Thursday, June 28, 2007

More on railroads, Buffett, Soros

Further to the last post, the Santa Fe railway is now owned by Burlington Northern (BNI), in which Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has recently increased its stake to over 10%; and this 2002 article in the Observer reveals that George Soros worked as a railway porter. I expect Soros has his hard-headed reasons for his own investment, but it's hard to rid yourself of the love of choo-choos.

Soros' views as summarised in the Observer article resonate today:

His basic arguments remain the same - that centralised institutions need strengthening as a political counterweight to economic globalisation; financial markets are inherently unstable; and there is an inbuilt inequity, or centre-periphery, problem.

...he is examining the minutiae of the workings of the World Trade Organisation, and statistics on capital flows to developing countries.

...there is no level playing field in the world economy. The rules of the game favour the rich, or 'centre', countries. 'Within the well-developed global markets, the centre has a considerable advantage over the periphery because the centre is in charge. And contrary to the false ideology of market fundamentalism, financial markets do not tend towards equilibrium, they need to be managed. So whoever is in charge has a distinct advantage,' he says.

He says conditions set by the IMF during financial crises tend to reinforce boom-and-bust cycles. 'They push countries into recessions by forcing them to raise interest rates and cut budgets - exactly the opposite of what the US is doing in similar circumstances,' he writes in the new book. [i.e. "On Globalization"]

He is also critical of the US obsession with 'moral hazard' - that intervening in financial crises rewards incompetent investors. Bailing-in private investors has replaced bailing-out crisis-ridden countries, he argues. Such policies are building a 'new Maginot line', fighting yesterday's war against credit crises rather than focusing on the real problem of the calamitous collapse in investment flows to developing countries.

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