This podcast first appeared and originally published at https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/w172ydpc5c4cl26 on May 21, 2021.
Millions of Australians decide whether or not to vote back in the Conservatives after nine years under the party’s rule. BBC’s Katie Silver and Australian economist Tim Harcourt tell us more. Rising fuel prices have led food delivery drivers to strike for days in the United Arab Emirates, where industrial action is banned. BBC’s Sameer Hashmi explains their struggle from Dubai. Adi Imsirovic from the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies gives us his views on the former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s recent resignation from the board of directors of Russia’s state-owned oil company, Rosneft. In Korea, president Joe Biden begins his five-day Asia trip with a visit to a Samsung semiconductor plant. We talked to Carolina Milanesi, president of analyst and market research firm Creative Strategies, about this. Vivienne Nunis is joined throughout the programme by guests Tony Nash, Chief Economist at Complete Intelligence in Houston, Texas, and Karen Percy, Senior freelance reporter in Melbourne.
VN: Tony Nash, who’s the chief economist at Complete Intelligence in Houston, Texas, is one of them. Welcome back to the program, Tony.
TN: Hi, Vivian. Thank you.
VN: Thanks for joining us again, Tony Nash. Listening to that. It’s interesting, isn’t it? It doesn’t matter where you are in in the world. The energy crisis triggered by the war in Ukraine is forcing drivers to fill the pinch wherever they are.
TN: Yes. I live in Texas, and we produce a lot of oil here.
VN: What’s the situation there?
TN: Oil is rising pretty quickly. The price of gasoline is rising pretty quickly. So both regard to the UAE. I spent a bit of time in the region, and the prices are always lower. They’re very cheap. But what’s interesting about the delivery business is if the cost of petrol is impacting the delivery business, that could be a real issue for that business model. I think we’ve been in an era of relatively low petrol prices, and if those prices remain high, it could be a real challenge for that business model at some point.
VN: So you’re saying that fuel prices are already cheaper compared to, say, global averages in the US, and I guess they are in the US as well. They’re heavily subsidized, aren’t they? I guess the question is, should governments be stepping in where they can to ease that pressure on drivers and everyone facing various cost of living pressures?
TN: Well, with UAE, actually, the prices in May for fuel are lower than they were in April. They’re still elevated, but they have come down a small amount, like 2% or something. But I think if the government is to help people, all that will do is I think we’ll only have higher crew prices or higher sorry, fuel prices. So it’s a hard thing to say, but I think more money toward it will only make those prices higher as more people consume kind of at the same levels, but with the subsidies. So it’s a very hard time. And I think it’s something that maybe the companies should help their drivers with, not necessarily the governments. These people are working on behalf of the company. And so perhaps the company should help their drivers a little bit with fuel.
VN: Tony, this story is moving all the time, isn’t it? We’ll get to some of that in a moment. But firstly, it was rather extraordinary, wasn’t it, that Gerhard Schroeder didn’t resign from that position on the board of Rosneft until today?
TN: Yeah. It’s weird that he took up the position in the first place. I remember when it happened 20 or so years ago, and it just seemed like a strange appointment at the time. But it took him 20 years to make the decision. So, yeah, it’s well overdue and it seemed fishy from the start. And I think Germans have been extraordinarily patient in putting their pressure on him to get it done.
VN: Well, we don’t know there was anything fishy, of course. I mean, perhaps the pressure only really came on to him since this invasion by Russia into Ukraine, given that before that, Russia and German energy relations were pretty tight.
TN: Sure. Yeah. But Germany had at some point looked at, say, taking LNG from other parts of the world, Qatar, US, other places, and they chose not to do that and really have Russia as their only source, I believe, largely because of lobbying that Schroeder participated in. So had Schroeder not worked with Gasprom, there’s a feasible scenario that Germany would have multiple sources of natural gas and oil and not really just looking at Russia.
VN: I mean, Tony, I guess what is fairly obvious that it was a very lucrative position there, and that’s probably one of the reasons why he stayed so long.
TN: Sure. And as a former Prime Minister, it is awkward for him to lobby to single source energy from one country. I get it. Of course, it’s lucrative and everybody has to pay the bills somehow. But this was particularly odd.
VN: Okay. Let’s leave it there. Thank you both for your thoughts on that. Tony. It was interesting, wasn’t it, how President Biden almost made a beeline to that Samsung plant straight off the plane after he landed in South Korea, obviously underlining that relationship with South Korea, but also the importance of semiconductors in today’s economy.
TN: Sure. So I live in Texas, and Samsung last year announced a $17 billion chip Fab investment just north of Austin, Texas. And Texas Instruments is also building a new chip Fab in North Texas. So there are three new chip fabs that have been announced or major new chip fabs that have been announced in the US over the past couple of years. And two of them are in Texas. And so that $17 billion of investment that Samsung is making is really the reason for the trip. So that chip Fab that’s in Texas, there’s got to be a lot of thank yous to Samsung for making that investment in the US.
VN: So it’s not a wider move then by the US to really try and encourage that kind of thing in its own shores. We talk about onshoring we’ve seen so many delays in global supply chains throughout the pandemic. We’ve seen shipping crises. Is this an idea to try and prevent any of that from happening in the past and get those made in the country closer to some of those big companies like Apple and intel, for instance.
TN: That has been underway for probably five years. The movement to getting technology firms, particularly semiconductor and defense related technology firms, building more either in the US or in the NAFTA or the North American Trade Agreement area. So that started particularly after the 2016 election, and it’s continued in the Biden administration trying to get more of that technology development and technology manufacturing in the US.
VN: And right where you are in Texas. Well, not exactly where you are, but somewhere in Texas we’re hearing not just about these semiconductor plants, but also, of course, Tesla moving a Gigafactory there as well, out of California and into Texas.
TN: Right. Tesla, Oracle, HP, many firms have decided to relocate to Texas. It’s a great workforce. I’m here. I run an artificial intelligence company here, and people here like to work. And so it’s a really good location for technology companies.
VN: It’s not just the hard work, though, isn’t it? Also about tax rates, if I recall.
TN: It’s about tax rates. It’s about research dollars. So the universities here get a massive amount of research dollars and spend a lot of money on research. And it’s the quality of education that’s here. So all of those things combined, of course, Samsung got subsidies for building its Fab and Taylor, but I think they could probably get subsidies from anybody. They’re kind of really looking at the whole environment that they plant their business in.
VN: It’s interesting because we always think, well, originally we thought about California dominating the tech industry. Now we’re hearing about Texas, as you’ve just mentioned. I spoke to Carolina, who we heard from earlier. She’s actually moved out of California into Atlanta. And she told me that’s a growing tech hub, too, used to be a kind of base for telecoms companies, but now it’s attracting some of those tech firms, too.
TN: Yeah, I think there are a lot of kind of mini tech hubs around the US, and you can find them in different clusters around the US. And so it’s really just a matter of what critical mass can you get and what specialization can you get, and then how do you build around those specializations? So, for example, Tesla moves to Austin, and their vendors are then required to move to Austin as well. Right. And that creates a cluster around what Tesla does. So really getting those bigger fish to move their vendors and build that whole system is pretty critical. And the Texas governor, Greg Abbott, has actually done a really good job of recruiting those firms here because it’s only the last four or five years that a lot of that’s happened.
VN: Okay, well, thank you, Tony, for all of that insight from Texas. Do you take ketchup and mustard on your hot dogs?
TN: You’re supposed to only eat mustard on hot dogs. I’m sorry, but this is the law of the land.
KP: It’s an abomination. I have a Canadian Hudson who does the same thing.
VN: Okay, so just mustard, you said. Okay, Tony asking you in watching along in the US. I mean, Boeing getting into this private space race. Now, Boeing has been in the news for all the wrong reasons over the last few years. Those two very serious fatal crashes. There’s a lot riding on this venture, Tony. Have I still got you there?
TN: Yeah, I’m here. Can you hear me?
VN: Yeah. So just talking about Boeing, they’ve had a pretty rough ride, given those two facial crashes. A lot riding on this venture into space.
TN: Absolutely. And they need some good news stories. And if this is a good news story for for them, that’s great. I hope it ends up well.
VN: Okay. Thank you, Karen Percy in Melbourne and Tony Nash in Texas. You’ve been listening to business matters with me, Vivian Nunes. Thanks for the team in Manchester here as well. Bye for now.