Political Dynasties and their Discontents

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Political dynasties have always been a big part of human civilization, and today is no exception.

In the United States, the rise of Donald Trump was at least partially a reaction to the dynastic, Clinton-vs-Bush election that only last year most Americans were expecting to get.

It was, after all, Jeb Bush’s candidacy that split the Republican establishment in two, preventing it from coalescing around a politician like Marco Rubio early on and thus leaving an opening for Trump to force his way into. Hillary Clinton’s high disapproval rating, similarly, could even leave the door open for Trump to become president, however unlikely and unappealing that may be.

Canada

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Former Canadian prime minister Jean Chrétien and Liberal Party leader Justin Trudeau wave at supporters at the University of Toronto, February 15, 2015 (William Pitcher)

North of the border, Canada has just elected Justin Trudeau as its Prime Minister, the son of Pierre Trudeau who was prime minister for fifteen years during the late 1960s, 1970s, and first half of the 1980s. One of Trudeau’s two opponents in the election had been NDP leader Thomas Mulcair, whose ancestors include the first and ninth Premiers of the province of Quebec.

Mexico

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Enrique Peña Nieto, presidential candidate for Mexico’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, waves to supporters in the city of Torreón, June 18, 2012 (Flickr)

South of the border, Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto,who came to power in 2013, “is the nephew of two former governors of the State of México (the state in which Mexico City is located): on his mother’s side, Arturo Montiel, on his father’s, Alfredo del Mazo González“, according to Wikipedia.

East Asia

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Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (left) and General Secretary of the Communist Party of China Xi Jinping (right)

In China, the current General Secretary Xi Jinping, who is now thought to have amassed more personal power than any Chinese leader since Deng Xiaoping, is the first to come from the “princeling” class. He is the son of a prominent political figure, Xi Zhongxun, from the first generation of the Communist Party leadership. This distinguishes him from the other General Secretaries in the Communist era, including Mao Tse-Tung, whose parents were not prominent politicians and in some cases were actually quite poor.

Other top members of the current Chinese leadership are also “princelings”, most notably Yu Zhengsheng, who is the fourth-ranked politician on the 7-man Politburo Standing Committee (which is generally considered to be China’s top political body), and Wang Qishan, who is ranked sixth on the Politburo Standing Committee and may be one of the most powerful figures in China at the moment as he has been leading Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign . Wang is a princeling by marriage only: his wife is the daughter of Yao Yilin, who was a former Politburo Standing Committee member in the Communist Party.

In Japan, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is arguably the most powerful politician the country has seen in at least a generation as well. He too comes from a political dynasty. According to Wikipedia, “his grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians… Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi,[3] is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, prime minister of Japan from 1957 to 1960. Kishi had been a member of the Tōjō Cabinet during the Second World War”.

Meanwhile the President of South Korea, Park Geun-hye, is the daughter of South Korea’s third president, Park Chung-hee. (Update: Park has since been impeached). (And in North Korea, of course, the Kim family’s rule is now into its third generation). In Singapore, the prime minister since 2004 has been Lee Hsien Loong, the son of Singapore’s modern founding father Lee Kuan Yew who served from 1959 all the way to 1990.

India

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Hillary Clinton, then America’s secretary of state, poses for a picture with Indian Congress Party leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi in New Delhi, July 19, 2009 (State Department)

In India, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his often fanatically right-wing Hindu nationalist BJP party became in 2014 the first party in over three decades to win a majority government in a national election. Modi is not from a political dynasty himself, rather he is the reaction to the modern world’s most prominent political family of all: the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty.

The Guardian wrote in 2007 that “the Nehru-Gandhi brand has no peer in the world — a member of the family has been in charge of India for 40 of the 60 years since independence.” The dynasty (which by the way is not related to the Gandhi) began with Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first post-British prime minister from 1947-1964. Nehru was himself the son and nephew of significant political figures in pre-independence India. Nehru’s dynasty then continued with his only daughter Indira Gandhi (née Nehru), who was India’s prime minister from 1966-1977 and from 1980-1984, but was assassinated in 1984 by two of her own Sikh bodyguards in the wake of Operation Blue Star.

The dynasty was then followed by Indira’s sons Rajiv Gandhi, who was prime minister from 1984-1989 before being assassinated by the Tamil Tigers in 1991, and Sanjay Gandhi, who was expected to become prime minister but was instead killed in a plane crash. Rajiv’s wife Sonia Gandhi, meanwhile, is the leader of India’s powerful Congress Party and the mother of Rahul Gandhi, who lost to Modi’s BJP in 2014 but still finished with more parliamentary seats and far more votes than any other candidate in the election. Sonia likely would have run for prime minister herself, but cannot because she was born in Italy.

(Sanjay’s wife Maneka Gandhi, on the other hand, has jumped ship from the historically Gandhi-dominated Congress Party and joined the BJP instead; she is currently a cabinet minister in the BJP-led government. Maneka’s son Varun has also gone over to the BJP, serving as the youngest National Secretary in the history of the party and a member of the country’s parliament. However, Maneka and Varun both remain less prominent than the Congress side of the family, which is led by Maneka’s sister-in-law Sonia and Varun’s first cousin Rahul).

Arguably, frustration with the Gandhis directly paved the way for Modi, a man who was not even allowed to enter the United States prior to becoming president because he was allegedly involved in “severe violations of religious freedom” while serving as governor of the important Indian state of Gujarat.

Philippines

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President-elect Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines speaks with his predecessor, Benigno Aquino III, in Davao City, March 6, 2013 (Malacañang Photo Bureau/Ryan Lim)

You may have also heard about the election of the Philippines ridiculous new president Rodrigo Duterte last week. Rodrigo’s father Vicente was a provincial governor of Davao province and a mayor of Cebu, one of the largest cities in the country. Rodrigo’s cousin was also a mayor of Cebu, in the 1980s.

The Duterte’s are hardly alone in their political dynasticism: according to Public Radio International, “in the Philippines, elections in 2016 will be dominated by dynasties. About two-thirds of the outgoing Congress are heirs of political families. The outgoing president is the son of Corazon Aquino, who led the uprising against the dictator Ferdinand Marcos after Marcos had her husband whacked for being a prominent political opponent. But the Marcos clan is back in the picture, with Ferdinand’s wife, son, daughter and nephew all running for different offices. Also running is the grandson of another president.”

Thailand

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Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra addresses the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva, Switzerland, September 9, 2013 (UN/Jean-Marc Ferré)

In Thailand too there has been a political reaction against a political family, that of Thaksin Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2001 to 2006 before being exiled by a military coup) and his younger sister Yingluck Shinawatra (who was prime minister from 2011 to 2014 before being removed by decree of the Constitutional Court during the Thai political crisis in 2013-2014). According to Wikipedia, the father of Thaksin and Yingluck “was a member of parliament for Chiang Mai. [The Shinawatras are] a descendant of a former monarch of Chiang Mai through her grandmother, Princess Chanthip na Chiangmai (Great-great-granddaughter of King Thammalangka of Chiang Mai).”

Europe

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Prime Ministers Matteo Renzi of Italy and Mariano Rajoy of Spain speak during a European Council meeting in Brussels, June 25, 2015 (La Moncloa)

Europe, at least in contrast to Asia, does not have many political dynasties at the moment. This is, perhaps, in part because European political history was reset to a certain degree following the fall of the Soviet Union. Europe’s leading politicians, including Merkel, Putin, and Erdogan, do not come from political dynasties. Neither does Britain’s Prime Minister David Cameron (though his ancestors were extremely wealthy) or France’s President Francois Hollande. Italian Prime Minister Mattio Renzi’s was a municipal councillor, admittedly, but that does not really count. (Angela Merkel’s grandfather was, similarly, a local politician in Danzig). Spanish PM Mariano Rajoy’s family was fairly prominent, on the other hand.

That said, Europe is far from dynasty-free. According to the Economist, “in Europe family power is one reason why politics seems like a closed shop. Fifty-seven of the 650 members of the recently dissolved British Parliament are related to current or former MPs. François Hollande, France’s president, has four children with Ségolène Royal, who ran for the presidency in 2007. Three generations of Le Pens are squabbling over their insurgent party, the Front National (see article). Belgium’s prime minister is the son of a former foreign minister and European commissioner. The names Papandreou and Karamanlis still count for something in Greece.”

Syria and Egypt 

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Syrian dictator Hafez al-Assad and his family in the 1990s (Wikimedia Commons)

The Arab world remains full of political dynasties and reactions against dynasties, in contrast. In Syria both of these factors can be seen at the same time, as the civil war threatens to unseat Bashar al Assad, son of thirty-year ruler Hafez al Assad. (Bashar’s brother Bassel was initially supposed to take over from his father, but died in a car accident in 1994). In Egypt, meanwhile,the military government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi is in some ways a response to the presumed attempt by an elderly Hosni Mubarak (diagnosed with stomach cancer in the same year he was deposed) to pass on power to his son Gamal, who had not served in the Egyptian military as Hosni Mubarak and previous rulers Anwar Sadat and Gamal Abdul Nasser had done.

Saudi Arabia 

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Prince Muhammad bin Nayef speaks with King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia in Riyadh while Ambassador Adel al-Jubeir looks on, January 27, 2015 (White House/Pete Souza)

In Saudi Arabia, which is by far the largest Arab economy, a half-shift from one Saudi political dynasty to another may just be getting under way. Thus far in the history of the modern Saudi state (beginning around 1930), the country has been ruled either by founder Abdulaziz ibn Saud or else by one of his 45 or so sons, six of whom have become king, most recently King Salman who took the throne in January of 2015.

Last year, however, Salman removed his half-brother Muqrin (another son of Abdulaziz) from the office of Crown Prince, replacing Muqrin with their nephew Mohammad bin Nayef,  who would become the first king in the next generation of Saudi royals if ever takes over. He might never take over, though: many people now believe that is Salman’s own son Mohammad bin Salman, who is the Deputy Crown Prince and Defence Minister, who is the likeliest to become the next king when Salman (who is 80 years old) steps down or passes away, even though Deputy Crown Prince is formally a lower-ranking position than Crown Prince – and even though Mohammad bin Salman is only 30 years old, which would be an extremely young age for a modern Saudi king.

If Mohammad bin Salman does become king over another prince like Mohammad bin Nayef, Saudi Arabia could in effect be moving from a dynasty of Abdulaziz to a dynasty of Salman. There are now fears that the political situation in the country could become quite messy if the other branches of the huge Saudi royal family try to avoid becoming sidelined from power as a result.

Iran

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Iranian president Hassan Rouhani speaks as parliament speaker Ali Larijani, Chief Justice Sadeq Larijani and the chief of the supreme leader’s office, Mohammad Golpayegani, attend a ceremony in Tehran, October 3, 2015 (Reuters)

Across the Gulf, in Iran, dynasties are not too big a factor within the current religious government. Recently the grandson of Ayatollah Khomeini even was blocked from participating in elections. One big exception to this, however, is the powerful Larijani family, made up of five brothers in key positions in the government. It includes Ali Larijani, who is the Speaker of the parliament and a former member of Iran’s Revolutionary Guards, and Sadeq Larijania, Iran’s Chief Justice.

Israel

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Labor party leader Isaac Herzog (left) and Yesh Atid party leader Yair Lapid (right)

A number of leaders in Israel hail from political families as well. Benjamin “Bibi” Netanyahu, who has now spent more time as prime minister (from 1996-1999 and now again since 2009) than any politician in Israel’s history apart from Israel’s founding  prime minister David Ben Gurion (who Netanyahu will soon overtake), is the son of Benzion Netanyahu. Benzion was a professor of history at Cornell University, an influential Zionist activist and magazine editor, and personal secretary to one of Israel’s most prominent founding fathers, Ze’ev Jabotinsky.

Bibi is also the younger brother of Yonatan Netanyahu, who was the unit commander of and only person to be killed during the famous Operation Entebbe raid in 1976, when 100 or so Israeli commandos rescued 102 hostages of a Palestinian airplane hijacking (compared to 3 hostages killed) from where they were being held in Idi Amin-era Uganda more than 3000 km south of Israel, and returned them safely to their homes in Israel and France.

Israel’s Labour Party leader Isaac “Bougie” Herzog, meanwhile, who won more than twice as many votes as any other Jewish party apart from Netanyahu’s Likud Party in the most recent elections of 2015, is, according to Wikipedia, “the son of General Chaim Herzog, who was the Sixth President of Israel from 1983 to 1993, and the grandson of Rabbi Yitzhak HaLevi Herzog, was the first Chief Rabbi of Ireland from 1922 to 1935 and Ashkenazi Chief Rabbi of Israel from 1936 to 1959″.

The next largest Jewish political party after Labour and Likud is the Yesh Atid Party, led by Yair Lapid. Lapid is a former news anchor who is the son of Yosef “Tommy” Lapid, a former government minister, parliamentary leader of the opposition as recently as 2005, and radio and television personality.

Brazil 

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Brazilian Social Democracy Party leader Aécio Neves answers questions from reporters, May 28, 2015 (Agência Senado/Pedro França)

Leaving the Middle East, Brazils’ Aecio Neves, who in late 2014 very narrowly lost a presidential election to Dilma Rousseff (who may now be on the verge of being impeached herself), is the grandson of Tancredo Neves, who would have been President of Brazil in 1985 if he had not passed away before taking office. Roussef and her influential predecessor Lula da Silva are not from prominent political families, however.

Peru

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Peruvian presidential candidate Keiko Fujimori campaigns for the 2011 election, December 7, 2010 (Flickr/Keiko Fujimori)

In Peru, the country is in the midst of a presidential election, which is a two-round system that began in April and will end on June 5.  Its leading candidate is former First Lady Keiko Fujimori, a daughter of former Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori. Alberto exiled himself to Japan following corruption and human rights violation scandals at the end of his ten yeas in power in 2000, but was later arrested in Chile in 2005 and is now serving a prison sentence back in Peru.

Argentina

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President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner of Argentina speaks in José Amalfitani Stadium, Buenos Aires, April 27, 2012 (Presidency of Argentina)

Argentina, finally, has just recently ended sixteen consecutive years of being presided over by a Kirchner, first by Nestor Kirchner from 2003 to 2007 and then by Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner from 2007 until the end of 2015. The Kirchners were Peronists, a political movement of sorts that has dominated modern Argentine politics, which is named for another power couple, Juan Peron (president from 1946 – 1955) and his second wife Eva Peron, who was a significant political figure in her own right and nearly became Vice President. (Juan’s third wife Isabel Martinez de Peron, meanwhile, was President of Argentina from 1974 to 1976). The incoming Argentine president Mauricio Macri, who is replacing the Kirchners, does not come from a political dynasty, however. His father was just a humble business tycoon.

Investors Aloud

Hello! I’ve made a new website, investorsaloud.com. It’s a bit of a work in progress at the moment, but please check it out anyway if you are interested. I hope you like it.

All the best,
Joseph

The Return of the Atlantic

This article was written for an essay contest, so the style is a little bit different from others on this site. It was first written three years ago, when most people had not yet become bearish on the Chinese economy and politicians in the US were still talking a lot about America’s “pivot to Asia”. The essay discusses the possibility that the Atlantic regions – North America, South America, Europe, and much of Africa – will remain at the heart of the international system in the years and decades to come, for better or for worse.

Hope you like it!

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The Return of the Atlantic 

For nearly 500 years, the Atlantic Ocean was the unrivalled centre of the international system, connecting Europe to its expansive economic and imperial networks in Africa, Asia and the Americas. Transatlantic trade continued to exceed transpacific trade as recently as the late 1980s, while at the same time the transatlantic alliance against the Soviet Union remained the world’s most important geopolitical partnership. Indeed it seems incredible to recall now, but China, India, Indonesia, Korea, and Australia combined had a smaller economic output than West Germany in 1990.

Today, in contrast, the European Union and United States both import more goods from China alone than they do from one another, and the Cold War has been over for a quarter of a century. The Pacific has in many ways become the new centre of the world: it is home to the three largest economies of America, China, and Japan, is the highway for East Asian imports of commodities and exports of manufactured goods, and acts as a base for nearly 75 percent of US soldiers stationed outside of North America or Afghanistan. Not surprisingly, a majority of economists, politicians, and journalists believe that the continued economic growth of populous Asian countries like China, India, and Indonesia means that the centrality of the Pacific has only just begun.

In this essay we will argue that, even as it remains popular to herald the arrival of a “Pacific Century” (to quote a famous Hillary Clinton op-ed in Foreign Policy magazine), it will actually be the Atlantic that will become once again the centre of the international system, serving as the corridor of an expanding economic network that will incorporate Europe, the Americas, much of Africa, and to a lesser extent even parts of southern Asia. Transatlantic commerce is likely to once again exceed the value of transpacific commerce and, partly by doing so, it will help to serve as an organizing force in global geopolitics. We hope it will serve as a force for good in the world as well.

To be sure, while we view this Atlantic phenomenon as likely to be brought about by economic, cultural, and linguistic circumstances that are already actively or latently in place, we will also argue that, from a policy perspective, the political effectiveness and ethical utility of such a reinvigorated transatlantic relationship will depend on the extent to which efforts are made to reduce carbon emissions in developed economies, as well as on the extent to which efforts are made to provide honest and constructive assistance to struggling countries within the developing world.

The Pacific Moment

The rise of transpacific trade during the latter half of the 20th century occurred as a result of a unique set of circumstances. These were, specifically, the reconstruction of the Japanese economy following its destruction in the Second World War, the emergence of South Korea and Taiwan following their adoption by the United States as strategically-located allies in 1950, and the rapid growth of coastal Chinese states following their devastation during the Sino-Japanese War, Chinese Civil War, and isolationist era under Mao, which occurred in an overlapping succession from 1927 until 1979. These four countries have caused transpacific commerce to soar in recent decades, with help from Southeast Asian success stories like Singapore, Thailand, and Malaysia.

While this rising transpacific trade has certainly deserved the widespread public attention it has received, it has nevertheless served to overshadow a number of other key characteristics of the global economy, which instead highlight the enduring significance of the Atlantic Ocean. These include the fact that roughly 65 percent of both the world’s nominal economic output and private consumer spending are located in the Atlantic basin rather than in the Pacific basin; that more than 70 percent of the populations of North America, South America, and Sub-Saharan Africa live within the Atlantic basin rather than the Pacific basin; that the Pacific generally takes 2-4 times longer to cross widthwise by ship than the Atlantic does; that the quantity of transatlantic investment is estimated to be 5-10 times greater than transpacific investment; and that Indian and Pakistani trade and labour crosses the Atlantic, Mediterranean, or Arabian Sea far more often they do the Pacific.

The reemergence of transatlantic interactivity as a defining feature of the international system will simply reflect these enduring realities. In addition, it will be driven by a set of economic evolutions that are beginning to revive transatlantic trade relative to transpacific trade, as well as by the continued spread of modern communications and the emergence of African and Latin American economies, which are helping to increase the political and economic significance of the cultural, social, and linguistic affiliations that bind together the four continents of the Atlantic world.

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Transatlantic Connections

Atlantic regions share a number of important connections with one another. The first is cultural: unlike in Asia, the overwhelming majority of people in the Americas are of European or African heritage. Most have ancestors that arrived within just the past century or two. This could have increasingly powerful political and economic consequences in the future, particularly as the economies of Africa develop and as African populations in the Americas become wealthier and more empowered (most notably the 40 million US African-Americans, 28 million Afro- Caribbeans, 15 million Afro-Brazilians, and 80 million Brazilians who identify as being of mixed ancestry), such that it will no longer just be white Americans and Europeans engaged in the most significant transatlantic partnerships.

The second transatlantic connection is a social one, the result of technology increasingly allowing first-, second-, and even third-generation immigrants in the developed world to maintain relationships with family members, friends, and acquaintances back in their countries of origin. Crucially, immigrants in North America and Europe come overwhelmingly from Latin America, Sub-Saharan Africa, or the Mediterranean basin. More than half of the foreign-born population in the United States arrived from Latin America alone, and there are about four times as many first-generation immigrants in the European Union from Africa or the Americas as there are from East Asia.

There are, in fact, already 2-3 million Latino-Americans living in Spain, and more than 50 million living in the United States. Africa’s emigration rate to both Europe and North America, meanwhile, has risen at a faster pace than that of any other region since 1980, and is likely to continue to do so as a result of the fact that the average birth rate in Sub-Saharan Africa is nearly twice as high, and the per capita income nearly twice as low, as that of any other part of the world.

Finally, and in our opinion most importantly, there are the transatlantic linguistic connections. Over 80 percent of the world’s nearly 1.5 billion native speakers of Spanish, English, French, Portuguese, or Arabic live within the Atlantic or Mediterranean basins; each of these languages is fairly prominent within at least three separate continents. English, moreover, is far more widespread in mainland Europe than it is in any other continent apart from North America (or Australia). Switzerland, Germany, Austria, Scandinavia, the Netherlands, and Belgium are particularly proficient; according to some estimates, 60-90 percent of their populations are able to speak English In France, Italy, and Poland, meanwhile, the share of English speakers is estimated at 30-40 percent, which is still far ahead of countries like China, Japan, Indonesia, and even India.

In Africa, European languages are also spoken more widely than in most other areas of the world. This is partially the result of to the continent’s colonial histories, many of which ended as recently as the 1960’s or 1970’s. It is, however, also the result of Sub-Saharan countries tending to be linguistically diverse, such that their use of European languages as lingua franca remains common practice. Indeed, despite having the world’s lowest density of accessible schools, televisions, computers, and satellite dishes, English is already spoken by a greater number of people in Africa than in more populous India, both as a native language and as a secondary one.

French, meanwhile, is used by an estimated 90 million Africans, Portuguese by an estimated 20 million Africans, and Arabic as far south as the Sahel.24 In South Africa approximately 20 million people understand Afrikaans, a language that is for the most part mutually intelligible with Dutch. Over 85 percent of Africa’s English-speaking population and nearly all of Africa’s French-, Portuguese-, Arabic-, and Afrikaans-speaking populations live within the Atlantic or Mediterranean basins.

Also important is that over 40 percent of Africa’s population is under the age of fifteen. This makes it the world’s youngest region by a considerable margin: by comparison, only 15 percent of China’s population and 29 percent of India’s population are younger than fifteen. Children possess the ability to learn languages many times more easily than adults can, particularly if they have access to schooling, books, media, and modern communications.

Africa’s current generation of children might become the first to grow up with widespread access to such tools, which might therefore help African economies to develop and integrate with the other continents of the Atlantic world. This is also one reason why it would be wise from a policy standpoint for Europe and North America to immediately support economic development in Africa, since doing so would help African populations gain access to more education and information now while they are still young.

Shifting Trade Patterns

In 2013, Chinese coastal cities had an average nominal per capita income of roughly $20,000, nearly as high as those of South Korea and Taiwan. The median age in China is 37, about the same as in the US; in South Korea and Taiwan the median age is 40. These are no longer really “emerging markets”, in other words. Rather than experience another lengthy period of rapid economic growth that would continue to drive up transpacific trade, they will instead be undergoing various structural evolutions, as all maturing economies tend to do over time.

In the coastal areas of China, this evolution is likely to be from an economy oriented around exports of lower-end manufactured goods to an economy that exports value-added goods and services and is more reliant on the private consumption of its own population. Such shifts are natural for a middle-income economy like China to experience, but they may also reduce the quantity of China’s transpacific imports of industrial commodities and transpacific exports of manufactured goods.

Economic growth in the poorer interior provinces of China, meanwhile, or in the even poorer Indian subcontinent, is not certain to bring about the continued rise of transpacific commerce either. The emerging provinces of the populous Chinese interior are likely to trade mainly with coastal Chinese provinces and other countries in Asia, rather than with economies overseas. Today, for instance, in Sichuan and Henan, the two largest inland Chinese provinces, exports account for around just 4 percent of provincial economic output, almost nothing compared to the 47 percent of economic output that exports account for in coastal China’s two largest provinces, Guangdong and Jiangsu.

In addition, given the crowdedness of China’s coastal cities and ports, the interior provinces of China may also increasingly avoid using the Pacific in favour of the more direct “Silk Road” routes to Europe, or in favour of using Myanmar’s commercially navigable Irrawaddy River to directly access the Indian Ocean.The economic emergence of the Indian subcontinent, meanwhile, could perhaps lead transatlantic commerce to rise faster than transpacific trade, as India and its neighbours may partially succeed China in supplying cheap goods or services to consumers in the Atlantic world.

As they emerge, the Indian subcontinent and the Chinese interior will also be importing rapidly growing quantities of oil and gas from the the Persian Gulf, Central Asia, and Russia. Indeed, India and Pakistan already receive roughly 75 percent of their oil and gas imports and an astonishing 30 percent of their imports of goods in general from the Persian Gulf. China’s interior provinces, meanwhile, get around 75 percent of their gas imports from Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan and 30 percent of their oil imports from Russia and Kazakhstan. These imports are likely to increase, not only because of India’s and China’s continued growth, but also because of their shared desire to consume less coal, on which they rely for an average of about 65 percent of their energy consumption.

This need to import large quantities of energy could lead to competition, rather than cooperation, between regional powers like China, India, and Japan, potentially undermining Asia’s ability to cooperate as a more coherent political unit. (In contrast, the Atlantic world consists mainly of synergistic relationships where energy is concerned: Europe is a net energy importer, South America and Africa are net energy exporters, and North America is not too far from reaching the “energy independence” it has long dreamed about). Moreover, because the European Union itself currently receives around 60 percent of its oil and gas imports from Russia, the Persian Gulf, or Central Asia, the increasing energy consumption of Asia may force Europe to begin importing much more energy from the Americas or western Africa instead, further boosting transatlantic trade.

Conclusion: Policy Framework

While the renewed significance of the Atlantic is likely to occur mainly as a result of the commercial, cultural, social, and linguistic factors discussed above, we believe that specific policy goals are nevertheless required to ensure that such a renewal occurs in a manner that is both ethical and politically effective on a global level. Two policies in particular may be advisable in this regard:

One is the implementation of per capita carbon emissions taxes. Such taxes would likely facilitate transatlantic commerce through the export of European energy-saving and clean energy production technologies to the emissions-intensive markets of North America, whilst simultaneously providing both Europe and America with a more responsible and defensible platform in climate treaty negotiations with industrialized Asian economies that have much lower per capita and historical emissions levels.

The other is increasing political outreach and economic assistance to struggling countries, particularly those within Africa. Africa contains many of the world’s greatest challenges if it is not constructively engaged with, and it also has a youthful and diverse population of more than a billion people, vast reserves of natural resources, and linguistic and social connections with Europe and the Americas. All of these qualities make it a necessary component of any revitalized transatlantic project.

Of course, each of these policies deserves much more focus than we have left to spare in this essay. Yet still we feel confident in saying that, if these two policies are diligently and honestly pursued, then the unexpected return of the Atlantic as the central corridor of the international system would not only become more likely to occur, but will also be much more welcome when it does.

Image of the Day – December 2, 2015 – Motor Vehicle Production

Motor Vehicle Production

The non-per capita vehicle production stats came from wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_countries_by_motor_vehicle_production

Note: there are countries which have higher per capita motor vehicle production than some of the countries on this list. Belgium, for example, which is not shown on this list, has a much higher per capita motor vehicle production than many of the countries that are shown on this list. The countries on this list were simply the ones with the highest overall motor vehicle production as of 2013, according to the source above.

 

 

 

 

Canada Goes to Vote!

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The last time Canada voted, in 2011, the result was an election of first-in-a-while’s:

  •  the first party to win a majority government since 2000
  • the first Conservative party to win a majority government since 1988
  • the first time since 1962 that a Conservative party won three consecutive federal elections
  • the first time in Canadian history that the Liberal Party won fewer than 40 seats (it got just 34, down from 77 seats in 2008 and 100-plus seats in every other election since 1988)
  • the first time the Bloc Quebecois won fewer than half of Quebec’s parliamentary seats (it won just 5%, down from 65% in 2008 and an all-time high of 72% in 2004 and 1993)
  • the first time the Bloc Quebecois won less than 38% of Quebec’s popular vote (it got just 23%, down from an all-time high of 49% in 2004 and 1993)
  • the first time the Liberals were not one of the top two seat-winners in Canada’s largest province of Ontario
  • the first time the New Democratic Party won more than 43 seats nationally (they won 103, 59 of which came from Quebec)
  • the first time the modern Conservative Party fared decently well with non-white voters
  • the first time the Green Party won any seats at all (though it only got a single one, and it received a lower share of the popular vote, 3.9%, than in any other election since 2000)
  • and finally, the first time since 1984, 1958, and the World War elections of 1940 and 1917 that a single political party won either the popular vote or the most parliamentary seats in each of the eight Canadian provinces outside of French-speaking Quebec and remote Newfoundland (the Conservatives won the popular vote and the most seats in all eight of these provinces, in spite of winning just 39.6% of the popular vote and 54% of seats nationally)

Such a significant Conservative success reflected the fact that Canada’s economy and banking system performed better than those of most other rich-world nations following the global financial crisis. It was in fact only a year after the election that Bank of Canada chairman Mark Carney was enticed to move abroad to run the central bank in Britain, even though the British financial system is far larger, far more worldly, and far less dependent on natural resources than Canada’s, and had never before been run by a non-Briton. The myth of the super-responsible Canadian banker or financial regulator, a sort of modern Mountie in the otherwise cutthroat world of global capitalism, was in full swing. While this myth came mainly from other developed countries like the United States and England, which were desperately seeking an alternative to what they saw as their own untrustworthy financial classes, Canada’s Conservatives banked on the pride and confidence it generated to help them win big in 2011.

Like most stereotypes, this trait of the prudent, conscientious, and highly skilled Canadian banker may be true in certain cases – witness, for example, Brad Katsuyama, the hero of Michael Lewis’ recent financial bestseller Flash Boys – but still it is an exaggeration at best. Even as the Conservatives spoke of how their financial regulators and Canadian bankers had acted with the utmost restraint, the very opposite of greedy and wild Wall Street and Washington, they also enticed Canadian and foreign investors with lucrative dreams of becoming an “energy superpower”, intending the vast oil sands reserves in western Canada and Newfoundland to finally wean America off of the Middle East — and, simultaneously, to diversify Canada’s export dependence away from America by fueling a resource-hungry emerging Asia. Of course, this was still a year or two before “shale” and “fracking” would become household words, and before China’s raw materials imports really started to slow.

Now, with commodity prices having plunged and another Canadian election coming up on October 19, the Conservatives are in a bind. They are attempting to take the credit for Canada’s past successes while trying to shift the blame for its current flirtation with recession onto low oil prices, just as the NDP and Liberals are trying to pin the blame on the Conservatives for the current slowdown while shifting the credit for Canada’s past success onto the previously high oil prices. The NDP leader of the opposition, Thomas Mulcair, recently claimed that “Harper [the Prime Minister] put all of Canada’s eggs in one basket and then dropped the basket”, referring to the government’s support for the energy sector. (Canada is the world’s fourth largest producer of oil and gas, second largest producer of uranium, sixth largest generator of electricity, and fourteenth largest producer of coal). And yet Canada’s economic troubles might in a strange way actually work in the Conservatives’ favour, since they are still thought by many to be the party most adept at achieving GDP growth.

Then again, maybe Canada’s economic slowdown will end up haunting the Conservatives next week. Already this past May the Progressive Conservative party lost a provincial election in the right-wing stronghold of Alberta, where falling energy prices have been hitting the economy especially hard. Not only did Alberta’s Conservatives win six times fewer seats than the NDP did, but they also trailed behind the Wildrose Party, an Alberta-specific party that was formed in 2008, which also finished far ahead of the Conservatives in seats and even nearly beat the Conservatives in the popular vote.

So while nothing is certain yet even at this late stage in the national campaign, it does seem as though the best that Stephen Harper’s federal Conservative Party can hope for is to take the helm of a minority government like it did in 2004 and 2008. This seems to be an achievable goal for the Conservatives, since even if they win fewer seats than they did in 2011, which is likely, they could still benefit from the fact that the NDP and Liberals may divide the anti-Conservative vote along provincial, linguistic, and generational lines, if the NDP again depend heavily on getting votes from young people, British Columbia, and especially Quebec, and if the Liberals again do not.

In foreign affairs, Harper’s Conservatives are keeping to their strongly held anti-ISIS, anti-Putin, and pro-Israel model, while the NDP and Liberals are trying to stick them with the blame of not doing enough for Syrian refugees, polluting the global climate with carbon emissions, fear-mongering over the threat of Islamic terrorism and the spread of the Niqab within Canada, and, as it is often put, “betraying Canada’s traditional peace-keeping role”. (Canadians miss the days, which reached their apex under George W. Bush, when they were viewed as the good guys and Americans would sometimes pretend to be Canadians when travelling overseas). With Canadian soldiers now back from Afghanistan, where they suffered by far the most casualties of any Western armed forces apart from those of America or Britain, few Canadian voters are in favour of embarking on any new “on the ground” military interventions abroad. As a result, much of the debate has been whether or not the country should remain a token part of the international air force bombarding ISIS-held territories in eastern Syria.

The Liberals, who had won ten of the past thirteen federal elections until they were defeated in 2004 and 2008 and then crushed in 2011, have chosen Justin Trudeau, son of four-term former Prime Minister Pierre Elliot Trudeau and actress Margaret Sinclair, as their comeback kid. Trudeau was born less than ten months after his parents wed; his mother was only 22 years old at the time, while his father was 52 and three years into his nearly unbroken decade a half long tenure as PM. Trudeau the Son has had anything but a simple life. His parents were divorced when he was six years old, and his mother continued to be under media scrutiny as a result (among other things) of possibly having relationships with Ted Kennedy, Jack Nicholson, and Ron Wood. Most tragically, one of his two full siblings was killed in an avalanche when he was 27 years old.

In this election Trudeau has often been attacked for his inexperience (he only became an MP in 2008 and party leader in mid-2013), his youth (proving that Canada may be on the verge of entering a topsy-turvy Baby Boomer-led world in which being a 43 years old father of three can still be considered “too young”), his pretty-boy image, and of course his being a political princeling at a time when Canadian voters may be somewhat wary of family dynasties because of the despised W. Bush presidency and the Clinton-Bush faceoff that may be just around the corner south of the border. In 2011 the Liberals received fewer seats than the Conservatives or NDP in every province or territory outside of Newfoundland and Prince Edward Island (which together are home to fewer than 700,000 people) and tied with the Conservatives in Nova Scotia, yet still they remain hopeful that they will bounce back and re-take the Prime Minister’s office. Their trust in Trudeau may prove fruitful: recent polls have for the first time put the Liberals relatively far ahead in the lead with 35 percent support, compared to 29 percent for Harper’s Conservatives and 25 percent for Mulcair’s NDP.

While Trudeau is still seen as a political prince by much of the Canadian public, less well-known is that Thomas Mulcair, the NDP’s candidate for Prime Minister, also comes from a political lineage: his great-great and great-great-great grandfathers were both Premiers of Quebec. Mulcair is the second-born child of ten siblings in a half-Irish Catholic, half-French Canadian family, and grew up outside of Ottawa (on the Quebec side of the Ontario-Quebec border) and later in a suburb of Montreal. As recently as 2007 he was the NDP’s sole member of parliament from Quebec, which has since become the party’s political base. He was not, however, chiefly responsible for the NDP’s undprecedented success in the 2011 election, but rather came to his post as NDP leader following the death of 61-year-old Party Leader Jack Layton, who tragically died from cancer less than four months after his party’s massive electoral upswing that year.

The NDP was until relatively recently seen as a “far left” party many Canadians, but Mulcair has now been trying to position it closer to the political centre by promising, like the Conservatives but unlike the Liberals, to run a balanced federal budget next year and not raise income taxes for even the highest-earning Canadians. When asked in a recent debate about the need to run a deficit in order to provide government stimulus spending for the economy, Mulcair said that “Harper has hit the snooze button while Trudeau has hit the panic button”.

Mulcair has, however, kept more to traditional left-wing NDP positions on other issues like childcare support, corporate taxation, minimum wages, and environmental protection. He has in the past, from 2003 to 2006, served as Quebec’s provincial Minster of Sustainable Development, Environment, and Parks. Quebec is especially important for the NDP, as at the moment they hold 79 percent of its seats – and Quebec has 24 percent of Canada’s seats – compared to just nine percent for the Liberals, seven percent for the Conservatives, and five percent for the Bloc Quebecois.

For a country in which per capita carbon emissions are the highest among G7 economies and where love of the natural environment is held as both a defining national principle and mandatory beer commercial theme, Canada’s political leaders have been surprisingly ungiving on the subject of climate change. While all of the major parties have said they would invest in fossil fuel alternatives like wind and solar – a policy that has already led to a solar panel boom in a country that is not at all rich in wintertime sunshine – none are bullish on carbon taxes. Harper’s position is that they are little more than a left-wing trojan horse for general tax increases, so he is against them. Trudeau on the other hand is in favour of helping the provinces continue to take the lead on this issue (currently, British Columbia has a carbon tax and Ontario and Quebec cap-and-trade), while Mulcair supports a countrywide cap-and-trade system.

Even the Green Party has not been arguing for carbon taxes as much as one might assume they would. Instead they have been trying to position themselves as more than just a single-issue party, in order to remain more than just a single-seat party. (For the moment they actually possess three seats, because two members of parliament who were victorious as NDP representatives in the last election have since changed their colours to Green). Green Party candidates have been advocating for other popular policies, like a guaranteed minimum income and the repeal of Bill-C51. Party leader Elizabeth May recently told famous Canadian broadcaster Peter Mansbridge that they are likely to win 12 -15 seats and then ideally become a political kingmaker in parliament. This seems highly improbable: hatred of Stephen Harper has now built up to such a great extent among left-wing Canadians that Green supporters may be tempted to vote “strategically” for the NDP or Liberals just so that he will finally be kicked out of office.

Will Harper be kicked out of office? And if so, who will become Canada’s first new Prime Minister in a decade, Trudeau or Mulcair?

Tune in next week to find out.

Canada’s Election – and what it could mean for the TSX

[Update– My predictions in this article were incorrect: the Liberals, led by Justin Trudeau, ended up winning a majority government in parliament. I didn’t see that coming!]

In most countries, investors usually have a clear idea of what they want to see from an election. They want the victory of a competent, “market-friendly” candidate, with a majority government and no significant regional divisions displayed in the country’s voting patterns. This is, in fact, what they got out of the most recent Canadian federal election, in 2011: the right-of-centre Conservative Party won a decent-sized majority government (which was Canada’s first majority government since prior to 2004), winning in Ontario, British Columbia, and the Prairies, while at the same time Quebec abandoned its independence-minded Bloc Quebecois en masse in favour of the NDP, which also became the largest opposition party by a large margin in Ontario, British Columbia, and the country as a whole.

From the perspective of investors, it is unlikely that the 2015 election will be much more favourable than the current situation that exists in Canada. Even if the Conservatives were to win an even larger majority than they have now, which seems unlikely, this would still only be a continuation of the status quo, and would therefore be unlikely to generate any excitement among Canadians or foreign investors. Plus, given that the Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister for just short of ten years now, this status quo may start to become tiring even for investors and Conservatives. It would certainly not induce any sort of “hope and change” optimism that could potentially help stimulate markets in the short-term. To the contrary, the election campaign will probably make Canadians less confident in the health of their economy, as both the Liberals and the NDP may spend it trying to convince Canadians that Harper has brought the country to the brink of a recession.

In contrast, it is not very difficult to imagine that the elections could make Canada less appealing to investors. Here’s one scenario that would be much worse from an investor’s view: the Liberal Party, led by 43-year old Justin Trudeau (the son of a former Canadian Prime Minister) wins a minority government in parliament, while, on a provincial level, the country is regionally divided in its voting patterns, with Ontario going primarily for the Liberals, Quebec voting primarily for the NDP, the Prairie provinces voting primarily for the Conservatives, and British Columbia splitting its vote between two or three of the parties.

In such a scenario, Canada would have changed from having a “market-friendly” majority government led by an experienced Prime Minister and having no regionalist tendencies reflected in its voting patterns, to having a left-wing minority coalition government led by a young inexperienced Prime Minister (who would have been chosen purely because of his family name) and having significant regionalist divisions between eastern Canada and western Canada and between Quebec and the rest of the country reflected in its voting patterns.

If the NDP defeat the Conservatives instead of the Liberals, meanwhile, which is also possible (the NDP are currently the second largest Canadian party in parliament by far), it would bring to power a party that has never been in power before in its history, which until relatively recently was viewed by many conservatives as being “far left”, and which has a leader who is only in charge because of the tragic death of the former leader of the NDP following the party’s unprecedented success in the Canadian election of 2011.

Even worse, a staunchly provincialist party like the Bloc Quebecois, which is currently polling at around 10-20 percent in Quebec, could theoretically end up becoming the kingmaker in a split between the Conservatives and a Liberal-NDP coalition. Investors could turn on Canada to a certain degree if they begin to think that an increasingly fragmented result such as this is likely to occur. Thus, while the defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party or the loss of its majority position in parliament would not necessarily be bad for Canada over the longer term, it arguably represents a short-term challenge for the Canadian economy – and in particular, for Canadian financial markets – during the election year ahead.

For more on the economic position Canada currently finds itself in, see 5 Challenges for Canada’s Economy in 2015

5 Challenges for Canada’s Economy in 2015

Canada, the world’s sixth largest “developed” economy, has been on an excellent run in the recent past. According to figures from the World Bank, Canada’s GDP grew at a faster pace than those of the United States or Britain during five out of six years between 2008 and 2013, and during 10 out of 15 years since 2000. It grew at a faster pace than those of Japan, Germany, and France during more than 20 out of 25 years since 1990.

In 2014, however, Canadian growth appears to have trailed that of the US and Britain, the first time since 2003 that it has lagged behind both at the same time. Now, with oil prices having fallen by more than 50 percent since just the start of October, many Canadians are worried their economy will disappoint even more during the months ahead. These fears may be justified: the Canadian economy could have to face a number of significant challenges in 2015.

Challenge #1: Oil Prices

Lower oil prices, assuming they persist, represent a fourfold threat to the Canadian economy:

1. Oil exports account for a larger share of GDP in Canada than they do in any other nation in the rich world, with the exception of Norway or the Gulf Arab monarchies. In fact, apart from Canada, Norway, or Denmark, every noteworthy developed economy in the world is actually a net importer of oil. Canada, in contrast, is the world’s 10th largest net exporter of oil, and the world’s 5th largest net exporter of oil outside of the Middle East.

As of August 2014, the value Canada’s oil exports were the equivalent of approximately 3.6 percent of Canadian GDP, which means that the 50 percent reduction in the price of North American crude oil that has occurred since August should lead, all other things being theoretically held the same, to a 1.8 percent contraction in Canadian economic output. By comparison, during the “Great Recession” of 2009, Canada’s (and the US’s) GDP shrunk by an estimated 2.7 percent, which is the only year Canada’s GDP has contracted since 1991, when it shrunk by 2.1 percent.

2. Canadian oil sands projects, which in 2013 accounted for roughly 60 percent of Canadian oil production, are on the higher end of the production cost range, with average break-even costs estimated (by some) to be around $80-85 per barrel. This, of course, is without even taking into account most of the environmental costs associated with its production, which tend to be substantially higher than those of other oil projects as well. Newfoundland, meanwhile, which accounts for around 9 percent of Canada’s oil production, also has high break-even costs, since it is primarily engaged in offshore drilling.

3. Most Canadian oil is of the heavy or extra heavy variety, and has a high sulphur content. There are currently very few refineries capable of handling this type of oil; most of the ones that are able to refine it are located either in the US Midwest or along the US Gulf coast. The rapid growth of oil production from shale deposits, however, which is ultra-light oil and “sweet” (meaning it has a low sulphur content), and which in most cases has lower production costs and does less damage to the environment than Albertan oil sands production does, is causing some of these refineries to be retrofitted to handle light, sweet oil instead, potentially leaving much of Canada’s oil output less valuable.

4. None of Canada’s most important trade partners are likely to be among the main beneficiaries of falling oil prices. Canada has one primary trade partner, which is the United States, and three secondary trade partners: China, Mexico, and Britain. The US accounts for more than half of Canadian trade, while China, Mexico, and Britain combined account for close to 20 percent of Canadian trade.

None of these four countries, however, are significant importers of oil, or of energy in general. Net energy imports account for less than 15 percent of the US’s total energy use, and net oil imports were (as of August) equal to just an estimated 1.6% of US GDP, both much lower than in most other developed economies (see graph below). In fact, if oil prices continue to fall, they might drop below the break-even prices of US shale production, Alaskan oil production, or offshore oil production in the Gulf of Mexico, which could hurt the US energy industry and grant oil market share back to the lowest-cost producers such as Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf Arab monarchies.

Developed Economies Energy and oil importsWhat is more, the US is a leading exporter of a number of commodities that may see their prices fall as a result of lower oil prices, such as coal and food. Compared to Northeast Asia or Europe, the US is also barely dependent on importing most important minerals, such as iron ore, copper, or aluminum, the prices of which often correlate with oil prices as well to a certain extent. The US is a net exporter of iron ore, in fact, which has the largest international market of any commodity apart from crude oil, and which has seen prices fall by around 30 percent in the past six months and 50 percent in the past year. (Canada, meanwhile, is the world’s fourth largest net exporter of iron ore). The United States’ wealth of natural resources could prevent it from benefiting too much from falling oil prices.

While China, Canada’s second largest trade partner, has become the world’s largest oil importer, it is actually not too dependent on its oil imports either (see graph), since it produces so much coal domestically, and coal continues to account for over two-thirds of its overall energy consumption. China is actually the world’s fourth largest oil producer, sixth largest natural gas producer, fifth largest nuclear power producer, and largest producer of hydroelectricity, wind power, and energy from biomass. Energy imports account for only around 10-15 percent of China’s total energy usage, which is many times less than in most other economies in Asia, or than most countries in the developed world.

20150123103628Britain and Mexico are not significant net importers of oil either. Britain, unlike other large European economies, is only a very minor importer of oil (it is actually one of the world’s top 20 oil producers, because of the North Sea), while Mexico is the world’s 15th largest net exporter of oil and, despite importing more natural gas from the United States than it ever has in the past, also remains a net exporter of energy in general.

Thus, Canada’s main trade partners are not likely to be among the leading beneficiaries of falling oil prices – at least, not unless their populations respond to cheaper gasoline prices by going out and spending far more money than they otherwise would have. As a result, Canada should not necessarily expect these trade partners to boost their purchases of its exports during the months ahead.

[Note: Japan’s trade with Canada may actually be a little bit larger than Britain’s or Mexico’s. However, this is only because the Japanese economy is much larger than Britain’s or (especially) Mexico’s. Per dollar of its GDP, Japan buys significantly less from Canada than Britain, Mexico, or the US do relative to the size of their own economies (see graph below). This means that British, Mexican, or American economic growth might be more likely to have a stimulative effect on the Canadian economy than the same amount of Japanese economic growth would. Similarly, Mexican growth would probably help Canada more than growth in any country apart from the US would, so it is a shame for Canada that Mexico is a net exporter of both energy in general and oil in particular]Canadaian exportsChallenge #2: Other Commodities 

The price of oil is often correlated with the price of commodities in general, since bulk commodities tend to require a lot of energy to produce and a lot of fuel to transport. This presents an additional risk for Canada, given that Canada is not only a massive exporter of oil, but also of many other commodities. Commodities other than oil account for an estimated 20-30 percent of all Canadian exports. Most of Canada’s most important non-oil commodities have prices that tend to correlate at least somewhat with oil prices. These include not only natural gas and coal, but also industrially used metals like nickel, copper, and iron ore, as well as nonmetal commodities like potash (used for fertilizer) and timber (which in Europe accounts for half of all energy produced from “renewables”), both of which Canada is the world’s largest exporter of. Canada is also the world’s third largest net exporter of electricity, trailing only France and Paraguay, and the world’s largest uranium producer apart from Kazakhstan.

Canadian natural gas, which is by far the most valuable Canadian commodity export apart from oil, has recently been fetching prices far below the global average, since natural gas is costly to ship overseas, and since the US market is already over-supplied because gas is coming up as a by-product in shale oil production. Coal prices, meanwhile, have been hurt by a combination of falling oil and gas prices, slowing Chinese industrial growth, and concerns over pollution in various countries (China included). While coal in Canada receives little media attention because of the prominence of Canadian oil and gas, it nevertheless remains one of Canada’s top four or five commodity exports.

Canada is also the world’s second or third largest exporter of wheat, trailing only the US and maybe France. Canadian grain production tends to have relatively high break-even prices, a result not only of the latitude and climate of farmland in the Prairies, but also of the fact that the Prairies are landlocked and have no access to commercially navigable waterways (unlike US, European, or Argentinian farmland, for example), which are necessary to reduce costs given that grains are bulky goods which even today are expensive to transport long distances overland. In Canada, therefore, export revenues might be hurt more by falling grain prices than they would in other significant grain-exporting countries. The Food and Agricultural Organization of the United Nations estimates that in 2014 global food prices fell by 3.7 percent, the biggest fall since 2011, led by grain prices which fell by around 12.5 percent, with nearly all of that fall occurring during the past six months.

Finally, there is marijuana, which, though it is difficult to be certain, arguably accounts for more of Canadian export revenues than any commodity apart from oil or natural gas. Indoor marijuana production, which is responsible for a large share of Canadian production, is an extraordinarily energy-intensive enterprise, such that falling energy prices may cause Canadian producers to save on input costs. On the other hand, there is the legalization of marijuana in Washington state, which is just across the border from marijuana-growing British Columbia, as well as in states like Colorado and, most importantly, California. Legal marijuana production in the US has taken off in the past year or so, and it will probably squeeze the value of Canadian (and Mexican) marijuana exports.

Challenge #3: China 

The relationship between Canada and China is based around more than just exports of Canadian natural resources to China and imports of Chinese manufactured goods to Canada. British Colombia  in particular has a close economic relationship with China, the result of Vancouver’s (and Victoria’s) Pacific coastline and physical isolation from most of the rest of the Canadian and North American markets. British Colombia sends approximately 35 percent of its overseas exports to China, which is almost twice the share that the rest of Canada does, and 2.5 times the share that the United States does.

Partly as a result of this British Columbian transpacific relationship, Canadian exports to China are equal to roughly 2.5 percent of Canada’s GDP, whereas US exports to China are equal to only 1.3 of the US’s GDP. In addition, there are social and financial ties between Canada and China that are economically significant, albeit difficult to measure precisely, reflecting the fact that roughly 11 percent of British Columbia’s population and 5 percent of Canada’s total population are of Chinese origin — compared to just 1.2 percent for the US’s population, 0.3 percent for the European Union’s population, and 4 percent for Australia’s population.

All of this is to say that Canada will feel the effects of an economic slowdown in China, and not only because of the effect such a slowdown would have (and has already been having) on commodity prices. Canada could be particularly affected by a crisis in southeastern China, if one were to occur, since because of the historical connection between Canada and Britain, most of the Chinese immigrants in Canada have come from Hong Kong and adjacent parts of southeastern China (and spoke southeastern Chinese languages like Cantonese, even though Cantonese is only spoken by approximately 60 million people within China, compared to nearly a billion Mandarin speakers).

Notably, eastern Chinese provinces have had the slowest growth in China every single year since the global financial crisis. Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s economy has slowed immensely in recent years and had an especially difficult 2014, and mainland southeastern China was the slowest-growing major Chinese region in 2014. This could potentially wind up being bad news for the Canadian economy this year.

Challenge #4: The United States   

According to most Canadian economic analysts, Canada’s saving grace in 2015 is likely to be the US economy, which has been rebounding to a certain extent from its relatively poor performances in 2007, 2008, 2009, 2011, and 2013, and which had particularly strong growth in the third quarter of 2014. While this assessment is probably true, it is nevertheless important to point out that the American economic recovery has not been occurring in the areas of the US that have the greatest impact on the Canadian economy.

Most of Canada’s exports to the US go to states in the Northeast or Midwest, on the borders of the Atlantic or, especially, the Great Lakes. Michigan, New York, Ohio and Illinois together receive around one-third of all Canadian manufacturing exports to the US, for example. Yet most states in this region have not performed very well during the years since the financial crisis.

With the exception of states like North Dakota, which have economies based around the production of commodities like oil and agriculture and compete directly in these industries with neighbouring Canadian provinces in the Prairies, most of the best-performing US states have not been near the Canadian border. Instead, they have been in southern or western states, most notably Texas. Ohio, Michigan, and Illinois, meanwhile, were among the slower-growing economies during that same period. These trends have largely continued during 2013 and 2014 (though, on a more positive note for Canada, the economy of Michigan has been doing decently in the past two years, and Michigan is the single largest importer of manufactured goods produced in Canada).

In addition, upstate New York, the only part of the US which borders both Ontario and Quebec, has performed far worse than the New York City metropolitan area through these years. In Michigan, similarly, growth has been stronger in the western part of the state, which does not border Canada, than in the northern or eastern parts of the state, which do. And in Ohio, growth has been stronger in southern cities like Columbus or Cincinnati, which are relatively far away from Canada and the Great Lakes, than it has been in northern, Lake Eerie cities like Cleveland or Toledo.

Falling Energy Prices and US State Economies

In spite of auto-related manufacturing in states like Michigan and Ohio, the US’s Northeastern and Great Lakes states will not necessarily be among the main beneficiaries of the fall in energy prices. New York, for example, consumes the least amount of energy per capita of any state apart from Rhode Island. Northeastern states like Vermont, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts, which have close ties with Canada, are extremely energy-efficient. The Pacific northwestern states, Oregon and Washington state, which are economically integrated with British Columbia, are also energy-efficient. And the Great Lakes are for the most part only partially energy-intensive economies (apart from Indiana, which is quite energy-intensive). Michigan consumes the 16th least amount of energy per capita, while Pennsylvania is 20th, Illinois is 25th, and Ohio is 28th.

Moreover, the area in and around the Great Lake states is one of the major energy-producing regions of North America, and therefore may not benefit as much from cheaper energy as some other parts of the US will. Pennsylvania produces significantly more energy than any state aside from Texas or Wyoming, and much more natural gas than any state other than Texas. The West Virginia-Pennsylavania-Kentucky-Illinois-Indiana-Ohio region accounts for around three-quarters of all the coal production in the US outside of Wyoming; coal production which is being squeezed by falling natural gas prices as a result of fracking.Ohio, Illinois, and to a lesser extent Michigan also produce a decent amount of oil themselves, and Michigan has the largest natural gas storage capacity of any state in the country.

Meanwhile, the shale gas basins in this region, namely the Marcellus basin and the (more geologically challenging and expensive to develop) Utica basin, have had by far the fastest productivity growth in recent years of any major basins in the United States (see graph below). In the case of the Utica, which contains significant amounts of both oil and natural gas, the basin encompasses not only Pennsylvania, as the Marcellus does, but also other areas near Canada, like eastern Ohio and upstate New York.

utica gas

us_shale_map

In spite of their historical reputation for loving and making cars, none of the Midwestern states even remain among the top ten states in terms of per capita vehicle ownership. Even Michigan now only ranks around 15th in terms of per capita vehicle ownership. The Great Lakes/Midwest is also one of the leading ethanol-producing, iron-ore producing, and food-exporting regions in the entire world, which could hurt as food, fuel, and mineral prices have been falling.  Finally, cheaper oil could make it cheaper for people living in northern cities like Buffalo to fly south or west, spending more time and money in sunnier states, or in the Rocky Mountains.

It may also be worth mentioning that, even as American growth is generally a good thing for the Canadian economy, the fact that the US is growing at a decent pace at a time when countries like Russia, Japan, Germany, Brazil, and possibly even China and Mexico are all flirting with recession means that US national power might increase at a pace that could become uncomfortable for some of the economies that have to deal with the Americans most often, potentially including Canada.

Indeed, given that US election season is approaching, American politics could perhaps become relatively erratic during 2015. The Republican-controlled Congress, the Democratic-controlled White House, or various US state governments could, for instance, place indirect restrictions on imports from various provinces or industries within Canada in order to provide a short-term protectionist boost to American employment growth. They might also run political attacks against the Albertan oil sands during the year leading up to the election: the Democrats in order to energize their environmentalist base; the Republicans (and in some cases the Democrats) in order to divert environmentalist ire away from American coal production, offshore oil production, or fracking.

Challenge #5: Canadian Politics

There is a federal election in Canada in 2015. In most countries, investors usually have a clear idea of what they want to see from an election. They want the victory of a competent, “market-friendly” candidate, with a majority government and no significant regional divisions displayed in the country’s voting patterns. This is, in fact, what they got out of the most recent Canadian federal election, in 2011: the right-of-centre Conservative Party won a decent-sized majority government (which was Canada’s first majority government since prior to 2004), winning in Ontario, British Colombia, and the Prairies, while at the same time Quebec abandoned its independence-minded Bloc Quebecois en masse in favour of the NDP, which also became the largest opposition party by a large margin in Ontario, British Colombia, and the country as a whole.

From the perspective of investors, it is unlikely that the 2015 election will be much more favourable than the current situation that exists in Canada. Even if the Conservatives were to win an even larger majority than they have now, which seems unlikely, this would still only be a continuation of the status quo, and would therefore be unlikely to generate any excitement among Canadians or foreign investors. Plus, given that the Conservative leader Stephen Harper has been Prime Minister for just short of ten years now, this status quo may start to become tiring even for investors and Conservatives. It would certainly not induce any sort of “hope and change” optimism that could potentially help stimulate markets in the short-term. In fact, Harper’s opponents will likely be spending the election campaign trying to convince Canadians that their economy has been brought to the brink of recession.

In contrast, it is not very difficult to imagine that the elections could make Canada less appealing to investors. Here’s one scenario that would be much worse from an investor’s view: the Liberal Party, led by 43-year old Justin Trudeau (the son of a former Canadian Prime Minister) wins a minority government in parliament, while, on a provincial level, the country is regionally divided in its voting patterns, with Ontario going primarily for the Liberals, Quebec voting primarily for the NDP, the Prairie provinces voting primarily for the Conservatives, and British Columbia roughly splitting its vote between the Liberals and the Conservatives.

In such a scenario, Canada would have changed from having a “market-friendly” majority government led by an experienced Prime Minister, and having no regionalist tendencies reflected in its voting patterns, to having a left-leaning minority coalition government led by an inexperienced Prime Minister and having significant regionalist divisions between eastern Canada and western Canada, as well as between Quebec and the rest of the country, reflected in its voting patterns.

If the NDP defeat the Conservatives instead of the Liberals, meanwhile, which is also possible (the NDP are currently the second largest Canadian party in parliament by far), it would bring to power a party that has never been in power before in its history, which until relatively recently was viewed by many conservatives as being “far left”, and which has a leader who is only in charge because of the tragic death of the former leader of the NDP following the party’s unprecedented success in the Canadian election of 2011. (Though notably, he is more experienced than the Liberal party leader).

Even worse, a staunchly provincialist party like the Bloc Quebecois, which is currently polling at around 10-20 percent in Quebec, could theoretically end up becoming the kingmaker in a split between the Conservatives and a Liberal-NDP coalition. Investors could turn on Canada to a certain degree if they begin to think that an increasingly fragmented result such as this is likely to occur. Thus, while the defeat of Stephen Harper’s Conservative Party or the loss of its majority position in parliament would not necessarily be bad for Canada over the longer term, it arguably represents a short-term challenge for the Canadian economy – and in particular, for Canadian financial markets – during the election year ahead.