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Lisboa, Portugal
Nasci no dia 11 de Junho de 1964 na cidade da Beira, MOÇAMBIQUE.

A Estação dos CFM, Beira

A Estação dos CFM, Beira
Ex-libris da cidade, 1966

The Euro, as a single currency, should be abolished

Another black and white motion statement leaving me no option but to choose No.
While I agree to the first part I am not prepared to contemplate the idea that the Euro should get abolished.
Abolished? Then what?
All 17 countries now sharing the single currency would revert back to their old monies?
Or a new version of yesteryear's currencies?

Simplistic as I made it out to be packed in a few odd questions, every single serious economic, financial and social consequence is inextricably wrapped up within each.
That is where the stakes are high enough to ensure that the Euro is given a new lease on life.
It calls for closer European integration.
What form and shape this will take is for policymakers and far-sighted politicians to grasp and propose.

It would seem to me that the Euro has many underlying strengths but will not - contrary to the founder's beliefs - assure convergence between all the economies it services. How could it?
The divide has been felt acutely lately (1-2 years) the logical consequence of relevant economic under-performance among member-countries.

There has obviously got to be a political solution rooted in realistic economic fundamentals.
The road traveled so far proved artificially smooth during the first 10 years I dare say but unsurprisingly very bumpy in the last 1-2.
It could not have been otherwise given the structural differences setting these countries apart. And excessive spending pursued mostly by a few Southern European States who could not see beyond the present.
Adherence to the Maastricht criteria never again seemed to be taken seriously once countries landed themselves inside the Euro club. Not to mention Greece that never fulfilled the criteria in the first place or ever bothered to balance its books.

Very disappointing to admit but the Euro Zone is indeed right in the middle of a storm testing its main crews to the limit.
The latest summit decisions seem to indicate that where there is a will there is a way.
It may have just been one first small step in the right direction.

The specifics are very hard to work on.
Yet it would seem to me that the 17-member Euro Zone and the larger EU can hardly afford shooting down the Euro.
The broader picture needs to come into full view.
An hypothetical demise of the single currency would deal another severe blow to Europe's economic fortunes.
Its relative decline vis-a-vis the rest of the world would get a further boost.

I do not like misplaced calls for solidarity from Southerners but would rather see the stronger half of the dividing line realize where their medium-to-long interest lies.
To that end many balances across the Euro Zone need to be restored at the earliest.

Europe agrees a "shock and awe" bailout for Greece

A rescue package of epic proportions, epic challenges for the Greek government and people, epic uncertainties and epic stakes for the single-currency.

It was the Euro's defence that ultimately forced politicians from Germany to Malta to perform a hard balancing act whose overall success is far from assured.Each finance minister has enough reasons to fret and grumble about.It being the Euro as a common currency, because of Greece despite Greece.
Up to now every 'least damaging' approach failed miserably to cool down the financial markets that remained as unimpressed as ever throughout.
For its part Greece is effectively the main winner in this high-finance gamble.The country bought time the markets were not willing to give it once confidence vanished.Precious time desperately needed to restore credibility and good governance at home.
A daunting internal fix with daunting external implications.
Three full years is what the government and Greek society top-down and bottom-up now have to set the record straight in so many ways.
Literally and figuratively.

For the other 15 Eurozone countries - each facing own troubles to varying degrees - keeping fingers crossed would be mild to describe the monitoring of Greece's performance over the coming 36 months.Potentially they are all losers, starting out by losing simply to avoid bigger losses!
There are so many relevant questions that might be asked to which full answers ought to be provided.
They won't get asked or get answered.
Tellingly, each and every single one of them would now seem rhetorical or at best an exercise for academia.

The spectre that haunts Europe

I am still hopeful that Greece will not require a bail-out in whatever form pinning my hopes on the PM's own words.

He did sound very bold and brave in the face of such overwhelming odds but until a deal is actually in place I would rather believe the Greeks can and will take care of themselves.

My stance is wholly based not on immediate needs triggered by the Western financial meltdown that led to the economic downturn.This in turn led to a collapse in tax revenues across countries caused by economies shrinking badly.

To a large extent Greece is indeed a one-off case-study for the worst reasons, its latest fiscal deficit the sum total of profligate spending, widespread cultural-rooted tax evasion, underbudgeting, creative accounting, weak notion of public service and duty, etc - all conspiring over decades to bring the country to the brink of bankruptcy.

I am sure many Greeks will have seen it coming and warned their governments in years past.To no avail as even the present government was elected as recently as late 2009 on a platform to increase spending.

According to EMU rules public finances were clearly to remain national responsibilities.A considerable chunk of sovereignty for States to manage through their democratically-elected governments of the day.
Would the Greeks have liked their Finance Ministry to be ruled or dictated to from Brussels or Frankfurt just so the Maastricht-agreed criteria could not have been so despondently ignored?

Current turmoil is the Euro's hardest test ever but one that will also represent a defining moment in the single-currency's future.

It is a fact that Southern European countries are faced with similar issues though not on the same scale and urgency.Others in Northern Europe, the US and Japan also recorded their biggest fiscal deficits and added up noticeably to their debts in 2009.
Each one has its own track-record, however.
This is exactly what sets Greece apart from the rest.
Each country is unique in its own way, there being obviously overlapping between them.

International rating agencies must make the effort to closely monitor and register those differences and then advise financial markets.

After all it is sovereign countries and sovereign debt one is dealing with.

There is much more at stake than strictly soulless bundling of nations.

Arquivo do blogue

sábado, 29 de janeiro de 2011

BBC Blog Network "Barack Obama's 2011 state of the Union speech" I think it was substantive and to the point.

Though President Obama's speech ran into the small hours here in Lisboa it left me so completely enthralled I had to watch it live to the finish.

His leadership and oratorial skills came to the fore yet again. But what I would really like to stress on is the substance of what he said.

To my mind his Administration's agenda has identified the main challenges facing America dead-on. Delivery is bound to be slower than expectations would wish for but such is the very nature of collective business in good times as in bad.
Built-in inertia, lobbyism by interest groups are present in every society. Reform therefore made difficult or opposed outright by those who have a stake in public affairs and will not let go of priviledge acquired by whichever dint.
The call for increased positive interaction with Republicans and many gestures to that end - formal or informal - bodes well for the future of legislative 'trading' in a now Republican-majority Congress.
The state of the Union speech laid out a new vision for the USA.
As the country's economy emerges from the worst ravages caused by the financial sector it would appear that Obama's words are now backed up by concrete signs of a recovery underway.
Many Americans may not be convinced yet because social mending, especially in areas hit hardest, requires much longer timelines by definition.

Obama's presidency did get a boost. Best outward manifestation was the repeated standing applause he received from House Republicans including former running-mate John McCain, a moderate no-nonsense American.Someone Democrats can argue with, agree or disagree with or come to a consensus on a fairly broad range of issues.

Not living in the US leaves me at a loss to evaluate policies already implemented.Nonetheless, there being enough pointers to America's fortunes having improved raises perception that the country is back on the right track.
Hopefully there won't be any backsliding and public debt is addressed in earnest...

sexta-feira, 21 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "Tongues under threat" English is poised to gain ground in South Africa

Dangerously dominant?

Why should it be regarded as dangerously dominant?
Societies living within a political administrative entity - a State, are (ideally)required to have a unifying language.
A language that may commonly be used and understood across the territory as far wide as its international borders.

On gaining independence the case was made in every African country as to which official language to adopt. Unfailingly the coloniser's language - South Africa being the odd and very peculiar case due to Afrikaans - forced itself over every other native language for any number of objective and practical reasons. Political, social and economic too.South Africans of all ethnic origins stand to maximise their collective potential if indeed English becomes the nation's lingua franca in the broadest sense.
Every other language may be retained by specific social groups as well, as long as English - the language with the highest common denominator though not spoken by the largest number yet - is chosen as the main medium of the country's education system.
For this to happen in the medium-to-long-run, the South African State represented by acting governments of the day must turn into public policy structural choices made.
As seen fit by those called upon to decide on these matters.
From a position of enlightenment and statesmanship.

TEc asks "Should America take a tougher line with China?" - If it should come to that, yes. Not otherwise.

If, and only if, as the introduction to this debate suggests, China has adopted a tough line with the US it follows that the US must reciprocate.

As is often the case, between States there is no love lost.
China's quick rise coincided with the severe shake-up of the West's economy, rocked to foundations by the troubles brought on by the financial sector.
A sector that admittedly conspired successfully - by deceit - against the economy posing complex systemic questions.
It was Wall Street versus Main Street and it could not have lent a firmer helping hand to China.

To my mind China going from developing to developed country over time, boasting the world's second largest economy already is good news to mankind as a whole.
Checking the excesses of Chinese power as and when it is felt will be the task of current and future US Administrations.
It need be a tough line if indeed Chinese so-called nativism gets the upper hand turning the country into a bully under different guises.

The best way to face the challenges ahead though - perhaps the only effective one - is for US leadership in government and business to strengthen the country's fundamentals.

Mainly the rather badly shattered economic foundations that led to debt-fuelled excessive consumption becoming the prime growth-driver.
Unsustainable over time by definition.

TEc - "Studying the superpower" The relevance of foreign nationals studying in the US

Most interesting to update on the relative weight of foreign-nationals studying at US universities.

The share of Chinese and Indian students correlate nearly perfectly with respective shares of world population.
Their presence is impressive both in absolute and relative numbers.

If America's institutions of learning remain the ambition of many youngsters worldwide they also represent the US's best asset of continued live links to every other nation.
At the high-end of human capital interchanges.
I find the Chinese contingent especially amazing not least because they come from a non-English speaking country.
An essentially agrarian shut-in society barely 30-40 years ago as well.

The pace of change has indeed been gathering momentum across multiple fields.
Americans wishing to learn Mandarin or Cantonese in numbers that are becoming relevant is the clearest indication of changing perceptions in America too.
Missing from the infograph is data on Americans studying at Chinese universities, if any to make the news.

segunda-feira, 17 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "Mr. China goes shopping" China-Europe relations are warming up too.

That China's place in the world is rising fast is now much more than a common perception.

The country's growing political and economic prominence is highlighted by a spate of initiatives taken across many geographies.

For Europe (the EU plus Russia) it should be a good thing that an hitherto slumbering nation has awakened with gusto.
The latest frenzy by China's top officials was meticulously planned to include the softer spots of Euro Zone in their hour of need.
China is driven not only by self-interest - as always results from interaction between States - but by a considerable amount of the famous Chinese wisdom too.
The will to prop up the EuroZone so that the Euro currency may hold its ground stems from a strategic view that the world's economy must diversify away from the US dollar.

Europe and China must indeed forge ahead at every level building up from current exchanges.
However, the EU should have by now assessed in full the knock-on effect China has had on economies across member countries.
While the case for free markets is a powerful one and is unlikely to retreat, fact is attention must be paid to overall effects on individual economies.
Europe's fear is rooted in a number of factors that converged simultaneously to undermine the present.
But mainly threatening its future prosperity and well-being.

It is not so much that China's economy is (still) only one third the size of the EU's.
It is the realization that it already is one third and growing at rates hovering around of 7.5%-10%.
Should existing trends stick for another decade or two and the EU will be overtaken.

If nearly a fifth of humanity is being uplifted multifold then there's every reason to rejoice.

Enough of them that would not fit in this brief comment.

European leadership has to make up its mind as to what role they envisage for their countries/peoples in a world undergoing fast transformation.
Nothing can be achieved overnight but the European Union's political and economic project seems to me the best way forward.
For all current weaknesses there are enough strengths from within to ensure the Continent's relevancy in the future.
The sooner many more realise this - those who truly matter and are able to influence direction - the quicker structural solutions to current woes will be found.
To that end economic growth above 2.5% spread across every poorer EU country looks critical.

China's European push is as welcome as it is inevitable given that country's strong macro-fundamentals and willingness to scatter assets.

And the (very) weak ones of too many of the so-called EuroZone periphery.

quinta-feira, 13 de janeiro de 2011

BBC Blog Stephanie Flanders: "Portugal: the next chapter" - An impressive view that hits right where it hurts most

Stephanie Flanders hit right upon it.

Right on Portugal's weak spot - the one and only that belies current woes in the markets.

A heavily indebted country for the economy it has and, critically, for its growth prospects as perceived by just about everybody. From market analysts to the common man in the street up and down the country no-one quite knows how the economy is to be kick started, let alone flourish in the years ahead.
It is not about achieving meagre growth rates. Anything below 2.5% is not good enough. A rate above 3% would allow outstanding debts to be serviced, maturing ones redeemed letting the country breathe. Therefore cooling down the markets.
It is now a hazardous time that each time Portugal takes to the markets will feel like a hurdle to leap over at an affordable price.
In the meantime the PM has correctly identified the only way forward in the quest for economic growth.
He has been playing the role of a tradesman too for quite a while.
If only a large enough section of the country's business community should succeed in their endeavours and Portugal's export-drive might provide the growth impetus so direly needed.
That alone won't do the trick but remains very much the only relevant option in the years ahead.

The government still hopes bravely to narrowly avoid recession this year.
The central bank thinks otherwise in its latest assessment forecasting a 1.3% contraction. Pretty much erasing 2010's gain.
It is, however, all-round uncertainty that prevails as 2011 rolls on...

TEc - "This little piggy went to market" The Economist gets down to abuse a distasteful yet unimportant acronym

Although I pay very little or no attention at all to acronyms that often read like full words - whichever - I have to state my strong dislike for the heading to this chart.

Yes, to varying degrees these countries are in trouble regarding their standing in financial markets but each one still remains a singular sovereign entity.

Portugal may be one of the "little" countries.
Not so little anyway on many counts.

What Portugal will do fine without is the kind of stylishly rude but not subtle belittlement implicit from this news piece.

TEc debate motion "This house believes that restricting the growth of cities will improve quality of life." - Not automatically but a check would certainly help a great deal...

I have to vote for the motion for every right reason I can think of.

I do acknowledge though that after a check to a city's growth is achieved it does not follow suit quality of life improves effortlessly.
Indeed a well managed city is one that reaches a level of stabilisation regarding most major and minor sub-systems an Urban System is made of.
Population which of itself drives infrastructural needs in the broadest sense is a variable of key importance throughout.Why else would cities grow, sprawl or bloat if not as a consequence of rising populations?
Sub-systems are geared to satisfy the requirements of a city's inhabitants.Once supply meets demand the quality of life of individual citizens may be expected to rise.
Over the last decades most city growth has taken place in the developing world.
Large cities have mushroomed to become gigantic continuous agglomerations. These call into question the very concept of city as an organized urban area.
Cities already bursting at the seams, barely able to cope with established residents have faced an influx of new settlers flocking in at ever faster rates.
Years ago Bombay added a thousand new migrants a day to its population.The latest figures I hear have nearly tripled raising the total to 1 million a year.
Utilities, transport, housing severely strained or simply collapsing under the sheer weight of demand for which supply is not there.Nor can it be created in a planned way to keep up with surging needs. Not on this scale.
Even in a rich developed country with an advanced ready-for-expansion- working-infrastructure in place  an adequate timely response would be unattainable.
How then to manage the whole process?There are no easy answers to such overwhelming problems presented on a scale that defy any realistic proposition.Cities have lured millions to them since long, their pulling power directly linked to perceived higher chances of success for the individual.
Some might argue that new migrants set up new businesses, trades, jobs and wealth is created. New economic activity is developed.
While this is true up to a point a balance must still be struck that does not put so much pressure more problems arise than opportunities are created.
Those who have briefly overflown large slum areas or unplanned neighbourhoods of many a city around the world cannot fail to grasp the sheer size of problems. And the challenges posed to overcome them.The pervasiveness of atrocious sanitary conditions, the blight, disease, social misery or the grinding poverty affecting hundreds of thousands or millions help put ideas on sound footing.
A clearer perspective emerges that may prove crucial to public policy decison-makers in their quest to address a city's problems.
Last but not least is the case to have a population as evenly spread as possible across a country's territory.This entails the existence of several-tier urban areas dotting the geography of the land as well as rural populations to keep the countryside going, alive and productive.

terça-feira, 11 de janeiro de 2011

BBC Blog asks: Have the Tucson shootings changed American politics? - Not even the gravest single event changes things the following day.

The shootings will not have changed American politics overnight nor the gun culture prevalent in a large enough section of American society.

Hopefully all senseless deaths whose numbers have stacked up over many years will eventually lead Americans to adopt a new attitude.

In a Democracy based on values politicians have to talk to the people by holding grassroots level meetings, as has been widespread practice.
Every other technological tool aids the effort but nothing will ever bridge the common touch required to discuss public issues and policies - on occasion - with those directly affected by it.
Other than election time as well.
Gun laws and gun control is a recurrent topic in the US following outrages like this one. I've not heard any calls to that end so far.Every single life counts but the poignant case of the nine year-old demands action that will yield concrete results in the longer run.

As for American politicians and commentators I would expect them never to resort to demagoguery, cheap populism or hate speech as a matter of normalcy in a mature Democracy.Utterly opposing views are welcome.They are the lifeline of democratic debate. They could and should be traded within the boundaries of educated courteousness and public decency.

BBC Blog Network, Gavin Hewitt: "The Euro: fear returns" Portugal is in the fireline now.

A few words here if only to let off some steam built up over this longtime (in) gathering financial storm.
So much for sovereign-debt that the whole exercise is no more than a déjà vu to the smallest detail.
Greece and Ireland from different tracks arrived at the same station.

The official denials, the unoffical uneasiness, the indirect pressures, the top economists and opinion-makers/(breakers) all signalling the apparent inevitability of the inevitable. A foreign rescue package now wrapped under the acronym EFSF tied up to the rather familiar but strongly disliked IMF.
In Portugal, for the right reasons only a tiny few had been buzzing bells for a while.
Currently everyone is at a loss to explain meaningfully what is going on to the nation at large .

Deep down who cares anyway so long as the money keeps flowing in wherever from?

That the unfolding events driven by financial markets should find Portugal in the middle of a presidential election campaign adds a little extra tempo. Turning the political speech spicier, acrimonious at times between candidates who so far chose to dwell mainly on side issues.
Despite the darkened clouds looming largest than ever.
Or the country's structural problems that always were.
The weather is prescient however, the New Year kicking off mostly overcast, rainy, windy and gloomy!
The good news is that the sun will come out to shine brightly again. Against cloudless blue skies.
It always does.
Will Portugal's public finances and economy re-enact the natural cycle too?
How long will the country's cycle of doom last?

TEc - "The race ahead" the E7 is predicted to outsize the G7 not many years going forward.There could be some glitches though...

A worthy exercise no doubt but one that leaves out many unknown variables. Unknown precisely because they have not verified yet.These might interfere at any one point in time causing long-term prediction to crash relatively lightly.
Take the world's two fastest growing already large economies of China and India. While it would appear that 2010 growth potential for both remains huge, 5-10 years down the line that potential will have changed somewhat as a result of growth already materialised.There is also the unanswerable question of how long can either country sustain such hefty growth rates without new phenomena developing - overheating, sector bubbles, commodity prices and/or shortages, political in/stability, environmental costs incurred, internal stresses and strains within society brought on by consecutive years of dizzy growth.Surely haywire and unplanned to an extent.
Any one of these or a combination of some might introduce an alteration to current assumptions.These assumptions are based essentially on high rates of growth remaining constant over prolonged periods spanning decades, even rising or dropping slightly (China) levelling off at a high value.
A more realistic study - with a high accuracy probability - would stretch no further than 10-15 years.
Time will tell.

sexta-feira, 7 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "Tipping the scales" India and Iran, where to?

The geopolitics of trade - should it be so viewed - is such that shifts or mere tactful changes may occur as seen fit by governments. It is a rolling situation calling for permanent appraisal and review.
India will still need Iranian oil and gas, and more of the stuff in the future. Despite market-source diversification.

Iran badly needs trading partners/friends or simply non-enemies to sell the commodities it's so bountiful in.
I wonder what the true reasons were for this move by the Indians. Nor have I grasped what the payments have changed into.But it is a matter for the two sovereign States to decide how to engage with each other. Consequently on how to pursue two-way trade and the means of payment to back it up.
Iran is anyway a key country in the Middle East irrespective of its current political leadership.
India, being a secular State and a functioning democracy in the heart of the Subcontinent - a big country that has mostly been a voice for moderation on the world stage, albeit often a muted one - is particularly well-suited to exercise positive influence on the more radical regimes within close proximity.
Although largely self-centered, now India continues surging economically it could use smartly a predictably greater regional clout. As long as it remains stable and plays its cards aptly.
Taming the pulses of Iran's excesses would be a great start.
The world would say thank you.
The West is not alone wishing for Iranian all-round moderation.

quinta-feira, 6 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "This house believes that gay marriage should be legal?" Why I believe not.

There's a bit of a confusion when it comes to sensitive human issues such as this one.

To push the notion that same-sex marriage is no different from opposite-sex marriage is utterly annoying for want of a better word.
At the core it isn't even about definition of marriage in the traditional institutional sense, such is the huge chasm between the two types of intimate human relationships.
While one blends in perfectly with Nature as Nature made it out to be, the other goes blatantly against it.
This is why same-sex pairings will always remain in the minority and human societies will predominantly wish to keep it that way - including many advocates of and members of the same-gender-union club.
How else would they have been placed on Earth in the first place?

Quite a separate issue is the legal, civil-rights, no-discrimination-against, full citizenship that must be awarded to people who fall for people of the same sex.
It could be called a civil-union or any other name that may be found appropriate.But a distinction should exist underscoring that indeed it is unlike the other union binding male to female that came to be known as marriage down the ages.
For Nature-related reasons.
Therefore for natural arguments.Not man-made ones originating from religious practices, cultural barriers, legal frameworks or any other.

Unfortunately in this time and age we have chosen the easy path to deal with divisive societal issues.
This debate is essentially not about semantics.
It is greatly about how we view ourselves as a species, inherently one of many inhabiting planet Earth.
How do we fit in and show respect for Mother-Nature following its laws first before bowing to any artificial ones. The latter are likely rooted in skewed views to suit our own convenience.
Or the latest fad or airing of political correctness.

terça-feira, 4 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "A tale of two expats" Chinese in the West and Westerners in China summed up.

Interesting reading that broadly confirms China's coming of age.

That upscale Chinese expatriates - CEOs and professionals - are now found living in the West as part of China's global economic reach proves the giant strides the country has made. Though still constrained in more ways than one - as so vividly described - the flow of these Chinese expatriates will likely increase in the years ahead.

Chinese migrants have long settled in several parts of the world, not just the West. For the most part they have become vibrant business-oriented communities going about their lives.
Many others have mingled with mainstream society across the world.
Like many from other origins and regional backgrounds.

The stunning difference now is the emergence of a new breed toing and froing, very much spearheading China's economic revival.
The country's membership of the WTO signals the take-off of its exports. Still booming to this day.
China has definitely asserted itself as the world's manufacturing powerhouse.

Conversely, some of the Western expatriates there have been sent in to oversee the relocation of entire production facilities.
To then manage them at much lower cost and sell back to Western consumers at Western prices.Profit margins significantly enhanced to levels unheard of before.

The upshot is China's ever growing demand for Western goodies and trappings. And transport equipment and capital goods too from the few nations that churn them out ready for export to wherever.

This well written tale of two expats is about many more tales resulting from globalisation as has taken hold.

sábado, 1 de janeiro de 2011

TEc - "Domino dangers" - A seemingly misleading chart on sovereign-debt by rank.

There's something fishy about the chart that is beyond explaining.

The rankings relative to each other do not seem to fit in with whatever else is being written and spoken on several of the countries shown.

Taking it as it is I can only draw two relevant points:

1 - There is a worldwide sovereign-debt crisis with widely disparate levels of severity.

2 - Over the decade Brazil, China and Russia improved their risk position while every other country saw theirs worsen.