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  • Jumping the Shark

    Posted on September 3rd, 2009 Michael No comments

    For those of you not familiar with the phrase “jumping the shark”, it is used to denote the point in time something moves past its original objective to a level of absurdity.  The phrase was coined in reference to a long running television program, Happy Days, which change the tenor of the show to attract viewers.  I think that this term can be applied to countries as well. 

    A country’s government is there to serve their citizens based on the country’s style of government.  Different styles of government have a different set of pros and cons, but for the most part governments work to make life better for the majority of their citizens.  Sometimes governments go too far in their efforts and loss sight of what their overall goal is. 

    Although I could pick from about a half a dozen countries that are either already jumping the shark, or are about to, I am going to focus on France.  France has long been a country on the cusp of jumping the shark.  Unfortunately, I think that they have now  jumped the shark. 

    In documented in an article in Industry Week, France Threatens Boycott on U.S. Auto Parts Maker Over Plant Closure, the government of France is trying to force a company to sell a piece of their business to a French group in order to prevent the closing of a parts plant in France.  In the case of the Molex plant in southern Villemur-sur-Tarn, the company has decided that for many reasons, including safety and lower costs, the production needed to be moved to plants in the United States.

    It is one thing to financially back a deal, or even take an equity stake in a business, but to threaten to do damage to a business if they do not agree to a deal is something more prone to criminal organization then a government.  Obviously the deal being offered to Molex was not good enough for them to sell that piece of the business.  As a business, Molex has both a right and a responsibility to do what is best for the business.  France does not have the right to use extortion to force a company to do a financially suspect deal.

    Just by threatening a boycott, France has jumped the shark.   Let’s hope that they see their error and jump back.  If not, our government has to do its job or they might be jumping the shark.

  • CARS

    Posted on August 3rd, 2009 Michael 4 comments

    Who would have guessed that CARS, the Car Allowance Rebate System, program would be such a success? Well, to tell you the truth, I did. I was thinking about doing a post about the program before it started, but decided that since I did not have much to say, other then it would be a big success, it would be a useless post.

    I previously posted about pent up demand for automobiles and my belief that Americans want to start buying again. With the recession reaching the bottom, the CARS program was the little nudge needed to get many potential car buyers to buy. From a domestic manufacturing perspective, the CARS program is a great success. My only major issues with the program are that the individual rebates are too large and there was no additional incentive to buy hybrids.

    The CARS program is needed for many reasons. The most important reasons are to get the automobile selling, in significant numbers, again and to incent buyers to buy more fuel efficient vehicles. People did buy, as shown by the fact that the program “sold out” in only a couple of weeks. As for improving fuel efficiency, the Transportation Department reported that for the first 80,000 rebate application the average fuel efficiency of the new vehicles was about 61% better than the average for the vehicles they were replacing.

    A big plus for domestic companies is that out of the above applications, 47% were for GM, Ford or Chrysler. This is great since it is better than the 45% those companies had over the past few months. The real good news is that 60% of the new vehicles were cars, which the imports tended have an even larger share. In any case, over 50% of the vehicles sold for this program were manufactured in the United States.

    Did the government give too big of an incentive? Yes. Although this is not really a domestic manufacturing issue, should the incentive be scaled to provide more of an incentive to hybrids? Yes. I can live with these flaws? Yes. The vehicles are selling again and the incentive goes to individual families. Overall the program stimulates the economy, reduces the need for imported oil by about 85,000 barrels a month, and the vehicles are safer for the driver and occupants. Finally, there is a useful program that helps more than just Wall Street.

  • Real Change, Not With China

    Posted on July 28th, 2009 Michael No comments

    In Barack Obama’s two day meeting with Chinese officials, I do not expect much on the economic front. Nothing with China will change much unless their government does more to stimulate domestic demand.  As I wrote in a previous post,, on Chinese consumption, China is very limited to making economic changes while they are so heavily reliant on export lead growth.
    Recently, China has made some movement in this area.  For example, the reduction of taxes on fuel efficient vehicles has significantly stimulated domestic demand.  Unfortunately, this is just a drop in the bucket when compared to the overall economy. 
    Even with China’s relatively large stimulus package, the current recession has lead to the loss of over 20 million jobs and the closing of thousands of factories.  There is also a massive amount of bad loans being maintained by government controlled banks.  This limits China’s willingness to make any significant changes to the status quo. 
    China is in a rough spot. China needs to continue to buy U.S. debt so the value of their current U.S.  investments do not lose value.  To continue to buy U.S. debt they need economic growth.  To get the growth they need export growth.  For China’s exports to continue to grow, they need their largest customer, the U.S., to continue buying their products.  To keep Americans buying, China has further incentive to buy U.S. debt.
    For our part, the U.S. relies on the Chinese buying our debt.  This handcuffs us in the level of action we can take against China.  We are virtually powerless in our ability to stimulate the Chinese consumer.  The best we can do is to wait for China to do it themselves.

  • Maintaining a Good Supply

    Posted on July 10th, 2009 Michael No comments

    Last year I read an article, Zagis USA to Invest $75 Million in Two New Louisiana Textile Mills, about a Mexican company opening up yarn factories in the United States.  In reading through the article, it became clear that the driving reason for the new plants was economics.  It will be cheaper to manufacture the yarn in the United States then in Mexico.   Even with U.S. workers earning, on the average, ten times more than Mexican workers, Zagis determined it would be cheaper to manufacture in Louisiana then in Mexico City.  The article does go into some specifics about why, but to put it briefly it is due to the supply chain.


    By locating near the source of the major raw material for the yarn, cotton, the manufacturer ensures that it will have the lowest yarn production cost possible. That is not the complete story, by locating in Louisiana the company is also near an active international port which translates into lower transportation costs.


    Supply chain management is a large and complex subject that covers every aspect from the acquisition of raw materials or components to the delivery to the end consumer.  Although much of the supply chain management efforts are aimed at cost savings, there is significant emphasis placed on ensuring quality and supply.  Take the recent purchase of a sub-contractor’s production facility by Boeing.


    Boeing has agreed to pay $580 Million to take over ownership, from a major supplier, of the manufacturing facility of parts for the 787 Dreamliner.  If you follow the headlines you probably already know that the 787 Dreamliner has been delayed multiple times due to supply problems.  Boeing is hoping that by taking over some of the operations of the supplier they can eliminate some of the problems they are currently experiencing. 


    One of the problems with supply chain management is that some components of the process rely on a critical mass of activity.  By that I mean that there needs to be a certain level of activity to provide the efficiencies needed to keep costs low.  This is a problem because for every factory that moves offshore, or closes, our nation chips away at that critical mass needed for an efficient supply chain.  For example, as factories close in a particular area the shipping cost to and from the remaining factories, in the area, start to go up.  Delivery companies lose an economy of scale and pass the costs on to the remaining factories. 


    Every time a factory closes there is not only a loss of jobs, there is also a reduction in the economy’s ability to support a competitive supply chain.  As the supply chain continues to erode there will be more pressure on companies to relocate to lower cost areas so they can remain competitive.  I am not sure where that tipping point is, but just like global warming, I am not willing to take a chance of reaching it.  The consequences could be devastating.

  • If it ain’t broke don’t fix it, unless it is broke

    Posted on June 18th, 2009 Michael 1 comment

    I always knew I was lucky for many reasons, except that up until recently I overlooked one reason.  That reason is my medical insurance coverage.  I have had either good or excellent medical insurance ever since I had my first real job.

    I worked at a company that had medical insurance where they paid the entire premium, covered almost everything, and had a very small deductible.   When my daughter was born she had to have a couple of eye operations as well as other medical issues.  Even though my wife and I had almost no money, I do not recall ever worrying about paying any of the medical bills.  Later on, at another company, I had similar coverage for a while.  Then, over the span of about five years the coverage started to deteriorate.  Now I have decent coverage where I have a reasonable deductible and I pay a portion of the premium.

    A couple of months ago I was talking to someone I previously worked with.  During the conversation, my former co-worker complained about how bad the medical insurance was at our old company.  Seems that the company I once worked for kept modifying the medical plan to reduce costs.  Although the company I worked for is a “high-tech” company, the story is similar at many manufacturing companies.

    For many years, manufacturing advocacy groups have listed the reduction of healthcare costs as one of the top issues in lowering the cost of manufacturing in America.  This is because; using 2008 number, the average cost for healthcare at U.S. manufacturers is $2.38 per hour.  This represents about 13 percent of their payroll cost.

    The $2.38 per hour becomes alarming when it is compared to the average cost of $0.96 per hour for our trading partners.  The $1.42 per hour difference represents 7.75 percent of the payroll.  That is a large disadvantage to overcome.  The good news is that much of this added cost can be eliminated.

    A McKinsey&Company report from December 2008, Accounting for the cost of US health care” A new look at why Americans spend more, documents that even as far back as 2003 Americans overspent $477 billion on healthcare.  That translates into over 28 percent of our nations healthcare cost being wasted.  Getting rid of the overspending would shrink the $1.42 per hour difference down to $0.88 per hour.  Imagine what that number would drop to if we could make the system more efficient along with getting rid of the current waste.

    The United States spends about 16 percent of our gross domestic product (GDP) on healthcare, with about a third of that lost to wasteful medical spending.  With over 46 million uninsured, millions under insured, and millions more worried about losing their coverage our nation needs to act.   The dirty secret is that we are already paying for the healthcare of the uninsured.  What makes it worse is that the uninsured get their healthcare in the most inefficient manner possible, the emergency room.

    I do not pretend to know what the solution is; I just know that we need to do something.  That something needs to address the waste and inefficiencies.  This can, as many analysts agree, be accomplished as we increase the number of people covered and improve the overall quality.  In the end, fixing healthcare helps everyone, not just manufacturers.  It would be counter-productive to not do anything.  So, do not let any group scare you into supporting no change.   In this case, if it is broke fix it.
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