Friday, 3 June 2016

The Reason Why Apple Can't Open A Store In India

It may be one of the world's largest and most iconic brands, but Apple has yet been unable to persuade the Indian government to allow the building of a single Apple Retail Store.

Photo: @tim_cook
Recently, Apple CEO Tim Cook made a much-publicised visit to India, mingling with Bollywood stars, visiting a Hindu temple and generally experiencing what the second most populated country in the world has to offer. But this wasn't a holiday- following Apple's success in China, Cook has turned his sights to India, a country whose economy has boomed in a similar fashion over recent decades. No doubt, business was firmly in the Apple CEO's mind throughout the trip, as he met with key players in India's technology market as well as the nation's Prime Minister.

One of the issues believed widely to be at the forefront of discussions is that of Apple Stores in India. Looking at the massive boom in consumerism in India over recent decades, it seems unbelievable, but there remains no official Apple Store built in the country. Yes, there are 'premium resellers' located across India, local franchise-style businesses authorised to sell Apple products, but these lack typical features of Apple Stores, such as a Genius bar for technical support. There is no official, Jony Ive-designed Apple Store anywhere in India.

The situation is all due to the interesting government policies regarding the activities of foreign businesses in India. The headline policy preventing Apple here is the one requiring at least 30% of all products sold in foreign retail stores in India to be sourced locally. This is part of the 'Make in India' initiative designed to encourage foreign investment in Indian manufacturing, on top of input in the local goods market.

Currently, the large majority of Apple's products are made in China, the USA and Brazil, and even if Apple* does begin to manufacture products in India as recent talks were also rumoured to be about, it is highly unlikely that it could produce 30% of the ware it sells in its stores locally by 2017 as it hopes.

So Apple must either play the long game and ramp up production in India over the next 5-10 years to conform to the rule, or it must seek an exception. This will prove an interesting test of Modi's government's commitment to his 'Make in India' policy. Apple being such a massively influencial global company, the country could see a substantial, immediate economic boost if it lets Apple bypass the policy.

However, of course this is a sign that there is room for compromise, and it may provoke other multinational corporations to seek exceptions too. Furthermore, the government could make use of Apple's desperation to open stores in India to its advantage, if they demand that jobs and other sustainable sources of growth (such as factories) can be contributed by Apple in return.

From Apple's perspective, it is time to grab the Lurpak and begin to butter up the Indian government. Modi is highly unlikely to allow stores to be opened without any contributions made elsewhere at all, but if any company is to receive a little leeway in this matter, Apple is highly likely to be it.

* Apple does not technically manufacture its products, this is outsourced to dedicated manufacturing firms such as Foxconn.

Wednesday, 11 May 2016

Want To Save Britain's Economy? Vote To Stay In Europe.




As each day passes the EU referendum draws ever closer, a referendum whose outcome will undoubtedly have huge impacts on both the economic and political landscape of the whole country for years to come. A huge part of the debate that’s raging is over the political repercussions of either outcome, much of which focusses on our political sovereignty and by extension the central issue of ‘regaining control’ of our borders. I’m not going to address the potential political outcomes (the endless rhetoric clouding politicians’ true intentions makes this nigh-on impossible anyway) but instead I will focus on the economic aspect of this debate. In doing this I will seek to answer one key question: which option should the people of the United Kingdom take to ensure economic prosperity going forward?

There is no precedent to the situation the UK finds itself in, therefore nobody can state empirically exactly what the outcomes of each choice are. The complexity of prediction is further hampered by the range of trade deals the UK has if it does choose to leave, but that’s not to say we can’t build models to predict at the very least the net effect of the outcomes – whether they are positive or negative. Economically, we can split the potential impacts of a ‘Brexit’ into the short and medium-to-long term, with different potential issues presenting themselves in different time frames.

Author’s Own Calculations using data sourced from ONS
Short term issues are already presenting themselves. The referendum is still a month off but the mere possibility that the UK could leave the EU is already having tangible economic repercussions. We saw a negative trend in GDP growth in the first quarter of this year, with growth falling 0.2% compared to final quarter of 2015, and UK industry has fallen into recession after two successive periods of negative growth in Q4 (the fourth quarter) of 2015 and the Q1 in 2016. Though it would be both na├»ve and plain wrong of me to attribute this growth slowdown completely to uncertainty, it is at least partly responsible. If seen in the results for the second quarter of the year, it does pose a question – if we’re seeing this kind of trend in an economy which is merely discussing the possibility of abandoning the status-quo, then what results will we see if the UK does actually vote to leave? Further slowdowns in growth, coupled with a very real possibility of contraction of the economy are the most obvious guesses.

The uncertainty goes further. We’re already starting to see markets pricing the risk to the economy, the most obvious of which is in the CDS spreads (Credit Default Swaps – essentially the cost of insuring UK debt against a default). The spread allows the cost to be compared to other economies and the Eurozone to see how the market is pricing the individual risk of default). In the 6 months to April 2014, costs have nearly trebled, nearly reaching the Eurozone level as a whole and overtaking both the US and Japanese cost. What does this mean? The markets see the country as a risky prospect, the problem with that is that businesses don’t invest in a risky economy.

Kierzenjowski et. Al (OECD)
The long term effects are perhaps more of a significant worry, however. One such effect is the predicted impact on Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) – investment by foreign investors in UK businesses or other entities. The scale of FDI in this country is huge, with FDI stock estimated to be over £1 trillion and roughly half coming from within the EU. Part of the appeal for non-EU investors is the UK’s access to the single market – access which we may or may not have if we choose to leave. EU membership has had a huge effect on the level of FDI – the Centre for Economic Performance estimates that membership has increased FDI by around 28%. 

But why does it matter? What impact will this have on our everyday lives? For a start, studies have found that (for varying reasons) FDI has (among others) the benefit of enhancing productivity . This would suggest a positive correlation between GDP and FDI levels and empirically we find that to be the case, especially in an economy with such a large service sector.

Based on a conservative model, if the UK were to leave the EU, we would expect to see a 3.4% reduction in real incomes, a loss even greater than the anticipated drop in trade and a figure which translates to £2200 per household – not small change.

Another issue I want to just briefly address is the supposed reduction in the contribution to the EU budget. The net contribution to the EU budget, once total public sector receipts have been applied, was £8.5billion in 2015- but it is a fallacy to think we will no longer have to contribute to any organisation should we leave the EU. There are thought to be four options for trade agreements – the Norwegian Model (joining the European Economic Area), the Swiss Model in which they negotiate individual treaties to take part in any initiatives, re-joining the Free Trade Association (FTA) or trading through the World Trade Organisation.

I don’t have time to describe exactly what each one entails- it’s safe to say each comes with its own disadvantages- but I’m going to briefly describe how their contributions compare to ours. Norway are part of the European Economic Area; essentially this is just jargon for saying they are part of the single market but not full paid-up EU members. Compared to the UK, the net contributions are only 17% lower and come with disadvantages in the form of having no influence over EU decision making and potentially facing higher costs in trade.

The Swiss Model is significantly ‘cheaper’ than the Norwegian model- it’s estimated that the contribution to the EU budget is 60% lower than the UK’s contribution per capita. However there’s no guarantee of market access that the EU provides, and again, the UK is shut out of influencing key EU decisions.

Rejoining the European Free Trade (FTA) agreement is the third option and, though there is no obligation to contribute to the EU budget, increased non-tariff barriers between the UK and the EU are likely to arise, as well as greater restrictions on the free movement of people (it’s worth remembering that migration has been found to have a positive net effect on the economy).
The final option is to be governed by the World Trade Organisation. This would increase the cost of exporting for UK firms relative to the EU, there would be no right of access to EU markets and the same issue with free movement of people that was present in the FTA would also apply here.

The conclusion of all this? There are trade alternatives that the UK could choose to pursue but each one has its flaws. For some, this is the insignificant reduction of contributions to the EU budget, for others it’s the increased difficulty and cost of trading within Europe. There’s no straightforward alternative.

I said that I wasn’t going to talk about the political side of this argument but I feel I must say something brief in conclusion. Economically speaking, this decision appears to be a no-brainer – the net effect of being in the EU on the UK economy is positive. However, this debate is a wider discussion than just the economic consequences and I understand that the political landscape and ‘ever-closer union’ that the EU appears to be striving for is a potential cause for concern and there are countless other issues that will influence the way people vote. All this means that I think the decision over whether to leave the EU will come down to one key battle – nigh-on ensured Economic prosperity, or political sovereignty. Which will you choose?



Monday, 9 May 2016

Donald Trump: The King of Debt [Video]

Donald Trump, the Republican nominee for President of the USA, is pretty outrageous at times. What he says about the economy, national debt and borrowing doesn't help him either. 

Saturday, 16 April 2016

Mythbusters: Brexit Edition

People have been clouded by scaremongering that has prevented us from getting to the real debate of Britain's EU membership, says Matt Walton. Today, he seeks to set the record straight on this key issue.


The debate surrounding the economic implications of Britain leaving the EU has so far been dominated by both sides trying to outdo each other in terms of scaremongering. “Brexit could cost £100bn and nearly 1m jobs” say the EU-funded CBI one week. “EU policies threaten to cost Britain £9,265” says the IEA the next. It is perhaps no wonder that many voters feel a little bit unsure about who to trust. The announcement this week that the government would spend £9.3 million on a pro-EU leaflet to every household meant that they had another organisation to add to that list of scaremongers. In this piece, I will attempt to draw together the economic arguments for Britain to leave the EU while rebutting some of the outlandish claims of the ‘In’ side. Before starting, however, I have a slight admission: My main motivation for wanting to leave the EU is not economic, but rather democratic. I fundamentally believe that we must leave so that we can hold those who make our laws accountable. However, given that this is an economics blog site, I will focus on the potential economic benefits which this country could enjoy.

Naturally most of the economic arguments surrounding the debate concern Britain’s trading relationship with the EU if we vote to leave. Trade is what the EU is all about after all, isn’t it? Campaigners on the Remain side have said that Britain would struggle to negotiate a favourable trading arrangement if we leave. That Britain is a relatively insignificant market for the EU and it would therefore be the EU which dictates the conditions of the deal, not the UK. This is incredibly misleading. Firstly, on the day that we vote to leave the EU, we become the EU’s largest export market for goods. Moreover, we currently export goods and services to the EU to the value of £228.9 billion per year whereas we import £290.6 billion of their goods and services (2014 figures). This means that we have a trade deficit with the EU of £61.7 billion. At a time when the EU struggles to shake off the remnants of the Euro crisis and when growth is still sluggish, can you imagine any desire on the EU’s part to forfeit this huge source of income?

Let’s suppose, however, that Britain does not reach a trade deal with the EU. A worst-case scenario, where the EU member states close ranks and say: “We won’t give you a trade deal, if you’re out you’re out.” Aside from being a particularly unlikely outcome, it’s also not a particularly damaging one for the UK. In this situation, the UK would revert to the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). WTO rules dictate that tariffs on most goods must be between 1% and 3%. Let it be reminded that this is the minimum standard. In other words, almost negligible. The only areas where this is not the case is a) cars and b) agricultural products. 

But any tariffs the EU imposes on Britain will be matched by equivalent UK tariffs on EU products. Who makes wine and cars? Answer: the Germans and the French – the two countries who dictate EU policy more than any others. The German car industry alone, would be at risk of facing reciprocal UK tariffs on the £16 billion market for German cars in the UK. Almost 1/3 of the new cars sold in Britain come from Germany. You can be sure that, if we vote to leave, the heads of BMW, Mercedes, Volkswagen and the rest of the hugely successful German car manufacturers will be in Angela Merkel’s office the next morning saying “We need tariff-free access to the lucrative British market.” It is inconceivable, therefore, that a trade arrangement between the UK and the EU would not be reached.

If countries like Norway and Switzerland can prosper outside
of the EU, why not Britain?
“But”, cry those who want to stay in, “you won’t have access to the Single Market.” This is a valid point as far as the Single Market in terms of goods is concerned, yet our economy is not primarily goods-focused. David Cameron, in a column urging people to vote ‘In’, has claimed that 80% of our economy is made up of services. Though as he well knows, there is currently no Single Market for services. So the Single Market argument which he and others perpetuate cannot be relevant to the UK’s situation. Non-EU Switzerland, which supposedly doesn’t have access to the EU’s services market, exports five times per capita more to the EU than we do. If countries like Norway and Switzerland, two of the world’s richest and happiest nations, can prosper outside of the EU, maintaining friendly relations and trading with the bloc, without being subject to its constant over regulation, why not Britain?

Another argument peddled by the Remain camp is that British jobs would be at risk if we voted to leave. Their favourite figure to use on this comes from a report compiled by the National Institute of Economic and Social Research (NIESR) in 2000 which suggested that around 3 million jobs in the UK are linked to our trade with the EU. The methodology behind this is fairly simple to understand.  The UK’s exports to the EU are equivalent to 13% of our GDP. Thus, claim the researchers, it is logical to assume that 13% (3 million) of British jobs are linked to our trade with the EU. The operative word here is linked, however. The NIESR explicitly acknowledged that "there is no a priori reason to suppose that many of these [jobs], if any, would be lost permanently if Britain were to leave the EU." Plus, if you use the same back-of-the-envelope-type calculations for the EU, you find that between 5 and 6.5 million jobs on the continent are linked to their trade with the UK. Thus a trade deal with the UK would be imperative for job security in both countries.

I want to move away, however, from criticising the arguments of the ‘In’ side. Instead, let me spell out a more positive vision for Britain’s economy after we leave. After the 2 year negotiation period set out in the Lisbon treaty, and Britain is freed from the EU’s Common External Tariff, we will have access to world prices. These are typically 8% lower than prices in the EU. As a nation with a particular preponderance for imported goods, this will be a noticeable shift. The move from EU prices to world prices will mean that the cost of food and household goods will fall. Furthermore, this means that British firms will have access to cheaper factor inputs. The only result of cheaper inputs is that we, as a nation, become more globally competitive.

A departure from the EU’s protectionist external tariff wall will not just help the UK though. Currently African farmers, some of the most impoverished businesspeople on the planet face EU tariffs of 7.5% on roasted coffee and 30% on processed cocoa products, two of the continent’s major exports. Think what the removal of this barrier, at least on the UK’s part, will do for those same farmers. Tariff-free access to the UK market, the 5th biggest economy on the planet, can only make them richer.
 

One of the most frustrating things which I am hearing as the referendum approaches is that people “don’t know the facts” or that “they haven’t been told enough about it” – the inevitable result of media and government hysteria most likely. You each have, at your fingertips, possibly the most useful research tool in the history of humanity: the internet. If you are undecided or wanting more information about the referendum, it can be as simple as watching a YouTube video, reading a newspaper column or watching Question Time on Thursday evenings. 

If you want to find out more about the case for Leave, I would recommend listening to Dan Hannan or Tony Benn, or perhaps even reading Michael Gove’s piece on why he is voting to leave. From the Remain side, David Cameron and Alan Johnson are the ones making the case most prominently. 

Ultimately, however, it will be your choice on June 23rd. The outcome will fundamentally alter the course of British politics. 

Whether we vote to leave or stay, there is uncertainty. Yet it is my strongly-held belief that leaving the EU is not a ‘leap into the dark’ but rather a ‘step into the light’, towards a more prosperous, more democratic United Kingdom.

What is your opinion on this issue? Should Britain stay in the EU or vote to leave? Put your opinions in the comments below!