The Looming Saudi Crisis – Oil & Gas and a Whole Lot More

The Arabian Post recently reported that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (“KSA”) spent about 5% of its central bank’s net foreign assets.1  The total foreign assets for the KSA amount to just over $36 billion in US dollars.2  So, that is 5% of $36 billion; not a small number.  In light of this grand expenditure, it is important to note the following as well: Just after ascending to the throne, King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud issued an order to increase the salaries of government employees and pensioners via a two-month bonus.3  But one of the key questions is this: Does this surprise anyone in the Arab World, the oil & gas industry and/or the analytical sector?  Saudi Arabia, as we know, is the world’s biggest oil exporter.4  The KSA is facing a series of quickly escalating problems at home and abroad.  With fifty percent (50%) of Saudi Arabia’s population below the age of 25, the country has its share of challenges.5  The nation will need to move quickly to adjust to shifting demands.  At the end of the day, the KSA cannot keep spending at this rate and allow oil prices to remain so low.  As Newton once said, what goes up must come down.

Undoubtedly, the Saudis have big problems and discontent at home.  Mounting pressures in North Africa and the Middle East have not helped, along with the threats of extremism in Yemen and throughout Syria and Iraq.  The nuclear issues with Iran, as well as the history of a 10 year war with that country, set the stage for another upheaval of sorts – not to mention the Sunni-Shiite dimension that is affecting and impacting the region.  Having spent considerable time in Saudi Arabia, I can attest to the fact that there is disappointment and disenfranchisement among younger people there.  And yes, the KSA is doing a great deal to attempt to rectify its problems and to modernize.  Massive improvements have come in the form of infrastructure projects (i.e.; the Saudi Land Bridge rail project extending from the West Coast of the KSA to the East Coast) and the Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University for Women in Riyadh.

Consider these factors as well:

More than SR204 billion from the 2013 budget was channeled into education, a staggering 25 percent of the Government’s annual spending, and around 10 percent of its GDP. 
Saudi Arabia is now ranked as the world’s highest spending nation on education.
 Such initiatives have had a positive impact on the learning outcomes of individuals in the country, with the literacy rate among adults currently standing at around 97 percent, according to World Bank data, up from 30 percent in 1970.6

The KSA certainly deserves applause in these areas.  However, the pace of change has not been fast enough and has not impacted enough people yet.

The issue of spending reserves is an important one and it is also multi-faceted.  As stated above, Saudi Arabia needs to keep pace and even increase spending both at home and abroad.  The United Arab Emirates (home to Dubai and Abu Dhabi) and Qatar provide important reminders about what can be done to positively impact and benefit local populations.  Both countries reinvest oil & gas profits into the local economy in a way that is extraordinary and impressive.  Granted, the UEA and Qatar do not have the same number of nationals and locals to support, but are – nonetheless – quite successful at creating longer-term opportunities and stability for their local communities.  And while one can look slightly East to Doha and South to Dubai for successful examples in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries, it is enough to go just a few more kilometers to find widespread discontent and conflict in areas such as Yemen, Kuwait, Iraq and Syria, not the mention Lebanon, Egypt and the Holy Land.

In essence, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is facing enormous threats including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. a) A possible military showdown with Iran;
  2. b) The Sunni – Shiite split, particularly pronounced in the Eastern part of the country (which is “oil country” and the land of ARAMCO), and affecting relations with both Kuwait and Bahrain;
  3. c) An exploding population of young people and very few job opportunities to match that population increase;
  4. d) The emergence of ISIS in bordering areas;
  5. e) Human rights challenges at home;
  6. f) Wahhabism;
  7. g) Women’s rights;
  8. h) Problems with infrastructure and logistics;
  9. i) Food and water security;
  10. j) Falling oil prices;
  11. k) The military conflict with the Houthis in Yemen; and
  12. l) The threat of a Saudi-style “Arab Spring”;

Given all of this, the price of oil and revenues generated from the sale of the black gold becomes even more relevant.

Oil prices: In August of 2014, Saudi Arabia cut its oil production by about 400,000 barrels per day.7   This was an apparent attempt to maintain its robust market share despite the dramatic drop in oil prices.  According to The Arab Post, “Brent crude has recovered some of its losses, gaining 15 percent this year; Income from oil exports accounts for about 90 percent of government revenue.”8  At this point (and as of July 23, 2015), the price of crude oil is $48.91 and the price of Brent is $56.13 per barrel; by way of comparison, the 52 week low is $48.78 and the 52 week high $94.88).   The next lowest period for an oil price slump in recent history was in February of 2009 and the price per barrel was $44.06 (WTI Crude).9  As a side note, the price of crude in June 2008 – just 8 months prior to that – was $146.12 per barrel.10  So what has changed in the world since then?

The answer is this: just about everything.  Major dips in the price of oil were experienced post 9/11 ($26.11) and just after the beginning of the financial crisis in 2008 ($44.06).  Obviously, these slides and slumps in oil prices can wreak havoc on international markets.  They are destabilizing elements on the global scene.  As we have are aware, these price drops reduce the ability of countries such as Saudi Arabia to spend both internally and externally.  The pace of change and job creation within the KSA can come to a screeching halt.  Increases in tension with rebels in Yemen, the Shiite regime in Iran and ISIS in Syria and Iraq only add more fuel to the flame.  Indeed, scenes of burning oil in Iraq in a post-war scenario come to mine.  Plumes of black smoke thickly rising into the irretrievable atmosphere.

And so more questions loom: What happens then to the world’s largest oil exporter if the price of oil continues to slide and spending at home continues to increase?  What if spending at home must increase so as to avoid major societal problems such as exponential rises in unemployment for the younger population in Saudi Arabia?  What happens if the conflict with the Houthis in Yemen continues to grow and Saudi defense spending increases as a result?  What happens if there is an “Arab Spring” in the KSA and/or if ISIS draws even closer to the Saudi border?  Furthermore, what is in store for the future relationship between Iran and the KSA?  These are but a few of the notable sentiments and concerns that come to light.

Perhaps these are all rhetorical questions because a reasonable analysis would allow us to conclude that the results for the KSA could prove quite dramatic.  At that point and assuming oil prices continue to slump globally, the KSA would need to continue to spend from its $36 billion reserve.  This, of course, is a mathematical formula that can – and probably will – lead to a substantial future challenge for the KSA and its people.  Additionally, it will threaten to destabilize that area of the world that is already treading on tenuous soil.  If any of the above scenarios happens simultaneously or at around the same time, the impact could prove unmanageable by the government of Saudi Arabia.

From a geopolitical standpoint, the threats and challenges to Saudi Arabia can dramatically affect the rest of the world.  This is not just because of the price of oil, but it is because of all of the other elements impacting the region at the same time.  From the rise of ISIS to the Houthi invasion in Yemen, and from the growing conflict with Iran to the increasing challenges of unemployment at home, Saudi Arabia is in difficult waters at this juncture.  And while this may seem like a “regional issue” of little import to the West, it is a powder keg of sorts.  In fact, the KSA’s future may be inextricably linked to ours.  Therefore and given the geopolitical significance of the country, it would probably behoove the West – as well as a host of other nations – to seriously consider options, opportunities and programs to boost the KSA at this point in history.  Only time will tell, but the indicators for a modern-day disaster with rippling effects are present.

End Notes:

  1. The Arabian Post – May 1, 2015 – “The kingdom spent $36 billion of the central bank’s net foreign assets — about 5 percent of the total — in February and March, the biggest two-month drop on record, data released this week show. The fall was in part due to King Salman’s order to give government employees and pensioners a two-month bonus after he ascended to the throne of the world’s biggest oil exporter in January.”
  2. Ibid.
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid.
  5. Arab News – July 23, 2015: “Pearson has welcomed a report by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that finds youth unemployment in Saudi Arabia could be lowered by reducing reliance on public sector jobs and by improving the competitiveness of Saudi workers in the private sector. 
Fifty percent of Saudi Arabia’s population is below 25 years, a figure set to increase further in the future, leading to a phenomenon widely referred to as a “youth bulge”. 
Economists debate whether Saudi’s burgeoning youth population will be a burden or advantage to the country. 
Such a large number of young people brings with it enormous opportunity for growth through the generation of innovative, new ideas, and a sufficiently large work force to power these ideas into practice. 
However, if not managed appropriately, a rapidly growing population of young people could lead to an increased rate of unemployment amongst 15 to 25 year olds, a figure which already stands at around 30 percent. 
The IMF Saudi Arabia Country Report found that a large number of young people will enter the local job market over the next decade, and that creating a sufficient number of rewarding jobs will be a challenge.”
  6. Arab News – July 23, 2015: “More than SR204 billion from the 2013 budget was channelled [SIC] into education, a staggering 25 percent of the Government’s annual spending, and around 10 percent of its GDP. 
Saudi Arabia is now ranked as the world’s highest spending nation on education.
Such initiatives have had a positive impact on the learning outcomes of individuals in the country, with the literacy rate among adults currently standing at around 97 percent, according to World Bank data, up from 30 percent in 1970 … However, as the IMF report makes clear, equipping young people with effective education and training is critical to ensuring the youth bulge becomes an asset — and not a liability. Education and training needs to focus on preparing young people for the workforce.”
  7. Brookings.Edu – October 17, 2014; World Oil Demand: And There Was None.
  8. The Arabian Post – May 1, 2015: Brent crude has recovered some of its losses, gaining 15 percent this year to about $66 a barrel at 1:31 p.m. in London. Income from oil exports accounts for about 90 percent of government revenue.
  9. MacroTrends.net and Energy Information Administration, BLS.
  10. Ibid.

What I Learned from a Doll Maker in Italy

Once upon a time there was a wonderful doll maker in Italy.  This doll maker went by the name of Zanini & Zambelli.  Zanini & Zambelli was known for its beautiful design and exquisite craftsmanship.  At that time, I was a young fellow attempting to work in the field of international finance and global trade in New York.  I thought I knew it all.  Of course, I would later find out that I knew very little and that I was better off attempting to learn rather than teach.  Still, young age, arrogance and pride were getting the best of me.  Added to that was the fact that I wanted to succeed, perhaps too much.  Nonetheless and whether I liked it or not, the hard lessons would come.  One of the first lessons was from an unsuspecting doll maker.

Perhaps anyone who has ever been hungry and eager might be able to associate with this story.

So there I was in the Big City and wanting to take over the world of investment banking.  Ironically, it was the time of Big Greed on Wall Street, from Ivan Boesky to Michael Milken.  It was also the same era of the famous/infamous film, “Wall Street,” with Charlie Sheen, Michael Douglas and Martin Sheen.  I suppose that I was a somewhat like Charlie Sheen’s character in that I was from a working class, immigrant family in the upper Midwestern United States.  My father, with all of his flaws, was a man of hard work, integrity and simplicity.  He knew the trappings of all that fancy stuff on Wall Street, despite his lack of a formal education.  He tried to warn me.  Fortunate for me, my career would not be as illustrious as the lives portrayed in the film, “Wall Street,” so my street education would be a bit different.

Enter one humble, yet successful entrepreneur from Italy.  His family had generations of knowledge and experience in the doll making business.  Knowing of my Italian background and related language skills, my corporate elders insisted that I be “in on the deal.”  Well, much to my dismay, it was not anything like the big deals that Wall Street types were talking about.  In fact, it was not even of remote interest to me.  I wondered to myself, ‘what the heck am I doing here talking to this doll maker about market expansion in the United States?’  I believe that God has a way of dealing with us when we cannot or will not deal properly with ourselves.  And that is what He (God) did with me.  He was out to teach me one important lesson in a series of many to come.  (By the way, I am still learning and, thankfully, the lessons are still coming.)

Although I made an attempt to seem interested in the underlying transaction, Mr. Zambelli knew better.  After quite a long orientation pertaining to the ins and outs of doll making, doll promotions and doll operations, Mr. Zambelli took me aside.  He proceeded to give me a bit of a different view on things.  In not so many words he said:

I see that this is not that exciting to you.  Do you think that making or selling dolls is any less noble or fruitful or profitable than other businesses?  I suppose that other deals would be better for you to pursue.

I was embarrassed and asked him to forgive me, but I just could not understand the “value play.”  Ah, the “value play.”  These are big words with very little meaning, he would remind me.  From what I can recall from that sunny day in our small office on Fifth Avenue, he said something like this:

For just because someone makes dolls and not machine tools or cars does not make that person less of a businessman; it is still a respectable profession, whether you think so or not.  People work hard, families are employed, children are brought joy and – on top of it – it is profitable, just in case you were wondering.  Also, there is much more to life.  The value proposition is not just the bottom line either; it is what else you can do to bring something positive to the world.

So the first installment of my Karate Kid moments would begin.  I learned an important lesson that day in 1989.  Looking back on it I wish that I had the foresight, patience and humility then.  Being hardheaded, it would take me many more lessons to come to a place where I could operate with dignity, respect and some degree of knowledge.  No matter how painful, I am glad that God allowed me to learn then.  He is still teaching me today and I still have a long way to go to become the person I would like to be.

Another Bush in The White House could be Good for this Nation

The Apple is Not Far from the Tree

When I was a young intern at The White House in 1987 under President Ronald Reagan, I was exposed to a wonderful statesman with a most impressive stature.  His name: George H.W. Bush.  From what I could tell, he was a man of great compassion, sensitivity and intellect. Although I was merely an intern working in the Office of Public Liaison’s Department of Foreign Policy and Defense, my office (Room 196 in the Old Executive Office Building (OEOB)), was not far from the Office of the Vice President.  My exposure to Mr. Bush was undoubtedly limited.  However, it was a time of great turmoil with the Iran-Contra Affair in full bloom.  Vice President Bush stood firmly behind President Reagan and steadily helped to guide The White House behind the scenes, despite the many challenges.  A consummate diplomat and gentleman, he was an extremely reliable and fiercely patriotic leader.  My belief is that Jeb Bush would be very similar to his father.

One of the few incidents I recall from that summer of 1987 was when I had a chance encounter with Vice President Bush in the hallway of the OEOB.  There he stood talking with an African-American lady who was with The White House cleaning staff.  Vice President Bush took great interest in spending time with the elderly woman and asking her about her family.  It was clear that they had known each other for some time and that the Vice President was both fond and appreciative of her contribution to The White House, regardless of her rank and position.  The President took time to speak with me, a lowly intern, during that encounter as well.  I was awestruck by Mr. Bush’s empathy, kindness, and consideration.  I knew intuitively that his concern for others was genuine; it was sincere and true.

Having been raised in a working class immigrant family, the Vice President surely had no reason to speak with me at the time.  After all, I could do nothing for him or his career.  The same was probably true about the lovely old stoic lady who dutifully fulfilled her role as a janitor.  Yet the Vice President demonstrated a care and generosity that clearly surpassed the attributes of other politicians similarly situated.  It was evident to me that he was truly concerned about people as human beings and not just what they could give him.  Growing up relatively poor – as I did – often provides one with an enhanced sensitivity vis-à-vis the purported sincerity of others.  In that light I could literally “feel” that Vice President Bush was inherently kindhearted and considerate.  I was quite certain that the beautiful old janitor woman with dark-colored skin could sense the same.  And to top it off, Mr. Bush gave her a big hug at the end of their discourse.  All of this was done with no journalists, donors and/or senior diplomats present.

Much is said about Jeb Bush’s brother, George W. Bush.  Political analysts wonder whether Jeb would receive the support of George W’s former staff members and contributors.  They question Jeb’s similarity to his brother and ask if Jeb would have invaded Iraq, especially if he knew that there were no weapons of mass destruction.  While these topics may be worth contemplating and pondering to some degree, I believe that the real story is being missed.  Perhaps we should ask another question: How similar is Jeb Bush to his father?  After all, his father raised him; his father influenced him; his father taught him.  And his father was respected by so many across the board, Republican and Democrat alike.  His father’s experience spanned US Congress, the US Military, the State Department and the CIA.  He was, in my opinion, one of the last great statesmen.

So, I encourage Jeb Bush to dismiss the naysayers and run for President.  We need his leadership and knowledge, his care and sensitivity.  He demonstrated his effectiveness as the Governor of Florida, by himself and relying on his own capacity to govern.  He strikes me as a man of faith, integrity and kindness; perhaps this is something that I intuit along with others.  And while he is fully capable on his own accord, he is still his father’s son.  That, in my opinion, is a great thing.  It is not something from which he should shy away.  Yes, Jeb Bush comes from a political family and a lineage.  Yes, he probably will be forever attached to the critics of dynastic politics.  But by the same token, he is fundamentally a good leader with an enormous capacity to guide this country.   With or without 43’s supporters, Jeb Bush can do it.  Stand tall, Mr. Bush, and claim your father’s lineage.  You will make a great President.

What’s in a Memory? I Miss You Old St. Veronica

Down Memory Lane in East Detroit

I often hear people saying, “We are creating memories.”  That is a nice and sentimental description of what folks may be doing at a specific point in time.  However, what does it really mean?  For at 50 years old I have found that memories have a way of becoming skewed with time.  We have a tendency to remember only certain portions of memories; in essence, we are selective – sometimes because we simply can’t recall all the details or because of some other set of circumstances, whether positive or negative.  Notwithstanding all of that, though, my contention is that memories serve a very important purpose, even if our recollection is skewed, biased and/or lacking in detail.

My very close and dear friend of over 40 years recently sent me a nostalgic photograph of our childhood parish in East Detroit, Michigan (now within the city of Eastpointe).  The wonderfully adorned tan brick structure of St. Veronica Church still stood tall in the heart of the old neighborhood, for it was the pinnacle of most activity in my youth.  Most in our neighborhood were working class, ethnic and decidedly Catholic.  Mass was always within walking distance and our elementary school was just across the street.  Some of us were expected to become mass servers – as I was – and our social activity seemed linked to that central and focal point of the neighborhood.  It was where we played sports, hung out, and took our grandparents for senior citizen events.

I would venture to say that it was good and positive to have a central point of the neighborhood, that old church steeple.  Even though we didn’t necessarily see it that way at the time nor understand its impact, it was almost a foundational element of the area, a fixture of sorts.  It was a way to bring us together under a somewhat common umbrella and even an extended family in ways.  For all else could happen in and around southeast Michigan, but our area was secure.  After all, old St. Veronica had been around for decades and would remain intact for decades to come – we seemed certain of that.  In a strange way, it was our fortress, an essential part of our reason for being, and part of our social fabric.  It was linked to our identity in youth sports and perhaps even to our conviction in the faith (albeit largely misunderstood at the time by people like me). 

And so the years have come to pass, much quicker than I would have ever imagined. 

Yes, the times have changed and decades have passed.  Most of the old neighbors have moved out of the area and some even out of state (like me).  But the memories are still there – of old elementary school football practices, of playing basketball in that antiquated gym with Catholic relics hanging on the walls, of hitting a baseball behind that old church.  It was where I played soccer and spent time with my brothers and childhood friends.  It was adjacent to my paper route when I delivered the Detroit News – with a wagon and with my little brother, Nino, in tow, sitting patiently on the stack of frozen papers in the bitter winter weather. 

I miss you, St. Veronica, and I miss you, old neighborhood.

At times when I think about it I can still hear the old ladies in the neighborhood shouting out in Italian and cooking for hours on end; in fact, the smell is still lively in my senses.  I relive the countless minutes of street hockey until the sun faded into the background and the ice became even more treacherous and unpredictable.  I recall the tackle football games on the front lawn and the “friendly brawls,” as well as the hopeful prayers for my first girlfriend in that large, imposing structure called the church.  And although I am quite certain that my memory is not entirely intact or completely correct, and that I am overly nostalgic and sentimental, the memory – even if skewed and to my liking – serves a great purpose.

So keep living for the wonderful memories, my friends.  Never give up hope.  Always persist in terms of that which is gentle and kind, merciful and generous.  Don’t think that the little things don’t count, for they certainly do.  You are creating memories each and every moment.  May God bless you this Christmas season.  Please pray for me.

Peace through Soccer: A Diplomatic Tool for Syria & Others

Seize the Moment in Brazil this Summer

In 2007 I was invited to be part of a “peace through soccer” mission in Syria.  It was a spectacular visit on many levels, and it involved a television and media component as well.  The government was hospitable and kind, welcoming and warm.  They gave us access to just about every non-sensitive area we desired to tour.  We even ended up meeting face-to-face with the Minister of Information and the Minister of Sports.  However, there was an aura of tension that seemed to linger beneath the surface.  This feeling of uneasiness was accentuated by the fact that we were caught smack in the middle of a flash-mob one evening; it was supposedly a demonstration to show support for President Bashar Al Assad.  It was as eerie as it was strange, and it seemed to ring of something otherworldly.  Nonetheless, soccer proved to be a unifying force at that time and could have even represented much more. 

We arrived in Damascus shortly after “then House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) met with [President Al] Assad in 2007 over the objections of President Bush” (The Washington Post, Online, 4/04/11).  The mood was upbeat in the country and the streets were bustling.  General optimism seemed to emanate from homes, offices and the Souk (the ancient marketplace in Damascus).  The hospitality was exceptional, and the food was absolutely amazing – fresh, tasty, genuine and home grown.  Our government guide was sophisticated and polite, and he told us that we could go anywhere except to military installations.  Of course, we were not interested in military installations being that our mission was one of peace through sports.  In any event, we appreciated the gesture.

The government employees and sports representatives we met were well educated and eloquent as well.  They appeared to be “Western” in many ways, and their demeanor was most inviting and cultured.   At the same time, they were respectful and faithful – some Christian and many Muslim.  Their knowledge of history was unparalleled, particularly in light of the fact that Damascus is one of the oldest, continuously inhabited cities in the world.  What struck me the most, perhaps, was that many of the people we met in Damascus were very refined, scholarly and intellectual – maybe even pensive and contemplative in ways.  They also had a strong sense of pride, dignity and culture.  Notwithstanding all of these wonderful attributes, though, there was a distinct sense of disquiet, agitation and apprehension on the macro level.  While this was far beneath the surface (except for the flash mob scene we experienced), it was still present and palpable.

Against this backdrop, we – along with our Syrian soccer friends – spoke about the desire to stage a “Global Youth Soccer Tournament to Promote Peace.”  The site was to be the city of Aleppo.  It seemed like a great idea, but we were not able to garner enough support at the time.  In retrospect, it may have been a good overture toward peace.  Of course, we had very little idea that the looming and impending scenario in Syria could be so dramatic and/or that it could escalate into a full-blown civil war.  Maybe it was unfortunate that we did not push harder for this peace-oriented soccer tournament to take place.

Just a short while after our trip, the situation started to spin out of control.  Sides began battling and lines were drawn.  Brutal force was used to make people conform to the policies of the regime.  After that, brother fought brother and children were slaughtered.  Chemical weapons were used to silence people.  But, still, there was no silence.  The cries continue to ring forth and those cries create a deafening sound in the ears of the international community.  The oppression has not ended and there is no good option in sight in terms of an outcome.  Whatever happens will represent a significant compromise and loss on many levels, not the least of which is the heavy loss of life – approximately 160,000 or so according to most accounts.   

So how does the sport of soccer come into play? To begin with, soccer can prove to be a coalescing and uniting force.  It is a true “passion” for much of the world’s population.  It transcends cultural boundaries, race, color and creed.  At the same time, soccer is not a comprehensive or redemptive solution by any stretch of the imagination, nor is it an end in and of itself.  However, it can be used as an important tool.  When I was growing up in an ethnic neighborhood in Metro Detroit in the late 60s and early 70s, soccer became the impetus to allow me to bridge gaps with so many friends of different backgrounds.  It was common for me to be on a team with an Iranian Shiite, an Albanian Sunni, a Southern Baptist, an Indian Hindu and an Italian-American Catholic (me).  This is not an exaggeration.  That was the basic make-up and constitution of one of our all-star teams in Michigan at the time – the team that went on to win the Domino’s Cup in Lansing.  We respected one another for our views, yet we still remained steadfast in our beliefs.  By the same token, we did not impose ourselves on one another, for soccer permitted us to battle alongside our teammates for a common cause – side by side and without exception.

But what does soccer mean within the context of conflict areas such as Syria?  As mentioned above, soccer can become a very important diplomatic tool (if used properly).  It can help to create a meaningful dialogue prior to a conflict arising.  It represents a platform and somewhat of a safe haven for the exchange of ideas among players, managers and coaches.  It allows people who are interested in peace to get a real feel for the pulse on the ground.  So, at least conceivably, it can be utilized to avoid conflict.  At the same time, promoting training sessions with soccer players from different backgrounds and beliefs can create real bonds that go beyond the parameters of life’s political and religious confines.  This, by definition, helps to avoid conflict.  The scenario is not devoid of religion, though.  Rather, it utilizes, recognizes and celebrates everyone’s religious background while operating within a context of soccer and peace.  For instance, the Shimon Peres Peace Center in Israel and Palestine (officially, “The Peres Peace Center”) has been using this approach to join together young Muslim, Jewish and Christian soccer players in the Holy Land.

Another appealing fact is this: soccer can be used at any stage in the game (every pun intended).  Obviously, we would like to avoid conflict and the loss of life at any cost.  Soccer is one of those tools.  But when conflict cannot be avoided, then soccer can be used as an intervening force to bring sides together as well.  It can be used to mitigate conflict and subsequent damage.  In post-conflict situations, soccer can be used to reconstruct and rebuild.  It helps on the grass-roots level – in the neighborhoods and in the sandlots, and in POW camps and on former battlefields.  From an operational standpoint, it is effective device to assist in some of the following pursuits that are peace-oriented:

1. Assess potential conflict

2. Analyze possible conflict

3. Avoid conflict

4. Intervene when faced with conflict

5. Mitigate when conflict has arisen

6. Manage conflict during a confrontation

7. Reconstruct after conflict

8. Rebuild in a post-conflict scenario

By the way, there are even references to soccer diplomacy from World War II.  One quasi-fictional depiction came in the form of a motion picture in the 80s, Victory.  It featured Sylvester Stallone, Michael Caine and the great Pele’.  Set against the backdrop of an oppressive Nazi regime, the beautiful game was used to stage a match between German forces and the Allied opposition.  Although many components were amplified and embellished in the film, it nonetheless provided a look at how soccer can be utilized as a device and apparatus for some form of peace building. 

There is much more to say about this topic, but perhaps this article will help to provide some initial thoughts.   In the case of Syria, it may have been good to work with NGOs and other entities back in 2007 so as to avoid a conflict.  “Soccer Diplomacy” could have been used as a tool, whether it was to host an international youth tournament in Aleppo or to conduct a series of free soccer clinics in the inner city environments.  Likewise, the FIFA World Cup in Brazil this year can prove to be a catalyst in this regard.  Organizers can wrap their arms around “Soccer Diplomacy” and fully promote the benefits of using soccer as a means to peace on a global scale.  FIFA is doing it to some degree, but there is still much work to be done.  Greater coordination and cooperation within and among organizations, governments and federations would be required.

At the end of the day, peace through soccer is a valid concept.  It cannot – and certainly will not – correct all of the imbalances and cure all of the maladies.  It is one tool among an arsenal that could be used to assist in the peacemaking process, whether pre-conflict or post-conflict (and perhaps in between as well).  Nonetheless, authorities and organizations that are stakeholders in the global peace community can look at soccer as a potential friend and ally.  They can discover ways and methods in which to promote the game and advance friendships – those friendships that are true and lasting, and those that transcend barriers and boundaries.  The Brazilians are great at reaching out and hugging the world, and this summer will be no exception.  Maybe Brazil can help lead the charge to take its passion for soccer to new and unexplored levels.

The author, Antonio J. Soave, is the Chairman & CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services (CGA), an international joint venture, strategic alliance and M&A consulting firm headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas.  He travels to the Middle East, Europe and Latin America on a frequent basis.  He is a former high school All American athlete in the sport of soccer, a former co-owner of the World Youth Soccer Academy at Disney’s Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Florida, and a former co-owner of three minor league professional teams in the USISL soccer league in the United States (currently, the “USL”).  He is also a member of the International Advisory Council of the United States Institute of Peace (“USIP”).  Mr. Soave has a BA in International Studies from The American University (Washington, DC), a Juris Doctor (law degree) from Michigan State University, and a L.L.M. (Master’s of Law) in International Law from the University of San Diego.

The Need for an Infrastructure Bank in the United States

An infrastructure bank in the United States is sorely needed and long overdue.  Infrastructure is the backbone of the economy in any country, including ours.  It helps drive economic growth and development as well.  From railroads to bridges and from highways to airports, infrastructure refurbishment and growth in the U.S. would make us a stronger and more vibrant nation.  It would also assist in creating jobs, many jobs.  While we lead the world in numerous categories, we seem to have forgotten about the importance of infrastructure – at least on some level.  Aging structures and lack of ample coverage can place the economy in peril.  A cooperative scenario between the public and private sectors is ideal, whether on a PPP basis (“Public Private Partnership”) or other.  Even though we may not be entirely familiar with the day-to-day functioning of an actual infrastructure bank, we should explore the establishment of one so that we can experience more sustained growth over long periods of time.

Various countries have had infrastructure banks at the center of their economic models.   These banks have succeeded on differing levels, according to the specific needs of each country, as well as the other factors influencing development in this sector.  Nonetheless, one can argue that a whole host of countries have been able to infuse public infrastructure money in a way that has helped those regions of the world to advance.  By the same token, an infrastructure bank or infrastructure fund is not new to us in the United States either.  Public-private financing cooperation on large-scale infrastructure development projects has been achieved on some of the most significant rescue efforts in history.  In fact, in October 2013 the New York Times noted the following:

We used similar vehicles to reconstruct poor countries after World War II, through the World Bank. Likewise, we rebuilt post-war Europe with the Marshall Plan. After the tsunami hit South Asia in 2004, we turned to infrastructure banks, as we did after the earthquake in Haiti in 2010.  There’s nothing new about leveraging private capital to rebuild at home. In the United States, post-Revolution Massachusetts found itself mired in debt but needing an infusion of money to rebuild. Private capital was brought in. Similarly after the Civil War, it was Lincoln’s Transcontinental Railroad that was to unite the country from shore to shore. We rebuilt New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina with a mix of public and private capital.  (October 1, 2013, NYTimes.com, “A National Bank with One Goal: Infrastructure”).

 Likewise, President Barack Obama has stated that this is a priority for our long-term economic prosperity.  Others such as Senator Mark Warner of Virginia have been staunch proponents of the creation of an infrastructure fund as well.  In fact, Senator Warner, a conservatively oriented Democrat with significant private sector experience, recently revived a bill to set a new financing authority in motion.  In November 2013, a blog entitled TheHill.com, reported:

 Sens. Mark Warner (D-Va.) and Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) are reviving a push to create a national infrastructure funding bank in a new bill he unveiled on Thursday. Warner and Blunt’s bill would create a “infrastructure financing authority” that would receive $10 billion in initial funding, his office said. The infrastructure funding would be used as leverage to lure private sector investments that could reap as much as $300 billion in new transportation projects, according to Warner’s office.  The measure has been dubbed the Building and Renewing Infrastructure for Development and Growth in Employment (BRIDGE) Act.

Aptly dubbed “The BRIDGE Act,” this new funding authority would help to make an infrastructure financing entity a reality.  By the same token, though, it may not go far enough.  Granted, this has been a source of debate in Congress, and both reasonable and unreasonable minds have disagreed on the form and function of this new authority.  However, we must be courageous so as to establish something new and innovative that will have a lasting positive impact on our society.

As a result, I would advocate the creation of an actual infrastructure bank and not just an infrastructure authority.  Next, the infrastructure bank needs to be properly funded by Congress.  While private participation on projects is needed, private money is expensive, short-term oriented and cautious.  As many prominent financing experts have said, ‘government money is the cheapest money.’  In this case – believe it or not – government money is also the best money.  Even though I am not a proponent of big government, and I am probably more fiscally conservative than many of my colleagues, this is one situation in which government money is imperative.

The creation of a new infrastructure bank should have at least $50 billion in funding, as Senator John Kerry (now Secretary of State) and Senator Kay Hutchison of Texas proposed in 2011.  Actually, my proposal is that we fund the new bank to the tune of $100 billion initially.  Why? Because large infrastructure projects require big money and because the government will make a return on its investment (albeit after a longer period of time).  Also, this is one of the instances where government must take the lead.  Not only is the government’s money the cheapest, but it is also the most secure in many ways.  In this unique circumstance, government infrastructure money can be the most aggressive and risk-friendly.  Private capital has shorter windows and more limiting parameters in terms of ROI.  However, by working together, the public sector can help the private sector and vice-versa.

I applaud and commend Senator Mark Warner on his effort and I believe that we need to support him and others in the creation of a true infrastructure bank.  There are many viable models out there, including the Brazilian infrastructure bank, BNDES.  We also have history in this area, as noted above.  Then, too, there was TARP, the Troubled Asset Relief Program in 2008/2009.  While TARP was greeted with a large degree skepticism (and perhaps rightfully so), it was later considered to be an important capital injection into a failing economy – an ever-so-important global economy.  The U.S. model can be new, exciting and innovative.  It can utilize equity positions as opposed to strict debt, and it can be a demonstration to the world that we – as Americans – still have a desire and appetite to improve the economy at home and abroad on a large scale.  Most importantly, we can stimulate and enhance the overall standard of living in our country on many levels and create new jobs.  With courage and integrity, we can make this work.

The author, Antonio J. Soave, is the Chairman & CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services (CGA), an international joint venture, strategic alliance and M&A consulting firm.  He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence.  He is the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Law & Practice at the Detroit College of Law (now Michigan State University).  He has a BA in International Studies from The American University (Washington, DC), a Juris Doctor (law degree) from the Detroit College of Law, and a L.L.M. (Master’s of Law) in International Law from the University of San Diego.  For more of Antonio’s writings, go to his blog at www.AntonioSoave.com.

Detroit will Return to its Glory Days

As odd as it may seem to outsiders, I am very proud of my native city of Detroit.  Being born and raised on the “East Side,” and having gone to school and church at the Assumption Grotto Catholic Parish near Six Mile and Gratiot, I have fond memories of my childhood neighborhood.  Granted, I am about to turn 50 years old soon, but it was not that long ago in the grand scheme of things.  At that time – that is, the late 60s and 70s – Detroit was a bustling and robust city.  Notwithstanding the effects of “white flight” in the post riot era, Detroiters took great pride in their surroundings.  My family lived in a lower, working class area that was primarily ethnic Italian, Polish and Ukrainian, and I had friends from all walks of life.  Our neighborhood had a classic “corner store and meat-market” known as Biondo’s.  The kids would congregate outside to eat candy and play hockey, and the moms would go inside to buy their daily goods.  There was a park down the street as well.  There are many people in my age range who are attached to this sort of nostalgia and would like to work for a return to those glory days.  I have no doubt that the city of Detroit can and will re-emerge.

As noted above, Detroit has great history and heritage.  This cannot simply be shoved aside and disregarded.  And just because many have moved out to the burbs and even out of state does not mean it is not important to have a notable city at the heart of the metro area.  In fact, many would argue that the city and its image are part and parcel of an overall rebuilding process.  Much of this has been in progress for years.  From the Illitch family holdings through entities such as the Red Wings and Tigers, to the Ford family and their team, the Detroit Lions, the city center is still an integral part of the infrastructure and pulse of Metro Detroit.  A lot more, however, has left the city.  The great Hudson’s building and its aura are now a foggy memory, as is the spectacular train station.  Shopping along Michigan Avenue has long been shifted to Oakland and Macomb County-based malls.   Yet there are many of us who still desire a true and profound connection with Downtown Detroit and its vicinity.

There are a lot of people like me who talk about these elements in corporate corridors, on airplanes, and during sporting events.  The nostalgia is palpable and the longing is sincere.  For me, those feelings run deep.  My father helped build the Renaissance Center as a construction foreman and I later worked at the Ren Cen as a law clerk.  I attended the Detroit College of Law (currently housed within Michigan State University in Lansing) and called Downtown Detroit my primary stomping grounds from 1988 to 1992.  I canvassed parts of the city for the first black Gubernatorial candidate, Bill Lucas in 1986.  Alongside my colleagues, I dreamed of helping to make Detroit great again.  Some of that remains in me, as it does in others.  Much of it, however, has been lost.  Unfortunately, my law school (along with its century-old tradition) has been demolished.  Granted, it sat where Comerica Field is today.  I suppose it is better to have the Tigers drawing folks.  But it is still important to maintain some of these great traditions that were inextricably linked to the City.  Both are possible.  We can indeed maintain and promote tradition while rebuilding parts of the City.

So, perhaps there are ways to restore a good deal of the original greatness to Detroit.  I, for one, believe that there are some good plans on the table.  With a new mayor and an active governor, and with city activists working endlessly, new and substantive rebuilding programs are in sight.  There is a big light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not just the light in the “Windsor Tunnel.”  It is the light on the Detroit side, the side that has represented industrial growth and prosperity for much of the world via the auto business over the past several decades.  It is the light that celebrates our old neighborhoods, churches, stores and communities, as well as our sports teams.  It is the light that gives us hope and conviction that a new day is dawning and that many good things are yet to come.  We have history, we have courage, we have strength and – most of all – we have faith.  Detroit will return and will be better than ever. 

 

The author, Antonio J. Soave, is a native of Detroit, Michigan.  He is presently the Chairman & CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services (CGA), an international joint venture, strategic alliance and M&A consulting firm.  He is also a member of the International Advisory Board of the United States Institute of Peace (USIP), an independent, nonpartisan institution established and funded by Congress to increase the nation’s capacity to manage international conflict without violence.  He is a graduate of Notre Dame High School in Harper Woods, Michigan, and a former high school All American athlete in the sport of soccer.  He has a BA in International Studies from The American University (Washington, DC), a Juris Doctor (law degree) from the Detroit College of Law, and a L.L.M. (Master’s of Law) in International Law from the University of San Diego.  For more of Antonio’s writings, go to his blog at www.AntonioSoave.com.

The Ten Economic and Social Resolutions for our Country: Simplify in 2014

If you’re anything like me, I am thoroughly confused by all the rhetoric in Washington.  As usual, many politicians and bureaucrats engage in an extensive game of word crafting, double talk, skewing terms and phrases, and embellishing the facts.   We wonder why we don’t have movement in the nation’s capital.  When added to the barrage of special interests and other factors that are too numerous, onerous and egregious to mention, it becomes a virtual mess.  That is what we have today – a mess.

When considering this as a backdrop, it is very difficult to agree on anything.  However, one strategy still remains: simplify.  Yes, simplify, simplify and simplify.  This can serve us well as a nation in 2014.  One of our overwhelming tasks is to create jobs and attempt to provide opportunity for those less fortunate.  This is a good and noble cause.  How we go about it, though, can differ dramatically.  Don’t worry, there is hope, as implausible as it may seem (and notwithstanding everything just mentioned).

So, with the Feast of the Epiphany and the apparent influence of the three wise men – sages and magi, that is – I have felt inspired to share a message of simplicity.  It’s probably because I cannot follow things that are too complex.  To cope, I simplify.  These are a few steps we may wish to consider for 2014:

1.  Provide incentives to and for entrepreneurs: This is the backbone of future development in our country.  Let us provide real incentives for these entrepreneurs to flourish.  Create a Small Business Administration (SBA) that is easy to understand and that has funds that are easy to access for entrepreneurs and other small business people that demonstrate good ideas and responsible approaches.

2.  Cut business taxes, don’t raise them: Here, too, incentives are imperative.  If we want real and sustainable job growth, we cannot penalize business.  Rather, give businesses a real reason to create jobs.  Simply look at states that have incentives of this nature and see how they perform.  Raising taxes will only result in stagnation and animosity, not willingness to create jobs and take risk.

3.  Healthcare only for those in most need: Only provide national healthcare for those in greatest hardship – those that can truly and clearly demonstrate a need.  At the same time, make it illegal for insurance companies to refuse coverage for pre-existing conditions and other key aspects that allow these private entities to avoid payment or coverage.

4.  Encourage religious principles, do not assault them: Families are the lifeblood of this nation.  Religion and faith are founding elements and principles of this country.  We should remember that from a Constitutional perspective, it is not freedom from religion, but freedom of religion.  Don’t declare war on religion; rather embrace and encourage the good and honorable behavior that is commensurate with true faith.

5.  Institute a flat-tax system: This approach will generate more revenue for the country, just ask smart people such as Malcolm Forbes.  This is the only “fair” way to approach it.  Eliminate the current bureaucracy associated with tax collection and assessment, and create a flat tax of 25% across the board – no exceptions, exemptions or loopholes for individuals or corporations.  Only those making less than $25,000 will not have to pay taxes.

6.  Don’t spend more than you have: As my grandmother told me, don’t spend more than have.  Save and don’t overspend.  At the end of the day, someone must pay.  Cut the federal budget by eliminating “pork barreling” first.  Cut all unnecessary budget items, including federal agencies that serve no real purpose.

7.  Eliminate overreaching and excessive lending practices (i.e.; usury):  If we are serious about restoring wealth in America, then we will eliminate mortgages with excessively compounded interest rates and excessive APR (Annualized Percentage Rate).  This is a “usurious” lending practice that usurps wealth from the lower and middle classes, and does not allow them to move forward and/or gain real equity in their largest asset: a home.  By the way, the excessive charging of interest also hurts business.

8.  No handouts, but opportunity: Extensive welfare systems kill ingenuity, self-respect and human dignity.  Only provide assistance where it is truly needed.  By and large, let’s take care of the children by giving them food, shelter and education.  They are not responsible for this situation; rather, they inherited it (by no doing of their own).  By the same token, assist those adults in need while encouraging them to become self-sustaining and contributing members of society.  They will thank you – an themselves – in the long run.

9.  Encourage charitable giving, not the opposite: We are a generous country and a wonderful people.  We should not “cap” or discourage or penalize people or companies for true charitable donations to noteworthy causes.  In fact, it should be just the opposite.  This sort of giving helps so many in need and it allows private citizens to assist in ways that are otherwise impossible and/or implausible for government.

10.  Be a “good” country by encouraging moral standards and principles: As de Tocqueville noted, ‘America will cease to be great when she ceases to be good.’  As archaic and outdated as it may seem, we need to return to our roots and our common base of decency, morality, respect, integrity and honor.  These are just a few of the elements and aspects that characterized and defined this great nation.  They are also foundational ingredients and components that have made us great.

Well, at the risk of being accused of oversimplifying, these are a few guiding principles that we may wish to employ in 2014.  I suppose that I am also old-fashioned and nostalgic, and I believe in the fundamental goodness of this nation.  To me, “God, family and country” still mean a lot, even if it is not politically correct for me to say that anymore.  We can reclaim this great land, but we need to have courage – and faith – to do so.  May God bless you and your families in 2014.  And yes, God bless America!

* The author, Antonio J. Soave, is the Chairman & CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services (CGA), an international joint venture, strategic alliance and foreign market expansion firm headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas. He is also the Chairman of the International Business Council, a national non-profit that spreads of mission of “peace through commerce.”  Mr. Soave has a BA in International Studies from The American University (Washington, DC), a Juris Doctor from Michigan State University and a L.L.M. (Master’s of Law) in International Law from the University of San Diego.  He is the founder and former Editor-in-Chief of the Journal of International Law and Practice (Detroit College of Law – Michigan State University), as well as the co-founder and former Publisher of the Journal of International Business (Benedictine College).

Qatar 2022 FIFA World Cup: Does it Make Sense to Consider Joining with Neighbors in the UAE?

There is no doubt that Qatar has the ability and wherewithal to host a successful World Cup in 2022.  It is the wealthiest country in the world on a per capita basis.  It is a wonderfully sophisticated and advanced nation.  It is a very important regional ally for the western world.  It invests heavily in education and infrastructure.   It has a world-class airline.  And, it is one of the largest exporters of natural gas in the world.  So, Qatar will certainly be able to stage a spectacular and impressive FIFA event.  However, does it behoove the country and FIFA to consider expanding World Cup 2022 to another neighboring venue for some of its games?

Planning for a World Cup in the sport of soccer is obviously a monumental task.  Some countries do it better than others.  Everything from security and local culture to weather and geography come into play (and a whole lot more).  In Qatar, some of these factors are quite important and pronounced.  To begin with, the hot and often stifling climate in the summer months makes it almost impossible to play a soccer match in daytime hours.   The smaller geographic footprint of the country create challenges in terms of the overbuilding of large soccer stadiums that can be only be utilized for one single event period.  Even if those stadiums are later disassembled and repurposed in sub-Saharan Africa – a noble pursuit by the way – the logistics will be overwhelming and incredibly expensive.  Added to all of this is the challenge of infrastructure.  Building a metro/subway rail system to service stadiums in outlying areas that may not be used amply after 2022 will be another sizable task.   All of this leads us to the consideration of including other countries in the Gulf Cooperation Council (“GCC”) Region such as the UAE.

As home to the highly touted city-states of Abu Dhabi and Dubai, and the venue for mega developments such as the Burj Khalifa, Palm Islands and Masdar City, the United Arab Emirates may prove to be an ideal partner to host some of the Qatar 2022 matches.  This, as most soccer fans will say, is not unprecedented.  When Japan and Korea joined forces for the 2002 FIFA World Cup, it served as an attractive and sensible combination of venues and locations.   When it was suspected that Mexico might get the nod for that particular World Cup event, the two Asian countries combined so as to make 2002 a great success.  There are obvious differences here (i.e., Qatar has already been awarded the World Cup for 2022), but the concept is still applicable.  The UAE has a variety of professional soccer venues that are already attractive and could be available.  One is the home of the Al Jazira Soccer Club in Abu Dhabi.  It is a beautiful site for international soccer and it just hosted the FIFA U-17 World Cup.  It comes complete with adjacent training facilities, a sports hotel on its premises, and plenty of good food.  To top it off, Abu Dhabi and Dubai are only about a 45-minute flight from Doha, quite easy for an international soccer team to do. 

By considering staging some of the games in neighboring Abu Dhabi and Dubai, Qatar would be able to relieve some of its pressure and burden with respect to the games.  They could focus on building four great stadiums with retractable roofs and ample air conditioning instead of eight.  They could design their Transit Oriented Development (“TOD”) plan in a way that would address the specific demands of the growing country even in a post World Cup era.  They would not have to disassemble or leave empty large stadiums that would be difficult to move abroad or fill for domestic competition.  Qatar could receive additional public relations accolades from involving their neighbors in the region, as well as applause from spectators that might enjoy seeing both countries.  Additional revenue may even be spurred for hotels and airlines as fans shuttle between different venues.  And even though money may not be a concern, it could represent a real financial savings for Qatar.   Doing it this way could also mean keeping the games in July instead of attempting to shift to January because of the intense heat.

In summary, Qatar is a remarkable and marvelous country.  The people are among the most hospitable, sophisticated and productive in the world.  Their commitment to education and healthcare are second to none.  Their global reach through entities such as Qatar Foundation and the Al Jazeera television network is astonishing.  They have, indeed, accomplished a great deal.  By the same token, they may wish to seriously consider sharing some of the burden (and subsequent praise) of the World Cup with their neighbors to the south.  Although it may detract a bit from Qatar’s overall image vis-à-vis this specific event, it could be welcomed on a variety of other fronts.  I believe that it may represent a tremendous win-win for the global community at large. 

The author, Antonio J. Soave, is the Chairman & CEO of Capistrano Global Advisory Services (CGA), an international joint venture, strategic alliance and foreign market expansion firm headquartered in Overland Park, Kansas.  He travels to and works in the Middle East on a frequent and continuous basis.  He is a former high school All American athlete in the sport of soccer and a former co-owner of the USISL pro soccer franchise, the Detroit Wheels.  Mr. Soave has a BA in International Studies from The American University (Washington, DC), a Juris Doctor (law degree) from Michigan State University and a L.L.M. (Master’s of Law) in International Law from the University of San Diego. 

Brazil: Economic Growth Forecasts Rise for 2014

Brazil’s amazing growth a few years ago excited a lot of business people globally.  It almost seemed as if the new Brazilian economic engine would not stop.  But, like many things similar in nature, there was an ending point – perhaps too abrupt for most.   Brazil seemed to be at the pinnacle of all good things to come.  It was known to have discovered one of the most significant offshore pre-salt oil reserves on the planet; it was aggressively churning out everything from iron ore to soy beans, and from chickens to corn; more Brazilians were advancing to the middle class than ever before; it was improving its infrastructure in select areas; and, it was home to the best-recognized eco-system in the world.  It was even hosting two of the most prestigious sporting events to ever take place: the World Cup in 2014 and the Olympics in 2016.  If that wasn’t enough, Pope Francis made his inaugural Latin American debut in Rio this past summer.  In essence, it was entering the developed world with force.

When Brazil screeched to a halt at about 1% annual growth, a lot of folks jumped off the bandwagon and decided that Brazil was doomed.   New stories of corruption and mismanagement seemed to permeate the daily airwaves.  Brazil’s wealthiest individual, Eike Batista, saw his pot of gold disappear over night on the stock market as people lost trust in his growing oil empire, EBX/OSX and several of his other companies ending in Xs.  Some, however, insisted that Brazil was hitting a snag and it was destined to recover.  And now, signs of improvement are starting to emerge.  According to Reuters, economists “raised their forecasts for Brazil’s growth in 2013 to 2.4 % from 2.35% previously.”1  Most analysts are expecting this number to remain the same and/or grow next year – the year Brazil hosts soccer enthusiasts for the FIFA World Cup.  And to the relief of most financial activists, inflation will stay at a stable 5.9% (from 5.85%).  For the land once associated with hyperinflation, this is not altogether bad news.

Other leading economic indicators are stable as well.  The exchange rate for the Brazilian real vis-à-vis the US dollar seems to have reached a level that is more favorable for Brazilian exports.  The current rate also helps with direct foreign investment (DFI), an important indicator for Brazil at this stage.  Interest rates for this part of the world are reasonable at 9.75% and industrial output is promising at about 2.65% for 2014.

Interestingly enough, the Xinhua Chinese news agency reported growth in 2014 to possibly reach 4%, even though this number seems overly optimistic.  The agency says:

The Brazilian government has forecast 4 percent growth in gross domestic product (GDP) and a target primary public-sector surplus of 2.1 percent in 2014.  Finance Minister Guido Mantega said meeting the projections, contained in the proposed 2014 budget sent to Congress Thursday, depended on economic activities in Europe and the United States.  Mantega admitted the 4 percent forecast was long-range and ambitious, given the problematic international economic climate, but said the figures would be revised again at the beginning of 2014.

– Source: Xinhua.net / August 29, 2013

Even Banco Santander, the Spanish bank that is very active in Brazil, seems optimistic for 2014, but to a lesser degree than the Brazilian government (as noted above by the statements of Minister Mantega).  They cite GDP expanding 3% year over year in the second quarter of 2013 and retail sales growing 6% year over year in July as positives moving forward, but their forecast for 2014 remains fixed at 1.7%.   Bank executives were quoted as saying:

In terms of growth, the impact of much better-than-expected figures coupled with an increased probability of a modest recovery in business and consumer confidence have led us to adjust our forecast for GDP growth this year to 2.3% from 2%.  (2)

However, they also went on to note:

The outlook for 2014, on the other hand, remains characterized by significant challenges and unavoidable macroeconomic adjustments. Inflation is still expected to be 6.5%, which may require another round of policy tightening to start at the end of the year. We continue to see the Brazilian currency weakening toward BRL2.55/USD (per dollar), with GDP growth likely bearing the burden of the macroeconomic adjustment that we see as inevitable in the near term. In this sense, we maintain our 1.7% forecast for next year. (3)

Overall, the Capistrano Global/CGA view is optimistic and our internal sources call for 2.2% economic growth in 2014.  We cite the upcoming World Cup and Olympic games as factors for continued improvements in infrastructure, as well as a more stable exchange rate that will assist in Brazilian pricing abroad.  Still, Brazil will continue to have high internal demand in the form of consumer spending, but not at an uncontrolled rate.  So, inflation should remain at its current level and direct foreign investment should increase.  Brazil is a good bet in today’s world, among the best in the developing world.  Let’s not forget that Brazil is still one of the world’s largest and most significant economies, and it is rife with natural resources.  That is not likely to end any time soon.

End Notes:

1.  Reuters

Economic Forecasts for 2013/2014 – Brazil

(pct)                               2013                            2014

–                                       previous   new         previous  new

–                                       forecast    forecast  forecast   forecast

Consumer inflation   5.82           5.82          5.85          5.90

Exchange rate             2.36           2.35          2.40          2.40

Interest rate                9.75           9.75          9.75          9.75

GDP growth                 2.35           2.40          2.28          2.22

Industrial output       2.10           2.12          3.00          2.65

·      Source: Reuters / “Economists raise Brazil 2013 GDP growth forecast to 2.4 pct”

2. Goldman Sachs / Banco Santander

Banco Santander Raises Brazil 2013 Expansion Forecasts; Sees Challenges For 2014

By Rogerio Jelmayer

SAO PAULO–Economists at the Brazilian subsidiary of Spanish bank Banco Santander SA (SAN.MC) raised their outlook for economic expansion this year in Brazil, Latin America’s largest country, following a better-than-expected second quarter but highlighted remain challenges for the economy for the next year.

“There have been some positive surprises with Brazilian growth, with [gross domestic product] expanding 3.3% year over year in the second quarter and retail sales growing 6% year over years in July,” the bank’s economist team said.

“In terms of growth, the impact of much better-than-expected figures coupled with an increased probability of a modest recovery in business and consumer confidence have led us to adjust our forecast for GDP growth this year to 2.3% from 2%,” it said.

Despite the better forecast for this year, the bank pointed some challenges for Brazil’s economy for the next year, mainly due to inflationary pressures.

“The outlook for 2014, on the other hand, remains characterized by significant challenges and unavoidable macroeconomic adjustments. Inflation is still expected to be 6.5%, which may require another round of policy tightening to start at the end of the year. We continue to see the Brazilian currency weakening toward BRL2.55/USD (per dollar), with GDP growth likely bearing the burden of the macroeconomic adjustment that we see as inevitable in the near term. In this sense, we maintain our 1.7% forecast for next year,” Santander said.

The bank’s economist team is expecting the Selic rate to end this year at 9.5% and the central bank to increase the rate to 11% in the next year to try to contain inflationary pressures. The Selic rate is currently at 9%.

3. Ibid