Posts tagged ‘Mubarak’

Spreading the Seeds of Democracy

Excerpt from Free March Sidoxia Monthly Newsletter (Subscribe on right-side of page)

As we bathe ourselves in petroleum products, it is moments like these that highlight our deeply engrained addiction to oil. The flames of fundamental human rights, freedom, and democracy are spreading like wildfire throughout the Middle East and North Africa, and as a result, the cost of living and doing business has gone up. What started as a random plea by a Tunisian fruit merchant in response to insidious corruption (26 year old Mohammed Bouazizi burned himself to death in revolt to continuous crooked government bribes) has resulted in a broad wave of protesters removing two authoritarian, autocratic Arab leaders. Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak and Tunisian President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali have been swiftly cast out by energized protesters, and other repressive leaders are likely bound to topple as well.

Who’s next and when? You’ll have to stay tuned, but Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, the Libyan leader, is on the short list. Leaders in Yemen, Bahrain, Jordan, and Algeria are among the other countries that are feeling the heat too. Even though Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, and other aforementioned countries remain relative oil lightweights, fear over a political contagion spreading to more substantive countries like Saudi Arabia has gotten speculators frothing at the mouth, which pushed oil prices above $100 per barrel and gasoline prices to an average of $3.37 per gallon (about $3.60 in California according to AAA motor club).

Source: FT.com - The U.S. population is a fraction of the size of China and India, but we continue guzzling dramatically more crude.

While the bloodshed on the streets has created fodder for great sensationalist headlines for the media outlets, the fact of the matter is that the spread of democracy is nothing new, and the innate desire for basic human rights has never died. Going back to 1900 the world housed about 10 practicing democracies, and today there are arguably more than 100 democratic (and quasi-democratic) countries (see blue line in chart below).

Source: The Financial Times.com

In the U.S., our standard of living has exploded for more than a generation. The internet – and applications like Facebook and Twitter – have flattened the planet and connected the rest of the world to the pleasures available to free, transparent, and open societies. As we have experienced firsthand in Iraq, however, regime changes and moves towards democracy can be messy and costly. Ultimately, the native populations must spearhead the drive toward democratic, political change. Regime change solely rammed through by the U.S. will only create temporary change, and with our fiscal wallets empty, we frankly cannot afford it (see Global Babysitter­).

Embracing Alternatives

We didn’t run out of stones in the Stone Age, and we did not run out of steel in the Industrial Revolution. When it comes to oil, the same principle applies. As globalization accelerates the expansion of democratic, emerging middle classes around the world, other oil-rich countries, like Saudi Arabia, understand the havoc that $100-$125 dollar a barrel has on demand destruction. Just like a drug dealer does not want to scare its addicted users, so too oil producers do not want to price consumers out of the market with high prices. Oil may be the lubricant for global commerce, but unlike the empty promises offered by the Jimmy Carter era in the 1970s, technology advancements in the alternative energy industry have reached critical mass. If you don’t believe me, just take a gander at the $17 billion the Chinese are pouring into electric vehicle technology (see Electrifying Profits), or the 20% total energy mandate from renewable sources being instituted in Europe by 2020. Even if we choose to watch from the sidelines and pick our noses, our foreign competitors will wave with delight as they embrace alternative energy resources and race past us. Even if political turmoil temporarily worsens in the Middle East, any additional oil price increases will only make alternative energy resources more economical, and thereby accelerate adoption and make disciples of alternative energy less dependent on some of these oil-rich, corrupt regimes.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

March 1, 2011 at 3:49 am 2 comments

Foreign Frights & Debt Doubts

Excerpts from Sidoxia monthly newsletter (Subscribe on right side of page)

Over the last few years the globalized nature of the financial crisis has forced a diverse set of world leaders to deal with obscure international flare-ups in countries ranging from Iceland to Dubai, and Greece to Tunisia. The crisis du jour is the popular revolt in Egypt against 30-year president Hosni Mubarak and his autocratic, authoritarian government. The situation for the U.S. becomes a little sticky because Egypt, although creating a GDP (Gross Domestic Product) of less than the state of Illinois, is still the largest Arab country by population (approximately 82 million – even larger than Iran); a staunch ally with the U.S. in keeping peace with Israel; has contributed important intelligence to our country’s war on terror; and has been a responsible partner in controlling commerce through the all-important Suez Canal. The problem with Egypt and Mubarak’s regime is that the Egyptian economy is in relative shambles (they do not have oil reserves like their neighbors), unemployment is through the roof, and the government has been slow to push democratic advancements forward for the Egyptian people.

As emerging market “haves” increasingly join the ranks of the middle class, the people representing the “have-nots” of Yemen, Jordan, Algeria, Tunisia, Egypt, and others are thirsting for a cocktail of democracy and a higher standard of living, like some of their wealthier neighbors. These autocratic, authoritarian regimes can do their best to slow or delay the democratizations of their countries, but they cannot put the genie back in the bottle. Information is flowing faster than ever, and societies previously kept in the dark are now seeing the light of democracy.

Like any volatile government situation, there are threats and opportunities, depending on whether Mubarak stays in power, and if not, the nature of the new leadership. If an extremist government fills the leadership void, the U.S. may wish to rewind the clock and put the slow-moving reformist, Mubarak, back in power.

The short-term impact of the popular revolt may create additional volatility in the markets, but in the long-run, if the turmoil introduces more open, transparent, less corrupt, and democratic ideals to the new agenda, then the world will become a better place.

Bitter Debt Pill Tough to Swallow

 

There is never a shortage of issues to worry about, and from an economic standpoint, the suffocating amount of debt our country is dealing with is at the top of the concern list. The 2008-2009 financial crisis hole that we are still climbing our way out of is a friendly reminder of what happens to countries adopting irresponsible fiscal policies. The choking amount of debt the U.S. is swallowing remains a central issue for the current administration and will be a core topic to be debated through the 2012 Presidential election cycle.

How serious is the issue? The problem is serious enough the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) just raised its budget deficit forecast for fiscal 2011 to hit a record $1.5 trillion (9.8% of GDP), a level higher than $1.3 trillion in fiscal 2010. The blame for the new record can be largely attributed to the recent extension of the $858 billion in Bush tax-cuts and other benefits/breaks.  Kicking the can down the road recently led Moody’s Investors Services of threatening the U.S. with a downgrade of its triple-A rated debt.

Source: The Peterson Institute

The President addressed some of our fiscal problems in his State of the Union Address recently (e.g., proposing a freeze on discretionary spending), but the rubber really hits the road when he comes out with his budget proposal later this month. How serious is he about reducing our hemorrhaging deficits? We’ll soon find out when the individual budget line-items are distributed for everyone to see. Shortly thereafter, around the end of March, the debt ceiling impasse will become a game of political “chicken.” Each side, Democrats and Republicans, will attempt to withdraw concessions from the other party, in exchange for a vote that will prevent a disastrous default of our government’s debt payments. Basically, our government is effectively looking to expand its credit card credit line, because our government credit limit is maxed out.

The situation isn’t hopeless if our politicians can show leadership by making difficult, unpopular fiscal decisions, but if America ignores our painful debt problems and does not take its bitter medicine, then prepare for an economy on the verge of keeling over.

Wade W. Slome, CFA, CFP® 

Plan. Invest. Prosper. 

www.Sidoxia.com

DISCLOSURE: Sidoxia Capital Management (SCM) and some of its clients own certain exchange traded funds, but at the time of publishing SCM had no direct position in any other security referenced in this article. No information accessed through the Investing Caffeine (IC) website constitutes investment, financial, legal, tax or other advice nor is to be relied on in making an investment or other decision. Please read disclosure language on IC “Contact” page.

February 2, 2011 at 1:07 am 2 comments


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