[2009.03.19] AIG and the president AIG与总统
AIG and the president
Easy does it
Mar 19th 2009
From The Economist print edit
Barack Obama needs to damp down the fury over bonuses, not add to it.
“RESIGN or go commit suicide.” According to Charles Grassley, these are the only honourable choices open to the executives of American International Group (AIG) who have taken $220m in bonuses since the insurance giant was bailed out with $170 billion of taxpayers’ money. When even Republican senators start advising businessmen to kill themselves, you know things have got nasty.
“签署或者准备自杀” Charles Grassley说，对于那些美国国际集团(AIG)的高管来说这是唯一的令人满意的选择，政府用纳税人的钱向这个保险业的巨头注资1700亿美金，之后这些高管一共得到了二百二十万的奖金红利。当共和党参议员开始劝告商务人士们自杀时，你应该知道事态已经十分严重。
The row has been fanned by the media, delighted at last to have a simple story to tell about a financial crisis that is hideous in its complexity as well as its consequences, and stoked by politicians from the most junior representatives to the president himself. This week Barack Obama ordered his treasury secretary to find a legal way to claw back the bonuses (see article). The Democratic leadership in Congress suggested a special tax, set as high as 98%, to do it if that failed.
Revenge is pleasant, but dangerous
The instinct to punish such shameless greed is understandable. The financial crisis and its repercussions have been horribly unjust. A handful of people took staggering risks with America’s largest financial institutions. The gambles went wrong, but they made out like bandits, and now the institutions they wrecked are being bailed out with public money.
Raging at bankers, however, is a dangerous road to tread. Banks and insurers are being bailed out not because they deserve it, or for the sake of their employees, but because there is no choice. America lacks an orderly system for winding down big financial institutions such as AIG; letting them fail would ultimately have been costlier than saving them, and the pain would have fallen on Main Street even more than on Wall Street. More broadly, demonising finance and bankers makes it politically harder to repair the financial system, which involves working with, and even rewarding, them. Some financiers now say they are reluctant to take part in government bail-out schemes, precisely because they fear retrospective vengeance in the future. That will slow the recovery.
Besides, it is not clear what Mr Obama can do about those AIG bonuses. Since it seems unlikely that there is a legal way to avoid paying them, his protest will merely have served to highlight his impotence. The same thing happened when the British government tried, and failed, to get the boss of the ruined Royal Bank of Scotland to surrender part of his pension.
Mr Obama has several other options, but none looks good. He could try to use executive power to break the contracts; but that would tie him in legal knots and might undermine confidence in the rule of law. Investors are already fearful that nasty things could happen to some of the debt they hold, such as having it converted into stock against their will.
Alternatively, Mr Obama could seek to recoup the money, on behalf of taxpayers, by withholding an equivalent amount from the next tranche of bail-out money, some $30 billion, due to be paid to AIG. A moment’s thought should show how foolish that would be. The bonuses would still remain in the pockets of the employees whose failures deserve censure, not reward. AIG itself would get less; but that would send the odd signal that the government had been prepared to give the company more than it really needed.
Or else Mr Obama can simply ventilate a bit, as he has done, but actually do nothing. That might seem harmless enough. But by revving up the outrage he will probably weaken his position with Congress. Getting money from the legislature has not been easy, even for the newly elected Mr Obama. He pushed his stimulus package through Congress by a wafer-thin margin; the Troubled Asset Relief Programme, money to be used for bailing out banks, was originally turned down by Congress. If Mr Obama now has to go back for either a second stimulus package or a new round of funding to buy toxic assets from the banks, he could face stouter opposition. Perhaps realising this, the president had rowed back a bit by mid-week.
Mr Obama’s best course is to explain, calmly and patiently, why bailing out banks and honouring contracts are necessary evils. He needs to eschew easy gestures, just as he should have avoided delighting a few populists this week by closing down a scheme that lets Mexican trucks into America. It demands leadership, which he was elected to provide. In the past few weeks he has shown signs of forgetting that.
发表于13:36 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享 0农业:绿色崛起2009-03-24Agriculture
Mar 19th 2009 | HONG KONG
From The Economist print edition
No matter how bad things get, people still need to eat
AT A time when much of the global economy is falling apart and demand both for consumer goods and the firms that make and finance them is collapsing, the notoriously cyclical world of agriculture is holding up remarkably well. Prices for grains and meat are down from the peaks of mid-2008, but are 30-50% above their averages over the past decade. There is reason to believe that this strength is more than just another of the many bubbles that have recently inflated, only to pop.
Higher prices are hardly a universal blessing: they are good for farmers, many of whom are poor, but bad for consumers. Some of the increase can be blamed on the shift of crops from food to fuel, prompted by wildly inefficient subsidies. But high prices are also a sign of progress because their single largest cause is the steady increase in demand from poorer countries, as people there eat more food—especially more protein. More people are better nourished thanks to a bit more grain, a lot more meat, and much more milk.
China’s role has been profound, reflecting its enormous economic progress and huge population. In the past decade, says Carlo Caiani of Caiani & Company, an investment-advisory firm based in Melbourne, the consumption of milk has grown seven-fold, and that of olive oil six-fold. China is consuming twice as much vegetable oil (instead of less healthy pork fat), 60% more poultry, 30% more beef and 25% more wheat, and these are merely the obvious foods. Scores of niches have expanded dramatically: people are drinking four times as much wine, for example.
令人瞩目的经济进步和庞大的人口数量，让中国在这一方面扮演的角色更加的意义深远。根据墨尔本一家咨询公司Caiani & Company的Carlo Caiani的说法，与十年前相比，中国的牛奶和橄榄油的消费量分别增长了6倍和5倍，菜油（替代了不够健康的猪油）的消耗量翻了一番，家禽、牛肉和小麦同比上涨了60%、30%和25%。上面所列举的数据仅仅来自一些显而易见的食物，事实上许多市场的扩大是动态的，比如说，人们正在饮用四倍之多的啤酒。
And yet even with all this growth, people in China still, on average, consume only one-third as much milk and meat as people in wealthy countries such as Australia, America and Britain. The gap is even larger with India, which is also growing fast. Overall, protein intake in Europe and America is unlikely to expand much, but a combination of rising incomes and population in developing countries could increase demand by more than 5% annually for years to come. “Once people are accustomed to eating more protein, they won’t take it out of their diet,” says Mr Caiani.
Expanding supply at the same rate will be difficult, because the amount of arable land under cultivation is growing by only a fraction of a percentage point each year. In China and India many of the most fertile areas are the ones being developed for roads and factories. That means existing land is becoming more valuable, and must become more productive.
The consequences stretch from one end of the food chain to the other, as higher food prices prompt a response. BASF, one of the world’s largest producers of agrochemicals, saw 9% growth last year in agricultural sales, including 16% growth in Asia. It expects the industry to grow by 17% this year, which has begun well, the global economic tumult notwithstanding.
Its competitors are also prospering. The share prices of Agrium, CF Industries, Bunge and Syngenta spiked last year along with food prices, then tumbled (along with the shares of nearly every other company), but then stabilised, even as the rest of the stockmarket continued to tank. Monsanto, which a decade ago had been praised and then trashed for selling highly efficient genetically modified seeds, has seen its popularity restored for exactly the same reason. After years of strong growth, and with the prospect of more to come, its shares are valued at 20 times trailing earnings, nearly double the market average.
该公司的竞争对手也经营着它们蒸蒸日上的生意，Agrium, CF Industries, Bunge和Syngenta的股价去年先是随着食品价格的上涨而大幅上扬，随后大跌（当时几乎所有其他公司的股价都在下挫），然后稳定下来而没有随着股市一起崩溃。孟山都，十年之前因为其经营的高效转基因种子而闻名于世，该公司经过多年强劲的发展，获得了众多的荣誉好评，其股价是追踪盈余的整整二十倍，几乎是市场平均水平的两倍。
Interest in the industry is still growing. A conference for fund managers tied to agriculture held annually in Sydney by Austock, an Australian broker, attracted a few dozen contrarian souls three years ago. This year’s event, which began on March 16th, had to be restricted to several hundred ticket-holders, with many others turned away. Deals are also being done. On March 13th Terra Firma, a private-equity firm based in London, announced it would buy 90% of Consolidated Pastoral Company, the vast Australian cattle holdings of the Packer family, which encompass 5m hectares (12m acres) of land.
In February Nufarm, an Australian agrochemical maker, won approval for its acquisition of AH Marks, one of Britain’s oldest chemical companies, which has a valuable portfolio of herbicides. Nufarm itself only barely avoided being acquired in 2007 in a joint bid by an American private-equity firm and a Chinese state-owned company. Shares of Mosaic, a maker of fertiliser, have been swept by one acquisition rumour after another. Last year COFCO, China’s state-controlled food conglomerate, bought 5% of Smithfield, the world’s largest pork producer. Al Qudra, an Abu Dhabi-based investment company, said it had bought big tracts of farmland in Morocco and Algeria, and was closing in on purchases in Pakistan, Syria, Vietnam, Thailand, Sudan and India.
去年二月，澳大利亚农业化工品制造商Nufarm获得了不列颠老牌化工公司之一、生产一系列高价值除莠剂的AH Marks的收购许可。而此前在2007年，Nufarm公司好不容易才避免了一家美国私人直接投资公司和一家中国国有企业的联合收购。世界第二大化肥生产商Shares of Mosaic不停的陷入一个又一个恶意收购案。而在去年，中国国有粮食集团COFCO购买了世界最大肉类生产商Smithfield5%的股份。位于阿布扎比的公司Al Qudra声称它们购买了摩洛哥和阿尔及利亚的大量耕地，同时正在跟进巴基斯坦、叙利亚、泰国、苏丹和印度的收购案。
In November China Agri-Industries, a subsidiary of COFCO, established a partnership with Wilmar, the world’s largest trader in palm oil. Landkom, listed on London’s AIM market, and Black Earth Farming, listed in Stockholm, have each made big investments in farming in Ukraine. And reports are circulating in China about local investors buying 50,000 hectares of farmland in Argentina, and considering other investments in Argentina and Brazil.
时年十一月，中粮集团（COFCO）的子公司中国粮油控股有限公司，与世界最大的棕榈油经销商丰益国际建立了合作关系。伦敦交易所二板市场上市的Landkom和斯德哥尔摩证券上市的Black Earth Farming各自在乌克兰农业市场投入了大量资金。当前有报告显示，中国本土投资者在阿根廷收买了5万公顷的耕地，而且考虑是否继续在阿根廷和巴西投资。
Even China is finally opening up to private agricultural investment, in part because new laws allow farmers to lease land, thus making possible economies of scale. Asian Bamboo, a company that is listed in Frankfurt, leases 27,000 hectares in Fujian province. It announced profits for 2008 of (原文此处有一欧元符号)21m ($30.4m) on sales of (原文此处有一欧元符号)44m, reflecting how, at least for the moment, agriculture can be an extraordinarily high-margin business.
There are limits to what can be done, however. By far the most ambitious of all the land deals in the past year was Daewoo Logistics’ contract with the government of Madagascar to lease 1.3m hectares, almost half the country’s arable land, to produce corn for Daewoo’s home country, South Korea. But after riots and a coup in Madagascar, the deal is off. These tensions are not unique. In response to local concerns about the loss of critical food supplies, several governments have imposed taxes or other restrictions on exports: on a key ingredient of fertiliser in China, on grain in Argentina, on rice in India. That sort of meddling undermines some investments and businesses. But in a strong market, it makes the businesses that can operate freely all the more lucrative and valuable.
发表于13:35 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享 0关于基金2009-03-24本文章为话题广告
发表于11:07 | 阅读全文 | 评论 3 | 编辑 | 分享 0创业精神2009-03-17A special report on entrepreneurship
Lands of opportunity
Mar 12th 2009
From The Economist print edition
Israel, Denmark and Singapore show how entrepreneurialism can thrive in different climates
DOV MORAN’S desk is littered with the carcasses of dismembered phones. Mr Moran has already had one big breakthrough: inventing the now ubiquitous memory stick. But he dreams of another one: he wants to separate the “brains” of the various gizmos that dominate our lives from the “bodies” to enable people to carry around tiny devices that they will be able to plug into anything from phones to cameras to computers. Mr Moran sold his memory-stick business to SanDisk for $1.6 billion, creating a thriving technology cluster near his office. This time he wants to build an Israeli business that will last, challenging the giants of the camera and phone businesses.
Israel is full of would-be Dov Morans. It is home to 4,000 high-tech companies, more than 100 venture-capital funds and a growing health-care industry. Innovations developed in the country include the Pentium chip (Intel), voicemail (Comverse), instant messaging (Mirabilis, Ubique), firewalls (Checkpoint) and the “video pill”, which allows doctors to study your insides without the need for invasive surgery.
Even more than other countries, Israel has America to thank for its entrepreneurial take-off. A brigade of American high-tech companies, including Intel and Microsoft, have established research arms there. And a host of Israelis who once emigrated to America in search of education and opportunity have returned home, bringing American assumptions with them. Many Israeli entrepreneurs yo-yo between Silicon Valley and Tel Aviv; almost 70 Israeli companies are traded on NASDAQ.
The Israeli government helped by providing a ready supply of both human and physical capital. Israel has the world’s highest ratio of PhDs per person, the highest ratio of engineers and scientists and some of the world’s best research universities, notably Technion. The country’s native talent was supplemented by the arrival of 400,000 well-educated Jewish refugees from the former Soviet empire.
However, Israel’s main qualification for entrepreneurialism is its status as an embattled Jewish state in a sea of Arab hostility. The Israeli army not only works hard to keep the country at the cutting edge of technology, it also trains young Israelis (who are conscripted at 18) in the virtues of teamwork and improvisation. It is strikingly common for young Israelis to start businesses with friends that they met in the army. Add to that a high tolerance of risk, born of a long history and an ever-present danger of attack, and you have the makings of an entrepreneurial firecracker.
Compared with a lion like Dov Moran, Frederik Gundelach is a mere cub, but he has some of the same sense of purpose about him. Sitting in one of Denmark’s “growth houses” (incubators for entrepreneurs), he places a flask on the table and launches into an elaborate explanation.
如果说Dov Moran像一只雄狮，相比而言，Frederik Gundelach则仅是头幼狮，但他对自己的未来也有和Moran类似的打算。在丹麦“成长之屋”里（创业者孵化器机构），他把一个烧瓶放在桌上，开始了详尽的解说。
Mr Gundelach claims that he and his father have discovered a novel way of boiling water that does not require the application of heat. He hopes to sell the flask to outdoor types and soldiers, but that is not the limit of his ambition. The chemical reaction that heats the water can also be used to heat or cool houses, he claims, radically reducing the cost of domestic heating and the threat of global warming.
It is too early to say whether Mr Gundelach’s flask will turn out to be a miracle in a bottle or a pipedream, but the Danish government is doing everything it can to give him the support he needs. Denmark is engaged in a social experiment to test whether it can embrace capitalist globalisation yet continue to preserve its generous welfare state. The Danish economy has traditionally been divided between big multinational companies (such as Carlsberg, a brewing behemoth) and a welter of small family firms. The government now wants to add a third economic force: start-ups with the potential for rapid growth.
The government has done everything a tidy-minded Scandinavian country can to cultivate these start-ups. The World Bank ranks Denmark fifth in the world for ease of doing business. There is a network of growth houses—ready-made offices that provide start-ups with many of the advantages of large companies such as consulting advice, legal services and conference rooms. The government has created a public venture-capital fund, the Vaekstfonden, and is now trying to change attitudes to entrepreneurs and promoting “education for entrepreneurship”.
When Muslim countries boycotted Danish goods in 2005 after a Danish newspaper published some disrespectful cartoons of the prophet Muhammad, wags joked that this hardly mattered because the only things that Denmark produced were beer and bacon. But the government’s embrace of entrepreneurialism is clearly changing the economy. Denmark is already home to about 20% of Europe’s biotech companies. It also has thriving clean-technology, fashion and design industries. As a proportion of GDP, Danish companies attract more venture capital than any other European country.
At first sight Denmark and Singapore do not have much in common, yet they share not only the same official enthusiasm for entrepreneurialism but also many of the same policies. Singapore’s government has invested heavily in digital media, bio-engineering, clean technology and water purification, creating huge incubators and enticing foreign scientists with fat pay packets, as well as setting up a public venture-capital fund that has in turn brought in lots of private venture capital. More than 5% of Singapore-based companies are backed by venture capital.
The government has done everything in its power to make life easy for entrepreneurs, which has earned it first place in the World Bank league table for ease of doing business. It is also trying hard to encourage a traditionally passive population to become more innovative. Schools teach the virtues of entrepreneurialism. The universities put ever more emphasis on business education and links with industry. The Nanyang Technological University (whose chairman, like that of the National University of Singapore, is an alumnus of Hewlett-Packard) offers a graduate degree in technopreneurship and innovation.
Singapore sees entrepreneurialism as a prerequisite to future growth. It has spent the past few decades climbing up the “value chain” from manufacturing to services and from trade to finance. Its biggest test yet may be to create knowledge industries and produce companies that can commercialise intellectual breakthroughs.
All three countries have both advantages and disadvantages when it comes to embracing entrepreneurship. Israel depends too heavily on America and is being hit hard by the downturn there. Denmark is too egalitarian. A top personal-income-tax rate of 63% drives the most successful entrepreneurs out of the country.
Singaporeans have even deeper cultural problems with entrepreneurship. The best and brightest have little appetite for risk-taking entrepreneurship, and most people suffer from an excessive fear of bankruptcy, according to Monitor. The country’s consumers are anything but venturesome: for all the island’s cultural diversity, they remain obsessed by Western brand names. The country is paying a heavy price for this. A Singapore-based company, Creative Technology, invented a digital music player, the NOMAD, two years before Apple launched the iPod, but Creative’s NOMAD looked like a clunky CD player rather than a miniature fashion accessory. It received $100m from Apple for patent infringement, but that did not make up for the loss of a mass market.
Still, the governments of all three countries remain enthusiastic supporters of the entrepreneurial idea. The Danes and the Singaporeans regard it as their ticket to success in a global economy and the Israelis as a matter of survival. All three are also helping to spread the creed in their regions. Arab countries are beginning to realise that the best way to deal with Israel is to copy its vibrant economy. Denmark serves as a model to European leaders such as France’s Nicolas Sarkozy who want to combine dynamism with social protection. The Chinese regard Singapore as a useful laboratory for reform. In the 1980s China asked Goh Keng Swee, Singapore’s former finance minister, to advise on the development of its special economic zones; today it is keeping a watchful eye on the city-state’s model of state-sponsored entrepreneurship.
发表于19:49 | 阅读全文 | 评论 1 | 编辑 | 分享 0地下劳工:天下无“黑户”2009-03-17Britain
All sins forgiven? 天下无“黑户”
Mar 12th 2009
From The Economist print edition
A report on the scale of undocumented working sparks calls for an amnesty
PROTECTED by a 20-mile-wide moat, Britain need not worry as much as most countries about illegal border-hoppers. There are those who take the wet route: a new French film, “Welcome”, tells the story of a Kurdish boy’s plan to swim La Manche to be reunited with his girlfriend in Britain. More common are those who stow aboard lorries to get across by ferry or tunnel. But such plans are fairly easy to foil: border guards have turned away 88,500 Channel-crossers in the past five years.
Nonetheless, it appears that the number of “irregular” migrants in Britain has been growing fast. The government’s previous best estimate was that in 2001 there were 430,000 undocumented residents, made up of illegal entrants, visa overstayers, failed asylum-seekers and the British-born children of all the above. But on March 9th a report commissioned by Boris Johnson, the Conservative mayor of London, suggested that the figure is now nearer 725,000. The authors, from the London School of Economics (LSE), reckon people whose asylum claims have been rejected but who have not returned home account for most of the growth.
The number is still small by international standards: America, for instance, is thought to harbour some 12m undocumented workers, more than three times as many as Britain has per head. But the LSE team points out that Britain’s irregular residents are unusually highly concentrated in London. Around two-thirds are based in the capital, they estimate, which means that roughly one in 15 Londoners is living there illegally.
That is a tax base worth taking seriously. Against his own party’s line, Mr Johnson backs a managed amnesty for those workers, which would bring about 320,000 Londoners in from the cold if it were offered to those who had been in the country for at least five years, as is mooted. The power to grant such an amnesty lies with the central government, whose view is that it would merely encourage more people to try their luck in future. But the Liberal Democrats are in favour and so are many Labour MPs, including Harriet Harman, who, many reckon, is already running to be the Labour Party’s next leader.
For some, the moral arguments weigh most heavily. Jeff, a failed asylum-seeker from Zimbabwe, describes nine years in Britain being bounced from one agency to another, unable to work and afraid to return home. His children did well at school but cannot go to university; they too now live lives of enforced idleness. “It mirrors what is happening to so many families,” he says. Fear of deportation keeps sick children away from hospital and battered prostitutes away from the police, and promotes other woes.
The LSE will deliver a second report in May, weighing the costs and benefits to the taxpayer of an amnesty. Given the difficulty of comparing the pros and cons of even legal migration, assessing the undocumented will be impressionistic at best. But the “vast majority” of irregulars are “young, single men who use services very lightly”, the researchers say, suggesting that any additional burden on public services would be slight. And some are laid on already: health care, for instance, is provided at the discretion of doctors, few of whom are sticklers for the correct papers.
Perhaps more controversial would be the impact on the job market of hundreds of thousands of newly legal workers. But that, too, is hard to predict. Undocumented workers are the most competitive of all, because employers don’t need to worry about sick pay, holidays or the minimum wage. Giving them the same legal rights as everyone else might actually raise wages in sectors such as construction, agriculture and hospitality.
Amnesties for those who have broken the rules are never popular. But they are not unusual. France, Greece, Italy, Portugal and Spain have regularised more than 3m illegal residents in the past 20 years. And Britain has done it too, albeit modestly. Between 1998 and 1999, domestic workers who had broken their visa restrictions were offered the chance to come clean without penalty. And in 2003 the Home Office announced an amnesty for 15,000 asylum-seeking families who had been the victim of an unusually long backlog in processing applications. That scheme was portrayed as a measure to “clear the decks” before introducing new, tougher immigration controls. As the government prepares to roll out its new ID-card scheme, could this be the moment for an amnesty?
发表于19:49 | 阅读全文 | 评论 0 | 编辑 | 分享 0