The latest success—I suppose you could call it that, at least for those involved on the financial end—was the Kiekert deal last week. The company was founded in 1857 near Düsseldorf, Germany, and became the largest manufacturer of automotive door-lock systems. Its customers are GM, Ford, VW, BMW, and other automakers around the world. But now a Chinese company bought Kiekert, the sign of a sea change.
Tokyo, May 1996. My relationship with her exhibits all the characteristics of the one-sided trade relationship between the US and Japan. I pay a fortune to be in her country. Though I’m learning Japanese, she refuses to speak it with me. She has seen every aspect of my life in Japan. But I’m not allowed near her house, and her parents don’t know I exist. I haven’t met any of her friends, don’t even know their names.
New revelations seeped out about the control Japan’s nuclear industry had over regulators. In 2006, the Nuclear Safety Commission studied the enlargement of disaster-mitigation zones. But the Economics Ministry put an end to it, worried that it ”could cause social unrest and increase popular anxiety.” Five years later, after the preventable meltdowns at the Fukushima power plant, the people paid the price.
Inflation pervades every aspect of our lives, from skyrocketing gasoline to rents to well, corruption. But inflation in the cost of under-the-table payments is notoriously difficult to measure, and so it’s not included in any of the indices. But in Germany, which is historically paranoid, and rightfully so, about inflation, after two wipe-outs in one generation, there’s progress: inflation in the cost of corruption can now be estimated.
In early December, Christophe de Margerie, CEO of Total, the Exxon à la Française, shocked the French when he said that there was “no doubt” that a liter of gasoline would reach €2 and that the only question was when. He cited the calamities in the news at the time to justify the skyrocketing prices of oil and gasoline—source of Total’s mega profits. He was talking his book, obviously, which isn’t illegal, not even in France.
Natural gas is dirt cheap, hovering at a 10-year low. In the US, that is. In other parts of the world, natural gas is four, five times more expensive—a rare discrepancy in a globalized economy. But the US, largest producer in the world, stunningly, has no facilities to export it. So President Obama has made dirt-cheap natural gas a cornerstone of his energy policy, but investors are bloodied, and drilling activity is falling off a cliff.
France, tangled up in a presidential election with major implications for the Eurozone, has gotten used to watching President Sarkozy getting clobbered in a historic fashion by socialist Hollande. But on Tuesday, the country woke up to the news—quelle horreur—that their presumed loser was suddenly ahead in the polls. Amidst this chaos, two fundamental cross currents in the French economy went practically unnoticed, though they should have caused an outburst of national soul searching.
Republicans are trying to tar President Obama with gas prices that are creeping up on $4 a gallon and are shooting for an all-time high. The strategy is working. Obama’s approval rating on handling gas prices has plunged. In San Francisco, gas is already $4.50. Yet across the Bay are five oil refineries that together are the largest exporters of petroleum products in the nation.
Tokyo, May 1996. One of the newsstands at Takadanobaba station carries the Wall Street Journal Asia. Before 8 a.m., the wrinkled prewar archetype has two copies. By 8:45 a.m., he’s down to one. By 9 a.m., he’s out. And now that I live a few minutes away, I get there in time to grab the last copy. Surely, the same two guys have been buying them for years, and now I come along and muck up their system. I feel like a thief.
The earthquake and tsunami that hit Japan on March 11 a year ago and the nuclear catastrophe that followed are personal to me: my wife is from Tokyo, and my in-laws live there. To our immense relief, no one we know was hurt. But others weren’t that lucky: 15,854 died and 3,155 are still missing. This missive, written by my wife four days after the quake, depicts the chaos in Tokyo, the emotions, and the unique Japanese ways of coping with it.