With Russia’s Help, China Becomes Plastics Making Power In Pandemic

After giving up on recycling — American recycling that is — China is still in love with the plastics biz. In fact. their companies are becoming dominant in all things plastic, one of the most important supply chains in the world.

In other words, it will be yet another segment in global business that the world will need Chinese companies to get supply.

The pandemic has helped the petrochemicals industry make up for losses in oil and gas demand. Plastics are tied to the fossil fuels industry. Stay-at-home orders throughout the U.S. and Europe has led to more take-out food orders and a lot of that is being placed in plastic containers.

I’d like to highlight one thing though: China’s Sinopec is the behemoth in this space, and although you can buy into Sinopec on the U.S. stock market, if the incoming Biden Administration makes good on a Trump order to delist Chinese companies that are not compliant with the financial audit rules under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act of 2002, then Sinopec will probably leave the NYSE.

According to industry consultant Wood Mackenzie, petrochemicals will account for more than a third of global oil demand growth to 2030 and nearly half through 2050.

The growth in both plastics consumption and production is mostly coming from Asia where economies are catching up with the western levels of plastics consumption, and becoming a source for plastics exports to the U.S. and Europe.

Within Asia of course, China is the powerhouse. Last year Exxon Mobil XOM -4.8% began constructing its $10 billion petrochemical complex in Huizhou, China.

Russia Joins China, Wants To Be ‘Indispensible’

Russia’s petrochemical giant Sibur is also locked into China, mainly through a Sinopec partnership. The two companies began work on one of the world’s largest polymer plants for plastics making last August, spending $11 billion on the Amur Gas Chemical Complex in Russia.

The two sides are intimately connected in the global plastics biz.

“Amur is a milestone in the cooperation between Sinopec and Sibur,” Zhang Yuzhuo, chairman of Sinopec, says in a press statement, calling it a “model for Sino-Russian energy cooperation.”

The entire industry, while not exactly the sexy and green industry the Davos crowd is promoting heavily in the Western world, is seen by China and still-emerging markets like Russia — as a development tool for regions far away from the big city hubs of Moscow or Shanghai. This is as much about job creation as it is pumping out plastic molds and the ethylene needed to make it.

Russia recently introduced negative excise tax on LPG and ethane used in petrochemicals which was a meaty financial bone thrown to Sinopec and Sibur’s Amur project, among others in the Russian far east. 

The Sibur Russia angle has gained momentum recently due to the ramp up in production from the new ZapSib Siberian facility last year. They make polyethylene and 500 thousand tons of polypropylene there; all must-have ingredients for plastics manufacturers.

Their relationship with Chinese investors, buyers and counterparties was one of the main reasons to even build that manufacturing plant in the first place, and is something the Moscow market likes to give as one of the best reasons to be bullish about a rumored initial public offering for Sibur.

Sibur has said in press statements that they expect “another jump in scale” of plastics chemicals output with the addition of the Sinopec project, Amur.

“Sibur has long built relationships with Chinese clients, partners, and investors and Sinopec has been our strategic partner since 2013,” says Dmitry Konov, Chairman of the Management Board for Sibur. Konov told Reuters recently that there was no timeline for any IPO in the Moscow Exchange. Moscow was home to one of the top four largest IPOs last year, shipping firm Sovcomflot.

Konov said their logistical advantages in the far east, near China, and competitive pricing for its polymers means they will “scale up these relationships to further expand the delivery of high-quality petrochemicals from Siberia to China.”

VTB Capital, a Russian investment bank, says those projects would allow Russia to become one of the world’s top four producers of ethylene by 2030. Russia wants to position itself as the indispensable partner to China in this space, much in the way that China has positioned itself as the key source for numerous key inputs, whether its cobalt used in electric vehicle car batteries, or solar panels now expected to criss-cross the U.S. in the Biden Administration.

Due to the pandemic, China has been focused on industries of the future alongside those needed to get itself, and its trading partners, out of the pandemic rut — those polypropylene Olive Garden to go containers might not come from China, but the plastics that made it sure might.

China remains the place for growth in this space, too. Plastics-use patterns and penetration are rising. Figure the Asians are a good 10 to 20 years behind the U.S. in terms of plastics use. They’re gaining fast.

China As Plastics Demand Driver

Plastics aren’t made from tree bark, that’s for sure. It comes from fossil fuels and non-organic chemical compounds that make the stuff designed to last hundreds of years.

And China now accounts for roughly 40% of the demand for the chemicals used in making it, an increase of just 20% in 2005. 

China’s ethylene demand grew by 8.6% between 2014-17 while global demand grew by only half that. 

Looking out five years, Deutsche Bank industry analysts said in a November 25 report that China will account for over half of global consumption growth for ethylene (to which Sibur and Russia are happy as their go-to for now). 

China has 50% self-sufficiency in ethylene and derivative products – the domestic desire to expand capacities and increase self-sufficiency remains high. Russia is a solution. But Sinopec will invest domestically, as will the big Western multinationals who are frowned upon doing similar work back home. Exxon is case in point.

China was a relatively late entrant to the global petrochemical industry, but that does not mean much. They ramp up, and rev up fast due to state subsidies and state-owned companies’ ability to obtain raw materials and pass them along downstream for pennies on the dollar. These are loss leaders, but China doesn’t care about that stuff. They are looking to produce plastics for the locals, and for the export markets, especially U.S. and Europe, which are increasingly disinterested in anything fossil fuels related, at least on paper. 

In the 1990s, the Chinese petrochemical industry was significantly smaller than the U.S. In 1995, China’s ethylene capacity totaled 3% of global capacity. In comparison, Japan had 9% of global ethylene capacity and Korea had 5% of global capacity. Ethylene is naturally occurring.

During the 2000s, China’s petrochemical industry grew substantially driven by government support and strong demand from government-directed infrastructure spending, a burgeoning middle class with rising disposable incomes, expanding residential construction and exports of course.

Between 2004 and 2012, China’s ethylene capacity — the flammable gas used to make ethanol for cars, fruit ripeners, and — more importantly, plastics — doubled to 11 million tons per year. Within 25 years, China’s capacity has moved from 3% of global to 16% of global. Who thinks they’re going to slow that down? Need plastic? China will have it. For now, Russia has the chemicals. China might just gain on that next. Follow me on Twitter or LinkedIn

Kenneth Rapoza

Kenneth Rapoza

I’ve spent 20 years as a reporter for the best in the business, including as a Brazil-based staffer for WSJ. Since 2011, I focus on business and investing in the big emerging markets exclusively for Forbes. My work has appeared in The Boston Globe, The Nation, Salon and USA Today. Occasional BBC guest. Former holder of the FINRA Series 7 and 66. Doesn’t follow the herd.

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China’s GDP Contraction A Window To Its Post-Coronavirus Future

Media headlines out did each other in broadcasting China’s 6.8% contraction in GDP in the first quarter this year. It was indeed breaking news in that it was the first ever contraction since China started reporting quarterly GDP data in 1992. However, beyond the headlines, there is surprisingly little that is newsworthy. It is not telling us anything we didn’t know already.

A deep contraction was widely expected because of the massive quarantine and lockdown implemented to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, which practically shut down the economy. For example, Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, ended its lockdown only on April 18 after 76 days. Not surprisingly markets largely shrugged off the news. The S&P 500 rose 1.6% on April 17, after Nasdaq flipped into positive territory for the year the day before. Wall Street was not alone, Asian and European stocks also finished the week higher.

The slew of Beijing’s counter-cyclical policies to help the economy recover from COVID-19 has also been well and fully anticipated. Export rebate rates were raised on over 1,000 products to help exporters facing slumping demands. New infrastructure projects, many are planned and budgeted but now moved forward, have started in 25 provinces which will help prop up demand for industrial production and employment.

The People’s Bank of China, the central bank, has been adding liquidity to the financial system by cutting interest rates and reserve requirement ratio, as well as directing more lending to small and medium size businesses through loan guarantees. According to its data, bank loans grew by 11.5% year-on-year in March, the fastest growth rate since August 2018.

This is an impressive feat. China’s central bank is succeeding in raising bank credit growth in the midst of a massive economic contraction, something that is extremely difficult to do. None of these will bring about a V-shaped rebound, but they will pave the way for a recovery that will gather strength through the course of the second half of the year even if the global economy is still in recession.

The real news in China’s GDP contraction, which had come and gone hardly being noticed, is a policy document released without fanfare on March 30 outlining a set of wide-ranging structural reforms to be implemented in the aftermath of COVID-19. Ostensibly these structural reforms are needed, above and beyond the cyclical measures described, to revitalize an economy ravaged by COVID-19.

Upon closer scrutiny, however, it becomes clear that these are some of the deepest structural reforms that had been proposed and debated for the last two decades, and were strenuously resisted and successfully blocked or deferred by local governments. It appears that Beijing is taking advantage of COVID-19 and the unprecedented GDP contraction to ram through tough reforms that would otherwise be harder to do. What are these reforms?

These are deep and sweeping structural reforms regarding land use, the labor market, interest and exchange rates and the financial markets. They are what really matters if the Chinese economy is to become more market driven and efficient. On land use, current restrictions on how rural land can be sold and used for commercial purposes will be lifted, and the system of rural land acquisition and sales will be made market driven. Behind these innocuous sounding policy-speak is the intention of slaying of one of communism’s sacred cows, the public ownership of land. Sweeping indeed.

The removal of the household registration system, the hukou, is the centerpiece for reforming the labor market. This will be implemented nation-wide with the exceptions of a few mega-cities like Beijing and Shanghai. For the tens of millions of migrant workers, they will be able to become fully-fledged urban residents in towns and cities where they are gainfully employed.

They will be able to live with their families and have full access to urban health care, education and social welfare services. Apart from lifting a highly discriminatory barrier that divides the Chinese population into two unequal tiers, at one stroke this reform will also increase urban consumption demand massively, especially in housing, while further enhancing the growth and dynamism of China’s burgeoning service sector.

The integration of benchmark lending and deposit rates with market rates will be the central plank of price reform in banking and finance, which will align them to become more market driven. The RMB exchange rate will be made more flexible. Civil servant salaries will be made comparable with the private sector. The institutional infrastructure for listing, trading and delisting in the stock markets will be streamlined with stronger regulatory oversight, and the development of the bond market will be fast-tracked to offer an expanded range of products in size and varieties. And, finally, the opening up of the financial sector to full foreign participation will be accelerated.

Successfully implementing anyone of these structural reforms would be an achievement. Getting all of them done would be a game changer. This is clearly what Beijing intends to do by seizing the opportunity created by COVID-19 and the unprecedented GDP contraction. For those who welcome engagement with China, be prepared for a more dynamic and innovative Chinese economy. For those who fear the rise of China, get ready to face a more determined China that marches to its own tune.

Finally, the GDP contraction may well be the catalyst that Beijing needs to dispense with the GDP growth target altogether. In the past decades, it has led provincial governments to boost production regardless of real demand in order to meet such targets, burdening China’s economic structure with wasteful over-capacity as a result. Allowing GDP growth to fluctuate with the rhythm of the business cycle would be an even greater achievement. That would be truly newsworthy.

I am the Chief Economics Commentator at Forbes Asia, and a Visiting Scholar at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore. I was the Global Chief Economist and Chair of the Academic Advisory Council at Mastercard from 2009 to 2018. I was the HSBC Visiting Professor of International Business at the University of British Columbia, Canada from 2010 to 2014; Adjunct Professor at the School of Management, Fudan University, Shanghai, China from 2006 to 2011, and Visiting Professor at the Graduate School of Business, University of Chicago, Singapore from 2003 to 2004. I am a Canadian who has spent 25 years working in Europe, sub-Sahara Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, and Asia-Pacific before returning to Canada in 2011. I studied at Trent University, and pursued post-graduate studies at the University of British Columbia and Simon Fraser University in Canada, where I received my Ph.D. I live on Salt Spring Island, off the west coast of Canada, with my wife and cat; where I garden enthusiastically.

Source: China’s GDP Contraction A Window To Its Post-Coronavirus Future

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China released it’s latest GDP data overnight into Friday, showing the first contraction of the economy since it began publishing the data in 1992. CNBC’s Eunice Yoon reports. China reported Friday that its first quarter GDP contracted by 6.8% in 2020 from a year ago as the world’s second largest economy took a huge hit from the coronavirus outbreak, data from the National Bureau of Statistics of China showed. The contraction in the first quarter is the first decline since at least 1992, when official quarterly GDP records started, according to Reuters. China’s government figures are frequently doubted by analysts. Analysts polled by Reuters had predicted China’s GDP would shrink by 6.5% in the January to March quarter, compared to a year ago. The forecasts from 57 analysts polled ranged from a 28.9% contraction to a 4% expansion. China’s economy grew 6% in the last quarter of 2019. Here are some of the key figures released Friday, on a year-over-year basis: Industrial production dropped 8.4% in the first quarter, and marked a 1.1% decline in March. Fixed-asset investment fell 16.1% in the first quarter. Retail sales fell 19% in the first quarter. Sales of consumer goods fell 15.8% in March, while online sales of physical goods rose 5.9%. For access to live and exclusive video from CNBC subscribe to CNBC PRO: https://cnb.cx/2JdMwO7 » Subscribe to CNBC TV: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCtelevision » Subscribe to CNBC: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBC » Subscribe to CNBC Classic: https://cnb.cx/SubscribeCNBCclassic Turn to CNBC TV for the latest stock market news and analysis. From market futures to live price updates CNBC is the leader in business news worldwide. Connect with CNBC News Online Get the latest news: http://www.cnbc.com/ Follow CNBC on LinkedIn: https://cnb.cx/LinkedInCNBC Follow CNBC News on Facebook: https://cnb.cx/LikeCNBC Follow CNBC News on Twitter: https://cnb.cx/FollowCNBC Follow CNBC News on Instagram: https://cnb.cx/InstagramCNBC

China Stocks Face Increased Scrutiny After TAL Education And Luckin Coffee Reveal Inflated Sales

Staff wear protective masks at a Luckin Coffee shop

Chinese companies seeking financing in the U.S. are coming up against increased scrutiny after accounting scandals emerged from two high-profile firms, casting doubts over plans for new listings and other financing plans.

TAL Education, a New York-listed education firm run by Chinese billionaire Zhang Bangxin, revealed on Tuesday that an employee is suspected of conspiring with outside vendors to inflate sales. The news sent shares of TAL down almost 9% as of Thursday, wiping out $878 million from Zhang’s fortune.

TAL said the employee in question was taken into police custody, and the affected business unit, called Light Class, accounted for 3% to 4% of its annual revenue.

The announcement came less than a week after Luckin Coffee, a Xiamen-based chain that once positioned itself as a challenger to Starbucks, admitted that more than $300 million of last year’s sales had been fabricated. Analysts say the scandals will undermine investors’ confidence in Chinese firms, adding to the challenges of raising capital in an already difficult market.

“There is no denying that investors are now doubting Chinese companies, especially those touting high growth and new business models,” says Zhu Ning, deputy dean at Shanghai Advanced Institute of Finance at Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

Data provider Dealogic says there are currently 15 Chinese companies planning to each raise between $10 million to $125 million in the U.S.

Zhu says it’s likely that regulatory scrutiny will step up, and the new listings might not reach their desired valuations or attract much interest from institutional investors. He says the risk extends to all forms of financing including issuing debt, meaning companies will need to offer higher returns to appeal to potential lenders.

Luckin’s market cap, which had been as high as $10 billion in early March, had fallen to $1.1 billion before the company’s shares were suspended from trading on April 6. The Nasdaq is seeking additional information from Luckin.

Brock Silvers, managing director of Hong Kong-based Adamas Asset Management, points to wider accounting problems in China, where the COVID-19 pandemic has taken such a heavy toll on so much of the economy.

“It is extremely unlikely that Luckin and TAL are the only two fish in the sea,” he wrote in an emailed note. “The underlying problem is that in recent years China investment has outstripped China profitability. That creates massive pressure, both corporate and personal, to produce unachievable results.”

Another Chinese company was defending itself against similar allegations of false accounting on Wednesday. Shares of Nasdaq-listed video streaming site iQiyi initially dropped 4.6% but recovered loss the following day after it was accused by Wolfpack Research of inflating 2019 results and user numbers. iQiyi denied the allegations, saying the report contains “numerous errors, unsubstantiated statements and misleading conclusions and interpretations.”

Still, lawmakers in the U.S. are likely to seize on recent accounting scandals, and there will be renewed pressure for tighter oversight of China-based auditing firms, says Drew Bernstein, co-chairman of New York-based accounting firm MarcumBP. Citing national security reasons, Beijing has long resisted inspections of the China-based offices of the Big Four accounting firms by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), which oversees accounting professionals who provide audit reports of U.S.-traded public companies.

To push for compliance, lawmakers from both parties introduced last June a bill to force U.S.-listed Chinese companies to submit audit reports to U.S. regulators, or face delisting. In response to the Luckin scandal, China’s securities regulator, the China Securities Regulatory Commission, says it condemns this behavior and would crack down on securities fraud in line with international laws.

“While delisting of Chinese stocks remains as a “nuclear option,” I see that as a low probability,” Bernstein says. “If we see cross-border cooperation emerge among regulators, that would be a very positive outcome from this.”

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I am a Beijing-based writer covering China’s technology sector. I contribute to Forbes, and previously I freelanced for SCMP and Nikkei. Prior to Beijing, I spent six months as an intern at TIME magazine’s Hong Kong office. I am a graduate of the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University. Email: ywywyuewang@gmail.com Twitter: @yueyueyuewang

Source: China Stocks Face Increased Scrutiny After TAL Education And Luckin Coffee Reveal Inflated Sales

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Stock Markets Failed To Rally On China Trade Deal, Here’s Why

Topline: Although the U.S. and China have finally agreed on an initial deal that’s expected to defuse the 19-month-long trade war and result in a rollback of both existing and scheduled tariffs, the stock market didn’t surge on the news. Instead, markets ended the day largely flat: The S&P 500 finished the day up by less than 0.008%, while the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 0.012%.

Here’s why stocks didn’t make headway on Friday’s trade news, according to market experts:

  • The market may have already priced in expectations for an agreement prior to Friday: “Stocks already ran up 7% in just the past two months alone on the belief that a deal would be signed,” notes Chris Zaccarelli, chief investment officer at Independent Advisor Alliance.
  • Some experts remain wary: “The devil remains in the details,” points out Bankrate senior economic analyst Mark Hamrick. “We await further word on purported aspects of the agreement including purchases of U.S. farm goods, intellectual property protections, technology transfers and access to China’s financial sector.”
  • “Investors are right to be skeptical,” says Joseph Brusuelas, RSM chief economist. “There’s a limited framework to the deal, since both sides just wanted to agree and avoid the looming tariff deadline on December 15th.”
  • “Contrary to what many believed—and were told in news stories—there is no immediate tariff relief, just an agreement to eventually rollback tariffs later as phase two negotiations progress,” Zaccarelli points out.
  • “I’m still suspicious of a major rollback on existing tariffs,” Nicholas Sargen, economic consultant at Fort Washington Investment Advisors, similarly argues. “Don’t rule out a selective rollback, since Trump needs to maintain bargaining power—he has to keep his powder dry.”
                                   
                                   

Crucial quote: “Is this deal enough to give the US economy an added lift? I doubt it because to get that added lift we need businesses to ramp up capital spending—and they’re going to stay on the sidelines until there’s greater clarity and less uncertainty,” Sargen says. “If trade uncertainty was behind us, we’d have gotten a bigger pop in the market.”

What to watch for: “Both sides need to figure out translation and legal framework first—and if they don’t come to an agreement on that this deal could fall apart very quickly,” Brusuelas says. “We’ll have to see if it survives the weekend and into next week.”

Key background: Officials from both sides have been working tirelessly to hammer out a deal ahead of the looming December 15 tariff deadline. Reports came in on Thursday that negotiators had agreed to terms, and President Trump signed off on them later in the day. Wall Street cheered the good news, sending the stock market to new record highs, though the market’s reaction was notably more tempered on Friday, despite further confirmations that an agreement had been reached.

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I am a New York—based reporter for Forbes, covering breaking news—with a focus on financial topics. Previously, I’ve reported at Money Magazine, The Villager NYC, and The East Hampton Star. I graduated from the University of St Andrews in 2018, majoring in International Relations and Modern History. Follow me on Twitter @skleb1234 or email me at sklebnikov@forbes.com

Source: Stock Markets Failed To Rally On China Trade Deal, Here’s Why

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Hodges Funds’ Eric Marshall discusses opportunities in the stock market amid the US-China trade war with L Catterton Managing Partner Michael J. Farello and Yahoo Finance’s Adam Shapiro, Scott Gamm and Julie Hyman. Subscribe to Yahoo Finance: https://yhoo.it/2fGu5Bb About Yahoo Finance: At Yahoo Finance, you get free stock quotes, up-to-date news, portfolio management resources, international market data, social interaction and mortgage rates that help you manage your financial life. Connect with Yahoo Finance: Get the latest news: https://yhoo.it/2fGu5Bb Find Yahoo Finance on Facebook: http://bit.ly/2A9u5Zq Follow Yahoo Finance on Twitter: http://bit.ly/2LMgloP Follow Yahoo Finance on Instagram: http://bit.ly/2LOpNYz

Chinese E-Commerce Giants Report Booming Singles Day Sales

A big screen shows the online sales for e-commerce giant Alibaba surpassed RMB 100 billion or US14 billion at 01:03:59 after the Nov. 11 Tmall Shopping Festival started midnight in Shanghai, China Monday, Nov. 11, 2019. (Chinatopix Via AP)

(BEIJING) — Chinese e-commerce giants Alibaba and JD.com reported a total of more than $50 billion in sales on Monday in the first half of Singles Day, an annual marketing event that is the world’s busiest online shopping day.

Singles Day began as a joke holiday created by university students in the 1990s as an alternative to Valentine’s Day for people without romantic partners. It falls on Nov. 11 because the date is written with four singles — “11 11.”

Alibaba, the world’s biggest e-commerce brand by total sales volume, adopted the day as a sales tool a decade ago. Rivals including JD.com and Suning joined in, offering discounts on goods from smartphones to travel packages.

E-commerce has grown rapidly in China due to a lack of traditional retailing networks and government efforts to promote internet use. Alibaba, JD.com, Baidu and other internet giants have expanded into consumer finance, entertainment and offline retailing.

On Monday, online retailers offered discounts on goods from craft beer to TV sets to health care packages.

Alibaba said sales by merchants on its platforms totaled 188.8 billion yuan ($27 billion) between midnight and noon. JD.com, the biggest Chinese online direct retailer, said sales reached 165.8 billion yuan ($23.8 billion) by 9 a.m.

Electronics retailer Suning said sales passed 1 billion yuan ($160 million) in the first minute after midnight. Dangdang, an online book retailer, said it sold 6.8 million copies in the first hour.

Alibaba kicked off the event with a concert Sunday night by Taylor Swift at a Shanghai stadium.

Chinese online spending is growing faster than retail overall but is weakening as economic growth slows and consumers, jittery about Beijing’s tariff war with Washington and possible losses, put off big purchases.

Online sales of goods rose 16.8% over a year earlier in the first nine months of 2019 to 5.8 trillion yuan ($825 billion), according to government data. That accounted for 19.5% of total consumer spending. Growth was down from an annual average of about 30% in recent years.

By JOE McDONALD

Source: Chinese E-Commerce Giants Report Booming Singles Day Sales

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Nov.11 was Singles’ Day in China, the country’s busiest online shopping day of the year. More than 35 billion RMB was spent on two online platforms, Tmall.com and Taobao.com, which are owned by China’s e-commerce giant Alibaba. A total of 170 million transactions were made during the day.
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