Friday, January 27, 2012

U.S. Manufacturing: Myth Dismanteled

I, like many others, was convinced that America's manufacturing output was minuscule in comparison to other countries like China, India and Mexico. It certainly appeared what was left of the manufacturing industry was hanging on a thread. As it turns out, nothing could be further from the truth.
We've all heard economists, politicians and professors mouthing off about the vast declines in U.S. manufacturing, and the erosion of jobs in that sector. Over the years, I have read countless articles complaining about America's short sided move away from manufacturing in place of innovations such as technology, and service related jobs.
The voices of dismay grew louder and evermore judgmental during the height of the recession, as unemployment climbed to 10%. After reading Friedman's "the World is Flat" I was now convinced that the US had really bet the future on technology and white collar service industries, having recklessly turned its back on the Manufacturing industry. During the industrial revolution, America excelled in manufacturing, which made us the number one economy - and the envy of the world at one point. The perception was further ingrained ten years after the passing of NAFTA, which precipitated an outsourcing frenzy. It was now “coming home to roost” as my grandmother used to say. Senator Joseph Lieberman submitted a report concerning this very issue in 2004, entitled “Offshore Outsourcing and America’s Competitive Edge: Losing Out in the High Technology R&D and Services”. It was an obituary of statistics that indicated that we were all but buried.

t appears that his purpose was to sounding the alarm, and stimulate discussion toward finding solutions during the Bush Administration. Although he touched upon the outsourcing concerns, ultimately his paper dealt with a broader issue, which I believe to be a compelling argument for the need for America to refocus its attention toward developing a brain trust of highly skilled talent in Engineering, Biotechnology and Science Technology to ensure that this country will better compete with the brain trust emerging from India, Russia and China in the future.
NAFTA, which was thought to be a trailblazing trade agreement when it was first past by Bill Clinton (in the 90s), in hindsight, it was the catalyst for the loss of millions of manufacturing jobs. This trade agreement, meant that China was no longer the only country corporations could get cheap labor without heavy tariffs or taxes. There was now Mexico, as an outsourcing option that was more accessible. This would enable companies to save money, shipping time and reducing time zone issues. It's no surprise that corporations would want to take advantage of the reduced cost of goods in search of higher profit margins. Between 1990 and 2004 the US workforce has lost over 7.5 million manufacturing jobs. Although 4.5 million manufacturing jobs have been added back, making the net loss approximately 3 million in lost manufacturing jobs (Source: U.S. Dept. of Labor). By the end of millennium, Imports had far exceeded our exports creating a widening trade deficit economists and analyst had voiced concerns about for decades. The US trade deficit with China alone has increased 44% between 2001 and 2010, amounting to over $190 billion from $114 billion. The increased trade deficit with China can be linked to the loss of 2.9 million jobs during the same period. Although the statistics are not easy to swallow, they were the building block of the Myth that America had abandoned the Manufacturing industry. In all fairness, economic indicators such as manufacturing, exports, job creation and jobs lost are the foundation for formulating forecasts for near-term economic status and provide a glimpse of potential long term ramifications. GDP and import/ export trade ratios are also utilized as a compus for growth and global growth comparisons. One morning, as I cleaning up and sifting through old article clippings (Im old school, what can I say) I stumbled upon a Wall Street Journal article by Mark Perry, which touted the flourishing manufacturing output in the U.S. What? I thought. I was quick to abandon my cleaning project (this was as good an excuse as any), to get to the bottom of this piece. The article prompted me to conduct a little research to substantiate this myth busting claim. There is no denying that there have been a continuous loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector.
The Auto industry is just one of the industries that suffered a loss of nearly 1.5 manufacturing jobs, as the Big Three auto makers sought bailouts and closed factories in an attempt to save their faltering operations. Statistics covering the period from 1990 through 2009 indicate a loss of nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs, which meant a displacement of factory workers and managers who were forced to rebuild their skill-set by training in new industries, or returning to school, or both. The displaced workers that did not, either remained out of work, or ended up taking unskilled positions at lower pay. This is an unfortunate side effect of changing times and  advancing technology. Nevertheless, the manufacturing industry has been rebuilding itself while no one was looking.  Although many factury jobs are gone forever, as they have been replaced with computers, we have increased our productivity 3-fold. According to the Federal Reserve, the value of  our manufacturing output in of 2009 was $2.72 trillion (in 2000 dollars). Today’s factory worker is so productive that their average output "value" is estimated at $234,220. This means that the output per worker is three times as high as it was 30 years ago, and twice the productivity of 1990.  An article written by Dr. Walter E. Williams for in 2010 stated the following "the Federal Reserve estimated  the value of U.S. manufacturing output  in 2008 was about $3.7 trillion". He went on to say,  "if the U.S. manufacturing sector were a separate economy, with its own GDP, it would be tied with Germany as the world’s fourth-richest economy".  We're still struggling to climb out of the economic recession, but it should be clear that we're making our way back to being a stong economy, that's decidedly back in the manufactuing business.

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K. Reilly
The Cohn-Reilly Report

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

The Economy and Politics

If the positive momentum of the US economy continues throughout the year, and that’s a big IF, the presumptive GOP nominee Mitt Romney could have a tough time in November.

Let’s look at the current stats: the unemployment rate dropped to a near three-year low of 8.5 percent, with payrolls increasing by 200,000 in December - the biggest rise in three months. The economy added 1.6 million jobs last year, the most since 2006, and the jobless rate, which peaked at 10 percent in October 2009, has dropped 0.6 percentage point in the last four months. Commercial investment is up by 10% and inflation is relatively low.

Could Barack Obama be happier? I don’t think so. He welcomed the news and urged Congress to extend a two-month payroll tax cut through 2012 to help sustain the recovery. "We're moving in the right direction. When Congress returns they should extend the middle-class tax cut for all of this year, to make sure we keep this recovery going," he said.

Still, all is far from perfect: Employment remains about 6.1 million below its pre-recession level and at December's pace of job growth, it would take about 2-1/2 years to win those jobs back. There are roughly 4.3 unemployed people for every job opening.Although construction and Courier jobs increased due to the mild weather and the holidays respectively, those jobs could be lost in January and the unemployment rate might rise as Americans who had abandoned the hunt for work are lured back into the labor market. Still, 23.7 million Americans are either out of work or underemployed.

The jobs data could be overshadowed by Europe's debt crisis. With the labor market far from healthy, the debt crisis in Europe unresolved and tensions over Iran threatening to drive up oil prices, re-election for the current administration is by no means guaranteed.

C. Cohn
Cohn-Reilly Report


K. Reilly Said.....
I couldn't agree with you more. Although it looks good for the current administration, there are so many variables (mentioned in your article) that could reshape the country's direction and self perception. This will impact voter concerns, and who they believe will make it all better. Welcome back Charlie!

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K. Reilly /Jan 18, 2012 10:46 PM

France's nightmare realized:Is there life after downgrade for the EU

It is likely the one thing that kept France’s Prime Minister up at night. Protecting France’s credit rating was to become Sarkozy’s greatest challenge of the past 4 months, nevertheless, Sarkozy saw it coming. France and the other EU leaders were hoping to slide under the radar for a bit longer, before S&P focused its attention on the financially stressed members.

I’m sure that the historic downgrade of the US’s debt last year, made it all the more realistic for France. Well, last Friday was the day of reckoning for the Euro-zone, as members suffered downgrades on their debt. This was inevitable given the unresolved financial crisis which has consumed the EU in the past 18 months. Standard & Poor’s swooped down and left France and Austria stripped of their pristine Triple-A rating. It did not stop there, seven others EU members were downgraded including Italy, Portugal. Germany is the EU’s # 1 economy, and it was able to retain its triple-A rating. The anticipated, but dreaded downgrade of France’s debt, being EU’s #2 economy, will undoubtedly create a huge dilemma for the EU’s bailout plan.

As the downgrade of the European Union's #2 economy sinks in in the next couple of days, global perception of the European Union’s ability to bail itself out, leaves potential investors concerned. This of course translates to higher cost of borrowing. The entire bailout plan is in hinging on the EU’s ability to bounce back from this downgrade and swiftly move toward executing the bailout plan. The sooner the wheels begin turning toward resolving the issues, the better.

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K. Reilly
The Cohn-Reilly Report

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Blue Chips in the Red: Kodak

In the digital world of imaging, the hardest hit in this sector, which should come as no surprise, was Kodak. The Wall Street Journal reported that Kodak may be filing for bankruptcy protection in the months to come. In the past three years, Kodak has incurred losses in 9 out of 12 quarters. For the 3rd quarter of 2011, Kodak's losses were estimated at $222 million, which had investors running for cover. Needless to say, their stock fell sharply last year. Although the company stock began the year trading at $3.00, Kodak's shares are presently fluctuating below .50 cents. Consequently, the New York Stock Exchange warned that they will move to delist Kodak if their stock price remains below $1 for over 6 months. Kodak is not quite in the "red" yet, but if the company continues operating at the same rate of quarterly losses they experienced in the third quarter of 2011, it is only a matter of time.

I remember purchasing stock in the company when I was about 18 years old, and I must have paid over $40 a share. I sold my Kodak shares when the price dipped to $23.00. That's when I realized that I really didn't have the stomach for the trading the market.

The Iconic Blue Chip, which had been a in the forefront of the imaging products and supplies for over 130 years, has lost its grip on the cutting edge. The once stellar company is struggling to reinvent itself in the new age of camera phones, desktop publishing, , and the digital transport, upload and storage of images. Let's face it, when was the last time you bought film, or dropped off film to be developed? The impact of the ever-changing technical environment couldn't be more evident, as Kodak's valuation has suffered an 80 percent loss in the past 52 weeks. Clearly, digital advancements, and steep foreign competition has taken its toll on Kodak, making them look more like a dinosaur than a ever. By June of 2011, the company's year-end target of $1.6 -to- $1.7 billion was revised to $1.3 - to- $1.4 billion, as a reflection of their reduced expectations. The third quarter earnings report was a dismal account of continued losses, shrinking their cash reserves to $862 million, from $957 million in the 2nd quarter. As it stands, Kodak is sitting on only 10% reserves, well below standard practice.

To tell the whole story, or at least put the current events in perspective, the eminent day of reckoning began nearly 12 years ago, as the tides started to shift away of processing, printing and "developing" photo images. Resisting the digital revolution, or buying time, Kodak began giving away Free Film with every film development pick-up. This was a good, albeit temporary strategy to insure repeat business. The disposable cameras was a wonderful product with a short life span,(no pun intended) but it did help to sustain revenues, and as reasonable amount of cash flow while the CEO and the his think-tank tried to come up with new "relevant" products and services. Alas, this is going to be a fight for survival with much at stake, and Kodak was seemingly not up to the challenge - or is it? Whatever the case, in the past decade, Kodak lost 95% of its value to the industry competition which bought new age, digital savvy products to the market.
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K. Reilly
The Cohn-Reilly Report