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Welcome to my newsletter, The Global Pivot.

Welcome to my newsletter, The Global Pivot.

The Global Pivot

Welcome to my newsletter,

The Global Pivot

The geopolitical tensions and energy dilemmas of our time have no easy answers, but the forces of progress ride on the tail of the storm. I propose the actions decision-makers can take to maximise opportunities in these challenging times.

 

In this packed edition, I offer an overview of the most significant global risks facing the global economy and opportunities for the African continent.

I also review an insightful and timely book, How to Invest, by David M. Rubenstein, one of the co-founders of Carlyle Group, the global private equity investment company. This review places the book in the context of changing geopolitics, the strain on the global economy, and the challenges financial institutions and tech companies face.

 

Lastly, I attach a link to my latest article that proposes new ways of framing decision-making. I look at how decision-makers can use framing to grapple with South Africa's economic challenges.

I hope you enjoy this edition. I look forward to your feedback.

Mzukisi Qobo


Global Risks and Opportunities Ahead

Volume 1, 31 January 2023

 

Crisis as opportunity

Every crisis contains seeds of opportunity for change and progress. As we settle into 2023, the shadows of the old hazards will continue to lurk on the horizon. The Russia-Ukraine war is escalating as the US and a few European countries ramp up military support for Ukraine, casting doubt on the cessation of hostilities in the foreseeable future.

 

The US and its partners, Japan and the Netherlands, with possibly more Western countries following, are escalating hostilities with China by throttling microchip supplies to that country to curtail its technological advancement. These geopolitical tensions intensify in ways that pose a grave risk to global stability and growth.

 

Countries have different capabilities and degrees of resilience to withstand global headwinds. Several African countries are grappling with debt distress. Due to the Ukraine war, many are still bearing the brunt of food shortages resulting from the disruption of critical inputs and commodities. New challenges are on the horizon.

 

El Nino is set to return and may worsen at the end of 2023, presenting climate-related risks to Africa’s food security. The rising interest rates across the world will continue to put pressure on businesses and households.

 

In the past, business leaders and entrepreneurs have found sources of innovation in perplexing circumstances. At times they worked closely with governments, such as when military technologies – space surveillance and missile technologies – came to life at the end of World War Two. Crises can only be turned into opportunities when leaders demonstrate the capacity for farsighted planning and use critical moments of change to the advantage of their societies.

 

This post-war period yielded technological breakthroughs, spawning innovations suited for civilian applications. The embers of the war gave life to the age of the transistor in 1947 and the integrated circuit in 1958. That era was the cradle of modern-day technology powered by microchips.

 

As the world continues to face economic turbulence in the year ahead, it is well to bear in mind that crises also contain seeds of innovation. 

 

Top Risks 2023 Risks

In its Global Risks Report 2023,  the World Economic Forum has highlighted several risks that face the world today. The top 5 risks include the cost of living crisis, natural disasters and extreme weather events, geoeconomics confrontations, failure to mitigate climate change, and societal polarisation. Persistent inflationary pressures that may force central bankers to sustain a hawkish monetary policy will strain middle-class households and businesses.

 

New global inequality

This new dispensation of multiplied crises could also accentuate socio-economic divergences within countries, with the elite becoming more affluent; while the middle class and the marginalised sections of society converging in their opposition to orthodoxy and mainstream political parties.

 

Perhaps the area ripe for new thinking is economic policy. There is a need for governments to calibrate economic policy instruments to respond to the immediate socio-economic pressures while defining the building blocks for new, innovation-led economic activities in the face of the imperative to achieve net zero.

 

In these harsh conditions, those countries with the fiscal headroom – mainly advanced industrial economies – can protect their citizens through energy subsidies and tie fiscal support to green industries that meet local content thresholds. America’s Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) aims to bolster green industries at home to forestall deindustrialisation and social discontent.

 

The European Union’s answer is the proposed EU Sovereign Fund to promote upstream research, innovation, and strategic industrial projects, which it hopes to support through the revised emissions trading system that will raise about 700 billion Euros by 2030. Both schemes will introduce new protectionism, which lean on using emissions standards or local content requirements to discipline imports, especially from developing countries and those countries perceived to be taking hostile foreign policy stances.

 

These forces will dampen global growth and further widen global inequalities. According to the Boston Consulting Group, “trade will grow at a slower average rate [2.3%] than GDP in the coming nine years, reversing the pattern of trade-related global growth that has prevailed in recent decades”. The WEF Global Risks Report makes similar observations about the possible reversal of global convergence that resulted from an open global economy and relatively favourable international trading conditions.

 

Finding new sources of economic vitality

New thinking about economic interventions and global stability is required more than ever before: the multilateral system is ripe for redesign to prioritise global development and equity alongside other priorities to promote global growth and an open trading system. At the domestic level, the state must be actively involved in co-creating new growth sectors, promoting green industrialisation and supporting digital innovation while providing social transfers for the most vulnerable.

 

African countries have an opportunity to collaborate on developing new value chains on strategic minerals that will play a pivotal role in new green industries, especially electric vehicles. China is the fastest growing market for electric vehicles. Rising demand for electric vehicles will set off a new resource rush that African countries must exploit to shore up their tax revenues and to build intergenerational equity using well-governed sovereign wealth funds. The demand will surge, particularly, for strategic minerals such as lithium, nickel, cobalt, manganese, graphite, and metals such as copper.

 

The US government has adopted the Inflation Reduction Act with a significant component of electric vehicle support to accelerate the shift away from combustion engines, achieve high localisation content, and create new jobs. In light of these developments, African countries may need to reorient their trade strategies, engage in smart economic diplomacy built on promoting value chains, and maximise developmental benefits from bilateral and multilateral trade.

 

The Africa Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), America’s unilateral trade preference scheme, expires in 2025, and renewal is uncertain. The US will likely link the continuation of market access opportunities to realising its geoeconomics interests; bilateral free trade agreements could be its preferred instrument for future trade relations with African countries. African countries will do well to agglomerate their bargaining power around strategic minerals.

 

If African countries turn their potential into smart power, they stand to reap success from the present crises. African countries, however, will need to overcome old challenges related to governance and institutional weaknesses and bolster their capabilities to manage economic change while responding to evolving patterns of international relations that are increasingly shaped by considerations of geoeconomics.


Book Review:

How to Invest by David M. Rubenstein

Mzukisi Qobo

Capital is the oil of the global economy. The world of finance has changed significantly since the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009. New regulations have configured the banking sector while emerging financial platforms such as Fintech have gained ground. 

Cryptocurrencies grew in popularity even though they are not backed by central banks – although increasingly, central banks are mulling their own digital currencies.

 

Investors are finding ways of maximising returns in both good and bad times. Despite harsh trading conditions during covid-19, some private equity funds harvested gains. Some, such as Bruce Karsh’s Global Opportunities Group, deployed $14 billion of capital at the height of the pandemic in 2020 (they invested $11bn during the global financial crisis), chasing after debt-distressed assets. There is also a new generation of investors driven by social consciousness and a desire to improve the world through insistence on ESG, diversity, and using their family foundations to support philanthropic activities.

 

The book by David M Rubenstein, titled How to Invest, carries deep insights into the arcane world of finance. It lifts the lid on public equities, family offices, university endowments, private equity funds and leveraged buyouts, venture capital, alternative instruments such as Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs), cryptocurrencies, and infrastructure. Rubenstein’s interview style of writing is highly engaging, probing both the personal and the professional.

 

Rubenstein’s format brings much clarity to the ideas and strategies the masters of the investment craft utilise. The individuals who share their insights are leading minds and founders, and many came to this seemingly rarefied world through liberal arts, with some learning their craft on the job. The household names covered in this book are Larry Fink, Ray Dalio, Ron Barron, Sam Zell, Marc Andreesen, Mike Novogratz, and Adebayo Ogunlesi.

 

There are also stirring debates in these conversations about contentious subjects such as cryptocurrencies, Special Purpose Acquisition Companies, ESG, and the role of the private sector in driving infrastructure investment.

Volatile instruments, such as cryptocurrencies, gained popularity because of the trust deficit in governments. In Rubenstein’s book, both the skeptics and proponents amplify their philosophies in equal measure.

 

Proponents argue that cryptocurrencies democratise wealth and store value through a distributed trust platform. Their lack of intrinsic value opens them up to attack by those who see them as a fad, if not an unsustainable bubble.

 

Cryptocurrencies shed significant value in 2022, with Bitcoin losing half its weight. Coinbase, the company trading in bitcoins, was forced to lay off workers. While critics have pointed to price volatility as yet another example of the lack of credibility of crypto, its proponents have shot back to contend that crypto is still at its early stage and is prone to experience gyrations like any asset in the financial markets.

 

The various alternative investment instruments have had their own share of problems recently. At the beginning of 2023, Goldman Sachs was shedding thousands of jobs in its investment bank division and had blamed the Fintech unit for the losses it suffered since 2020, estimated to be about $3 billion.

 

Elsewhere, the Special Purpose Acquisition Companies (SPACs)[1] that have enjoyed the limelight as preferred vehicles for taking companies public were confronted by harsh market conditions; some experienced cashflow problems in 2022 on the back of rate hikes.

 

There was no shortage of cases of abuse of the ESG framework for “greenwashing”. The asset management division of Deutsch Bank was sued in 2022 by a consumer group for greenwashing.[2] Others, such as the Goldman Sachs asset management unit, also came under scrutiny by the US Securities & Exchange Commission for greenwashing investment funds to entice investors. The book by David Rubenstein gives us a frame to understand the world of finance around us and how it is changing.

 

Significantly, this book highlights how finance shapes the global economy, especially against the backdrop of the Covid-19 pandemic, geopolitical tensions, and inflation. It also highlights the role of businesses and high-net-worth individuals in responding to deep-seated social and economic challenges through philanthropy.

 

This book is a timely work that renders the craft of investment accessible to general readers who want to understand finance. It will also appeal to entrepreneurs and investors who wish to broaden their arsenal of knowledge. Governments may find the book helpful as it offers a suite of capital instruments to support growth and realise public value.

 

David M. Rubenstein, How to Invest: Masters on the Craft. 2022. New York: Simon & Schuster.



[1] Shell entities that sell shares to the public and use those funds to buy an operating business, thereby facilitating a merger between the operating business with a listed shell company. In the US they are used by private equity firms and venture capital as an alternative to IPO which demands rigorous paperwork and compliance. Their public offering are still arranged through leading banks such as Citigroup, Credit Suisse and Goldman Sachs.

[2] Greenwashing refers to a company’s overstatement of its ESG credentials or claim to be doing something for sustainability when there is no credible evidence backing this.


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