To dodge trade war, Chinese exporters shift production to low-cost nations

To dodge trade war, Chinese exporters shift production to low-cost nations
In this May 13, 2019, file photo, a woman walks by a bench painted with an American flag outside a fashion boutique selling US brand clothing at the capital city's popular shopping mall in Beijing. (AP Photo/Andy Wong, File)
Updated 27 June 2019

To dodge trade war, Chinese exporters shift production to low-cost nations

To dodge trade war, Chinese exporters shift production to low-cost nations
  • Chinese exporters long battled with rising domestic labor costs
  • China-US trade war was the final straw

GUANGZHOU, China/YANGON, Myanmar: Pressured by a labor crunch and rising wages in China, Shu Ke’an, whose company supplies bulletproof vests, rifle bags and other tactical gear to the United States, first considered shifting some production to Southeast Asia a few years ago, but nothing came of it.
When trade tensions flared into a tariff war last year, however, it was the final straw.
A day after US President Donald imposed additional tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods in September, Shu, 49, decided to start making vests for his US clients in Myanmar instead.
Since then, the Trump administration has further hiked tariffs on Chinese imports, raising the US taxes on Shu’s Guangzhou-made bulletproof vests to 42.6%.
With more than half of his company’s income reliant on orders from the United States, Shu was happy with his Myanmar decision.
“The trade war was actually a blessing in disguise,” he said.
With Trump poised to slap 25% tariffs on another $300 billion-plus of Chinese goods, no exporter in China will be unscathed.
In recent years, some Chinese manufacturers had already started to relocate some of their capacity to countries such as Vietnam and Cambodia, due to high operating costs at home. The trade war is now pushing more to follow suit, especially makers of low-tech and low-value goods.
A few Chinese exporters have also tried to dodge the trade war bullet by quietly transhipping via third countries.

Choice destination
Nine months on, Shu’s firm, Yakeda Tactical Gear Co, is relying on his new Myanmar factory, which started operations in December, to produce new orders for its US clients.
The 220 workers at his original Guangzhou plant, in China’s Pearl River Delta manufacturing powerhouse, now mostly supply clients in the Middle East, Africa and Europe.
In Yangon, meanwhile, Shu’s Myanmar factory turns raw materials imported from China into backpacks, kit bags and pouches for rifles and pistols — all labelled “Made in Myanmar” — almost all of which are exported to the United States.
“Our factory is receiving many orders. The products are being exported to the US and Europe. So, I believe our future will be improved from working in this factory,” said Marlar Cho, 36, a supervisor at the factory.
The factory manager, 40-year-old Jiang Aoxiong from eastern China, said they were constantly rushing to keep up with orders, despite its 600-strong workforce.
Though international criticism of Myanmar’s handling of the Rohingya crisis has crimped Western investment, the Southeast Asian nation has become the choice destination for some Chinese firms, drawn to its cheap and abundant labor.
The former British colony, located on China’s southwestern border, exports some 5,000 products to the United States duty-free under a US trade program for developing nations — another big plus.
In the 12 months through April, approved Chinese projects increased by $585 million, the latest data from Myanmar’s Directorate of Investment and Company Administration shows.
The infusion of Chinese capital has helped fuel expansion in Myanmar’s fledging industrial sector.
In May, firms saw the fastest rise in workforce numbers since 2015, while production scaled a 13-month high, the latest Nikkei Myanmar Manufacturing Purchasing Managers’ Index survey showed.

Stay or go?
ACMEX Group, a tire maker based in China’s coastal Shandong province, already had some experience with offshoring when the trade war began.
About two years ago, it started manufacturing some tires in Vietnam, Thailand and Malaysia to take advantage of lower labor and raw material costs and avoid US anti-dumping duties.
With fresh tariffs in the trade war, the company plans to boost the proportion of tires made abroad to 50% from 20%, and build its own factories instead of outsourcing to existing factories, Chairman Guan Zheng said.
“The time is ripe now,” he said, adding that supply chain infrastructure had improved.

HIGHLIGHTS

• Guangdong bulletproof vest maker moved production to Myanmar

• Shandong tire maker moved capacity to Thailand

The experience of companies like ACMEX and Shu’s Yakeda Tactical Gear underlines how the trade war has put Chinese exporters on the back foot, needing to either diversify their client base, increase domestic sales or move production to a third country.
But all those options require time and money, which are not necessarily available to China’s legion of small exporters grappling with thinning profit margins.
Even locations such as Vietnam and the Philippines have grown too dear for some.
While China has encouraged the relocation of some heavy industry overseas to ease overcapacity and support its ambitious Belt and Road infrastructure plan, Beijing is less supportive of a broader move to shift manufacturing offshore.
Liang Ming, director of the Institute of International Trade at the Ministry of Commerce’s Chinese Academy of International Trade and Economic Cooperation, rejected the idea that Chinese firms were leaving China in droves.
“Few companies are actually moving. If they move, they risk losses if there is a China-US deal,” Liang told reporters earlier this month, adding that any relocation back to China would be expensive.
As trade pressures intensify, analysts say China will loosen policy further in months ahead to shore up economic growth.
Investors are also watching to see how much Beijing allows the yuan to weaken to offset higher US tariffs. The tightly-managed currency has depreciated about 2% against the dollar since trade tensions worsened in early May.
Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping are due to meet in Osaka at a G20 summit at the end of this week in a bid to reset ties poisoned by the trade war.
And though costs and labor may be cheaper, some Chinese firms with experience of offshoring say there are downsides too.
Factory manager Jiang complained about lower worker productivity in Myanmar compared with China, flooded roads during the rainy season, and power cuts of eight to nine hours every day.
“If there is no trade war between China and the US, we definitely would not have come to Myanmar to open our factory,” he said.
 


Saudi CITC pushes for more tech listings on Tadawul

Saudi CITC pushes for more tech listings on Tadawul
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi CITC pushes for more tech listings on Tadawul

Saudi CITC pushes for more tech listings on Tadawul
  • The CITC is aiming to enhance the investment environment in the telecoms and IT sectors

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Communications and Information Technology Commission (CITC) signed an initial agreement with the Saudi Stock Exchange pushing for more listing of technology operators in the Kingdom on the Saudi stock market.

The CITC is aiming to enhance the investment environment in the telecommunications and information technology sector, the postal sector and delivery applications, SPA reported.

Financial market listings provide greater investment opportunities and helps companies to expand and enter new markets, and develop products, CITC said.

It also contributes to strengthening corporate governance with a regulatory framework of high quality and institutional value.

This agreement comes in line with the Vision 2030 objectives aimed at making the Kingdom a leading global logistics platform and a connecting hub for the three continents.


Saudi mortgage lending surges 27 percent in first half of 2021 — SAMA

Saudi mortgage lending surges 27 percent in first half of 2021 — SAMA
Updated 02 August 2021

Saudi mortgage lending surges 27 percent in first half of 2021 — SAMA

Saudi mortgage lending surges 27 percent in first half of 2021 — SAMA
  • Saudi banks and financial institutions lent SR79 billion for residential mortgages H1 2021

RIYADH: Residential mortgage financing in Saudi Arabia jumped by more than a quarter in the first half of the year even as new lending slowed in the second quarter, central bank data showed.

Saudi banks and financial institutions lent SR79 billion for residential mortgages in the first six months of 2021, up from SR62.1 billion in the same period last year, SAMA said in its monthly bulletin. The number of transactions increased 14.2 percent to 153,054 in the period.

The value of mortgages provided in the second quarter slid to SR31.1 billion riyals from SR49 billion in the first quarter as the supply of new properties fell amid changes to the building code.

“The number of contracts increased in the first half, but temporarily decreased in the past three months, but due to the reorganization of property evaluation by the Real Estate Fund, and the application of the new Saudi building code with the temporary ambiguity until it is well understood, and the lack of supply of ready housing units,” Mohamed AlKhars, a member of the housing program advisory board and the chairman of Innovest Property Co. told Arab News.

“I expect the volume of financing and the number of contracts to gradually increase in the fourth quarter of 2021,” he said.

Financing for villas accounted for 80 percent of residential real estate loans in the first half of the year, with 15.9 percent for apartments and the remainder for land, the SAMA data showed.

“Villas are still more desired by citizens and more available in the market, and apartment supply is still low now, as the developers are still focusing on building villas due to low interest in apartments which might continue for a while,” AlKhars said.

The mortgage market has seen stratospheric growth since SAMA began collecting the data in 2016 when a total of 22,259 real estate loans were issued. In 2019, that number jumped to 179,220 from 50,496 the previous year, before reaching 295,590 in 2020.


Brent crude falls below $75 amid Chinese economy concerns, OPEC output

Brent crude falls below $75 amid Chinese economy concerns, OPEC output
Updated 02 August 2021

Brent crude falls below $75 amid Chinese economy concerns, OPEC output

Brent crude falls below $75 amid Chinese economy concerns, OPEC output
  • Chinese factory activity posts slowest growth since before pandemic
  • OPEC output reached 15-month high in July - Reuters survey

LONDON: Oil prices dropped, sending Brent crude back below $75 a barrel after a report showed Chinese factory activity declined as the world’s second largest oil consumer battles a resurgence in coronavirus infections.

Brent crude dropped 2 percent to $74.81 a barrel at 2:15 p.m. in London, after ending July at the highest level in more than two weeks.

The international oil benchmark climbed 2.5 percent last week after a rollercoaster month that saw it swoon from a two-year high of $77.16 on July 5 to $68.62 on July 19 before recovering to end the month at $76.33.

Concerns over the effect a resurgence in coronavirus cases might have on demand for crude were allayed on Wednesday when a report showed a bigger-than-expected drawdown of crude stockpiles the previous week.

US West Texas Intermediate (WTI) crude futures dropped 0.8 percent today to $73.24.

Chinese factory activity slowed in July to its lowest level since the start of the pandemic, data showed Saturday, as manufacturing was impacted by slowing demand, weak exports and extreme weather.

The Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), a key gauge of manufacturing activity in the world’s second-largest economy, dropped to 50.4 in July from June’s 50.9, the National Bureau of Statistics said. A reading above 50 indicates growth.

“China has been leading economic recovery in Asia and if the pullback deepens, concerns will grow that the global outlook will see a significant decline,” Edward Moya, a senior analyst at OANDA, told Reuters.

Oil prices were also damped by a Reuters survey that showed oil output from the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC) rose in July to its highest level since April 2020.

An exchange of words over an attack on an Israeli-managed oil products tanker off the coast of Oman on Thursday appeared to provide little support to the crude market.

Iran will respond promptly to any threat against its security, a foreign ministry spokesman said on Monday, after the US, Israel and the UK blamed Tehran for the attack..


The robot apocalypse is hard to find in America’s small and mid-sized factories

The robot apocalypse is hard to find in America’s small and mid-sized factories
Updated 02 August 2021

The robot apocalypse is hard to find in America’s small and mid-sized factories

The robot apocalypse is hard to find in America’s small and mid-sized factories
  • Only one of 34 companies visited by MIT researchers had spent heavily on robotics
  • Bulk of machines were from before the 1990s

CLEVELAND: When researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology visited Rich Gent’s machine shop here to see how automation was spreading to America’s small and medium-sized factories, they expected to find robots.
They did not.
“In big factories — when you’re making the same thing over and over, day after day, robots make total sense,” said Gent, who with his brother runs Gent Machine Co, a 55-employee company founded by his great-grandfather, “but not for us.”
Even as some analysts warn that robots are about to displace millions of blue-collar jobs in the US industrial heartland, the reality at smaller operations like Gent is far different.
Among the 34 companies with 500 employees or fewer in Ohio, Massachusetts and Arizona that the MIT researchers visited in their project, only one had bought robots in large numbers in the last five years — and that was an Ohio company that had been acquired by a Japanese multinational which pumped in money for the new automation.
In all the other Ohio plants they studied, they found only a single robot purchased in the last five years. In Massachusetts they found a company that had bought two, while in Arizona they found three companies that had added a handful.
Anna Waldman-Brown, a PhD student who worked on the report with MIT Professor Suzanne Berger, said she was “surprised” by the lack of the machines.
“We had a roboticist on our research team, because we expected to find robots,” she said. Instead, at one company, she said managers showed them a computer they had recently installed in a corner of the factory — which allowed workers to note their daily production figures on a spreadsheet, rather than jot down that information in paper notebooks.
“The bulk of the machines we saw were from before the 1990s,” she said, adding that many had installed new computer controllers to upgrade the older machines — a common practice in these tight-fisted operations. Most had also bought other types of advanced machinery — such as computer-guided cutting machines and inspection systems. But not robots.
Robots are just one type of factory automation, which encompasses a wide range of machines used to move and manufacture goods — including conveyor belts and labeling machines.
Nick Pinkston, CEO of Volition, a San Francisco company that makes software used by robotics engineers to automate factories, said smaller firms lack the cash to take risks on new robots. “They think of capital payback periods of as little as three months, or six — and it all depends on the contract” with the consumer who is ordering parts to be made by the machine.
This is bad news for the US economy. Automation is a key to boosting productivity, which keeps US operations competitive. Since 2005, US labor productivity has grown at an average annual rate of only 1.3 percent — below the post-World War 2 trend of well over 2 percent — and the average has dipped even more since 2010.
Researchers have found that larger firms are more productive on average and pay higher wages than their smaller counterparts, a divergence attributed at least in part to the ability of industry giants to invest heavily in cutting-edge technologies.
Yet small and medium-sized manufacturers remain a backbone of US industry, often churning out parts needed to keep assembly lines rolling at big manufacturers. If they fall behind on technology, it could weigh on the entire sector. These small and medium-sized manufacturers are also a key source of relatively good jobs — accounting for 43 percent of all manufacturing workers.

LIMITATIONS OF ROBOTS
One barrier for smaller companies is finding the skilled workers needed to run robots. “There’s a lot of amazing software that’s making robots easier to program and repurpose — but not nearly enough people to do that work,” said Ryan Kelly, who heads a group that promotes new technology to manufacturers inside the Association for Manufacturing Technology.
To be sure, robots are spreading to more corners of the industrial economy, just not as quickly as the MIT researchers and many others expected. Last year, for the first time, most of the robots ordered by companies in North America were not destined for automotive factories — a shift partly attributed to the development of cheaper and more flexible machines. Those are the type of machines especially needed in smaller operations.
And it seems certain robots will take over more jobs as they become more capable and affordable. One example: their rapid spread in e-commerce warehouses in recent years.
Carmakers and other big companies still buy most robots, said Jeff Burnstein, president of the Association for Advancing Automation, a trade group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. “But there’s a lot more in small and medium-size companies than ever before.”
Michael Tamasi, owner of AccuRounds in Avon, Massachusetts, is a small manufacturer who recently bought a robot attached to a computer-controlled cutting machine.
“We’re getting another machine delivered in September — and hope to attach a robot arm to that one to load and unload it,” he said. But there are some tasks where the technology remains too rigid or simply not capable of getting the job done.
For instance, Tamasi recently looked at buying a robot to polish metal parts. But the complexity of the shape made it impossible. “And it was kind of slow,” he said. “When you think of robots, you think better, faster, cheaper — but this was kind of the opposite.” And he still needed a worker to load and unload the machine.
For a company like Cleveland’s Gent, which makes parts for things like refrigerators, auto airbags and hydraulic pumps, the main barrier to getting robots is the cost and uncertainty over whether the investment will pay off, which in turn hinges on the plans and attitudes of customers.
And big customers can be fickle. Eight years ago, Gent landed a contract to supply fasteners used to put together battery packs for Tesla Inc. — and the electric-car maker soon became its largest customer. But Gent never got assurances from Tesla that the business would continue for long enough to justify buying the robots it could have used to make the fasteners.
“If we’d known Tesla would go on that long, we definitely would have automated our assembly process,” said Gent, who said they looked at automating the line twice over the years.
But he does not regret his caution. Earlier this year, Tesla notified Gent that it was pulling the business. “We’re not bitter,” said Gent. “It’s just how it works.”
Gent does spend heavily on new equipment, relative to its small size — about $500,000 a year from 2011 to 2019. One purchase was a $1.6 million computer-controlled cutting machine that cut the cycle time to make the Tesla parts down from 38 seconds to 7 seconds — a major gain in productivity that flowed straight to Gent’s bottom line.
“We found another part to make on the machine,” said Gent.


HSBC profit more than doubles as economies rebound, loan-loss fears ebb

HSBC profit more than doubles as economies rebound, loan-loss fears ebb
Updated 02 August 2021

HSBC profit more than doubles as economies rebound, loan-loss fears ebb

HSBC profit more than doubles as economies rebound, loan-loss fears ebb
  • HSBC reinstated dividend and released $700 million set aside for bad loans
  • Pretax profit was $10.8 billion versus $4.32 billion a year earlier

HONG KONG/LONDON: HSBC Holdings on Monday reported forecast-beating first-half pretax profit that more than doubled from a weak performance last year when it made huge provisions for pandemic-related bad loans.
Encouraged by an economic rebound in Hong Kong and Britain, its two biggest markets, HSBC reinstated dividend payments and released $700 million that had been set aside to cover potential bad loans. That compares with $6.9 billion in loan-loss provisions made in the same period a year ago.
Pretax profit for Europe’s biggest bank by assets came in at $10.8 billion versus $4.32 billion in the same period a year earlier and was higher than the $9.45 billion average of 15 analysts’ estimates compiled by the bank.
Revenue, however, fell 4 percent due to the low interest rate environment.
HSBC said given the brighter outlook globally as economies recover better than expected from the pandemic, it expects credit losses to be below its medium-term forecast of 0.3 percent-0.4 percent of its loans.
The bank also said that for the year, it could even make a net release of funds from earlier provisions rather than add to them, but it was hard to say definitely due to the unknown impact of government support programs, vaccine rollouts and new strains of the virus.
It plans to pay an interim dividend of seven cents a share after the Bank of England scrapped payout curbs last month.
Reflecting its better than expected loan performance, HSBC will move to within its target payout range of 40-55 percent of reported earnings per share within 2021, it added.