April 1999


  • World News Today... daily headlines and abstracts
  • Japan Reaches Record Unemployment Levels
  • Japan on the Verge of Going Green
  • World Oil Company Mergers
  • Chinese Coffee-Drinking on the Rise
  • Popularity of American Fast Food Booms in Pakistan
  • Cotton Commodity Trends
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  • TOKYO, Japan -- Japan's jobless rate reached a record high of 4.6% (or 3.13 million unemployed) in February. Tokyo officials fear this means that the economy is worsening, as Japanese corporate giants, including Sony Corp. (cutting 17,000 jobs in the next 3 years), Marubeni Corp. (cutting 900 jobs this year), NEC Corp. (cutting 15,000 jobs in the next 3 years) and the banking industry (planning 20,000 fewer jobs in the next 3 years), among others are significantly downsizing in their efforts to restructure and improve productivity and profitability. And there will be fewer jobs for new graduates; a 13.2% decline is expected in the year 2000 (vs. 1999).

    It is expected that the labor market will continue to weaken because Japan's Central Bank cannot cut interest rates any lower than they already have -- short-term rates are already close to zero. Because the cost of borrowing is too high for struggling companies, they have little choice but to cut staff. Changes at work are affecting worker attitudes. For example, the traditional corporate system of lifetime employment is eroding, and workers can no longer expect to be taken care of from cradle to grave by their employers. We are now seeing a more mobile workforce in Japan.

    With the fear of losing one's job, consumers are reluctant to spend. And so continues the recessionary cycle. However, there has been a notable increasing demand among consumers for newly popular pre-cooked, microwaveable, packaged low-priced foods (such as instant miso soup packets, pre-cooked rice, etc.) in individual serving sizes. Some of these manufacturers have reported a sales growth in excess of 30% this year, due to changing lifestyles, but also due to recessionary consumer buying pressures.

    This unemployment rate is Japan's highest since they began to officially keep records in 1953. Some economists warn that Japan's unemployment rate will continue to climb, exceeding 5% this year.

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    TOKYO, Japan -- Consumption and manufacturing, mindful of environmental issues, has become a way of life in many countries around the world -- particularly in Northern Europe; but it has been slow to catch on in many other parts of the world -- where regulations, cultural issues, economic conditions and other factors, including product availability, play an important role to hinder such progress.

    Today, we are starting to see small, but important changes in Japan, as consumers and businesses become more mindful of the environment and green selections become more available -- from cars to housing units to less wasteful packaging. And the government begins to pass regulations in favor of the environment.

    Consumer surveys have shown a growing inclination to live a greener life, yet throwaway packaging is commonplace in this society with a cultural affinity for beautiful presentation. And the higher cost of green products is still a deterrent for many consumers. Moreover, Japan's government remains laissez-faire when it comes to promoting a more environmentally friendly economy. For example, Japan still relies heavily on incineration to get rid of its garbage. But even this is changing. Toshiba Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Nissan Motor Co. are closing their waste incinerators in favor of recycling and other methods this year in order to protect the environment. For example, Toshiba will be recycling its paper waste products into toilet paper which will be used throughout its offices. NEC announced plans to recycle food waste into ready-to-use fertilizers that it will sell to farmers. And the government has passed a series of recycling laws, is encouraging environmentally friendly procurement practices by public agencies, and it is developing plans to require more elaborate environmental labeling.

    In addition, green thinking is catching on in corporate planning. For example, packaging designs are becoming more environmentally friendly as a result of the new recycling laws. And the Japanese market will be seeing soap containers that use 65% less plastic (for the 100ml. size). In fact, Japan leads the world in the number of companies and organizations that have met the criteria for ISO 14001 registration, an internationally agreed-upon set of standards for environmental management. (Japan has 1,542 (the highest number of) registrations, followed by Germany with 1,250; the USA ranks 10th with only 330, according to a German government official who tracks these registrations.) Japanese companies leading these trends, anticipate the long-term potential for gaining awareness and market share in the green market as they strive to adopt more environmentally sound technology.

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    LONDON, UK -- Recently formed BP Amoco, now the world's third largest oil company, announced plans to buy another oil company, Atlantic Richfield (ARCO, the seventh largest oil company in the US ), for US $26.8 bil. This merger will form the world's largest oil company -- with a combined market capitalization of US$190 bil. This announcement comes soon after the BP/Amoco merger, which was just finalized on December 31, 1998.

    Meanwhile, Exxon and Mobil also have plans to merge. If both mergers go as planned, the newly formed Exxon/Mobil company will become the largest oil company; BP Amoco would become second largest.
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    China -- The International Coffee Organization reported that coffee consumption among the trendy youth in Japan is accounting for a 10% overall increase this year. While the per capita consumption is low -- less than a cup per person (which equates to about 200,000 60kg bags of green coffee beans in 1998) -- this rise shows a growing demand, particularly among young people, and an increasing competition for share of stomach. This trend appears to be at the early stages, and the possibilities are astounding. According to Nestle (China) Ltd., if per capita consumption were to rise to the levels seen in Hong Kong, sales figures in China would be 3000% greater.
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    Cynthia Gilbert, of Saddle River Futures Trading Group/Refco Inc. in Chicago, IL. Cynthia works as a commodities broker and has experience trading emerging market debt and equities.
    KARACHI, Pakistan -- The fast food craze seems to have caught on in Pakistan (since its introduction) over the last two years, where families, singles, richer and poorer diners now frequent these eateries on a regular basis. And McDonald's strategy of appealing to children with (toy) promotions seems to be successful in Pakistan as well.

    Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) was the first to market in Karachi in 1997 and now operates eight restaurants there, plus two more in Lahore, and plans to open a third. Their introduction was quickly followed by four other American fast food companies, including Pizza Hut, Mr. Burger and McDonald's, which presently operates one restaurant in Karachi and two in Lahore, but has plans to increase the number of outlets to 24 in two years, mostly in up-market areas. McDonald's currently employs 350 people in Pakistan with expectations for this to increase to 1,500 by next year.

    Despite the optimism among consumers and the companies, religious militant and terrorist groups have attacked the restaurants on the grounds that they are forcing western culture onto Moslem society. As a result, security measures play an important role in the development and proliferation of these foreign fast food chains.

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    World -- As the planting season in the Northern Hemisphere approaches, attention is beginning to turn toward the new cotton crop. World production in 1999/00 is estimated to reach 19.2 million tons, 700,000 tons more than this season but still about 1 million tons less than in 1997/98. The expected increase is mainly the result of a partial recovery in the US, but production increases are also expected in Turkey and Greece. Growers in these three countries enjoy government support programs. Other increases are also expected to take place in Uzbekistan and Pakistan, as a result of normal yields in 1999/00.

    Cotton prices continue to be depressed by skepticism about the world economy and its effects on mill consumption. The overall assessment of supply and demand remains virtually unchanged from the assessment a month ago. World cotton production is projected to reach 18.5 million tons in 1998/99, 10,000 tons lower than a month ago, and mill consumption expected to reach 18.9 million tons, 80,000 tons lower. The stocks-to-use ratio outside China (Mainland) is now estimated at .38, compared to .37 a month ago. While these changes add downward pressure on prices, a reassessment of trade by China (Mainland) adds upward pressure. March Cotton rallied late in the session yesterday (3/4/99) closing at 6582.

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    Updated 4/13/99