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Monet Markets

Stuart White

The World in Black-N-White

Since last week’s shock triumph on Donald Trump over rival Hillary Clinton in the US Presidential election and his subsequent confirmation as Command-in-Chief-in-Waiting, the world financial markets, that of the US in particular, have been a little nervous.  It’s perfectly understandable. 

He’s not only a new broom, pledged to sweep out the Augean stables which is American politics but he’s a complete unknown quantity.  Though a familiar face in the tabloids and economic papers for decades, he has zero political experience and so the world, and the money men wait, to see what might transpire and while they wait, there’s a fair amount of panic selling in a volatile marketplace.


Much the same thing happened just after the UK’s Brexit vote in June.  Bankers and brokers, ever erring on the cautious side, drummed their fingers nervously on their keyboards, hitting ‘sell’ and sending the pound sterling on a downward trajectory. 


It soon stabilised and though not yet back to its former glory, it will no doubt claw its way back once investors realise that Britain is still geographically in Europe, there is no anchor to slip and sail away and in the end it will be business almost as usual with a few adjustments here and there.


But what any savvy investor or financial advisor knows is that like umbrellas, what goes up, must come down and vice versa.  There are bear markets and bull markets; stocks, bonds, barrels of oil and pork futures are bought and sold and sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.  


This is the reason that brokers and consultants always advise erring on the side of caution in the down times, and sitting on your falling investments, hedging your bets that they will rise again in good time.  All things, including higher stock price, come to those who wait.


But the one area which always does well in bear, or falling, markets is that of solid investments – diamonds, gold, rare art and precious antiques.  Should a rare Fabergé egg or a Ming vase come up for sale, for example, pretty much whatever the well-heeled collector forks out for their rarity piece, will hold its price or even rise. 


The trick is having the considerable readies to snap them up when and if they become available.  No surprise then, to read of this record art sale in the United States, only days after Trump towered over his rival:


‘A Claude Monet painting, "Meule," part of his famous grainstack series, sold at auction in New York Wednesday for 81.4 million dollars, a record for the French master, Christie's said.

The previous record was in June 2008. At the time, "Bassin aux nympheas" ("Water Lilies") took $ 80.4 million at a sale in London. The final price, which includes fees and commission, crushed Christie's pre-sale estimate of $45 million. The auction lasted nearly fifteen minutes, an unusual length for a sale of this format. 


A woman in the room stayed in the running for some time before making a last offer of $53 million and leaving it to buyers being handled over the phone. This painting, of just one haystack with a conical top, at twilight, is part of the series of grainstacks painted by Monet during the winter of 1890-1891 from his house in Giverny, Normandy.


It is one of the rare works in this series to still be in private hands, Christie's said. Most of the others are in the Musee d'Orsay in Paris, the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, or the Art Institute of Chicago. This painting was acquired in September 1891 by the Knoedler & Co. art gallery, which brought it to the United States. 


In recent years, prices for works by Monet or other celebrated Impressionists have shot through the roof. You may or may not be familiar with the school of French Impressionism and the master, Claude Monet.  The style became popular in Fin-du-Siecle France and its muted colours and hazy impressionist style, soon gained popularity through Monet and his contemporaries, Manet, Renoir. Lautrec, Dégas and many others. 


Their works are much sought-after but nevertheless $81.4m (almost P900m) is an awful lot of money for a picture that can’t exactly be hung in the hallway and admired as you enter and leave the house. Rather it is destined to spend its time in an air-conditioned underground vault, and the only satisfaction it will lend its new owner is that of the pride of ownership itself. 

I am reminded of Gollum, of Lord of the Ring fame, avariciously hugging his ‘Precious’ to himself and saying ‘This is mine’   And that is exactly the point, of course. Possession is not only nine tenths of the law but when it refers to something so valuable, so sought-after and so rare, should the owner at some point in the future decide to sell their ‘precious’ they will pretty much be able to name their price and it will almost certainly top the record sum just paid.


And in case you’re thinking, that’s all very well but I don’t even like art, neither may the Monet’s new daddy or mummy!  And in the world of appreciating collectables, there is anyway something for everyone – vintage cars, property, rare stamps, large diamonds, rare coins – the list is long but if something comes with good provenance and is one of a  very finite number, someone, somewhere will be prepared to cough up a bundle to possess it, which is more than be said for stocks and shares, notoriously volatile and of the yo-yo variety of investments.

All of which only goes to prove the old Scottish adage that ‘there’s Monet a good tune to be played on an old fiddle yet’!

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Export Processing Zones: How to Get SEZA to Sizzle

23rd September 2020
Export Processing Zone (EPZ) factory in Kenya

In 2005, the Business & Economic Advisory Council (BEAC) pitched the idea of the establishment of Special Economic Zones (SEZs) to the Mogae Administration.

It took five years before the SEZ policy was formulated, another five years before the relevant law was enacted, and a full three years before the Special Economic Zones Authority (SEZA) became operational.

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Egypt Bagged Again

23rd September 2020

… courtesy of infiltration stratagem by Jehovah-Enlil’s clan

With the passing of Joshua’s generation, General Atiku, the promised peace and prosperity of a land flowing with milk and honey disappeared, giving way to chaos and confusion.

Maybe Joshua himself was to blame for this shambolic state of affairs. He had failed to mentor a successor in the manner Moses had mentored him. He had left the nation without a central government or a human head of state but as a confederacy of twelve independent tribes without any unifying force except their Anunnaki gods.

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23rd September 2020

If I say the word ‘robot’ to you,  I can guess what would immediately spring to mind –  a cute little Android or animal-like creature with human or pet animal characteristics and a ‘heart’, that is to say to say a battery, of gold, the sort we’ve all seen in various movies and  tv shows.  Think R2D2 or 3CPO in Star Wars, Wall-E in the movie of the same name,  Sonny in I Robot, loveable rogue Bender in Futurama,  Johnny 5 in Short Circuit…

Of course there are the evil ones too, the sort that want to rise up and eliminate us  inferior humans – Roy Batty in Blade Runner, Schwarzenegger’s T-800 in The Terminator,  Box in Logan’s Run,  Police robots in Elysium and  Otomo in Robocop.

And that’s to name but a few.  As a general rule of thumb, the closer the robot is to human form, the more dangerous it is and of course the ultimate threat in any Sci-Fi movie is that the robots will turn the tables and become the masters, not the mechanical slaves.  And whilst we are in reality a long way from robotic domination, there are an increasing number of examples of  robotics in the workplace.

ROBOT BLOODHOUNDS Sometimes by the time that one of us smells something the damage has already begun – the smell of burning rubber or even worse, the smell of deadly gas. Thank goodness for a robot capable of quickly detecting and analyzing a smell from our very own footprint.

A*Library Bot The A*Star (Singapore) developed library bot which when books are equipped with RFID location chips, can scan shelves quickly seeking out-of-place titles.  It manoeuvres with ease around corners, enhances the sorting and searching of books, and can self-navigate the library facility during non-open hours.

DRUG-COMPOUNDING ROBOT Automated medicine distribution system, connected to the hospital prescription system. It’s goal? To manipulate a large variety of objects (i.e.: drug vials, syringes, and IV bags) normally used in the manual process of drugs compounding to facilitate stronger standardisation, create higher levels of patient safety, and lower the risk of hospital staff exposed to toxic substances.

AUTOMOTIVE INDUSTRY ROBOTS Applications include screw-driving, assembling, painting, trimming/cutting, pouring hazardous substances, labelling, welding, handling, quality control applications as well as tasks that require extreme precision,

AGRICULTURAL ROBOTS Ecrobotix, a Swiss technology firm has a solar-controlled ‘bot that not only can identify weeds but thereafter can treat them. Naio Technologies based in southwestern France has developed a robot with the ability to weed, hoe, and assist during harvesting. Energid Technologies has developed a citrus picking system that retrieves one piece of fruit every 2-3 seconds and Spain-based Agrobot has taken the treachery out of strawberry picking. Meanwhile, Blue River Technology has developed the LettuceBot2 that attaches itself to a tractor to thin out lettuce fields as well as prevent herbicide-resistant weeds. And that’s only scratching the finely-tilled soil.

INDUSTRIAL FLOOR SCRUBBERS The Global Automatic Floor Scrubber Machine boasts a 1.6HP motor that offers 113″ water lift, 180 RPM and a coverage rate of 17,000 sq. ft. per hour

These examples all come from the aptly-named site    because while these functions are labour-saving and ripe for automation, the increasing use of artificial intelligence in the workplace will undoubtedly lead to increasing reliance on machines and a resulting swathe of human redundancies in a broad spectrum of industries and services.

This process has been greatly boosted by the global pandemic due to a combination of a workforce on furlough, whether by decree or by choice, and the obvious advantages of using virus-free machines – I don’t think computer viruses count!  For example, it was suggested recently that their use might have a beneficial effect in care homes for the elderly, solving short staffing issues and cheering up the old folks with the novelty of having their tea, coffee and medicines delivered by glorified model cars.  It’s a theory, at any rate.

Already, customers at the South-Korean  fast-food chain No Brand Burger can avoid any interaction with a human server during the pandemic.  The chain is using robots to take orders, prepare food and bring meals out to diners.  Customers order and pay via touchscreen, then their request is sent to the kitchen where a cooking machine heats up the buns and patties. When it’s ready, a robot ‘waiter’ brings out their takeout bag.   

‘This is the first time I’ve actually seen such robots, so they are really amazing and fun,’ Shin Hyun Soo, an office worker at No Brand in Seoul for the first time, told the AP. 

Human workers add toppings to the burgers and wrap them up in takeout bags before passing them over to yellow-and-black serving robots, which have been compared to Minions. 

Also in Korea, the Italian restaurant chain Mad for Garlic is using serving robots even for sit-down customers. Using 3D space mapping and other technology, the electronic ‘waiter,’ known as Aglio Kim, navigates between tables with up to five orders.  Mad for Garlic manager Lee Young-ho said kids especially like the robots, which can carry up to 66lbs in their trays.

These catering robots look nothing like their human counterparts – in fact they are nothing more than glorified food trolleys so using our thumb rule from the movies, mankind is safe from imminent takeover but clearly  Korean hospitality sector workers’ jobs are not.

And right there is the dichotomy – replacement by stealth.  Remote-controlled robotic waiters and waitresses don’t need to be paid, they don’t go on strike and they don’t spread disease so it’s a sure bet their army is already on the march.

But there may be more redundancies on the way as well.  Have you noticed how AI designers have an inability to use words of more than one syllable?  So ‘robot’ has become ‘bot’ and ‘android’ simply ‘droid?  Well, guys, if you continue to build machines ultimately smarter than yourselves you ‘rons  may find yourself surplus to requirements too – that’s ‘moron’ to us polysyllabic humans”!

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