Opinion

The Great Debate

China’s coming magnificent bubble

jamessaft1.jpg–James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

If and when China makes its currency convertible and opens its financial system the stage will be set for a bubble that should make the dotcom and housing booms look tame.

China has recently signaled its key aspirations: for a greater international role for the renminbi and for Shanghai to become a great financial capital. Neither is imminent, but both imply, if not require, a series of steps that, taken in combination with China’s legitimately great potential for growth, could lead to a bubble of magnificent and dangerous proportions.

Magnificent in that, like the dotcom bubble or the railroad boom in the U.S. in the 19th century, a bubble in domestic China is directionally right and will build useful things which will change the world. A bubble, after all, needs a good story and China has one of the best ever.

Dangerous because, like the housing bubble, it will inevitably go too far and could take down banks and banking systems globally.

Sit back and enjoy the Kabuki trade show

jamessaft1.jpg–James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.–

Financial markets have plenty to be worried about but their latest concern — a trade war between the United States and China — should not be on the list.

Aligned self interest and a knowledge on both sides of the causes of the Great Depression should limit matters to a kind of trade war Kabuki, a highly stylized piece of theatre in which the United States shakes its fist and China responds in kind but no blows land.

Ex-Google China chief’s dream factory

wei-gu.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

Google’s former China head Kai-Fu Lee wants to create China’s next internet giant in a factory. He believes that by combining the smartest entrepreneurs, the shrewdest businesspeople and the brightest business ideas, he will be able to create five highly sellable companies a year. That sounds like an ideal model for venture capital, but is he being realistic?

Lee’s plan, formulated while he spent time in hospital over the summer, follows a battle with Beijing regulators who wanted to censor Google searches that lead to pornographic sites. It has drawn strong support from investors.

Undercounting deaths in Iraq, Afghanistan

Bernd Debusmann- Bernd Debusmann is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own -

By most counts, the death toll of U.S. soldiers in America’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan stood at 5,157 in the second week of September. Add at least 1,360 private contractors working for the U.S. and the number tops 6,500.

Contractor deaths and injuries (around 30,000 so far) are rarely reported but they highlight America’s steadily growing dependence on private enterprise. It’s a dependence some say has slid into incurable addiction. Contractor ranks in Iraq and Afghanistan have swollen to just under a quarter million. They outnumber American troops in Afghanistan and they almost match uniformed soldiers in Iraq.

The present ratio of about one contractor for every uniformed member of the U.S. armed forces is more than double that of every other major conflict in American history, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That means the world’s only superpower cannot fight its war nor protect its civilian officials, diplomats and embassies without support from contractors.

Here lies the Great American Consumer

jamessaft1.jpg–James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own–

Rest in peace, Great American Consumer. We will not see your like again.

“Cash-for-clunkers” aside, consumers seem bent on actually paying back debt rather than racking it up, a change that if sustained, as it is likely to be, will dampen economic growth not for months but for years, and not just in the U.S.

Outstanding U.S. consumer borrowing fell by a jaw-dropping $21.6 billion in July, according to data released this week by the Federal Reserve, five times more than analysts expected and the second largest monthly drop since the end of World War II.

Energy realism and a green recovery

jay-pryor– Jay R. Pryor is vice president of business development for Chevron. The views expressed are his own. —

The concept of a “green recovery” is a compelling topic of discussion at the World Economic Forum this week in Dailan, China. It stems from the United Nations Environment Program calling for investment of 1% of global GDP (nearly $750 billion) to promote a sustainable economic recovery.

A “green recovery” speaks to two of the most important issues of our time –- the efficient use of energy and the realistic understanding of energy’s role in the global economy. It’s a role that can help lift millions of people out of poverty, while addressing a healthier environment.

Worry about bank capital, not bonuses

jamessaft1–James Saft is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own.–

The effort to rein in banking bonuses, outrageous as they may be, is akin to banning glue sniffing because you are worried about the effects of intoxication.

There are, as the kids in the alley behind the high school can tell you, other ways of getting high.

China finds tricky export niche amid global slump

WeiGucrop.jpg– Wei Gu is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are her own —

As exports of manufactured goods slow, China has found a new niche — exporting its construction boom.

With many countries in the world adopting stimulus plans to drive demand, China has been scrambling for these public spending dollars. And it is well placed to do so.

Investors stuck in a private equity annex

wwwreuterscom– Neil Unmack is a Reuters columnist. The views expressed are his own —

It’s a sign of how bad things are in the private equity industry that some buyout funds are asking their investors for additional capital to prop up ailing portfolio companies.

But such moves can be messy. Investors should be wary of throwing good money after bad, and even more careful of rewarding failed managers.

Sun software is the tail wagging the dog

Eric Auchard– Eric Auchard is a Reuters columnist. The opinions expressed are his own —

When Oracle agreed to buy Sun Microsystems for $7.4 billion in April, the headlines made much of the software maker’s decision to enter the computer business 30 years late. At less than 10 per cent of sales, Sun’s software business seemed an afterthought.

But Sun’s software is now center stage after European competition regulators said on Thursday that they would withhold approval for the deal until they finish probing the impact of the Oracle-Sun merger on the database software market. The decision means the transaction faces at least a four-month delay, pushing it into early next year.

  •