BBC World Service

Eurozone problems flatten flower markets

Marketplace Staff Nov 1, 2011
BBC World Service

Eurozone problems flatten flower markets

Marketplace Staff Nov 1, 2011

Kai Ryssdal: From the Frank Stanton Studios in Los Angeles, I’m Kai Ryssdal.

Justin Rowlatt: And from Bush House in London, I’m Justin Rowlatt of the BBC’s Business Daily.

Ryssdal: It’s Wednesday, the 2nd of November, and as leaders of the world’s 20 biggest economies meet in France tomorrow to tackle — yet again — what is turning out to be a global problem…

Rowlatt: We thought, what better time for a global radio program? A transatlantic collaboration to explore how the eurozone debt crisis is affecting the entire world. Just ask the world’s biggest bond trader.

Bill Gross: The time to get out is roughly equivalent to the time to get in. Sort of biblical in a way — seven years of lean following seven years of fat.

Ryssdal: Our joint interview with PIMCO co-founder Bill Gross coming up in a bit, but first, oh to be a fly on the wall in Cannes, France, this week. Because first of all, southern France is never a bad place to be.

Rowlatt: But also because no matter what you might have heard about a Greek bailout, Europe is still in trouble.

Ryssdal: OK Justin, wait, let’s make sure we’re all speaking the same language here. There’s the Greek crisis that we’re all way too familiar with. But what can we safely say about the rest of Europe now that the rescue package is shaky?

Rowlatt: Well, the Greek deal was the linchpin of the whole thing. If there’s no Greek rescue, then there’s likely no stomach — not to mention not enough money — for an Italian rescue, or Spain, and so on down the line.

Ryssdal: That down-the-line part, that’s the rest of us, right?

Rowlatt: Yep, if by the rest of us you meant how Europe spills out into the global economy, world markets, you know the drill.

Ryssdal: I do, all too well, in fact. Down on the corner of 7th and — I am not makin’ this up — Wall Street in downtown L.A., sits the Southern California Flower Market.

Ryssdal: All right, so those I know. Those are hydrangeas. Those are birds of paradise. That’s what they are. I have no idea what those are.

The market’s part of the biggest flower district in the country. And the flowers are stacked all over the place — piles and piles of ’em. The smell, as you might imagine, is incredible. But what you really see, if you let your mind wander past the flowers, is the global economy.

Pat Dahlson: Holland, Ecuador, Colombia, Chile, New Zealand, Australia, Thailand, Singapore…

Every day Pat Dahlson imports flowers from 15 different countries for the company he runs, Mayesh Wholesale. His buyers are local — grocery stores, wedding planners, event venues. The flower business, though, is global. So what happens 7,000 miles away — in Greece, let’s just say — shows up here on the floor of the flower market. A weaker euro means cheaper tulips from Holland. But all the uncertainty of strikes and debt bailouts just kills confidence.

Dahlson: Things have been tough in Europe with the uncertainty, with the Greek crisis. There’s so much tough or bad economic news out there, it’s hard to feel like the momentum is something we can just grab and go with.

Arjen Bosma runs Holland Flower Market, just around the corner from Pat Dahlson.

Arjen Bosma: When people place orders a month in advance, I have to basically say OK, it might be this price, but it could be this price if the euro goes back up, which is sometimes tough to do because you might price yourself out of the market. But, I need to play it safe and need to make money also.

Here’s the thing, though. Sellers want to make money. Consumers don’t really want to spend.

Ryssdal: Are those chrysanthemums?

Mary Falkingham: Mmhm.

Ryssdal: Oh yes!

Falkingham: No no no, they’re carnations.

Ryssdal: No? Oh man, I was so close!

Mary Falkingham is a floral designer, but business for her just isn’t what it used to be. Brides are doing their own flowers to cut costs.

Falkingham: There’s a lot of Martha Stewarts out there.

Virginia Mokslaveskas for one.

Virginia Mokslaveskas: We’re buying flowers for my daughter’s wedding, which is on Friday.

Ryssdal: OK, no pressure, but you don’t have a lot of time.

Mokslaveskas: I know.

Not a lot of time. Not a lot of money either.

Ryssdal: Why are you doing this yourself? I mean, there are people who like do this for a living.

Mokslaveskas: Because it’s a way we can save money.

Ryssdal: And therein lies the global economy object lesson for the day. Virginia Moskslaveskas brought $800 to buy wedding roses that day, she wound up spending just $575.

Rowlatt: Great for her, not so good for everyone else.

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