Archive for February, 2009


a canadian double whammy

Tuesday 24 February, 2009

I attended a couple of Canadian events in 1 evening last week.

1.  a group of IT firms paid Chicago a visit from Winnipeg Manitoba.

  • Frantic Films , a creative digital branded content & commercials producer of short form video I remember from when I worked @ the Canadian consulate, but don’t remember much more than that.  They’re looking to meet advertising agencies with up to 1000 employees.
  • OlaTech web applications developer seeking associations with associations (pardon the pun) for its in1touch member database for managing events, surveys, newsletters, e-mail campaigns, member forums, job opportunities, billing, payment processing, & reports.
  • Online Business Systems technology consulting company already has offices in the US & may be expanding in Chicago with a focus on Justice & Public Safety.
  • Technologies for Learning Group custom e-learning/(LMS) learning management solutions provider.  I worked with the principal when I worked @ the Canadian consulate & am working on hooking them up in Europe.

2.  Porter Airlines iniated services between Chicago’s Midway Airport & 6 Canadian destinations with Toronto as its hub.  Porter held a reception @ the new Trump Tower.   It was pretty swanky… & they gave away travel vouchers for flights on Porter.  Talk about good swag…


CME going global?

Thursday 19 February, 2009

I checked out this luncheon recently which featured Jamie Parisi, CFO of the Chicago Mercantile Exchange speaking on  Perspective on Futures Industry Role in Global Economy The CME was given the Corporate Growth Award by the Chicago Chapter of the Association for Corporate Growth in front of 140 members.  Here’s what he revealed from an international perspective:  Globex is now available in 80 countries.  When questioned about CME’s international growth & perhaps acquisition plans, Parisi admitted that CME has historically been a North American-centric organization.  However, better telecommunications connections have enabled CME to reach the 4 corners of the globe.  They are introducing new products on an ongoing basis to address world markets for financial products.  CME has taken a minority stake in BM&FBOVESPA in Brazil.  Federal governments won’t allow foreign companies make more than minority investments in their local exchanges, so CME will tread lightly in this area.

I don’t know if it’s any indicator of their proclivity for success, but the CME has been looking for a Director of International Business Development on for months.  The time they’re taking to fill the position certainly indicates that it’s not a priority.  Granted, the qualifications they are seeking are pretty specific, but like most American firms, they value the hard skills at the expense of soft skills.  Deal-making experience in financial services/ trading/exchange or broker-dealer environment are required, while international experience is only preferred & language skills are only helpful. I’m not a finance guy, but I do think they’re shortchanging the importance of being able to build mutual win-win personal as well as business relationships with counterparts throughout the world.


Sustainable energy in Germany

Wednesday 18 February, 2009

I attended this event last week Sustainable Energy Technology in Germany and the U.S sponsored by the German Federal Ministry of Education & Research, Baden-Wuerttemberg International, & Research in Germany-Land of Ideas.  Links to the presentations & video of the conference should be available here

Here’s what’s not included in the presentations:

Dirk Lohan of Chicago set the goal, in typical German fashion, to achieve harmony & balance with nature.


  • aim is to make applications for renewables as vast as possible
  • renewables are no longer alternative energy
  • we need to find renewable energy yields every day
  • we need more communication between architects & engineers
  • monitoring is needed to show payback,/ROI,, etc.


  • energy consumption by buildings is the same the world over
  • climates differ, reflected in more humidity here
  • lighting accounts for 26% of commercial energy, which should be simple to economize, e.g. with motion sensors
  • Germany implemented its 1st energy code in 1977, while there is no federal legislation
  • the US is comparable to Europe in green building certification systems-it’s a global movement with LEED adopted in 67 countries
  • drops in the price of oil are bad because they cause less emphasis on conservation


  • projects are 5-6 years in duration so they can be monitored over time
  • solar chillers help with heat in summer
  • 3 years ago they had no energy data from varied automation systems
  • passive consumption is reaching 0
  • triple glazed windows is needed for optimal insulation
  • even if buildings are made airtight, mold problems can develop if ventilation not up to speed
  • heating/electrical varies tremendously, depending on users
  • biomass quality varies, depending on the input
  • to go to net 0, electricity is still required, but can be solved by photovoltaic panels


  • there is no linear relationship between heating a cool space & cooling a warm space
  • there is a variance of +/- 5% for energy radiation


  • they monitor 1300 data points in their low-energy school building
  • heat generated from computers in classrooms is reused

The Germans are way ahead in developing sustainable energy.  We can learn a lot from them, & not just from their technologies & not just from those in Baden Wuertenberg.  Their approach is typically German-comprehensive & long-term.  We can learn from that as well.


NU african conference

Tuesday 17 February, 2009

I attended the Friday afternoon session of this eventAfrica In Motion: Global Health, Markets and Human Rights which focused on Sino-African Relations & Entrepreneurship/African Capital Markets.  This conference addressed many other issues going on in Africa, but I wasn’t able to attend because I had a client meeting & did an indoor triathlon.

1st to Sino-African relations, China supported Africa’s liberation in 1955 & was on the front lines with them, so their relationship is not new.  What’s new is China’s ascendence as a world power.  What differs is China’s approach to Africa.  The Chinese place no preconditions on the aid they provide to Africans, in contrast to the Americans, for which the Chinese get mutual respect for non-interference.


  • China will not fundamentally change the displacement of refugees in Africa.
  • China hasn’t earned profits per se, however has gained influence, which should be as valuable.

Moving to entrepreneurship/capital markets, filmmaker Carol Pineau made  Kenya Stories which started to tell the tales of 6 business plan contestants in Kenya.  It ended up following them through elections protests, riots, etc.  Most ended up being real success stories.   There are inspirational stories of overcoming corruption, lack of infrastructure, (computers have to be replaced on a regular basis because surge protection is insufficient).

Rob Fogler has the only US-based Africa investment fund that is financed entirely by private money.   He focused on 4 areas

  • microfinance-definition depends on who’s defining it.  It’s not a toy, although it has been co-oped by some non-profit organizations.  Transaction costs are going up.  There are regulatory issues, but some are being solved by technologies, wireless, etc.
  • mortgages-title, surveys, & foreclosure are issues, but they’re available to SME’s.  $250 trillion could be unlocked with them.  The problem is lack of access to long term currency reserves.  A 2ndary market is needed.  Currency risk must be diversified away.
  • stock exchanges-only 10 US companies are listed in all of Africa, so they’re still to small & illiquid.  Mutual funds, pension funds, 401K investments need to develop.
  • private equity/venture capital-$125M was invested in 2005 (1/2 of that in Nigeria).  Now funds are raising $200M.  Opportunities will not come from foreign investment, rather from within.

Kolawole Oyefeso of Kotco Energy Ltd. spoke too, but I couldn’t understand him very well.


  • Rob will invest in anything but tourism
  • You need to build personal relationships to find people you can trust.  There are no quick bucks.
  • Companies which establish viability with appropriate controls get investment.
  • Previous aid models haven’t worked.  Entrepreneurship does.
  • Raising long-term capital is tough.  Governments must develop tax bases to avoid the need to borrow.
  • Americans are already late to Africa & need to get past the mental “Africa obstacle.”  The Russians, Indians, Middle Easterners, & Chinese are already there.  Africa is not that different from Latin America.  Barclays is issuing debt in local markets.

local take on the global financial crisis

Monday 16 February, 2009

I checked out this event put on by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs Maxed Out: How the World is Going Broke and Who Gets the Credit It featured Adolfo Laurenti, (AL) Sr. Economist @ Mesirow Financial, whom I interviewed for my column @ Midwest Business as well as Charles Wheelan (CW). The moderator sought to answer 5 questions;

Is the financial stimulus package the right medicine @ the right time?

  • AL-no, it’s too broad a package which eliminates hardship but doesn’t provide stimulus.  It bypasses the budget process & contains too much pork, too little for broadband (only $250M)
  • CW-the Senate might fix it by adding more infrastructure spending, but the process for spending on infrastructure is wrong.  We need better criteria for spending, such as improving congestion.

What’s the private sector’s role in the new New Deal?

  • CW-only the private sector drive economic activity.  We need to emphasize education to increase productivity.  Government can create short term demand, but the real question is how did the private sector fail itself?
  • AL-over the last several years we’ve developed economic imbalances by taking on too much risk, which has now resulted in panic.  We need to fix these imbalances in credit, etc. to move forward, but it’s unsure how fast we can get there.

How should we address commodity/oil/food price instability?

  • AL-as soon as demand picks up, we’re OK.  Some economies have managed quite well.  The problem is with those that were broken before the crisis & oil acted as a band-aid, such as Russia & Venezuela.
  • CW-we’ve seen extreme versions of economics which have changed behavior (we drove less when the price of oil went up).  We need a carbon tax offset by other tax breaks.

Should we really buy American?

  • AL-definition of buying American is changing.  Japanese cars made in America are as much or more American than Big 3 cars.
  • CW-we can’t ask consumers to buy more expensive American-made products, despite costing US jobs.

What should be the goals of the G20 meeting this upcoming April?

  • CW-don’t lapse into protectionism while continuing to fix trade, agriculture, & Kyoto.  We need to look past the G20 to new global institutions.
  • AL-rethink the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, etc.  as well as revise the Basel agreement on banking/finance to better coordinate monetary policy.


  • bailout money is borrowed by the government, so there is some risk
  • although Europe is now the largest economy, it can’t coordinate its national economies as well because the European Central Bank doesn’t work the same way as the Fed
  • the Fed still has more credibility than Japan’s as long as it can deal with inflation later
  • the carbon tax won’t hurt lower income earners proportionately more if the offsets are structured correctly
  • green technologies can be economic drivers if the prices are right
  • 0 savings & living on credit are bigger problems than derivatives (Charlie’s dog was issued a credit card!)
  • the government should not step in to save banks before they get too big to fail because the regulatory pendulum will swing too far-survival is not a function of size or regulation
  • we should not return to the gold standard & continue to let the market set interest rates
  • the US should not become the Japan of the 1990’s because the US has more flexibility to liquidate its mistakes & address deflation faster

Watch a video of the event on C-Span:


International Risk Management seminar

Wednesday 11 February, 2009

I checked out this breakfast seminar last week RISK MANAGEMENT IN INTERNATIONAL MARKETS by WI-based accountants Virchow Krause.  They were good enough to send over the presentation, so here it is  virchowkrausebreakfastforum-riskservicesininternationalmarkets

I didn’t take many notes because they didn’t present much more than what’s contained in the presentations.  Here are a few of my comments:

  • when I think of risk management, my thoughts often turn to insurance. This event did not devolve into that exclusive discussion.
  • I really enjoyed the interactive format.  They presented their material & then we broke out into small groups & discussed how it affected each of us.  We then reported back to the whole group on our findings.  It really enabled us to make it real.
  • the tools & templates @ the end of the presentation seem to be quite helpful.
  • I’m sometimes a little skeptical of organizations which tout being part of an international network, but Baker Tilly appears to be as good as any other.  I just question how invested foreign partners are in the success of US clients.  Sometimes there may be conflicts of interest in passing off clients to partners who don’t have the same goals in serving clients as we do.  On the other hand, I work with international partners as well & don’t want to by hypocritical in accusing others when in some ways I’m no better.
  • 1 thing not included in the attached presentation that they did present was Transparency International ‘s Corruption Perceptions Index map & table.  It’s quite eye-opening.
  • 1 complaint as a part-time WI resident to a WI-based firm, serve more cheese!

buy american protectionism?-not if Canadian ministers can help it

Tuesday 10 February, 2009

I attended this event last week: Moving Forward: Energy and the Canada-US Relationship in the Current Economy featuring Premier Brad Wall of Saskatchewan & Premier Gary Doer of Manitoba.  It was sponsored by  The Illinois Chamber of Commerce & The Canadian Consulate Genera in Chicago.  Here’s what they had to say:

Premier Wall:  Saskatchewan is home to lots of natural resources, such as 23% of the world’s uranium reserves, 1/4 of all mustard seeds, & 32% of lentils.  Saskatchewan leads Canada in per capita growth.  His main message was directed towards Washington in emphasizing that protectionism (& the Buy American provisions of the recovery package) is not an option in solving the global financial crisis.  Global trading partners retaliate in kind, & we’re all worse off.  Canadians will take their conflict-free energy resources elsewhere, & that would be devastating to the US.  Canada is the #1 export market for 35 US states, so to mess with that would be folly.

Premier Doer:  Boeing has a plant in Winnipeg & Norad has been based there for 50 years, providing perimeter security for all of North America.  Manitoba sends 500,000 tourists to Chicago & $41B in exports to Illinois.  He mirrored Premier Wall in saying we need some midwestern common sense in Washington.  If we put up walls, we’ll bring down jobs.   Jonathon Toews of the Blackhawks is from Manitoba.  The star of the event was Israel Idonije, defensive tackle for the Chicago Bears, who played college football @ the University of Manitoba.


There is no dirty oil (from oil sands) in Saskatchewan yet, but is coming.  Canada is working on reducing this footprint by drilling & not excavating.

Canada is considering a stimulus package similar to that of the US, but smaller on a per capita basis.  It includes infrastructure, 1 lawyer for each megawatt of energy, & invests in knowledge to enhance competitiveness in the future as well.


reform the WTO?

Friday 6 February, 2009

I attended this lecture WTO Regulation of Bilateral Trade Agreements:  A Reform Proposal by Prof. Ralph Folsom of U San Diego law school & adjunct prof & advisory board member of the Center for International Law @ John Marshall Law School.  His talk was based primarily on this paper.  He’s apparently an old-school kind of guy because he had no powerpoint presentation, which is fine by me, but that means I have to summarize what he said.  Here goes:

Folsom set the ground work by saying that by the failure of the Doha Round of the WTO negotiations, bilateral trade agreements (BTA’s-including regional trade agreements) have taken over as the favored international trade pattern.  BTA’s possess advantages over multilateral treaties:

  • they can cover more subjects, i.e. foreign direct investment
  • government procurement can be included (optional in WTO, ex. it’s addressed by NAFTA for Mexico, but not in WTO)
  • labor rights & environmental issues are more often included

“There are now about 400 BTA’s of which we’re aware, but because there are no specific recording requirements to the WTO or any other international governing body, we’re not exactly sure.  That’s part of what’s broken & part his reform proposal.  Only 200 of the ~400 BTA’s are posted by the WTO, which is a regulatory failure. The WTO’s 2006 transparency mechanism apparently hasn’t cut it.  So his revelation is the current system is a failure & suggests we should simply ditch it.  We should then create a transparent mechanism to make all countries post BTA’s or make them subject to mandatory penalties, similar to international dispute settlement mechanisms the WTO invokes in cases of trade sanctions, etc.  Folsom maintains these penalties have teeth & I can see that.

My take:  I’m all for more disclosure & transparency.  Not mentioned in the lecture, but included in his paper, it sounds like he’s proposing an oversight role by the WTO for BTA’s as well.  I’m not a lawyer, but I’m a little wary of more reporting requirements & bouncing mutually-agreed-upon negotiated agreements off of a higher authority.  My assumption is the relevant parties, i.e  the business people who are buying & selling between the included countries, are aware of BTA’s, which is the most important thing.  I’m not completely clear on the benefit of overseeing & reporting BTA’s.  I’d like to know the cost/benefit comparison.