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Archive for July, 2015

Trials and tribulations: China’s shifting business landscape highlighted in new report — Financier Worldwide

July 23rd, 2015 No comments

Financier

Trials and tribulations: China’s shifting business landscape highlighted in new report

BY Fraser Tennant

The deeper trends reshaping the business and investment environment in China today are the focus of a new report – ‘China 2015: China’s shifting landscape’ – by the boutique investment bank and advisory firm, China First Capital.

As well as highlighting slowing growth and a gyrating stock market as the two most obvious sources of turbulence in China at the midway point of 2015, the report also delves into the deeper trends radically reshaping the country’s overall business environment.

Chief among these trends is the steady erosion in margins and competitiveness among many, if not most, companies operating in China’s industrial and service economy. As the report makes abundantly clear, there are few sectors and few companies enjoying growth and profit expansion to match that seen in previous years.

The China First Capital report, quite simply, paints a none too rosy picture of China’s long-term development prospects.

“China’s consumer market, while healthy overall, is also becoming a more difficult place for businesses to earn decent returns,” explains Peter Fuhrman, China First Capital’s chairman and chief executive. “Relentless competition is one part, as are problematic rising costs and inefficient poorly-evolved management systems.”

To read complete article, click here.

China 2015 — China’s Shifting Landscape — China First Capital new research report published

July 20th, 2015 No comments

China First Capital research report

 

Slowing growth and a gyrating stock market are the two most obvious sources of turbulence in China at the midway point of 2015. Less noticed, perhaps, but certainly no less important for China’s long-term development are deeper trends radically reshaping the overall business environment. Among these are a steady erosion in margins and competitiveness in many, if not most, of China’s industrial and service economy. There are few sectors and few companies that are enjoying growth and profit expansion to match last year and the years before.

China’s consumer market, while healthy overall, is also becoming a more difficult place for businesses to earn decent returns. Relentless competition is one part. As problematic are rising costs and inefficient poorly-evolved management systems.  From a producer economy dominated by large SOEs, China is shifting fast to one where consumers enjoy vastly more choice, more pricing leverage and more opportunities to buy better and buy cheaper. Online shopping is one helpful factor, since it allows Chinese to escape from the poor service and high prices that characterize so much of the traditional bricks-and-mortar retail sector. It’s hard to find anything positive to say about either the current state or future prospects for China’s “offline economy”.

Meanwhile, more Chinese are taking their spending money elsewhere, traveling and buying abroad in record numbers. They have the money to buy premium products, both at home and abroad. But, too much of what’s made and sold within China, belongs to an earlier age. Too many domestic Chinese companies are left manufacturing products no longer quite meet current demands. Adapting and changing is difficult because so many companies gorged themselves previously on bank loans. Declining margins mean that debt service every year swallows up more and more available cash flow. When the economy was still purring along, it was easier for companies and their banks to pretend debt levels were manageable. In 2015, across much of the industrial economy, the strained position of many corporate borrowers has become brutally obvious.

These are a few of the broad themes discussed in our latest research report, “China 2015 — China’s Shifting Landscape”. To download a copy click here.

Inside, you will not find much discussion of GDP growth or the stock market. Instead, we try here to illuminate some less-seen, but relevant, aspects of China’s changing business and investment environment.

For those interested in the stock market’s current woes, I can recommend this article (click here) published in The New York Times, with a good summary of how and why the Chinese stock market arrived at its current difficult state. I’m quoted about the preference among many of China’s better, bigger and more dynamic private sector companies to IPO outside China.

In our new report, I can point to a few articles that may be of special interest, for the signals they provide about future opportunities for growth and profit in China:

  1. China’s most successful cross-border M&A ever, General Mills of the USA acquisition and development of dumpling brand Wanchai Ferry (湾仔码头), using a strategy also favored by Nestle in China
  2. China’s new rules and rationale for domestic M&A – “buy first and pay later”
  3. China’s most successful, if little known, recent start-up, mobile phone brand OnePlus – in its first full year of operations, 2015 worldwide revenues should reach $1 billion, while redefining positively the way Chinese brand manufacturers are viewed in the US and Europe
  4. Shale gas – by shutting out most private sector investment, will China fail to create conditions to exploit the vast reserves, larger than America’s, buried under its soil?
  5. Nanjing – left behind during the early years of Chinese economic reform and development, it is emerging as a core of China’s “inland economy”, linking prosperous Jiangsu and Shanghai with less developed heavily-populated Hubei, Anhui, Sichuan

We’re at a fascinating moment in China’s story of 35 years of rapid and remarkable economic transformation. The report’s conclusion: for businesses and investors both global and China-based, it will take ever more insight, guts and focus to outsmart the competition and succeed.

 

The Shenzhen Unicorn — Week in China Magazine

July 17th, 2015 No comments

week-in-china

 

OnePlus Two

A sizeable quotient of the techno-hip crowd in the US and Europe is counting down the days to the launch next week of the newest Android mobile phone by China’s OnePlus. It’s called the OnePlus Two and follows a little more than a year after the 18-month-old company’s first phone, the OnePlue One, went on sale in the US and Europe. With barely a nickel to spend on marketing and promotion, OnePlus insouciantly dubbed its OnePlus One a “flagship killer” claiming it delivered similar or better performance than Samsung, LG and HTC Android phones costing twice as much.

The tech media swooned, and buyers formed long online queues to buy one from the OnePlus website, www.oneplus.net, the only place the phones are sold. In little more than six months last year, OnePlus sold over one million phones.

The new OnePlus model is rumored to be built around a new top-of-the-line Qualcomm processor, and features a larger screen, an upgraded in-house version of Android software, fingerprint recognition. Price? Around $300. It will be available, as was the OnePlus One for most of the last year, on an “invitation-only cash-upfront” basis to prospective buyers. How to get a coveted invitation remains something of a dark art. New OnePlus owners are given a certain number of invitations to send to whoever they please.

The July 27th launch will be an online event broadcast in virtual reality. OnePlus manufactured and is giving away a cardboard virtual reality viewer said to be as good or better than the ones sold by Google for $20. The viewers have been flying out the door for the last month.

To read complete article, click here.

 

China’s Incendiary Market Is Fanned by Borrowers and Manipulation — The New York Times

July 13th, 2015 No comments

NYT

China’s Incendiary Market Is Fanned by Borrowers and Manipulation

Can Mass Smuggling Help China’s Sagging Economy?

July 7th, 2015 No comments

Futian Kouan

As it struggles with a weakening economy and now a bearish stock market, China has recently taken two giant steps to stimulate the transition to a consumer-led economy. One is official policy and the other is a more spontaneous, chaotic, possibly illegal but ultimately perhaps more effective.

In May, China announced it would slash tariffs on a range of goods from imported shoes to cosmetics to lower prices and boost spending at home. The other step may do more in the short-term for lowering high consumer prices in China and narrowing the gap with goods sold in neighboring Hong Kong.

Quietly but rather systematically, Chinese Customs has begun permitting, at least at one border crossing, smuggling on a truly gargantuan scale. Thousands of Chinese are passing through Shenzhen’s Futian Kouan (also sometimes known as Futian Port) crossing every hour, with most pulling huge wheelie suitcases or hand-trucks laden with the products sold in Hong Kong that are most in demand here in China — milk powder, electronics, diapers, food, candy, even luxury products like designer bags and watches.

At a guess, several tons of merchandise is being moved every hour from noon until 10pm into China this way. What was once one of the most fiercely policed Customs posts in the world has become at various times an open channel through which anyone with the cash and energy can bring goods in without a risk of confiscation or payment of the high official Chinese Customs duties.

There was always smuggling between Hong Kong and Shenzhen. But, until recently, those doing the smuggling tried to hide the fact they were evading the rules. The whole idea of smuggling, after all, is to try to pass unnoticed through Customs. Not any longer, not some days at Futian Kouan.

The Futian Kouan border has become the key link in what is probably the world’s largest free-form wholesale network in the world — cross the border into Hong Kong the morning, head right for the shops, haul the goods across the border at Futian Kouan in the afternoon, then sell through shops back in China that evening.

There’s plenty of money to be made. Prices in Hong Kong are often one-third to one-half lower than in the PRC. If you remove the worry of being stopped at Customs, well, then it’s harder to think of many easier ways to turn a quick profit.

Why Chinese Customs is turning a blind eye is not certain. Is it an effort to encourage more consumer spending in China by allowing in more low-priced stuff from Hong Kong? Or is it a way to torpedo the effects of new visa rules in Hong Kong to limit the number of Chinese on shopping trips? Hong Kong caused further aggravation in Beijing by voting down China’s plans for electing Hong Kong’s next leader.

Whatever the reason, the overall impact of the crowd smuggling is not insignificant. Shops have bloomed in Shenzhen and further afield selling the goods pulled across the border. The only downside is that the Futian Kouan border crossing, once rather sleepy, has become inundated by the foot traffic of entrepreneurial Chinese going to and from Hong Kong to buy in bulk. Lines at immigration are at least four to five times longer than previously.

There’s been no official announcement that Customs is now occasionally taking a relaxed attitude at Futian Kouan. But, word has clearly spread.

The border separating Shenzhen and Hong Kong is the busiest in the world, with at least ten million people crossing every month. There are four main border stations. Two connect directly between the Shenzhen and Hong Kong metro systems. The other two are for cars and buses.

The busiest crossing of the four, at least until recently, Lo Wu. Here, there’s no sign of any new tolerance for big-time smuggling. Uniformed Chinese Customs officials stand just outside the immigration channel. Most anyone pulling even a single suitcase is directed to one of the nearby x-ray machines, where each bad is inspected. Fines and confiscation remain routine. No one would dare try to walk into China at Lo Wu crossing, as they do now at Futian Kouan, pulling a hand-truck piled with crates of stuff bought in Hong Kong.

As at Lo Wu, it is also possible at Futian Kouan to connect on foot, once you’ve passed through both Hong Kong and Chinese immigration and Customs, from the Hong Kong to the Shenzhen Metro systems. But, Futian Kouan is not a main stop on the Hong Kong Metro. There are three to four to fives times more trains every hour to Lo Wu. The Lo Wu trains used to be packed at all hours of the day. These days, far less so. Now, Chinese queue up at Hong Kong Metro platforms specifically to catch the less-frequent trains terminating at Futian Kouan.

With such large crowds and long lines, I stopped using Futian Kouan when I cross back from Hong Kong. But, I still feel the splashback from the tide of bodies and merchandise moving across the border. Most who cross at Futian Kouan then get on the Shenzhen Metro. Technically, anyone carrying even one large suitcase is supposed to buy a special ticket, and those with lots of bags are meant to use other means of transport. These rules seem to be no more strictly enforced than those at Futian Kouan Customs. Result is, most days on my rush-hour ride home, Chinese bulk shoppers fresh in from Hong Kong will try to squeeze in, with their 200-300 pounds of loaded boxes and bags. (See photo above.)

In Hong Kong, over the last nine months, there’ve been anti-PRC demonstrations, as well as some unfriendly chatter, from people complaining about the crowds of Chinese bargain-hunters arriving each day. Hong Kongers, not affectionately, refer to the Chinese as “locus shoppers”.  New rules then came in limiting Shenzhen residents to one trip a week to Hong Kong. Fewer Shenzhen residents now cross every day, but those that do, are making up for it by bringing far more back with them on each trip, while Chinese Customs officials silently oblige.

If headstong people in Hong Kong needed any reminding, it’s China that calls the shots.