United States (this multinational economic union)?  

We sure did.

Will we eventually run out of new sources of cheap labor in the global economy?  

Absolutely.  Within my life.  But that will be a better problem than today's.

So where do find growth in the future?

The rise of the global middle class - the best thing to ever happen on this planet - will force magnificent resource utilization revolutions.  This will dovetail with new environmental challenges (or the exacerbation of old ones). Again, these will constitute our best problems yet.

But massive adjustments must be made to protect the vulnerable amidst globalization's continued rapid expansion.  And great investments must be made to bootstrap our national economy into a more realistically competitive shape for the struggles to come.

And that's why higher taxes are coming for the rich in this world.  We enter a length redistributionist phase so as to avoid political tumult.  It is capitalism's great genius - in combination with democracy - to recognize these moments in history and to address them head-on.  Once the oncoming global progressive era works its necessary magic (and no, those ideas and leaders are - by and large - yet to emerge), such a burden for the rich will be less necessary.

But to pretend that tax cuts are the answer now, amidst the populist anger spreading across this planet and in particular this country, is to stay pointlessly dogmatic.  There is no one economic theory that rules throughout time.  There are seasons for each.

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.    

- Ralph Waldo Emerson

9:07AM

Culprit #2 for U.S. coal industry: China's economic slowdown

From a WSJ front-page story.

The U.S. coal industry wants you to believe its slowdown is caused by Washington's "meddlesome regulations," but as I noted earlier, the big killer is the cheap price of U.S. natural gas, which is displacing domestic use of coal for electricity generation big-time (25% down in a recent quarter).

Culprit #2 is the Chinese economic slowdown, which is really the culprit, along with Europe's problems, for the slowdown in general global economic activity.

Pretty amazing times, when you think about it.  Remember when the U.S. economy was all you needed for a global expansion?

11:18AM

Chart of the day: World greatest aid flow keeps getting greater

WSJ story noting that:

Migrant workers abroad sent more money to their families in the developing world last year than in 2010, and they are expected to transfer even more cash home this year despite the economic uncertainly gripping the globe.

You can see the divot created by the financial crash in 2008, but note how the trajectory resumes like it never even happened.

The number is staggering:  $372B last year.  World Bank predicts almost half a trillion will flow in 2014.

Key bit:

Remittances remain a key source of hard currency for developing countries, often outstripping foreign direct investment and foreign aid.

It can "immunize" your country from downturns, so sayeth a new WB book on the subject.

Both intra- and inter-regional flows are rising in same manner, with key technological enabler being how cheap it is for ordinary people to wire money.  

One of the biggest players in this realm at about 1/7th of global market?  Western Union.

How's that for a frontier metaphor?  Back then it was all about telegraphs.  Now it's all about remittances.

10:41AM

China comes back to even in its trade with the world!?!

Economist story: "for the first time since 1998 more money leaves China than enters it."

On the surface, you say, "balanced trade!" when what you should really say is "balanced investment!"  But even there you'd be missing the subtext, so sayeth The Economist:

MAINLAND China can now boast over 1m wealthy citizens (qianwan fuweng) each with over 10m yuan ($1.6m), says the latest edition of the “Hurun Report”, which keeps track of China’s capitalist high-roaders. But the mainland seems to be having trouble keeping them. According to the report, published on July 31st, more than 16% of China’s rich have already emigrated, or handed in immigration papers for another country, while 44% intend to do so soon. Over 85% are planning to send their children abroad for their education, and one-third own assets overseas.

The affluent 1m have profited handsomely from China’s economic boom. But only 28% of those asked expressed great confidence in the prospects over the next two years, down from 54% in last year’s report.

Them's some stunning numbers:  60% of the rich plan to emmigrate and 85% are sending their kids abroad - thus perpetuating the attraction of leaving the Mainland.

Frankly, those are numbers and dynamics one associates with post-Cold War Russia or Africa of the past several decades.  There is a looting quality to this circumstance, driven primarily by the sense that China is becoming a dangerous place to have wealth.

Now, we can all get jacked with the dominant populist vibe (check out the "Dark Knight Rises"), but it's a very negative sign when your rising economy's rich people don't want to stick around.  For China it says, we don't trust the - now longstanding - reforms will stay in place.  It also says, we want to go where our wealth translates into genuine political power (rich people are like that).

True political pluralism usually arises when the rich realize that the only way they can keep their wealth is to open up the system for a stabilizing middle class to take the reins of political power. No, they don't enjoy the process, but it beats the alternative - revolution typically from the lower classes.

This dynamic is presenting itself across much of the developing world right now: we see the rise of a truly global middle class and - big surprise - amidst all that wealth creation a super-rich emerges (happens every time), thus the richest-to-poorest delta is fantastically large.  That's when you get nasty populism that, by and large, can either be deflated nicely by a long progressive period of cleaning up the system, environment, politics, etc., or can explode into something far more destructive.  

Europe got that initial middle class about the same time America did, and Europe came up with two scary alternatives:  Bolshevism to prevent that dastardly bourgeoisie from emerging, and fascism, which pretended to protect those "shopkeepers" from radicalized workers but really was about keeping the rich safe and everybody else wound up by freakish nationalism and militarism.

America split the difference brilliantly, plowed through a lengthy progressive era, and centered its political system - along with its economy - on a stable middle class.

We are rerunning that Western experiment now on a global scale, with the biggest democratization process to come being - obviously - China, which faces the daunting task of democratizing amidst a progressivist dynamic (like virtually everything China does, it's a combination that's unusual in its "cramming it in" ambition, but there you have it).  Meanwhile, the West is coming to grips with two stunning problems:  it no longer can manage a blue-collar middle class status and hasn't adjusted its educational system from its industrial era origins, and it's facing a demographic aging wave (less so the US) that forces it to revamp its industrial age pension and healthcare systems rather drastically.

The progressive age that must inevitably unfold globally so as to tame globalization's natural excesses (in this period of rapid expansion) is the most important challenge humanity faces in the next several decades.  Truth be told, global warming will by and large have to await that process before being truly addressed on a systematic level (even as much progress should occur thanks to the fracking revolution and its triggering of widescale movement "down" the hydrocarbon chain).

But back to the point of the piece:  China's movement toward accepting a progressive era is crucial to initiating this process on a global scale, because a China that moves down this path will be less frightening to an America that is currently using the excuse of "scary" China to delay its own internal reforms (the AirSea Battle Concept being just one telling symptom of a general political escapism).

And this is where I go back and forth in my fears and hopes for China.  Whenever I'm there I meet so many in the elite who are acutely aware of all this and realize the global responsibility China's internal development represents.  But then I also meet plenty who can't rise above their own fears for their own status.  So no, this battle is not decisively waged in either direction, even as I take great solace in the whole Bo Xilai Affair and its diminishment of the brain-dead Red revivalism in the interior.

Interesting times ...

11:57AM

Where China and the US are clearly collaborating

Nifty WSJ full-page report in mid-June entitled, "Beneath a war of words, money paints a different China-U.S. picture."  The subject?  Chinese investments in US renewable energy efforts.

Just like in the case of hydraulic fracking, we see the Chinese eager to collaborate.

Naturally, as the less advanced technology economy, the Chinese are eager to go beyond collaboration into . . . ahem . . . aggressive collaboration, let's say.  But let's be honest: that's the incentive for the less-technologically gifted party in any technological investment. For the more advanced party, the goal is an expanded pool of opportunity over time:

Read the headlines and you find a war of words between the U.S. and China over clean energy, with the two countries trading barbs over whether Chinese solar-panel makers are dumping their wares onto the U.S. market at prices so low they're illegal. Follow the money more broadly, however, and you see something different: clean-energy investors and executives from the two countries starting to do deals.

Chinese businesses, typically with Beijing's support, are beginning to buy stakes in U.S. clean-energy companies and projects, often with Washington cheering. The deals span technologies from cleaner ways to burn coal to cheaper ways to use renewable power.

Each side has reasons to expand this capital flow. The Americans get the Chinese money and, with it, access to China's vast market, which is far hungrier for clean-energy innovation than the U.S. The Chinese get U.S. technology to help sate their soaring energy demand, and a place to invest that looks positively low-risk compared with their home turf.

As for the fears? Money talks - no matter the language.

One reason is economic. Federal stimulus money for the energy industry is tapering off, and other federal clean-energy subsidies, many of which failed to deliver enough bang for the buck, are likely to get pared back, too. More than ever, U.S. clean-energy companies could use the help of China's investors and consumers.

Another reason is environmental. Many clean-energy technologies are getting cheaper but are still too expensive to compete against conventional fossil fuels. The only way they stand much chance of gaining real scale is if the world develops and deploys them in the most economically efficient way: across national borders. Moreover, if American clean-energy technologies aren't deployed in China, where air pollution is thick and greenhouse-gas emissions are rising, then whatever cleanup those technologies accomplish on U.S. soil won't much matter.

Thank God for the logic of businesspeople.  Imagine if the Pentagon could aspire to such thinking.

12:43PM

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.

1:01PM

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.

11:28AM

An accurate if overwrought description of the Chinese economy

Wang v. Bo - preview of coming clashes!Got it via a friend who read Krugman's post on this post. Here's the Krugman's site, and here's the original post.

Hempton's description is correct, by everything I know.  He's just a bit much on the name calling ("China is a kleptocracy of a scale never seen before in human history.")  Krugman reads the post and sees, per his usual pessimism, a system bound to implode.

What Hempton describes is a form of capital expropriation of the Asian variety.  It is different in style than what happened in the West (super-low wages) because it focuses on abusing the average Chinese citizens' savings to prop up state-run enterprises while allowing the elite to siphon off extraordinary profits. But understand that Japan and South Korea did much the same, so yeah, the scale is magnificent but the dynamic is familar.

The system is right for China in terms of preventing instability and allowing for an overall rise in GDP per capita that generates a massive middle class (in sheer numbers, less so as a percentage of total population).  It'll be right until the people can't stand it anymore (populist anger) or the global economy can't stand it anymore (the export-driven growth and general mercantilism) or the national economy can't stand it anymore (the heavy reliance on public investment).

Now, Hempton's take is all righteousness to point of sounding like a Marxist, which is correct enough and ironic enough, but, you know, Marx was right on a lot of things.  He just couldn't imagine a political system smart enough and flexible enough to bend at the point of near-breaking.  In the West, he didn't believe democracies could pull it off - except they did.

Now, we Westerners can't image single-party states in the East managing the same.  Except Japan did actually move off the model - to a certain extent.  South Korea has done it much better.  China approaches the historical moment when it must happen; when it must turn into a system ruled by the middle.  

Will it become a recognizable democracy?  So many experts will tell you that cannot happen due to Asian civilization.  I personally find that bullshit and always have.  It won't resemble Western democracy but it will define - just like Japan and South Korea have - Eastern democracy (and yes, that concept makes some experts' heads burst into flames once they scream, "INCONCEIVABLE!").  

Here again, I think Marx is right in saying that capitalism is so revolutionary that it remakes societies.  It just does at the pace of generational change - duh!

China's system works in expanding capitalism throughout China and creating tremendous (and real) growth and in networking China with the global economy.  It works just like America's system of global governance through the absorption of export-driven growth and debt-financing-as-a-reserve-currency and providing (with all that cheap money) military Leviathan services worked for expanding globalization for about 25 years in the long expansion from the early 1980s through the late 2000s.  It works until it works itself into an imbalance that requires correction and new rules and new policies, etc.  It works until it succeeds too much and thus stops working - simple as that.

What always happens when a system like either of those reaches its apogee of success and no more success can be had is that the critics come out in droves and go ape-shit in their condemnations.  Suddenly, not only is the created imbalance bad, but the entire system is evil and all that came through it is viewed as a complete fraud.

This is way over-the-top analysis and Hempton's piece is chock full of it.  But it's this kind of Cassandra crying that signals you're reaching the endpoint and system-failure-triggering-revolutionary-solutions is nearing.

So yeah, an accurate description, and yeah, way over-the-top in its gloom-and-doomism.  

Why have the Chinese people allowed this system to unfold and expand and reach such imbalance?  Because it's delivered the country and a great deal of them a far improved life - simple as that.  

Why will the Chinese people progressively rebel against the system now and in the future?  Because it's reached the point where it stops working as well as it did in the past - in large part because China hits the same shift point between extensive and intensive growth that all risers hit - again, simple as that.

Yes, we can call it all sorts of names and point fingers, and pull our hair, and predict all manner of doom.

But you know what?  China ain't going anywhere.  The system will adapt.  

No, it won't be pretty, but the Asian version of capitalism adapts just like the Western version did.  Eventually the rich find they have enough and want to protect their wealth through enhanced social stability - even more equality - if that's what it takes.  Eventually, the rank-and-file see that they've eaten enough bitterness on behalf of China so that they deserve a better cut.

If China hits the same roughly-five-decades-mark on single-party rule and then spasms toward democracy, like so many other Asian nations have in their individual "rises," then that democratizing point probably arrives in the 2020s (but between now and then, expect tons of apres moi, le deluge handwringing that will mentally prep the Chinese people for the coming change).  I am convinced China cannot make it past that point in history and wealth creation (by 2030, a per capita GDP of about $20,000) without going full democratic (always with some Asian/Chinese twists, mais oui).

But, as we know, China is doing everything so fast in comparison to Japan and South Korea and other predecessors.  But it's also far larger (which is why EVERYTHING in China is the "biggest in human history" - puhleaze!), meaning we can't forget the extensive growth still to come in the interior provinces, where well over a half-billion poor people live.

China's rich coast must integrate its still-impoverished/poorly developed interior just like the rich-and-rising American East integrated its Wild West from 1865 to about 1900. Those were wild and crazy years, full of booms and busts and robber barons galore.  But that mounting angry populism eventually segued into a progressive era of tremendous progress, one that cemented the middle class as the republic's political center.

To me, the most fascinating question out there (besides the Fracking Revolution in energy) is, How fast does China's democratization process arrive?  China still has to make that interior growth happen, but, because it lacks true democracy, it's got this restive coast.  Already, you see this dichotomy reflected in the Party between the coastal, cosmo "princelings" and the far-more-red interior hard-core types more rooted in the Party's past.  You also saw it in the dramatic showdown between Chongqing's Bo Xilai (with his Maoist revival) and Guangdong's Wang Yang. This is classic red state-v-blue state stuff!

So yeah, the big political fights (and accompanying democratization) are coming.  They'll just unfold within the Confucian mindset of the system, which will actually help a great deal in keeping this thing from exploding.

So yeah, China is deep into that journey of transformation that we've seen so many predecessing systems experience as "punishment" for their successful rises within capitalism.  That's why, in my mind, there's no question that between now and 2030, all the changes desired by the West and many Chinese will come to pass - albeit in a manner that is particularly Chinese.  So no, I do see the power of culture and civilization in the "how" part; I just don't think it prevents or obviates the "what" part.

So read Hempton's piece.  Read Krugman's blog.  Just understand that none of this is all that unprecedented.  It's just the latest chapter in capitalism's expansion. Yes, it's a crucial one alright.  You add China to the mix and you go from a "global economy" to globalization - pure and simple.  But China won't be the last story in this epic cycle.

So don't wear yourselves out on fear and hyperbole - as "SHOCKING!" and entertaining as these "discoveries" are.

10:39AM

Chart of the day: US natural gas price versus Europe's versus Asia's

Found here.

Pretty compelling case for export, ja?

10:26AM

Chart(s) of the day: The Chinese economic "miracle" of past decade

From the Economist.

In a nutshell, it ain't their growing domestic consumption and it isn't their current account surplus (exporting prowess - see below), it's the amount of public investment.  And as the lower right (above) chart shows, China is revving that particular supply-side motor a lot higher than either Japan or South Korea did.  

All of this is to say: nothing miraculous here.  And no endless linear rocket upward either.

11:34AM

Time's Battleland: NATIONAL SECURITY Death to “Resource Wars”!

Nice Washington Post piece on Saturday about how the “center of gravity” in global oil exploration and production is shifting to the Western hemisphere.  No, the bulk of global conventional oil reserves still sits in the Persian Gulf, but the larger point is worth exploring: we no longer project global futures where East and West logically fight over Middle East energy reserves.  Those expected long-term dynamics are collapsing right now before our eyes.

Read the entire post at Time's Battleland blog.

8:58AM

Here comes Chinese FDI in a very public way

This NYT story today really jumped out at me, and the Chinese just bought, in a signature Foreign Direct Investment move, the second-biggest movie chain in the US:  

The Wanda Group, a Chinese conglomerate with extensive interests in the entertainment business, has agreed to acquire AMC Entertainment, North America’s second-largest movie theater owner, in a deal that is valued at $2.6 billion, including roughly $2 billion in assumed debt, the companies said Sunday.

David Gray/Reuters

Gerardo I. Lopez, AMC’s chief executive, left, exchanged documents with Zhang Lin, vice president of the Wanda Group, during a ceremony in Beijing on Monday.

The acquisition creates the world’s largest theater group, the companies said. It also represents a significant expansion of Chinese influence in the American film industry. The industry has been looking to China for a vast new reservoir of ticket buyers for Hollywood movies, while joining Chinese investors to produce films like the planned “Iron Man 3” and teaming up to build studio facilities and a new Disney theme park in China.

The usual motives apply:  Chinese firm looking for know-how in an industry that's booming across China but isn't being as monetized as it could be - by Western standards.  For the US company, a crucial sub-plot emerges a few paras down the story:

In addition to the $2.6 billion value assigned to AMC’s debt and equity in the deal, Wanda is expected to invest $500 million for what the companies called “strategic and operating initiatives.” Mr. Wang said that the money would generally be used for renovation and other needs, but that specifics were up to Mr. Lopez and his team. Mr. Lopez said there was no plan in place for the money. But, he said, it might be used to retire debt, acquire new theaters or fix up old ones.

To me, this is a very positive development, and it's one we're going to read about countless times over the next decade. And yes, it will look and feel like Japanese money "buying up everything!" across America in the late 1980s/early 1990s.

But, of course, America has "suffered" these invading waves of FDI throughout our long history as a multinational economic union.  Chinese money will be just as good and useful as those of the other countries that preceeded it, and the further intertwinning of our economies will mitigate the craziness out of the Beltway crowd as they pine for a "near peer" competitor to justify the dropping floor of the defense budget.

You know, the Chinese were going to be the featured villain in the remake of "Red Dawn," but then Hollywood realized they'd be shutting themselves out of the Chinese box office, so they subbed in the North Koreans, which - of course - makes the film a complete and utter fantasy.  But it just goes to show you what all this financial connectivity leads too - cooler heads prevailing everywhere save among those fiercely dedicated fear-mongers in DC.

9:34AM

The LNG export play

Nice FT story on what Shell is saying about natural gas in the US.  Current Henry Hub price has been hanging around $2.25-2.55, which is about 3-4 times cheaper than Europe MMBTU (millions British thermal units) and bizarrely cheaper than most Asian countries are being quoted right now (more like $14-15 and moving north for the summer to almost $20 - by some predictions).

Think about that for just a second.  Natural gas in the US at something like 1/8 the price in Asia.  How long do you think that lasts?  Why should it?

To me, that's a huge LNG (liquid natural gas) market waiting to be captured by US producers.  Selling LNG ain't like moving 100,000 metric tons of diesel or jet fuel or 2 million barrels of crude in one large tanker.  Those transactions are the equivalent of one-night stands and leave your money on the dresser.  Selling LNG is more like getting married: the buyer has to have a relationship with a regasification terminal nearby.  There must be pipes that connect the end-user to that LNG terminal (only so many in the world, but plenty being built).  If no regasification terminal, then buyer needs to rent himself a regas ship ($50m a year), park it somewhere, and then connect that by pipes to the end-user.  All very complex. 

Of course, the seller must have liquefaction facilities at ports, with pipelines connecting fields.  

America is piped up like crazy and adding more pipe all the time.  We're just getting our first for-export liquefaction facility set up in Louisiana by Cheniere, which is leading the effort here to gear up for export.

All very exciting stuff, as we could be exporting - within a few years - upwards of 1/4 of our production.  Then you factor in all the coal displaced in electricity generation, and we can be exporting that high-quality stuff to Asia along with the LNG -  a win-win on trade balance and energy security.

Back to the FT piece:  the currently depressed US prices are just too low, reflecting that we're running out of storage after a mild winter and a continued production boom.  Shell's prediction?  US NG prices will double by 2015.  Expect the petrochem industries to hawk that fear like crazy, but in truth, it's a reasonable rise to just $4-6 MMBTU.

[Shell, BTW, has done a lot of exploratory drilling on NG in China and says it thinks the reserves can be developed economically.]

Shell is also "examining plans to liquefy US gas for export - which would allow it to attract higher prices, particularly in Asia - transform it into clean-burning transport fuel through gas-to-liquids technology, and use it as a feedstock for petrochemicals."  That's a quick rundown of the range of economic opportunities - in addition to displacing coal in electricity.

All good stuff and an integral part of America's coming industrial renaissance.

10:54AM

Planning for less Chinese growth

Citing FT here (pic from NYT), but there's been a slew of stories recently in WSJ and FT on same subject:  Western companies planning for less exports to China and looking more to home markets as a result.

As one exec put it: "The problem in emerging markets for us is really isolated to China."

Here also: "... the speed of the slowdown in Chinese demand has taken companies by surprise."

This is the higher labor costs kicking in prior to the domestic consumption driver kicking in enough to compensate for it - the essence of the middle-income trap.  

Doesn't mean companies don't expect growth in China or aren't planning on it.  Just means all this hype about the Chinese economy ruling all is rapidly dissipating.

8:33AM

Chart of the day: remittance "corridors"

From the Economist.

I just love global maps indicating flows - naturally.

What do we see here?

Per my vernacular, in sheer volumen we see New Core being fed remittances by expats living in Old Core.  But when it comes to countries relying heavily on remittances as percentage of GDP, it tends to be mostly Old/some New Core and it all pretty much goes to Gap countries.

Per my flow concept:  whatever the resource, it flows from regions where it is plentiful (here, earning opportunities) to where it is less so.  Yes, we think of India, China, Mexico as New Core and thus "made," but all share the reality of significant numbers of rural poor.  In truth, in most New Core countries, there is massive internal remittances flows.

What I love about this:  this is the best foreign aid there is, because people use it as they see fit.  

You may say to yourself:  What a drain on Core - especially US!

Studies have shown, however, that expats living in new countries spend something like 90% of their earnings in-country, sending about 1/10th home.  It's just that those flows still number in the billions, swamping anything we do on official developmental aid.

1:56PM

Chart of the Day: China's capital stock compared

From the Economist, with arguments not exactly settled by the comparison.

Reality/fear is that too much of China's growth is via capital investment. Compared to other economies, that part seems undeniable.  But like with India, we're talking continental-sized economies where hundreds of millions of rural poor are still left behind, so investment is clearly in order for a very long time.

The per capita comparison, however, shows how China remains a poor country by modern standards.

Another interesting tidbit:

China's rising investment and falling consumption as a share of GDP are commonly portrayed as an economic anomaly. Yet this pattern is normal in a rapidly industrializing country. In a traditional agricultural economy farmers consume most of their income, but once industrialisation gets under way a rising share of national income goes to owners of capital, who invest it in factories and the like. Investment rises as a share of GDP, and consumption falls. During their peak periods of industrialisation, South Korea and Japan saw an even sharper rise in investment relative to GDP than China has seen over the past 20 years.

You can call this the glass-half-full argument on China's long-term growth, and it's just as true or no more false than the half-empty variant:  coastal China must shift from extensive to intensive growth, and there the labor crunch and demographic aging will force evolutions very similar to a developed economy.  But interior China is another whole economy ready to take off - again - like China Coastal has for 2-3 decades. Of course, not being coastal will make this a far harder task in terms of attracting FDI and the manufacturing it enables.

But that just speaks to a certain economic slowdown that is inevitable.  We have a strong West Germany economy (Coastal China) being forced to bring along/accommodate/prioritize somewhat an East Germany (interior China).  Coastal China/Beijing will do this for political stability reasons, but slow down the overall economy it will - even as it assured plenty of long-term growth and development (all that urbanization, for example).

Ah, the complexity of modern China.

2:50PM

Hollywood gets itself some Chinese

Old Jack Welch bit: you can't succeed in global economy without succeeding in China.

My addendum: you can't succeed in China unless you're Chinese.

Solution: Get yourself some Chinese.

Hollywood has seen overseas B.O. rise from a tiny share to well over half in recent years. More specifically, while the US market is flat, burgeoning middle class China's is booming.

WSJ sees two different markets, but I already see a Chinese market that, with incredible restrictions on the number of US imports, is already half-synched to our blockbuster mode.

You know about Spielberg already turning toward China for future financing.  This piece talks about Disney doing the same.  Co-productions will become the norm, connecting talent with bucks (literally).  Yes, nothing will change the flops-v-tentpoles ratio. Indeed, it is likely to rise in the short-run, but Hollywood is very adept at figuring these things out, much like Japan does in its very clever global marketing of anime.

In the meantime, we be treated to the glorious hysterics of the "Red Dawn" remake. [The Chinese dodged a movie bullet there, as the original script had them invading, but now we get the fantastically implausible depiction of North Korea doing the same - much like a recent (pretty good) video game "Homefront."  The kicker: MGM rebooted the script so as to not lose out on the growing Chinese box office.] But, over time, this will be a good collaboration and a bilateral image reshaper that benefits the planet.

10:22AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: New global sources of demand

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.


When Americans are warned that the “era of cheap credit is over,” we’re really being told that the inherent advantage of owning the world’s reserve currency is coming to an end. No, it won’t happen overnight, because China’s renminbi is still far from becoming a serious rival.

But the end is coming all right, and it’ll make all that Thomas Friedman hyperbole about a “flat world” a whole lot more real. America simply won’t have the advantage of being able to float debt - of all kinds - as easily as we did in the past, which means we’ll need to compete more intensely on the price and quality of our goods.

The primary driver here is China’s need to shift from a super-saving economy to a super-consuming economy. It’s gone about as far as it can go with export-driven growth, and now it needs to turn on its domestic consumption big-time, but doing that means China’s willingness to finance the debts of others will decrease - thus the end of cheap credit.

So, accepting all that, what can America anticipate when it comes to new sources of demand in the global economy?  What are some of the hot goods and services of the coming years?  We asked Wikistrat's global community of strategists for some ideas, and here’s what they chose to highlight:

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.

8:45AM

Wikistrat post @ CNN-GPS: Three visions for America

Editor’s Note: The following piece, exclusive to GPS, comes from Wikistrat, the world's first massively multiplayer online consultancy.  It leverages a global network of subject-matter experts via a crowd-sourcing methodology to provide unique insights.


The U.S. economy is most definitely in recovery mode, but it’s the sort of recovery one experiences after a scary heart attack.  There is little confidence in being able to go uptempo. Fears persist about slipping into a permanent sort of disability.

Worse, many are resigned to the fact that big structural problems such as health care, tax reform, the federal deficit and education remain unaddressed by a political system that remains fiercely divided.

So America finds itself in a funny position: Clearly getting better and doing better than most of the West but almost completely lacking in self-confidence.  If this is “morning in America,” then most citizens have hit their snooze button.

This week’s Wikistrat’s drill explores this ambivalence in the face of mounting good economic news, asking our global community of experts to present their arguments for the U.S. economy’s possible mid-term (3-5 year) paths ahead.  We’ll start with the optimism and then let the darker thoughts pile up - much like most Americans today.

Read the entire post at CNN's GPS blog.