Friday, May 12, 2017

Polypropylene Prices

The bulk prices of polypropylene and polyethylene provide one way to measure the demand for manufactured goods. Polymer prices are also affected by oil prices and by improvements in product designs that require less plastic in a finished product or improve manufacturing yields so that fewer materials are thrown away. Nevertheless, the long-term decline in prices, with bulk polypropylene hovering around $1 per kilogram, shows a persistent softness in demand for manufactured goods.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

L Brands Report Seen as Reason for Hope

Stock traders are so discouraged about U.S. retail that a report from Victoria’s Secret parent company L Brands pointing to a 7 percent decline from the year before was strong enough to lift the whole sector. L Brands stock is down 28 percent from the start of the year and the news was not quite as bad as that. The L Brands report came days after trade reports from the U.S. and China showed a sharp drop in exports from China to the United States. It is a metric of significance to both countries. China is the largest supplier of manufactured goods to the United States. The United States is the largest buyer of exports from China.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Bitcoin Declines on Central Bank Scrutiny

China’s central bank is talking about heightened scrutiny of bitcoin exchanges. Just the mention of regulatory oversight was enough to send the value if bitcoin tumbling. Compared to the U.S. dollar, bitcoin fell 12 percent in about one day. The 12 percent move is not the crisis that a comparable move would represent in a national currency — bitcoin is more volatile by nature — but it is an indication of how much of bitcoin activity involves businesses that want their dealings to go unnoticed.

Thursday, January 5, 2017


Smog is the story of this month in China, with a “fog alert” in the early days of the month worsening to the point that the government issued a national air pollution alert. The smog was already so bad two weeks ago that some airplanes couldn’t land. By yesterday visibility was bad enough to disorient pedestrians in multiple northern cities. The pollution problems come in spite of a well-publicized central government initiative to reduce industrial coal use by one third. Eventually the wind will change direction, but the persistent pollution problem makes me wonder if China’s level of manufacturing activity already exceeds what the land area can properly support.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Ford Cuts Capacity

Ford has decided not to build a new $2 billion factory in Mexico. This is not merely a question of location but has more to do with the question of manufacturing capacity. The U.S. auto industry got burned nine years ago by building too much capacity for anticipated demand that never materialized. Now they are doing the same thing again — but the furloughs that cut across the industry starting last month are making them wonder if they have made a wrong turn. By not building too much unneeded capacity in 2006 and 2007, Ford weathered the crisis of 2008–2009 without the need for bankruptcy. The decision not to build a whole new facility this year will surely look like a smart decision by the time the year is over.