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Statistics from March surprisingly show a new trade surplus for China. Good news for China and the rest of the world too.

The surprise return to surplus from February’s $31.5 billion deficit confounded expectations that trade would remain $1.3 billion in the red, with a solid 10.4 percent year-on-year bounce in sales to the United States helping exports grow faster than expected, customs data showed on Tuesday.

Imports undershot expectations, growing 5.3 percent on the year in March – consistent with other data suggesting soggy domestic demand in the first quarter of the year – but the trade numbers overall reinforced the view of analysts that China’s trade-sensitive economy is set for a soft landing in 2012.

Like many predicted, foreign demand for Chinese goods has not been hurt very much  by the increased value of the Yuan. The new Chinese trade surplus is being attributed to better growth in the rest of the world, particularly the US.

For skeptics who believe this is not good for the rest of the world, let me try–again– to explain.

The savings that consumers enjoy from buying foreign goods allows them to either save more money or to buy more goods. The savings might turn into better investment opportunities, and more demand for goods might come from either home or abroad.

This is an essential lesson in free-trade economics.

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A new story focuses on Argentina’s restrictions on trade, forcing importers to export goods of equal value.

Complaints have been made to the World Trade Organization from the US, the E.U., Japan and 10 other countries.

Argentina’s motivation is to preserve domestic jobs, ignoring the true advantages of real free trade, which accrue to consumers through lower prices and greater demand for both domestic and foreign-made goods.

The irony in all this is that the countries making the complaints are guilty of similar tactics. The most familiar is the US demands that China increase the value of its currency, afraid that it will cost the US more jobs.

After 200 years, people–including politicians–should better understand David Ricardo’s explanation of comparative advantage, where free trade encourages countries to specialize in the production of goods and services that they produce relatively best.

Banks in the US are back to raising user fees for simple banking operations.

Granted, as the banks claim, they are private businesses and entitled to try to make a profit.

The problem is that the macroeconomy depends on liquidity of the banking sector to turn personal savings into investment spending.

Consumer advocates say they worry that the fees will push people out of banking and toward more expensive services, like payday lenders and loan sharks.

“A significant part of the population will be squeezed out of banks because they can’t afford it,” says Nancy Bush, founder of banking research group NAB, and columnist at SNL Financial, “and that is absolutely wrong.”

Recently I made a visit back to the US. Without any dollars, I visited an ATM machine. I had to pay a fee of $5 for a modest $100 withdrawal. That was the last time I used an ATM there.

People discouraged from saving in the financial system means there will be less spending, demand in the marketplace, fewer jobs, and less ability for the government to improve growth with fiscal or monetary policy.

China’s manufacturing sector has experienced a drop for the first time in three years, largely because of lower export demand from both Europe and the US.

This has prompted a monetary stimulus policy in China, and–at the same time–many banks internationally are providing stimulus as well, propping-up stock markets everywhere.

The emergency move by the U.S. Federal Reserve, the European Central Bank, and the central banks of Japan, Britain, Canada and Switzerland recalled coordinated action to stabilize global markets in the 2008 financial crisis after the collapse of Lehman Brothers.

In Italy, now the focal point of the euro debt crisis, the Treasury started emergency cash tenders for banks which have been squeezed particularly hard as Rome’s borrowing costs have soared towards 8 percent, a level seen as unaffordable in the long term.

The euro and European shares surged on the central bank action, which came after euro zone finance ministers agreed to ramp up the firepower of their bailout fund but acknowledged they may have to turn to the International Monetary Fund for more help.

These actions will lower the cost of borrowing, and that will be welcome both by deficit spending governments and industry, but for long-term help, there must also be a willingness to borrow and spend.

There may be a factor here that is not being given enough attention. We are in a world where we have experienced a great deal of new investment and consumer spending on personal computers, mobile phones, and the growth of new industries spawned by those technologies. It is natural that at the tail-end of those developments we will witness less investment spending and a slow-down in consumption.

Today I read this unusual, honest story about how a financial advisor lost his home in the US.

The story gives us a good insight into how questionable banking practices actually affect individual families. Though obviously a bit embarrassed by his poor planning, the author’s account of the whole story gives me a better idea of how the whole recession began and how it impacted all kinds of people, even those well versed in financial planning can fall into trouble.

There are many stories these days of people who lost their financial bearings during the housing boom and the crisis that followed, but my story is a bit different from most.

I’m a financial adviser. I get paid to help people make smart financial choices, and I speak and write about personal finance issues for this publication and others.

The thing that few people know, though, is that I learned a lot of this from experience. I made a bunch of mistakes, the very same ones that I now go around warning people to avoid.

So this is the story of how I lost my home, the profound ethical questions that arose along the way, and what my wife and I learned from the mistakes that led us to that point.

While the author naturally points to the importance of making wise decisions regarding debt and expectations, another lesson is that oversight of the financial sector is important both for banks and their customers.

Another trade issue has surfaced in the US, solar panel manfacturers asking for tariffs applied to Chinese imports.

The strange thing is, while US companies complain that Chinese companies are able to sell cheap because of government subsidies, the US companies are also receiving subsidies.

“The methodology of this is not political,” said Frank L. Lavin, a longtime Republican who has held a series of appointments in Republican administrations, including overseeing the antidumping and antisubsidy investigations office when he was the undersecretary of commerce for international trade during President George W. Bush’s second term.

But like many Republicans, Mr. Lavin was critical of the Obama administration for having provided a half-billion dollars in federal credit guarantees to Solyndra, now bankrupt, a California company with an alternative solar energy technaology.

The US government should realize–some day–that imports that are cheap, whether subsidized or not, provide a net gain in welfare to Americans. That is the foundation of free trade theory.

Protests in New York are focusing on some political problems that are thought to be responsible–among other things–for greater income disparities in the US.

In its declaration, the three-week-old protest group comes out four-square against foreclosures, executive bonuses, workplace discrimination, politicians beholden to lobbyists, monopoly agriculture, and the sale of personal privacy data. It decries everything from colonialism to “faulty bookkeeping.”

Referred to as Occupy Wall Street, these protests seem long overdue and–unlike some other political movements, like the Tea Party–these focus on issues that really matter both to the economy and a political system that many see as not being representative of anyone but the super-rich.

Today, American business pages are full of reports about the shrinking jobs market in the US. Just when many economists were expecting positive news about employment, unemployment rates have grown back to 9.2%, and that is not including underemployment and the large numbers of people who have dropped out of the workforce.

While you might think the concern should be for the unemployed, the focus of most articles is the negative effect on growth, and the problems it presents for Obama’s re-election.

Economists were stunned. They had been expecting job growth to strengthen in June as oil prices eased and supply disruptions caused by the Japanese tsunami and earthquake receded. Instead, the government’s monthly snapshot of the labor market showed that several industries, including construction, finance and temporary services, shrank. At the same time, leading indicators like wages and the length of the average workweek, which tend to grow before employers begin adding more jobs, actually contracted.

Most analysts are not yet forecasting an outright slide back into recession, but at a time when President Obama and Congress are focused on spending cuts, Europe is in financial crisis and even China’s growth is slowing, there is little expectation of anything other than a prolonged slog for the United States economy.

Recent debates in the US Congress have focused on the huge public debt and how to address it, raise taxes, cut spending, or both. If you are concerned about employment, it does not look like a good time for worrying about debts, but recent political battles have focused on the debt limit and whether to increase it.

Budget strains were evident in the public sector as the federal government slashed 14,000 jobs, and state and local governments cut an additional 25,000. Nearly three-quarters of the job losses at the local level came in education.

Clearly, further cuts in government spending need to balanced by expansion in the private sector. That takes time, and the priorties may be different, but some are still optimistic.

For hopeful signs, some economists pointed to more recent data showing a pickup in retail sales at chain stores and a rise in an index of business hiring. In manufacturing, analysts expect an increase in auto production in the fall, partly because disruptions in supply will have diminished and partly because of built-up consumer demand.

Daniel J. Meckstroth, chief economist of the Manufacturers Alliance, a trade group, said consumers who had been delaying purchases of cars, washing machines, refrigerators and other big equipment that breaks down over time would eventually start buying again as they paid down debts.

“Spending was severely cut during the recession,” Mr. Meckstroth said. “Now, the longer you wait, the more pressure there is to make purchases. You can’t postpone some things indefinitely.”

Others believe this thinking is overly optimistic.

Lots of news today about the US Senate hearing on ending tax breaks for US oil companies. This article focuses on one executive’s claim that ending the tax breaks is un-American. Another article says that subsidies for exploration and drilling dates all the way back to 1916.

There is also an explanation of the different ways they measure tax obligations. The companies include local and state taxes, while the Senators are counting only federal taxes.

Just how much do big oil companies pay in taxes?

Exxon Mobil says it pays plenty — more in U.S. taxes than it earned in the United States last year.

Not so, say critics of the oil industry; the Center for American Progress says the oil giant’s effective federal income tax rate is about half the 35 percent standard for U.S. companies. The liberal-leaning think tank, citing Exxon Mobil’s filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission, says the corporation didn’t pay any federal income tax in 2009.

It all depends on how you count.

Exxon Mobil counts everything — not just federal income taxes, but also local property taxes, state taxes, gasoline taxes and payroll taxes. The Center for American Progress (CAP) and other analysts count only the company’s federal corporate income taxes.

“We pay our fair share of taxes,” said Kenneth Cohen, Exxon Mobil’s vice president for public affairs, who in a conference call recently lumped more than $6 of sales, state and local taxes together with every $1 of federal income tax paid in 2010.

But Exxon Mobil’s tax rate is “lower than the average American’s,” Daniel Weiss, an energy expert at CAP, countered in an analysis that put the company’s U.S. federal income tax rate in 2010 at just 17.2 percent.

Of course average Americans also pay state and local taxes. Whatever, it is pretty clear that oil companies–with their high profits–could afford to help with the US deficit better than most.

Unless the US want to continue draining the middle class to support big business and the rich.

Interesting report here on the old US bases in the Philippines, Clark Air Force Base and Subic Bay, a navy base.

Two huge former US military bases have found a new lease on life in post-Cold War Philippines, with budget airlines and cargo ships taking the place of fighter jets and destroyers.

The conversion of Subic Naval Base and Clark Air Base into tax-haven special economic zones nearly two decades ago has drawn a few thousand investors that include shipbuilders, electronic firms, airlines and tour operators.

The transition, however, has not been smooth and the vast areas, each about the size of Singapore, still do not live up to their potential with parts resembling ghost towns, officials involved in running them acknowledge.

But they now employ around 150,000 people, nearly four times the 42,000 locals when US forces gave up what were then their biggest overseas military facilities in 1992, according to Subic’s state-administrator Armand Arreza.

Though not 100% successful because of ongoing economic troubles in the Philippines, they must be happy about kicking out the US. Not only are they creating more jobs, but the work supplements other parts of the Philippine economy, encouraging tourism and manufacturing.

Among the biggest recent investors at Clark are chip-makers Texas Instruments of the United States, which arrived in 2009, and South Korean giant Samsung, which set up operations last year.

The two have so far ploughed 860 million dollars and 135 million dollars respectively out of their initial billion-dollar investment pledges.

Japanese tyre manufacturer Yokohoma, which has been one of the most enduring foreign companies at Clark after arriving in 1996, also has expansion plans.

Meanwhile, regional airline AirAsia is due to make Clark its main Philippine hub in September, joining seven other budget carriers already there.

Over at Subic, Korean shipbuilder Hanjin Heavy Industries has built one of the 10 largest yards in the world which has delivered 20 ships over the past five years.

I first visited Philippines in 1978, working on a merchant ship that was moored in Manila for eight weeks. Never visited Clark, but I did spend one weekend at Subic Bay. The industries being supported by the US presence were bars and prostitution. These days there is still plenty of that around, but no doubt it is positive that there is better diversification.