Monday, January 24, 2011

Monday Quick Hits

Here are some headlines to tide you over until tomorrow's big State of the Union address and its inevitably depressing depiction of "free trade" and "competitiveness" as "exports" and "subsidies," respectively:
  • CHINA INFLATION ALERT!  Asia expert Lee Miller sends me tons of juicy news on China's (possibly) skyrocketing inflation.  Here are some highlights:  First, AmCham China's 2010-2011 China's Business Report finds that "Finding enough qualified staff is the No. 1 business challenge, and competition is picking up not only between U.S. and other foreign companies but between U.S. and Chinese companies -- both private and state-owned enterprises (SOEs)."  Second, Diana Choyleva writes a must-read op-ed in the WSJ Asia, concluding: "It's not just the prices of consumer goods and services. Asset price inflation, most famously in real estate, has been accelerating; as has wage inflation. All of this should make the thousands of investors looking to jump onto the China bandwagon skeptical of what they're being told. Regardless of Beijing's claims of prudent economic management, excess money is sloshing around and overheating China's economy, thanks to the huge monetary overhang from China's post-2008 stimulus. Beijing clearly panicked when the global financial crisis hit and stepped on the monetary accelerator. It halted the ascent of the yuan by re-pegging to the dollar in mid-2008 (so that exports could become cheaper), it stopped sterilizing the still-massive foreign exchange inflows (so these inflows directly entered the money supply) and ordered banks to lend historic amounts of credit. The increase in broad money was a massive 39% of GDP in 2009 and 30% in 2010, compared with a previous peak of 27% in 2003. The Chinese express alarm over Western quantitative easing efforts these days, but China's own monetary loosening beats all that."  Third, AFP reports that "China's main export region in the south will raise minimum wages by an average 18.6 percent, marking the second hike in less than a year as soaring food costs hit the country's millions of poor."  Finally, the Global Times reports that "The People's Bank of China (PBC) will print 1 trillion yuan ($151 billion) worth of new bank notes this year, but officials refuted claims that the announcement had anything to do with inflation, the Xinhua News Agency reported Wednesday." That last story might be nothing, but after reading the first three, are you willing to bet on it?
  • David Harsanyi cites "Red Dawn" in his op-ed on the baselessness of the current Sino-phobic hysteria in the US.  Thus, he gets a shout-out from this Red Dawn-loving blogger.
  • Joseph Sternberg provides in the WSJ a rather convincing argument as to why we shouldn't expect China to "re-balance" anytime soon.  Sternberg points out several aspects of China's banking sector that lead to a bias against domestic consumption in favor of export industries (especially state-owned ones).  His conclusion: "China's investment-driven growth has paid off so far but may already be witnessing declining marginal returns. McKinsey estimates that China now needs to invest $4.90 to produce each dollar of GDP growth, up from $3.30 in the early 1990s. Shifting to a new model will require changes at every level, right down to the bank branch. That's hard to do when you're preoccupied asserting economic might you may not have."
  • Cato's Mark Calabria provides a really simple solution to White House complaints about China's preventing the appreciation of its currency by purchasing US government debt: stop borrowing money!  He states, "When China receives dollars for the many goods it sells us, instead of recycling those dollars into the purchase of US goods, it uses that money mostly to buy US Treasuries and Agencies (Fannie/Freddie securities).  These large Treasury/Agency purchases (foreign holdings of GSE debt are over $1 trillion) have the effect of increasing the demand for dollars and depressing that for yuan, resulting in an appreciation of the dollar relative to the yuan. This connection exposes the hypocrisy of President Obama’s complaints about China currency manipulation – without massive US budget deficits, China would not be able to manipulate its currency to the extent it does. If the US wants to end that manipulation, it can do so by simply reducing the outstanding supply of Treasuries and Agency debt."  Exactly.
  • A new study on outsourcing from Duke University's business school shows that "American companies opting to hire offshore labor are doing so because of a domestic shortage of skilled workers, not a desire to save on labor costs."  Do you hear that hissing sound?  Yep, it's the deflation of yet another protectionist narrative.  (Oh snap.)
  • AEI's Mark Perry provides our annual reminder that those preaching the "death of American manufacturing" are not just greatly exaggerating but also flat-wrong.  In so doing, Perry provides two charts-of-the-day (below) and smartly concludes: "America still makes a ton of stuff, and we make more of it now than ever before in history, but we’re able to do it with a fraction of the workers that would have been required in the past. We’re still the world’s leading manufacturing economy by far, thanks to the world-class productivity of American manufacturing workers, the most productive in the world. Instead of bashing China, Korea, and Mexico for competing against our manufacturing sector and exaggerating the decline of our manufacturing sector, Americans should take more pride and celebrate our status as the world’s leading manufacturer."  Amen.  I'd only add one thing: is it really good policy to rest the hopes of the US labor force on a sector (manufacturing) that has experienced awesome and steadily improving productivity (i.e., increasing output with a shrinking workforce) over the last few decades?  Hmmm...

That's all for tonight, folks.

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