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.
The EU filed a laundry list of complaints against Chinese dumping, from shoes to fasteners. Take ceramics. Household ceramics got hit last week; in 2011, building ceramics; in 2010, ceramic tiles—led to a punitive tax of 69.7%. Now, it has another target: Chinese steel. But the industry is the bully on the block. And it flexed its pumped-up muscles—and put at stake the very manna that European officials have been praying for.
Europe returned from its begging expedition to Beijing. Well, they called it a summit, one more in a series. They were trying to lure China into plowing part of its hard-earned foreign exchange trillions into the European bailout fund, the EFSF, and they made that dreadfully convoluted and opaque creature smell like a rose. Even a small amount would have been something. Anything really.
There still are some economic numbers that aren’t seasonally adjusted or manipulated with fancy statistical footwork by governmental, quasi-governmental, or non-governmental number mongers. And they give us the true picture of the worldwide economy: beer, wine, mood, and San Francisco real estate—with more predictive power than is allowed by law.
150 factory workers in China threatened to jump off the roof of an iPhone factory unless they received a raise. Similar stories are accumulating. To make ends meet, desperate workers sometimes take drastic measures. These anecdotes underscore a major trend in China: skyrocketing cost of labor. But in the US, it’s the opposite—and now part of the official White House strategy.
Practically every car or truck sold in the US today contains Chinese-made components, though Chinese-designed vehicles haven’t made it yet. Chinese automakers scramble to move from nice-looking but shoddy copy-and-paste models to reliable products that would be competitive in the US. It’s a government priority. And they’re getting there through the back door.
Governments and companies around the world have been preparing for a collapse of the Eurozone—simple prudence requires them to do that. Theoretical exercises for a hypothetical scenario, they call it. But recently, these theoretical exercises have taken on practical overtones. And even the public is now encouraged to prepare for the demise of the euro.
In France, the litany of job reductions continues. Today, it was Air France. It followed automaker PSA Peugeot Citroën, French banks, nuclear-power conglomerate Areva, drug maker Sanofi, newspapers, ferry operator Seafrance, etc. It’s tough out there. And now, France’s heavily subsidized signature industry—wines—got slapped in the face. By China.
The US trade deficit with China will hit a record $300 billion for the year, a big hit to the economy. It’s politically convenient to blame China, particularly its yuan policy. But the driver is a broad strategy by US corporations to shift an increasing range of economic activities to China. And now a trade war has broken out. Politicians, have a word with your corporate sponsors!
In his “enough’s-enough” speech in Hawaii, Obama castigated China for its currency peg, a perennial complaint. Congress too regularly hyperventilates about the yuan being “artificially undervalued.” If China just allowed the yuan to trade freely, they say, it would solve the U.S. economic quagmire. Cheap political posturing—and full of bitter ironies.