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Trade War Is Hiding China’s Big Problems

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The ongoing US-China trade war is a distraction from China’s big problems: the blowing of multiple bubbles and the country’s soaring debt, which will eventually kill economic growth.

It happened in Japan in the 1980s. And it’s happening in China nowadays.
The trade war is one of China’s problem that dominates social media these days. It’s blamed for the slow-down in the country’s economic growth, since its economy continues to rely on exports. And it has crippled the ability of its technology companies to compete in global markets.
But it isn’t China’s only problem. The country’s manufacturers have come up with ways to minimize its impact, as evidenced by recent export data. And it will be solved once the US and China find a formula to save face and appease nationalist sentiment on both ends.
One of China’s other big problems , however, is the multiple bubbles that are still blowing in all directions. Like the property bubble—the soaring home prices that makes landlords rich, while it shatters young people’s dreams of starting a family, as discussed in a previous piece here.

New Home Prices 2015-19

New Home Prices 2015-19

Koyfin

Unlike the trade war, that’s a long-term problem. Low marriage rates are followed by low birth rates and a shrinking labor force, as the country strives to compete with labor-rich countries like Vietnam, Sri Lanka, the Philippines and Bangladesh—to mention but a few.
Then there’s the unfavorable “dependency rates” — too few workers, who will have to support too many retirees.
And there’s the impact on consumer spending, which could hurt the country’s bet to shift from an investment driven to a consumption driven economy.
Japan encountered these problems over three lost decades, even after it settled its trade disputes with the US back in the 1980s. China experience many more.
Meanwhile, there’s the infrastructure investment bubble at home and abroad, as discussed in a previous piece here. At home infrastructure investments have provided fuel for China’s robust growth. Abroad infrastructure investments have served its ambition to control the South China Sea and secure a waterway all the way to the Middle East oil and Africa’s riches.

City overpass in the morning

City overpass in the morning

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While some of these projects are well designed to serve the needs of the local community, others serve no need other than the ambitions of local bureaucrats to foster economic growth.
The trouble is that these projects aren’t economically viable. They generate incomes and jobs while they last (multiplier effect), but nothing beyond that—no accelerator effect, as economists would say.
That’s why this sort of growth isn’t sustainable. The former Soviet Union tried that in the 1950s, and it didn’t work. Nigeria tried that in the 1960s ;Japan tried that in the 1990s, and it didn’t work in either of those cases.
That’s why bubbles burst – and leave behind tons of debt.
Which is another of China’s other big problem s.
How much is China’s debt? Officially, it is a small number: 47.60%. Unofficially, it’s hard to figure it out. Because banks are owned by the government, and give loans to government-owned contractors, and the government owned mining operations and steel manufacturers. The government is both the lender and the borrower – one branch of the government lends money to another branch of government, as described in a previous piece here.
But there are some unofficial estimates. Like one from the Institute of International Finance (IIF) last year, which placed China’s debt to GDP at 300%!
Worse, the government’s role as both lender and borrower concentrates rather than disperses credit risks. And that creates the potential of a systemic collapse.
Like the Greek crisis so explicitly demonstrated.
Meanwhile, the dual role of government conflicts and contradicts with a third role — that of a regulator, setting rules for lenders and borrowers. And it complicates creditor bailouts in the case of financial crisis, as the Greek crisis has demonstrated in the current decade.

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I’m Professor and Chair of the Department of Economics at LIU Post in New York. I also teach at Columbia University. I’ve published several articles in professional journals and magazines, including Barron’s, The New York Times, Japan Times, Newsday, Plain Dealer, Edge Singapore, European Management Review, Management International Review, and Journal of Risk and Insurance. I’ve have also published several books, including Collective Entrepreneurship, The Ten Golden Rules, WOM and Buzz Marketing, Business Strategy in a Semiglobal Economy, China’s Challenge: Imitation or Innovation in International Business, and New Emerging Japanese Economy: Opportunity and Strategy for World Business. I’ve traveled extensively throughout the world giving lectures and seminars for private and government organizations, including Beijing Academy of Social Science, Nagoya University, Tokyo Science University, Keimung University, University of Adelaide, Saint Gallen University, Duisburg University, University of Edinburgh, and Athens University of Economics and Business. Interests: Global markets, business, investment strategy, personal success.

Source: Trade War Is Hiding China’s Big Problems

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Rakuten Taps Chinese Blockchain Firm for $60 Billion Authenticity Market

In 2008, at least 54,000 Chinese babies suffered after ingesting formula that had been contaminated. Demand for safe products has grown year over year, every year, since then. Companies like blockchain-centric Techrock have capitalized on this market by finding unique solutions to the authenticity problem. Techrock uses the blockchain to track every step of a product’s lifecycle and rewards consumers for verifying it through their mobile phones.

Chinese Consumers Increasingly Willing to Pay a Premium for Authentic Imported Food

In China, it is reportedly difficult to get authentic products. Some researchers have found that more than 90% of the food sold in China is faked in one way or another.

For non-food products, this isn’t such a big deal; but there are some markets where it’s life and death – such as baby formula and other food products, which can have deadly side effects. According to Techrock, which spoke to CCN about their recent partnership with Rakuten, the situation has created a market for authentic goods as large as $60 billion per year.

Techrock uses blockchain technology in two aspects of its business. On the one hand, it offers a loyalty program for customers who use the service to purchase authentic products. On the other, it creates a permanent record of a product’s authenticity.

From Supply Chain to Reward Points, Blockchain’s Role

Every product in Techrock’s store has a digital representation on the blockchain. The company has developed a reputation for delivering high-quality, authentic goods, and it’s applying the same process to its Rakuten “zone.”

Their target market is less about authentic shoes or electronics and more about health supplements and other things which people prefer not to risk. The loyalty program helps them retain customers, and using the blockchain for it, the points have no expiration date. A side effect of Techrock’s Tael loyalty program is that it introduces many people to blockchain for the first time.

Techrock recently entered a partnership with Japanese retail giant Rakuten to get authentic Japanese goods to customers. Rakuten has long had an interest in blockchain companies, but it only touches the technology in a tertiary way here.

Rakuten is looking to expand its reach in China, where it is far from the leading retailer. By contrast, Alibaba is the boss in China – but Alibaba’s eBay-style product suffers a lot of knock-off problems that the rest of the Chinese market does.

Growing Year-Over-Year

Built on Hyperledger, Techrock’s labeling technology ensures that products are real. The customer can verify this with an app on their phone, and once they do so, they earn their reward points at the same time. The rewards can be used to purchase more goods in the store, which encourages customers to keep using Techrock.

Techrock’s partnership with Rakuten means that Chinese customers don’t have to worry about fakes, and they have streamlined access to authentic, safe products. Techrock Co-Founder Alexander Busarov told CCN:

“We already sell in over 220 or 230 cities where our consumers are located. It’s all sent by the local dealer companies. We think our business will grow as the demand grows.”

China is reportedly the largest market for both food and firms that verify the safety of food. Consumers have been driven online as they continually lose trust in local vendors. Regulations and other issues make it such that local companies, like Techrock, will ultimately supply the demand.

Techrock’s partnership with Rakuten is notable because they’re the third to secure such a partnership – JD.com being one of the first – and they are built entirely on blockchain.

Source: Rakuten Taps Chinese Blockchain Firm for $60 Billion Authenticity Market

Job Cuts And No More Snacks: China’s Internet Companies Brace For Slowest Growth In Years

Peolple walk past a sign for Chinese ride-hailing service Didi Chuxing (AP Photo/Mark Schiefelbein)

Job losses and other cost-cutting measures are beginning to emerge from China’s once unbeatable internet sector.

Games operator NetEase, ride-sharing giant Didi Chuxing and e-commerce firm JD.com are reportedly cutting jobs and reducing employee perks amid faltering growth in the wider economy and increasing regulation of China’s internet companies.

“No matter its Didi, NetEase or JD.com, the only reason for them to do this is business performance pressure,” says Zhang Yi, founder of Guangzhou-based consultancy iiMedia Group. “Their old businesses are fraught with uncertainties, while the new business lines haven’t taken off. It is inevitable to have cut jobs during this process.”

The number of jobs vacancies at China’s internet companies declined 20% in the final quarter of 2018 from a year earlier, according to Zhaopin.com, a Beijing-based recruitment firm. And analysts are expecting to see further pressure down the road, as more internet companies grapple with the country’s sputtering economy.

More On ForbesChina’s Didi Cuts 2,000 Jobs In Business Restructuring

Didi Chuxing is a case in point. Once touted as a national champion that drove Uber out of China in 2016, the company is now cutting 15% of its workforce, or about 2,000 employees. Also gone are the free snacks and complimentary yoga sessions that employees had once enjoyed, as the company reportedly seeks to stem mounting losses. Regulators have been scrutinizing its ride-sharing service following a series of passenger safety scandals. Didi has since issued a public apology, while installing safety measures such as in-app police assistance and sharing vehicle routes with friends and family members. The company is now betting on an international expansion plan as a catalyst for new growth, and says that it intends to hire more people to support that effort.

Other companies have been rolling out new strategies to cope with the challenges. A NetEase spokesperson said the company is “optimizing its structure to stay more focused,” but would not confirm local media reports of “wide-scale layoffs” at its e-commerce, public relations and farming units. Like the rest of the gaming industry, NetEase has to contend with a regulator that has been slow to approve new titles following a 10-month suspension of new licenses in 2018.

Billionaire Richard Liu, founder and CEO of JD.com Inc. (Photo: Billy H.C. Kwok/Bloomberg)© 2017 Bloomberg Finance LP

Meanwhile, a spokesman for JD.com declined to comment on reports that it was in the process of cutting 10% of its senior ranks. Instead, China’s second-largest e-commerce site said it would be hiring 15,000 new employees primarily for entry-level positions at its logistics and customer service units. JD.com’s growth in active customers slowed to 4% in the final quarter of last year, down from 15% in the previous quarter, as competitors like budget shopping service Pinduoduo continued to grab a larger share of the market.

To be sure, not all of China’s internet firms are cutting back. Alibaba’s CEO Daniel Zhang vowed not to lay off any staff this year, stating in a  post on China’s Twitter-equivalent Weibo: “When the economy is bad, the biggest advantage for online platforms is to create jobs.”

More On ForbesThe Reality Of China’s Economic Slowdown

Compounding the challenges faced by China’s internet companies is a slowdown in consumer spending. Beijing is now targeting economic growth of between 6% and 6.5% this year, marking the slowest growth in almost three decades, as government and corporate debt mounts and trade tensions with the U.S. have depressed manufacturing output and consumer sentiment. With China also trying to curb risky funding to reduce financial risks, capital flows to investment funds has been slowing. Private equity firms raised 1.01 trillion yuan ($149 billion) last year, falling almost 30% from 2017, according to Beijing-based research firm Zero2IPO Research.

This means there is less funding available for China’s smaller startups, which are now struggling as investors grow increasingly cautious. “A lot of startups can’t raise money, so they have to cut headcounts,” says Ken Xu, a partner at Shanghai-based investment firm Gobi Partners.

Aware of such struggles, Chinese policymakers recently announced as much as 2 trillion yuan ($298 billion) in corporate tax cuts, and told local banks to grant more loans to private enterprises. But analysts say it remains to be seen if Beijing’s stimulus measures will bring about enough changes as the details still have yet to be clarified.

“They will be helpful, but whether the impact will be as big as people think is a matter of debate,” says Cui Ernan, an analyst at Beijing-based research firm Gavekal Dragonomics. “The job market is likely to remain weak in the first half this year before recovering a bit in the second half.”

Follow me on Twitter @yueyueyuewang

Source: Job Cuts And No More Snacks: China’s Internet Companies Brace For Slowest Growth In Years

New Survey Shows China Not Dead Yet

China’s services sector growth rose for the second month in a row and hit its highest level since June 2018 , according to the Caixin China General Services Business Activity Index, released on Friday. Caixin said that increased foreign demand for Made in China goods and improving business confidence helped. The Index hit 53.9 in December from 53.8 in November and 50.8 in October. While the number is generally flat from November, it is much higher than the third-quarter average and comes at a time when trade tensions remain high.

Source: New Survey Shows China Not Dead Yet

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