Archive for ‘Manufacturing’

05/09/2014

The U.S. Trade Deficit Shrinks—Except With China – Businessweek

The good news? The overall U.S. trade deficit unexpectedly shrank a bit less than 1 percent in July from June. It was the smallest gap in half a year, and exports broke a record. The bad news? The U.S. deficit in manufacturing set a monthly record, and the deficit in goods traded with China also broke a record.

China Shipping Container Lines containers sit stacked at the Port of Los Angeles in San Pedro, California on April 8

Alan Tonelson, a trade analyst who blogs at RealityChek, dwelt on the negative in an interview today. “There’s no doubt that major barriers to U.S. exports remain,” he said. “China is case in point No. 1. It’s still one of the most protectionist economies in the world.”

Boston Consulting Group has argued in a series of reports that the U.S. has a bright future in manufacturing because the high productivity of American workers makes it an affordable location for production, while China is slowly pricing itself out of the market through rising labor costs. It calls the U.S. a “rising global star.”

But that stardom isn’t showing up yet in the trade data. Says Tonelson of Boston Consulting’s view: “If they’re just premature, they seem wildly premature.”

As reported by the Bureau of Economic Analysis, the overall U.S. trade deficit in both goods and services was $40.5 billion in July—down from June, but up $1.1 billion from a year earlier. The July deficit with China in goods was $30.9 billion, vs. a previous high of $30.6 billion. The overall manufacturing deficit, at $67 billion in July, is running 11 percent ahead of last year’s record pace, Tonelson calculates.

via The U.S. Trade Deficit Shrinks—Except With China – Businessweek.

05/09/2014

U.S. South Draws Global Manufacturers With Low Taxes, Cheap Labor – Businessweek

Just before the recession hit in 2007, Electrolux (ELUXA:SS), the Swedish home-appliance maker, was trying to decide what to do about an aging plant outside Montreal. The building was more than 100 years old and the line of high-end stoves and ovens produced there needed a refresh. The factory’s 1,300 union workers earned around $20 an hour.

Rather than sink more money into the old plant, Electrolux decided to move where it could operate more cheaply. In Europe, it was shifting work from Sweden, England, and Denmark, to Hungary, Poland, and Thailand, where workers are paid less. In North America, Electrolux settled on another low-cost region: the American South.

Alabama, North Carolina, and Tennessee—along with Mexico—all competed for the plant, offering generous incentive packages. The winner was Tennessee, which together with the city of Memphis and Shelby County, assembled an offer that, according to Electrolux, was worth $182 million, including public infrastructure funds, tax breaks, and, crucially, worker training. The company committed $100 million to build the plant. In December 2010, Electrolux announced that a site just eight miles from Graceland would be home to its most advanced factory. “We don’t just grab at every project that comes through here,” says Memphis Mayor A C Wharton Jr. “But this one was particularly appealing.”

Manufacturing is slowly returning to the U.S.—and much of the action has been below the Mason-Dixon line. With its low tax rates and rules that discourage unionization, the South has for decades been seen as business-friendly, which helped the region attract service companies that rely on low-skilled workers, such as call centers and warehouses. Now industries such as autos and aerospace are moving in. According to Southern Business & Development (SB&D) magazine, which tracks commercial projects valued at more than $30 million, manufacturing made up 68 percent of investments announced last year. The number of projects totaled 410, the most in 20 years.

Changing conditions in the oil market and China have a lot to do with manufacturing’s resurgence in the South. In 2001, when China joined the World Trade Organization, the price of oil was $20 a barrel and the hourly manufacturing wage in China’s Yangtze River Delta was 82¢ an hour. Oil is now more than $100 a barrel and workers in the Yangtze make $4.93 an hour. The once enormous manufacturing advantage of the People’s Republic has in some cases vanished.

An April 2014 study by Boston Consulting Group found that the U.S. now ranks second only to China in manufacturing competitiveness among the top 10 exporting countries. Three years ago, BCG Managing Director Harold Sirkin, co-author of the report, forecast that states such as South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee would become “among the least expensive production sites in the industrialized world.” That’s especially true for companies making things for sale in the U.S. The South “has become the cheapest place to make things inside the largest economy in the world,” says Michael Randle, publisher of SB&D.

via U.S. South Draws Global Manufacturers With Low Taxes, Cheap Labor – Businessweek.

25/07/2014

Ethiopia Vies for China’s Vanishing Factory Jobs – Businessweek

Ethiopian workers walking through the parking lot of Huajian Shoes’ factory outside Addis Ababa in June chose the wrong day to leave their shirts untucked. The company’s president, just arrived from China, spotted them through the window, sprang up, and ran outside. Zhang Huarong, a former People’s Liberation Army soldier, harangued them in Chinese, tugging at one man’s polo shirt and forcing another worker’s into his pants. Amazed, the workers stood silent until the eruption subsided.

Turning Ethiopia Into China's China

Zhang’s factory is part of the next wave of China’s investment in Africa. It started with infrastructure, especially the kind that helped the Chinese extract African oil, copper, and other raw materials to fuel China’s industrial complex. Now China is getting too expensive to do the low-tech work it’s known for. African nations such as Ethiopia, Kenya, Lesotho, Rwanda, Senegal, and Tanzania want their share of the 80 million manufacturing jobs that China is expected to export, according to Justin Lin Yifu, a former World Bank chief economist who teaches economics at Peking University. Weaker consumer spending in the U.S. and Europe has prompted global retailers to speed up their search for lower-cost producers.

Shaping up employees is one part of Zhang’s quest to squeeze more profit out of Huajian’s factory, where wages of about $40 a month are less than 10 percent of what comparable Chinese workers may make. Just as companies discovered with China when they began manufacturing there in the 1980s, Ethiopia’s workforce is untrained, its power supply is intermittent, and its roads are so bad that trips can take six times as long as they should. “Ethiopia is exactly like China 30 years ago,” says Zhang, 55, who quit the military in 1982 to make shoes from his home in Jiangxi province with three sewing machines. He now supplies such well-known brands as Nine West and Guess (GES).

Almost three years after Zhang began his Ethiopian adventure at the invitation of the late Prime Minister Meles Zenawi, he says he’s unhappy with profits at the plant, frustrated by “widespread inefficiency” in the local bureaucracy, and struggling to raise productivity from a level that he says is about a third of China’s. Transportation and logistics that cost as much as four times what they do in China are prompting Huajian to set up its own trucking company, according to Zhang. That will free Huajian from using the inefficient local haulers, but it can’t fix the roads. It takes two hours to drive 30 kilometers (18 miles) to the Huajian factory from the capital along the main artery. Oil tankers and trucks stream along the bumpy, potholed, and at times unpaved road. Goats, donkeys, and cows wander along, occasionally straying into bumper-to-bumper traffic. Minibuses and dented taxis, mostly blue Ladas from Ethiopia’s past as a Soviet ally, weave through oncoming traffic, coughing exhaust.

via Ethiopia Vies for China’s Vanishing Factory Jobs – Businessweek.

15/07/2014

Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Goes Green in China’s Guizhou – Businessweek

Guizhou may be one of China’s poorest and least developed provinces. But the flip side is an environment so pristine that President Xi Jinping recently joked its air should be bottled.

Terraced fields of rice paddies are farmed on June 4, 2013, in Jinping county, Guizhou province, China

Now, Taiwan’s Foxconn Technology Group (2317:TT), the world’s largest consumer electronics producer, with more than a million employees working in 30-some industrial parks across China, has set its sights on backward but beautiful Guizhou.

The maker of Apple’s (AAPL) iPad and iPhone and Hewlett-Packard (HPQ) servers is building an industrial park in China’s southwest, seemingly worlds away from its massive and gritty Shenzhen manufacturing base, that aims to be state of the art in energy efficiency and environmental friendliness. Set among karst hills on the outskirts of Guiyang, the provincial capital, the 500-acre park will keep about 70 percent of the natural vegetation undisturbed.

via Apple Manufacturer Foxconn Goes Green in China’s Guizhou – Businessweek.

13/05/2014

India Poll Prospects Drive Auto Shares – India Real Time – WSJ

Shares of most automobile companies in India surged on Tuesday on expectations that the pro-business Bharatiya Janata Party will emerge victorious when national election results are announced Friday.

Maruti Suzuki India Ltd.532500.BY +1.97%, Mahindra & Mahindra Ltd.500520.BY +1.40%, Tata Motors Ltd.500570.BY +0.81%, Ashok Leyland Ltd.500477.BY +1.19% and Hero MotoCorp Ltd.500182.BY +3.17% were trading around their 52-week highs when markets closed Tuesday evening.

“This (share-buying) is mainly sentiment-driven,” said an analyst at a Mumbai-based brokerage, who did not wish to be named.  He expected auto shares to trade even higher if a BJP-led government with a clear majority were to emerge the winners of India’s federal election.

The analyst said investors are hoping that a government led by BJP’s Prime Ministerial candidate Narendra Modi would take strong steps to revive economic growth, increase foreign investment, and boost industrial growth, which would in turn improve market sentiment and demand for new vehicles in India, the world’s sixth-largest car producing market.

via India Poll Prospects Drive Auto Shares – India Real Time – WSJ.

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29/04/2014

China vs. the U.S.: It’s Just as Cheap to Make Goods in the U.S.A. – Businessweek

An entire generation of Americans has come of age laboring under the assumption that the U.S. can’t compete in the manufacturing arena with low-cost competitors such as China and Brazil. That may have been true a decade ago, but it’s no longer true today.

An employee of Rebecca Minkoff handbags at the Baikal manufacturing facility in New York.

I recently completed a review of manufacturing costs in the top 25 export economies with my colleagues Justin Rose and Michael Zinser. Our research shows that when the most important economic factors are considered—total labor costs, energy expenses, productivity growth, and currency exchange rates—Brazil is one of the highest-cost manufacturing nations in the world, Mexico is cheaper than China, China is virtually even with the U.S. (as are most of the traditionally “low-cost” countries of eastern Europe), and the low-cost leader in western Europe is none other than the country that launched the Industrial Revolution: the United Kingdom.

So throw away the old playbook. Welcome to the new era.

via China vs. the U.S.: It’s Just as Cheap to Make Goods in the U.S.A. – Businessweek.

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11/04/2014

All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company

A lot of people view China business as mysterious. Relax. Consumers behave pretty much the same everywhere. Competition is pretty much the same everywhere. You just need to ignore the hype and focus on the basic fact that in China today, there are six big trends (exhibit). That’s it. Six trends shape most of the country’s industries and drive much of China’s impact on the Western world. They are like tectonic plates moving underneath the surface. If you can understand them, the chaotic flurry of activity on the surface becomes a lot more understandable—and even predictable.

Coauthors Jeffrey Towson and Jonathan Woetzel discuss China’s six megatrends with Nick Leung, the managing partner of McKinsey’s Greater China office.

These trends move businesses on a daily basis. They’re revenue or cost drivers that show up in income statements. Deals, newspaper headlines, political statements, and the rising and falling wealth of companies are mostly manifestations of these six trends, which aren’t typically studied by economists and political analysts. In fact, we happen to think that Chinese politics or political economics are wildly overemphasized by some Westerners in China. So let’s tell a story about each of these megatrends, with some important caveats. They’re not necessarily good things. They’re not necessarily sustainable. For every one of them, we can argue a bull and a bear case. Most lead to profits or at least revenue. Some may be stable. Some lead to bubbles that may or may not collapse. We are only arguing that they are big, they are driving economic activity on a very large scale, and understanding them is critical to understanding China and where it’s headed.

via All you need to know about business in China | McKinsey & Company.

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10/04/2014

Chinese Exports Plummeted Last Month. Puzzled? We Have You Covered – China Real Time Report – WSJ

China’s exports were down 6.6% on year in March, confounding economists, many of whom expected growth of over 4%.

What’s going on?

First, it’s important to remember that China’s trade statistics in the first quarter are often skewed by the Chinese Lunar New Year holidays, when activity slows down in much of East Asia.

But economists expected exports to show signs of a pickup in March, the first month not affected by the holidays, which this year fell in late January and early February.

One explanation is the March data was warped by over-invoicing. This is a practice by which Chinese companies dodge capital controls by using fake export invoices to get money into the country to benefit from relatively high onshore interest rates.

Beijing cracked down on the practice last spring, but over-invoicing was still prevalent in March 2013. Since then it has decreased because of tighter regulatory controls. The government’s efforts to guide the yuan currency lower this year also has diminished the attraction of such a carry trade.

That could mean the year-ago comparison was artificially boosted, making March 2014’s numbers look poor by comparison.

“Do not worry about the export data,” wrote Louis Kuijs, an economist at RBS in Hong Kong, in a note to clients.

RBS estimates year-on-year export growth in March 2013 was inflated by 11.8 percentage points due to over-invoicing. The bank also thinks export growth on-year in March this was 5.2% adjusting for over-invoicing.

“The competitiveness of China’s manufacturing sector is still solid, allowing its export sector to benefit from global demand growth,” Mr. Kuijs wrote.

Andrew Tilton, an economist at Goldman Sachs in Asia, agreed with this assessment.

“The main reason is that the over-invoicing distortions were peaking last year around this time,” he said. Now, “the increased currency volatility and deprecation is discouraging that activity from a financial incentive perspective.”

via Chinese Exports Plummeted Last Month. Puzzled? We Have You Covered – China Real Time Report – WSJ.

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07/04/2014

Two Visions for India’s Economy, Sort Of – India Real Time – WSJ

India’s national election, which kicked off Monday, is a contest of old-fashioned socialism versus market liberalism, of handouts to the poor versus pro-growth reforms that will benefit all. Right?

Sort of. At least judging by the two main contenders’ official platforms.

The Bharatiya Janata Party — out of power for a decade — looks set to win big this year, helped by its popular prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, who promises to reboot India’s economy with a combination of smart policy and able administration.

But now that the BJP has at last released its election manifesto after multiple delays, it’s easier to see where exactly its economic policy ideas differ from the incumbent Congress party’s – and, perhaps more interestingly, where they don’t.

Both parties promise to revitalize India’s manufacturing sector, long a laggard amid the country’s economic rise. Both say they will implement a national goods and services tax, known elsewhere as a value-added tax. Both want to create a “single-window system” to expedite land, environmental, power and other approvals for investors. Both back the current system of food subsidies, though the BJP highlights that the program should be efficient and corruption-free.

And both parties want to build high-speed rail, stem inflation, modernize infrastructure, make housing affordable, create jobs, expand cities and make taxation more predictable. (Though the BJP wins style points for referring to retroactive taxes as “tax terrorism.”) The BJP even matches the splashiest item in Congress’s manifesto — a commitment to providing “universal and quality health care for all Indians” — with its own call for universal health care.

All of that said, the manifestos alone do give the BJP an edge in terms of structural reforms that many economists, businesses and investors have long craved from India’s government.

The party’s manifesto speaks of addressing “over-regulation” in business and “bottlenecks” in the delivery of public services. Its section on developing agriculture focuses more on investing in productivity-enhancing technology than on increasing government subsidies, which the Congress manifesto notes as a major achievement of its decade in office.

The BJP says it will “rationalize and simplify the tax regime,” which the party calls “currently repulsive for honest taxpayers.” The Congress manifesto merely reiterates its support for the Direct Tax Code, an earlier legislative effort to eliminate tax distortions and improve compliance that has stalled in Parliament’s lower house.

The BJP also says it will review India’s creaking labor laws, which it decries as “outdated, complicated and even contradictory.” The Congress manifesto, meanwhile, “recognizes the need for creating flexibilities in the labor market” while redoubling its commitment to “protecting the interests of labor through more progressive labor laws.” The World Bank said in a report last year that India’s “cumbersome and complex” labor policies “have unambiguously negative effects on economic efficiency.”

via Two Visions for India’s Economy, Sort Of – India Real Time – WSJ.

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25/03/2014

Why China’s Manufacturing Sector Has Hit a Wall – Businessweek

More bad economic news out of China: A key indicator released on March 24 showed that the manufacturing sector of the world’s second-largest economy contracted for the fifth straight month.

The HSBC and Markit purchasing managers’ index fell to 48.1 in March, below the 48.7 expected by analysts in a Bloomberg News survey (a number above 50 indicates growth). “The weakness appears even more pronounced given that there is usually a seasonal rebound after the Chinese New Year holiday,” said Julian Evans-Pritchard, China economist at London-based Capital Economics, in a March 24 note.

The lackluster showing of the so-called Flash PMI (usually based on results from 85 percent to 90 percent of companies surveyed; the final reading will be released April 1) follows weak investment, industrial production, and export numbers in the first two months. “The old growth engine is losing steam,” Chen Xingdong, chief China economist at BNP Paribas in Beijing, told Bloomberg News.

via Why China’s Manufacturing Sector Has Hit a Wall – Businessweek.

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