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Wednesday, September 10, 2003

Stephen Roach on Services Outsourcing

Those of you who are familiar with my posting over at Bonobo Land will be well aware of the fact that, in the services outsourcing debate, I am an unqualified admirer of the arguments Morgan Stanley's Stephen Roach has been advancing:

There can be no mistaking the extraordinary external leakages now evident in the US economy. Even in the face of rebounding domestic consumption, incremental product is being sourced offshore at the cost of disenfranchising domestic supply -- both labor and capital -- from the US macro equation.

The role of the Internet is particularly critical in reshaping the service sector dynamic in this cycle. It gives a critical new twist to the outsourcing story. Services have long been dubbed non-tradables because of a high profusion of knowledge-based content that can only be delivered on site. Now, however, courtesy of real-time e-based connectivity, a multitude of increasingly high-value added services can be transferred anywhere around the world instantaneously. That’s increasingly true of the output of software programmers, design and engineering teams, accountants, back-office processing functions, data centers, network infrastructure and management services, and a broad array of business consulting functions. Reflecting this trend, India’s IT-enabled services sector has become one of the fastest growing major industries in the world. One study estimates this segment of the Indian economy will increase by ten-fold between now and 2007 -- rising from US$1.5 billion in 2001-02 to $17 billion by 2008 (see NASSCOM’s The IT Industry in India: Strategic Review 2002).

Manufacturing leakages are one thing, but if they also hit services, it’s a different matter altogether for the US economy. Currently, the services sector accounts for fully 80% of total private employment in the US -- about six times the 13.5% share in manufacturing. To the extent that outsourcing options are now shifting increasingly into services, the jobless bias of the US economy can only increase. Moreover, this development could well be exacerbated by businesses’ persistent lack of pricing leverage in this post-bubble era. That puts unrelenting pressure on continued cost-cutting as the principal means to boost margins and deliver earnings. And that puts a premium on the outsourcing-driven efficiency solutions that lie at the heart of America’s jobless recovery.

All this underscores one of the great ironies of the current cyclical recovery in the US economy. Notwithstanding the temporary impacts of powerful stimuli from tax cuts and home mortgage refinancing activity, America is lacking in sustenance from the job creation and income generation that typically drive the internal dynamics of its business cycle.
Source: Morgan Stanley Global Economic Forum

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