March 3, 2015

The Markets

It was an Alice in Wonderland week. European countries, companies, and entrepreneurs were getting paid to borrow money, and ordinary Joes with money in some European banks got letters saying the banks would be charging to hold their money. The New York Times reported:

“The most profound changes are taking place in Europe’s bond market which has been turned into something of a charity, at least for certain borrowers. The latest example came on Wednesday when Germany issued a five-year bond worth nearly $4 billion with a negative interest rate. Investors were essentially agreeing to be paid back slightly less money than they lent.

Bonds issued by Switzerland, the Netherlands, France, Belgium, Finland, and even fiscally challenged Italy also have negative yields. Right now, roughly $1.75 trillion in bonds issued by countries in the eurozone are trading with negative yields which are equivalent to more than a quarter of the total government bonds…”

At the end of February, many European stock markets were surprisingly showing gains for the year.

A Manufacturing Renaissance?

In the 1950s, manufacturing accounted for 30 percent of America’s gross domestic product (GDP), which is the value of all goods and services produced in the United States. Today, it comprises about 12 percent of GDP. That’s a big change and it was accompanied by a big shift in employment. In its heyday, manufacturing companies employed about 20 million people in America. Today, that number has fallen to about 12 million.

For decades, companies moved production facilities away from the United States to countries like China which offered lower manufacturing costs. Now, the trend is beginning to reverse. Lower energy prices and rising wages in emerging countries have companies moving manufacturing back to the United States. However, they’re running into a stumbling block – a shortage of skilled labor. A BBC report asked:

“…will Americans really contemplate going back to work on the factory floor? The companies all worried about a shortage of skilled workers. So, I went to meet students from the University of Tennessee. They told me they didn’t see their future in manufacturing. Some wanted to finance those plants while others said that they weren’t good enough at mathematics to work in advanced industries.”

The 2015 Manufacturing Institute and Deloitte Skills Gap study confirmed the shortage of skilled manufacturing labor here in the United States and reported little is expected to change during the next decade. Through 2025, close to 3.5 million manufacturing jobs are likely to open but just 1.4 million will be filled because there are not enough workers with the right skill sets. The study found:

  • 60 percent of available skilled production positions remain open
  • 80 percent of manufacturing companies are willing to pay more than the going rates to attract skilled workers
  • 82 percent of executives believe the skilled labor shortage will affect their ability to meet customers’ needs

The Economist was skeptical about a renaissance in U.S. manufacturing. It reported for the industry to flourish, America needs investment in research and development, improved schools and colleges, and changes to the tax system.

Weekly Focus

“Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning.” -Albert Einstein, physicist

Photo courtesy of the Intel Free Press, used in accordance with the Creative Commons ShareAlike 2.0 license.

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