Monday, July 27, 2009

Like a self-fulfilling prophecy

Well I told you it would happen; last Thursday the Bank of Canada announced the end of the recession, at least in Canada. Well I told you it would happen; last Thursday the Bank of Canada announced the end of the recession, at least in Canada. Immediately the naysayers leaped out of the woods. The VP of Export Development Canada forecasted more bad news in the second quarter will lead to further contraction in the world's largest economies. The Chief Economist for the Canadian Manufacturers and Exporters thinks the Bank of Canada forecast is optimistic since he is not seeing any sustainable recovery in customer orders. On the other hand, the vice-chairman of Deloite Canada cautioned that there is a time lag before any recovery makes an impact.

I especially liked the retort from the Export Development Canada guy who draws an analogy with an earthquake, saying there is relief when it is over but dealing with the resulting devastation is another thing.

Our Canadian cousins are terrific people, typically optimistic in a sunny personality way. Ready to find good wherever and not prone to controversy. Quite the opposite from us on the other side of the border who tend to be outspoken and hardly reticent on issues.

So thanks Bank of Canada, you made my weekend with your upbeat but cautious assessment of the situation in manufacturing in Canada. I know that yours is just one voice but you made the headlines and I am sure those that read them smiled, at least for a while.

Here's a smattering of last Friday's headlines.

Ford navigates path to profitability
Hyundai earnings climb 48%
Airlines report some sign of stabilizing
Defense firms call business solid
Stock recaptures 9000 on profit surprise
Microchip companies sinking billions into US factories
VW gains ground in the first half

Hello out there; is there something going on? Could it be the bottom has been reached? Yeah, yeah, I know there was plenty of bad news too, but the good news was really good and it made for a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Will we recognize the future manufacturing industry?

What happened? Did I wake up from one nightmare to find I was living another? What happened? Did I wake up from one nightmare to find I was living another? Coping with the current recession is enough of a problem, now I am supposed to look beyond to the recovery to see what shape the industry will take?

What will the post-recovery world of manufacturing look like? Notice I'm still wearing rose-colored glasses, believing that global recovery will start in 2010, regardless of what the pundits and now our leaders are telling us. Not to deviate from this stream of consciousness, but I have read comments from a few writers who know the manufacturing economy and they speculate that the recovery rate could be steeper than generally being projected. Now that's a thought to hold on to.

What got me thinking about the post-recovery landscape in the manufacturing sector was the translation of a very well-written Spiegel International Online article by Alexander Jung titled "Germany's Export Champions Slammed by Economic Crisis." In this the writer paints a bleak picture for industry in Germany's Musterlaendle. What could have been another litany of company woes, and is, actually, really has a more compelling message--how will these companies cope with a changing world brought on by the global recession. Traditional export markets, the strength of the German companies referenced, may be challenged by new competitors who used the recession to position themselves for the "new" markets. My read on the writer's view is that political, economic, and social effects of this downturn taken together will possibly be seismic.

Only one writer's view, but enough to get me thinking about the near future and what a recovery period will bring. It seems to me that forward-thinking companies who are able to gut out this recession, who leaned down to the bare bones, who have not cut product development funds but have invested in them, who have sustained their market presence and visibility, who have used this terrible economic climate to better measure their customers' future needs, will be the survivors. That's right; I use the word survivors because it’s been that brutal to do business this past year. I know because I'm not just an observer, I'm one of you.

We can look no further than Detroit where mighty General Motors has been brought to its knees in part by their misunderstanding of their markets. Gone are the badges of Pontiac, Saturn, Saab, and Hummer. Gone, perhaps forever, will be the arrogant GM buyers who had the power to make or break vendors. Now they must go, hat-in-hand, to their vendors who are asking for up-front payment terms that would have been laughable two years ago.

Paraphrasing Charles E. Wilson, the CEO of General Motors 55 years ago, "What's good for GM is good for the country." "Engine Charlie" must be turning in his grave as he sees his beloved company humbled, shamed, and vilified by the media. In 1953 he was arguably more powerful than President Eisenhower. Now his company is forced to go begging in Washington to a new President who wasn't even born when he uttered that famous phrase. My how the times have changed.

Lesson learned; be careful, it might take a half century for you to have to eat your words.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Brother, can you spare a smile

I'd rather not be writing this but I've just about had it up to here with this media blitz on the U.S. unemployment figure. I'd rather not be writing this but I've just about had it up to here with this media blitz on the U.S. unemployment figure. Today the specter of 13% was raised on the morning network news. What is with these fear mongers? If you live in an industrialized nation, especially the U.S., you know things are bad. And if you don't know someone who is unemployed then you probably shouldn't be reading this blog.

I realize that certain media personalities are having a field day with the persistent negative news and I think I know why, insecurity. Problem is they and other naysayers just don't want to give the stimulus a chance. It was not intended to be a panacea for all the economic woes being experienced, but it did serve to stifle the bad news for a while and some good has come of it, especially if you work in the stock market, among the first beneficiaries of the stimulus along with banks and other financial companies. I've said all along that it’s not a recession until it hits Wall Street, then look out.

My focus is on the manufacturing sector and I can say, with fingers crossed, the bleeding has at least been staunched. Not over by a long shot, even though the ever-moving horizon for the turnaround seems to be in sight. But every time I see some good news it is offset by some media hound trumpeting the lack of results from the quick stimulus package.

For what purpose, I ask. Do they, and their ilk, want the U.S. to flounder for another year? Do they want the economy to dip again just for the sake of embarrassing a sitting president? Are they so upset by the actions of a popular president that they would see a rising unemployment rate as a bolt of lightning from above? Weren’t they happy with a recession, preferring a depression instead?

I hesitate to say this but last week's media blitz on Michael Jackson was to some degree a relief as it drove the naysayers off my Internet home page and the evening network news.

Even the sage of Omaha, Warren Buffet, came across as on old curmudgeon last week as he tut-tutted the administration, opining that the recession was far from over. Thanks Warren, you did your country a great service by speaking out. You're so smart you only lost a few billion last year.

I'm not a Pollyanna clone. I know things are bad; I need look no further than the industry I work in where publications are feeling pain never experienced before. But I don't need to be reminded about this every minute of every day. Give it a rest folks. Say something nice to the next unemployed person you meet. Give him or her a smile, a pat on the back, and maybe a piece of good news – however small. They will feel better and so will you, if only for a short while.

And here's a postscript for you Mr. President. With all due respect, you might want to listen more to the millions of unemployed here in the U.S. than to the entreaties of Wall Street. I don't speak for them but it does seem to me the jobless are getting restless waiting for the stimulus to trickle down. Watching green shoots growing is an OK way to spend a hot summer afternoon but unless these turn to food quickly they are not helping to put nourishment on the table. Put simply, Mr. President, act to get people back to work now and a lot of your critics will have their arguments tempered.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Hazy, lazy days of summer

I'm not one of those bloggers who think the world can't live without their (daily, weekly) postings I'm not one of those bloggers who think the world can't live without their (daily, weekly) postings; therefore when I take a vacation I actually take a vacation--thus, no new blog last week.

Three weeks ago I posited that the end of this record recession might be coming into view, and I still believe that, because the economy related news in the last month--even though spotty--has been more positive than negative. Most of the experts with solid credentials cautioned that there will be bumps along the road to recovery. Turns out they were right on this one, as the refrain heard and read today is "at least the news (today or this week) is not as bad as last." Example, the increase in the June U.S. unemployment rate while up, was - on a monthly basis - less than that in May. Reminds me a little of that classic line "Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how did you enjoy the play."

The DABometer still leans in the positive direction but I notice that it seems to quiver on certain days, with the news of the closing of one laser and system supplier and the bankruptcy filing of another. Mind you, both of these will likely be resolved and the businesses will go on, probably in a different way, but the news raises some concerns. Thus the vibration in the meter reading on the days of these announcements.

The news media, always hungry for headlines, has latched onto the unemployment numbers, raising the question of where all the jobs are that the current administration promised would result from the stimulus package. I'm wondering if these media professionals have had an original thought lately as they all seem to be echoing the same ideas. Much as I loathe saying it, thank heaven for Michael Jackson; the media's obsession with his death has blown the economy off the front pages. Even the starchy Wall Street Journal gives this story page space.

What is needed now is positive news from the manufacturing sector that has some depth to it. Not just bailouts and beneficial bankruptcies, but a rash of news about hirings, contract awards, and sales increases. The ILS Slivers of Light campaign has hit a dry spell; we haven't received worthwhile news items for several weeks now. Chalk it up to the summer weather if you will, which typically spawns a drought in company news, good and bad, as vacations thin out the ranks of newsmakers.

On another note, the award for interesting timing goes to a leading laser manufacturer who announced the resignation of their vice-president of research and development after the stock market closed for the long holiday weekend. It was totally ignored on Monday morning, rightfully so because there were no details available. But where were all those Blackberry toting journalists and market analysts on Friday? Sitting on a beach somewhere, blogging and twittering about Michael, I guess.