Chips and Geopolitics

Chips and Geopolitics This article by Ben Thompson may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section: First, while we learned in 2016 that technology was inseparable from domestic politics, the lesson in 2020 should be that technology is inseparable from geopolitics.


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20 May 2020


Video commentary for May 19th 2020


Eoin Treacy's view

 A link to today's video commentary is posted in the Subscriber';s Area. 

Some of the topics discussed include: silver and platinum starting to play catch up with gold. European indices remain weak, isolated strength in emerging markets, Wall Street susceptible to conslidation, oil at first area of resistance. 



Chips and Geopolitics

This article by Ben Thompson may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

First, while we learned in 2016 that technology was inseparable from domestic politics, the lesson in 2020 should be that technology is inseparable from geopolitics. It is chips that gave Silicon Valley its name, and everything about this chip decision is about geopolitics, not economics.

Second, at some point every tech company is going to have to make a choice between the U.S. and China. It is tempting to blame the tension between the two countries on Trump, but the truth is that China, particularly under Xi Jinping, has been significantly hardening its rhetoric and actions since before Trump was elected, and has been committed to not just catching but surpassing the U.S. in technology for years. There is a fundamental clash of values between the West and China, and it is clear that China is interested in exporting theirs. At some point everyone will be stuck in the middle, like TSMC, and Switzerland won’t be an option.

Third, Intel, much like Compaq, is an allegory for where the U.S. seems to have lost its way. Locked in an endless pursuit of efficiency and shareholder value, the U.S. gave up its flexibility and resiliency in favor of top-end performance. Intel is one of the most advanced chip makers in the world, but it turns out that capability is far too constrained to its own needs to be of general applicability. Worse, to the extent Intel was willing to become a contract manufacturer, it wanted the federal government to pay for it, the better to satisfy shareholders. The government, rightly, in my mind, chose an operator that was actually used to operating in the world as it is, not once was.

At the same time, TSMC’s justifiable carefulness in building a U.S. fab gives Intel an opportunity. Back in 2013, in one of the first Stratechery articles, I urged the company to embrace manufacturing and give up its integration, margins be damned. Intel specifically, and the U.S. generally, would be in far better shape had they acted then. As the saying goes, though, the second best time to start is now — and that applies not only to Intel, which should spend the money to get into contract manufacturing on its own, but also to the U.S. The world has changed, and it’s time to act accordingly.


Eoin Treacy's view

Resiliency is likely to be the buzz word of the 2020s. Rising geopolitical tensions have been a factor for a few years already but did not have a great deal of urgency attached to them. The lockdowns and collapse of global supply chains highlighted the fragility of the global trade network, Meanwhile, the increasingly ambivalent tone of US/China relations are unlikely to get better any time soon.



Europe's Breakthrough Recovery Plan Faces Immediate Obstacles

This article by Richard Bravo, Marek Strzelecki and Rafaela Lindeberg for Bloomberg may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:  

Less than 24 hours after Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macronlaid out a radical plan that would see the European Union collectively finance its response to a virus-induced recession, countries were already expressing disapproval, threatening to doom the nascent proposal.

The German and French leaders on Monday threw their weight behind a plan to allow the EU’s executive arm issue 500 billion euros ($548 billion) of bonds, with the proceeds going to help member states affected most by the pandemic. Controversially, recipients of the funds won’t need to pay the EU back and the securities would be financed collectively. That means richer countries, like Germany, would be bankrolling poorer ones.

Angela Merkel arrives to address a joint press conference with Emmanuel Macron, attending via video link, in Berlin, on May 18.The plan represents a remarkable about-face for Germany, and the proposal, which needs unanimous approval by all 27 members of the EU, faces stiff headwinds from the bloc’s more frugal members.

“We still have to convince other member states, four in particular: Austria, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands,” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Mairesaid on Tuesday. “And we mustn’t hide the fact that it will be difficult.”

Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz immediately threw cold water on the Franco-German plan, saying that he had consulted with his Danish, Dutch and Swedish counterparts, and that they remained opposed to any money being given to fellow countries in the form of grants. Any funds would have to be repaid by the beneficiaries, he said.


Eoin Treacy's view

Europe needs to come up with a clear vision for its existence or it will not survive. The founding rationale for the EEC was to put age-old animosities aside and to concentrate on trade. Everyone making money and delivering improving standards of living would help to foster peace. That was successful enough to encourage further cohesion.



On Target May 2020

Thanks to Martin Spring for this edition of his ever-interesting letter. He quotes me in this one but don’t hold that against him. Here is a section on the lockdowns:

Rather than destroy $4 trillion of economic activity via lockdowns it would have made much more sense to spend much less – say $25 billion to start with – on Medicare/Medicaid and state public health agencies “to zero-in on protecting, isolating and treating nursing home residents.” Rather than trying to force all Americans into a one-size-fits-all regime of state control, policy ought to have been divided into three categories according to age:

The Kids Nation of those younger than 15, where to April 28 there were only five deaths where Covid-19 was involved. By comparison, children suffered 44,000 deaths from all causes last year. “In no sane world would it be a reason for shutting down the schools.”

The Parents/Workers Nation of those aged 15 to 64. They account for the overwhelming share of commerce, jobs and economic activity. They experienced just 8,267 Covid-linked deaths. Their normal mortality rate – annual deaths from all causes – is 335 per 100,000. The Covid rate to date has been just 3.6. “So, we are talking about shutting down the entire economy owing to a death rate to date which amounts to 1.1 per cent of normal mortality.”

The Grandparents/Great Grandparents Nation of 52 million. They accounted for 32,000 or nearly 80 per cent of all Covid-associated deaths, with 15,000 of them being among those 85 years and older. Their Covid mortality rate has been 61 per 100,000 to date. It has not taken “a catastrophic experiment with Lockdown Nation” to figure out that their risk of death from Covid-19 has been 7,600 times greater for them than for children; 29,000 times greater for the several million great-grandparents afflicted with severe comorbidity, and probably in the care of a nursing home. These realities were already known from China and the history of other coronaviruses. Although Stockman’s analysis is limited to America, it is clear that much of it applies to other countries. Policies could have been focused almost exclusively on the shielding and treating the elderly.


Eoin Treacy's view

A link to the full report is posted in the Subscriber's Area.

The lack of knowledge about the coronavirus has been the biggest impediment to common sense approaches to quarantine and lockdown. Any new pathogen has the potential to create mass hysteria but the coronavirus has succeeded in creating a level of fear unlike anything in a century.



China Considers More Economic Pain for Australia on Virus Spat

This article from Bloomberg News may be of interest to subscribers. Here is a section:

The office of Australian Trade Minister Simon Birmingham declined to comment. When asked about the list, China’s foreign ministry didn’t address the specifics but said the government “has always sought to find common ground while putting differences aside, cooperate to achieve win-win results and will not harm others to benefit oneself.”

“We hope the Australian and Chinese side can meet in the middle, take more measures to improve bilateral relations and deepen mutual trust, and provide favorable conditions and atmosphere for practical cooperation in various areas,” the ministry said.

Australia’s China Addiction Leaves It Vulnerable to Trade Spat

Speaking earlier at a briefing in Beijing on Tuesday, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said China would back a resolution at the World Health Assembly later Tuesday that calls for a “comprehensive assessment” of the pandemic that differs from “Australia’s earlier proposal of a so-called independent global review.”

“We suggest the Australia side to go through the text carefully,” Zhao said. “If Australia is willing to change its course and give up the political manipulation of the pandemic, we will welcome that.”


Eoin Treacy's view

Asking for an independent review of the origins of a virus which has ravaged the global economy is reasonable. That’s particularly true when it comes to trying to figure out where the next pathogen is likely to arise from and acting to prevent it. China has already razed and sanitised the wet market in Wuhan. That was completed in February so they have no intention of allowing an investigation.



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