7 Feb 2011. As the issue of "dignity" becomes more pronounced in the struggle now under way in Egypt, consider Niodior: an African village that exists simultaneously in Senegal, where families endure heart-rending poverty, & in southern Spain, where the sons who have somehow managed to make the perilous journey there live together in a replicated version of their home. In general, they work illegally, but the money they send home is crucial for the survival of their families. The agricultural town in which they live, Roquetas de Mar, is a laboratory for the EU's foreign, economic and development policies at one and the same time.
3 February 2011. By David Caploe PhD, Chief Political Economist, EconomyWatch.com. Of many key topics underanalyzed by so-called Financial Crisis Inquiry Commission, among the MOST significant is role of credit rating agencies, supposed guardians of financial world's integrity. We have already analyzed in depth the mysteries of & structural problems created by ratings agencies. So while no surprise, still disturbing to see how alleged protectors of global investment "honor" & safety now making three currently difficult situations worse: decades-long stagnation in Japan; financially desperate US states; & rampant socio-economic inequality fueling the people power movement sweeping the Arab world.
2 February 2011. In the EU and US, coal seems past its prime, but growth and shifts in coal exports to China are rising. Seaborne trade in thermal coal rose to 690 mn tons in 2010, up from 385 in 2001. Price rose from $40 to $60 a ton 5 years ago, to high of $200 in 2008, by end 2010 selling $120 per ton. Perennial coal ex-porter til 2009, 1st year of net imports, China's total imports for 2010 expected up to 150 mn tons. Tho plentiful domestic supplies, its coal is low grade with impurities. Coal from the US tends to be low in sulfur, allowing power plants to burn more without exceeding pollution limits. China’s coal also inland, while factories are coastal, thus cheaper to ship coal from US, Canada, Australia. But conflicts between trade imperatives & environmental concerns are growing fast & nasty in all those countries.
1 February 2011. The hostility toward microfinance is a sharp reversal from praise and goodwill that's been showered on it in last decade. Philanthropists and investors poured billions into non- and for-profit microlenders, one of whose goals was to reduce by half the number of people in extreme poverty. Attention helped the sector reach more than 91 million customers, mostly women, with loans totaling more than $70 billion, by the end 2009. Done right, these loans have helped some build sustainable livelihoods. But rapid growth — in India, some firms are growing at a rate between 60 - 100 percent per year — has made these loans much less effective. Most borrowers are not escaping poverty and a sizable minority are getting trapped in often deadly debt spiral. Some industry officials acknowledge the sector needs to reform itself: “We in microfinance have to make it easier for politicians to support us. Instead of unsupported claims, we need to impose on ourselves the discipline of transparency about poverty reduction.”
31 January 2011. Venezuela is an immigration puzzle. While large numbers of the middle class leave, 100s of 1000s of foreign merchants and laborers arrive. Opposing tides reflect country's increasing polarization. Government of Hugo Chávez has declared “economic war” on “bourgeoisie,” expropriating more than 200 private businesses in 2010 — including banks, cattle ranches and housing developments. At other end of economic spectrum, many new immigrants arrive on tourist visas and overstay their visits, drawn by incomes higher than some of Venezuela’s neighbors and broad array of social welfare programs for poor championed by Chávez government. “One can live w a little bit of dignity here, at least enough to send money home now and again”
27 January 2011. President Obama made a big deal of economic potential of solar and other clean energy in State of the Union speech. 2010 was boom year for solar industry, due largely to govt subsidies in Europe, especially Germany and Italy. But these are set to fall in 2011, so he'll need to put some muscle where his mouth is and offer help to a NEW kid on the block like solar and not just already-established corp interests, ie, Wall St / insurance / Big Pharma. His record isn't promising so far. But maybe he'll happily surprise us & bring some change in which people actually can believe.
26 January 2011. Telcom giant Huawei is China’s 1st truly home-grown multinational, world’s 2nd-largest telcom equipment supplier after Sweden's Ericsson. With government backing, has sewn up major deals in Asia, Africa, Latin America. In Europe, has outmaneuvered Ericsson to supply equipment to big carriers. It has struggled, tho, to break into US, largely due to security concerns. Even hint of Huawei presence has generated reaction in DC. Its success a result of heavy R&D spending, where Chinese corporations usually weak. But Huawei has 17 global research centers, including Dallas, Moscow, Bangalore and Silicon Valley. Of company’s 96,000 employees, nearly half in R&D. Analysts say its spectacular rise is model for other Chinese companies seeking to compete globally.
25 January 2011. 27-floor tower is new family home of India’s richest person, Mukesh Ambani, son of founder of Reliance, India's biggest & most powerful company. Even in Mumbai, where residents bear daily witness to stark extremes of wealth and poverty, it is so spectacularly over the top, the city’s already elastic boundaries of excess and disparity are stretched to new dimensions. But it is only one of many high-rises insulating rich from the teeming metropolis below. “This is a gated community in the sky. It reflects how the rich are turning their faces away from the city.”
24 January 2011. At 20 percent, Spain has highest unemployment rate in euro zone, with real estate prices dropping. Approximately 1.4 million Spaniards face potential foreclosure. For most of them, the fine print in deals they agreed to years ago is catching up with them. Not only are Spanish mortgage holders personally liable for full amount of loan, but throw in penalty interest charges plus tens of 1000s in court fees, and people can end up facing a mountain of debt. Bankruptcy is not an answer, as mortgage debt is specifically excluded. “Effectively, you can never get rid of this debt”
20 January 2011. Too big to fail banks not only create & sell investment products, but also bet on, and often against those products, putting banks’ interests at odds with their clients. JPMorgan Chase has a deal for mutual & pension funds that oversee many Americans’ savings: Heads, we win together. Tails, you lose — alone. How? Funds lend the bank some of their stocks & bonds, in return for cash that banks then invest. If trades do well, bank takes a cut of profits. If they do poorly, the funds absorb ALL losses. This is "securities lending," a thriving practice today, even though investments linked to it were decimated in Black September 2008. Clients were not warned of risks and say banks breached their fiduciary duty. So far, several banks have lost client lawsuits. Even so, securities lending has rebounded strongly, with a combined value of $2.3 trillion now out on loan, compared with $2.5 trillion in 2007. This quick revival raises concern whether banks & their pension customers have learned ANY lessons.
19 January 2011. While companies may dream of sales to 1.3 bn Chinese, getting start-up money into China is hard. Foreign corps can't convert a single dollar into renminbi [RMB] without prior approval from local branch of Commerce Ministry. If investment is in industry prohibited for foreign investment like agriculture or publishing, no go. But if proposed investment is not restricted & < $300 million, can be approved by cities or provinces. Anything larger must go to Ministry in Beijing. Once investment approved & business license issued, company needs approval from State Administration of Foreign Exchange to convert investment into RMB. Only then can it open local bank account & start spending, which presents a Catch-22: companies need to invest RMB to get approvals, but cannot spend RMBs until they have approval to invest. There are 3 ways they might do that ...
18 January 2011. India’s legal outsourcing industry has grown from experiment to mainstream part of global law business. Cash-conscious Wall St banks, mining giants, insurance firms & industrial conglomerates hiring lawyers in India for document review, due diligence, contract management etc. To win new clients & take on more sophisticated work, firms in India are actively recruiting experienced Western attorneys, who are coming as US / UK law firms contract. Legal outsourcing corps mushroomed to > 140 by end 2009 from 40 in 2005. 2010 revenue at India’s legal outsourcing firms ~ $440 mn, up 38 % from 2008, & should surpass $1 bn by 2014. “This is not a blip, this is a big historical movement”