h1

Turkish resources for U.S. organizations

Tuesday 20 July, 2021

I almost went to teach in Turkey in 2012, but they were so slow/bureaucratic that they ended up saying “Oh, don’t bother to come in the Fall. You can just teach the Winter semester…” which would have effectively cut my earnings in 1/2, so I ended up going to teach in South Africa instead…& now I wouldn’t want to teach there, for fear of being jailed.

Commercial Service

US embassy

Turkish embassy in DC

American Chamber of Commerce

OECD

World Trade Organization

World Bank

International Monetary Fund

Transparency

Doing Business

Global Edge

World Factbook

h1

Resources for U.S. organizations in Poland

Monday 19 July, 2021

I spent 7 months in Poland many years ago and saw a lot of presentations on Poland, so I’m warning you, I have a lot of info on Poland. Here goes:

Lodz

Silesia

Starachowice

acts of law

Swietokrzyskie

Miejsce Mocy (in Polish)

Warmia & Mazury

Commercial Service

US embassy

Polish consulate in Chicago

American Chamber of Commerce

Polish American Chamber of Commerce

European Union

Freedom House (the successor to the organization that took me to Poland many years ago)

World Trade Organization

OECD

World Bank

International Monetary Fund

Doing Business

h1

Broadband resources for U.S. organizations in Latin America

Thursday 15 July, 2021

My experience with broadband in Brasil (in Latin America) was good. I hadn’t fully gone wireless yet, and my broadband wired connection was fine in Leblon in Rio.

If I remember correctly my internet connection was through my cable TV, which was a bit frustrating because, like in many other places, I had no choice other than 1 provider. I don’t like supporting monopolies and would have preferred another provider, but unfortunately that was not an option. Regardless, my connection was consistent and stable.

btw-Brasil is a big user of broadband, and recognized as 1 of the top 4-5 countries in the world as users of mobile, broadband, social media, etc. However, connectivity is usually provided by local subsidiaries of foreign companies, for example Telefonica from Spain, which means they typically don’t develop a lot of the technology in-country. Ironically, these foreign markets like Brasil, in some cases are bigger than the home market, Spain, but they’re still just sales subsidiaries.

h1

resources for U.S. organizations in Kazakhstan

Wednesday 14 July, 2021

Never been there, but saw a presentation on the country, I believe during one of the Silk Road conferences that Harry Lepinske creates at the Central Asia Productivity Research Center.

Commercial Service

US Embassy

Kazakh embassy in DC

American Chamber of Commerce

US-Kazakhstan Business Association

World Trade Organization

World Bank

Doing Business

International Monetary Fund

Global Edge

Transparency

World Factbook

h1

italian resources for U.S. organizations

Monday 12 July, 2021

How appropriate that the day after they win the European Cup, I put up resources for Italy. A trip to Italia was my 1st trip outside of Germany when I lived there many years ago. I took the overnight train to Rome Easter weekend and was blessed by the pope and a million of my closest friends. I then spent a few days in Florence, before I hit a European Thunderbird Reunion in Venice. It was quite a trip.

On the business side, for some reason, I was invited a number of times to dinner with the Italians in the penthouse of the Harold Washington Library during the International Machine Tool Show, which is where these come from:

Commercial Service

US embassy

Italian embassy in DC

American Chamber of Commerce

Italian Chamber in US

European Union

World Trade Organization

OECD

Doing Business

Global Edge

International Monetary Fund

Transparency

h1

Indonesian resources for U.S. organizations

Thursday 8 July, 2021

I only spent a short amount of time in Indonesia when I popped over from Singapore, but I enjoyed the time I was there.

Regulations

Decrees

Laws

Commercial Service

US embassy

Indonesian embassy in DC

American Chamber of Commerce

American Indonesian Chamber of Commerce

OECD

World Trade Organization

International Monetary Fund

Doing Business

Global Edge

World Bank

Transparency International

h1

Resources for U.S. Businesses in Hong Kong

Wednesday 7 July, 2021

I don’t know if these will help, but I throw them out there in hopes that they will.

Commercial Service

US consulate

American Chamber of Commerce

World Trade Organization

Doing Business

Global Edge

International Monetary Fund

World Factbook

Invest Hong Kong

Hong Kong Trade Development Council

h1

German resources for U.S. organizations

Tuesday 6 July, 2021

For one who lived there for a few years many years ago, you would think I’d be able to come up with more, but this will have to do:

Commercial Service

US embassy

German embassy in DC

American Chamber

German American Chamber of Commerce

European Union

OECD

World Trade Organization

Doing Business

Global Edge

International Monetary Fund

Germany Trade & Invest

h1

Czech resources for U.S. organizations

Thursday 1 July, 2021

Spent a wild weekend in Prag for a European Thunderbird Reunion the weekend OJ was cruising down the LA highway in his white SUV. It’s kinda funny the things you remember when you’re traveling. I stayed on a boat-el on the river, and the Budvar was pretty good.

Here are a bunch of files about trade fairs in Brno-more (up-to-date) info @ www.bvv.cz

Commercial Service

US embassy

Czech embassy in DC

AmCham

European Union

World Trade Organization

International Monetary Fund

Doing Business

Global Edge

OECD

World Factbook

Transparency International

h1

Canadian resources for U.S. organizations

Wednesday 30 June, 2021

I’m a little embarrassed this is all I have to show for Canada because I spent 4 1/2 years of my life working for the Canucks, but that was last in 2003, & I’ve spent most of my time since then exploring more interesting places. So here goes…

Commercial Service

US embassy

Canadian embassy in DC

AmCham

Canadian Trade Commissioners Service

OECD

World Trade Organization

Doing Business

Global Edge

(C)USMA

International Monetary Fund

Technology-investment

h1

Resources for U.S. organizations in Croatia

Tuesday 29 June, 2021

I spent a lovely long weekend in Dubrovnik for a European Thunderbird Reunion and a night in Zagreb on the way out, but that’s all my direct experience.

Commercial Service

US embassy

Croatian Embassy in Washington

AmCham

European Union

World Trade Organization

World Bank

International Monetary Fund

Doing Business

Global Edge

World Factbook

Corruption Index

h1

Bulgarian resources for U.S. organizations

Monday 28 June, 2021

This is for my buddy Boris from Bulgaria: I hope you find I got ’em right.

US Commercial Service

US embassy

Bulgarian Embassy in Washington

American Chamber of Commerce

Bulgarian Chamber in U.S.

European Union

World Trade Organization

International Monetary Fund

World Bank

Doing Business

Global Edge

World Factbook

h1

Brazilian resources for U.S. organizations

Thursday 24 June, 2021

I’m actually kind of embarrassed that this is so meager, but I only attended a few events on Brasil before I actually lived and worked there, so here are the organizations I worked most closely with in Rio:

US Commercial Service

US embassy

AmCham

Brazilian embassy in Washington

World Factbook

Mercosur

Technology

Education

Media

Tourism

Small Business Administration equivalent

Think Tank

h1

Resources for U.S. companies in Bosnia Herzegovina

Wednesday 23 June, 2021

Here are a number of resources I’ve gathered from attending presentations on Bosnia Herzegovina and a few others I’ve uncovered:

US Commercial Service

American Chamber of Commerce

US Embassy

Bosnia Herzegovina embassy in Washington DC

World Bank

International Monetary Fund

Global Edge

World Factbook

Doing Business

European Union

Transparency International

European Bank for Reconstruction and Development

h1

Resources for U.S. organizations in Belarus

Monday 21 June, 2021

US embassy in Belarus

Belarus embassy in Washington DC

International Monetary Fund

GlobalEdge

Doing Business

World Bank

World Factbook

h1

Austrian resources for U.S. organizations

Sunday 20 June, 2021

I’ve attended a lot of seminars on business in different countries, and been the recipient of many presentations, disks, and files, so I thought I’d share them. I’ll add what other resources I’ve found to be helpful as well.

Let’s start off with some info from Invest in Austria

Commercial Service and Country Commercial Guide

American Chamber of Commerce in Austria

US embassy in Wien

Austrian embassy in Washington DC

Austrian Chamber of Commerce

Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development

International Monetary Fund

World Trade Organization

GlobalEdge

Doing Business

Business Culture

European Union

Here is some information and photos from Upper Austria Plastics Location: Innovative Austria: Strategies for US companies to conquer the European Market-the European and Austrian Plastics Industry and the Austrian Plastics Competence Center Model. www.Kunststoffstandort.at

h1

OK America, so what are we going to do about it?

Friday 10 July, 2020

At the risk of overstepping my bounds, I suggest Black Lives Matter is not thinking big enough.  Obviously racial violence against African-Americans inflicted by the police is a deadly problem, but in many ways, it’s simply a reflection of roles in society.  African Americans are not the political or  economic equal of European-Americans in the U.S., so these senseless killings just reflect those inequalities.  Black leadership needs to construct a plan to build bigger economic and political power bases. 

I endorse peaceful protests.  George Floyd’s murder is just one in a number of senseless racially-induced tragedies.   I was in New York when Eric Garner was strangled to death on Staten Island.  There were protests then too, but apparently nothing has changed. Protests are not enough unless they result in real change.  Leaders know protesters are pissed off, but they need to know what to do to change things. 

I offer a few proposals we need to implement to start making changes now: 

  • Change election day from Tuesdays to Saturdays.    Government cannot be representative of its people if only a small percentage of people vote.  Participation is driven by availability.  Tuesday is a workday, and so for hourly-wage earners, they have to give up work time to vote, which provides a financial disincentive not to vote.  We can eliminate this disincentive by moving our voting day to Saturday. 
  • The biggest shame in my mind is that America claims to be the land of opportunity, but the chances to take advantages of those opportunities are not fair.  There aren’t the same opportunities to get a good education, which is the basis of most opportunity.  We need to change our funding for education.  It’s ridiculous that such disparities exist between school districts within a few scant miles.  Dedicating local property taxes to fund education isn’t fair when it results in such disparities. We need to elevate funding to the county or state level, because it’s not working at the local level. 
  • African Americans need to generate wealth accumulation to compete with European-Americans.  The top 1% doesn’t work: they invest, which takes advantage of financial to continue to increase their wealth at greater rates than wage inflation.  It’s this wealth accumulation that also leads to political clout.  Investing and entrepreneurship are the fastest ways to generate income quickly.  Black markets are significant in the U.S., so the possibility to sell in volume exists.  Again, education is required to activate these accelerators. 

I abhor racism.  I taught at Chicago State University (CSU), a HBCU for 3 years.  I learned what it’s like to be in the minority and it was not comfortable.  I was discriminated against and I was not happy with that, but I understood it.  At the same time, my some of my students at CSU inspired me like no others.  Students of mine at CSU were single parents working full-time jobs going to school full-and part-time: no school where I’ve taught came close to the percentage of students doing that.  I even had a few students who blew me away when they let me know they were pursuing their international business (the courses I taught) dreams by going to live and work abroad. 

Maybe I’m expecting too much.  My suggestions are by no means sufficient to solve our racism problem.  We just need to get things started with concrete actions that will bring tangible results, and if we can move in that direction and create some momentum and at least elevate this to the point where we’ll continue to pay attention to this over time, I’ll have done a small bit of good. 

h1

another senseless killing…stop the madness!

Saturday 22 June, 2019

I didn’t know Lola Gulomova well before she was shot and killed by her estranged husband Jason Rieff. She worked across the hall and increasingly came over to our office to encourage co-workers to apply for rarely-available positions.  Her death also upsets me a lot because they left 2 daughters who are now fucked-up for life.  At first I was bewildered, trying to understand how any human being could commit such a heinous crime, but I finally figured out that Jason was sick, and therefore it’s impossible to make any sense out of this.  No one in their right mind, could have done this, so my only conclusion can be that he was mentally ill, and there can be no rational explanation that explains what he did.  Now I’m still angry, sad, and confused, but want to try to do something to bring a a little bit of good from this horrible tragedy.

So to prevent this from happening again, we need 2 things:

  1. gun control
  2. more resources to address mental health issues

This was clearly a gun-enabled killing.  In other words, if it weren’t so easy to access a gun, both of these people   would still be alive today.  These stats pretty much sum up the gun problem:

  • The U.S. gun homicide rate is 25 times that of other high-income countries.
  • Women in the U.S. are 21 times more likely to be killed with a gun than women in other high-income countries.

These stats are an embarrassment when compared with the rest of the world, and there is no justification for them.  Anyone who justifies gun ownership by saying incidents like this are just collateral damage, or that more guns to defend oneself are the solution are misguided.  Fewer guns are the answer, not more guns.  I’m a Make Love, Not War kind of guy, but that doesn’t make me any weaker than many testosterone-infused gun-owners with an inflated sense of themselves because they’re packin’ heat.  Maybe Jason was a hunter, or Lola had the gun to defend herself and he turned it on her.  Maybe this was an accident, but she was shot multiple times, so I really don’t think so.  They both had high-level government security clearances, so I can understand how they were able to get a gun, but that simply means we need more checks and balances.  People who are going through a divorce shouldn’t be granted a gun permit, especially given the statistics cited above.  Guns are quick, easy, and efficient killing machines, which are great for winning wars, but horrible in homes.  I realize nothing can bring Lola back, but if there is anything positive to come out of this, please make a contribution to stop this senseless violence and get a few guns off of our streets.

I don’t think anyone saw this coming, which means Jason must have kept his mental illness carefully hidden.  Regardless, someone failed to recognize the severity of the problem and do something about it.  Personally I object to how people with mental illnesses are portrayed in the media.  Billy Bob Thornton was ultimately another mentally-ill killer in Slingblade.  Jack Nicholson was a sick obsessive-compulsive who drew lots of laughs in As Good as It Gets.  The only movie I can recollect that presented mental illness in a compassionate way was A Beautiful Mind, which portrayed John Forbes Nash, Jr. as a sick, brilliant, and ultimately positive person, and contributing member of society.  When the media jumps to the conclusion that every killer is mentally ill, it leads people to believe that the reverse is true too, i.e., that the mentally ill are dangerous threats to society.  My knowledge and experience leads me to the opposite conclusion, that the mentally ill are much more victims of violence than perpetrators of it.  They feel helpless, with little or no control over their own lives, which either leads them to lash out, or be taken advantage of.  The National Alliance on Mental Illness is trying to help.  I urge you to make a contribution so that we can provide better mental health treatment to address the root of these problems, rather than letting them fester until they boil up and result in incidents like this.

Thus when I say “Stop the Madness” I mean it literally as well as figuratively.  Devote more resources to fight mental illness, which will ultimately stop the madness…and get the guns off the streets to stop the madness of gun-stoked domestic violence.  This whole thing still makes me feel like Peter Finch as Howard Beale in the classic film Network

when he said,

I want you to get MAD! All I know is that first you’ve got to get mad. [shouting] You’ve got to say: ‘I’m a human being, god-dammit! My life has value!’  I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!  Go to your windows. Open them and stick your head out and yell – ‘I’m as mad as hell and I’m not gonna take this anymore!’ Things have got to change. But first, you’ve gotta get mad!…You’ve got to say, I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!  But first, get up out of your chairs, open the window, stick your head out, and yell, and say it: I’M AS MAD AS HELL, AND I’M NOT GOING TO TAKE THIS ANYMORE!”

I  hope that somehow, some way, this will save someone from the same fate.  No change means we accept the status quo, and that’s not acceptable.  I realize I won’t change the world, but if this takes one gun off the street or someone makes one donation to devote more money to improve mental health, I’ll have made at least a small difference.

RIP Lola.  Make a contribution here to support her daughters

A special thanks goes out to my sister Carol Muth, who provided the gun control info and pointed out that this shooting occurred on National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

h1

triathlons in Rio

Monday 14 May, 2018

Now that I may have completed my last triathlon in Brazil yesterday, I think it’s time to file my race report for the race I’ve done the most times in my life.  I’ll try and be as objective as possible and not get too emotional about it.

Finding triathlons here has not been easy.  I have not found a centralized resource like trifind etc., so I’ve had to search for triathlons in different cities where I think they might take place.  Sao Paulo is bigger, so there are more races there, but I haven’t wanted to travel that far to race.  There are a number of places that I think would be great triathlon venues, like Buzios, Niteroi, and Petropolis, and many of them held races when Brazil was in major growth mode.  But when the economy crashed in 2015, they all disappeared.  Consequently, I’ve ended up doing the same race 8 times.

I’ve also looked for & found 30 triathlon clubs in the greater metropolitan Rio area, but found none that offer anything remotely social.  All the clubs here offer are different training regimens, usually early a.m. before the bad guys come out, & nothing more.  It makes me appreciate the Chicago Triathlon Club so much-the mix of workouts & social interaction I thought was great.  Maybe the Brazilians are so social on an ongoing basis, they don’t feel the need to be social with triathlon-buds.

Registering for a tri here is quite a bit more arduous than in the U.S.  It’s not until this year the race I’ve done even accepted credit cards, & they were so skeptical of foreigners, they had to call me to verify my identification before they accepted me into the race.  I’m not sure that a foreigner can even register for a race here because they require data that only locals possess (CPF number).

In their defense, packet pickup is just as much of a pain as it is with many other races.  I’ve had to drive 45 minutes-1 hour out to Recreio to pick up my race packet in about 2 minutes.  One race done at the same venue but put together by another organizer had packet pick-up at a sporting goods store only 1/2-way out there, so that was an improvement.

Getting to the race became a challenge when my GPS kept sending me back to a road that was closed for the race over & over again.  Because the street signs don’t actually contain the names of the streets, (they just point you in the general direction…Centro, Recreio, Barra, etc.), I’ve driven around in circles and had to show up late for races after they started because I went crazy getting lost the morning of a race. Now I know how to find my way there, but that’s just because I learned by trial & (lots of) error.

The transition area is pretty well situated, with numbered slots for all of the participants.  It’s on a bumpy cobblestone parking lot, but that’s workable.  You aren’t allowed to leave your bag with your bike, so you’re required to check in your bag with everything you won’t be using for the race.

Open water swims in the Atlantic Ocean leave you open to lots of variability.  The swim in the race I’ve done in Recreio takes place on either side of a peninsula: races have been on both sides.  On either side, at some point you end up swimming into the sun, which makes sighting much more difficult.  Yesterday the surf was the strongest it’s ever been, and thus I had my slowest swim ever, 28:40 for 750 meters.  I was thrown around like a rag-doll in the waves coming in & out near the shore-normally I take 10 minutes less than that.

The bike is flat, right along the shore, 20K for the sprint.  The only potential difficulty is the wind.  Yesterday it was at my back going out & in my face on the way back in.  My 1st half time was normal, 22 mins, but I lost about 6 minutes coming back, so my bike was slow too.

The run is flat & along the shore too, out & back for 5K.  My time was a little slow, but not as slow as I thought I’d be.  I’ve developed a parameniscal cyst on my left knee, which is a result of a slightly torn cartilage in my knee, so I knew I wouldn’t match prior running times.

Here’s where I need to divulge, for the 1st time in my tri-career, I was dq’ed.  My most egregious infraction was running on the grass next to the road for the run.  Apparently if I had asked permission before the race to save my knees by running on the grass, I would have been OK, but after doing this the 7 previous time, I didn’t know if was an issue.  I was also busted for 3 other indiscretions, but I’m still not sure what they were.  Between the bike and the run, they actually made me wait 1:30 in the penalty box, just as if I were in an ice hockey game.  Before the race, I was asked to remove the rack on the back of my bike when it was deemed a safety hazard if someone fell on it, but because no one had tools for me to remove it, I was granted an exemption.

Everyone gets a medal, and race winners even get prize money.  As an age-grouper, it’s been even more competitive here.  In the U.S., I usually come in in the upper 1/2 of my age group-here I usually come in near the bottom.  That’s OK, as long as I don’t lose too much time.  Until this race, I haven’t.  Post-race nutrition consists of a lot of fruits, bananas, watermelon, oranges.

On the whole, I’ve enjoyed my triathlons here.  I would just liked to have been able to do a wider variety of races.

h1

demonstrations in LDC’s

Monday 1 May, 2017

I had my 1st “international incident” experience Friday night, & it left a deep impression. I was locked up in the consulate & forbidden to leave because it was too dangerous for me to go home. After finally finding my way home, I realized our security people were not kidding-this was serious, & they were correct for not allowing me out in it.

What happened was, the PT, or Workers Party (Partida dos Trabalhadores) planned a general strike on Friday to protest the imposition of 2 new laws: 1 to OK the outsourcing of work that had not been allowed in the past that will give Brazilian businesses the flexibility to contract out even core activities of their businesses, if they so choose, which was forbidden in the past; & 2. to change to the terms of the pension/social security system to eliminate benefits for some retirees, which are simply financially unsustainable. For example, judges, the military, & other public officials are given pensions covering up to 80% of their wages that can be transferred to remaining spouses and handed down to descendants for generations, which will end up costing the Brazilian government money that it can’t afford to pay in the future.

As I was sitting in my office @ ~5:30 p.m. surveying the evening’s musical choices, 1 of the marines came in & told me to check with their guard station before I leave. I thought that a little odd because I was never told to do that before. When I went to leave @ 6, I was summarily told that I was not allowed to leave, that it was too dangerous for me to leave the building @ that time. They showed me the footage from 1 of the security cameras that displayed some tires that had been set on fire outside the consulate. I returned to my office thinking, “These guys are paranoid.” I had walked past some demonstrations around Cinelandia in the past, & they were no threat to me, or anyone, as far as I could tell. I assumed this 1 would be no different. In the next hour I could smell the stench of the burning tires and heard what sounded like small bombs going off. When I returned to try to leave @ 7, I was told it still wasn’t safe enough to go out, so I went back to my office for another hour. I tried to leave again @ 8, but was still told “No go.” Then @ 8:15, they made an announcement that we were free to go.

What I encountered outside the consulate’s door was breathtaking. The windows to the banks Bradesco & Caixa had been smashed, & I’m told thieves had tried to steal the cash from the ATM’s. The metro stop @ Cinelandia was closed, so I had to walk to the next station @ Gloria, about a 20 minute walk away. As I approached Sala Cecilia Morrelles, a nice venue where I’d seen a number of concerts, I came across 9 burned out buses which had been set on fire. Walking a little bit further down the street, a few trucks filled with military police drove by, guns @ the ready, prepared to aim & shoot. When I finally got the Gloria station, my eyes started burning & I couldn’t breath because of tear gas that remained in the air. I realize it sounds trite to say “Tear gas is nasty stuff,” but you can’t realize how nasty it is until you experience it. Like when I visited the concentration camps when I was in Poland 20 years ago, it’s the smell that leaves as deep an impression on any of the senses…it’s inescapable.

Lesson learned: when the security guys say “sit tight” listen to them.  While they may seem overly protective at times, they know the risks & are only looking out for our own safety.

For more details check here http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-39753849

h1

awe-inspiring paralympic athletes

Monday 12 September, 2016

I checked out the women’s paralympic triathlon & couldn’t help but write about it. These women are so inspirational, they are beyond description, but I’ll give it a try. I’ve done a lot of sprint triathlons in my day, but I haven’t overcome a fraction of what these women have. What I saw today blew me away.

Let’s start with the swim. The 1st race was for women who are physically challenged, so swimming with 1 arm or 1 leg is difficult, but do-able. The tough part is getting in & out of the water, so they had helpers get racers to their prosthetics coming out of the water. The 2nd race was for blind racers, so they had to do the whole race, swim included, tethered to a guide. That has got to be tough.

Then they move to the bike. This portion probably has the fewest differences between Olympic & Paralympic athletes for the physically-challenged. However, the blind racers rode on tandem bikes, so a strong guide could be a big advantage.

In the run, we get to the hard part. We have a long way to go to get prosthetics to work well. I don’t know how Oscar Pretorius did it-the prosthetics these women used didn’t allow them to run anything like a normal runner. Their gaits were very unbalanced, which puts lots of strain on the leg that does function normally. The breakdown over time must be very difficult to deal with & they must suffer from overuse injuries galore.

There was 1 runner who stuck out to me: Rakel Mateo Uriarte of Spain. She came in dead last @ 1:40:33-the distances were shortened from the “Olympic” distance, so this was essentially a sprint triathlon-but she was still a winner to me because she was the only athlete who had the impairment she did. The International Triathlon Union says she was in an accident in 2001 which left her left leg paralyzed.  She hadn’t participated in triathlon before her accident, but picked it up to keep moving. I didn’t see her come out of the water on the swim, but the result of her challenge was that she couldn’t pedal the bike with both legs, which meant she had to pedal the whole race with just her right leg.  To top it off, she did the whole run on crutches…& she did the race in about the same time I do my sprint triathlons.  Granted I’m a slow old man, but completing races with her challenges blows my mind.  The mental fortitude this woman must have must be incredible.  I can’t imagine the strength & endurance she must have to complete these races.

The USA did well.  American Grace Norman won the PT4 race.  The Americans swept the PT2 race, with Alyssa Seely winning the gold, Hailey Danisewicz taking the silver, & Melissa Stockwell bringing home the bronze.  The PT5 race was a heartbreaker for American Elizabeth Baker, who came so close to earning a medal, but just fell short, literally. She came out of the water 6th, then moved up to 4th on the bike.  Then on the run, with 100 meters to go, she had pulled into 3rd place, primed for a bronze medal, but then the Brit Melissa Reid overtook her, when Elizabeth unceremoniously fell, sealing her 4th place finish in the race, after Reid.  She might not have known that Reid was catching up on her.  She couldn’t see her because she’s blind, but I would bet her guide was keeping her fully informed along the way.  My heart goes out to her, & falling was the final indignity, but their exciting finish got the most applause of the day.

I realize these paralympic races are fodder for platitudes, but in this case, I think the praise is warranted.  I do these races, so I know how hard they are.  I can recognize the difficulties they must overcome to compete at the level they do.  These women have inspired me & I’ll keep their challenges in mind when I start to bitch & moan about my next race almost a month from now in October.

h1

my $.02 on Rio2016

Monday 22 August, 2016

Now that the Rio2016 Olympics are done & the Olympians & fans are heading home, it’s time to reflect on how it worked out for Rio de Janeiro. When I arrived in Rio a year ago, the prognostications were not good. The Globo newspaper media empire spelled out 5 Grand (large) Obstacles:

  1. Metro/subway-the new subway line which was being built to provide transportation to & from the Olympic park was planned for completion only a month before the games were to begin, a small window to correct problems, if required. Then a few months ago, that window was further reduced to just 5 days before the Olympics start, making any last minute changes of any consequence impossible. Remarkably, the subway opened, took passengers to the events, & was little problem @ all.
  2. H2O-much has been made of the quality of the water in the lagoon and Guanabarra Bay where the rowing & sailing events were held, respectively. The goal was to clean 80% of the water by the time the games begin, but sanitation only advanced to clean 50% of the waste being dumped into the water supply. That’s much more than was in the past, but short of the goal of 80%. I only read of 1 Belgian Olympic sailor who became ill after falling in & possibly ingesting some water, hardly an epidemic, & arguably within statistical norms. While the water quality is still @ an unacceptable level, it didn’t result in any calamities @ the Olympics.
  3. 4, & 5 Stadia for cycling, rowing, & track & field: were behind schedule, but completed on time without incident.

Since that article was published, a few other issues arose which impacted Rio2016 significantly:

  • zika virus: despite not rising to the levels of recent past epidemics & being out-of-season by the time the Olympics arrived, zika was deemed a threat to the health of all who dared to come to Brazil to watch the games live. There was no outbreak & zika seemed to be a non-issue during the games.
  • political crisis: President Dilma Rousseff was impeached, which created lots of political stability & the threat of uprisings, etc. during the Olympics. While Brazil will continue to be in a holding pattern until a new president is elected in 2018, there have been no major repercussions from this calamity.
  • economic crisis: as a result of the political crisis, Brazil’s economy has taken a nose dive, as indicated by a fall in the currency, the Real, of 30% in 6 months, from R$3.2/US$ to R$4.1/$US. investment has fallen, & unemployment has spiked. This made financing the completion of the projects for the games questionable, but again, all venues were completed on time.

True to form, the Brazilians pulled it off, by cramming @ the last minute, but they got it done.  The question is “What will be the long-term outcome of the Rio2016 Olympic games?”  Will Rio become another economic success propelled by the Olympics, like Barcelona & Seoul, or create a lot of white elephants, as in Beijing or Montreal, or even worse, lead to an economic downfall, as has been hypothesized about Athens, Greece.  London took the Olympic opportunity to rehabilitate an underdeveloped part of town to rejuvenate it & make that area a desirable place to live.  When I lived in Munich, they left the Olympic housing as residences for college students.  Rio will leave a different legacy.  While the subway extension & rejuvenation of the Praca Maua port area will benefit all of the population, the Olympic village is being converted into luxury condominiums for sale to the highest bidder.  Many of the venues were temporary structures, probably being deconstructed already as we speak.  The economic development organization of the Rio city government, Rio Negocios, held a series of events highlighting different industries in & around Rio, but I think they were probably disappointed with the international level of interest in their events.  The aftermath of the 2014 World Cup does not bode well.  New stadia now stand empty & a number of infrastructure projects were never completed, in some cases creating risks with what does remain.

I enjoyed being in Rio while the games were taking place: see pix:

…& I hope that Rio recognizes many positive benefits as a result of hosting the games.  I’m just skeptical that enough change will have taken place for the rest of the world to appreciate what a beautiful place this can be.

h1

Where is the global market heading?

Monday 17 November, 2014

Nouriel Roubini, a professor @ the NYU Stern School of Business presided over Keiko Tashiro, the Chairperson/CEO of Daiwa Capital Markets America Holdings, Inc. to discuss this topic @ the Japan Society in New York.

It’s been an anemic recovery, & the only change has been the decelerating growth in the emerging markets.  The question is how strong & resilient will they be?  The recovery has been so anemic because the crisis was brought on by extreme leverage.  The fiscal stimulus that was implemented to combat it has led to an accumulation of debt that will take 5-10 years to de-leverage.  Emerging markets need robust growth of 5% , not 1-2 1/2 % less their debt.

To get 1-2% stronger growth in the industrialized countries, we need:

  • fiscal consolidation, except in Japan
  • advance de-leveraging to create better balance sheets with lower debt ratios
  • lower risk probabilities by keeping the Euro together, not falling off any fiscal cliffs, avoiding conflicts, etc.
  • keep low inflation, as the velocity of money has collapsed as stocks are in search of markets.  There is still slack in the employment market, so there is no wage inflation.  Central banks can be less conventional.  The Fed won’t start tapering until 3-4 years from now.
  • Japan needs to create a virtuous cycle with structural reforms, which should be a gradual process.  There is a risk with monetary easing in asset inflation creating a bubble.  The central bank has been able to keep bubbles @ bay by keeping inflation & interest rates low for now.

Emerging markets are devaluing their currencies to spur growth.  Internally, macroeconomic policies are granting excessive credit.  State capitalism causes them to move away from free markets.  The most fragile are China, India, South Africa, & Turkey.  With elections, growth falls.  Now the risks are much lower because of less currency mismatches, debt ratios are better, & Argentina, Venezuela, & Ukraine are now the problems.  China’s hard or soft landing is fragile.  Fixed investment is too low as is consumption.  Banks have made too many bad loans.  They’re lowering risks, but it’s open to question as to whether they can implement changes quickly enough.  Growth is decelerating from 7% to 6 %.

h1

European economic update

Tuesday 30 September, 2014

The European American Chamber of Commerce organized an economic update which featured James Bullard, CEO/President of the St. Louis Federal Reserve Bank, Nicolas Veron, Visiting Fellow @ the Peterson Institute for International Economics & Co-founder/Senior Fellow @ Bruegel. The panel was moderated by Sassan Ghahramani, President/Ceo of SGH Macro Advisors.

Bullard stated 3% growth should be achievable for the US in 2014.  Unemployment of 6.6% is still too high, but the Fed won’t start raising interest rates until unemployment falls below 6.5% or inflation rises above 2%.  Normal unemployment will drive a more normal interest rate policy.

Veron maintained that the issue today is not what the central banks do, rather it’s which countries have the most dysfunctional political processes.  The EU crisis continues to test financial systems & architectures.  The tests for EU institutions need to be redefined.  Watch for EU parliamentary elections to see if citizens are dissatisfied & how the European Central Bank (ECB) is transforming EU banking, which will hopefully create an opportunity for trust to return to the system.

Panel Q&A

Because we work with seasonally-adjusted data, the weather does not affect risk, but we have no model to evaluate this past year’s weather, so it’s OK to be suspicious.  This hasn’t received enough attention.

The reduction to 6.6% unemployment is a dramatic reduction unexpectedly soon, so now we must adjust our thinking.  Labor force participation is a long standing trend of long-term structural decline.  The drop in unemployment is a good sign & was faster than anticipated, & is remarkable in an economy that’s only growing @ 2% per year.  It’s a result of state decisions, not data conditions.  Interest rates won’t move until unemployment has moved well beyond the threshold of 6%.  Normalization of policy dictates that qualitative policy & judgement shouldn’t be tied to a particular number.

The 2012 contagion was a result of a combination of factors.  Banking union is becoming more important.  Political evolution in Germany is key, not to allow any country exit the Euro.  If there is deterioration, the ECB will act.  There are no immediate legal developments, but the relationship between Germany & Europe counts. Germany’s jurisdiction over the German Bundesbank affects the ECB’s ability to work.  The Bundesbank has been clumsy in attacking the ECB’s autonomy, & thus the ECB won, while the Bundesbank lost.  The constitutional court was smarter in trying to avoid frontal conflict.

The Fed pursued the policies of the 7 faces of  peril & was the biggest advocate for flow.  It worked well with more analysis of interest rate policy.  Quantitative easing is a powerful tool & moved markets, so now we can taper back to normal.  We won’t see a normal economy until we raise interest rates.  The committee doesn’t address specific issues of quantitative easing.  The Fed will raise interest rates fairly quickly.  The alternative is to stay @ 0% longer & lift faster.  Global interest rates are still low & this is expected to continue.  Inflation is still a puzzle & wildcard, & could force the ECB’s hand.

There is still much disenchantment in the non-German Eurozones.  Germany imposes it’s decisions on others, but Germany is still pro-Euro & pro-integration.  Other countries have different foci (focuses?).  Spain is not all skeptical, but separatism sentiments continue in Catalonia.

Politically, although there are more anti-system parties as mainstream parties decline, not all Europeans are anti-EU & anti-Euro.  Not everything can be seen through the Euro lens.  Cooperation is changing as policy makers are getting more defensive.

h1

Venezuelan update

Wednesday 24 September, 2014

I attended this event @ the Council of the Americas awhile ago on Venezuela’s economy. The panel consisted of Alehjandro Arreaza, economist @ Barclays, Aaron Freedman, VP/Sr. Credit Office @ Moody’s, & Francisco Rodriguez, Director & Sr. Economist @ Bank of America/Merrill Lynch, & moderator Christopher Sabatini, Sr. Director @ Americas Society/Council of the Americas.

Generally, inflation is leading to devaluation of the currency, which leads to inconsistent fiscal policy. The exchange rate is unsustainable. They need to change course, but can’t devalue. The exchange rate subsidy doesn’t help their constituents-it just gives fiscal rents to importers. Inflation is up because they are just printing money instead of devaluing the currency. There are arbitrage opportunities with devaluation while the politicians get richer. The problem is as import prices go up, demand goes down, to there is no politically expedient solution.

The government also doesn’t recognize the magnitude of the level of debt. Declining oil prices make things difficult for Venezuela. They must address these imbalances.

It’s tough to get money out of Venezuela these days. There is a black market, but that’s dicey. Auto makers there have fallen off a cliff. Unfortunately companies can no longer repatriate profits & pay for imports. Strategic & essential industries can get preferential access to currency.

Another problem is with an overvalued currency, you can’t tell which are bad imports. The system is impossible to administer. The exchange rate is limited to maintain control, like in Cuba.

There is a difference between a low income economy like Cuba’s, & Venezuela. Macroeconomic distortion has simply led to financial disintermediation. They must address all imbalances-devaluation is not enough. Venezuela won’t necessarily default-that probability is only 10%, but they are suffering a death by 1000 cuts. If the price of oil destabilizes, watch out. Oil production has declined, but it’s unsure if they’ve reached the bottom. Consumption is up, but that’s distorted.

Q&A
Despite a devaluation a year ago, nothing happened. It’s not likely to get better. Capital flight is $20M/year. They need a more flexible exchange rate system.

Venezuela is rated 1 notch below Argentina in credit ratings. Both have balance of payments problems. Venezuela is more combustible.

How long this can go on is a political & economic question. Regulation is no good in a volatile economy. Argentina tried & failed. Another problem is you can’t increase spending after a devaluation.

h1

do big sporting events really help local economies?

Thursday 8 May, 2014

I checked out this event sponsored by NYU’s Sports & Society’s department @ the School for Continuing & Professional Studies “The Lasting Impact of Sports Greatest Events.” The panel contained a veritable who’s who: Lisa Baird, CMO of the US Olympic Committee; Greg Ballard, mayor of Indianapolis-“amateur capital of the US; Greg Carey, sports finance specialist @ Goldman Sachs; Richard Florida, author of “Who’s your City?”; Kevin Hallinan, SVP of security of Major League Baseball, Constantine Kontokosta, of the NYU Center for Urban Science & Progress; Mary Pilon, New York Times sports reporter; David Rousseau, who sits on the Salt River Project board in Arizona.  The panel was moderated by Arthur Miller, Chair of the Sports & Sociey department @ NYU.

Indianapolis used sports to build the city into the capital of amateur sports in America, in which the citizens have a great sense of pride.  Rockpoint analysis determined the General Fund Effect was $40M.  Phoenix feels it’s getting an amazing reward from similar investments. These things bring prestige, like luring a major symphony orchestra.

The motivations for these things have changed, to achieve global city status.  The 1984 Olympics in LA made it an economic development game, but now the temporary economic impact doesn’t justify the long-term investment any longer.  The question is the impact on infrastructure.  Sports have become an excuse to do what should already be done.  For example, after the Olympics, what are they going to do with the bobsled run in Sochi?  There is little talk of what happens afterwards.

The Olympics are all about the athletes.  Sebastian Coe left a legacy in London, having built up the west side & put the para-Olympics on the map.  He’s created social good, while the economic impact hasn’t been measured yet.

There is a lot of ego involved, & differences between who embraces sports & those who do not.  The downside can be displacement.  These projects have to be about more than the game because stadia (stadiums) now cost a lot more:  San Francisco’s cost $1.3B.  Now security is primary & drives up costs, as Atlanta’s Olympics proves.  Terrorism & gay rights could have been issues in Sochi.  The Dept. of State was assuming safety would prevail.

Goldman Sachs actually invests in sports infrastructure & is bullish about this business, but admits these are not always good investments for cities.  The key is whether the investments are in good or bad infrastructure & whether it’s public or private investment.  Rio is building lots of infrastructure for it’s Olympics, but it’s been disaffecting & the security challenges will be unbelievable.   Public safety & public works are the highest priorities.  Cities must look @ expanding their tax bases & the opportunity costs of making other comparable investments.  Indianapolis did it right.

Baseball’s world series is a nightmare for security because the sites aren’t known until a few days before the series starts.  When Pres. Bush attended a game, an extra umpire was actually a Secret Service man. At the 1st Mets game after 9/11, there was a line almost all the way to Manhattan to get in & all the fans said “Thanks for being safe.”  The Super Bowl in New York attracted lots of prostitution, which reflects the best/worst, good/bad these events bring out.  There is a distinct relationship between the Super Bowl & sex traffic.

The economic benefit of the Super Bowl being held in New York/New Jersey was estimated to be $600M, but is actually complete BS.  The hotels are normally only @ 50% capacity, but were full for that week, but there is also a crowding out effect of others who stay away, called displacement tourism.  Theatre attendance is down 20%.  The merchants on Super Bowl Blvd. were dying.  Super Bowls are better held in warm climates, although Minnesota is getting 1.

There is a developmental economics aspect to all this.  Rio is building infrastructure which is building capacity.  The downside is the IOC requires moral obligations, but the city may be stuck with the bill.  Athens is still paying the debt for their Olympics.  Montreal just paid off their debt for the 1976 Olympics.

Sponsors get involved for different reasons, such as branding, ROI, relationships developed as long-term investments, i.e. Coke has been an Olympics sponsor since 1928.  LA changed the model when it was the 1st Olympics to show a profit in 1984, but even it had very few high-priced sponsors.  To stage sustainable games is a tough task.

Different games have left different legacies.  Barcelona used the Olympics as a tool.  Seoul, Sydney, & Montreal had a plan, but the Athens Olympics may have started the crisis there.  It’s definitely not 1 size fits all.

Arizona had to pay the NFL $30M in obligations to get the Super Bowl, which was paid by local corporations.  They will sell their local competitive advantages; good weather & a positive business climate.  But there are unintended consequences too.  To magnify the legacy:

  • you must know who you are
  • focus on branding (London was the 1st games where every country had at least 1 woman on each team)
  • security partnerships help
  • share lessons learned
  • get away from gigantism

 

 

h1

doing business in South Africa

Friday 18 April, 2014

The Greater New York Chamber of Commerce in conjunction with the South African Consulate General hosted “Doing Business in South Africa” @ the South African consulate.

Consul General George Monyeymangene introduced Simon Barber, the US country manager for Brand South Africa, which promotes the country of South Africa as a brand. He works with stakeholders both inside & outside of government to craft a value proposition for South Africa.  South Africa is celebrating 20 years since it’s 1st open & free election.  The South African brand is embodied by Madiba, or Nelson Mandela, who exudes the essence of Ubuntu, among other things, looking out for the collective good.  In the last 20 years:

  • GDP has grown from $136B to $335B
  • inflation has fallen from 14% to 6%
  • employment has grown from 9M to 14M
  • reserves have risen from $4B to $50B
  • the LSM (Living Standard Measure) has increased from 13M to 23.5M
  • electricity has gone from serving 58% to 95% of the population
  • water grew from being available to 61% to 73% of South Africans.

Additionally, South Africa has:

  • politically stable democracy
  • free media
  • independent central bank
  • high tax compliance.

According to the World Enterprise Fund Global Competitiveness Index, South Africa ranks:

  • #1 in auditing standards
  • #1 in securities regulations
  • #2 in financial services
  • #3 in banking
  • #3 in minority shareholders

On the down side, it ranks

  • #120 as a favorite
  • #116 in terms of imposing a burden.

Former treasury minister Trevor Manuel agreed with & adopted a National Development Plan written by Goldman Sachs.

The keynote address was offered by Frank Savage, Wall St. financier & CEO of Savage Holdings, who offered the perspective of an institutional investor.  He was early to enter South Africa in 1994 when he created a $125M fund there which earned 39.4% ROE.  He met Nelson Mandela with US Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown.  Although income inequality, education, & unemployment are problems, he remains optimistic.  The African National Congress has selected Ramiposa, a successful entrepreneur, which brings the party credibility & speaks volumes about their intentions.  The government has responded well to the Goldman Sachs report.  It’s well-balanced, but tough.  They must focus on difficult social problems.  Only15% participates in the formal economy, which leaves growth on the table.  All of Africa needs South Africa to reach it’s potential.  Civil unrest & instability can’t happen.  They need to rededicate themselves to their original principles & ideals.  He feels comfortable investing in South Africa.  Foreign Direct Investment magazine named South Africa the country of the future.

Q&A

  • South Africa will aim to protect it’s unique culture.
  • A free trade agreement is bringing together a market of 600M in Africa.
  • There is a plan to establish, promote, & implement Special Export Zones.
  • The ANC is not all powerful, as there are 3 tiers & power is shared among them.  It’s power is evolving & maturing as competitors are moving out of the ANC.
  • Infrastructure development is the driver of economic development.  The Infrastructure Coordinating Committee seeks to plot it’s future.
h1

US-China-Japan trilateral relations

Friday 4 April, 2014

I attended this event organized by the Japan Society;  The US-Japan-China triangle: building a path to trilateral cooperation which featured a panel discussion with Gerald Curtis of Columbia U., Jia Qingguo of Peking U., Alan Romberg of the Henry L. Stimson Center, & Yoshihide Soeya of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars & Keio U.  The panel was moderated by Donald Zagoria of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.  I arrived late & missed Jia’s talk.

Soeya put today’s situation in historical context.  In 1971-2, China asserted itself while Japan avoided the issue.  During the 1980’s, Japan invested in China to modernize the country.  Deng Xiaoping then made courageous reforms.  Recently Japan’s Abe made an exception in visiting the Yaksun Islands.  In an interview in the  June-July issue of Foreign Affairs, he said it was not a big deal & that they were entitled to a right of self-defense, exerting a nationalistic tendency.  But he can’t carry out this policy with his current agenda.

Romberg called trilateral cooperation wildly unrealistic, & perhaps impossible.  There is no resolve to manage the dynamics.  China & the US have positive & negative effects which offset each other.  Their external behavior is erratic;  while they seek peace, they will also respond if challenged.  Aggression is in the eye of the beholder.  Japan is skeptical of China’s methods.  The US-China relationship is broader & deeper.  Their national interests differ.  For example, China sees the US & Japan as limiting the opportunities to bring China’s poor out of poverty.  There are no prospects for peace if these problems can’t be resolved.  Talks should lie ahead, but won’t.  Abe won’t visit the shrine again as PM.  The US seeks to lower the heat, but won’t mediate.  US/Japan alliances are alive & well.

Curtis addressed 4 issues:

  1. The islands are a dominant issue in Chinese/Japanese relations.  No 1 wants to go to war, but accidents do happen.  Japan must recognize the dispute & be willing to talk.  The Chinese must withdraw during such talks.  There seems to be no resolution because neither side expresses a willingness to compromise.
  2. China is conducting a nonsensical propaganda campaign against Abe, but that may be backfiring.  Both sides need to back off.
  3. Yaksuni is a sensitive issue.  Abe’s visit was not in the national interest.  Visiting the shrine resulted in sending a political message.  The hope is Abe will get this over with & foster better relations.
  4. After America’s pivot to Asia, we are stronger, but relatively smaller.  Obama is weak & doesn’t support Japan-the republicans do.  The world & the US have changed & we can’t go back to the way the world existed before.

Panel Q&A

If Japan acknowledges the Sekuka Isles, they can at least start negotiations.  Japan wants China to reduce it’s patrols in the area.  The solution could be the transfer of property rights by both of them.  The fishery agreement between the 2 is a recognized issue & related.  China will continue to assert itself until stopped.

Open Q&A

Japan is different from Germany after World War II in that the Japanese never apologized for the atrocities they inflicted on others, while the Germans did.

There is a poisoned atmosphere between China & Japan, which isn’t surprising.  They need to solve these problems to build trust.

Transferring property rights to the UN is not an option because that would be viewed as surrender, which is unacceptable.

h1

China takes the reins…of APEC

Friday 28 March, 2014

The Asia Society organized this event APEC Briefing 2013-14: China Takes the Reins & I was there to attend.  The moderator Tom Nagorski was a no-show, but otherwise everyone else made it.  China’s year of taking over the reins of APEC has been anticipated because each change brings new priorities & potentially new partnerships.

Robert Wang brought the US diplomatic perspective.  Strong new Chinese leadership wants to work closely with the US.  They have 3 priorities:

  1. regulate economic integration
  2. promote innovative development
  3. strengthen connectivity & infrastructure development

They held a 1-day symposium & wanted to discuss all 75 regional/free-trade agreements (FTA’s), how to work together, & FTAP, an FTA of the Asia/Pacific.

Ann Weeks of Underwriters Labs (UL) brought a standards orientation to the proceedings, which affects 80% of all trade as technical regulations have replace tariffs while improving public safety.  UL serves 65K manufacturers in 100 countries, of which 21 are in APEC.  40% of UL’s revenues come from outside the US.  They focus increasingly on food safety & green buildings.

Peter Petri zoomed in on the TransPacific Partnership (TPP), which includes APEC+China, the 12 countries which are in negotiations now to weave together the architecture of Latin America together with the Asia Pacific.  This is a crucial year to put this trade bill up for a vote.  There could be big benefits to both America & Asian economies as they create a template for future agreements.   China has held conferences on TPP but is not currently in negotiations.  This is generally changing, as China has changed lots of positions in the last 6 months.  The main issue is regional economic integration.  APEC is now just a forum to discuss issues-participants aren’t yet ready to make commitments, which can still play a useful role in negotiations, sharing, joint projects, etc. making TPP & FTAP now much more realistic.

Curtis Chin addressed how involved Barack Obama should be in this process.  He is on a large stage, but should he have left during the shutdown?  It matters, but not that much, since no major decisions were made.  No 1 event matters among many.  Abe was welcomed with open arms, but the engagement of the US is key.  How will China address the media?

  • each host determines the capacity
  • China’s focus is on supply chains with the goal of reducing costs by 25% by 2015
  • they are doing peer reviews for fossil fuels
  • they’ve set a goal to double renewables by 2030

Open Q&A

  • Clinton raised this to the Head of State level
  • China has been flexible in dealing with other APEC countries:  they’ve listened & changed.
  • Lots of work has been done on HR development issues to address labor rights-it’s been a sea change.
  • Work groups have been formed around small businesses, health, & food security
  • China will actually hold an anti-bribery conference together with the OECD to enforce a code of ethics.
  • Social media freedom is not yet a focus-it’s only being addressed on a bilateral basis.  The focus is still on building out internet infrastructure.
  • TPP is down to landing zones, so they’re getting close, but since it requires trade promotion authority, there could be repercussions if fast track authority is not granted.  TPP is already absorbing rules on labor & the environment.

 

h1

cool japan strategy

Monday 24 March, 2014

I attended this event @ the Japan Society, “The ‘Cool Japan’ strategy:  sharing the unique culture of Japan with the world” featuring Tomoni Inada, the minister in charge of the strategy.  “Cool Japan” is a phrase used to describe Japanese commodities, contents, & cultural products that are considered “cool” by non-Japanese people.  It features films & TV programs, characters like Hello Kitty, video games, & fashion items.  The Japanese contents market is flat or shrinking.  A low % (3%) of Japanese contents revenue comes from overseas.  Japan seeks to increase the # of visitors to Japan from 10M in 2013 to 30M in 2030.

Until now, cooperation has been insufficient.  It is vital to work together to convey the appeal of Japan’s outstanding culture & products to the world & turn these into an engine of economic growth.  Inada was appointed a cabinet level ministerial position to implement this strategy & head up the Cool Japan Promotion Council.  The council has 7 private sector members, such as a lyricist, critic, & designer.  A subcommittee was formed to more effectively convey Japan’s culture from young people’s perspective.

An action plan has been created to move this forward with these action items:

  • promote cooperation among food, fashion, manufacturing, & contents sectors
  • utilize the Cool Japan fund of $485M public sector funds & $97M private funds
  • promotion by prime minister
  • encourage broad participation of Japanese people

In June, 2013 the strategy was rebranded @ the highest levels of government as a national strategy called the “Japan Revitalization strategy:  Japan is back.”  It includes food, sake, fashion, manufacturing, contents, & traditional culture.  The 1st event where this was implemented was @ the Tokyo International conference on African development (TICAD), which was attended by African heads of state.  It was also introduced @ the Tokyo Crazy Kawaii in Paris in September, 2013.  There is also a regional approach to promote boxed-lunch (Bento) culture & traditional textile art (nishijin-ori).

Design is being highlighted in porcelain, lacquer, digital signage, fashion, castles, & sky trees.

my $02:  Japan needs to start promoting this strategy online.  When I searched for it, very little relevant information showed up.

h1

Greek banking & tourism

Tuesday 18 February, 2014

I attended a Greek Investor Forum & learned some interesting things sitting in on sessions on banking & travel/tourism.

BANKING:  The Hellenic Financial Stability Fund has committed €40B of which €26B has been used, with a €10B buffer, which has increased investor confidence.

Banks are setting up functions to deal with non-performing loans,, but GDP must start growing 1.5-2% again.  NPL’s typically peak 1 year after the economy starts growing, which should be next year.  There is still work to be done on consolidation as this is already 1 of the most concentrated markets.  There is lots of movement in the pace of consolidation.  Regulatory reform is coming to all of Europe, not just Greece.

Recapitalization has been implemented successfully, but is that compatible with Europe?  They are ahead of others in consolidation,  taking steps to attract investment, & on track to become solid.  Non-performing loan resolution is important.  The question is to sell or rehabilitate?  This sector can perform well in the future, but it’s still far from over.

Eurobank is taking advantage of agreement with the troika (IMF, World Bank, ECB) to raise further private capital, & actually rolling this out as we speak.  Nowhere else in the EU is there such concentration.  They are optimistic that the worst is over.  Workouts accelerate as the economy improves.  Margins are widening as concentration increases & funding costs fall.

Foreign ownership is an issue.   There is no short term-a few foreigners are excited.  Institutional & portfolio investment is up.  Banking is like fashion in that it always moves in cycles.  The focus is on local-there are few global players.  The most interest is from funds.  European financial investors are interested in assets, but only when there are no constraints, which is resulting in the 1st wave of interest.  There is large & growing interest from institutional investors.  In times of great change, it’s difficult to spread out new regulations, & there are penalties for doing that. Many see changes in the regulatory structure.  Citi never left Greece.  International banks paid a heavy price.  No new entrants are seen in the forseeable future.

Greece must fully stabilize & the risks be normalized.  There is little interest in the next 2 years-Greece is no different from other stressed banks/economies.  It’s not just the stigma-it’s relative to the the regulations today.  They need to install their own national regulator.  But there is still no true bank union. There is still no M&A activity because of regulatory uncertainty.  Assessing risks, returns, values today, & valuations are impossible.   Sensitivity to buying above book values is still limited.  Greek banks trade @ a premium to book value.

In the mid-90’s Greek banks followed clients overseas, to Turkey, & elsewhere.  Now they are de-leveraging by selling non-Greek assets, but they want to keep footholds in growth, like Spain in Latin America.

There is a reluctance to write off loans.  They run a portfolio of loan exposures, use auctions to sell minority stakes, & manage/support non-performing loans to de-risk investments.  Growth is needed for a turnaround, but they don’t want to price assets @ $.50 on the $.  Better workouts are being done on the wholesale side.  With a recovery, owners will put more money into their own businesses.  Tax legislation has an impact on strategic defaults too.  Those who can pay should.  This all requires systematically viable solutions, but they are coming out of enormous stress.

TRAVEL & TOURISM:  McKinsey updated a 2 year old study found that international arrivals to Greece stagnated while travel spending per capita fell, while @ the same time these doubled in Turkey.  In 2013, travel & tourism arrivals were up 11%, comprised 17% of GDP, & 19% of employment & added 30K jobs because stability returned.  In the next 10 years, Greece should return to become a Top 10 destination.  This requires a plan.  The target is to reach 22-24M tourists by 2022 by 3.5% faster than the global growth rate.  They need to extend & smooth the tourism period, diversify the product, eliminate the seasonal disadvantage, so that they offer more than just sea & sun.

Greece has 6 core products:

  1. sun/beach
  2. nautical
  3. city break/Athens
  4. medical tourism (to neighbors)
  5. cultural/religious
  6. MICE-conferences

They need to revitalize cultural offerings by segmenting & targeting.  They will extend museum hours & raise prices.  Golf & 2nd homes will be emphasized.  Transport & connectivity should grow with airport infrastructure & local airlines.  Investors require stability, fair tax treatment, & transparency.  The state tourism organization will get a state-of-the-art website.  An aggregator platform will be built.  Municipal destinations will develop their own brands.

Air transport needs to be overhauled.  It must be functional, well-managed, & dedicated to the region.  Infrastructure will be privatized & upgraded.  They can no longer rely on a government budget.  The Greek carriers are too small, so they must consolidate, as Aegean & Olympic have now joined, but they’re still only 1/3 the size of Portugal.  Greece has the lowest % of incoming carriers.  The quality is good, but they’re too small.  They are expanding in 2013-2014, & not just in Athens.

h1

deutsche Frauen in der Technik

Tuesday 28 January, 2014

I checked out this event last month “Engaging Women in STEM: Perspectives from the United States and Germany,” which was sponsored by the German Center for Research & Innovation in the German consulate just across from the UN in New York. Apparently they are streaming this as long as it stays up, so I’ll just provide highlights here.

The bottom line benefit to women getting involved in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math) is that women think differently, & these disciplines could use new lines of thought.  We need disruptive ideas & more of those come from more diversity, just as we need to do a better job of translating basic research into better applied research, & then developing that into market-ready products.

Despite the Apollo effect of Kennedy’s increase in NASA’s budget resulting in more PhD’s, mostly men, it’s telling, & perhaps disappointing, that the 1st woman in space came from the USSR.

Germany’s German Aerospace Center (DLR) is the German equivalent of America’s NASA, plus energy, transport, & security.  It has a budget of 1.8B € for 32 institutes on 16 sites.  They’ve provided equal opportunities for women for the last 10 years, in which women have taken 30% of all positions, & a division to keep watch over this since 2008, & a Chief Diversity Officer who sits on the Board of Directors.

BrainGate2 was cited as a good example.

In addition to commonly-accepted mentoring by senior leaders of aspiring junior level employees, perhaps we should consider reversing the hierarchy & have juniors mentor the seniors on new technologies with which they are more familiar.

Many things are changing which should encourage women to get more involved in STEM, such as changing demographics, traditional gender roles, reconciling work & home life, a skilled worker shortage, increasing cultural diversity, & last but not least, legislation.  The potential benefits of changes in policy are increased opportunities for women, employers being viewed as more attractive workplaces, & organizations simply becoming more creative.  Structure follows strategy, so a key is changing the mindset to balance reality with innovation.  Women are underrepresented in STEM for societal, individual, & organizational reasons.  There are implementation, responsibility, & cultural issues.  Vicious circles which enforce unwritten laws or codes from dominant insiders conspire to keep women down.  Commitment to change & including all stakeholders are critical success factors.

Women have a great societal impact on engineering.  Their diversity leads to increased creativity, which encourages innovation.  Role models, mentoring, networking, non-profit associations, & starting early all encourage women in this direction.  i2e or innovation, invention, & entrepreneurship should keep students from getting distracted.  The Urban Assembly is a good example of an organization which has promoted women in this area. (The CEO of my 1st employer Xerox, Ursala Burns, is a graduate of Brooklyn Poly) The bottom line is we must change the mindset of society to make a change in this direction.

Panel Q&A

A girls-only robotics lab reached the same results as boys, but with a different approach.  Girls ask “why?”, while the boys simply break it down or destroy it to understand it.

Open Q&A

There is no magic formula, although the necessity is clear.  We need an Artemis effect for women, just as we had an Apollo effect for men.

60% of medical students are female.  German women are successful in civil engineering, but no women sit on the board of DLR.  Although other women were offered the opportunity, the panel still consisted of 2 men & 1 woman.

Women in STEM is similar to women in finance.  Families must be made compatible with work.  Women with children should no longer be stigmatized.  We need an attitudinal shift.  STEM participation is too low for both men & women.  Secondary education must be revamped.

We had this same discussion in 1978.  Women drop out of these areas early.  We need to be honest with ourselves.

Does society really value STEM?  We need to change child care so that women can come back to their jobs.  Change will come when men care for their kids.  Daughters need to ask “What can I do with technology?”  There are many piecemeal solutions @ the policy level.