Japan's industrial output plunges

The BBC reports

Japan's industrial production fell by 10% in January - the biggest monthly drop since records began more than half a century ago, the government says.

It is the fourth successive month that factory output has fallen, as the world's second-biggest economy suffers its worst recession in decades.

The latest figures come days after the government said exports plunged 45.7% in January compared with a year ago.

Japan's economy is suffering because of falling demand for its products abroad.

Consumers around the world afraid of losing their jobs in the global downturn no longer want to buy Japanese electronic gadgets and cars, the BBC's Roland Buerk in Tokyo says.

The country's car production plunged a record 41% year-on-year in January, according to the Japan Automobile Manufacturers' Association.

It said 576,539 vehicles were produced in January compared with 976,975 for the same month of 2008.

Painfully exposed

The Japanese themselves are also shopping less, with average household spending falling 5.9% in January compared with the same month a year ago, our correspondent says.

Jobs are also being slashed - the number of people unemployed rose by more than 200,000.
"The recession is having an increasing impact on the real economy," Finance Minister Kaoru Yosano said.

Japan was once seen as relatively immune to the global crisis because its banks were not as exposed to bad loans as those in the US and Europe, our correspondent says.

But he says that Japan's reliance on foreign markets to drive its economy out of a long slump in the 1990s has left it painfully exposed.

Cannibalism 2 - a response to Jack

Dialog just reported a loss of 3 billion for the year ended 31st December 2008.

Jack Point seems to think the sole reason for it centred around the Blaster Package. But theres more to the story than just the blaster package, the blaster package was necessary to ensure the non erosion of Dialog's customer base, which was essential taking immediate market implications into consideration.

While the Sri Lankan telco market has almost bordered on a price war over the past few months, this has been good for the population and the economy as a whole as it reduces communication costs and in turn increases productivity, providing a much needed boost to a relative downturn.

Also this has a penetrative effect where new users previously unable to afford a mobile subscription entering the fray, the blaster/ Upahara packages also have a potential to create a loyal customer base provided service levels are high and coverage problems are minimal. And however much Dialog is criticized for its bad customer service, they are still pretty much the best at it in comparison to their competitors. That may not be saying much, but it's all that matters. Coverage wise Dialog is the undisputed leader with most of its competitors struggling to keep up, but Mobitel is an exception posing a strong challenge and will probably catch up sooner or later.

The problems rather, were caused by a too-big organization, it is a structural/ managerial problem rather than a marketing one. Dialog has a bureaucratic culture with a largely centralized decision making system with a maze of divisions and departments. They need to restructure fast to cope with the suddenly dynamic nature of the Sri Lankan Telco market. To streamline themselves to be able to swim faster. They are also laden with two subsidiaries that are yet to turn a substantial profit (as is evidenced by the disparity between the 'group' and 'company' losses) Dialog TV and Dialog CDMA, the latter which is seen to be an entry into a declining market by many pundits.

Jack Point also seems to think that the share prices of Dialog will drop to Rs. 2 but it’s my personal opinion that things won't get that bad, but his reasoning is also realistic. If there is a selling scramble prices could drop to a previously unheard of level but i think the worst has already happened, most investors would not have been expecting a profit for the last quarter anyway, although the level of  the loss incurred may have been un-anticipated.

A lot will depend onDialog's relationship with its major shareholders and their level of confidence in Dialog's ability to turn a proifit soon. Dialog still has a strong equity base with a relatively small portion of it actually public. This will squeeze demand and increase prices soon enough if they pick up their ball game. But they are notoriously resistive to internal change and it will remain to be seen of they can actually make a drastic pull-together.

2008 was one of the most volatile years the Telco market in Sri Lanka has ever experienced. Mainly due to the hype generated by Airtel. But as I blogged about it earlier, the panic attack generated by the threat of Airtel's entry is yet to materialize and be justified.

In most stable markets around the world, in any industry, the market leader usually does not possess more than 30% share. Dialog currently possesses closer to 50% of the mobile market if my figures are correct. Any change that happens will be for the overall good of the industry and for Dialog as well, which will have to eventually stabilize with a leaner operation and a more profitable portfolio, in order to remain dominant.

On regulation

Many say that lack of regulation brought the world economy to its knees. This interesting paper from the Adam Smith Institute examines 'populist demands' for increased regulation and explores the rationale behind them in the context of UK financial markets, which have taken a tremendous blow post GCC.

I won't spoil it for you, but its a pragmatic look at the workings of market regulation and the overall message is quite refreshing in terms of its novelly static free/semi-free market standpoint. i.e. better regulation as opposed to more regulation.

Brand America

I came across this interesting debate on the economist. Carried out between Mr. Mark Medish (MM) proposing the notion that American shine is still intact and Prof. Kishore Mahbubani (KM) opposing the notion. There were many interesting points raised with a LOT of interventions by readers which contributed to a very diverse flavor of a discussion.

When it comes to America, i have often been jokingly accused by friends to be anti-American. Which im obviously not. But what i am is an anti-corporate-greed, anti-inequality, anti-suppression and anti-war crime type of bugger. And sadly, during my formative years, America has seemed to me to be a country that leans toward exemplifying most of which i morally stand against.

But first, what is Brand America? MM argues that there are two Americas, not one. One is America the country, the other is America the Idea. The American idea is an idea of freedom, equality, justice and leadership. Which are extremely noble sentiments IMO.

This 'leadership' role though, also in my opinion, seems to have been confused to a certain degree with 'dominance' by the many participants in the debate. Like America needs to be in the forefront of everything in order to preserve its 'brand value'. Which i think is wrong. You don’t have to squash everybody else to be a leader. Taking the lead means guiding everybody else when they cant see. Not hoping that they cant see so that they can be guided. IMO again.

Moving on from that, what was noticeable was the strong rhetoric coming from the proposing side and the equally strong facts coming in from the opposing side. One may thing that facts trump rhetoric any day. But we are talking brand and perception here. People are not only influenced by facts, they are also influenced by sights, sounds, the look of the thing and how they perceive things. Most of which are non-quantifiable.

Also, the Brand that is America, a political/ economic superpower, seems more shaken than ever. And that’s it. It is America's super power status that is in danger here. And I say what the hell? just because you're not a superpower does not mean that you still cant be a great nation right?

On devolution of power (which seems inevitable) a fact also brought up by KM dealt specifically with the 'historical aberration' of 200 years of European domination followed by American domination before which (from year 1 to 1820) the biggest economies in the world were India and China alternatively. And he says that it is only a matter of time before they 'resume their natural place'.

The superiority of America as a 'democracy' seems unanimously agreed upon but its economic superiority? not so much.

It is my opinion that every empire collapses eventually. From the Egyptians to the Romans to the Brits and now, to the Americans. It's like the countries of the world take turns to dominate each other, the decider being nothing other than who comes off on top after the inevitable conflicts/ war.

Check out the debate. I'd love to hear your views.

Former Gitmo Guard Tells All

Former Gitmo Guard Tells All—By Scott Horton (Harper's Magazine): Army Private Brandon Neely served as a prison guard at Guantánamo.... Neely decided to step forward and tell his story. “The stuff I did and the stuff I saw was just wrong,” he told the Associated Press. Neely describes the arrival of detainees in full sensory-deprivation garb, he details their sexual abuse by medical personnel, torture by other medical personnel, brutal beatings out of frustration, fear, and retribution, the first hunger strike and its causes, torturous shackling, positional torture, interference with religious practices and beliefs, verbal abuse, restriction of recreation, the behavior of mentally ill detainees, an isolation regime that was put in place for child-detainees, and his conversations with prisoners David Hicks and Rhuhel Ahmed. It makes for fascinating reading....

Neely and other guards had been trained to the U.S. military’s traditional application of the Geneva Convention rules. They were put under great pressure to get rough with the prisoners and to violate the standards they learned.... Neely discusses at some length the notion of IRF (initial reaction force), a technique devised to brutalize or physically beat a detainee under the pretense that he required being physically subdued.... Neely’s testimony makes clear that IRF was understood by everyone, including the prison guards who applied it, as a subterfuge for beating and mistreating prisoners—and that it had nothing to do with the need to preserve discipline and order in the prison.

Second, there is a good deal of discussion of displays of contempt for Islam by the camp authorities.... Third, the Nelly account shows that health professionals are right in the thick of the torture and abuse of the prisoners—suggesting a systematic collapse of professional ethics driven by the Pentagon itself. He describes body searches undertaken for no legitimate security purpose, simply to sexually invade and humiliate the prisoners. This was a standardized Bush Administration tactic–the importance of which became apparent to me when I participated in some Capitol Hill negotiations with White House representatives relating to legislation creating criminal law accountability for contractors. The Bush White House vehemently objected to provisions of the law dealing with rape by instrumentality. When House negotiators pressed to know why, they were met first with silence and then an embarrassed acknowledgement that a key part of the Bush program included invasion of the bodies of prisoners in a way that might be deemed rape by instrumentality under existing federal and state criminal statutes. While these techniques have long been known, the role of health care professionals in implementing them is shocking.

Neely’s account demonstrates once more how much the Bush team kept secret and how little we still know about their comprehensive program of official cruelty and torture.

Capitalism with a conscience?

At the world Economic Forum, David Cameron called for 'capitalism with a conscience' but can capitalism ever have a conscience?

Capitalism is built on a single motive; the motive for profit. The only thing that controls the spiraling greed from driving the world to dust is the market. The market acts as a restrictor of capitalism, basically countering various capitalist forces with other capitalist forces, allowing them to cancel each other out. But capitalism being capitalism, in any meeting of the forces, one force will walk away better off. One person will walk away with a profit, and become stronger as a result. so the world as a whole, through that transaction has taken one more step down the road to monopoly.

The market consists of people, who are capitalists also. They work for the big capitalists and they feed off them trying to gain as much as possible for themselves. They demand ethics, yet they will forget those same ethics and argue against provisioning for them when they are demanded by a different group of people. And it is all decided in the end depending on who has the greater market power.

If the people demanding ethical behavior have more power, then the market will have no option but to provide provision for those ethical concerns. The green revolution is a good example. Plagued by fears of massive tidal waves and 'destruction to the planet' more people everyday are demanding firms to be more environmentally ethical or friendly or whatever you like to call it.

But then we have to look at the fact and understand that the underlying fear of global warming is not the destruction of the planet per se, but the destruction of the human race itself. The planets been through shit before, I’m sure it'll be fine in a few million years after every single human being is wiped out.

So capitalism has catered to the people's (or the market's) conscience. We are worried about killing ourselves, and feel guilty about it so we change demand patterns in the market, and manage to slowly restrict the bad influence of the big corporate on the environment. How great is that?

So while capitalism itself having a conscience is quite impossible, because each of us in our capitalist persona do not seem to have an inkling of one (just talk to someone working in CTC of Glaxo) the collective conscience caused by an overriding threat to all of us seems to be able to make some change.

Which, when it comes down to the nitty gritty, tells us that it is not exactly capitalism that drove the world into the worst recession we've seen since the 1930's, its greed and downright unscrupulousness and all of us, as a species, are probably guilty of it. Cos there's no use blaming Lehman Brother's if you're not going to turn down a 2 million dollar bonus working for them.

Some say the 1930's depression ended with the world war, we hope for something shorter, cheaper and more humane - some economist at Davos