Feb 262015
 

The recently published ‘Costo de Vida Nacional 2014-2015’ report from Recursos Humanos Mercer (Mercer Human Resources) provides a comparison of the cost of living in 42 cities, based on the cost of 182 different products and services. The study is released annually to provide a basis for corporations to decide on employee remuneration to reflect the varied living costs in different parts of the country.

The products and services used for comparison are divided into 9 different groups:

  • Housing
  • Food
  • Education
  • Public Transport
  • Clothing and footwear
  • Entertainment
  • Health
  • Domestic appliances
  • Personal care
Part played by different products/services in the cost of living of cities in Mexico

Part played by different products/services in the cost of living of cities in Mexico. Source: Mercer

The values for each city reflect differences from the cost of living in Mexico City, which is assigned an index value of 100. The cities with the highest cost of living in 2014-2015 were Los Cabos, Cancún, Monterrey, Mexico City and Cuernavaca (graph below). In the 2013-2014 version, the cities with the highest cost of living were Cancún, Los Cabos, Monterrey, Mexico City and Puebla.

Cities with the highest cost of living in Mexico

Cities with the highest cost of living in Mexico. Source: Mercer

The cities with the lowest cost of living in 2014-2015 were Tlaxcala, Zacatecas, Tepic , Guanajuato and Tuxtla Gutiérrez (graph below). In 2013-2014, the cities with the lowest cost of living were Zacatecas, Tuxtla Gutiérrez, Guanajuato, Tepic and Veracruz.

Cities with the lowest cost of living in Mexico

Cities with the lowest cost of living in Mexico. Source: Mercer

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Feb 232015
 

Consultancy PwC, the world’s second largest multinational professional services network has published an updated edition of The World in 2050. In the latest edition, The World in 2050: Will the shift in global economic power continue?, the authors present economic growth projections for 32 of the largest economies in the world, accounting for around 84% of global GDP.

world-2050-updated-version

“We project the world economy to grow at an average of just over 3% per annum in the period 2014 – 50, doubling in size by 2037 and nearly tripling by 2050.

But we expect a slowdown in global growth after 2020, as the rate of expansion in China and some other major emerging economies moderates to a more sustainable long-term rate, and as working age population growth slows in many large economies.

The global economic power shift away from the established advanced economies in North America, Western Europe and Japan will continue over the next 35 years. China has already overtaken the US in 2014 to become the largest economy in purchasing power parity (PPP) terms. In market exchange rate (MER) terms, we project China to overtake the US in 2028 despite its projected growth slowdown.

We project new emerging economies like Mexico and Indonesia to be larger than the UK and France by 2030 (in PPP terms) while Turkey could become larger than Italy. Nigeria and Vietnam could be the fast growing large economies over the period to 2050.”

A summary table in the PwC report shows the firm’s predictions for major economies in 2050 have Mexico continuing to progress up the world ladder, with its economy reaching world rank #6 by 2050, ahead of Japan, Russia, Nigeria and Germany.

Will the PwC forecasts turn out to be accurate? If this blog is still going strong in 2050, we promise to include an update…

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Feb 192015
 

Rodrigo Medellin, a Mexican expert on bats (Mexico’s Bat Man) was the winner of the 2012 Whitley Fund for Nature Gold Award for his on-going work to study, raise awareness and highlight the importance of Latin America’s bats. The award reflects Medellin’s outstanding contribution to nature conservation.

This short video narrated by Sir David Attenborough, summarizes Medellin’s work:

Medellin, an ecology professor who, among many other achievements, has found bat species previously thought extinct, was the subject of an episode in the 2014-2015 season of the BBC series Natural World. The documentary won the 2014 Panda Award for Best People and Nature Film.

As a child, Mexico’s Bat Man kept vampire bats in his bathroom and some of his own blood “in the fridge so that I could feed them every night”.

Little friend: Rodrigo with one of the Lesser Long Nosed Bats his hard work has helped to conserve

Rodrigo with a lesser long nosed bats Credit: Amy Cooper, BBC2.

Bats are more important to ecology, and Mexico’s economy, than you might think. For instance, the lesser long-nosed bat is the main pollinator of the agave plants from which tequila is produced. Medellin’s research has involved tracking and understanding the extraordinary migrations undertaken by bats such as the lesser long-nosed bat, which pollinates the agaves during its annual migration. (Worldwide, bats also propagate at least 500 other economically important night-flowering species).

The bats’ journey covers 1500 kilometers (almost 1000 miles) from southern Mexico to the Sonoran Desert straddling the Mexico-USA border, via the so-called ‘Nectar Corridor’, the coastal lowlands between the Western Sierra Madre and the Pacific Ocean. Indeed, in the desert region, the lesser long-nosed bat is responsible for pollinating the distinctive saguaro cactus (which is incapable of self-fertilization), the key to the whole Sonoran ecosystem.

Elsewhere, bats can be a tourist attraction, as at Bracken Cave, Texas, home to an estimated 20 million Mexican free-tailed bats. in addition, fruit-eating bats help stimulate the regrowth of rainforests, by distributing five times more seeds per square meter than birds.

Medellin has devoted his life to ensuring the conservation of bats in Mexico and, fortunately for all tequila lovers, appears to have been successful. Because of his work, the Tequila Bat is now off the endangered species list. Over the past three decades, Medellin has campaigned tirelessly for people to appreciate the value and beauty of bats, creating a network of bat-friendly ‘safe caves’, and pioneering conservation techniques that are now being copied around the world.

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Feb 162015
 

Colima Volcano (aka el Volcán de Colima or el Volcán de Fuego) continues to erupt, displaying its fiery temper by throwing massive plumes of ash and smoke several kilometers into the air. It is considered one of Mexico’s most dangerous volcanoes. Numerous villages in its shadow keep a wary eye on its level of activity, and emergency evacuations have become a regular event over the past fifty years.

Where is Colima Volcano (Volcán de Colima)?

Location of Colima Volcano

Location of Colima Volcano (Volcán de Colima). Credit: Tony Burton / Geo-Mexico

The volcano is one of the westernmost volcanoes in Mexico’s Volcanic Axis, which straddles the country from west to east. Colima Volcano’s summit is only 8 km (5 miles) from the inactive Nevado of Colima volcano, Mexico’s sixth-highest peak, which rises 4260 m (13,976 ft) above sea level. (Lovers of geographical trivia should note that, despite their names, the summits of both volcanoes are actually located in the state of Jalisco, not in the state of Colima.)

How high is Colima Volcano?

The elevation of Colima Volcano is officially given as 3820 m (12,533 ft) above sea level. In the past 400 years, it has been the most active volcano in Mexico, having erupted at least 30 times since 1576. Recent activity means that this exact height may no longer be correct.

The eruption of Colima Volcano on 21 January 2015, shown in this short video, is typical of recent activity.

How often does it erupt?

Historically, the eruptions of the volcano have fallen into a definite cyclical pattern with periods of activity, each lasting about 50 years, interspersed with periods of dormancy. The first cycle of activity (after the Spanish arrived in Mexico) was between 1576 and 1611. Major eruptions occurred in 1680 and 1690, and further complete cycles occurred between 1749 and 1818, and from 1869 to 1913.

The current eruption cycle

Most geologists agree that current activity is part of the fifth cycle, which began in 1961. Judging by past performance, we should be nearing the end of this cycle, though volcanoes can be extremely unpredictable, so don’t bet your house on this happening within the next decade.

Activity has intensified in the past couple of years. In early 2013, we reported that Colima Volcano had erupted, destroying a lava dome first created in 2007. Later in that year, we looked at how Popocatapetl Volcano and Colima Volcano continue to erupt. At that time, experts monitoring the volcano were reporting up to 200 eruptive events a day, with numerous minor emissions of lava. Colima Volcano has been exhibiting four distinct types of volcanic activity in recent years:

  • lava dome growth
  • explosive eruptions
  • flank collapse
  • lava flows.

In the past few weeks, activity has intensified, with several spectacular eruptions, sending ash and dust up to 8 or 9 kilometers (5-6 miles) into the air. The volcano can be viewed via this permanent fixed webcam operated by Webcams de Mexico. Below the main image on that site are links to 1-minute time-condensed vdeos showing the past 24 hours of activity.

Ash has fallen on towns up to 25 kilometres (15 miles) away from the volcano, in locations including Tuxpan, Zapotiltic and Ciudad Guzmán, but with no loss of life, or significant property damage.

The area around the Colima Volcano is described in more detail in chapter 15 of “Western Mexico, a Traveler’s Treasury” (4th edition; Sombrero Books, 2013).

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Feb 122015
 

The largest salt-making facility on the planet is near Guerrero Negro on the west coast of Mexico’s Baja California Peninsula. It produces more than 7 million metric tons of salt each year. The salt here is not mined, but extracted from ocean water by evaporation. The salt fields cover 33,000 hectares (acres), including 28,000 ha of collection ponds and 3,000 ha of crystallization ponds.

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

Satellite image of part of Guerrero Negro saltworks

The major locational advantages are:

  • the large flat area close to the coast, a former marine floor
  • the dry climate; this is a desert region with very low precipitation
  • the high solar radiation (direct solar powered evaporation!)
  • regular strong winds blowing from the Pacific Ocean
  • the net result of the climate is a high evaporation index

Disadvantage? Since the salt working got underway around the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon, the entire area has been designated part of the El Vizcaino Biosphere Reserve on account of its importance as a habitat for endangered species and breeding ground for gray whales. The salt lagoons are also located on major flight paths for migratory birds.

Brief history of salt-making in Guerrero Negro

Prior to the 1950s, salt extraction in this area was small-scale and methods were rudimentary. In the 1950s, San Francisco ceased supplying salt to the US west coast paper industry and an alternative source of salt was needed. Daniel Ludwig (who would later build the famed Acapulco Princess Hotel) set up a company at the saline Ojo de Liebre coastal lagoon near Guerrero Negro in 1954; three years later, salt was exported to the USA for the first time. Ludwig sold the company in 1973. Exportadora de Sal (Salt Exporter) is now jointly owned by the Mexican government (51%) and the Japanese Mitsubishi corporation (49%).

Plans to expand the company by building another evaporation plant for salt further south along the Baja California Sur coast were thwarted by officials after a lengthy and acrimonious campaign by environmentalists angered at the probably environmental consequences. (For discussion of some of the issues, see “Mitsubishi and Laguna San Ignacio“, “Mexico’s Friendly Whales” and “The Laguna San Ignacio Conservation Alliance conservation plan“).

What does the landscape look like?

This short, 3-minute Postandfly video shows what the landscape and salt working operations look like from the air:

The salt-making process

The salt-making process is fairly simple. Seawater is pumped into a series of collection ponds. About 700 million tons of seawater enters the system each year. As the water in the ponds evaporates, the salt concentration increases. The collection ponds are controlled by dikes and gates. At a critical level of salt concentration, the water is pumped into the next point, and so on.

Salt trucksEventually, more than a year later, the water becomes saturated with salt, and the mineral salt (almost entirely sodium chloride) begins to crystallize out. The pond is then drained and the salt collected. The harvesting of the salt is done by giant graders which scrape off only the uppermost layer, leaving a hard saltpan below as the future floor of the pond. Giant gondola trucks collect the mounds of salt and carry it to a cleaning plant. The salt is then washed with a salt water solution to purify it still further, before being shipped.

Initial shipping is from the Chaparrito Port (where the washing plant is located) near Guerrero Negro. This port can load barges carrying up to 10,500 metric tons, which take the salt to the much larger port of Morro Redondo, on the southern tip of Cedros Island, a short distance to the west and just inside the state of Baja California. The Morro Redondo facility has additional inspection, storage and packing facilities and handles ocean-going vessels.

Salt bargeEach year, Exportadora de Sal produces almost 7.5 million metric tons of salt of various grades. 60% of the output of industrial salt (for use in pulp and paper, and chemical industries) is exported to Japan. The company also exports salt to many other countries including USA, Canada, Korea, Taiwan and New Zealand. Almost all the 100,000 metric tons of table salt produced each year is sold on the domestic Mexican market or elsewhere in Latin America.

Note: This is an updated version of a post first published here in February 2012.

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Feb 092015
 

Los ninis are young people (aged 15-29) that “ni trabaja, ni estudia” (neither work nor study). They have become the focus of much press attention in the past few years, often accompanied by the phrase “Mexico’s lost generation”.

nini-logo

According to a recent OECD report, “Education at Glance 2015″, two out of every ten Mexicans in the 15-29 age group neither studied nor worked in 2013, the latest year for which there is data. The report found that 22.3% of Mexican in that age category were ninis, a slight decrease compared to 25.0% in 2011. After population increase is taken into account, Mexico has about 200,000 fewer ninis than in 2011.

Mexico’s percentage of ninis is above the average for all 34 OECD member countries, and is the fifth highest among OECD members, after Turkey (31.3%), Greece (28.5 %), Spain (26.8 %) and Italy (26.1 %). Very few of Mexico’s 7.3 million ninis (only 3.8%) are technically “unemployed”; most ninis have not actively sought work and are therefore considered “inactive”.

In Mexico, most ninis are female. For example, in the 20-24 age group, around 10% of males are ninis, compared to 40% of females.

The figure of 7.3 million will no doubt again be disputed by Mexico’s Secretariats of Education (SE) and of Labor and Social Welfare. In 2011, the Secretariats issued a joint rebuttal of the OECD figure, and claimed that 78% of those reported by OECD as ninis were young married women, with children, who dedicated themselves to home-making. The Secretariats emphasized that the figures revealed a gender inequality in access to educational and economic opportunities, linked to cultural patterns where many young women still saw marriage and motherhood as their preferred or only option.

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Feb 052015
 

The local authorities in Iztapalapa, in the eastern section of the Mexico City Metropolitan Area, and one of the most interesting locations in Mexico in which to witness Easter celebrations, calculate that around 10,000 homes are in the area are at “high risk” of serious damage due to ground subsidence. Some parts of the city are falling in elevation as the ground contracts by up to 40 cm/yr.

Low-lying Iztapalapa is one of the most densely populated parts of the city, and is also prone to frequent flooding. Experts say that the severe damage evident in many buildings in the area has been occasioned by ground subsidence, due to the excessive volumes of water being pumped out of the subsoil to satisfy the insatiable demand of Mexico City.

In a short 3-minute news video in Spanish that is linked to in this recent article, Lourdes, a local resident offers us a tour of her home, showing us the damages caused by subsidence. She describes how “the crack that started from outside the house has widened every day and is now almost the width of a hand.” The video shows how the walls of her home are separating; the house is clearly in danger of collapse. Lourdes lives in this house with her four children; some rooms are already far too damaged to be safely used by the family.

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Feb 022015
 

A series of graphics prepared by Mexico City daily El Universal includes a map showing the details of all the mining concessions in Mexico. According to the newspaper’s analysis, one fifth of Mexico’s total land area is subject to mining concessions belonging to one company or another.

The six companies holding the largest areas of concessions are:

  • Altos Hornos de México (364 concessions totaling 3208 hectares)
  • Fresnillo PLC (1009; 1953)
  • Industrias Peñoles (922; 953)
  • Minera Fresco (779; 889)
  • Cascabel (116; 749)
  • and Grupo México (711; 607).

The map is probably the single most interesting graphic in the series. Zooming in (top left of map) allows the details of each concession to be viewed, including the concession holder, size of concession, minerals involved and whether or not the concession is “active”. Is there a mining concession near you? You might be surprised. Even in an area of Mexico that I have known intimately for many years, there are two concessions that I have never previously heard of!

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Jan 292015
 

In a previous post – The emergence of two major beer-makers in Mexico – we looked at how Mexico’s beer industry came to be dominated by two large players: Femsa and Modelo, both now owned by foreign corporations.

The map below shows the location and date of inauguration of all major breweries in Mexico.

The location and inauguration dates of Femsa and Modelo breweries in Mexico

The location and inauguration dates of Femsa and Modelo breweries in Mexico

How large is Mexico’s market for beer?

A 2010 report from the national beer industry claims that the average annual consumption of beer in Mexico is 60 liters per adult, a figure that has not changed significantly in the last 20 years. The equivalent figure in Germany is 120 liters a person, so there is still considerable potential for growth. Mexico’s breweries provide about 80,000 jobs directly and a further 800,000 indirectly.

Total beer sales each year are worth as much as 20 billion dollars. The value of sales has risen sharply, at about 5% a year, due mainly to higher exports. Mexico has become the world’s second largest beer exporter, after the Netherlands, and is the world’s sixth largest producer and consumer of beer, brewing over 8.6 billion liters a year.

The USA is the main export market. Five of the 25 most popular brands in the USA are Grupo Modelo beers: Corona, Modelo Especial, Corona Light, Pacífico and Negra Modelo. This has helped Grupo Modelo, Mexico’s leading brewer, become the world’s sixth largest brewer. Modelo’s Corona beer has been the #1 imported beer in the USA since 1997. It is one of the world’s top five beers in terms of sales, even though it is not especially popular in Mexico!

One of Modelo’s fastest growing export markets is China, where it has rapidly become the second most popular imported beer. In Mexico’s domestic beer market, Modelo and Femsa face increased competition from imported beers such as Budweiser, Miller and Heineken.

There are several other smaller breweries in addition to those owned by Femsa and Modelo. One significant trend, echoing other regions in North America, has been a marked upswing in the number of small, specialist, boutique breweries, such as Cervecería San Angel and the Santa Fe Beer Company in Mexico City and Minerva Brewery in Guadalajara. Other popular brands of craft beer include Perro Negro from Guadalajara, Insurgente from Tijuana, Libertadores from Michoacán and the varied products of the Baja Brewing Company from Los Cabos.

These smaller “craft” breweries produced 10.5 million liters of beer in 2014, according to the Mexican Beer Makers Association (Asociación de Cerveceros de la República Mexicana, Acermex), and account for only 0.16% of the total market, but their share of the market is growing at more than 40% a year. The association hopes that smaller breweries can enjoy as much as 1% of the market by 2016.

The rise of craft beers has seen a corresponding proliferation of specialist pubs that stock pale ales, pilsners, porters, stouts and wheat beers in the trendier districts of all the major cities, including Mexico City, Guadalajara, Monterrey and Querétaro.

In Guadalajara, in 2008, two local craft breweries – Cerveceria Minerva and  Cerveceria Revolución – co-founded the Guadalajara Beer Festival to showcase Mexican their products and introduce previously unavailable European import brands. The festival is now a three day event that attracts as many as 30,000 visitors a year; it claims to be Latin America’s largest beer festival.

Mexico’s economic geography is analyzed in chapters 14–20 of Geo-Mexico: the geography and dynamics of modern Mexico. Buy your copy of this invaluable reference guide today!

Jan 262015
 

A survey of more than 75,000 Condé Nast Traveler readers placed seven Mexican hotels in the world’s top 100.

Location of Mexico's Top Seven Hotels

Location of Mexico’s Top Seven Hotels

Mexico’s top hotel (#15 in the rankings) was the Viceroy Rivera Maya hotel, in Playa del Carmen (Quintana Roo). It was joined in the top 100 by Rancho La Puerta in Tecate (Baja California), St. Regis Punta Mita Resort (Nayarit), Las Alcobas hotel (Mexico City), Hotel Matilda in San Miguel de Allende (Guanajuato), Hotel Esperanza in Cabo San Lucas (Baja California Sur) and the Excellence Playa Mujeres (Quintana Roo).

In related news, Grupo Posadas is investing one billion dollars over the next three years to open 49 new hotels, many of them in the firm’s Fiesta Americana chain. Meanwhile, at the opposite end of the hotel spectrum, Motel 6, the “McDonald’s of the hotel industry”, which has 1,200 locations in the USA and Canada, is opening 30 hotels in Mexico within the next three years.

The operator of the Motel 6 chain, G6 Hospitality, will introduce both its brands: Motel 6 and Estudio 6 (designed for extended stays) during its first foray into Latin America. The first of the new hotels will open in Salamanca (Guanajuato) in late-2015, with additional locations to follow, including Mexico City, Monterrey and several resort destinations.

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