Several factors have converged in recent years to increase demand for strategic communications expertise in the financial industry. As a result, many firms accustomed to maintaining a low profile and focused solely on returns are now engaging in more public conversations, often demanding engagement with financial media. There is a growing consensus that the potential longer term costs of remaining detached from public engagement outweigh the shorter-term benefits.
In response to this shift, Diverging Markets is now concentrating its efforts on designing and implementing communications campaigns in economics and finance.
At present, we offer strategic knowledge and tactical expertise for the following:
Crisis communications / Reputation management
Digital communications / Social media strategy
Guest writing articles / White paper campaigns
Event marketing / Media training
We are actively seeking partners, clients and other interested participants.
I can be reached as always by email at firstname.lastname@example.org and by twitter @DivergingMarket.
So, as you may or may not have heard, Mexican Congress has just passed some rather historic oil reforms, much to the consternation of a lot of people. Herein, one congressman’s protest at the lack of transparency surrounding this historic occasion (with thanks to @NetasMX):
Folha de Sao Paulo has made this easy for us. Here are a couple of Economist covers, four years apart:
Honestly, when it’s not so tiresome, it’s actually amusing how blind people can be. I honestly have too many previous ramblings on this topic to list them all but if you’re interested, you can find them somewhere among these.
Regular readers know it isn’t very often that I re-publish in full something from elsewhere, but this is too important and I have no doubt that the majority of you are not in the habit of reading the Dallas Morning News with any regularity.
Alejandro Hope, who blogs here, tweets here, and works here, had the following op-ed in the Dallas Morning News at the end of last week which should not be missed and which would not be fair to simply excerpt here since every sentence matters. The long and short of it, which David Agren first touched on here, is built on the premise of not talking about drug war-related murders as part of a multi-prong public relations strategy.
If that sounds vaguely familiar, allow me to refresh your memory with this:
You think I’m joking? Read on:
Alejandro Hope: In Mexico, obfuscating crime numbers
Two months ago, a gunbattle erupted between rival drug gangs in Reynosa, Mexico, right across the border from McAllen. The shootout lasted several hours, killing as many as 40 people, according to a newspaper on the U.S. side of the border. Even in Mexico, scarred by seven years of relentless violence, this was big news.
But not big enough to make headlines in Mexican media. With some exceptions, coverage of the Reynosa firefight was scanty. Mostly, newspapers buried it in the police section, while TV and radio news shows virtually ignored it. Social networks were abuzz with information, but almost none was picked up by media outlets. This was not an isolated shutdown. As a result of threats and violence from criminal gangs, many local news organizations in Mexico have long limited their reporting on the drug war. Now the practice has extended to the national media.
According to a recent report from the Observatory of Violence in the Media, an independent watchdog group, coverage of organized crime and violence in the Mexico City press took a dive during the first three months in office of President Enrique Peña Nieto: The use of the words homicide, narcotrafficking and cartel declined by half from the year before. Similar results were found for TV and radio.
The national media pullback is not the product of intimidation by criminal gangs; it is a response to government policy. Since Peña Nieto took office in December, his administration has made every effort to keep violence out of the limelight. This has not been a heavy-handed operation. Some journalists and outlets may have been pressured; most have not. Rather, the government has tried, successfully, to shroud the issue in silence and confusion.
Some of the administration’s new policies have been positive: For instance, alleged drug gang members are no longer paraded in front of the media, which had been an almost daily ritual while Felipe Calderón was president, one long condemned by human rights groups.
However, other practices are more questionable. According to official sources, 52 top or midlevel operatives of the various drug gangs have been arrested or taken down since December. No one outside government knows their names or any details about their so-called neutralization. All information flows are tightly controlled by a greatly empowered Interior Ministry. The fog of war has thickened.
Most troubling, there is a policy of deliberate obfuscation on crime data. A number of government agencies jointly produce a monthly report on the security situation. According to the latest release, homicides declined from December through April by 14 percent from the same period a year earlier, and by 18 percent compared with the final months of the previous government.
Those numbers are highly problematic. First, they do not refer to total homicides, but to so-called organized-crime-related homicides. The practice of singling out drug gang hits from run-of-the-mill murders — begun by, and later suspended for public consumption under, Calderón — is deeply flawed. Including or excluding an incident is an inferential process, not the result of sound police investigation. If a homicide meets a set of arbitrary criteria, it is counted as organized-crime-related, no further questions asked.
Nor do the data meet consistency standards. Total homicides, as reported by state law enforcement agencies, have declined at a much slower pace. If the government’s numbers are correct, then, by implication, other types of murder must be increasing. Has there been a rise in domestic violence or bar fights? Unlikely. A far better explanation is a change in the criteria for defining a homicide as organized-crime-related.
Second, homicides have indeed gone down from the 2011 peak. But the drop happened before Peña Nieto took office Dec. 1. After 18 months of decline, the curve flattened in late 2012. Last month, Mexico recorded an average of 50 homicides a day — the same number as in October and every month since, plus or minus 4 percent. The rapid decline reported by Mexican authorities is a statistical artifice.
Mexico still faces serious security challenges. The situation has improved somewhat since 2011, but the amount of violence remains staggering. With one-third the population of the U.S., Mexico has 50 percent more homicides. A meaningful reduction in crime will take many years and many reforms. But the task is made even more difficult when public debate and oversight are inhibited by the absence of reliable information.
The Peña Nieto administration wants, legitimately, to change the narrative about Mexico, both at home and abroad. But the best way to improve the country’s image is by changing its reality, not shutting down information flows, fudging numbers and pretending that violence can be willed out of existence.
Alejandro Hope is director of security policy at IMCO, a Mexico City-based think tank. His email address is email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at @ahope71.
This video stands to have an immediate impact on your income if you have anything to do with politics, journalism, public relations, branding, marketing or communications of any kind.
This video stands to have an ancillary impact on your income if you were not included in any of the above professions.
Note that the impact is not zero for anyone.
“Any of you in corporate America who use the word, ‘brand’, please stop. Now. And don’t use that word again. Because brand is people like me creating words that have no meaning, trying to sell things that people probably don’t need and trying to explain things that aren’t important. Brand is cheap, brand is fake. Trust is everything, trust is real.”
“The rule of expectations is probably the most important when it comes to business or politics, which is that it is better for people to expect less and get more than it is for them to expect more and get less.”
Those are just two examples of what’s in there.
The speaker is Frank Luntz, an occasional contributor to Fox News. If you have a problem with that data point, consider that his advice and research is applicable across the political divide.
And now I’m gonna drop an even bigger BUT on you: it’s an hour long. Suck it up. Today’s Friday. Consider it an hour you won’t spend watching [insert latest trendy TV hit show here].
Trust me, this’ll have a far bigger impact on your bottom line.
Northern winter is finally over, which means it’s time to start thinking about — what else? — next year’s Super Bowl, which will be the first in the New York area and the first in outdoor cold weather (as well as a number of other firsts which I leave to the archive-obsessed).
Some telling data points on the cost of the “experience” have come across my radar recently which I thought it appropriate to share here. The full extent of what I was sent actually covered a range of major US sporting events in the coming year and is likely more than what would be of interest to most people. To give you an idea, the second most extravagant on the list — the VIP package for the Masters Tournament at Augusta National — came in at not even 1/10 the cost of the Super Bowl package. Anyway, on to the dollar signs…
Bearing in mind the cost to air a 30-second television ad during this past January was $4 million and that the starting price of resale tickets to average fans was somewhere above $3,000, the following was sent to me as a solicitation for a “Luxury Suite Donor Program Investment” for the 2014 Super Bowl:
The total cost is $540,000. This includes the following:
• Private Luxury Suite – 30 people
• Taste of NFL Event tickets – 8 people
• Commissioner’s Lunch tickets – 4 people
• Donor Cocktail Party with NFL Owners – 4 people
• Golf Outing with NFL Owners – 4 people
As well as the following bells and whistles:
• Premium in-stadium venue (open 3 hours pregame and reopens for 90 minutes postgame)
• Full premium menu and top shelf open bar (pregame)
• Select menu items, beer, wine, and soft drinks (postgame)
• Player and cheerleader appearances
• Interactive entertainment elements and more
• Super Bowl XLVII Gift Bag
• Exclusive Stadium Collection Game Program Voucher
• Super Bowl XLVII Lanyard with Ticket Sleeve
• Dedicated security entrance to the stadium on Super Bowl Sunday
• Preferred on location stadium parking (parking fees not included)
• Exclusive Postgame Field Access – once in a lifetime chance to experience the Super Bowl the way the players do: from the field
The following firms have apparently already ponied up $1 million each for the above package: Bank Of America, BlackRock, BNYMellon, Bud Light, JP Morgan Chase, Citibank, Competitor Group, Dassault Falcon, Goldman Sachs, S.A.C. Capital Advisors, Honeywell, Hertz, Hess, Jeffries Group, Tiffany & Co, Morgan Stanley, NCR, NYSE Euronext, New York Times, Pepsi, PSE&G, Price Waterhouse, R.R. Donnelly, Starr Companies, Paul Tudor Jones and Verizon.
I suppose I should I feel grateful to have access to a 46% discount to the $1 million these other institutions paid?
I don’t have the data at the ready, but my understanding is that comparable VIP treatment for World Cup or Formula One events don’t quite reach this level.
Oh well. As my grandfather was fond of saying, “Every price has a reason.” Maybe some day I’ll be in business with someone who will benefit by footing the bill for these things.
Accompanying it is a rather lengthy article (here), not to be missed, detailing the evolving intelligence challenges since Enrique Peña Nieto took office.
Also not to be missed is David Agren reporting in USA Today on the Peña Nieto Administration’s apparent new strategy which can be essentially summed as: “If we stop talking about the murders, that must mean they’re not happening anymore.”
Mexico watchers up to date on the landmark reforms underway in Mexico can skip straight down to the section below where the block quotes begin.
For the rest of you not up to speed, the Mexican government is getting ready to put most of the new non-oil reforms up for a vote quite soon. The Economist has a pretty good recent summary here, and if you have more time I would highly recommend checking out extensive coverage of the annual Americas Society / Council of the Americas event just closed in Mexico City here.
And for those of you new to Diverging Markets, let me sum up my basic attitude toward the Peña Nieto Administration as being what I call “optimistic distrust.” This means that I have no ideological or financial stake in any of this (though I’m still waiting for the right moment to short iShares’ Mexico ETF), but given what I know of Mexican political history and Mexican society I am highly skeptical about a lot of the big reform promises made thus far for reasons repeated throughout here; at the same time, given that I spend more time in Mexico than anywhere else, I would absolutely welcome having my skepticism proven wrong. But the caveat here as always is that Mexican leadership has become increasingly adept at telling foreign investors what they want to hear and the Peña Nieto Administration in particular has proven itself quite remarkable in this capacity. Put another way, don’t believe everything you read about this country.
Now let’s get to Televisa. The chart above shows this stock’s performance since Peña Nieto took office on December 1 last year, and its movement in the past week is not encouraging. One of the reasons is likely a disclosure Televisa recently made to the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission in a form that was previously unknown to me, called form 20-F. According to Investopedia, this is a form meant for foreign companies who list American Depositary Receipts in U.S. markets. The entirety of Televisa’s recent 20-F is worth reading, but in particular the “Risk Factors” section under Item 3, which is chock full of warnings.
Here’s a slice of it from the bottom of page 9 to get everyone’s juices flowing:
Actually, at this point we’re at one year and one month but I was too caught up in other stuff to do this last month.
So I’ve been looking at the site metrics for the first year of operation from March 4, 2012 to March 3, 2013.
Here’s the breakdown of where readers are visiting from:
The “Others” category I have the full list of but it’s too long to put here. What I can say is that it runs 169 countries and territories long. Of the 193 member states of the United Nations, I suppose it’s easier to count the countries not on there, a task I may take up next year at this time.
Also, it seems there are a quite a lot of visitors from the “not set” category. Someone more familiar with the inner workings of Google analytics and firewalls could probably explain this better, but I’m willing to bet China comprises a fair proportion of this category.
Looking at the city breakdown is way too unwieldy to do in its entirety, but here are the top 20, in order:
Morten Jerven, economic historian of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, has me hooked just with this single comment:
The demand for numbers is overwhelming. The data will be created, invented or otherwise imputed to fill the gap. When the data basis is meager and the aggregates rely on a lot of guessing and assumptions the statisticians have little defense and are vulnerable to pressure. This is not only a matter of costly waste of donor money. Discrepancies such as those found here can be vital differences in countries where large parts of the populations are living in, or are close to living in, absolute poverty.
The main lesson is that numbers do inform scholarly conclusions, impact donor decisions and inform policy choice. In most cases data users do not know or choose to ignore that they are being misled by development statistics.
Yes, live long enough and you will indeed see CNN not just paying attention to Africa, but actually getting it right.
And this is actually not just about Africa; to varying degrees it’s about economics and finance across the developing world. What differentiates the reliability of data in one market over another depends in large part on the skillfulness of the technocrats and p.r. spinmeisters in charge.
Sometimes news editors exercise such brain-dead judgment that it’s a wonder journalism as a practice even survives.
That sentence was one of a few I conjured up as a possible lead-off thought. Well, technically, it was the only sentence, since the rest are thoughts posed as questions. Here they are:
Is the BRICS Durban conference officially the acronym’s 14th minute of fame?
When will the country grouping of France, Uganda, Chad, Kenya, Oman, Fiji and Finland finally supplant the BRICS as the political economy cadre du jour? What about Bulgaria, Uganda, Lithuania, Latvia, Spain, Haiti, Italy and Thailand?
Does anyone honestly still believe in the BRICS as an investment theme?
Am I the only one seeing that Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa may actually have less in common than a brain, an athlete, a basket case, a princess and a criminal?
What drives this apparently human need to shrink everything down into bite-sized archetypal infonuggets?
Priceonomics put up a stunning take last week on the market mechanics of diamonds which spurred a lot of reactions. Worth reading in full, and here are some excerpts to give you an idea:
“Americans exchange diamond rings as part of the engagement process, because in 1938 De Beers decided that they would like us to. Prior to a stunningly successful marketing campaign 1938, Americans occasionally exchanged engagement rings, but wasn’t a pervasive occurrence. Not only is the demand for diamonds a marketing invention, but diamonds aren’t actually that rare. Only by carefully restricting the supply has De Beers kept the price of a diamond high.”
“In finance, there is concept called intrinsic value. An asset’s value is essentially driven by the (discounted) value of the future cash that asset will generate…A diamond is a depreciating asset masquerading as an investment. There is a common misconception that jewelry and precious metals are assets that can store value, appreciate, and hedge against inflation. That’s not wholly untrue.
Gold and silver are commodities that can be purchased on financial markets. They can appreciate and hold value in times of inflation. You can even hoard gold under your bed and buy gold coins and bullion (albeit at a ~10% premium to market rates). If you want to hoard gold jewelry however, there is typically a 100-400% retail markup so that’s probably not a wise investment.
But with that caveat in mind, the market for gold is fairly liquid and gold is fungible – you can trade one large piece of gold for ten smalls ones like you can a ten dollar bill for a ten one dollar bills. These characteristics make it a feasible potential investment.
Diamonds, however, are not an investment. The market for them is neither liquid nor are they fungible.”
“We covet diamonds in America for a simple reason: the company that stands to profit from diamond sales decided that we should. De Beers’ marketing campaign single handedly made diamond rings the measure of one’s success in America. Despite its complete lack of inherent value, the company manufactured an image of diamonds as a status symbol. And to keep the price of diamonds high, despite the abundance of new diamond finds, De Beers executed the most effective monopoly of the 20th century.”
I’ve seen this happen so many times, I could teach a class on it:
Take a small data sample of something that confirms the view you’re determined to promote;
Regardless of how rigorous the methodology or how representative the sample size, declare that this is indicative of a broader trend–forest for the trees or some such thing;
Willfully ignore any aspects of this declaration that remotely contradict your view;
Deny/insult/discredit/lash out at anyone who tries to take an even-handed view on it;
Begrudgingly concede that nothing is perfect but that a positive attitude is what counts;
Neglect to make clear the very pertinent fact that you have a vested interest–financially, politically, reputationally–in a positive outcome which therefore inhibits your own objectivity;
If your lawyers insist, loosely outline the caveats to your opinion and bury them somewhere where they are least likely to be noticed (“past performance is not indicative of future results” is the boilerplate here);
Debunk the caveats by paraphrasing points 1 and 2 and emphasize the probability your forecast will prevail;
Now, let’s consider a brief list of where we’ve seen this template applied in the recent past:
This has been building for a long time. The latest is this CNN interview with Dambisa Moyo, she of “Dead Aid” fame, entitled, “China Can Transform Africa“. A couple of comments caught my eye:
“Ultimately, the responsibility of how China engages in Africa is really at the domain of the African governments. We would not be worried about the risks of neo-colonialism or abuse, environmental abuse and labor issues, if we trusted the African governments to do the right thing.”
“I’m an eternal optimist. I’m probably the wrong person to ask, because I do believe that the structural and fundamental structures of Africa right now are poised for a very good few decades. If you look at an economy through the lens of capital, which is basically money; labor, which is basically how many people do you have and what skills do they have; and productivity, which is just, how efficiently they use capital and labor, the trend is very clearly in favor of Africa.”
I don’t disagree with anything in this statement or really anything else Moyo says in the interview. What occurs to me though is the big “IF” that is buried in there: “…if we trusted the African governments to do the right thing.” Moyo objects to the broad characterization of Africa as a giant war zone replete with disease and hopelessness and corrupt dictators, and I object to that too. But the bottom line remains that so much of forward development, not just in Africa, but Latin America too, hinges on trusting governments to do the right thing. Maybe this is a glass half-empty/half-full debate, but I personally don’t think we need any more evidence of governments being unable to do the right thing, whether in Africa, Latin America, the US, Europe or really anywhere.
Actually, elsewhere on the CNN website, this is a pretty realistic breakdown of the continent.
One is out today, from Time’s Tim Padgett. Here’s a sampling:
Chávez called himself a “21st-century socialist.” In reality he was a throwback to the dogmatic and authoritarian 20th-century socialism of Castro, Cuba’s former dictator—and, in fact, to the 19th-century caudillo tradition of Chávez’s demigod, South American independence hero Simón Bolívar. Chávez hoped that being democratically elected would obscure the fact that he didn’t govern all that democratically. It didn’t. So it’s tempting to dismiss him as an anachronism, a vulgar populist famous for gratuitous yanqui-bashing—for calling then U.S. President George W. Bush a malodorous “devil” at the U.N. in 2006—an erratic and messianic retro-revolutionary whose country’s vast petro-wealth let him indulge his Marxist nostalgia.
Chávez was all of those things. But if he was a leader behind his times, he still managed to influence them. Voters don’t make a radical like Chávez their head of state unless they’re mad as hell, and his stunning ascent in fact altered the western hemisphere’s conversation when it needed to be altered. When Chávez was first elected in 1998, post-Cold War Latin America was awash in free-market reforms. Those changes were necessary, but their implementation was criminally negligent, and the region’s already epic inequality simply widened. Chávez’s bellicose neo-statism was hardly the antidote, but his Bolivarian Revolution, which steered Venezuela’s oil riches to the barrios for a change, was a wake-up call. It re-opened the door for the Latin American left—and, fortunately, more moderates than Marxists walked through it, including former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, whose capitalist-socialist “third way” has since helped narrow the region’s wealth gap and brought countries like Chile to the brink of development.
The other was written four years ago, by Enrique Krauze in the New Republic, which technically isn’t an obituary, but goes deeper than anything else out there. A sampling of that:
To what political tradition does Hugo Chavez’s Bolivarian delirium belong? According to his own version, his destiny was revealed to him around 1977, when he read a book. It was, of all books, The Role of the Individual in History by Georgi Plekhanov. He has more than once told the story of his great moment of inspiration, his epiphany before the text: “I read Plekhanov a long time ago, when I belonged to an anti-guerrilla unit in the mountains … and it made a deep impression on me. I remember that it was a wonderful starry night in the mountains and I read it in my tent by the light of a flashlight.” Again and again he turned to it “in search of ideas [about] the role of the individual in historical processes.” He still has in his possession the “little book that survived storms and the years; the same little book with the same little underlinings a person makes, and the same little arrows and the same cover I used as camouflage so that my superiors wouldn’t say ‘what are you doing reading that?’ I read it all over the place, in secret, with a flashlight at night.”
May seem obvious, but sometimes we need to be reminded of the blindingly obvious. I challenge you to find a more worthy way to spend the next three minutes of your time. Here we have Nasir El-Rufai, former Minister of the Federal Capital Territory under Obasanjo, who has just published a memoir, “The Accidental Public Servant.” For those of you in London, here’s a schedule of his appearances there this week. For those of you more accustomed to the American political format, imagine that the mayor of Washington, DC was appointed by the president and that it was a cabinet-level position and you have an idea of El-Rufai’s role in the Obasanjo Administration.
I know this has been a very Mexico-heavy week, but there’s been a lot of activity here and I’m angling for some other things coming next week, so stay tuned! In the meantime, chalk up another gushing go-go-pro-Mexico story, this one from the Globe and Mail of Toronto, in which Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister John Baird unleashes this whopper:
“Mexico, in our lifetime, is going to be a top-10 world economy, and potentially in our lifetime, a top-five world economy.”
This is more than just irrational exuberance. I’m tempted to call it a lie, but then that would imply that there is an absolute truth, that Baird knows that absolute truth, and is willfully concealing it while vocally professing the opposite to be true. And I can’t prove that. But what I can prove is that this statement is nothing less than Bullshit.
Consider the 15 largest economies as measured by nominal GDP in 2012, according to the IMF (figures in US$ billions):
I was interviewed for the weekly Nomad Capitalist radio show over the weekend, hosted by Andrew Henderson. On the agenda: the Africa-China relationship, putting the hot-or-not test to Frontier Markets and the nuances of investing in Mexico. Here’s the link and here’s the mp3:
Andrew Henderson: I want to start with a piece that you touched on recently, commodities, and emerging markets’ domination of reserves of commodities, explain that a little bit and let’s get into what exactly that can tell us.
Ulysses de la Torre: Thanks for having me. If it’s the graph I think you’re talking about, it’s not a graph, it’s actually a map, which I pulled from Glencore, which, given Glencore’s footprint in this universe, shouldn’t be surprising that they should come up with something like this. And what it basically shows is a map of the world and how all of the key commodities are dominated in one form or another by underdeveloped markets. When I look at it, the first thing I see is that one of the big obstacles here is nothing more than logistics and infrastructure. And this is something that’s frequently lost on foreign investors trying to research this from afar because these are elements of an economy that you cannot fully understand without experiencing it. It’s one thing to be stuck in a traffic jam that takes you two hours to make a trip that normally takes one hour, but it’s entirely another thing for a truckload of raw materials to take three days to drive a couple hundred miles because of anything from bad roads, military checkpoints, bandits, local territorial disputes, on top of your basic traffic problems. This adds significantly to transport costs and who ultimately foots the bill for this added cost is often a point of dispute that can manifest in a lot of ways that North America and Europe haven’t really had to think about in decades, since before most of us were even alive.
AH: You talk a lot about Africa and I want to get into some of the specifics that are going on there. There’s a big media play that China is recolonizing Africa and so many of the resources plays, even the financial sector plays, let’s talk about Africa, because that’s one area to hone in on for these resources, it’s very resource rich, it’s fast growing, but it’s more than just China, let’s talk about who the players are in Africa and what’s going on there, give us the introductory sketch to Africa.