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The Mittal/Arcelor case in the interpretation of the School of Economic Warfare

Gagliano Giuseppe

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Among the examples of economic warfare provided by the School of Economic Warfare in Paris, it is worth mentioning the case of Mittal’s takeover of Arcelor and the situation of European iron and steel industry vis-à-vis financial globalization.

Over the years, the increasing number of takeovers, unions and joint ventures became an for market competitiveness. In this context, some of the takeovers stand out as hostile financial actions aimed neutralizing the opponent. Such strategic maneuvers are a significant source of concern for economic operators, as they observe the reaction of both private and public sector, which is likely to intervene in order to protect the sectors of national interests.

The acquisition of Arcelor operated by Mittal is a case in point because it involves steel, which is both one of the symbols of the European industry and the main material for other productive and strategic sectors. Both Mittal and Arcelor were two titans of the steel sector: while Mittal’s primacy consisted in the largest number of employees and produced materials, Arcelor could count on the most robust trade volume. In fact, when Mittal took it over, Arcelor was a very healthy company that had just incorporated the Canadian company Dofasco. Through this surprising trial of strength that no political or economic operator could have foreseen, Mittal secured a significant advantage on its competitors. In order to understand the strategic interests of this acquisition, it is necessary to examine Mittal’s communication campaign and the lobbying role of all the players, from the steel market to public opinion.

Looking at the steel market trends between 1980 and 2005, it is possible to notice that since the minerals coming from the Soviet Union entered the global market in 1992, both prices and demand of iron ore and steel increased significantly. If it is true that over a hundred countries produce steel, there is only a small group of states that influence its market trend:  Brazil and Australia, for example, control 42% of the steel market.

Due to the impressive growth of recent years, China alone accounts for 40% of global steel production (349 million tons in 2005), of which only 3% is exported. One of the first crisis occurred when China decided to limit the export of carbon coke – the main fuel for blast furnaces. This resulted in a spike in prices of 600% and showed how a given economic choice (driven by the desire of full independence) had remarkable strategic repercussions.

In order to discuss the conflict emerged with the Mittal/Arcelor case, the School of Economic Warfare provides a deep analysis of the actors involved.

Mittal

The Mittal family was the majority shareholder of this company and its funds were located in tax havens. If on the one hand the choice of acquiring Arcelor was motivated by economic and fiscal reasons, on the other hand it also hides some interests that the economic warfare should explore. The Mittal family remained the majority shareholder (51%), whereas the remaining part was divided between investment funds and institutions. In designing such a stake distribution, Mittal showed its strategic intelligence: with such a property assets arrangement, it was impossible for Arcelor to regain its business through another takeover.

Arcelor

Since it is more difficult to convince more shareholders to sell their quotas rather than a single one, it is more difficult to take over a business when there are multiple owners. Therefore, from the strategic point of view, Arcelor’s large pool of stakeholders discouraged competitors from acquiring it. Besides, Arcelor benefited from a strong political support on the international level thanks to its strong ties with governments and to its strategic appeal, since it was the symbol of a united Europe. The main shareholders of Arcelor –involved in the evolution of the company – were:

–              The Luxemburg government: traditional stakeholder, represented at that time by Prime Minister Jean-Claude Junker, who had been very active on the European level and who initially opposed the acquisition of Arcelor by Mittal.

–              The Belgian government, namely the Wallonia region, which also opposed Mittal acquisition after consulting Banque Lazard.

–              Colette Neuville, who held 2.5% of the stocks and represented the small shareholders, abstained from voting on Mittal acquisition. Even though she had such a small quota, Neuville could have played an important role due to the fragmentation of Arcelor ownership.

–              Romani Zaleski, French-Polish major shareholder and key man of Arcelor.

In order to secure its interests Mittal influenced decision makers and public opinion thanks to a network of associates:

–              John Ashcroft, representative of the U.S. Republican right-wing party, Attorney General between 2001 and 2005. At the end of his political career he founded a lobbying agency and was hired by Mittal because of his moral integrity and relations with several members of European governments.

–              Anne Méaux, press officer of Giscard d’Estaing, director of communication for Alain Madelin, who had entertained long term relations with prominent members of the French right-wing party.

–              Partner banks of Mittal Steels. There were five banks which acted simultaneously to support Mittal’s takeover of Arcelor: Goldman-Sachs, Crédit Suisse, HSBC, Citigroup and Société Générale. Goldman-Sachs, which had been previously involved together with Citigroup in Arcelor’s acquisition of Dofasco, played a prominent role in Mittal’s takeover of Arcelor; Société Générale opened up an eight-million-euro credit line for Mittal.

Arcelor’s network was quite complex. It mainly consisted in both personal and business relationships: the actors would pursue their own interests while immerged in a broader network of bigger interests that would tower over those of the single actors:

–              BNP Paribas and Calyon, Arcelor partner banks that had traditionally offered financial support.  Merrill Lynch and UBS drafted the strategy while other institutions were also involved: Michael Zaoui from Morgan Stanley (brother of Yoel Zaoui, main strategist of Mittal) was appointed by Arcelor Management Board to consider Mittal’s offer.

–                  DMG – Michel Calzaroni, international communication agency, embraced market battles on behalf of food titans and French energy companies.

–       Public Opinion. In order to influence public opinion, Arcelor chose Publicis Group, second best rated consultancy and media acquisition company.

–       Skadden Arps, international law firm whose team was made of twelve professionals from France, Belgium and United Kingdom.

Mittal’s acquisition of Arcelor was supported by a well-designed communication campaign. Communication capacities are an essential asset for big firms, especially for those with a large number of shareholders like in the case of Arcelor, where small investors represented 85% of shareholders. In fact, this was the main problem Mittal faced when acquiring Arcelor, even more than the legal and economic aspect or the anti-trust regulations. While competition authorities of the United States, Canada and European Union were in the process of approving this operation, Mittal was allocated huge economic resources in convincing thousands of investors to support its project.

Between the above mentioned personalities, Anne Méaux played a very special role in the deal: she chose a strategy using multiple communication tools (such as press conferences, advertising on business magazines, conference calls and travels to Mittal headquarters) in order to convince the investors of the opportunities of the project; in a context of economic warfare, these communication strategies are able to address competitors with hostile messages. Mittal’s strategy was very detailed and engaged trade unions as well. Since February 2006, Mittal Steel had committed to communicate to Arcelor’s trade unions representatives its intentions about the industrial plan supporting the acquisition. The main points were occupational advantages and better work conditions, together with promise of keeping in place the agreements they had previously made with Arcelor.

Mittal also conceived a special communication strategy targeting shareholders mainly using specialized press and popular weekly magazines. Communication agencies focused on conveying a very positive image of the leader Lakshimi Mittal, through describing him as a successful self-made-man able to gather consensus both between businessmen and public opinion. Their goal was portraying Mittal as a successful entrepreneur interested in the development of his country; this made him much different from foreign investors that delocalized investments and performed a “reverse colonization” both on the economic and cultural side.

Arcelor counter-campaign, instead, presented Mittal as an inferior competitor presenting an “Indian” offer, derogatorily referring to India as a poor country (quite inappropriate considering India’s fast paced economic development).  Supported by the belief to be able to rely on state aid, Arcelor tried every possible way to contrast Mittal’s attack and offered its small investors twice as much the dividends of 2005, hoping that they would have rejected Mittal’s offer. Since Arcelor’s strength consisted in the division of the ownership between small investors, in April 2006 this company offered another increase in the dividends. A month later, Arcelor announced to have received a very interesting takeover offer from a Russian company named Severstal: Mordachov, Severstal’s tycoon, would have acquired 32% of the company and the investors would have benefited from even more advantageous distributions of the dividends. Due to the initial lack of enthusiasm of Arcelor’s investors, Severstal decided to reduce its participation to 25% (that secured its position as majority shareholder), while discouraging Mittal from acquiring Arcelor and reassuring small investors on their pretty substantial profits.

Mittal’s decision to approach directly the group of Arcelor’s investors resulted in a winning move: almost the entire management board of Mittal – included Lakshimi Mittal – met with 70% of Arcelors investors and established open communication. This helped convincing their counterpart of the advantages of their acquisition offer.

This way, Mittal Steel managed to buy 34% of the Arcelor’s stake in May 2006. As the takeover took place, Mittal created the new management board in order to meet reassure the investors’ concerns about Lakshimi Mittal’s management, such as transparency of decision-making and compliance to share ownership arrangements. At the end of May, another key step was taken: in relation to a speculative investment fund, Goldman Sachs together with almost 30% shareholders requested to modify the approval procedure of Severstal proposal. At this point, the intervention of Zaleski – Arcelor’s majority shareholder – helped reaching a final solution. Thanks to the alteration of the procedures that Goldman Sachs had requested, Zaleski managed to buy more than 7.8% stocks so that by June 25th, Arcelor was fused with Mittal Steel with a final agreement granting shareholders 10% profits.

This case study highlights the importance of economic warfare that aims at protecting strategic sectors of a given field, preserving the resources and ensuring the employment development of related fields and more specifically of the industrial sector.

Besides the economic aspect of this kind of warfare, the School of Economic Warfare in Paris insists on its geopolitical aspects. In this perspective, the case discussed above has a number of hidden implications. For example, Mittal’s takeover of Arcelor can be interestingly considered as an operation aimed at containing Chinese expansionism.

Looking at the role of the United States, it is possible to argue that since the end of the Cold War, this country has adopted quite a unilateral approach in foreign policy that supported its role of world’s first economic power. Whoever challenges the American power, automatically becomes a rival, especially on the economic level. In this regard, China is a dangerous competitor that is able to successfully join forces with some African countries: through investing in education without linking any conditionality of human rights respect or fight against crime, Beijing creates alliances in another continent and gains profits from its own investments.

Besides, the Chinese government even reached a number of agreements with South American countries that are not limited to the economic sphere but also involve cultural aspect like the spread of Chinese language and culture. In Asia, China and India sealed an important deal aimed at going beyond containing the historical rivalry between the two countries: promoting in the Asian continent an environment of cooperation that is able to challenge the dominance of the United States.

Since India is the only regional actor able to contain China, the USA repeatedly tried to engage India as a trade partner, as mentioned in the deal between the two countries sealed in 2000.

In order to ensure its own economic growth and independence from other actors, China and India increased significantly their steel production and manufacturing.

In 2005, China’s consumption of steel accounted for one third of the world steel market and the very same year, Beijing became a prodigious exporter of steel. In the same timeframe, India’s steel production exceeded the needs of the country and this compromised supply-demand balance. In such a delicate phase for the steel sector, the political world did not welcome Mittal’s acquisition of Arcelor because of its impact on the strategic balance of power. From the United States perspective, Mittal was quite interesting and profitable:

–              according to the authorities of the country, Mittal Steel group was not Indian;

–              the reason for Mittal’s economic expansion was China. In fact, in 2004 Mittal was the first foreign company that managed to acquire 37.17% of a Chinese steel company.

The US financial community welcomed the fusion between Arcelor and Mittal, but the Department of Justice opened an investigation in order to make sure that the US could continue import large amount of steel from Arcelor. Besides, even on the financial level, Mittal’s acquisition of Arcelor confirmed the general world trend of the strategic formation of a few stable economic hubs.

As a final consideration on this topic, the European Union’s behavior vis-à-vis Mittal’s operation was quite surprising. Even though the EU originated from European Coal and Steel Community, (the organization promoting free trade for coal and steel), it did not adopt any measure to protect such a strategic sector whose value was both economic and symbolic.

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Turkey and Trump’s sanctions-based “political economy”

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By the end of last year, the Turkish economy had slipped into a technical recession, boosting in 12 months by only 2.6%, despite the fact that a year ago the government expected GDP to grow by 3.8%. The slowdown is particularly striking against the background of sustainable development over the past seven years: in 2010, the country’s GDP grew by 8.5%, in 2011 – by 11.1%, in 2012 – by 4.8%, in 2013 – by 8.5%, in 2014 – by 5.2%, in 2015 – by 6.1%, in 2016 – by 3.2% and in 2017 – by 7.4%  This trend has turned Turkey into one of the fastest developing economies, earning it 17th position worldwide in nominal GDP and 13th in the GDP value regarding purchasing power parity.

The situation changed by the middle of 2018, when relations with Washington deteriorated to the point of a trade war. The Trump administration resorted to the much-practiced method of targeting the “dissenters”: it raised drastically customs duties on steel and aluminum imported from Turkey (which, however, did not prevent the United States from becoming the second buyer of Turkish metallurgical produce by the end of the year). On August 1 the US introduced sanctions against Turkish Interior and Justice Ministers. At that time, the main stumbling block (at least on the surface of it) was Turkey’s refusal to release American priest Andrew Brunson who was detained in 2016 on charges of  espionage and links to Fethullah Gulen’s movement along with the Kurdistan Workers ’Party. For some time Donald Trump’s propaganda slogans were dominated by the maxim “to save rank-and-file pastor Brunson”.

Turkey responded by slapping import duties on American goods: cars, alcohol, tobacco, cosmetics. And, of course, it put two US ministers on its sanctions list.

But the forces were clearly far from equal. As a result, the Turkish lira collapsed. At the beginning of 2018 one dollar traded for 3.8 liras, whereas by the end of the year it sold for 5.3 liras. Moreover, at the peak of the weakening of the national currency, the dollar cost almost 7 liras. The Central Bank of Turkey was forced to raise the interest rate, even despite opposition from the country’s omnipotent president. Today, the rate has climbed up to the red level of 24%. Consequently, there has been a drop in the sales of real estate, cars, and a number of other industrial goods. Prospects for inflation have materialized too – in October, inflation hit a fifteen-year high, exceeding 25 percent.

Recep Tayyip Erdogan put the blame for the crisis on Turkey’s foreign ill-wishers. This time – with a lion’s share of truth.

In October, the court sentenced Branson to imprisonment for exactly the time he had already served. The pastor returned home, mutual sanctions were lifted, which partly calmed the markets. But only partly.

According to the Turkish Statistical Institute (TSI), the country’s GDP increased by 2.6% by the end of the year. At the same time, the service sector grew by 5.6%, agrarian – by 1.3%, industrial – by only 1.1%. Exports, compared to the previous year, increased by 7% – to 168 billion dollars (a record figure in the entire history of the Turkish Republic). Foreign trade deficit, amid a boost of imports prices,  decreased by 28.4% to $ 55 billion, while imports proper dropped by 4.6% to 223 billion dollars. Tourism revenues increased by 12.3% to 29.5 billion

At first glance, the situation is far from critical, but, according to the TSI, over the year, per capita GDP dropped from $10,597 to $ 9,632; household expenditures, although going up by 1.1% on the year, went down by 8.9% in the fourth quarter. In December unemployment rate among the able-bodied population reached 13.5% – more than 4.3 million people.

Nevertheless, Berat Albayrak, Minister of Treasury and Finance of Turkey, sounded optimistic: “The worst days for the economy are over. The government is confident that the growth of the Turkish economy in 2019 will match the forecasts laid down in the New Economic Program. ”

In general, the above-mentioned program envisages the implementation of reforms that will protect export-oriented small and medium-sized enterprises, strengthen their competitiveness, stimulate the economy to secure a high level of added value. An important part of the document is a clause that stipulates cutting government spending on expensive infrastructure projects, often designed to foster the image rather than the economy.

Specialists differ in assessing the prospects for the Turkish economy: forecasts vary from a slight increase to a further decline. In particular, according to the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, “Economists expect the cooling to continue. The OECD forecasts a further reduction in the economic growth of (Turkey-author) for 2019 to minus 1.8 percent.” So far, the trend is as follows: industrial production, for example, in January 2019 fell by 7.3% against January last year.

Among the chronic illnesses of the Turkish economy is a deficit of the balance of payments, which the government traditionally tries to compensate with foreign loans and foreign investment – these primarily provided economic growth in previous years. Now this source seems nearly exhausted as investors worldwide are growing increasingly wary of developing markets. The position of Turkey is aggravated by the uncertainty of foreign capital about the independence of the Central Bank, its concerns about the unpredictability of the country’s policy and the adequacy of its economic course (first of all, its adherence to ambitious projects with questionable economic efficiency).

Also, potential investors are deterred by the strained relations between Ankara and Washington. For many, President Trump’s recent treat to “ruin” Turkey for its policy on Syrian Kurds and his recent decision to abolish customs preferences for a number of Turkish goods came as signaling the continuation of a trade war. Significantly, these statements were made after the Turkish leadership confirmed its determination to acquire Russian air defense systems, thereby making it clear that pursued a course towards independence in strategic decision-making.

For Turkey, the United States is a fairly important trading partner, which in 2018 accounted for almost five percent of Turkish exports ($ 8.3 billion) and more than five percent of imports ($ 12.3 billion).

The recession in the Turkish economy has a certain negative impact on Russian-Turkish economic results. Last year, Turkey became Russia’s sixth largest trading partner. In particular, it accounts for a considerable share of Russian exports of metals, grain and, most importantly, energy carriers (the second, after Germany, importer of oil in the world). In February, according to Gazprom, the export of Russian gas to non-CIS countries decreased by 13% in annual terms. The company said the main reasons behind the decrease were the warm weather in Europe and the crisis in Turkey.

The Russian economy has succeeded in adapting to the extensive sanction pressure from Washington and, it looks like the Trump administration has now chosen to “attack from the flank”, targeting one of Moscow’s major foreign economic partners. It would not be a mistake to assume that the ability of the Turkish leadership to resist pressure from its “strategic ally” and NATO partner in the near future will largely determine not only economic, but also political relations between Moscow and Ankara. 

First published in our partner International Affairs

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Ambiguity in European economic leadership

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Europe’s economic situation remains uncertain! The European economic crisis and austerity policies remain in place. On the other hand, there is no sign that the EU is passing through the current situation. Two conservative /Social Democrats in Europe have not been able to effectively counteract the economic crisis over the last few years.

 This same issue has led to anger by European citizens from traditional European parties. Subsequently, the trend of European citizens to nationalist and extremist parties has increased in recent years.

The events that have taken place in France in recent months have led to disappointment with the eurozone leaders over the current deadlock.The most important point is that Macron was planned to assume the title of the Europe’s economic leader in the short term, and that was to be after succeeding in creating and sustaining economic reforms in France and the Eurozone.

 Meanwhile, European citizens expressed their satisfaction with the election of Macron as French President in 2017. They thought that the French president, while challenging austerity policies, would strengthen the components of economic growth in the European Union. Moreover, EU leaders also hoped that Macron’s success in pursuing economic reforms in France would be a solid step in pushing the entire Eurozone out of the economic crisis.

 In other words, in the midst of anti-Euro and extremist and far-right movements in Europe, Macron was the last hope of European authorities to “manage the economic crisis” which was raising inside the Eurozone: the hope that has soon faded away!

The main dilemma in France is quite clear!”Failing to persuade French citizens” on his economic reforms, and Macron’s miscalculations about the support of French citizens for himself, were among the important factors in shaping this process. Macron had to give concessions to protesters to prevent further tensions in France.

 After the country’s month-long demonstrations, Macron was forced to retreat from his decision on raising the fuel price. Besides, he had no way but to make promises to the French citizens on issues such as raising the minimum wages and reducing the income tax. This had but one meaning: Macron’s economic reforms came to an end. Right now, European authorities know well that Macron is incapable of regaining his initial power in France and the Eurozone by 2022 (the time for the France general elections).

 Therefore, Macron has to forget the dream of EU’s economic leadership until the last moments of his presence at the Elysees Palace. Of course, this is if the young French president isn’t forced to resign before 2022! The European authorities and the Eurozone leaders have no alternative for Macron and his economic reforms in Europe. That’s why they’re so worried about the emergence of anti-EU movements in countries such as France and Germany.

 For example, they are well aware that if Marin Le Pen can defeat Macron and come to power in France during the upcoming elections, then the whispers of the collapse of the Eurozone, and even the European Union, will be clearly heard, this time with a loud voice, all over the Europe.

First published in our partner Tehran Times

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Economic integration: Asia and the Pacific’s best response to protectionism

Armida Salsiah Alisjahbana

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Deepening economic integration in Asia and the Pacific is a longstanding regional objective. Not an end in itself but a means of supporting the trade, investment and growth necessary to achieve the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. It is a priority for all member states of the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (UN ESCAP). China has a valuable contribution to make so I am beginning 2019 with a visit to Beijing. One to discuss with Chinese leaders how we can strengthen our collaboration and accelerate progress.

The case for deeper integration in Asia and the Pacific is becoming increasingly apparent. Recent trade tensions highlight Asia and the Pacific’s vulnerability to protectionism from major export markets. UN ESCAP analysis shows how regional supply chains are being disrupted and investor confidence shaken. Export growth is expected to slow and foreign direct investment to continue its downward trend. Millions of jobs are forecast to be lost, others will be displaced. Unskilled workers, particularly women, are likely to suffer most. Increasing seamless regional connectivity – expanding the infrastructure which underpins cross border commercial exchanges and intraregional trade – must be part of our response.

We should build on the existing Asian transport infrastructure agreements UN ESCAP maintains to further reduce regulatory constraints, costs and delays. For instance, UN ESCAP members are working to improve the efficiency of railway border crossings along the Trans-Asian Railway network. There is great potential to improve electronic information exchange between railways, harmonise customs formalities and improve freight trains’ reliability. The recent international road transport agreement between the governments of China, Mongolia and the Russian Federation grants traffic rights for international road transport operations on the sections of the Asia Highway which connect their borders. We should expand it to other countries. There is also huge opportunity to develop our region’s dry ports, the terminals pivotal to the efficient shipment of sea cargo to inland destinations by road or rail. A regional strategy is in place to build a network of dry ports of major international significance. UN ESCAP is looking forward to working with China to implement it.

Sustainable energy, particularly cross-border power trade, is another key plank UN ESCAP member States’ connectivity agenda. Connecting electricity grids is not only important to meet demand, ensure energy access and security. It is also necessary to support the development of large-scale renewable energy power plants and the transition to cleaner energy across Asia and the Pacific. The fight against climate change in part depends on our ability to better link up our networks. ASEAN’s achievements in strengthening power grids across borders is a leading example of what political commitment and technical cooperation can deliver. At the regional level UN ESCAP has brought together our region’s experts to develop a regional roadmap on sustainable energy connectivity. China is currently chairing this group.

For maximum impact, transport and energy initiatives need to come in tandem with the soft infrastructure which facilitates the expansion of trade. UN ESCAP analysis ranks China among the top trade facilitation and logistics performers in our region. This expertise contributed to a major breakthrough in cross-border e-commerce development and ultimately led to a UN treaty on trade digitalisation. This has been adopted by UN ESCAP members to support the exchange of electronic trade data and documents and signed by China in 2017. Now, UN ESCAP is working to support the accession and ratification of twenty-five more countries who recognise the opportunity to minimise documentary requirements, promote transparency and increase the security of trade operations. Full implementation of cross-border paperless trade in Asia and the Pacific could reduce export costs by up to 30 percent. Regional export gains could be as has high as $250 billion.

As we look to the future and work to accelerate progress towards the 2030 Agenda’s Sustainable Development Goals, economic integration must remain a priority. A strong UN-China sustainable development partnership is essential to take this agenda forward and strengthen our resilience to international trade tensions and economic uncertainty. Working with all the countries in our region, we have a unique opportunity to place sustainability considerations at the heart of our efforts and build seamless regional connectivity. That is an opportunity, which in 2019, UN ESCAP is determined to seize.UNESCAP

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