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Why currency wars happen?

First Ms. Lagarde and now Mr. Bernanke (in the recent testimony on Capitol Hill) assure us that there is no currency war happening. Well, that’s true on the face of it.

However, why do currency wars begin? Because they work. Initially. Unless you’re willing to say the following that the populace of an advanced economy is going to sit back and watch their exports and by implication their jobs affected. But you might say – China has been manipulating their currency for at least a decade.

However, I think the issue with China is that it serves primarily as a low cost manufacturer by default for most of the advanced economies. While each developed economy didn’t particularly like the idea of currency manipulation by China, it affected each equally, more or less. This is quite different when each developed economy is trying to jumpstart their economies and boost exports by devaluing their currencies. The first few actors will benefit from this practice and the longer that these activities persist, the effects die down.

But please be under no illusions – these are desperate measures that have pricing volatility effects on every supply chain.

Amending the Supply Chain Prediction…

NOT!!!

However, here’s Ms. Lagarde of IMF : Lagarde sees Currency Worries, Not ‘War’.

"There’s been lots of talk of currency wars, and we have not seen any such thing as a currency war. We’ve heard currency worries, not currency wars," said Lagarde. "We’ve not seen confrontation but deliberation, dialogue, discussions and clearly this G-20 meeting has been extremely helpful and productive."

Lagarde’s comments echoed those of the G-20 nations on Saturday, who declared that there would be no currency war. This has taken the heat off Japan, which has been criticized for its expansive policies that have driven down the yen following the election of Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

We’re all diplomats for now. Like I said in my prediction, we’ll first take the time to get this wrong to the fullest extent possible before we admit to the possibility that it was a war all along. So far we have no confrontations but deliberation, dialogue and discussions only. But confrontations arise from accusations – so until we see all sorts of accusations thrown about, it’s quite alright to be in the mode of Supply Chain worries.

Like this kind:

Bank of Korea Governor Kim Choong-soo told the Wall Street Journal on Sunday that he was concerned over the weakening yen’s impact on his country’s economy. The governor stressed the importance of strengthening financial safety nets to give smaller nations the confidence to not have to stockpile currency reserves.

However, be not alarmed when such protestations erupt from the smaller economies. When you sniff the first wave of accusations between the larger economies, you’d do well to have already taken a long hard look at every and any extended supply chain and start diversifying options – especially options that have a strong currency component to it.

Predictions for the Supply Chain in 2013

SC Digest has posted a round up of Supply Chain Predictions for 2013 :

Part 1: Predictions from Supply Chain Gurus for 2013 – 1

Part 2: Predictions from Supply Chain Gurus for 2013 – 2

The predictions from supply chain gurus span the gamut from Big Data, Analytics, Dealing with longer lead times, Talent, South America and Africa. And e-tailers?

Well, I have my prediction too for the supply chain of 2013 (and 14 and 15 too). If anything I’d call it the rise of the Supply Chain Currency Wars. The first shot of this new phase of global currency wars was launched by Japan a week or two ago. While it will start slowly, over the next few years, this sort of tit-for-tat devaluation will play havoc with global supply chains especially the one’s with finely tuned cost calculations justifying the location of factories and/or distribution centers.

Devaluation of currencies over a matter of couple of quarters and in-kind retaliation is going to drive up financing risk in the supply chain. Were such a scenario to come to pass, then supply chain operators need to nail down some other variables so as not to have all the variables in a supply chain in a volatile flux.

In summary, while global supply chains can tolerate some uncertainty, it isn’t quite clear to me whether it can tolerate the sort of volatility that global currency wars entail. The Gold standard of Supply chains might mean something entirely different in a couple of years time.

A brief history of the Supply Chain

SCM Operations has this wonderful assembled history of how the idea of a Supply Chain came to be through the years – in a little over a century.

The graphic is here: History of Logistics and Supply Chain Management and is reproduced below for your benefit.

Enjoy!!

Supply Chain Optimization – careful with those words now…

Abcoautomation has a post up on How Supply Chain Optimization can help you beat your competition. Except that, the sort of optimization that is referred to there is not Optimization. I suppose that I have to start making a distinction between Big “O” optimization and small “o” optimization. However, that is a topic for another day. The topic for today however is two fold – Ernst Haeckel and the effect of Dr. Haeckel’s pithy summation on almost every and anything that we engage in. In very broad and general terms.

Ernst Haeckel, for those of us who are not likely to be avid readers, was a contemporary of Darwin (Yeah, that Darwin) championed a notion in evolutionary theory that can be summed up as, “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny.” I assure you that you’re perfectly within your rights as a blog reader to switch to another page right now. It’s about to get a lot worse.

The following is the clarification of the terms: Ontogeny – the development of the form of the creature and Phylogeny – the location of the creature in the general scheme of evolutionary descent. Dr. Haeckel proposed (hypothetical creatures, drawings etc al), that Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny, which is to say that creatures in development exhibit developmental characteristics associated with creatures situated earlier in its evolutionary descent. This was quite an assertion which however in time turned out to be entirely wrong.

The surprising thing is that while “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny” has little support in the natural world, something quite akin to it can be readily observed in the world of intellectual ideas and their application.

Here’s the content from the above story:

I heard a story one time about a Vice President of Distribution for a very well-known health and beauty aid manufacturer who gave this talk about when he took over as VP.  He asked what is the cash to cash cycle line for a particular brand of shampoo?

What is the time from the point where we spend money on boxes bottles or whatever you need for the shampoo and the manufacturing process to the time you get the money back from Wal-Mart (their end customer). Guess how long that process was?

Really, write it down and make a commitment you might be surprised at the answer. Well despite the fact that I’m not Vanna White, here is the answer. 47 weeks, 47 weeks of time. From the time that they bought bottles of goop, and paint and to the time they got their money back from Wal-Mart.

Now the next question he asked was this of those 47 weeks how much time do you really take to add the value process?

That is to make the product. Surprise again. 90 minutes. So out of the 47 weeks of time they only spent 90 minutes actually producing the product, and the final question how much of the corporate attention was on the 90 minutes?

The Supply Chain as an idea or the very recognition of the idea of a supply chain occurs quite later in the development of the capitalistic economy. So, quite akin to Dr. Haeckel’s formulation, this is a prime exhibit of later forms of organization and complexity recapitulating similar variances of thoughts and problems that were exhibited in earlier forms of organization. So while “Ontogeny recapitulates Phylogeny” was the mantra of an age past, I offer that “Novel forms of organization repeat the same problems exhibited in earlier developmental eras.” Or in other words, “Ontology recapitulates teleological gaps”.

Ontology has to do with the “that which is” and in this case would be the idea of the supply chain or manufacturing or putting things together. Teleology is about the purpose or end driven action that one undertakes day in and day out. So all that the statement above is referring to is the gaps in purpose that often exist in the recapitulation of newer ontologies.

This is precisely what prompted this long winding post – You see in the article above from abcoautomation, there is the suggestion that 47 weeks of lead time can be improved such that the non-value added proportion of this lead time can be reduced. However, that can only be done to a certain point i.e. as far as there is slack capacity to drive down the lead time. However, is there really slack capacity?

My simple point is this – these are problems that has been discovered and addressed in manufacturing – sometime well and sometimes not so well. The supply chain as a newer ontology (vis a vis Manufacturing) seems to recapitulate the same gaps in purpose.

Avoiding this recapitulation and the associated costs of this recapitulation is the only free lunch available – the question is whether you even realize the free lunch offer.

Decision Management– Rules, Optimization and Visualization come together…

This is an interview with Pierre Haren, CEO of ILOG prior to its acquisition by IBM on what decision management is and how it came to be used in various situations. A look back (and forward) at 20 years of Decision Management.

This is also my particular field of expertise and Pierre alludes to the case of the product that I work with gaining acceptance in IBM’s wafer fabrication facility in East Fishkill, NY.

We had a great moment when we were able to successfully deploy a complex mix of ILOG and IBM tools at IBM Fishkill, in what was considered the most modern and fastest changing semi-conductor plant in the world. At that time, before our acquisition by IBM, IBM was a reluctant customer. I visited the head of the plant and promised that we would install the complete system for free. He would only pay if he kept the system in operation for more than a month.

Understandably, he was skeptical that a small decision management company could improve on the work of hundreds of excellent engineers who continuously tuned the $4B plant. We deployed a system which every five minutes re-computes the optimal plan for the whole plant for the next eight hours. It combines real-time data from the MES system to rules-based processes, an optimization-based scheduler, and advanced graphics to enable the plant operators to "see the current future" for the next eight hours.

The first day’s objective was low: do no harm. Within a month, all the operators where convinced and we were paid. More important, we changed forever the balance of what computers do and what operators do in that plant.

What’s important about this confluence of components i.e. Rules Management, Optimization using CPLEX and Visualization as it used in that fab (and since then in other fabs in the world) is how such a system can be used for execution. Not planning, Not strategy. But execution on a near real time basis – that means that actual tools on the fab floor act on the recommendations produced by the decision management system which in turn sees the action of the tools and then uses that as an input in further decisions. When operators and managers assert manual control in the operation of the tools or fab in general, the system accepts that and continues without issue. So the system takes into account the dynamic nature of the fab, recomputes and proceeds. I’ve blogged about this system : FabPowerOps in earlier blog postings – take a look.

Now I’m hoping to take this to the next level, deploying a federated system of such applications that not only interact with the fab floor as well as human operators, engineers and managers but with other apps taking their inputs and working on that.

Great stuff, I assure you!!

Winning through Better Supply Chain Design

Supply Chain Design is an oft overlooked field of specialty because of the “math” involved. While several providers have come up with nice interfaces to hide that math – the truth of the matter is that without the math, you’re slipping constants into GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out) mode.

Supply Chain Management Review and Logistics Management have made this free webcast available on this topic : Winning through Better Supply Chain Design.

About me

I am Chris Jacob Abraham and I live, work and blog from Newburgh, New York. I work for IBM as a Senior consultant in the Fab PowerOps group that works around the issue of detailed Fab (semiconductor fab) level scheduling on a continual basis. My erstwhile company ILOG was recently acquired by IBM and I've joined the Industry Solutions Group there.

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