The Economist - Lexington: A transatlantic tipping-point < 5min

An historic trade pact between America and Europe needs saving … IN AN age of small-bore politics, America and the European Union have a chance to achieve something large: a transatlantic pact that would, at a stroke, liberalise a third of global trade. At a time when emerging powers are closing fast on a fretful West, a free-trade area covering America and the EU would offer something more. Done right, it could anchor a transatlantic economic model favouring openness, free markets, free peoples and the rule of law over the closed, managed visions of state capitalism. … Right now, the pact is in trouble, beset by small-mindedness and mutual suspicion. This is madness.

Nautilus - The Box That Built the Modern World 5-15min

More than any other single innovation, the shipping container—there are millions out there, all just like the ones stacked on the Hong Kong Express but for a coat of paint and a serial number—epitomizes the enormity, sophistication, and importance of our modern transportation system. Invisible to most people, they’re fundamental to how practically everything in our consumer-driven lives works. ... Think of the shipping container as the Internet of things. Just as your email is disassembled into discrete bundles of data the minute you hit send, then re-assembled in your recipient’s inbox later, the uniform, ubiquitous boxes are designed to be interchangeable, their contents irrelevant. ... The exact placement of each box is a critical part of the equation: Ships make many stops, and a box scheduled to be unloaded late in the journey can’t be placed above one slated for offloading early. Imagine a block of 14,000 interlocked Lego bricks—now imagine trying to pull one out from the middle. ... The container’s efficiency has proven to be an irresistible economic force. Last year the world’s container ports moved 560 million 20-foot containers—nearly 1.5 billion tons of cargo altogether. Though commodities like petroleum, steel ore, and coal still move in specially designed bulk cargo ships, more than 90 percent of the rest—everything from clothes to cars to computers—now travels inside shipping containers. “Reefer” containers, insulated and equipped with cooling units, carry refrigerated cargo and are plugged into power sources on ships or at dockside. Because the containers are all identical, any ship can move them. ... The Port of Los Angeles, America’s busiest container port, handled 476,000 TEUs in 1981. Thirty years later, 7.9 million 20-foot containers—almost all of them containing goods on their way from factories in Asia—moved through the port, a 16-fold increase. Hamburg’s four container terminals loaded and unloaded 8.9 million TEUs in 2012. On the long list of global container ports, Hamburg and Los Angeles are middleweights: Shanghai, the world’s largest container port, moves 31 million TEUs each year.

Places Journal - Isthmus > 15min

Now the canal is being reconfigured by a $5.5 billion expansion project scheduled for completion early next year. Approved by national referendum in 2006, the expansion effectively doubles the canal’s capacity by adding a new set of locks to accommodate larger container ships. Chambers with walls 50 feet thick are being grafted directly onto bedrock, like extensions of the isthmus itself. But the construction — monumental as it is — is only a small part of the story. More important is how the Panama Canal expansion is altering logistical relationships and generating new infrastructures throughout the American Hemisphere. ... Almost as soon as the referendum passed, port authorities from Miami to Lima began racing to complete their own expansion programs: dredging deeper shipping channels, installing larger gantry cranes, and building new container yards, in speculative efforts to compete for the ultra-large container ships that will transit the widened canal. An intense wave of anticipation ripples outward throughout the multi-continental network of waterways, ports, inspection stations, railroads, switching yards, highways, warehouses, and distribution centers that enable the global flow and movement of shipped materials. ... The expansion will reconfigure trans-American shipping in three primary ways. 4 First, a higher volume of goods will move faster between the two oceans, decreasing transport costs and altering the delicate financial calculus that determines global shipping routes. Second, as canal traffic increases, there will be a corresponding rise in transshipment, where goods are transferred to smaller ships that service cities with shallower harbors. The canal’s three ports — Balboa, Colón, and Manzanillo — will link distribution centers like Shanghai with smaller hubs like Barranquilla, Colombia, thus increasing Panama’s importance to regional shipping networks. Third, the expansion will provide an attractive alternative for shipping agricultural products from the interior United States to East Asian markets, elevating the Mississippi River corridor relative to the currently dominant overland routes to Pacific ports.

National Geographic - Why We (Still) Can’t Live Without Rubber 5-15min

Because rubber is so common, so unobtrusive, so dull, it may not seem worth a second glance. This would be a mistake. Rubber has played a largely hidden role in global political and environmental history for more than 150 years. You say you want an industrial revolution? If so, you need three raw materials: iron, to make steel for machinery; fossil fuels, to power that machinery; and rubber, to connect and protect all the moving parts. Try running an automobile without a fan belt or a radiator hose; very bad things will happen within a minute. Want to send coolant around an engine using a rigid metal tube instead of a flexible rubber hose? Good luck keeping it from vibrating to pieces. Having enough steel and coal to make and drive industrial machinery means nothing if the engines fry because you can’t cool them. ... To the extent that most people think about rubber at all, they likely picture a product made from synthetic chemicals. In fact, more than 40 percent of the world’s rubber comes from trees, almost all of them H. brasiliensis. Compared with natural rubber, synthetic rubber is usually cheaper to produce but is weaker, less flexible, and less able to withstand vibration. For things that absolutely cannot fail, from condoms to surgeon’s gloves to airplane tires, natural rubber has long been the top choice. ... Iron can be found around the globe; so can fossil fuels. But rubber today is grown almost exclusively in Southeast Asia, because the region has a unique combination of suitable climate and infrastructure. Despite all the ups and downs in the global economy, the demand for tires continues to grow, which has created something akin to a gold rush in Southeast Asia. For millions of people in this poor part of the world, the rubber boom has helped bring prosperity

The New York Times - The New Panama Canal: A Risky Bet 5-15min

Disputes quickly erupted over how to divide responsibilities. Some executives appeared not to fully grasp how little money they had to complete a complex project with a tight deadline and a multicultural team whose members did not always see things the same way. ... Internal arguments soon gave way to bigger problems. There would be work stoppages, porous concrete, a risk of earthquakes and at least $3.4 billion in disputed costs: more than the budget for the entire project. ... Seven years later, and nearly two years late, the locks have finally been declared ready to accept the new generation of giant ships that carry much of the world’s cargo but cannot fit in the original canal. To mark the occasion, Panama has invited 70 heads of state to watch on Sunday as a Chinese container ship becomes the first commercial vessel to attempt the passage from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific through the larger locks. ... For more than 100 years, the canal has been a vital artery nourishing the world economy, a testament to American engineering and one of the signature public works of the 20th century. The new locks, built by Panama without help from other governments, were sold to the nation and the world as a way to ensure that the canal remained as much of a lifeline in the hyperglobalized 21st century as it was in the last. ... one inescapable fact will remain: The expanded canal’s future is cloudy at best, its safety, quality of construction and economic viability in doubt ... In simple terms, to be successful, the new canal needs enough water, durable concrete and locks big enough to safely accommodate the larger ships. On all three counts, it has failed to meet expectations, according to dozens of interviews with contractors, canal workers, maritime experts and diplomats, as well as a review of public and internal records.

Bloomberg - How Antibiotic-Tainted Seafood From China Ends Up on Your Table 12min

The overuse of antibiotics has transformed what had been a hypothetical menace into a clear and present one: superbugs, bacteria that are highly resistant to antibiotics. By British government estimates, about 700,000 people die each year from antibiotic-resistant infections worldwide. If trends continue, that number is expected to soar to 10 million a year globally by 2050—more people than currently die from cancer. ... Research has found that as much as 90 percent of the antibiotics administered to pigs pass undegraded through their urine and feces. This has a direct impact on farmed seafood. The waste from the pigpens at the Jiangmen farm flowing into the ponds, for example, exposes the fish to almost the same doses of medicine the livestock get—and that’s in addition to the antibiotics added to the water to prevent and treat aquatic disease outbreaks. The fish pond drains into a canal connected to the West River, which eventually empties into the Pearl River estuary, on which sit Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, and Macau. The estuary receives 193 metric tons (213 tons) of antibiotics a year, Chinese scientists estimated in 2013. ... distribution networks that move the seafood around the world are often as murky as the waters in which the fish are raised. Federal agencies trying to protect public health face multiple adversaries: microbes rapidly evolving to defeat antibiotics and shadowy seafood companies that quickly adapt to health regulations to circumvent them, moving dirty seafood around the world in much the same way criminal organizations launder dirty money. ... China’s rates of drug resistance remain among the highest in the world. ... harvested in China but was passed through Malaysia, where it acquired Malaysian certificates of origin. This illegal transshipping, as the maneuver is called

Financial Times - How China rules the waves 9min

Investments into a vast network of harbours across the globe have made Chinese port operators the world leaders. Its shipping companies carry more cargo than those of any other nation — five of the top 10 container ports in the world are in mainland China with another in Hong Kong. Its coastguard has the globe’s largest maritime law enforcement fleet, its navy is the world’s fastest growing among major powers and its fishing armada numbers some 200,000 seagoing vessels. ... The emergence of China as a maritime superpower is set to challenge a US command of the seas that has underwritten a crucial element of Pax Americana, the relative period of peace enjoyed in the west since the second world war. ... China understands maritime influence in the same way as Alfred Thayer Mahan, the 19th century American strategist. “Control of the sea,” Mr Mahan wrote, “by maritime commerce and naval supremacy, means predominant influence in the world; because, however great the wealth of the land, nothing facilitates the necessary exchanges as does the sea.” ... The five big Chinese carriers together controlled 18 per cent of all container shipping handled by the world’s top 20 companies in 2015 ... The total size of these investments is difficult to calculate because of sketchy disclosure. But since 2010, Chinese and Hong Kong companies have completed or announced deals involving at least 40 port projects worth a total of about $45.6bn

Screen shot 2017 01 12 at 11.00.07 pm
KKR - Outlook for 2017: Paradigm Shift 75min

We view Donald Trump’s ascendancy to the Presidency of the U.S. as confirmation of a political and economic paradigm shift that started with Brexit but is likely to continue for the foreseeable future, including elections across Europe in 2017. Consistent with this view, we believe that there are four major potentially secular changes that all investment professionals must consider: fiscal stimulus over monetary, domestic agendas over global ones, deregulation over reregulation, and a broadening of outsized volatility from the currency markets to include global interest rate markets. The good news is that many of our highest conviction investment themes for 2016, including the ongoing slowdown in global trade, had already begun to capture this sea change in macro and geopolitical trends. At the same time, however, in certain areas our macro preferences have evolved of late in response to the “new” reality that we now live in. As such, we have used this outlook piece to challenge conventional investment wisdom, and in some instances, “adjust our sails.” In terms of asset allocation preferences for 2017, we are still probably most excited by what we see in Private Credit on a risk-adjusted basis. We also believe that Real Assets, particularly those with yield and growth, can prosper in the macro backdrop that we envision. Meanwhile, we are now balanced in our outlook on Equities versus Credit, but in both asset classes, we continue to suggest selling Simplicity and buying Complexity. Overall, though, we do not lose sight of the fact that we are undergoing a paradigm shift, and often these types of regime changes do not always transition smoothly. As a result, we maintain our long-held approach of seeking to monetize aggressively the periodic dislocations that inevitably occur in a world of increasing geopolitical uncertainty and macro instability.

Screen shot 2017 01 26 at 9.55.24 am
IEEE Spectrum - Forget Autonomous Cars—Autonomous Ships Are Almost Here 8min

Although robotic ships of this sort are some ways off in the future, it’s not a question of if they will happen but when. My colleagues and I at Rolls-Royce anticipate that the first commercial vessel to navigate entirely by itself could be a harbor tug or a ferry designed to carry cars the short distance across the mouth of a river or a fjord and that it or similar ships will be in commercial operation within the next few years. And we expect fully autonomous oceangoing cargo ships to be routinely plying the world’s seas in 10 or 15 years’ time. ... Remotely controlled ships, piloted by people on shore, and autonomous ships, which can take actions for themselves, are the latest beneficiaries of increasing digital connectivity and intelligence. These developments in electronic sensors, telecommunications, and computing have sparked interest in a range of autonomous vehicles including cars, planes, helicopters, trains, and now ships. ... That people should be seriously interested in robotic ships is easy enough to explain: Such ships are expected to be safer, more efficient, and cheaper to run. According to a report published by the Munich-based insurance company Allianz in 2012, between 75 and 96 percent of marine accidents are a result of human error, often a result of fatigue.

The New York Times - The Online Marketplace That’s a Portal to the Future of Capitalism 4min

Shopping involves scrolling through an intoxicating admixture of goods: Commodity necessities appear next to fast fashion and knockoff apparel; extraordinarily cheap but on-trend electronics mingle with what I can only describe as global manufacturing overspill. ... These shipments were made in accordance with a bilateral trade agreement between the United States and China that originated in 2010, meant to address the rising tide of cross-border e-commerce. Items up to 4.4 pounds — more than the weight of, for example, a violin and bow — can be shipped as ePackets, at extremely low rates with tracking numbers and delivery confirmation. ... This obscure trade deal has become the quiet conduit for an explosion in a new and underexamined American consumer behavior: buying things directly from their countries of manufacture. ... Because of ePacket, and the decades-old international postal agreements that serve as its foundation, lightweight product shipments from China are heavily subsidized by the U.S.P.S. ... Wish certainly illuminates the peculiarities of international shipping, but it casts a much brighter light on the state of globalized manufacturing and commerce. In fact, it offers a somewhat convincing vision of what they might become in the near future. ... Wish wastes no such effort on concealing its international character. Its product selection feels like a churning, infinite cascade; its lack of any sort of organizing principle is part of the reason it’s so hard to stop scrolling.