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The Sources Of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss

The Sources Of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

We’re getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up–way…

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The Sources Of Rip-Your-Face-Off Inflation Few Dare Discuss

Authored by Charles Hugh Smith via OfTwoMinds blog,

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.

Inflation will be transitory, blah-blah-blah--I beg to differ, for these reasons. There are numerous structural sources of inflation, which I define as prices rise while the quality and quantity of goods and services remain the same or diminish. Since the word inflation is so loaded, let's use the more neutral (and more accurate) term decline in purchasing power: an hour of your labor buys fewer goods and services of lesser quality than it did a decade ago or a generation ago.

While the conventional discussion focuses on monetary inflation, i.e. expansion of money supply, the real rip-your-face-off sources have nothing to do with money supply. The rip-your-face-off sources are scarcities that cannot be filled by substitution or globalization.

Consider skilled hands-on labor as an example. Let's say some essential parts in essential infrastructure require welding. There is no substitute for skilled welders. But wait, doesn't economic dogma hold that whenever costs rise, a cheaper substitute will magically manifest out of a swirl of dust? That dogma is false in cases such as skilled labor.

The only substitute for a skilled welder is another skilled welder, and while theory holds that there will be cheaper welders who can be brought in from elsewhere, this is also not true: due to deficiencies in education and a cultural bias against manual labor, there is a shortage of skilled welders virtually everywhere.

But wait, can't we just offshore the project? Globalization always lowers costs, right? So by all means, load your busted boat trailer on a container ship to China, find a welder in Shanghai to do the work, and then ship the boat trailer back. Weeks later, you discover the plan and the specs weren't followed, so all the time and money was wasted. It would have been so much cheaper and faster if you'd just paid the welder in town a few extra bucks and had it done right in a few hours.

But wait--we'll just automate welding and have a robot do it all for next to nothing. OK, fine, pal--you manufacture the robot and program it to trundle out to the busted boat trailer, examine the breaks and do the welding so it actually works again. Go ahead and do that (at gargantuan expense), and then let's see the robot do it right in dozens of different jobs in all sorts of situations, and then add up the cost of all that compared to the relatively low cost of an experienced welder.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, people with high levels of craft skills and experience are scarce, and the fantasy of robots replacing them are untethered from reality.

As I've noted before, central banks can conjure trillions of dollars out of thin air but they can't conjure up experienced, motivated workers willing to work for lousy pay. As I noted last week, the minimum wage would have to double to even get close to the purchasing power of the minimum wage I earned two generations ago. If an economy can't pay its workers enough to live, it doesn't deserve to exist and should be shoveled into the dustbin of history.

Will Skilled Hands-On Labor Finally Become More Valuable? (8/20/20)

Fans of automation are rarely if ever the people tasked with designing, manufacturing and programming robots. Fans of automation don't recognize any limits on the cost and efficacy of automation because their faith in technology is quasi-religious, but in the real world, there are many tasks that don't lend themselves to automation.

If automation was as cheap and easy as many seem to think, then why does Amazon need 1.3 million human employees? In terms of automation, what could be easier than vast warehouses, vehicles and delivery? Amazon certainly has the money and talent to automate everything that can be automated, so why is Amazon hiring hundreds of thousands of humans and boosting wages for 500,000 humans? Amazon to raise pay for 500,000 workers (April 2021, NYT.com)

Although it's heresy to true believers in automation, humans are cheaper and create more value than robots in many settings. Simply put, there are limits on the cost effectiveness and value creation of robotics and automation.

A strong case can be made that automation has drastically reduced the quality of services and created the illusion of effectiveness. For example, you go online, check the inventory in your local outlet, drive down there and discover a bare shelf even though the online app indicates dozens in stock. Where is the value in this travesty of a mockery of a sham?

Those at the top of the wealth-power pyramid avoid the systems they profit from like the plague. Abysmal customer service, poor quality goods, apps that don't work--that's all the debt-serfs will ever experience. Those who own the systems know how awful it all is and they never touch any of the goods and services they pour into the slop buckets of the commoners.

Few seem to have noticed that we're already on the downside of Peak Globalization: labor costs are rising in China, too, for the same reason labor costs are rising here and elsewhere: the number of people willing to do dirty, boring, difficult work for low pay and no benefits is diminishing. Some of this scarcity is due to demographics, as the workforce shrinks, some of it is increasing opportunities for flexible gig work that pays as well or better, and some is a rejection of the status quo. Post-Pandemic Metamorphosis: Never Going Back (6/7/21).

Young Chinese take a stand against pressures of modern life -- by lying down (Washington Post)

Apologists for the wunnerfulness of globalization also fail to take into account the nationalization of critical resources or resources being cut off for geopolitical reasons. Nice copper mine you got there, but now it's ours, and we're raising prices. Go find a substitute for copper, cobalt, rare earths-- gosh, there are no substitutes? Wait a minute, economists promised us scarcity was impossible because there's always a substitute.

In the real world, essentials for which there are no substitutes are scarce, and the world is awakening to the power of those who control these essentials. Globalization was always based on the notion that there was always another place to stripmine, but now the entire planet has been stripmined, put under the plow or clearcut.

The primary source of cost-cutting and profit-boosting--lowering quality and reducing quantities-- have reached limits: if the package gets any smaller, we'll need a microscope to see it. Cutting corners has been going on so long that there are no corners left to be trimmed. Shrinkflation has reduced cereal boxes such that the boxes are not wide enough to stand up on the shelf.

Producers have to raise prices to maintain profits, period. And anyone who lets profit margins slip is cashiered, to be replaced by someone even more pathological and ruthless.

So let's review the sources of inflation:

-- Scarcities of labor across the board. (see job openings chart below).

-- Deglobalization / Peak Globalization.

-- Cost and value-creation limits on automation.

-- All the corners have been cut, now prices have to rise or companies will bankrupt themselves.

-- The 'Take This Job and Shove It' Recession (5/12/21) -- Never Going Back -- people are abandoning the status quo hamster wheel.

Few are willing to acknowledge these sources because they run counter the the fantasy world narrative that's spinning the frenzied hamster wheel. Purchasing power is prosperity, and since purchasing power is in free-fall, so is prosperity--at least for the bottom 90%. Trillions in free money have masked the decline temporarily, but what's transitory isn't inflation-- it's the illusion of prosperity that's transitory. And that's why nobody in a position of power wants to discuss prices being driven by scarcities caused by actual physical limits.

Those who think prices can't double or triple haven't experienced scarcities caused by actual physical limits. There are no substitutes for essentials or skilled labor, globalization has already stripmined the planet and central banks can't print experienced workers willing to work for rapidly devaluing wages in dead-end jobs while billionaires pay pennies in taxes.

We're getting a real-world economics lesson in rip-your-face-off increases in prices, and the tuition is about to go up--way up.

*  *  *

If you found value in this content, please join me in seeking solutions by becoming a $1/month patron of my work via patreon.com.

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My recent books:

A Hacker's Teleology: Sharing the Wealth of Our Shrinking Planet (Kindle $8.95, print $20, audiobook $17.46) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Will You Be Richer or Poorer?: Profit, Power, and AI in a Traumatized World (Kindle $5, print $10, audiobook) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Pathfinding our Destiny: Preventing the Final Fall of Our Democratic Republic ($5 (Kindle), $10 (print), ( audiobook): Read the first section for free (PDF).

The Adventures of the Consulting Philosopher: The Disappearance of Drake $1.29 (Kindle), $8.95 (print); read the first chapters for free (PDF)

Money and Work Unchained $6.95 (Kindle), $15 (print) Read the first section for free (PDF).

Tyler Durden Wed, 06/09/2021 - 14:10

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Economics

Extra Crunch roundup: TC Mobility recaps, Nubank EC-1, farewell to browser cookies

What, exactly, are investors looking for?

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What, exactly, are investors looking for?

Early-stage founders, usually first-timers, often tie themselves in knots as they try to project the qualities they hope investors are seeking. In reality, few entrepreneurs have the acting skills required to convince someone that they’re patient, dedicated or hard working.

Johan Brenner, general partner at Creandum, was an early backer of Klarna, Spotify and several other European startups. Over the last two decades, he’s identified five key traits shared by people who create billion-dollar companies.


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Use discount code ECFriday to save 20% off a one- or two-year subscription.


“A true unicorn founder doesn’t need to have all of those capabilities on day one,” says Brenner, “but they should already be thinking big while executing small and demonstrating that they understand how to scale a company.”

Drawing from observations gleaned from working with founders like Spotify’s Daniel Ek, Sebastian Siemiatkowski from Klarna, and iZettle’s Jacob de Geer and Magnus Nilsson, Brenner explains where “VC FOMO” comes from and how it drives deal-making.

We’re running a series of posts that recap conversations from last week’s virtual TC Mobility conference, including an interview with Refraction AI’s Matthew Johnson, a look at how autonomous delivery startups are navigating the regulatory and competitive landscape, and much more. There are many more recaps to come; click here to find them all.

Thanks very much for reading Extra Crunch!

Walter Thompson
Senior Editor, TechCrunch
@yourprotagonist

How contrarian hires and a pitch deck started Nubank’s $30 billion fintech empire

Image Credits: Nigel Sussman

Founded in 2013 and based in São Paulo, Brazil, Nubank serves more than 34 million customers, making it Latin America’s largest neobank.

Reporter Marcella McCarthy spoke to CEO David Velez to learn about his efforts to connect with consumers and overcome entrenched opposition from established players who were friendly with regulators.

In the first of a series of stories for Nubank’s EC-1, she interviewed Velez about his early fundraising efforts. For a balanced perspective, she also spoke to early Nubank investors at Sequoia and Kaszek Ventures, Latin America’s largest venture fund, to find out why they funded the startup while it was still pre-product.

“There are people you come across in life that within the first hour of meeting with them, you know you want to work with them,” said Doug Leone, a global managing partner at Sequoia who’d recruited Velez after he graduated from grad school at Stanford.

Marcella also interviewed members of Nubank’s founding team to better understand why they decided to take a chance on a startup that faced such long odds of success.

“I left banking to make a fifth of my salary, and back then, about $5,000 in equity,” said Vitor Olivier, Nubank’s VP of operations and platforms.

“Financially, it didn’t really make sense, so I really had to believe that it was really going to work, and that it would be big.”

Despite flat growth, ride-hailing colossus Didi’s US IPO could reach $70B

Image Credits: Didi

In his last dispatch before a week’s vacation, Alex Wilhelm waded through the numbers in Didi’s SEC filing. The big takeaways?

“While Didi managed an impressive GTV recovery in China, its aggregate numbers are flatter, and recent quarterly trends are not incredibly attractive,” he writes.

However, “Didi is not as unprofitable as we might have anticipated. That’s a nice surprise. But the company’s regular business has never made money, and it’s losing more lately than historically, which is also pretty rough.”

What’s driving the rise of robotaxis in China with AutoX, Momenta and WeRide

AutoX, Momenta and WeRide took the stage at TC Sessions: Mobility 2021 to discuss the state of robotaxi startups in China and their relationships with local governments in the country.

They also talked about overseas expansion — a common trajectory for China’s top autonomous vehicle startups — and shed light on the challenges and opportunities for foreign AV companies eyeing the massive Chinese market.

The air taxi market prepares to take flight

Image Credits: Bryce Durbin

“As in any disruptive industry, the forecast may be cloudier than the rosy picture painted by passionate founders and investors,” Aria Alamalhodaei writes. “A quick peek at comments and posts on LinkedIn reveals squabbles among industry insiders and analysts about when this emerging technology will truly take off and which companies will come out ahead.”

But while some electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) companies have no revenue yet to speak of — and may not for the foreseeable future — valuations are skyrocketing.

“Electric air mobility is gaining elevation,” she writes. “But there’s going to be some turbulence ahead.”

The demise of browser cookies could create a Golden Age of digital marketing

Though some may say the doomsday clock is ticking toward catastrophe for digital marketing, Apple’s iOS 14.5 update, which does away with automatic opt-ins for data collection, and Google’s plan to phase out third-party cookies do not signal a death knell for digital advertisers.

“With a few changes to short-term strategy — and a longer-term plan that takes into account the fact that people are awakening to the value of their online data — advertisers can form a new type of relationship with consumers,” Permission.io CTO Hunter Jensen writes in a guest column. “It can be built upon trust and open exchange of value.”

If offered the right incentives, Jensen predicts, “consumers will happily consent to data collection because advertisers will be offering them something they value in return.”

How autonomous delivery startups are navigating policy, partnerships and post-pandemic operations

Nuro second gen R2 delivery vehicle

Image Credits: Nuro

We kicked off this year’s TC Sessions: Mobility with a talk featuring three leading players in the field of autonomous delivery. Gatik co-founder and chief engineer Apeksha Kumavat, Nuro head of operations Amy Jones Satrom, and Starship Technologies co-founder and CTO Ahti Heinla joined us to discuss their companies’ unique approaches to the category.

The trio discussed government regulation on autonomous driving, partnerships with big corporations like Walmart and Domino’s, and the ongoing impact the pandemic has had on interest in the space.

Waabi’s Raquel Urtasun explains why it was the right time to launch an AV technology startup

Image Credits: Waabi via Natalia Dola

Raquel Urtasun, the former chief scientist at Uber ATG, is the founder and CEO of Waabi, an autonomous vehicle startup that came out of stealth mode last week. The Toronto-based company, which will focus on trucking, raised an impressive $83.5 million in a Series A round led by Khosla Ventures.

Urtasun joined Mobility 2021 to talk about her new venture, the challenges facing the self-driving vehicle industry and how her approach to AI can be used to advance the commercialization of AVs.

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Spread & Containment

How to create effective, engaged workplace teams after the COVID-19 pandemic

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

For workplace teams returning to the office post-pandemic, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences. (Pixabay)

Well into the pandemic’s second year, we are beginning to see light on the horizon. We’re not out of the woods here in Canada. As some areas of the country continue to struggle to contain the virus, others are optimistic due to lowering case counts thanks to restrictions and lockdown measures.

Ontario — the country’s largest province by population — is now in the first step of its reopening, and officials have said the majority of those who want to receive a vaccine could be fully immunized by the end of the summer.

The rolling lockdowns and public health restrictions of the pandemic response meant a massive shift to remote and virtual work for many workplaces. As we look towards and plan for the post-pandemic future, businesses and organizations need to thoughtfully consider what the future of work looks like for them.

They will need to reflect on their operations pre-pandemic, consider what they learned from the disruption of the crisis, and ask themselves: How can we build back better?

Structure shift

Recent decades have seen a shift in the structure of businesses and organizations, away from hierarchical models in favour of cross-functional and, at times, self-managing networks of teams. In fact, a 2016 survey found the majority of large corporations rely on interdisciplinary and cross-functional teams. In 2019, 31 per cent of respondents said that most or almost all work is performed in teams.

For many of these organizations, the pandemic saw these teams transition from in-person work to remote interactions via video-conferencing services like Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Skype.

Many appreciated the comfort and autonomy inherent in working from home, but the erosion of work-life balance and social interaction has caused challenges.

As we come out of the pandemic, workplace teams will need an environment that retains the experience of autonomy while also providing a sense of belonging. Employees should be free to decide where they want to work and when they want to work whenever possible. But we must also address the negative impact of isolation — loneliness, fatigue or even depression, all of which have been frequently reported during the pandemic.

Five women at a desk have a conversation.
Effective workplace teams will be critical to building back better. (Piqsels)

Research on workplace teams finds that autonomy can in fact co-exist with a sense of belonging and cohesion. For this to be achieved, organizations need to find a balance, and need to organize teams according to these structural considerations:

• Teams have a strong leader, or they can feature shared leadership.

• Teams have clearly defined task interdependencies and interfaces among team members, or team members can perform their work largely in isolation.

• Teams have the same goals and rewards for all members, or they can offer individualized goals and rewards.

• Teams communicate virtually, or they can communicate so face-to-face.

• Teams have a shared history and aspirations, or they operate for a limited time, after which they disband.

A strong leader, alongside clearly defined task interdependencies, focuses on the team as a whole, whereas virtual teamwork and individual rewards emphasize the individual team member.

Combining features of teamwork that promote autonomy with other features that foster cohesiveness and a sense of belonging is likely the best path forward.

Emphasize shared goals

As long as employees continue to operate in a virtual setting, it’s important for leaders to define shared goals and rewards. Teams must share a vision of the future that complements the larger degree of autonomy they’ve experienced through virtual teamwork.

Focusing on elements of teamwork that bring team members closer together should not be left to chance. As some organizations learned during the pandemic, scheduling social hours can replace the spontaneous conversations at the water cooler. A book club can replace the informal learning over a lunch chat. A fireside Zoom chat on company values and goals can replace an in-person town hall.

But post-pandemic, few organizations will maintain an all-virtual presence. Many will move towards a hybrid model. For those teams returning to the office, it will still be important to protect the benefits of remote work: uninterrupted time for strategically important projects, and respect for personal preferences.

The pandemic has also almost eliminated a troublesome feature of organizational life: presenteeism, or showing up to work when sick. We must not go backwards in this regard. Workers must protect themselves and their team members from the consequences of illness.

Post-pandemic, the world of work will probably never be the same again. And that’s probably a good thing. We now have an opportunity to make it better.

Matthias Spitzmuller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Economics

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world’s biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU’s COVID recovery fund, expected.

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EU Bars 10 Megabanks From Recovery Bond Sale Over Previous Market Manipulation

In an unexpected move, the European Union has decided to shut out some of the world's biggest banks from sales of bonds for the EU's COVID recovery fund, expected to be the largest supranational bond offering yet.

According to the FT, the EU excluded 10 banks - including JPMorgan, Citigroup, Bank of America and Barclays - from running bond sales as part of its €800 billion ($968.5 billion) recovery fund due to what the FT described as "historic breaches of antitrust rules". Specifically, the EU is seeking to punish the banks for their roles in the series of market-rigging scandals (which infamously started with rigging of the Libor before investigators moved on to currency and fixed income markets) that broke early in the last decade. The move is especially bold because many of the banks being shut out of the deal are some of the world's biggest players in international debt markets.

In other words, simply by shutting them out of this massive deal, the EU could shake up the league tables as the banks that win its business will undoubtedly be handsomely rewarded for their work. The borrowing spree - Brussels' biggest-ever - will begin Tuesday with the sale of a new 10-year eurobond to fund the NextGenerationEU pandemic program. 7 of the 10 banks excluded are among the biggest sellers' of European debt. Before they will be allowed to sell the bonds, the EU wants them to demonstrate that they have "taken remedial measures" to prevent this from happening again.

In other words, Brussels is serious about preventing banks from stuffing their pockets with public money.

Banks found to have breached EU competition rules “will not be invited to tender for individual syndicated transactions”, said a spokesman for the European Commission, which handles debt issuance on behalf of the EU. “The Commission implements a strict approach to ensuring that the entities with whom it works are fit to be a counterparty of the EU."

Banks found guilty of antitrust breaches will be required to show they have taken “remedial measures” to prevent them happening again before they will be allowed to bid for syndications, the spokesman added.

Bank of America, Natixis, Nomura, NatWest and UniCredit have been prevented from taking part due to a Commission antitrust ruling last month that they participated in a bond trading cartel during the eurozone debt crisis a decade ago.

Citigroup, JPMorgan and Barclays — in addition to NatWest — have also been barred due to a finding two years ago that they were involved in manipulating currency markets between 2007 and 2013, people familiar with the matter said. Deutsche Bank and Crédit Agricole are also excluded due to an April ruling that they were involved in a different bond trading cartel, the people said. All the banks declined to comment.

Despite this, Reuters reported earlier (citing a senior banker in charge of the deal) that the EU's first offering of €20 billion ($24.3 billion) in bonds was heavily oversubscribed. The popularity isn't that surprising, considering that Triple-A rated debt in the region can be hard to come by (since the ECB owns much of the market). And the EU bonds feature a slight yield premium to German bunds. Investors placed upwards of €140 billion in orders for the €20 billion of debt, according to bankers who spoke to Reuters.

The new EU bond, due July 4 2031, will price 2 basis points below the mid-swap rate, according to the lead manager. That is equivalent to a yield of around 0.06%, according to Reuters calculations, down from around one basis point over the mid-swap level when the sale started on Monday.

Since October, the EU has already issued 90 billion euros to help finance its unemployment support program SURE.

The EU is managing these bond sales like a national debt offering, which is appropriate since they will likely transform the bloc into the world’s biggest supranational debt issuer.

All ten banks are among the 39 approved "primary dealers" which have a responsibility to bid for bonds during government auctions. One anonymous source told the FT that the EU's decision to bar the top dealers could create unnecessary complications for the sales. "There’s a delicate equilibrium in the relationship between issuers and primary dealers, and this risks upsetting that,”" said a senior banker at one of the lenders barred from syndicated deals. "These issues they are bringing up are from a long time ago, and they have been settled."

The banks working on Tuesday’s inaugural recovery fund bond are BNP Paribas, DZ Bank, HSBC, Intesa Sanpaolo, Morgan Stanley, Danske Bank and Santander.

The EU is expected to sell two more syndicated bonds by the end of July.

Tyler Durden Tue, 06/15/2021 - 09:49

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