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It's time for the Western world to face the music. China, India, and related pan-Asian economies continue to outperform the old-guard economies of Europe and the United States on virtually every front.
During the worst of the global financial crisis, I argued that China's stimulus plan would prove far more effective at prompting a resumption of growth than our own bloated domestic plan. I remarked at the strategic wisdom of China's focus upon stockpiling and acquiring interests in key industrial resources to fuel their long-term rise. All the while, Western governments continued to pour massive doses of liquidity down the throats of the very banks that created the problem.
Investors feared that China's growth could not bounce back from the paralysis that gripped global economies, while today economists are concerned about an excessive growth rate that is now approaching 12%. If only we could face such challenges.
Reflecting this new geographic core of industrial strength, South Korean steelmaker POSCO (NYSE: PKX ) this week raised its 2010 sales forecast by 8% to $28.6 billion. The company quadrupled its prior-year earnings to rake in $1.29 billion in net profit for the first quarter. Not surprisingly, POSCO continues to pursue aggressive growth initiatives to extend its reach into regional economies from Thailand to India, while targeting a firmer share of domestic shipbuilding activity.
Meanwhile, the dominant story for steelmakers continues to revolve around the rising costs of raw materials. Iron ore supplier Vale (NYSE: VALE ) has declared the traditional benchmark pricing system "over," and BHP Billiton (NYSE: BHP ) has adopted a quarterly pricing system that will permit more frequent adjustments in a rising price environment.
The eagerness with which Peabody Energy (NYSE: BTU ) continues to pursue a deal to acquire Australia's Macarthur Coal -- in which both POSCO and ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT ) are major stakeholders -- stands as testimony to bullish expectations for the ongoing trend in metallurgical coal. Peabody this week raised its bid for Macarthur Coal a second time to $3.8 billion.
Ultimately, this long-term trend can only result in severe margin pressure for Asian steelmakers, although POSCO has dazzled this Fool before with its ability to navigate such circumstances to sustain profitability.
Are China and related pan-Asian economies now growing so fast that they place their own recoveries in jeopardy? I do believe that China could reduce the risk of a sharp corrective pause by limiting the growth rate to single digits; I suspect policy efforts are now focused squarely in that direction. But at the end of the day, I consider the contest for global economic supremacy to be a game of relative fundamental strength, and in this contest I'm afraid I don't envision the old guard retaking the trophy anytime soon.
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