Case Study on Shifting Production Out of China

January 15, 2020

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/202001140706RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KBN1ZD1FV-OUSBS_1

The above-linked article provides an interesting example of a small company trying to move production out of China to avoid the tariffs.  This is a low volume, niche bicycle company.  Some of the points made in the article merit comment:

After months of research and several trips, a small Taiwanese factory agreed to make his bikes but he had to triple orders and pay 30% of the cost of goods up front, unlike in China where he paid upon delivery.

The new terms locked up as much as $1 million of working capital until the bikes were shipped and required a new credit line. After a year of toil, State Bicycle managed to shift production of only two of its five models which are sold in the United States.

Let’s step back and take a look at this situation.  Bear in mind, we’re talking about bicycles here.  Bicycles are not terribly sophisticated nor difficult to make.  The biggest components – the frame and the handlebars – are nothing more than bent and welded tubing.  Tools to bend and weld tubing are readily available at low cost right here in the U.S.  Beyond that, we’re talking about rims, hubs, spokes, sprockets, bearings, axles, chain, a seat, tires and little else.  The million dollars of working capital and the money spent on those trips to Taiwan could have easily purchased the tooling to make those parts right here.  How much sense did it make to spend months of globe-trotting like a chicken with your head cut off, and all that money?

In a move to help bicycle companies, the Trump administration has been granting tariff exclusions to some of their imports since September. The relief, however, is only for a year and is meant to give them more time to move production – ideally to the United States.

Therein lies a big part of the problem.  Companies believe the tariffs won’t hold and can just wait them out.  Eat the tariffs for a year or so and avoid the cost of moving production.  Trump’s use of tariffs has been far too timid and too narrowly focused on China.  Why only focus on China when, in per capita terms, other countries’ trade surpluses with the U.S. are much larger?

Don DiCostanzo, chief executive officer of Pedego Electric Bikes https://www.pedegoelectricbikes.com in California, said higher labor costs and the absence of a viable supply base have made it “virtually impossible” to assemble bikes in the United States.

Seriously?!?!?  Again, we’re talking about bicycles here.  We build cars, trucks and airplanes in the U.S.  Are we to believe that the simple parts I’ve listed above can’t be sourced in the U.S.?  Most any half-competent machine shop, of which there are thousands in the U.S., could quickly produce those parts.  With a little effort, Pedego could set up shop and make them themselves.  Yes, labor costs would be a little higher, but not that much, and they’d be offset by far lower shipping costs.

In the 1970s, the United States assembled more than 15 million bicycles a year. Now it makes fewer than 500,000, according to industry data presented to the United States Trade Representative (USTR) in 2018. By contrast, China made about 95% of the 17 million bikes sold in 2018, U.S. Census data showed.

OK, wait a minute.  This paragraph just refuted the whole premise of this article – that there’s no supplier base and labor costs are too high to build bicycles in the U.S.  Now we learn that somebody is actually building a half million of them in the U.S.  Obviously there actually are sources available for the parts and bikes can be built and sold here at a profit.

Pedego Electric Bikes said it didn’t have any difficulty finding a factory in Vietnam because it was among the first companies to move there. But it faced other challenges.

It had to bring in workers from China to train local staff. Batteries had to be sourced from Japan or Korea and tires from Malaysia. “We had to set up the supply chain,” DiCostanzo said. “That was perhaps the most frustrating part.”

They had to bring workers in from China to train the Vietnamese?  Why didn’t Pedego train them themselves?  It’s likely because Pedego laid off everyone in the company who actually knew how to manufacture bicycles when they moved to China in the first place.  Personally, I’d be ashamed to market bicycles that I didn’t even know how to make.  Nor would I want to buy one from a company who knew so little about their own product.

“It is very difficult to get out of China,” said Alex Logemann at U.S. industry association PeopleForBikes https://peopleforbikes.org.

Baloney.  They had no problem getting into China when it was an undeveloped backwater of rice farmers and little else.  Getting setting up somewhere else, especially in the U.S., should be far easier.

By the way, I own two bicycles myself – both of them Schwinn.  The oldest, a Schwinn Continental that I bought in 1971, is a beautiful bike that was built in the U.S.  While somewhat crude by today’s standards, it was one of the finest bikes you could buy back then and it’s my favorite.  The newer one I received as a gift and it’s a nice bike, but it saddened me when I learned that it was built overseas.

When I first read this article, I was rooting for these companies to figure out a way to set up shop in the U.S.  I think I’ve changed my mind.  Frankly, I hope they all fail, making it that much easier for those companies who are currently building those half million American-made bikes to flourish and grow.  Nearly every bike sold in the U.S. was American-made at one time.  It could be that way again.

 


November Trade Report Best in Two Years

January 11, 2020

https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2020-01/trad1119.pdf

… or three years, depending on how you look at it.  In terms of the overall trade deficit, it was the lowest since October of 2016.  More importantly, the deficit in manufactured goods, at $63.2 billion, was the lowest since September of 2017 – good news, but that’s still a horrible deficit.  (A link to November’s report is attached above.)  Check out this chart of the balance of trade in manufactured goods:  Manf’d Goods Balance of Trade.

The drop in the deficit is due entirely to a decline in imports.  (Exports remain flat.)  Most notably, the deficit with China shrank to $26.4 billion, the lowest reading since March, and down from $37.9 billion during the same month in 2018 – a 30% drop.  This is solid evidence that the tariffs on China are having the desired effect.

In related news, this Reuters article reports that tariffs – primarily the tariffs on China – have cost U.S. companies $46 billion.  That’s actually good news.  It means that they’re “eating” the cost of the tariffs and not passing it on to consumers.  It also means that U.S. companies are evaluating what to do about it.  Should they keep their manufacturing in China in the hopes of waiting out the “trade war” for the tariffs to come down?  Or do they begin implementing plans to shift manufacturing to other locations?  If they choose the latter, do they move operations to some other country and risk facing tariffs there too?  Or do they bite the bullet and move operations back to the U.S.?  If the U.S. is serious about cutting its trade deficit, it has to remain committed to tariffs and implementing them on a much broader scale.  If they do, moving manufacturing back to the U.S.  is the only logical choice for U.S. companies.  Adapt or just keep “eating” those billions of dollars.


Another Phony Story about “Trade War” Woes for Farmers

January 8, 2020

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-agriculture-insight/u-s-farmers-see-another-bleak-year-despite-phase-1-trade-deal-idUSKBN1Z20CK

This above-linked article about suffering on American farms caused by Trump’s “trade war” with China was posted on Reuters last week.  I’ve been sitting on it, waiting for the latest trade data (which was posted yesterday by the Commerce Department) to refute the claims in the article.  This seems to have become a favorite tactic of the globalist media – trying to get Americans – especially farmers, a key component of Trump’s base of support – up in arms over the tariffs he imposed on China.  The article leads you to believe that American farmers had a horrible year, thanks to China retaliating against the tariffs by stopping their purchases of American agriculture products – most notably soy beans.  Here’s some samplings from the article:

… U.S. farmers are stuck with fields full of weather-damaged corn – a crop they planted after the U.S.-China trade war killed their soybean market.

As the U.S. farm economy reels from the worst harvest in decades after nearly two years of the trade war, U.S. grain growers are struggling to decide what crops might keep them in business.

China has … deepened ties with rival exporters such as Brazil and Argentina. Brazilian soy cultivation is expanding after record exports to China in the past year and China is investing in South American ports.

The article makes no mention of the fact that European nations have now turned toward the U.S. for their supplies, having been displaced from the South American market.

Many U.S. farmers have tried shifting crops to dodge the economic fallout from losing such a crucial export market. They planted 76.5 million acres of soybeans in 2019, 14.3% fewer than the previous year, according to the latest U.S. Department of Agriculture data. U.S. plantings of sorghum – used in livestock feed and the fiery Chinese liquor baijiu – dipped about 7.5% in 2019, to 5.3 million acres. Plantings of cotton have dropped, too, as China pulled back on purchases.

Come on, Reuters, isn’t the real reason that fewer acres were planted this year the fact that vast swathes of farmland were still under water in the early summer as a result of spring flooding?  I guess they want you to forget that factor.

“The agricultural system is completely broken” because of the trade war, severe weather and mounting farm debt, Hora (an Iowa farmer) said. “We have to farm smarter.”

The fact is that, in terms of exports, American farmers actually had a pretty good year.  According to the trade report released yesterday (see page 20), exports of “food, feeds and beverages” were actually up slightly year-to-date through November, rising to $123.998 billion in 2019 from $123.247 billion in 2018.  Soybean exports are up dramatically to $21.687 billion from $17.583 billion in 2018.  Other categories are up or down sightly with the exception of corn, which is down by $4.638 billion compared to last year.  (The Reuters article did note that severe weather had damaged a lot of the corn crop.)

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s a struggle to survive for farmers, even in the best of times, especially for small family farms that are being driven out of business primarily by big corporate farms.  But in spite of poor weather conditions, American farmers have actually had a pretty good year in terms of exports.  Yes, exports to China are down, but those have been offset by exports to other countries that had been sourcing from South America.  The people of the world still need to eat, and so do livestock, regardless of what’s happening with trade policy.

Pay no attention to these fake stories about the “trade war” hurting farmers.  The globalists are desperate to put a bad spin on tariff policy, especially as their other dire warnings about economic doom have been proven false.  The November trade report has even more good news about the impact of the tariffs.  I’ll post about that next.


“Phase 1” Trade Deal with China a Major Disappointment

December 17, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-usa-trade-china-details-factbox/whats-in-the-u-s-china-phase-one-trade-deal-idUSKBN1YH2IL

On Friday, the Trump administration announced that it had reached a “Phase 1” agreement with China that cancels a new round of tariffs that were to have taken effect Sunday, and rolls back some other tariffs, in exchange for … well, nothing really, except some empty promises by the Chinese.  (The above-linked article details what’s included in the deal.)  This is a huge disappointment.  It sends a message to manufacturers that waiting out the tariffs was the right move, as opposed to repatriating their manufacturing operations, and it’s now “business as usual” with China.

Trump clearly got suckered on this one.  China has a long history of reneging on their promises and this will be no different.  Actually, it’s worse than that.  Even if most of these promises are kept, it’ll have no impact on America’s economy.  Why?  Let’s go through the items in the deal as listed in the above-linked article, and see why.

China canceled its retaliatory tariffs due to take effect that same day, including a 25% tariff on U.S.-made autos.

China scarcely imports any U.S. autos anyway, and that’s not going to change regardless of whether or not they’ve placed tariffs on them.  China is awash in auto manufacturing capacity and isn’t about to put their auto workers out of business in order to import cars from the U.S.  So this concession is of zero value to the U.S.

U.S. officials say China agreed to increase purchases of American products and services by at least $200 billion over the next two years, with an expectation that the higher purchases will continue after that period.

Note that it’s “U.S. officials” making this claim.  China hasn’t actually agreed to this and they would never do it.  They have no capacity to absorb such imports.  Mark my word, U.S. exports will scarcely rise at all in the next two years.

China has committed to increase purchases of U.S. agriculture products by $32 billion over two years. That would average an annual total of about $40 billion, compared to a baseline of $24 billion in 2017 before the trade war started. … China agreed to make its best efforts to increase its purchases by another $5 billion annually to get close $50 billion.

They might actually increase their imports of U.S. agriculture products some, but so what?  If they do, Europe will return to buying theirs from South America (where the Chinese have been sourcing theirs), so the increase in Chinese imports will be offset by a loss of other exports.  The impact on American farmers will be zilch.  Regarding that last statement, “China agreed to make its best efforts …”  That’s their way of saying they won’t.

China has committed to reduce non-tariff barriers to agricultural products such as poultry, seafood and feed additives as well as approval of biotechnology products.

For the reasons I just stated, this commitment is meaningless.  Shifting American exports from other markets to the Chinese market accomplishes nothing.

The deal includes stronger Chinese legal protections for patents, trademarks, copyrights, including improved criminal and civil procedures to combat online infringement, pirated and counterfeit goods.

The deal contains commitments by China to follow through on previous pledges to eliminate any pressure for foreign companies to transfer technology to Chinese firms as a condition of market access, licensing or administrative approvals and to eliminate any government advantages for such transfers.

China also agreed to refrain from directly supporting outbound investment aimed at acquiring foreign technology to meet its industrial plans — transactions already restricted by stronger U.S. security reviews.

They’ve agreed to these same things many times in the past.  When it doesn’t happen and an American company complains, China will brush it off as an isolated incident that they’re addressing.

The currency agreement contains pledges by China to refrain from competitive currency devaluations and to not target its exchange rate for a trade advantage — language that China has accepted for years as part of its commitments to the Group of 20 major economies.

So here’s another agreement that the Reuters article correctly identifies as nothing new.  Besides, as I’ve explained many times in other posts, currency values have absolutely nothing to do with trade imbalances.

Under dispute resolution is an arrangement allowing parties to resolve differences over how the deal is implemented through bilateral consultations, starting at the working level and escalating to top-level officials. If these consultations do not resolve disputes, there is a process for imposing tariffs or other penalties.

I’m sure the Chinese love this one.  “Dispute resolution” is something they’ve used for decades to forestall any meaningful retaliation when they violate or fail to live up to their agreements.

U.S. officials said the deal includes improved access to China’s financial services market for U.S. companies, including in banking, insurance, securities and credit rating services.

When China was given “most favored nation” trading status by Clinton in the late ’90s, it was clear that the manufacturing factor sector of our economy was about to be destroyed.  The free trade globalists promised that America would be transformed into a services powerhouse economy.  It never happened.  Such services are nothing more than computer transactions and create few jobs.  The inclusion of a promise of more access to the Chinese economy would mean virtually nothing to the American economy, even if it did happen, which it likely will not.

All of the emphasis in this trade deal is on exports to China, with no emphasis on the reduction of imports.  It’s as though Trump has taken a page from Obama’s playbook when Obama promised in 2010 to re-balance trade by doubling exports in five years.  How did that work out?  Five years later, exports of manufactured goods were up by only 9% – not even keeping pace with inflation, which means that exports actually fell.  By the time Obama left office, exports were even lower.  Obama’s failure to do anything meaningful to re-balance trade during his two-term tenure was a major factor in Trump’s victory over Hillary Clinton.

So that’s it.  Trump’s trade agenda has been not just stalled, but rolled back to some degree, for nothing more than promises that won’t be kept.  The emphasis on boosting farm exports is a blatant pandering to Trump’s electoral base.  It seems as though, with this trade deal, Trump believes that the U.S. will be better off if it returns to being an agrarian society.  If we were a country of 100 million people, like in the late 19th century, that might be true.  With a population of 330 million people, we can’t have a viable economy without an industrial base.  The de-industrialization of America has got to stop.  When dealing with a badly overpopulated nation like China, it’s impossible to export your way out of a trade deficit.  They have no capacity to boost their imports because their per capita consumption, emaciated by overcrowding, prohibits them from even absorbing their own domestic industrial capacity.

So what would a better deal look like?  No deal at all.  No overpopulated nation like China will ever deal away the manufacturing for export that is so vital to their economy, and wouldn’t comply with any deal that threatened it.  The only way to restore a balance of trade with China is to levy heavy tariffs to make their products noncompetitive with American-made goods.  If it ultimately leads to a cessation of trade with China altogether, the American economy would enjoy a $450 billion/year boost.  The American economy would actually be far better off if China fell off the map.

The Trump administration needs to stop seeing tariffs as negotiating leverage, and start seeing them as the only way to maintain a balance of trade.  Trump is frittering away his opportunity to truly “Make America Great Again,” something he can’t legitimately claim has happened until America is restored to the industrial powerhouse that it once was.

 

 

 


WTO Gutted by Trump Administration

December 11, 2019

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-trade-wto/u-s-trade-offensive-takes-out-wto-as-global-arbiter-idUSKBN1YE0YE

Here’s a perfect example of what I’m talking about when I say that the media slants its coverage of Trump, ignoring accomplishments and anything that puts the Trump administration in a positive light.  At the same time, it’s also an example of my complaint that Trump isn’t an effective communicator.

The above-linked article reports on one of the most significant milestones of the Trump administration.  As of yesterday, the World Trade Organization, or “WTO,” has been effectively gutted by the Trump administration’s blocking of appointments to its “Appellate Body,” rendering it unable to rule on trade disputes.

It’s impossible to overstate the significance of this milestone.  The WTO was founded in 1995, but its roots go back much further, to the signing of the Global Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (or “GATT”) in 1947.  Its mission has been to advance the cause of undeveloped and underdeveloped countries through the transfer of industry and wealth from the United States.  As a result, the U.S. has run a trade deficit every year since 1976, a deficit that set a new record in 2018, reached a cumulative total of over $16 trillion and is responsible for 80% of our national debt.  It has shifted millions of high-paying manufacturing jobs overseas and left many millions of Americans unable to afford health care or to save for retirement.  Decades of mush-headed presidents, Democrat and Republican alike, have stood idly by while “economists,” bought-and-paid-for by global corporations, assured them that such “free trade” was in our best interest.

Yesterday should have been celebrated like the end of a major war.  Yet there was little mention of it in the media and no mention of it by Trump, who should be credited with one of the biggest achievements by an American president in decades.  I was lucky to stumble across this article on Reuters where, only an hour later, it was gone from the their web site and I had to do a search to resurrect it.

No country should ever hand over its economy to any global organization that is dedicated to managing it in favor of other countries to its own detriment, but that’s exactly what the U.S. did.  As of yesterday, Trump has effectively put an end to it.


Tariffs Working. Trade Deficit and Unemployment Down in November.

December 7, 2019

As announced by the Commerce Department, the trade deficit fell again in October to $47.2 billion, the lowest since March of 2018.  And the all-important deficit in manufactured goods fell to $66.9 billion, the lowest level since June of 2018, and nearly $10 billion less than the record set one year ago.  Most notably, thanks to the tariffs enacted on Chinese imports, the deficit with that country fell to $31.3 billion.  Year-to-date, the deficit with China is $294.5 billion, down by over $50 billion from the same time last year.  This is proof positive that the tariffs enacted by the Trump administration are working.

What about the effect on America’s farmers?  Contrary to reports about how much they’ve been hurt by retaliation by the Chinese, overall exports of foods, feeds and beverages are actually up by $59 million year-to-date.  And soybean exports are up dramatically by $3.2 billion to $20.3 billion year-to-date.  See for yourself on page 20 of this report from the Commerce Department: https://www.bea.gov/system/files/2019-12/trad1019_2.pdf.   How can this be, when the media is constantly reporting that farmers are angry over lost exports due to Trump’s tariffs?  As in all occupations, some farmers are Republicans and some are Democrats.  Some are doing well, some not so well.  If you cherry-pick which farmers you want to listen to, you can build a narrative that makes it sound like the farming industry is being hurt by the tariffs.  The real data paints an entirely different picture.

Before I leave the subject of the trade report, it’s worth noting here that, year-to-date, imports of “automotive vehicles, parts and engines” stands at $316.7 billion (page 23 of the report), vs. exports of only $136 billion (page 21) – a deficit of nearly $180 billion for that one category of products alone.  The Trump administration has been threatening to levy a 25% tariff on all auto imports.  I can’t understand what in the world he’s waiting for!  Such a move would rapidly shift demand toward domestic makes in a big way.  The tariffs should be applied to Mexico as well.  If President Trump wants to get the new USMCA agreement with Mexico and Canada passed by Congress, who’s been sitting on it for over a year now, just tell them that the tariffs on Mexican imports will stay in place until USMCA is passed, and then watch how fast Congress moves!

The news on unemployment was just as good.  The economy added 266,000 jobs in November, and September and October were revised upward by 41,000 combined.  Here’s the report:  https://www.bls.gov/news.release/empsit.nr0.htm.  Unemployment fell to 3.5%.  And per capita employment held at 48%, it’s highest level in almost ten years.  Here’s a chart:  Per Capita Employment.

This is all great news and none of it would be happening without the U-turn on trade policy that the Trump administration made when it started levying tariffs.  We need more tariffs, applied to more countries that are running big surpluses with the U.S., until a balance of trade is restored.


A coming civil war? Is “Americanism,” or the lack thereof, driving us toward it?

December 5, 2019

https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/2019/12/04/modern-day-civil-war-in-united-states-how-americanism-can-save-us-column/4309670002/

I came across this above-linked opinion piece on the USA Today web site yesterday and just had to comment.  As the author observes, we’re beginning to hear an undercurrent of rumblings about the potential for another civil war in America.  I’ve heard and read reports of groups – motorcycle gangs and clubs and various militias – that are reportedly prepared to take up arms in the event that President Trump were to be impeached.  (Kudos to the author of this piece for his even-handedness in laying blame on both sides.)

Let me preface this by saying that I voted for Trump in 2016.  I did so on the basis of his promises to do something about our trade deficit and about illegal immigration, the two issues which I believe lie at the root of the ills that have beset our economy for decades.  I also voted for Obama in 2008 for the very same reason – his promise to reduce our trade imbalance – a promise not kept.

I’m not a particularly big fan of Trump.  He can be obnoxious and arrogant.  He’s not a great communicator.  But, after many decades of do-nothing presidents who stood idly by while the rising tide of “globalism” plundered our economy and while other countries played us for fools, I’m thrilled that we finally have a leader who’s willing to stand up and tell the world enough is enough and we won’t tolerate it any longer. He’s backed up his words with action, levying large tariffs on Chinese imports in spite of the tremendous pressure from the Chinese and the global business community not to do it.  Good for him.  I want to see more of it.

Does that make me a Republican?  Hardly.  The Republican party has traditionally been a big supporter of free trade – even more so than the Democrats – and staunchly opposed to the use of tariffs.  So what does that make me?  An American, one who, like million of others, was infused with the spirit of “Americanism” as I grew up, the very kind of “Americanism” the author of this piece describes when he says:

America once was, and hopefully still can be, a nation for the ambitious, hard-working, creative, productive, adventurous and entrepreneurial. That is the meaning of Americanism and the spirit of American liberty.

America once was all of that.  A few paragraphs earlier, the author stated, “If we are to avoid civil war, Americans must rediscover the principles and promise of American life that united us for over 200 years.”  Interesting that the author takes note of the 200-year milestone of our country.  That bicentennial happened in 1976.  Coincidentally, 1976 was the year that America’s trade balance swung from a small surplus to an ever-growing deficit.  2018 marked the 42nd annual trade deficit and was the largest in history.  2019 will be the 43rd.  While “the promise of American life” united us for over 200 years, it didn’t last much beyond that.

I entered the labor force in the private sector in 1974 and spent my entire working career watching “the promise of American life” steadily eroded by the forces of globalism, as global corporations turned their backs on Americans, licking their chops at the prospect of more and faster growth in the underdeveloped world – primarily in China.  I listened to the daily drumbeat about how Americans could no longer compete with foreign labor and watched our factories shut down as “made in the USA” products on store shelves were steadily displaced by those from China and Mexico.

By 2016 “the promise of American life” was gone, replaced by a dog-eat-dog existence of working minimum wage jobs while the severance packages and retirement savings were slowly exhausted.  Americans were seething with anger and ready to elect anyone who promised to do something about it.

Hillary Clinton blamed her loss to Trump on the E-mail investigation that was announced by James Comey in the final week before the election.  Baloney.  Americans didn’t care about her E-mails.  That story was already old news.  But three other things happened in that final week that set Americans on fire:  first, the Social Security administration announced that, for the 2nd year in a row, there would be no cost-of-living adjustment to social security benefits.  That was followed closely by an announcement from the Obama adminstration that “Obamacare” premiums were being jacked up by a third or more.  Finally, that announcement was followed the very next day by announcements of similar huge premium increases for private health insurance.

A “coming” civil war?!?!?  We’ve been in one for three years, and those events of the final week of the 2016 election campaign that I just described were the opening salvo, fired by globalists at the downtrodden American workers, accompanied by their battle cry, “The American Dream is dead!”  The election a week later was the return volley, fired by furious Americans whose sense of “Americanism” was reawakened.  If there was any doubt that a war was on, it was erased on January 20, 2017 when, during his inauguration speech, Trump swung a rhetorical battle-ax at the heads of globalism.

Globalism is in a full-blown panic.  They’ve done a masterful job of portraying Trump as a self-serving oligarch that threatens our very democracy.  The American media, owned and controlled almost lock, stock and barrel by foreign interests, has been relentless and unmerciful in their efforts to bring Trump down.

Will this war turn into an actual shooting war?  God, let’s hope not, but globalism won’t go down without a fight.  You can bet on that.  “Americanism?”  It’s alive and well, much to the chagrin of the globalists.