Of lambs, lions and WiFi between NYC and Chicago

In Dutch we say 'maart roert zijn staart', which according to my American colleagues translates to 'March comes in like a lion, and goes out like a lamb', or March starts stormy but come April, it’s spring. This was not the case in either New York or Chicago this week, where I was visiting American corporate clients with colleagues from our NYC office. This morning I woke up to snow! The bumpy flight from New York’s LaGuardia airport to Chicago’s O'Hare was a further sign that spring has yet to arrive...


When we lived in New York between 2001 and 2004, the city’s pace never ceased to amaze me. Once back in Amsterdam, I had to consciously slow myself down because everything is faster in NYC, even crossing the road. That same pace applies to its real estate prices, the inflow of immigrants and retail consumption. Let me start with the latter. When I visited the Apple Store on Fifth Avenue at  5.30 a.m. (jet lag!) there were at least 40 or 50 people there, mostly tourists, trying out the latest gadgets. The store is open 24/7 and it said that when Hurricane Sandy hit NYC in November 2012 they could not find the keys to shut it down for safety! 


Real estate prices are also soaring again on both sides of Central Park. Apartments in 15 CPW (short for Central Park West), one of New York’s most prestigious residential addresses, recently listed at USD 88 million! A bestselling book by author Michael Gross lifts the lid on this luxury apartment building, home to celebrities such as Hollywood actor Denzel Washington, New York Yankee basketball star Alexander ‘A Rod’ Rodriquez and hedge fund manager Daniel Loeb.

Jeroen Plag is responsible for the banking relationships with large corporate clients of ING in Asia, the Americas & the UK. He currently travels to several turbulent high growth markets in Asia, but also in the Americas and Eastern Europe, where he meets local large corporates next Dutch entrepreneurs doing international business abroad. In earlier roles with ING Jeroen worked and lived in New York, Singapore and Seoul.
Jeroen Plag

Finally, what struck me this visit was the country’s ongoing vitality. Immigrants are one of the reasons the US will not face the demographic headwinds of an ageing population. Taxi drivers in both Chicago and NYC hailed from all corners of the globe, from Tashkent in Uzbekistan to Ulan Bator in Mongolia and various places in China. Youth, energy and a good command of English are some of the ingredients to start a new life in the US. As the song goes, ‘If you make if there...’.


During the meetings with our US corporate clients the conversation naturally turned to economic developments in Asia and Europe. It became apparent that while volatility in emerging markets is a serious setback, these growth markets remain important sources of revenue for US companies. Economic recovery in Europe and the US is still tentative and emerging markets offer opportunities for growth. Ironically, the tapering measures the US Federal Reserve took in 2013 to improve US market sentiment led to outflows from emerging markets as investors brought their dollars back to the US. This hurt US companies exporting to emerging markets, which was felt in the economic recovery at home! Despite economic uncertainty around Russia and Ukraine and ongoing debt problems in China, emerging markets continue to be important to US businesses.


Back to the bumpy flight from NYC to Chicago, where we also went to see clients. Delta Airlines now has wifi on its flights –  most convenient for checking emails at 10,000 feet! Usually I use this time to catch up on my reading, but the wifi proved too tempting.  So I checked my mail instead and called my daughter in Amsterdam using FaceTime. She was very surprised to see me calling from inside the aircraft at 10,000 feet!


Follow Jeroen Plag on Twitter: @JeroenPlag

Initially published by Dutch daily 'Het Financieele Dagblad', with permission re-published by ING.