Additive manufacturing is growing apace in China … ALTHOUGH it is the weekend, a small factory in the Haidian district of Beijing is hard at work. Eight machines, the biggest the size of a delivery van, are busy making things. Yet the factory, owned by Beijing Longyuan Automated Fabrication System (known as AFS), appears almost deserted. This is because it is using additive-manufacturing machines, popularly known as three-dimensional (3D) printers, which run unattended day and night, seven days a week. … The printers require an occasional visit from a supervisor to top them up with the powdered materials they use as their “inks”, or to remove a completed item, but apart from that they can be left on their own.
Rising disability claims may explain America’s shrinking labour force … IN THE early 1980s the distressing persistence of high unemployment in Europe was labelled “Eurosclerosis”. Some now wonder whether “Amerisclerosis” is the right word to describe America’s labour market. It is true that unemployment has slowly dropped from a peak of 10% in late 2009, to 7.3% at present. But this decline overstates the health of the jobs market. … The labour-force participation rate, the share of the working-age population either working or looking for work, has plunged from 66% in 2007 to 63.2% in August, a 35-year low. If those people who have simply dropped out of the labour force were classified as unemployed, the headline jobless rate would be much higher.
Chinese business has been slow to embrace the internet. As it does, productivity should soar ... AT FIRST glance it would appear that China has gone online, and gone digital, with great gusto. The spectacular rise of internet stars such as Alibaba, Tencent and JD would certainly suggest so. The country now has more smartphone users and households with internet access than any other. Its e-commerce industry, which turned over $300 billion last year, is the world’s biggest. The forthcoming stockmarket flotation of Alibaba may be the largest yet seen. ... So it is perhaps surprising to hear it argued that much of Chinese business has still not plugged in to the internet and to related trends such as cloud computing and “big data” analysis; and therefore that these technologies’ biggest impact on the country’s economy is still to come. That is the conclusion of a report published on July 24th by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI), a think-tank run by the eponymous consulting firm. It finds that only one-fifth of Chinese firms are using cloud-based data storage and processing power, for example, compared with three-fifths of American ones. Chinese businesses spend only 2% of their revenues on information technology, half the global average. Even the biggest, most prestigious state enterprises, such as Sinopec and PetroChina, two oil giants, are skimping on IT. Much of the benefit that the internet can bring in such areas as marketing, managing supply chains and collaborative research is passing such firms by, the people from McKinsey conclude. ... Although millions of Chinese businesses sell their products on Taobao, an online marketplace owned by Alibaba, vast numbers remain offline: only 20-25% of small firms in China are internet-connected, compared with 75% in America. This helps explain why the labour productivity of local small businesses is roughly two-thirds of the average for all firms in the country; the comparable figure in Britain is 90% and in Brazil it is 95%. ... In all, MGI predicts that “a great wave of disruption has just begun.”
Our central finding is that the hype may actually understate the full potential—but that capturing it will require an understanding of where real value can be created and a successful effort to address a set of systems issues, including interoperability. ... To get a broader view of the IoT’s potential benefits and challenges across the global economy, we analyzed more than 150 use cases, ranging from people whose devices monitor health and wellness to manufacturers that utilize sensors to optimize the maintenance of equipment and protect the safety of workers. Our bottom-up analysis for the applications we size estimates that the IoT has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025. At the top end, that level of value—including the consumer surplus—would be equivalent to about 11 percent of the world economy ... Achieving this kind of impact would require certain conditions to be in place, notably overcoming the technical, organizational, and regulatory hurdles. In particular, companies that use IoT technology will play a critical role in developing the right systems and processes to maximize its value. ... The digitization of machines, vehicles, and other elements of the physical world is a powerful idea. Even at this early stage, the IoT is starting to have a real impact by changing how goods are made and distributed, how products are serviced and refined, and how doctors and patients manage health and wellness. But capturing the full potential of IoT applications will require innovation in technologies and business models, as well as investment in new capabilities and talent. With policy actions to encourage interoperability, ensure security, and protect privacy and property rights, the Internet of Things can begin to reach its full potential—especially if leaders truly embrace data-driven decision making.
My point is different. Low interest rates for an extended period of time don’t damage economic growth directly, but they cause damage in a multiple of other ways – a point almost universally missed by the critics. That is what this month’s Absolute Return Letter is all about. ... central bank action has had the effect of de-linking equities from the global growth cycle, as equity investors have chosen to blatantly ignore the fall in global trade in favour of more risk-taking at the back of accommodating central banks. Risk-on, risk-off has miraculously turned into risk-on, risk-on. “Don’t fight the Fed”, as they say, and equity investors have obviously chosen not to. ... First and foremost, returns are going to remain subdued because GDP growth will stay low for a long time to come. Demographic factors, productivity factors and mountains of debt in the majority of countries all point in the same direction, and that is towards below average economic growth. ... The most structural of those factors – demographics – will remain a negative for the U.S. economy for another 10-15 years, whilst economic growth in the euro zone and Japan will be negatively affected by demographics until at least 2050. This does not imply that there cannot be extraordinarily good years every now and then, but the average growth rate will almost certainly be low, causing interest rates to stay relatively low for a lot longer than most expect and corporate earnings to disappoint as well.
This is a country that uses people to do the work of traffic lights and where big-name companies running 10-year-old software is the norm. ... "Japanese companies generally lag foreign companies by roughly five-to-10 years in adoption of modern IT practices, particularly those specific to the software industry," says Patrick McKenzie, boss of Starfighter, a software company with operations in Tokyo and Chicago. ... Yoji Otokozawa, president of Tokyo-based IT consultants Interarrows, says Japan Inc. is poor in digital literacy because small businesses, not multinationals, rule the country. ... "They usually use postal mail, or fax for their communications. We sometimes receive a fax, written by hand which means such firms don't even use word processing software like Word."
The developed world’s workforce will start to decline next year, threatening future global growth ... Ever since the global financial crisis, economists have groped for reasons to explain why growth in the U.S. and abroad has repeatedly disappointed, citing everything from fiscal austerity to the euro meltdown. They are now coming to realize that one of the stiffest headwinds is also one of the hardest to overcome: demographics. ... For the first time since 1950, their combined working-age population will decline, according to United Nations projections, and by 2050 it will shrink 5%. The ranks of workers will also fall in key emerging markets, such as China and Russia. At the same time the share of these countries’ population over 65 will skyrocket. ... reflects two long-established trends: lengthening lifespans and declining fertility. Yet many of the economic consequences are only now apparent. Simply put, companies are running out of workers, customers or both. In either case, economic growth suffers. As a population ages, what people buy also changes, shifting more demand toward services such as health care and away from durable goods such as cars. ... Demographic forces are assumed to be slow-moving and predictable. By historical standards, though, these aren’t ... it took 80 years for the U.S. median age to rise seven years, to 30, by 1980, and just 34 more to climb another eight, to 38. ... There is no simple answer for how business and government should cope with these changes, since each country is aging at different rates, for different reasons and with different degrees of preparedness.
- Also: Wall Street Journal - 2050: Demographic Destiny
- Also: Quartz - By 2017, one in 17 Japanese will have dementia. Here’s how the country plans to cope < 5min
- Also: Bloomberg - Jefferies: Baby Boomers Will Spend Their Retirement Money on Golf and Travel < 5min
- Repeat: Wall Street Journal - Tastes Like Chicken: How to Satisfy the World’s Surging Appetite for Meat 5-15min
Meditation and mindfulness are the new rage in Silicon Valley. And it’s not just about inner peace—it’s about getting ahead. … Across the Valley, quiet contemplation is seen as the new caffeine, the fuel that allegedly unlocks productivity and creative bursts. Classes in meditation and mindfulness—paying close, nonjudgmental attention—have become staples at many of the region’s most prominent companies. There’s a Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute now teaching the Google meditation method to whoever wants it. The cofounders of Twitter and Facebook have made contemplative practices key features of their new enterprises, holding regular in-office meditation sessions and arranging for work routines that maximize mindfulness. Some 1,700 people showed up at a Wisdom 2.0 conference held in San Francisco this winter, with top executives from LinkedIn, Cisco, and Ford featured among the headliners. … These companies are doing more than simply seizing on Buddhist practices. Entrepreneurs and engineers are taking millennia-old traditions and reshaping them to fit the Valley’s goal-oriented, data-driven, largely atheistic culture. Forget past lives; never mind nirvana. The technology community of Northern California wants return on its investment in meditation. … It can be tempting to dismiss the interest in these ancient practices as just another neo-spiritual fad from a part of the country that’s cycled through one New Age after another. But it’s worth noting that the prophets of this new gospel are in the tech companies that already underpin so much of our lives.
Earnings per share for the S&P 500 Index peaked in the third quarter of 2014. The dramatic plunge in the prices of oil and industrial commodities as a result of slowing demand from China together with increased supply from the United States, decimated energy and materials companies’ profits. In the years ahead, oil production will decline to remove excess capacity, prices will again rise above costs, energy company margins will recover, and market-level earnings will return to a normal rate of growth. ... The future secular real rate of growth in corporate profits is far more important than the current commodity cycle to investors’ long-term real wealth accumulation. During the past quarter-century, politically facilitated globalization allowed profits to grow much faster than per capita GDP, wages, and productivity, propelling capital’s share of income to an unsustainable extreme. ... The distribution of the economic pie is ultimately a political choice. With populist frustration increasingly pressuring policy change around the world, investors should expect labor, tax, and interest expense to rise faster than sales, thereby depressing profit margins and slowing real growth in earnings per share over the decades ahead.
Economists are always right, even when they are not, aren’t they? Fat chance. The reality is very different. Writing these letters is akin to being constantly exposed, and – at times - looking rather silly. But I still enjoy it, so allow me to stick my neck out again and go against the consensus, because that is, at the end of the day, how you make money in this industry. ... The broad consensus is that DM countries are finally returning to some sort of normality (often called the New Normal), following years of Zombie-like conditions. There is, admittedly, a growing recognition that GDP growth is likely to disappoint for quite a while to come, but I believe that ‘quite a while’ should be measured in decades and not, as most seem to believe, in years ... In the following, I will argue that GDP growth will disappoint for a very long time to come, and that will obviously have an effect on corporate earnings growth as well. As I see things, most investors are still way too optimistic on GDP growth and corporate earnings growth for the next many years. ... There are in reality not one but at least four reasons why returns on financial assets will1 disappoint in the years to come, and they are (in no particular order):
1. Regulatory changes.
2. The end of the debt super-cycle.
3. Wealth-to-GDP to normalise.
4. A deteriorating demographic outlook.
Our data-saturated age enables us to examine our work habits and office quirks with a scrutiny that our cubicle-bound forebears could only dream of. Today, on corporate campuses and within university laboratories, psychologists, sociologists and statisticians are devoting themselves to studying everything from team composition to email patterns in order to figure out how to make employees into faster, better and more productive versions of themselves. ... Five years ago, Google — one of the most public proselytizers of how studying workers can transform productivity — became focused on building the perfect team. In the last decade, the tech giant has spent untold millions of dollars measuring nearly every aspect of its employees’ lives. Google’s People Operations department has scrutinized everything from how frequently particular people eat together (the most productive employees tend to build larger networks by rotating dining companions) to which traits the best managers share (unsurprisingly, good communication and avoiding micromanaging is critical; more shocking, this was news to many Google managers). ... No matter how researchers arranged the data, though, it was almost impossible to find patterns — or any evidence that the composition of a team made any difference. ... kept coming across research by psychologists and sociologists that focused on what are known as ‘‘group norms.’ ... Norms can be unspoken or openly acknowledged, but their influence is often profound. Team members may behave in certain ways as individuals — they may chafe against authority or prefer working independently — but when they gather, the group’s norms typically override individual proclivities and encourage deference to the team. ... noticed two behaviors that all the good teams generally shared. First, on the good teams, members spoke in roughly the same proportion, a phenomenon the researchers referred to as ‘‘equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking.’’ ... Second, the good teams all had high ‘‘average social sensitivity’’ — a fancy way of saying they were skilled at intuiting how others felt based on their tone of voice, their expressions and other nonverbal cues. ... to be fully present at work, to feel ‘‘psychologically safe,’’ we must know that we can be free enough, sometimes, to share the things that scare us without fear of recriminations.
My point is a simple one: Innovations are rarely life-changing events nowadays. Almost as important, at least from a macro-economic point of view, they are not likely to have nearly the same impact on productivity as the car had on the productivity of my parents, or the washing machine had on my grandmother’s ability to free up precious time. Productivity enhancements simply get more and more marginal, even if we think that all these new gadgets are wonderful. ... I am aware that there are people out there who would disagree with that statement; they don’t think the marginal impact of innovations is diminishing at all, but the macro-economic data suggests otherwise. ... at the most fundamental level, the change in economic output is equal to the sum of the change in the number of hours worked and the change in the output per hour. ... The workforce will fall nearly 1% per year in Japan and Korea between now and 2050; it will fall almost 0.5% per year in the Eurozone but only marginally in the UK, whereas it will rise almost 0.5% per year in the U.S. Significant regional differences in economic growth are therefore to be expected, but economic growth will be weak everywhere, at least when compared to what we got used to between the early 1980s and the Global Financial Crisis (‘GFC’). Those who argue that GDP growth will be disappointingly low for many years to come are on very solid ground. ... Some dynamics behave in the New Normal no different from the way they used to, but many don’t. In the following, I will review some of the outliers, and I will explain why (and how) that is an opportunity for investors, as long as the investment strategy is adjusted accordingly. Only the most naïve would expect an investment strategy that worked well in the great bull market to deliver similar, spectacular results in the years to come.
Since we’re in the midst of election season, with promises of cures for our economic woes being thrown around, this seems like a particularly appropriate time to explore what can and can’t be achieved within the laws of economics. Those laws might not work 100% of the time the way physical laws do, but they generally tend to define the range of outcomes. It’s my goal here to point out how some of the things that central banks and governments try to do – and election candidates promise to do – fly in the face of those laws. ... Let’s start with central banks’ attempts to achieve monetary stimulus. When central banks want to help economies grow, they take actions such as reducing the interest rates they charge on loans to banks or, more recently, buying assets (“quantitative easing”). In theory, both of these will add to the funds in circulation and encourage economic activity. The lower rates are, and the more money there is in circulation, the more likely people and businesses will be to borrow, spend and invest. These things will make the economy more vibrant. ... But there’s a catch. Central bankers can’t create economic progress they can only stimulate activity temporarily. ... In the long term, these things are independent of the amount of money in circulation or the rate of interest. The level of economic activity is determined by the nation’s productiveness. ... Much of what central banks do consists of making things happen today that otherwise would happen sometime in the future. ... the truth is, this “tyranny of the majority” is an unhealthy development. First, society does better when able members have strong incentive to contribute. Second, upward aspiration and mobility will be constrained when taxes become confiscatory. Finally, taxpayers aren’t necessarily powerless in the face of rising tax rates.
Let us say it plainly: Monsanto is almost surely the most vilified company on the planet. To its diehard critics it embodies all that is wrong with big, industrial agriculture—the corporatization of farming, the decline of smallholders, the excessive use of chemicals, a lack of transparency, and, of course, the big one: the entry of genetically modified organisms into our food supply. The tri-letter acronym GMO has become a four-letter word to millions of people, from earnest middle-schoolers to purist Whole Foods shoppers. ... The United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that we must double the current level of food production to adequately feed a population predicted to hit 9.7 billion by 2050—and we’ll have to do it on less land (much of it scarce of water), using fewer resources. ... Historically, Monsanto has tried to increase farm yields through advancements in seed technology alone. Grant calls this “hubris”: “Twenty years ago,” he says, “we thought biotech was going to be the panacea.” In the past half-decade the company has begun to look beyond seed for answers. ... Breeding better seed has contributed to a more than 1% annual increase in corn yields, experts say. Biologists, for instance, have created corn plants that can be clustered closer together, meaning there can be more stalks per acre. Still, that yearly growth rate would leave the U.S. average below 200 bushels by the end of the decade—far from Hula’s corn bonanza and nowhere near enough to feed the planet. ... Combined, those seeds now fill some 400 million acres around the globe. That’s a fraction of the nearly 4 billion acres of land the UN estimates is being cultivated. Climate Corp.’s chief technology officer Mark Young doubts that that Monsanto could ever get to a billion-acre footprint just by being a seed company, “but as a decision-based company, it seems to have a really good shot.” Monsanto, for example, doesn’t sell grape seeds, but it could some day advise grape growers on how to increase their yields.
How much will people work in the future? The rise of automation and, more generally, IT-driven structural change in the labour market have made policymakers and researchers worry about ‘disappearing jobs’ and a dire future for employment. In this column, we argue that to the extent productivity improvements continue, hours worked in the marketplace will indeed likely fall. However, the argument is not that jobs will disappear. ... Is the pattern representing a gradual disappearance of jobs since the early 19th century, perhaps as a result of technological change? No. The reason, we argue, is rather that technological change has raised labour productivity. People have then acted on this opportunity – they have chosen to work less hard as a result of technological change. Structural change makes some jobs disappear, but new ones emerge. Working hours are an outcome of not just demand but also of supply.
Financial crises pose challenges for macroeconomists. Schularick and Taylor (2012) show that credit booms precede crises. Mendoza and Terrones (2008) claim that not all credit booms end in crises. Herrera et al. (2014) argue that crises are not necessarily the result of large negative shocks, but also of political considerations. There is a need for models displaying financial crises that are preceded by credit booms and that are not necessarily the result of large negative shocks. ... In a recent paper (Gorton and Ordonez 2016), we show that credit booms are indeed not rare, that some end in crises (bad booms) but others do not (good booms). Are these two types of booms intrinsically different in their evolution, or do they just differ in how they end? We show that all credit booms start with a positive shock to productivity on average ten years before the end of the boom, but that in bad booms this increase dies off rather quickly while this is not the case for good booms. This suggests that a crisis is the result of an exhausted credit boom. We then develop a simple framework that rationalises these empirical findings and highlight several shortcomings of standard macroeconomic models that tend to neglect the interplay between macroeconomic and financial variables.
While the United States may be outperforming other advanced economies, it is underperforming relative to its own potential. Slower growth has been feeding on itself in a vicious cycle of weak demand, low investment, and slowing productivity growth. In real terms, the median US household income is back at its level of two decades ago. Meanwhile, the vast majority of income gains have gone to households in the top quintile, which do not have the same propensity to spend. This in turn hobbles aggregate demand in the short term—and when businesses do not see the need to invest, it reinforces the cycle. US productivity growth recently turned negative for the first time in 30 years. ... A new briefing paper from the McKinsey Global Institute, The US economy: An agenda for inclusive growth, suggests that the United States can regain its dynamism and restore the sense that everyone is advancing together. This effort can take many forms: reengaging more workers in the labor force, enabling them to move to more productive jobs and locations, creating an environment that fosters new business formation and healthy competition, and helping declining cities reinvent themselves. When the economy is firing on all cylinders, income gains tend to be more broad-based and less easily concentrated.
- Globalization and trade
- America’s cities
- A resource revolution
In the industries where there’s rapid productivity growth, everybody is freaked out, because what are people going to do after everything gets automated? In the other part of the economy, that second part, health care and education, people are freaked out about, "Oh my God, it’s going to eat the entire budget! It’s going to eat my personal budget. Health care and education is going to be every dollar I make as income, and it’s going to eat the national budget and drive the United States bankrupt!" And everybody in the economy is going to become either a nurse or teacher. It’s really funny, both sides of the economy get polar opposite emotional reactions. ... We are very much not present, in what we would consider to be a healthy way, in education, health care, construction, childcare, senior care. The great twist on that is that second category — that’s most of the GDP. Most of the spending is most of the GDP, and these are the areas where we have not yet been able to crack the code. ... How audacious or insane is it to think that you could bring tech to health care or education? It’s probably 50/50. ... What’s interesting is there are probably more new computer companies in the valley today than there were probably since 1982 — it’s just that the products are all these different shapes, sizes, and descriptions. ... Basically, the entire way we live today is a consequence of the invention of the automobile. Because, before that, people just never went anywhere. Therefore, everything that you travel to is a consequence of the automobile.
1. Still brooding about his loss of the popular vote, Donald Trump vows to win over those who oppose him by 2020. ...
2. The combination of tax cuts on corporations and individuals, more constructive trade agreements, dismantling regulation of financial and energy companies, and infrastructure tax incentives pushes the 2017 real growth rate above 3% for the U.S. economy. Productivity improves for the first time since 2014.
3. The Standard & Poor’s 500 operating earnings are $130 in 2017 and the index rises to 2500 as investors become convinced the U.S. economy is back on a long-term growth path. ...
4. Macro investors make a killing on currency fluctuations. ...
5. Increased economic growth, inflation moving toward 3%, and renewed demand for capital push interest rates higher across the board. The 10-year U.S. Treasury yield approaches 4%.
6. Populism spreads over Europe affecting the elections in France and Germany. ...
7. Reducing regulations in the energy industry leads to a surge in production in the United States. Iran and Iraq also step up their output. ...
8. Donald Trump realizes he has been all wrong about China. Its currency is overvalued, not undervalued, and depreciates to eight to the dollar. Its economy flourishes on consumer spending on goods produced at home and greater exports. Trump avoids punitive tariffs to prevent a trade war and develops a more cooperative relationship with the world’s second largest economy.
9. Benefiting from stronger growth in China and the United States, real growth in Japan exceeds 2% for the first time in decades and its stock market leads other developed countries in appreciation for the year.
10. The Middle East cools down. ...
Two groups of true believers are driving changes in the developed world. The first: single-minded central bankers who spent trillions of dollars pushing government bond yields close to zero (and below). While this unprecedented monetary experiment helped owners of stocks and real estate, its regressive nature did little to satisfy the second group: voters who are disenfranchised by globalization and automation, and who are on the march. What next? The fiscal experiments now begin (again). ... why do we see 2017 as another year of modest portfolio gains despite the length of the current global expansion, one of the longest in history? As 2016 came to a close, global business surveys improved to levels consistent with 3% global GDP growth, suggesting that corporate profits will start growing at around 10% again after a weak 2016. More positive news: a rise in industrial metals prices, which is helpful in spotting turns in the business cycle ... Furthermore (and I understand that there’s plenty of disagreement on the benefits of this), many developed countries are transitioning from “monetary stimulus only” to expansionary fiscal policy as well. Political establishments are aware of mortal threats to their existence, and are looking to fiscal stimulus (or at least, less austerity) as a means of getting people back to work. The problem: given low productivity growth and low growth in labor supply, many countries are closer to full capacity than you might think. If so, too much fiscal stimulus could result in wage inflation and higher interest rates faster than you might think as well. That is certainly one of the bigger risks for the US.
The rate of productivity growth – the major determinant of long run economic growth – has slowed sharply since the start of the century. The so called ‘productivity puzzle’ is one of the most pertinent macroeconomic questions of our time. Are fast rates of economic growth, the hallmark of the 20th century, a thing of the past? Or is it just another ‘bad attack of economic pessimism’ as economist John Maynard Keynes wrote nearly a century ago? ... Our chart below shows two distinct ‘super-cycles’ in UK productivity growth since the First Industrial Revolution. The first cycle brought about an acceleration in productivity growth over an approximate 70-year period that peaked in around 1870 before a 30-year deceleration thereafter. It ended at the turn of the 20th century during the middle of the Second Industrial Revolution. The cycle of the 20th century followed a similar pattern to the 19th, but with much, much bigger gains in productivity and well being. ... Comparing the western world’s current struggle for productivity gains against the ongoing fast rates of discovery in energy, artificial intelligence and robotics, to name but a few, suggests that we may be back at stage one and could be heading for stage two with rapid productivity advances in a while. ... Once we fully exploit the potential of the current wave of new technologies, the risks to the future seem skewed to the upside.