Browsing the blog archives for January, 2009.

The day the music on hold died

Canadian Politics, Economic Reality, Virtual Reality

Helping Nortel

Today Nortel became another casualty of the deepening financial crisis by filing for creditor protection.  Amazingly the Canadian federal government, fresh from extending billions of dollars of credit to the auto industry of the past, managed to scrounge up all of $30 M in credit financing for the digital industry.

What a joke.  $250 Million for GM vs $30 M for Nortel.  GM with all of 19,000 employees in Canada is smaller than today’s Nortel that weighs in with 26,000 employees (mostly in Canada) – let alone the Nortel of yesteryear that once employed 95,000 with over 20,000 in Ottawa alone. 

Perhaps the fact that our federal finance minister is the member of parliament representing the GM employees in Oshawa has something to do with the smell of conflict of interest in this.

Meanwhile, McGuinty’s Ontario government is actually bragging about how they turned down Nortel’s application for financing under the NGOF pork barrel.  But McGuinty can find easily find $8 M to create 133 jobs at some outfit called Cyclone Manufacturing – is this a way to ensure that Ontario is a global leader in anything?

When, Nortel, the largest and one of the oldest companies in Canada is in trouble, our politicians don’t give a shite.  As recently as 2001, Nortel alone was 1/3 of the entire value of the TSX.  If job creation was actually important to our provincial government, a reasonable person might expect them to consider helping companies that actually have proven that they can employ Canadians in high tax-paying jobs.

Nortel's Legacy

The impact of Nortel on the global economy across the 115 year history of the company is impossible to count. 

Every time you pick up a touch tone phone, use digital communications of any kind, experience broadband Internet access enabled by optical technology, or DSL, or high speed wireless – you are using technology invented by Nortel.

Every time you access your bank or brokerage account online, or use your mobile phone, you are riding on one or more protocols designed by Nortel. 

The first corporate email system in the world was built by Bell Northern Research.  So was the first use of digital packet communications, high-speed fibre optic rings, etc.  These are the very foundations of the Internet.

Nortel’s impact on the tech sector extends far beyond communications.  Engineers at Bell Northern Research contributed enabling technology to the electronic design community, distributed computing, advanced man-machine interfaces such as speech recognition, visualization graphics, dignital signal processing, etc. 

Nortel’s patent portfolio extends across Wireline, Wireless, Datacom, Enterprise and Optical technologies and services.  As of December 31, 2007, Nortel had approximately 3,650 US patents and approximately 1,650 patents in other countries. In fact Nortel has consistently ranked in the top 70 in terms of number of granted U.S. patents since 1998. 

Nortel has received patents covering standards-essential, standards-related and other fundamental and core solutions, including patents directed to CDMA, UMTS, 3GPP, 3GPP2, GSM, OFDM/MIMO, LTE, ATM, MPLS, GMPLS, Ethernet, IEEE 802.3, NAT, VoIP, SONET, RPR, GFP, DOCSIS, IMS, Call-Waiting Caller ID and many other areas.  The term “standards-essential” means that the technology would not be viable without the contribution of Nortel’s engineers.

My own career at Nortel was relatively brief, but in the less than 10 years that I was there I personally witnessed meetings where Nortel’s engineers educated IBM, HP, Intel, Cadence, Mentor Graphics, Microsoft, and a hundred other companies on advanced technology.  The spin off impact of those meetings alone on the tech industry was incalcuable.  Intel actually modified silicon designs, HP introduced new products, and Cadence & Mentor acquired new technology to rev up their revenues.  These were non-patent related discussions.

Nortel was the largest spender on R&D in Canada through both direct investment in its own labs and through leveraged investment in university interaction.  Literally thousands of doctoral degrees in Canada were made possible though collaborative research with Nortel over the years.  Even the scaled back Nortel of today spends more than 1/3 of its salaries on R&D jobs for Canadians.

Yet McGuinty is proud of denying Nortel’s call of distress?  Shame on him.

Broken Backs

We get what we vote for.  Our politicians both federally and provincially have demonstrated that they would rather prop up the resource sucking industries of the past than enable a modern Canadian economy of the future.

The fact that the digital economy can create more numerous, more interesting, and higher paying jobs for Canadians compared to the back-breaking and mind-numbing jobs of the resource and manufacturing sectors is completely lost on our politicians. 

Perhaps it is because we elect lawyers and not engineers to parliament?

Is the real problem with Canadian voters who sleepwalk their way to the polls if they bother to vote at all? Do Canadian parents not care about the quality of jobs that will be available for their children? 

Why do we tolerate this ineptitude from our politicians?

Yes Nortel’s management laid the seeds for its destruction.  John Roth in particular is to blame, as is his successor Frank Dunn who is now facing charges for misleading shareholders and gross stupidity. 

Nonetheless, allowing Nortel to die is the wrong policy decision for both the Canadian economy and the high technology sector of Canadian industry.  Write your MPP and MP and give them a shake!

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Yet Another Huge Bank Failure in the USA

Financial Crisis

Up until last year, CitiGroup was the largest bank in the USA and in the top 3 globally.  Now Citigroup is breaking itself up as it desperately tries to avoid total collapse:

  • Citi is selling its Smith Barney brokerage and investment business to Morgan Stanley so that it can raise $2.7 B in emergency cash.  Citigroup is selling 51% of Smith Barney now followed potentially by another $2.5 B to follow within 5 years if Morgan Stanley decides to expand its ownership of Smith Barney.
  • Citi is also jettisoning 1/3 of its loan book by spinning off $600 B in bad “assets” into a seperate “bad bank” that can be further broken-up and sold off to the US government and other high-risk junkyard investors.

To put the size of this spin-off in a Canadian perspective, the resulting “bad bank” will have 50% more “assets” than the total assets of the Bank of Montreal and slightly more “assets” than the TD Bank.

The $1.2 T magnitude of the 2009 US economic bailout is approximately equal to the size of the entire Canadian GDP.  According to Statistics Canada, the Canadian economy is dependant on exports for 45% of this GDP and 76% of those exports are based on trade with the USA.  However, Canada’s trade surplus is currently plumeting with November 2008 exports running at 50% less than September’s export volume. 

The worst of the fallout has still to hit the Canadian economy and ultimately Canadian banks.  Given the rate of erosion of exports, this will likely occur within 90 days if the balance of trade dips negative.  

In the last 6 months, the largest (Citigroup) and thrid largest (Wachovia) banks in the USA have crumbled – anyone who thinks that the Canadian banking industry is immune to these issues is simply not in touch with reality.

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