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Is turmoil on the horizon?
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There seems to be plenty of pundits on the national and international stages rooting for turmoil, not just in our little pulp and paper corner, but in all sectors of world commerce. It's near Biblical in its sound, "There shall be wars and rumors of wars..."

I think some of the noise is generated by the popular press, just trying to stir things up. Certain world leaders are not popular with the press. And, let's face it, the press needs turmoil in order to sell ink, even if that ink today is just pixels on a screen. Steady and calm does not sell.

I am old enough to have been through bloated inventories, disruptive technologies and crazy government actions many, many times before. Recall, when I joined this industry, the Vietnam War was winding down, we had just gone off the gold standard, the first energy crisis ever was raging, and Richard Nixon was President of the United States. Oh, did I mention the Cold War was leaving us, if we thought about it, in a state of heightened anxiety? On top of that, management in the paper industry believed in making the stuff, even if that meant stuffing it in the warehouse until the stuffing was knocked out of one's profitability.

Makes conditions today look pretty tame by comparison, eh? Thankfully, back in the day I was too young, naïve, and innocent to be too concerned about all the aforementioned mayhem. Life after work, for we had no discretionary cash of which to speak, was making a Chef Boyardee pizza out of a kit and seeing what was on each of the three television stations available on the rabbit ears.

This is not to say we should necessarily be "whistling through the graveyard" right now. Remember, in the summer of 1914, the common wisdom was that the European economies were too intertwined to even consider thinking about an internecine war. "Impossible," the learned pundits said. Yet the belligerents, many of whom's leaders were the descendants of Queen Victoria, went on to provoke a conflict, starting in August 1914 and continuing until November 1918, that produced 37 million casualties.

So, the truth is, we don't know what is going to happen, in pulp and paper or anywhere else. It pays to be prudent, watchful and opportunistic. Which is the advice I would give you at any time.

Jim Thompson is CEO of Paperitalo Publications.

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