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Resources More Precious Every Day
Greg Womack -- Certified Financial Planner Greg Womack -- Certified Financial Planner
Edmond , OK
Tuesday, July 05, 2011

China Skyline
I recently returned from a fascinating trip to China. It was my first. I was one of 45 financial advisors with a Financial Planning Association delegation who went to learn about the growing, Chinese financial planning community. It was a 12 day visit, with cities visited that included highly populated areas in Beijing and Shanghai. We visited and collaborated with many of the large China banks and their financial advisors. The Chinese people and culture are captivating. Their economy and population has been exploding. Although dips in the economy will occur, there are still many trends that point to continued, long-term growth in China and the developing world.

One of my take-a-ways from the China experience: We all need to restrain ourselves.

Today, we live in a different, more constrained world in which prices of raw materials will rise and shortages will become common. According to a recent article by Jeremy Grantham, chairman of the global investment management firm GMO, accelerated demand from developing countries, especially China, has caused an unprecedented shift in the price structure of resources. After 100 years or more of declines, prices are now rising. The last eight years have undone, remarkably, the effects of the last 100 years.

Grantham references the economic theory of Thomas Malthus from 1798 and discusses how it still applies today. Malthus recognized the strong link in our society between population and food supply. These are directly proportional and, as such, when resources are abundant, the population thrives. In contrast, when resources are drained, the population must persevere to survive.

A main resource responsible for the large growth in population, wealth, and scientific progress is hydrocarbons. In fact, from 1800 to present, the average per capita income in developing countries already has increased from $400 to $40,000 due to this unique resource.

In China alone, the population has doubled every 10 years to the current 1.3 billion people. The primary cause of change is not just the accelerated size and growth of China, but also its astonishing high percentage of capital spending, which exceeds 50 percent of gross domestic product (GDP), a level never before reached by any economy in history and by a wide margin. A recent study shows China's consumption of coal, iron ore, and cement exceeds 45 percent of the world's economy.

A recent article by Business Insider, titled "15 Facts About China That Will Blow Your Mind," says China already consumes twice as much steel as the U.S., Europe, and Japan combined. The article further notes that by 2025, 5 million buildings containing 40 billion square meters of floor space will be constructed. Of these, 50,000 could be skyscrapers − equivalent to 10 New York Cities. Also, China's cities will have added 350 million people by 2030, which is more than today's entire U.S. population.

One day, if the Chinese use as much oil per person as Americans, we will need seven more Saudi Arabia's to meet their demand.

Grantham says that once again we are now seeing a shortage of resources, which is a predominant factor for today's rising prices. The other factors include "the potential for peak oil and a rapid decline in the quality of some of our resources" coupled with "the explosion of demand from China and India and the rest of the developing world." The extraordinary growth rates had a remarkable effect on global demand. In the 102 years prior to 2002, every commodity − including metal and agriculture – had hit all-time lows. Since 2002, prices have increased exponentially due to the tremendous increase in demand from developing countries.

Grantham suggests we change our ways, and even references advice from former President Jimmy Carter "to develop a thoughtful energy policy and give up our carefree and careless ways with resources." Grantham believes "the quicker we do this, the lower the cost will be. Any improvement at all in the lifestyle for our grandchildren will take much more thoughtful behavior from political leaders."

And, more restraint from everyone.

Greg Womack, CFP
Womack Investment Advisers
Edmond, OK
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