Wednesday Night # 819

12 November 1997

The Report

The gathering at the Nicholsons’ on Wednesday, November 12, was unusual. Special guest, Gregory Clarahan, President and CEO of Visionwall Technologies, traced the fascinating history of that Alberta Company, its phenomenal growth and its success in the Chinese market. Visionwall has grown from a small company just a short time ago, to its present size. It is currently listed on the Alberta stock exchange, and will be listed on the Toronto stock exchange, probably by spring, 1998.
ASHRAE President … With a worldwide membership of more than 50,000, the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-conditioning Engineers Inc. is one of the largest engineering-related technical societies. This year, an Albertan, Don Holte, P.Eng., is ASHRAE’s international president and he is Chairman of VisionWall.

The evening was different in that David permitted the assembled guests to set their own agenda for the most part, interjecting only when too much time had been devoted to a given topic. Several topics were covered with little consensus being reached on most. Some of the contradictory opinions on various topics follow.

Setting of Minimum Standards by Government
–Government involvement in the establishment of standards should be kept to a minimum, except when standards are so low that the government must step in, at which time government should limit its involvement to establishing minimum standards.
–Standards establish the maximum ceiling on the level that any organization can achieve. We are debating the merits of two levels of mediocrity.
–Standards limit progress and development.
–Competition will shake the market out, eliminating the producers of inferior products.
–The problem with this approach is that inadequate people can create chaos during the shaking-out process, if minimum standards have not been established.
–Standards, including CSA standards, tend to become ceilings which competition makes it unprofitable to exceed, because in the mind of the consumer, products bearing government or CSA approval are equal in quality.

School Boards and Standards in Public Education
On this topic, there was greater, but not complete consensus.
–The setting of standards in public education tends to set entrance barriers at the lowest possible level. Governmental agencies tend to frown on different standards for different schools, despite the fact that children with unusual intelligence, skills and talents have much to contribute to their country if these skills and talents are encouraged and allowed to develop.
–As for school boards, some consensus was reached on the merit of permitting parents at each school to set the standards for that school; a sort of local single school board.

–An American initiative was applauded which replaces school funding with education vouchers given to parents of each school-aged child. These are transferable to the school considered by parents to be best suited for their child and ensures that competition and relatively high standards are established, eliminating the more poorly performing schools..

Trade With China
China has an increasingly important environmental pollution problem and is eager to import technology which can lessen the severity of the problem in the light of changing demographics. Already extremely large, the population is still growing steadily in both numbers and affluence. Dependence on fossil fuels creates an environmental hazard of major proportion. The number of Chinese emerging from below the poverty level into relative affluence continues to increase. If these were to consume at a rate anywhere approaching that of the inhabitants of western democracies, we risk shortages and major environmental problems. The Chinese are attempting to deal with this by importing technology that is energy-efficient in buildings and manufacturing plants. This represents a business opportunity for Canadians, provided they make the effort to understand the culture and work with partners familiar with the culture and the identity of the decision makers.

Recent Mayoralty Elections in Toronto
Contrary to conventional wisdom, a dis-economy of scale follows the merger of large entities. This will undoubtedly be the ultimate result of the amalgamation of municipalities in Toronto. The pattern may initially include a slight dip in spending due to the amalgamation of some services, but this is followed by the build-up of a new more expensive hierarchy, much greater in cost than the savings achieved. Unfortunately, Québec appears to be very impressed with imagined benefits of the amalgamation of relatively efficient cities with their larger inefficient neighbours.

Canadian economy
The Wednesday Night authority on the Central Bank stated that the economy is strong, inflation under control and for the foreseeable future should remain between 1-2%; corporate profits will continue strong and the rate of growth could be 3.5% or higher in the coming year; unemployment down to 8.5%. The Canadian dollar is weakening, trade surplus is lower and interest rates are below those of the U.S. Interest rates will probably rise .5 % by the end of the year.
Auto sales are climbing as people replace their cars with average age of 8 years.
Housing starts are up. Low mortgage rates are leading to purchases of homes. BUT savings rate is 1.5% and people are dipping into savings.
The surplus of the deficit will be apportioned 50% to social services and education, 50% for retirement of debt and tax cuts.
Canadian productivity level is still low, the trade surplus is a result of the decline in the value of the C$. If the C$ rises, will Canadian exporters be able to maintain export levels? In the experts’ opinion, yes, because of the control on inflation.
Where are the markets heading? U.S. will probably go to 8000 within 6 months, the Canadian to 7,500. Watch Brazil and other South American markets for serious problems.

Total Return Chart: Historical prices are adjusted for mutual fund distributions each weekend.
[Graph of fund FKRCX]Turning to Gold, the mining experts agreed on the severity of the pressures on gold prices coming from the sale of gold reserves by central banks of Austria, Switzerland, and the Asian crisis. Low Asian savings mean less hoarding, less jewelry; $400 gold not likely before the next century. The Bank of Canada holds low gold reserves for the Government and has been selling gold slowly since 1990 in order to avoid hurting prices. Who buys gold? Commercial banks for clients, dentists, jewelers. Companies are cutting back on production. Nobody really knows about gold, an easily manipulated commodity, current production is peanuts compared to stock market capitalization.

One Comment on "Wednesday Night # 819"

  1. Diana Thébaud Nicholson November 10, 1997 at 7:25 pm ·

    Monday, November 10, 1997
    Why Worry?
    Analyst Sees Deflationary Impact of Asia’s Woes Whacking U.S. Profits
    Kathryn M. Welling
    An Interview With Martin H. Barnes ~ Surveying the complacency he’s seeing all around Wall Street and Main Street despite the market’s recent little record-setting dipsy-doodle, the managing editor of Montréal’s Bank Credit Analyst is not comforted. Indeed, when we caught up with Martin last week in Austin, Texas, where he was about to make a presentation to clients, the self-styled “dour Scotsman” uttered a comment more revealing even than the kilt he sometimes dons. The intellectual content of much recent market commentary has been on a par with the “What, Me Worry?” of Mad Magazine’s Alfred E. Neuman, Martin opined.

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