Carpe Diem

BIS: Global Currency Markets Explode

According to a triennial central bank survey of foreign exchange activity just released by the Bank for International Settlements (BIS):

1. Daily turnover in global currency markets rose to $3.2 trillion in 2007, which is a 71% increase since the last survey in 2004, when daily foreign exchange trading volume was $1.87 trillion.

2. The 71% increase is the largest percent jump in daily currency trading since the BIS began conducting its benchmark survey in 1989.

3. Foreign exchange trading in the U.S. increased by 44% over the last three years, from $461 billion in 2004 to $664 billion this year (see chart above).

4. Trading in financial derivatives linked to currencies soared to $2.1 trillion a day, the report said, a rise of more than 70% since 2004. Large companies are also taking a more active and sophisticated approach to managing currency exposure.

5. Currency trading in the U.K. ($1.359 trillion per day), the world’s largest currency center, represented 42.5% of world currency volume, and trading in the U.S. (ranked #2 at $664 billion daily) represented about 21% of world currency volume. Together, the U.K. and U.S. account for more than 63% of the world’s currency trading every day.

6. To put $3.2 trillion of daily currency trading in perspective, consider that $3.2 trillion is greater than the ANNUAL Gross Domestic Product of Germany ($2.9 trillion), China ($2.6 trillion) and the U.K. ($2.4 trillion). In the U.K., more currency is traded in London in two days ($2.77 trillion) than the value of all goods and services ($2.4 trillion) produced in the country in a year!

Read more here in today’s Wall Street Journal.

Carpe Diem

Get Your Passport: Business Education Going Global

The list of items to bring to college is going to be a little longer for freshmen who enter the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management next fall. They’re going to need to bring a passport.

The university announced Monday that starting next fall, students who enter the business school will be required to have an international experience before they can graduate. The reason is pretty simple: The business world is becoming more global.

Continue reading in today’s Star Tribune….

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Toyota vs. GM vs. Harley-Davidson

In 2006 GM produced about 9 million vehicles worldwide, about the same as Toyota; and Ford produced about 6.6 million vehicles. And yet look at the whopping difference in market value in the graph above between Toyota ($208 billion) and GM (only $19.5 billion). Is that what $51 billion in health care liabilities does to a company’s market value? Look for a prolonged strike to erode GM’s market value even further.

And consider that motorcycle manufacturer Harley-Davidson’s market value of $12 billion is not far behind GM and Ford, even though it only manufactures about 300,000 motorcycles annually!

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Mississippi vs. Michigan

It’s not even close any more in the ongoing contest between Mississippi and Michigan for the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country. Mississippi can declare victory.

State unemployment rates for August came out today, and Michigan now ranks #51 with a jobless rate of 7.4%, the highest in the country and the highest rate in Michigan in more than 14 years (since June 1993).

Mississippi’s jobless rate is now 1.5% below Michigan at only 5.9% (and it ranks #49), ahead of Alaska’s unemployment rate at 6.3% (#50), which is more than 1% below Michigan.
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GM Anti-Jobs Bank: Nice Nonwork If You Can Get It

One issue contributing to the UAW’s strike against GM is that negotiations reached an impasse regarding the future of the “jobs bank,” or what the Wall Street Journal calls “GM’s Anti-Jobs Bank, the company’s euphemism for a post-employment limbo in which GM pays laid off members of the United Auto Workers not to work.” As the WSJ points out today, it’s “Nice nonwork, if you can get it.”

There probably isn’t a single issue that better highlights the problems facing GM and the UAW than the “Jobs Bank,” which they both agreed to in 1984. Here is what the WSJ had to say about it in a 2005 editorial “GM’s Anti-Jobs Bank“:

If you want to know why GM’s costs are too high for the number of cars it sells, here’s one explanation – the Jobs Bank.

GM doesn’t like to talk about the “jobs bank,” to the point that it won’t disclose how many idled workers are in the bank or even how much it costs the company. However, the Detroit Free Press has dug around and reported that the “bank” holds some 5,000-6,000 employees, at an annual cost of as much as $800 million a year. And that’s just the beginning of the damage it does.

The jobs bank was created in 1984 at a time when it became fashionable to worry that automation would cause robots to replace workers on factory floors. So in exchange for the right to introduce productivity improvements in factories, GM, Ford and Chrysler all consented to jobs banks. The idea was that in exchange for educating themselves, doing community service or in some cases just sitting around a factory, workers would continue to collect pay and benefits until the automaker could find another job for them.

One trouble is that U.S. car makers have been shrinking more than growing in the two decades since, meaning people have stayed in the bank longer than envisioned. The commitment to find a new job for those workers only made sense in an environment in which GM’s demand for labor was stable or growing. Instead, that demand has been steadily shrinking as productivity has increased and market share has decreased.

The jobs bank sends a message that downsizing is temporary, and that GM can accommodate those workers somewhere. The reality is that many of them are simply waiting out retirement.

GM has a host of problems, from the attractiveness of its product lines to the health-care costs it pays for its one million retirees. But a major one is size: It is a smaller company than it was or expected to be when it made the promises it’s now trying to keep both to retirees and current workers. GM has some of the most productive industrial workers in the world, but it has too many of them for the number of cars it can sell today.

The jobs bank is both cause and symptom of that problem. We don’t wish hardship on those workers, but the company’s future now rests on its ability to make its payroll match its production. If the jobs bank — and the self-deception it represents — cannot be fixed, that millstone will continue to drag down what was once one of America’s great companies.

MP: Only when and if GM and the UAW agree to eliminate the “jobs bank,” will there be any hope that either will survive.

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India Is Outsourcing Outsourcing: UAW Listen Up

India is now outsourcing outsourcing, the New York Times reports today in World Busines:

To fight on the shifting terrain, and to beat back emerging rivals, Indian companies are hiring workers and opening offices in developing countries themselves, before their clients do.

Infosys (NASDAQ: INFY) says its outsourcing experience in India has taught it to carve up a project, apportion each slice to suitable workers, double-check quality and then export a final, reassembled product to clients. The company argues it can clone its Indian back offices in other nations and groom Chinese, Mexican or Czech employees to be more productive than local outsourcing companies could make them.

Such is the new outsourcing: A company in the United States pays an Indian vendor 7,000 miles away (Infosys) to supply it with Mexican engineers working 150 miles south of the United States border.

As an Infosys senior vice president put it, the future of outsourcing is “to take the work from any part of the world and do it in any part of the world.”

Or as Indian CEO Raman Roy said “Geography is history.”

MP: This might be a lesson from Inida for U.S. unions about how business will take place in the 21st Century. For example, the UAW wants GM to lock in future work for U.S. factory workers by promising jobs, product commitments and investments in U.S. plants.

“Globalization is killing us,” said Jerry Gillespie, president of a UAW local in Warren, Mich., whose members work on engineering and design of future products. “They want to build engineering centers in the rest of the world and take that work away from us. That’s our fight.”

That’s soooooooooooo Machine Age, 20th Century thinking.

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UAW Strikes GM

DETROIT, MICHIGANThe United Auto Workers launched a national strike today against General Motors Corp. after 10 days of marathon bargaining failed to produce a new labor pact for the automaker’s 73,000 hourly U.S. workers.

The stunning move came after the union told its members on Sunday they were to walk off the job unless they heard otherwise by 11 a.m. That word never came, and now GM is facing its first strike since the UAW struck the automaker’s operation in Flint in 1998.

Prediction: GM’s falling market share, currently at 23.56% (year-to-date), will fall by several more percentage points by the end of the year.

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We’ve Got A Lawyer Surplus and Doctor Shortage; Why Couldn’t It Be the Other Way Around?

From the front page today’s WSJ, an article about the oversupply of lawyers, “Job Market Wanes for U.S. Lawyers; Law Schools Proliferate:”

“On the supply end, more lawyers are entering the work force, thanks in part to the accreditation of new law schools and an influx of applicants after the dot-com implosion earlier this decade. In the 2005-06 academic year, 43,883 Juris Doctor degrees were awarded, up from 37,909 for 2001-02, according to the American Bar Association (see chart above). Universities are starting up more law schools in part for prestige but also because they are money makers. Costs are low compared with other graduate schools and classrooms can be large. Since 1995, the number of ABA-accredited schools increased by 11%, to 196.”

MP: Now, if we could only have an outcome similar to this for medical schools and graduates from medical school, which have remained constant at 125 schools and 16,000 graduates, respectively, for at least the last 20 years (see chart above).

Unfortunately, “the marketplace doesn’t determine how many doctors the nation has, as it does for engineers, pilots and other professions. The number of doctors is a political decision, heavily influenced by doctors themselves.”

Result: We now have a doctor shortage and a lawyer surplus. The difference is that the lawyer surplus will eventually correct itself as law school graduates face falling wages and declining employment opportunities, resulting in fewer students being attracted to law. As long as medical schools and the number of graduates are artifically restricted, the doctor shortage will continue, especially for the “Family and General Practitioner” category (see chart below).