Archive for ‘Chindia Alert’

20/10/2014

Grocery retailing in India: A long way from the supermarket | The Economist

ON THE morning of Dussehra, a Hindu festival, Amar Singh is explaining why he stocks “exotic” produce, such as broccoli and iceberg lettuce, at his vegetable stall in Thane, a commuter city north of Mumbai. “I have to keep the customer in my grasp,” he says. Mr Singh has traded hereabouts for 20 years, and seems unperturbed by the supermarket chains whose branches have recently sprouted nearby. They are cheaper, he says, but they cannot match him on quality. As he speaks he sorts a tray of beans, discarding stringier ones. His assistant, Dabloo, has spent the early hours going through sacks of produce at a wholesale market to pick the best stuff.

The 10m-12m small traders like Mr Singh are a protected species. Complex and changeable rules governing foreign direct investment have made it tricky for rich-world chains to set up shop in India. They might count themselves lucky. India’s home-grown supermarkets account for only 2% of food and grocery sales and are struggling to make a profit. Revenues have not kept pace with rising rents. The Thane branch of Reliance Fresh, one of India’s big chains (see table), shut up shop recently. More closures seem likely. The bet made by the chains was that as India became richer, its consumers would abandon kerbside stalls and kiranas (small family-owned shops) for air-conditioned stores with wide aisles and broad ranges. Why has it not paid off?

In large part it is because supermarkets are not a compelling draw in terms of price and service. Most shoppers in India buy dairy products, vegetables and fruit either daily or every two to three days, and the traditional trade has a lock on these frequent purchases, according to research by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG). Its hold weakens a bit (and the appeal of supermarkets correspondingly tightens) on rich consumers and for less regular purchases: packaged foods; soaps, detergents and other groceries; and staples, such as rice and grains (see chart). But in general even affluent consumers prefer traditional stores, because they are closer to home, are usually open longer and offer credit to familiar customers. Many will deliver free of charge.

Traditional traders are also seen as cheaper. In fact, says Abheek Singhi of BCG, a full basket of goods is 3-4% cheaper at the supermarket, in part because it will sell a few vegetables and some staples as loss-leaders. Mr Singh’s stall sells tomatoes at 50 rupees a kilogram. In the local D-Mart, a low-frills supermarket, they sell for just 42 rupees. Yet Mr Singh has a fair claim to having the reddest variety. The chains ought to be able to offer keener prices on branded goods by squeezing their suppliers. But none of the supermarkets has enough muscle to push around Unilever or Procter & Gamble in negotiations. And India has a law that mandates a maximum retail price for packaged goods, which allows manufacturers a degree of control over retailers’ margins.

The supermarkets can offer a greater variety of groceries than the neighbourhood mom-and-pop store or stall-trader. But that is not as big a competitive edge as it may seem, says BCG’s Mr Singhi. Supermarkets compete with clusters of kiranas, which together can offer most of the same products. Next door to Mr Singh’s stall in Thane kiranas sell confectionary, fresh eggs and poultry.

via Grocery retailing in India: A long way from the supermarket | The Economist.

19/10/2014

India’s big manufacturing push: Time to make in India? | The Economist

NO ONE doubts that Narendra Modi, India’s prime minister (pictured), is a capable speaker. On September 25th he called together hundreds of diplomats, business leaders, journalists, ministers and others to a swanky hall in Delhi to launch his latest marketing push. The event was broadcast live across India and to diplomatic missions abroad. A remarkable cast of industrial heavyweights were called on to show support, including Cyrus Mistry of Tata Sons, Reliance’s nervy-sounding boss, Mukesh Ambani, the chairman of Wipro, Azim Premji, the chairman of Aditya Birla Group, Kumar Mangalam Birla, and the chairman of ITC Limited, Yogesh Chander Deveshwar.

Over the course of two hours these business cheerleaders, along with ministers and then Mr Modi himself, took turns to explain why it would be a great thing if industrial production, in particular labour-intensive manufacturing, could blossom in India. They are absolutely right. India needs to create lots of jobs—perhaps 1m additional ones a month—if it is to employ its booming population. One speaker suggested 90m manufacturing jobs could be created in India over the next decade. Mr Premji set out how Wipro—better known for IT—has five manufacturing units in India (they make hydraulic cylinders) and overall relied on a broad network of 1,200 Indian suppliers, meaning lots  of jobs created indirectly.

Mr Birla spoke of a new high-end aluminium manufacturing site in Odisha (formerly Orissa) which now does quality work for the firm that used to be done in a British factory. A representative from Lockheed Martin, an American defence firm, explained how its factory near to Hyderabad makes component parts for its global production of the massive C130-J Hercules plane. A stronger manufacturing sector could help in a host of other ways, suggested speakers, linking India into global supply chains, boosting exports, helping to reduce the current-account deficit and so on. Mr Ambani concluded that India’s economy could boom in the long run, at a sustained rate of 8-10%, growing quicker than China, if only the right conditions were created.

All this looks and sounds attractive. So, too, do a flash new website that Mr Modi inaugurated, a new symbol—a lion made up of cog-wheels—and some new brochures that set out how India is a bit more welcoming to manufacturers. But was the exercise anything more than a PR event? As one cynical member of the audience grumbled, it seemed to be a big palaver for the launch of a few marketing tools.

What has actually changed in India as Mr Modi pushes manufacturing? First, discount the worst gush from business leaders. The likes of Mr Ambani and Mr Deveshwar may be embarrassed to be reminded of how sycophantic they were in Mr Modi’s presence. Mr Ambani waffled on about being “blessed with a leader”, the “unique leadership quality of a prime minister, a man who dreams and he does”, who has apparently motivated a billion Indians to “dream and do”. Mr Deveshwar was even more craven, thanking “the Almighty” for the leadership “given to us” in Mr Modi, for “your astuteness, your wisdom…Sir, I’m profoundly inspired by the boldness of your vision and the simplicity with which you have communicated.” Mr Modi sat stony-faced as they fawned. But he probably agrees with the implied message: that most of what it takes to boost manufacturing in India is strong leadership from him, as he showed when he was chief minister of Gujarat. Indeed, when he spoke, he referred back to his success in Gujarat, saying that with the same civil servants and resources as the rest of the country, he had produced striking industrial successes. He expects more of the same in the country as a whole.

Sadly, leadership alone will not do it. Matters are more complicated than that. Mr Modi, endearingly, admitted in his speech “I am not a big economist” while urging investors not to think of India only as a big emerging market, but also as a place for production. As he suggests, achieving that requires progress in a host of areas. He spoke of an urgent need for skills development as far too many of India’s youngsters are poorly prepared for globally competitive work (though that is a huge mission, since it means fixing a rotten school and university system) and identifying 21 clusters for industrial development. He spelt out how infrastructure would improve (but not where massive capital to fund that will come from). Laudably, he emphasised the need to make India a far easier place to do business by scrapping red-tape and oppressive rules, mentioning a recent meeting he had with the World Bank to discuss India’s awful ranking—134th—on its annual “ease of doing business” assessment. Mr Modi thinks India should aim to be ranked much higher, quickly, in the top 50 countries.

via India’s big manufacturing push: Time to make in India? | The Economist.

19/10/2014

Police firearms: Weaponised | The Economist

WHEN five assailants armed with long knives started murdering bystanders at a railway station in the south-western Chinese city of Kunming on March 1st, the first police to respond were ill-equipped to fight back. Most had no guns, which ordinary officers typically go without. One who did quickly ran out of bullets. Some officers used their batons while others resorted, bravely but ineffectually, to wielding fire extinguishers which they found at the scene. A specially trained unit of police with guns arrived as long as 20 minutes later and shot four of the attackers dead.

The government promptly decided it must make weapons more readily available to police. It has acted quickly to do so—some critics say too quickly and too rashly. The increased deployment of guns to rank-and-file officers raises the prospect of abuses in a system that lacks public accountability for police misconduct against citizens. It has also increased the risk of mistakes by poorly trained officers who are unfamiliar with weapons. In recent months Chinese media have reported on at least two deaths in police shootings where local witnesses suggested the use of deadly force may not have been justified. In May in Zhengzhou, the capital of Henan province, police accidentally fired a handgun into the floor at a kindergarten lecture on personal safety. A child and four parents were injured.

China bans the possession of guns by civilians, and makes only rare exceptions. The government has similarly long resisted arming police with firearms. The process of getting permission to carry a gun was often so onerous that few police bothered to try. Since the army was called in to shoot civilians demonstrating in Beijing in 1989, China has beefed up its paramilitary police force, the People’s Armed Police (PAP), in order to handle unrest. But the PAP does not handle ordinary crimes and is run separately from other police forces.

Fan Xin, a Beijing-based American expert on police firearms who worked as a policeman in Los Angeles between 2000 and 2006, says the government’s reluctance to arm the police had been partly out of fear that the guns would be misused. But this led to a failure properly to train those who did carry them. Mr Fan describes an “antiquated” system in which police are rated for accuracy in shooting at a target from a stable position on one knee, rather than for speed and judgment in more realistic conditions. He also notes that many police are trained to use semi-automatic handguns but then go on to be issued with revolvers.

Some special police units in big cities are reportedly better trained than small-town officers. The recent expansion of such units has been rapid and striking. The city of Shanghai has deployed 125 mobile units of elite armed police around the city since May, each carrying at least two guns (following America, Chinese media often describe them as SWAT, or Special Weapons and Tactics, teams). Fifteen groups of ten officers each—all in blue Ford vans—patrol one tourist district near the Huangpu river. One of them is often parked on the Bund, Shanghai’s famous riverfront, close to revellers taking wedding photographs. Another is often stationed near People’s Square; during a recent rush hour the driver and a few of the squad in the back could be seen smoking cigarettes. If a terrorist strikes on their watch, they are allowed to shoot on sight.

Some citizens worry about reckless use of police firearms, but many see a need for greater, and more visible, protection. The attack in Kunming in March appeared to be the work of extremist Uighurs, who are a mostly Muslim ethnic minority from the western region of Xinjiang. It has been seared into the country’s consciousness. State media refer to it as China’s version of the September 11th attacks against America. Xi Jinping, the president, has echoed George W. Bush, America’s president at the time, saying that China is conducting a “people’s war on terror”.

Armed police have become a feature of this war. In a Xinjiang border town in July, police shot and killed at least 59 Uighurs in a conflict that state media said was initiated by a mob of locals who attacked government offices, killing 37. Uighur groups abroad allege that the real death toll was much higher.

via Police firearms: Weaponised | The Economist.

19/10/2014

Costco Gets Into China via Alibaba’s Tmall Website – Businessweek

Attention, China: Costco is coming. To Tmall, at least.

The U.S. retailer has teamed up with Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba (BABA) to sell products on the Tmall website. Food and health products will show up first, including many from Costco’s in-house brand, Kirkland. Flat-screen TVs and weird exercise contraptions won’t be far behind.

Costco (COST) doesn’t have physical stores in China. In fact, it has precious few in Asia at large. There are 19 Costco warehouses in Japan, 11 in Korea, and 10 in Taiwan.

The Internet is a relatively easy way enter a new market. But Costco doesn’t do too much of that either. China will be the fourth country where the retailer takes Internet orders, in addition to Canada, Mexico, and the U.K. In Costco’s five other locales, it’s strictly on-floor shopping. All told, Costco gets less than 3 percent of its revenue from online sales, according to its most recent financial update.

Tmall—and China in general—offer something Costco requires: volume. With incredibly slim margins on merchandise (and sometimes no margin at all), Costco only makes a profit on membership fees. Those won’t be required for shopping on Tmall, according to Alibaba.

In other words, the entire country of China may be a loss leader—at least until the warehouses start popping up.

via Costco Gets Into China via Alibaba’s Tmall Website – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

How Poor Is China? – Businessweek

By one measure, China is set to surpass the U.S. this year in gross domestic product as the world’s largest economy—in terms of purchasing power parity (rather than nominal GDP), says the International Monetary Fund. China also has the world’s second-largest population of ultra-wealthy, with some 7,600 people possessing at least $50 million, according to a report released on Tuesday by Credit Suisse. (The U.S. remains No. 1 in its number of super-rich).

Sifting through trash near Hefei, China

Still, that wealth contrasts with impoverishment. About 82 million Chinese still live in poverty, an official announced at a press conference in Beijing on Tuesday, reported the China Daily.

That figure is according to the Chinese poverty standard of about 2,300 yuan a year, or about $1 a day. Using the international standard of $1.25 a day, set by the World Bank, raises the figure to 200 million, said Zheng Wenkai, vice-minister of the State Council Leading Group Office of Poverty Alleviation and Development. This means that 15 percent of China’s population is impoverished, according to the broader measure.

All told, China has 120,000 villages plagued by poverty. Residents lack electricity, running water, schools, and proper health care, the English-language paper reported. Dire conditions are exacerbated by the fact that most are in remote, often mountainous parts of the country that have inadequate roads.

Poor populations are concentrated in extremely poor contiguous regions with poor living conditions, inadequate infrastructure as well as being afflicted with natural disasters,” the Global Times reported. Last year, China lifted 40 million residents out of poverty, and it plans to bring an additional 10 million out in 2014. China will send resident-assistance teams to the worst hit regions, the official said.

via How Poor Is China? – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

China’s Workers Are Getting Restless – Businessweek

China does not have large independent labor unions, yet the world’s second-largest economy has witnessed an increasing number of worker strikes over the past year.

Police guard outside the Yue Yuan shoe factory after workers returned to work in Dongguan, China on April 28 following a two-week strike

According to an Oct. 14 report from the Hong Kong-based watchdog group China Labour Bulletin (CLB), the number of strikes and worker protests in the third quarter of 2014 was double the number of labor actions recorded in the same period last year: From July to September this year, the watchdog group recorded 372 strikes and worker protests across China, compared with 185 incidents over those months last year.

What’s more, the habit of organizing collective action—often through social media—is spreading beyond China’s traditional manufacturing hub of southern Guangdong province. While the number of strikes in Guangdong province has remained roughly the same, unrest has intensified in inland China. In 2013, Guangdong accounted for 35 percent of recorded labor actions vs. 19 percent this year.

Half of all recorded worker strikes and protests arose from disputes over late or unpaid wages—perhaps symptoms of economic troubles hitting manufacturers as well as tightening credit in China, according to CLB.

Also notable is the uptick in strikes led by construction workers, from just four demonstrations last summer to 55 this summer. Amid a slumping housing market, new home prices in August tumbled in 68 of 70 Chinese cities monitored by the government. As the CLB report explains, “Developers are saddled with declining sales, weaker credit availability, and continued pressure from local governments to buy land. In these situations, it is the construction workers who are always the last to be paid.”

China’s only official union is the government-linked All China Federation of Trade Unions, which lacks credibility with most workers. To date, it has only ever formally leant support to one worker strike, according to records reviewed by the liberal American Prospect magazine. Yet Chinese workers are increasingly organizing within their individual workplaces to press for higher wages, timely payments, and social security benefits. So far, these individual strikes have not coalesced into a broader, coordinated movement, which almost certainly would incur a speedy government crackdown.

via China’s Workers Are Getting Restless – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

Chinese Home-Buying Binge Transforms California Suburb Arcadia – Businessweek

“Oh, hey! How ya’ doin’?” Raleigh Ornelas hollers, leaning out the window of his spotless white pickup truck. He’s recognized the man across the street, a developer standing in front of a Tuscan-style mansion under construction. “Where have you been hiding at? I call you, you don’t call me.”

Why Are Chinese Millionaires Buying Mansions in an L.A. Suburb?

Ornelas is an informal broker in Arcadia, Calif., a Los Angeles suburb at the foot of the San Gabriel mountains. He’s been keeping an eye out for the builder, an Asian man with a slight comb-over who goes by Mark. Ornelas has found two older homeowners who’ve finally agreed to sell their properties, and he knows that Mark, like all developers here, needs land on which to build mansions for an influx of rich clients from mainland China.

Ornelas rattles off addresses on a nearby street. “Three-eleven, that guy, he’s wack,” he says, shaking his head. “He wants 2.8.” He means million dollars. “And then 354, they want $2 million.”

The lot is 17,000 square feet. “Seventeen for 2 mil?” Mark asks, incredulous.

“I know,” Ornelas says. “They’re going crazy.”

A year ago the property would have gone for $1.3 million, but Arcadia is booming. Residents have become used to postcards offering immediate, all-cash deals for their property and watching as 8,000-square-foot homes go up next door to their modest split levels. For buyers from mainland China, Arcadia offers excellent schools, large lots with lenient building codes, and a place to park their money beyond the reach of the Chinese government.

The city, population 57,600, projects that about 150 older homes—53 percent more than normal—will be torn down this year and replaced with mansions. The deals happen fast and are rarely listed publicly. Often, the first indication that a megahouse is coming next door is when the lawn turns brown. That means the neighbor has stopped watering and green construction netting is about to go up.

via Chinese Home-Buying Binge Transforms California Suburb Arcadia – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

China’s Jet Set Spends Overseas While Luxury Sales Rise in U.S. – Businessweek

For the first time since Boston consultancy Bain & Co. began tracking the global luxury market, overall sales of luxury goods declined in mainland China over the first eight months of 2014. The dip was small—sales dropped 1 percent—but significant because of the outsize hopes brands from Prada (1913:HK) to Rolls-Royce (RL/:LN) have placed on wooing China’s socially ambitious spenders.

The fully-booked Nanatsuboshi (Seven Stars) luxury sleeper cruise train in Kagoshima, Japan

In the past year, the number of billionaires in China jumped by more than a fifth (from 157 to 190), according to Switzerland’s UBS (UBSN:VX) and Singapore research firm Wealth-X. But spending on luxury goods within mainland China has been squeezed by two significant trends: the continuing austerity and anticorruption drive led by President Xi Jinping and the growing preference for China’s jet set to snatch up expensive handbags and watches while on overseas trips (in part to avoid pricey import taxes at home).

Bain forecasts that overall global luxury sales will rise 5 percent in 2014, with the largest increases expected in the U.S. and Japan (at 5 percent and 10 percent, respectively). Some portion of that spending comes from Chinese tourists in New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo, but the report doesn’t attempt to estimate how much. Bloomberg Businessweek has previously reported on the growing market for luxury train service in Japan, where household wealth is rising more quickly than at any time in the past five years and seniors want to enjoy their golden years.

via China’s Jet Set Spends Overseas While Luxury Sales Rise in U.S. – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

China Wastes 35 Million Metric Tons of Grain a Year—Enough to Feed 200 Million – Businessweek

Chinese officials like to point out that their country has less than 10 percent of the world’s arable land but has to feed a fifth of the world’s population. So you would think that China obsessively ensures there is no wastage in its agriculture sector. You would be wrong.

A farmer harvests rice in Xizhou county, China

Every year China wastes at least 35 million metric tons of grain through subpar storage, during transportation by truck, rail, and boat, and through excessive processing, said a Chinese official earlier this week. “The losses can feed 200 million people for a year, which is shameful,” said Chen Yuzhong, an official with the State Administration of Grain, reported China Daily today.

In particular, 27.5 million tons is lost through improper storage and transportation, while another 7.5 million tons is destroyed during processing, he said. Excessive processing that leads to waste happens as companies polish rice two or three times, according to Wang Lirong, a quality engineer in the State Administration of Grain.

via China Wastes 35 Million Metric Tons of Grain a Year—Enough to Feed 200 Million – Businessweek.

19/10/2014

Made in Vietnam Looks Better and Better for Chinese Shirt Maker – Businessweek

In May, a long-simmering territorial dispute between China and Vietnam turned particularly hot. With Chinese and Vietnamese ships confronting one another in the South China Sea (known in Vietnam as the Eastern Sea), Vietnamese protesters furious with China went on a rampage at home. They attacked companies with Chinese workers or Chinese names, including businesses that were owned not by mainlanders but by companies from Taiwan or other places in Asia.

A TAL Apparel employee at the company’s factory in Hong Kong

Despite worries that the anti-Chinese violence would hurt Vietnam’s ability to attract investment dollars from overseas, the unrest hasn’t dissuaded a major Hong Kong-based manufacturer from making Vietnam its top focus for growth. TAL Group is one of the world’s biggest producers of menswear, selling shirts to brands such as Brooks Brothers, L.L.Bean, Eddie Bauer, and Burberry (BRBY:LN). One out of every six dress shirts sold in the U.S. comes from a TAL Group factory, the company says. Today, Vietnam accounts for only 12 percent to 15 percent of its production, but in two years that percentage should grow to 25 percent, according to TAL Chief Executive Officer Roger Lee.

The company’s commitment to Vietnam isn’t limited just to making garments. TAL is also investing in a new business to make textiles in the country. “We believe in Vietnam,” Lee says.

via Made in Vietnam Looks Better and Better for Chinese Shirt Maker – Businessweek.

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