The Great Debate UK

from Global News Journal:

Perilous predictions for 2011

Photo

Afghan Boy

It’s the season to be merry - and to make forecasts about next year. Across the finance industry fine minds spend December crafting outlooks and extrapolations about how the world will fare, in the hope of a decent return over the next 12 months and avoiding the bear traps that will swallow an investment. The banks, strategic advisories and political risk consultants trumpet their analytical prowess, of course, but are also meeting a natural human need to peer into the future. We all want guidance to take the sting out of living in an uncertain world.

Nowhere is prediction more fraught with peril than in politics and world affairs. The success rate is in inverse proportion to the costs that unexpected acts in the real world can impose on the investor. So despite the difficulty of providing a reliable guide to the future there are huge incentives to try to chart the way ahead. Here's  Control Risks, a risk consultancy firm, on its view of 2011, while competitor Eurasia reveals in early January, as does the World Economic Forum. Nomura has a list of 10 political challenges to prosperity that range from the prospect of gridlock in US domestic politics to brinksmanship on the Korean peninsula.

So which voices warning of political perils should one heed? There’s a crowded field of commentators, perhaps because political outcomes are not as reducible to numbers as economic indicators, where the industry of forecasting has statistical validity. If you work for a well-known investment bank or strategic studies institute your thoughts carry  institutional gravitas. However, and this is somewhat a statement of the obvious, only a track record of smart forecasting earns you an audience. That, and saying something worthwhile. Worse than getting a prediction wrong is being so blandly vacuous and broad in scope that your forecasts are both right and uninformative.

Respected voices suggest that beyond pointing to areas of dispute and potential tension, political forecasters are attempting the impossible. “The science of prediction is a contradiction in terms,” says Nigel Inkster, a former British intelligence officer who analyses international political risk at the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London. “There are so  many potential variables that could come together in so many potential configurations that it is really difficult to identify anything about which you can be really confident,” says Inkster.

from Breakingviews:

Trade should leave China and India both winners

Decades of mistrust haven't stopped China and India's trade from tripling in the past five years. Now China wants to restart free trade talks when Premier Wen Jiabao visits New Delhi later this week. India has long resisted such an agreement. Yet more open trade should leave both sides winners.

Since the two countries warred over a border dispute in 1962, China and India have had a fractious relationship. But on some issues they agree. India helped China stop an agreement over climate change in Copenhagen that both felt was too soft on rich countries. Chinese and Indian state-owned firms have bid together for oil and gas assets.

from Reuters Investigates:

China’s rebalancing act puts consumer to the fore

Photo

consumerWal-Mart, the world's largest retailer, now has 189 stories in China, according to its website. Soon it will have many more.  The U.S. chain has announced plans to open a series of "compact hypermarkets", using a bare-bones model developed in Latin America, the Financial Times said.

Wal-Mart stores are a bit different than the one's you might find in, say, Little Rock Arkansas. They sell live toads and turtles for one thing, The Economist reported. But they also sell the appliances, gadgets, and housewares that Wal-Mart stores merchandise everywhere.

from Breakingviews:

Seaweed boom shows China’s inflation challenge

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

HONG KONG -- It sounds like the ultimate proof of China's runaway economy: a seaweed bubble. After garlic and green bean manias, food inflation is now asserting itself in a 20 percent rise in seaweed prices in the last year.

from MacroScope:

Building BRICs in Africa

Photo

Some eye-catching numbers from Standard Bank out today on the influence of BRICs countries -- Brazil, Russia, India and China -- on Africa.

First off, the bank says the global recession and its recovery have been nourishing these so-called South-South ties. But it is all now ready to take off. The bank estimates:

from Breakingviews:

China could fight inflation by letting money out

The author is a Reuters Breakingviews columnist. The opinions expressed are her own.

HONG KONG -- China is in an inflationary bind. Policymakers need to bring interest rates up, yet are worried about triggering debt defaults and attracting speculative money. Two bank reserve requirement hikes in two weeks, and new measures to stabilise consumer prices, will only have marginal effects on rising prices. A better way would be to let money flow offshore.

from Chrystia Freeland:

What’s good for the world is bad for the U.S. and China

This fall, much of the United States seemed to have settled on a narrative for the country’s struggle to adapt, after a debilitating financial crisis, to a post-industrial and post-unipolar global economy: China and its undervalued currency are largely to blame.

Proof that this was a nationally compelling storyline came during the acrimonious midterm election campaign. U.S. politics have rarely been more polarized, but complaining about China was something both parties could agree on.

Is the currency war over?

The communiqué from last week’s IMF G20 finance minister’s meeting was the first step in trying to resolve the so-called global currency war. The ministers released a joint statement on October 23 which pledged that all countries would “move towards more market determined exchange rate systems that reflect underlying economic fundamentals and refrain from competitive devaluation of currencies.”

Even fears that the U.S. and China could have a bust-up over the U.S.’s charge that the renminibi is undervalued relative to the U.S. dollar were put to bed when it was reported that Treasury Secretary Geithner popped in to China on his way back from the G20 in South Korea to meet Chinese Vice Premier Wang Qishan.

from The Great Debate:

U.S., China and eating soup with a fork

-The opinions expressed are the author's own-

Are economists the world over using an outdated tool to measure economic progress?

The question, long debated, is worth pondering again at a time when two economic giants, the United States and China, are sparring over trade, currency exchange rates and their roles in the global economy.

from Chrystia Freeland:

Why emerging market countries have an edge

Tony Hsieh and Sanjay Madan wrote the program to create LinkExchange over a weekend. Before the following weekend, they had more than a dozen websites participating in their ad-sharing network. Over the next several weeks they worked frantically on the project. They refined their business in real time, learning—quickly!—from their mistakes. Less than a year later, the Harvard grads were offered $1 million (U.S.) for the company. Less than a year after that, they sold it for $265 million.

That was 1996. Since then, this story of development on the run has become commonplace. Hacker culture is now part of the broader culture: “beta test” is in the dictionary, and we accept innovative, albeit imperfect, beta releases even from multibillion-dollar global behemoths such as Google. We’re prepared to accept flaws because the tech revolution is progressing so quickly that it is usually better to be fast, and possibly wrong, than to try to be perfect and end up being slow. By the time your flawless product is released, it will likely be obsolete.

  •