No Rest for the Weary

No Rest for the Weary

Just when it looked like it was safe to go back into the water, with the U.S. stock market up some 70 percent from its lows of the Great Recession, with more than 230,000 jobs created in April, and with shipping volumes starting to move up, what happens? The Dow takes a Great Lurch downward, including May 6’s momentary drop into the abyss of 1,000 points in about 30 minutes caused by no-one-is-quite-sure-what-yet (maybe a “big thumb” error?), before rebounding and then yo-yoing some more.

And despite April’s buoyant jobs number, even more unemployed folks were out looking for work, so the overall unemployment rate increased two-tenths of a percentage point to 9.9 percent. Greece, the “G” of the latest snappy acronym PIIGS — for Portugal, Italy, Ireland, Greece and Spain — teetered on the brink of bankruptcy and anarchy, with riots in the streets and acrimony in government.

In Britain, this month’s election results were inconclusive, yielding what the Brits call a “hung Parliament” — no party got a majority, even though the Conservatives, the U.K. version of Republicans, had a double-digit lead in the polls just a few weeks earlier.

Rating agencies (you’ll remember them from some of our own issues over the past two years) downgraded the creditworthiness of at least two of the PIIGS. The result: the pound and euro plunged, making the dollar more valuable and U.S. exports more expensive -- and making the Obama administration’s goal of doubling exports in the next five years even more challenging.

And then there’s the deadly disaster in the Gulf, with a sunken oil platform spewing 210,000 gallons of crude a day into the waters that produce some 40 percent of the seafood consumed in America.

There’s more, of course, but being the optimist I am, I’ll stop here and look at other, more positive developments. Shipping volume, for example, is up, so the world hasn’t spiraled totally out of control. Still, no one is quite sure whether that’s a sign of genuine market recovery or a short-term inventory replenishment or adjustment. We probably won’t know the answer to that for a couple of months.

I hope to provide some of that news firsthand. As you read this, I’m in the middle of a two-week trade mission to Asia that will take me, along with Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski and a group of Oregon business and public agency executives, to Japan, South Korea, Hong Kong and China, including stops in Fuzhou, Shanghai and Beijing.

Oregon’s economy is one of the 10 most trade-dependent in America, with products ranging from big volumes of agricultural exports to automobile imports from Japan and South Korea, to the high-tech world of computer chips and other products moving through the Port of Portland, by sea and air. We’ll visit many of the state’s customers and suppliers and looking to establish new business contacts.

Timing, of course, is everything, and the Port of Portland this month locked in a long-term, 25-year lease agreement with Philippine terminal operator ICTSI for the port’s Terminal 6 container facility. This will, no doubt, be part of our conversations in Asia.

More importantly for this column, I hope to bring back a wide range of impressions and observations from the many locations we’ll visit and from the meetings and discussions we’ll have with major U.S. and Oregon trading partners.

I often recall the famous Chinese curse, “may you live in interesting times” -- full disclosure: I checked and the phrase isn’t Chinese and it’s probably not old, but it is nonetheless a good phrase -- and it will be on my mind again during this trip. We indeed are living in interesting times, in America and around the world and in our ever-more-complex interactions and interdependencies with others about what the right courses of action and progress might be.

We’ll be hearing some of this during our journey, and I will report my impressions next month. I hope you’ll drop by and, as always, I’ll look forward to hearing from you, pro or con.

Barry Horowitz is the principal of CMS Consulting Services and former general manager of container marketing at the Port of Portland. He can be contacted at 503-208-2232, or at barryh@cms-cs.com