Made in the World
Comment of the Day

January 30 2012

Commentary by David Fuller

Made in the World

This is a good column by Thomas Friedman for the NYT and IHT, in which he talks about the successful multinational companies which lead their industries - companies which Fullermoney refers to as the Autonomies. Here is the second half:
These C.E.O.'s rarely talk about "outsourcing" these days. Their world is now so integrated that there is no "out" and no "in" anymore. In their businesses, every product and many services now are imagined, designed, marketed and built through global supply chains that seek to access the best quality talent at the lowest cost, wherever it exists. They see more and more of their products today as "Made in the World" not "Made in America." Therein lies the tension. So many of "our" companies actually see themselves now as citizens of the world. But Obama is president of the United States.

Victor Fung, the chairman of Li & Fung, one of Hong Kong's oldest textile manufacturers, remarked to me last year that for many years his company operated on the rule: "You sourced in Asia, and you sold in America and Europe." Now, said Fung, the rule is: " 'Source everywhere, manufacture everywhere, sell everywhere.' The whole notion of an 'export' is really disappearing."

Mike Splinter, the C.E.O. of Applied Materials, has put it to me this way: "Outsourcing was 10 years ago, where you'd say, 'Let's send some software generation overseas.' This is not the outsourcing we're doing today. This is just where I am going to get something done. Now you say, 'Hey, half my Ph.D.'s in my R-and-D department would rather live in Singapore, Taiwan or China because their hometown is there and they can go there and still work for my company.' This is the next evolution." He has many more choices.

Added Michael Dell, founder of Dell Inc.: "I always remind people that 96 percent of our potential new customers today live outside of America." That's the rest of the world. And if companies like Dell want to sell to them, he added, it needs to design and manufacture some parts of its products in their countries.

This is the world we are living in. It is not going away. But America can thrive in this world, explained Yossi Sheffi, the M.I.T. logistics expert, if it empowers "as many of our workers as possible to participate" in different links of these global supply chains - either imagining products, designing products, marketing products, orchestrating the supply chain for products, manufacturing high-end products and retailing products. If we get our share, we'll do fine.

And here's the good news: We have a huge natural advantage to compete in this kind of world, if we just get our act together.

In a world where the biggest returns go to those who imagine and design a product, there is no higher imagination-enabling society than America. In a world where talent is the most important competitive advantage, there is no country that historically welcomed talented immigrants more than America. In a world in which protection for intellectual property and secure capital markets is highly prized by innovators and investors alike, there is no country safer than America. In a world in which the returns on innovation are staggering, our government funding of bioscience, new technology and clean energy is a great advantage. In a world where logistics will be the source of a huge number of middle-class jobs, we have FedEx and U.P.S.

If only - if only - we could come together on a national strategy to enhance and expand all of our natural advantages: more immigration, most post-secondary education, better infrastructure, more government research, smart incentives for spurring millions of start-ups - and a long-term plan to really fix our long-term debt problems - nobody could touch us. We're that close.

David Fuller's view I think Tom Friedman is right. Subscribers may recall that Fullermoney has made the same point on a number of occasions. The US does have a natural advantage because it invented globalisation and has more successful multinational companies (Autonomies) than any other country.

However in recent years the USA's Autonomies have succeeded despite the self-inflicted wounds of their home country. These have ranged from a corrupt banking sector which was the main cause of the 2008 financial crisis, to a 'deficits don't matter' attitude during the previous and current presidencies, political gridlock regarding deficit reduction, protectionist sentiments from both Democrats and Republicans in Congress, barriers to entry for skilled immigrants, an emphasis on wealth redistribution rather than wealth creation from the White House, and an energy policy which favours currently inefficient green technologies rather than development of the USA's abundant reserves of both conventional and particularly unconventional reserves of oil and natural gas.

Unfortunately, the UK and Eurozone countries have very similar problems, not least regarding debt. They also have some corporate Autonomies of their own as do a few of Asia's developed economies. These have also performed well and there are no limits to the number of successful Autonomies which could emerge in future, especially if the policies mentioned by Thomas Friedman in his last paragraph above are espoused by future governments.

The Autonomies were outstanding stock market performers last year but how do they look today?

Most continued to advance in line with this month's global stock market rally. Consequently, many of the Autonomies now look temporarily overstretched relative to their trend-smoothing 200-day moving averages, and are therefore susceptible to some mean reversion towards the MAs, especially if global stock markets react and consolidate their strong gains since mid-December.

Since leaders often lead in both directions, some of the Autonomies have already commenced mean reversions towards their MAs. Here are some other candidates for mean reversion among Autonomies mainly in the S&P 500 Index: Allergan, Automatic Data Processing, AutoZone, Intel, McDonald's, Nike, Starbucks, Xilinx and Yum Brands. Provided that most of these companies find support near their MAs, as I suspect, the medium-term upward trends will remain intact. However, a further acceleration by shares such as Yum Brands, the current upside leader in this list, would increase the risk of not only mean reversion but also a medium-term break of the MA.

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