Oh my goodness, where do we start?
I have to say I am not known for the consistency of my Blog writing and my 2015 New Year’s resolution, to improve that consistency, like resolutions I suspect of many other people is already out of the window as this Blog is at least two weeks later than I had intended.
However, I was spurred into action by a comment I received from one legislator the other day who was trying to link the recent lack of activity to a suggestion I might have been ‘sat upon’ by some quarters regarding my series of Blogs on Occupy Central. To which I can only say “far from it”! As Howard Winn writing under Laisee in the SCMP pointed out last October I have always been independent of thought and expression, and my views on that movement struck a positive chord with considerably more people than it seemed to irritate a few others. That is what freedom of expression is all about – an agreement to disagree, without getting either violent or stupid about it. And if you can’t stand negative comments, don’t comment in the first place.
Which brings us to this year - and where do these years go anyway?
It actually doesn’t matter where you look, but we haven’t got off to the most wonderful of starts this year, with my conclusion being that this is likely to be a difficult and volatile year. And in part because each year our world becomes more complex and more complicated.
[In case you are wondering about the difference between complex and complicated, let me describe my understanding of the two. Something that is complex may have many parts to it that require putting together properly, but it might not of itself be difficult. Complicated, however suggests to me a considerably higher level of difficulty that requires much work to solve it.]
There is much in my mind that I could write about, accepting that my views are no more or less valid than those of anyone else, but to keep matters manageable I intend therefore to try and keep this to two Blogs .
Oil prices this year are in sharp focus, and I heard a commentator the other day talking about the current oil price and saying that this was absolutely nothing to do with politics and was solely about a greater supply, particularly out of the US and partly falling demand. In other words nothing unusual and the market was behaving, as it should.
Well maybe sometimes I don’t understand as much as I think I do, but consider this:
The Russians have been major suppliers of arms to the Syrians who sit on the Saudi Arabian border, and whose troubles could one day just spill over into the Kingdom. The oil price slump has battered the rouble, which hurts Russia. Also I can’t see the US being terribly unhappy with the pressure being put on Russia as a result of the Saudi position.
Next, and as a result of US policy and the desire of the rest of the world to ensure that weapons of mass destruction in the hands of Iran should be moderated, the US has become rather close to Iran. No progress so far but there is a lot of wooing. Saudi Arabia in turn cannot be desperately happy with the US sort of “adopting” Iran as a favoured Middle Eastern nation in replacement of the Kingdom, but in truth they too would also feel more comfortable if Iran was less nuclear. So, oil price pressure on Iran might make them more amenable to US talks.
The idea of the US becoming self-sufficient in oil and gas through the fracking processes used, will of course have an impact on oil prices – reducing them. However, fracking is a more expensive extraction option in terms of ongoing capital expenditure, which with a low oil price if it is sustained and supported by OPEC means those producers in the USA and of course elsewhere are going to start hurting soon on economic grounds. Draw your own conclusions.
So is the current cost of oil purely based on economic supply and demand? I don’t really think so.
Oil prices, the recent situation with copper prices and the commodities market in general, the currency markets currently volatile especially after the recent Swiss announcements, and problems once more for the Euro. The potential property bubbles being created by wealthy Russians and Chinese presumably beginning to falter as wealth becomes eroded in one country and more probing questions are being asked about sources of funds in another all suggest that skittish markets are going to be the norm for a while. And watch this space if interest rates start to rise at all. There are some businesses, many small, and of course individuals particularly in the housing market, that will not welcome such a move.
So, a word of warning to those with short term memories – if you don’t understand the markets and can’t afford the volatility, stay out of them!
For all of the negatives though, it has to be said that some businesses will seek relevant opportunities and be successful even in these markets. In particular look for companies who are hiring some older people who have experience of managing in markets in a down turn. Some of our younger colleagues haven’t had that experience yet.
But enough for now. I have a few other things that are troubling me. For Part II I want to consider the rise of urban terrorism, mentioned in my columns before and to touch on associated subjects like education, integration of communities, leadership and politics – although I fear that political leadership is now an oxymoron.