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Re: <nettime> Nouriel Roubini - global game plan
Keith Hart on Sat, 11 Oct 2008 05:58:06 +0200 (CEST)

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Re: <nettime> Nouriel Roubini - global game plan


> On the level of the real economy, the impossibility of selling commercial
> paper for short-term loans or even using letters of credit between banks
> is causing some corporations to cease certain activities, notably
> transnational shipping. This would be the advance warning sign of the
> global depression announced by Roubini.

On this line of reasoning, I found the following article extremely


>From The Times

 October 8, 2008

Why globalisation will yield to regional fiefdoms

While we watch the drama of the global banking system slashing its own
wrists, the real economy has just arrived at outpatients with headaches

Carl Mortished: World Business Briefing

While we watch the grotesque drama of the global banking system slashing
its own wrists, the real economy has just arrived at outpatients with
headaches.  There is tummy upset in the West, while a mysterious rash has
broken out in the East.

In China, steelmakers are in deep trouble, the Olympics are over and the
building sector, inflated by huge injections of public money, is subsiding.
The symptoms of too much capacity and too little demand are beginning to
show up in disputes with iron ore suppliers and sudden export surges to the
United States as the Chinese resources industry chases dwindling demand for
metal in Western markets.

The price of steel is tumbling worldwide as construction markets sag and
motor manufacturers cut volume targets. ArcelorMittal, the world's biggest
steelmaker, has cut back production from Kazakhstan and Ukraine, big steel
exporters, by up to 20 per cent. In London, the price of steel billets on
the London Metal Exchange, a gauge of the temperature in the Asian and
Mediterranean construction markets, has fallen by 60 per cent since July.
Corus, the Anglo-Dutch steelmaker recently acquired by Tata, of India, gave
warning this week that European markets were soggy.

In the past China might have muddled through a period of soggy markets,
grabbing market share from rustbucket American and European steelmakers.
They could shift product at prices that barely cover costs while blustering
their way through the protests and anti-dumping litigation. China had the
edge on costs with a combination of cheap labour, cheap raw materials and
cheap transport. It could always rely on steel consumers to help to fight
its corner: Motown liked cheap steel, just as the rest of America liked $10
T-shirts, inexpensive laptops, toys and furniture.

The world has changed - the global mining oligopoly has pushed through
swingeing iron ore price increases, tripling the price of ore, and coking
coal has surged as well. Fuel and transport costs have taken their toll and
China can no longer assume that it is competitive. In the case of
heavyweight, low-added-value building materials, it is a moot question
whether China can ever again be a competitive and profitable exporter.

You can sense China's pain in the disputes erupting between steelmakers and
their suppliers. Indian iron ore producers complain that Chinese buyers are
demanding price discounts and refusing to lift cargoes. The Chinese have
suspended imports of iron ore from Vale, the Brazilian miner, in protest
against the latter's attempt to impose a second price increase. Add rising
Chinese wages to the equation and China's competitive edge looks rusty,
indeed. A decade of restructurings, bankruptcies and mergers has
transformed the American and European steel industries into much leaner,
profitable producers, some of which have become cogs in the machines of
rival Indian metal merchants. Worse still, the US is no longer a ravenous
market, looking for cheap metal. The construction industry is comatose and
Detroit is flatlining - the auto industry has joined the living dead,
forced to make huge cuts in capacity that may have devastating effects on

Xu Lejiang, the head of Baosteel, recently predicted a contraction in
China's steel output, a recognition that it was internal markets that would
drive the Chinese industry in future and post-Olympics. That would mean
more modest rates of growth. The interesting question is to what extent the
loss of competitiveness is part of a wider structural change in world

Within the world of logistics, the signals that moderate traffic from Asia
are turning amber and, in some cases, red. DHL, the air freight and
logistics operator, is hearing a new message from its Asian customers:
where manufacturers were once concerned only about speed and efficient
transport from Shanghai and Shenzhen to Los Angeles, London and Frankfurt,
the present priority is proximity to markets.

According to Scott Price, chief executive of DHL in Europe, the global
supply chain is in turmoil. Where manufacturers previously would think
nothing of shipping finished goods from China to the United States and
Europe, they are now looking for shorter supply chains. DHL is faced with
upheaval as its clients rip apart a logistics and supply chain crafted over
the past decade that was based on low-cost transport.

Mr Price reckons that the world is moving from globalisation to
regionalisation. In a recent business review with high-tech companies, the
customers said that rather than supply out of Asia, they were looking at
assembly in Europe.

Foxconn, a Taiwanese electronics company that makes Nokia and Acer brand
handsets and laptops, caused uproar this year when rumours circulated in
the Czech Republic that a large PC plant was to be relocated in Hungary. In
fact, Foxconn has been enlarging its footprint outside Asia, having bought
assembly plants in Mexico and Hungary from Sanmina-SCI. It is shifting
production out of the hotspots on China's eastern seaboard to remote
provinces in northern China, while expanding assembly on the edge of
European and North American consumer markets.

For DHL, that means less intercontinental freight as companies change the
way in which they do business. It means product assembly close to consumer
markets and the need to create new logistics hubs. According to Mr Price,
the largest air freight lane last year was from China to Mexico: "Four to
five years ago, nobody would have questioned their assumptions about oil.
Now the price of oil forms the basis of big decisions about where to locate
a factory."

The price of oil is tumbling and it could fall farther, but it is too late
to prevent a fundamental shift in the pattern of global trade towards
regional fiefdoms. The cost of producing oil beyond the massive reservoirs
of Arabia has reached levels that are two or three times the long-term
average price of $20 a barrel that was considered the norm in the 1990s.
Production of iron ore is in the control of a de facto cartel and if Opec
is not in control of the oil price, non-Opec producers have lost the means
to challenge Opec with alternative supplies. If the oil price does
collapse, it will be a short-lived respite before a renewed and more
vicious upward spiral.

We are moving to a world of greater protectionism, where resources are
jealously guarded. It will be a world where the cost of materials and fuel
is no longer taken for granted and forms as large a part of strategic
planning as the cost of labour. For several decades it was fashionable to
say the world was getting smaller.

Now, the distance between us and our trading partners appears to be


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