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A part la Grèce, l’Europe a d’autres talons d’Achille

Par Marquis Codjia

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Le brouhaha actuel sur les pépins budgétaires de la Grèce et ses prétendus effets négatifs sur l’Europe constituent un moment capital de l’histoire de la jeune zone économique européenne, mais ce ne sont pas les points significatifs sur lesquels devraient s’attarder les  décideurs, y compris les dirigeants politiques et les acteurs financiers.

Le problème de la dette grecque sera résolu tôt ou tard, car l’Allemagne, géant de la zone euro, rejoindra  au moment opportun ses partenaires continentaux; aussi, les structures supranationales – telles que la Banque Centrale Européenne et le FMI – apporteront, de gré ou de force, une assistance conséquente à des Hellènes à cours de liquidités.

La crainte réelle est la contagion – éviter que le chaos financier ne se métastase à d’autres pays égrotants de l’union. Si un de ces pays, casés d’ordinaire sous l’acronyme anglais peu flatteur de P.I.G.S. (Portugal, Italie, Grèce, Espagne), voit sa note abaissée par les agences de notation, comme cela a été récemment le cas pour l’Espagne et le Portugal, les plans de sauvetage ultimes et les primes de risque augmenteront fortement.

Les leaders de la zone euro devraient régler rapidement le problème grec pour couper court au flou actuel. Le pays est, sans doute, un nain géostratégique et financier (2 % du PIB de la zone euro et n’abritant aucune institution communautaire majeure). Par ailleurs, les autres ventres mous tels que l’Espagne et l’Italie possèdent de fortes capacités d’autofinancement et une structure de dette différente (détenue en interne contre 95 % de la dette grecque détenue par des étrangers). Nonobstant, si l’impression transeuropéenne est que l’Europe ne sera pas solidaire géo-économiquement de ses membres dans les moments d’incertitude, alors le concept d’union politique perd de sa pertinence, et les acteurs économiques, y compris les marchés financiers, refléteront certainement leur mécontentement en faisant chuter la monnaie unique.

En général, des insuffisances systémiques continuent de ralentir la marche de la locomotive Euro.

Il y a, d’abord, l’absence d’une structure politique communautaire claire. Les dirigeants européens, en particulier ceux des grands pays (Allemagne, Royaume-Uni, France), semblent à ce stade satisfaits d’une hiérarchie fédérale regroupant des personnalités (de préférence des petits pays) qui ne représentent aucune menace à leur leadership, et une pléthore d’institutions employant des fonctionnaires recrutés au prorata des états membres. Cette stratégie d’union politique floue, fondée plus sur une zone économique, va à l’encontre de l’esprit de fédération qui sous-tendit le Traité de Rome.

Pour illustration, prenons un exemple simple : qui serait l’interlocuteur communautaire du président Barack Obama ou du premier ministre chinois Wen Jiabao si ceux-ci voudraient négocier un partenariat stratégique avec la zone Euro? Feraient-ils appel à l’actuel président de la Commission Européenne José Manuel Durão Barroso? Ou le président du Conseil Européen Herman Van Rompuy ? Ou le Président (tournant) du Conseil de l’Union Européenne José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero ? Ou les poids lourds de l’UE que sont le président français Nicolas Sarkozy ou la chancelière allemande Angela Merkel ? Ou, plutôt, tous ces leaders à la fois ?

Deuxièmement, l’absence de leadership politique engendre l’absence de programme socio-économique commun. Les leaders européens veulent les avantages de l’intégration économique mais semblent en haïr les inconvénients. Les citoyens de l’UE doivent clarifier ce que représente la zone euro : est-ce une zone de libre-échange, comme l’ALENA (Accord de libre-échange nord-américain) ou la CEDEAO (Communauté économique des états de l’Afrique de l’ouest), dans laquelle les pays partenaires conservent leur indépendance politique, économique et sociale, et peuvent rivaliser entre eux ? Ou est-ce une union politique et économique dirigée par des politiques sociales communes ? Ou est-ce, plutôt, un statut intermédiaire ?

Troisièmement, le rôle de la BCE devrait être élargi au-delà de la stabilisation des prix. Contrairement à la Fed américaine, le mandat principal de la banque pour le moment est de contrôler l’inflation. La BCE devrait intervenir davantage dans l’économie communautaire et éviter les déséquilibres systémiques. En somme, l’institution devrait faire usage de ses énormes réserves pour rasséréner les opérateurs économiques, entre autres rôles.

Quatrièmement, les critères d’appartenance à la zone euro devraient être réexaminés ; cela inclut aussi bien l’admission que l’exclusion. Naturellement, ce processus doit prendre un ton diplomatique pour ne pas frustrer des futurs partenaires, mais dans l’ensemble, les pays candidats à l’adhésion devraient passer des tests stricts. L’actuel Pacte de stabilité et de croissance, qui vise à limiter les déficits budgétaires, est un bon début mais sa gouvernance inefficace a permis les fraudes statistiques dont la Grèce a fait preuve lors de son entrée  dans la communauté. En somme, des solides fondamentaux économiques et une stricte gouvernance, en plus de la proximité géographique, devraient constituer les bases d’acceptation des nouveaux membres.

Enfin, l’élargissement de l’UE doit faire attention à deux dossiers-clés: le Royaume-Uni et la Turquie. Le propos ici n’est pas un souhait d’admission rapide, mais d’un processus  d’intégration clarifié et plus efficace que les 31 chapitres de l’actuel Acquis communautaire.

Ces dossiers sont complexes et politiques, mais leur résolution rapide apportera de l’eau au moulin de l’Europe. La Turquie a de nombreux « maux » (non-respect des droits de l’homme, conflit chypriote, impression d’islamisme malgré la laïcité du pays, droit des affaires opaque, etc.), mais aussi de nombreux atouts. Le FMI la classe 16ème PIB mondial dans son rapport 2009, dépassée dans l’UE seulement par l’Allemagne, le Royaume-Uni, la France, l’Italie et l’Espagne. Ce qui la place 6ème PIB dans une fédération de 27 membres. Le pays est géographiquement supérieur aux autres membres de l’UE et sa population de 73 millions vient en second après l’Allemagne (82 millions) ; il peut servir de débouché aux entreprises européennes en mal de croissance. Politiquement, Ankara est un allié géostratégique important de l’Ouest et un membre d’organisations-clés comme le G-20, l’OCDE et l’OTAN.

Quant au Royaume-Uni, membre de l’UE mais pas de la zone euro, son gouvernement travailliste a défini à la fin des années 1990 cinq tests économiques préalables à l’adoption de  l’euro comme monnaie nationale, soit par ratification parlementaire ou par référendum. L’adoption de l’euro reste un sujet sensible et risque de ne pas être abordé pendant longtemps. Mais, il serait intéressant de voir la réaction des politiciens et des dirigeants d’entreprise une fois que l’euro atteindra la parité avec la livre sterling ou la dépassera. Jusqu’ici, l’euro a augmenté de 65 % par rapport à la livre, de 57 cents en 2000 à 94 cents une décennie plus tard, atteignant brièvement la parité à la fin 2008 (0,98 en décembre 2008).

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Beyond Greece, Eurozone Has Other Achilles’ Heels

April 29, 2010 14 comments

By Marquis Codjia

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The current brouhaha over Greece’s budgetary mischance and its alleged adverse effects on Europe are an epochal episode in the history of the emergent European economic zone, but these are not the decisive areas where decision-makers, including political leaders and financial markets participants, should pay heed.

Greece’s debt pains would ultimately be resolved, because Eurozone behemoth Germany will strategically come in line with its continental peers; also, supranational channels – such as the European Central Bank and the IMF – will be coerced into using their balance sheets to provide liquidity to cash-strapped Hellenes.

The real fear presently is contagion – avoiding that the ambient financial pandemonium metastasizes into other economically comatose countries within the union. If any of these countries, clustered under the unflattering acronym of P.I.G.S. (Portugal, Italy, Greece, Spain), is downgraded by rating agencies – as was recently the case for Spain and Portugal who lost a few notches, the potential bailout costs and risk premia will rise stratospherically.

Eurozone leaders should swiftly settle Greece’s problems because of perception risks. No doubt the country is a financial and geostrategic dwarf (2% of Eurozone GDP and no major federal institution headquartered). Plus, other ‘weakest links’ such as Spain and Italy possess far greater self-financing capacities and have a different debt structure (domestically held vs. 95% of Greek debt held by foreigners). Notwithstanding, if trans-European perception is that Eurozone will not show geo-economic solidarity vis-à-vis its members in times of uncertainty, then the concept of political union loses its relevancy, and economic agents, including financial markets, will certainly reflect their despondency by driving the single currency lower.

Broadly, other systemic inefficiencies continue to thwart progress within the Eurozone.

First is the lack of a clear political structure in the federation. European leaders, particularly those from prominent countries (UK, Germany, France), seem at this point more content with a federal hierarchy replete with political figures (preferably from minor countries) who pose no leadership threat to them, and a plethora of bureaucratic institutions filled with functionaries picked on an unwritten pro-rata rule to satisfy member states. This strategic stance of an elusive political union grounded in an economic zone is antithetical to the very concept of federation that subtended the initial EU agreement.

To illustrate this, let’s consider a simple example: whom would current U.S. President Barack Obama or China Premier Wen Jiabao negotiate a strategic partnership with if either leader needs a European counterpart? Would they call upon the current President of the European Commission José Manuel Durão Barroso? Or the current President of the European Council Herman Van Rompuy? Or the current (6-month rotating) President of the Council of the European Union José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero? Or EU heavyweights French President Nicolas Sarkozy or German Chancellor Angela Merkel? Or a combination of all of these leaders?

Second, the lack of a clear, single political leadership begets an absence of a uniform socio-economic agenda in the union. It seems as though European leaders want the pros of economic integration, but abhor its cons altogether without attempting to minimize or obliterate them. EU citizens must define what the Eurozone stands for: is it a free-trade area, similar to NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) or ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States), where partner countries retain their political, economic and social independence, and can compete against each other? Or is it a political and economic union steered by broadly uniform national social policies, similarly to a single country? Or is it, rather, something in between, or neither?

Third, European Central Bank’s powers must be broadened beyond price stability. Unlike the U.S. Fed, the bank’s only primary mandate at the moment is to keep inflation low, with other objectives subordinate to it. The ECB should intervene further in the regional economy, and help avoid systemic disequilibria if need be. In sum, the institution should be allowed to use its gigantic reserves to calm jittery markets in times of uncertainty, among other roles.

Fourth, Eurozone membership should be reviewed; this includes not only the admission process, but also membership conditions and stipulations for exclusion. Understandably, the political undertones of this process call for some diplomatic verbiage, but overall, countries seeking membership in the privileged “Club Euro” must meet stringent criteria, and such criteria should be thoroughly enforced. The current Stability and Growth Pact, which aims to limit budget deficits and debts, is a good start but the ineffective control scheme around it permitted the kind of statistical fraud that Greece authored when seeking admission nearly a decade ago. In sum, sound economic fundamentals and strict governance rule, in addition to geography, should be the rationale for co-opting new members into the Eurozone.

Finally, the EU enlargement process should pay special attention to two key dossiers: U.K. and Turkey. The argument here is not in favor of a quick admission (in Turkey’s case), but for a clearer acceptance framework, more effective than the current 31-chapter “Acquis Process”.

Both dossiers are complex and politically charged, but their quick resolution will do more good than harm to the EU. Turkey has many woes (human rights concerns, Cyprus dispute, perception of Islamism despite the country’s secularism, business regulation, etc.), but its advantages are also interesting. It is 16th largest GDP in the world – per IMF’s 2009 ranking, outpaced in the Eurozone only by Germany, U.K., France, Italy and Spain. This means that, out of the current 27 EU members, it ranks 6th on GDP measurement. The country is geographically larger than any EU member and its ca. 73 million citizens are outnumbered only by Germany’s ca. 82 million; this may open up potential new markets for growth-seeking EU businesses. Politically, Ankara is an important geostrategic ally of the West and a member of such key organizations as G-20, OECD and NATO.

As for the U.K., a current EU member that opted out of the Eurozone, its Labor Party-led government defined in the late 1990s five economic tests that must be met prior to adopting the Euro as national currency, either via parliamentary ratification or referendum. Euro adoption remains a domestic hot button issue and thus may not be addressed for many years. But, it’d be interesting to see how politicians and business leaders will react once the euro reaches parity with, or gradually outpaces, the pound sterling. So far, the euro has risen 65% vs. the pound, from a low of 57 cents in 2000 to 94 cents a decade later, briefly nearing parity late in 2008 (.98 in December 2008).

Competitive Asymmetry vs. Corporate Strategy: The Perilous Nexus in a Treacherous Chasm

February 19, 2010 64 comments

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by Marquis Codjia



In the past, corporate strategists sought to maximize overall firm profitability by devising the best modus operandi that will help achieve results efficiently and effectively. Such a strategy routinely took advantage of the endogenous analogies of a homogenous market or geographic zone, such as culture, regulatory landscape, uniformity in fiscal or monetary policies, and socio-political affinity.

This system of similarities was observed in North America between Canada and the United States, in Western Europe prior to the Schengen Accords that led to higher economic integration within the European federation, and Japan within its Asian economic and geopolitical fiefdom. It has proven very fruitful for many a company because the strategic proximity afforded them lower implementation costs and higher profitability.

Nowadays, globalization along with its cohort of uncertainties is rebalancing the economic landscape and swinging the strategic pendulum in unlikely whereabouts. Globalization forces companies to review their tactical practices because of inherent execution difficulties in cross-cultural environments.

Tactics ought not to be mixed up with strategy. The former deals with detailed maneuvers to achieve aims set by the latter.

The need to control and instill a grain of homogeneity in the global marketplace has forced Western governments – mainly – to found organizations that will promote anti-protectionist measures and greater legislative coordination in world’s business. World Trade Organizations (WTC), North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), and Eurozone are examples of such institutions or zones.

Though these international bodies have help catapult capitalistic free-trade as the preferred ethos, they have proven ineffective at creating a common economic environment in which corporations can engineer the same strategy to achieve their goals across geographical zones or markets.

This failure is due to the complex continuum of events taking place daily in the global arena that forces corporate leaders to include new factors in their strategy matrices.

A strategy matrix indicates how effectively a business entity can achieve profitability by juxtaposing such factors as store location, operating procedures, goods/services offered, pricing tactics, store atmosphere and customer services, and promotional methods.

New factors to be added to the mix are diverse and intricate; hence, an exhaustive analytical list cannot be within the purview of this paper. Some emerging trends relate to online marketing, higher government intervention, shareholder activism, military deals with domestic or foreign vendors, terrorism and war effects, and intellectual property theft.

Business leaders usually lump some of these issues in several corporate functions: risk management, government relations, regulatory, marketing, human resources, etc., and address them at higher echelons only when their magnitude dictates executive decision-making.

This approach is erroneous because it fails to recognize the systemic pedigree of corporate strategy and the notion that it must include all risks and objectives across the organization to be successful. The threats cited earlier are complex and diverse, and they usually change market equilibria by permitting, for instance, small firms to compete against larger rivals in markets they once couldn’t have penetrated.

This is the reason why I ascribe the concept of “competitive asymmetry” to this new phenomenon.

Numerous news headlines illustrate competitive asymmetry in the market. Western luxury brands are nowadays faced with fierce competition from “made in China” faked items, while American pharmaceutical mammoths like Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson observe powerlessly patent-protected pills being fraudulently transformed into generics in India. Another example is activist investor Carl Icahn confronting Time Warner’s management and demanding a change in corporate strategy or organizational structure (segment divestiture, merger, acquisition, etc.).

Other instances include Boeing filing a contract protest with the US Government Accountability Office after it lost a military deal to Northrop Grumman Corp and Europe’s EADS or fast-food giant McDonald losing an eight-year trademark battle to stop Malaysian Indian McCurry Restaurant from using the “Mc” trademark.

These trends are obviously deleterious for most firms within the western hemisphere because that asymmetric rivalry deprives them of the profits their R&D investment must have normally secured over a large time span. The threat is coming principally from emerging and underdeveloped countries because now mature European, American and Japanese markets no longer offer maximal growth prospects and enjoy a legal environment that disincentivizes intellectual property malpractice.

Major companies cannot underestimate the criticality of these emerging trends because they not only stand to lose market share at home but also see their profits eroded in those international markets where growth rates are healthier.

I’ll end with some geoeconomics questions: how will Google’s recent infuriation at China affect the firm’s country strategy given that the current 300 million Chinese computer users constitute a less ignorable niche? What about its overall Asia strategy? Will business prevail over politics? Will Google’s potential exit from the Chinese market propel rival Baidu to domestic and global supremacy? How will that affect the firm strategy with respect to launching other products in a country with 1.3 billion customers? How will this affect Google’s overall profit line?