The third presidential debate is scheduled for tonight, 9:30 EDT. While the focus of the debate is foreign policy, with the economy being what it is (and also one of Romney's chief attack points), I would expect the debate to turn back to economics and jobs whenever possible. One of the topics, the "Rise of China and Tomorrow's World," has the potential to swing towards the business-side of things, especially on China's artificially deflated currency and the effect it is or is not having on the American economy. For those of you who might need a refresher, here's a quick breakdown of the issue:
Why China's low currency does (or does not) affect your business:
Some foreign countries try to keep the value of their currency low compared to the dollar in order to make their exports cheaper (If the U.S. dollar is worth more, U.S. companies can buy more exports, which in turn generates more wealth and employment for the foreign country.) The "downside," or I guess counter to the benefit of cheaper exports, is that unbalanced world currencies make it difficult for countries with higher-valued cash (such as the U.S.) to compete with their own exports in the world economy. This is where the rhetoric of China "stealing" American jobs comes in, since by artificially keeping its currency low, China undercuts American manufacturing and exports, theoretically contributing to U.S. unemployment in those areas.
So why does this matter to you? Well, China keeping a low currency value would keep the price of your imports low and stable. A higher value could cause any number of things, from nothing (if value rises but remains low compared to the country's manufacturing peers) to a big shift in where most promotional products are manufactured. Manufacturing shifts to other countries, such as India or Honduras, could happen, as could a rebirth of American manufacturing. Your imported product prices might go up, or they might not. American manufacturing could pick up, or it may not. It would depend on how fast currency values equalized, and across what countries. Were American manufacturing and/or exporting to significantly pick up, it would mean lower unemployment, theoretically helpful to your business across-the-board.
It's worth noting that some sources, such as the Financial Times and the Washington Post, claim that China's currency manipulation has dropped off and is beginning to correct itself, making it a practical non-issue for the U.S. Others, like the New York Times, state that while China's currency situation under Obama has improved, said improvement has recently halted as China's economy slows down.
Where the candidates stand: Romney appears the more aggressive of the two candidates on China's currency manipulation. As quoted in the New York Times:
"On Day 1, I will label China a currency manipulator, which will allow me as president to be able to put in place, if necessary, tariffs where I believe that they are taking unfair advantage of our manufacturers," he said.
Tariffs could counteract the advantage China's has been gaining from its low currency, but are also not necessarily a perfect solution. China could create counter-tariffs on American exports to China. According to the Financial Times, American exports to China account for about $108 billion in American goods and services, 800,000 jobs and have grown by 541 percent over the last 10 years. Tariffs on China would also not prevent other countries from artificially deflating their currency and simply shifting the low-cost manufacturing problem to a different location.
The New York Times reports that under Obama, the value of China's renminbi has grown at least 8.5 percent, to a value of 15.9 cents compared to the U.S. dollar. Obama does have some tariffs on China-made goods, such as solar panels, though overall he does not seem to favor protective tariffs, inside opting to adjust exchange rates based on inflation at the consumer level between the two countries.
Beyond the issues of currency and tariffs, I don't see a lot of opportunities for the debate to head toward business (beyond the classic political move of "answer a question with something totally unrelated to just shift the conversation toward that anyway"). I suppose oil prices and defense spending could always come up, which are both issues that can impact the promotional industry (oil being needed for shipping and plastics, defense companies like Lockheed Martin being I assume meaningful purchasers of promotional products), but I don't really know enough about those topics to comment intelligently, so I'm just not going to say anything. (I don't expect either of those topics to come up in any depth, so the point is probably moot anyway.)
Happy debate-watching everyone, thanks for reading, and see you all next week!
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MONDAY MIKE FACT: I like to clean while listening to the debates. I think it's because it keeps my stress down while I listen to 1 ½ hours of arguing.