Category Archives: China

Will China keep investing here?

By September 2008, China had owned 585 billion U.S. dollars in U.S. government bonds, becoming the largest creditor of the world’s largest economy, according to the latest statistics from China’s Ministry of Finance. It bought new US national debts every month during 2008’s first three quarters. (news.xinhuanet.com)

For years, China has had a surplus of money, which its national bank gleans from its high export to import trade imbalance. It takes the dollars it makes from U.S. consumers and then needs a reliable place to invest them, and it has historically invested heavily in U.S. treasuries along with private U.S. assets.

But now many of China’s investments in the U.S. have gone awry, as they were screwed by Freddie Mac and Fanny Mae, and reckless derivative trading. Naturally, like most people in the world, they have lost some trust in the once supposedly rock solid U.S. economy.

I believe that Americans will keep buying Chinese goods for a long time – although maybe slightly less because people here are struggling. Nevertheless, at least 90 percent of the goods Americans take for granted in their daily lives are made in China. Read the book, A Year Without Made in China, (reviewed by Today’s Machining World) and this concept is clear.

China’s government should have plenty of money to invest overseas for years to come. The question is … has the U.S. economy gotten so bad that they will put a lot of it elsewhere. Personally I don’t think so.

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GM Attempts to Bridge Two Car Cultures

As GM’s car sales steadily decline in the U.S., its Buick brand has become one of the most coveted China. Buick recently debuted its new Invicta show car, the expected replacement for the LaCrosse model, whose purpose is to appeal to both U.S. and Chinese consumers, bridging the gap between the two markets. It features luxurious interior features valued by Chinese drivers, such as gadgets, computers and backseat roominess, but also addresses the preferences of American drivers for bold, exterior styling. It was designed in seven months, just in time for the Beijing Auto Show. Buick cars sharing many of the features on the show car are supposed to be in production next year.  

Source: The Wall Steet Journal

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Free Trade Flip-Flopping

In the following video video TheStreet.com’s  political analyst John Fout points out free trade issues which he believes both presidential candidates have flip-flopped on. He says that in the democratic primary Obama knocked NAFTA saying the country needed to “renegotiate” the agreement. After beating Hillary who had taken such a strong anti-NAFTA stance, now Obama says he supports “fair” free trade.

Fout then rips McCain for touting free trade to win the Republican vote, yet afterward giving a speech in April proposing the creation of a “League of Democracies” alienating China and Russia. Fout also claims that McCain said he wants kick Russia out of the G8.

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Containers Bring Manufacturing Home

World trade is like a chameleon, constantly changing colors to survive and flourish. This is why I tend to disregard the Lou Dobbsians who are constantly searching for bad guys rather than opportunities.

With the developing world growing so fast now and the added strain of material flowing to China to heal the wounds of the horrible earthquake, the container system is simply overused. The China trade is sopping up all slack in capacity, which means rates are triple those of six years ago if you can even find a container to send goods from the U.S. to Europe.

The cost of shipping a standard, 40-foot container from Asia to the East Coast has already tripled since 2000 and will double again as oil prices head toward $200 a barrel, says Jeff Rubin, chief economist at CIBC World Markets in Toronto. He estimates transportation costs are now the equivalent of a 9% tariff on goods coming into U.S. ports, compared with the equivalent of only 3% when oil was selling for $20 a barrel in 2000. (Wall Street Journal)

With labor costs and the value of the yuan rising too, China is losing its competitive edge in manufacturing versus the U.S. Even furniture, which gravitated almost entirely to China, is coming back to America.

The container shortage is an annoyance at the moment. Its deeper significance is in the context of world trade. If the protectionists do not mess things up after the election, the seeds are being sown for a significant resurgence in American manufacturing for many years to come.

Source: Wall Street Journal

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'Made in China' Is Cheap No More

A recent story by Frank Langfitton on NPR’s “All Things Considered” reported that rising costs and shifts in Chinese government policy are actually forcing hundreds of smaller Chinese factories to close. According to the story, profit margins are disappearing as a result of the rising Chinese currency value, which has forced manufacturers to move their operations to lower cost countries such as Vietnam.

The story reports that China’s government wants to encourage higher-tech manufacturing, so it is taking away the incentives it used to give to cheap goods manufacturers such as no taxes and cheap rent. China wants to follow the same path as its fellow Asian countries such as Japan and Taiwan, whose products eventually progressed from low-tech to high-tech. This movement to more sophisticated types of production has created the same obstacle for Chinese companies that challenges U.S. companies – finding skilled labor.

Familiar patterns aren’t they.

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The $100 Computer

The $100 computer and the $2500 car are the hottest products on the planet today. Neither one is yet a reality, but the intense interest in developing these mass produced items for potentially a billion new customers in Asia, Africa, and South America is driving a mega battle in electronics and autos.

Video of $100 Computer

A few years ago, the personal computer push built the Microsoft and Intel fortunes. But in 2005, Nicholas Negroponte, of MIT, postulated that the $100 dollar computer was doable and set out to build the market and design the product. In the Nov. 24, 2007, issue of the Wall Street Journal, a front page article denotes the competitive struggle he has had as Intel attempts to co-opt his idea. The essential fact is that national governments will buy the production in the millions of units, and prices of Negro Ponte’s and Intel’s computers are now circa $200 and falling. Intel is scared of the product, which uses $3 software of Linux variety, but they are more scared that arch foe AMD will get the processor business, so they are pushing their low cost Classmate version all over the globe.

In cars, Tata Motors of India is rushing to develop a $2500 car for the new middle class of India in the hope that young people everywhere will covet one. Today we have over production in cars in the U.S. and Europe, but the potential market for cheap vehicles is absolutely enormous.

The big Japanese builders; Toyota, Nissan, and Honda, are ardently developing a $6000 car which could also reach a huge audience in Eastern Europe and China. For the suppliers of automotive, this offers a gigantic new market for brakes and tires and transmissions. It will be fascinating to see who will be able to serve this next great market.

On the computer front it seems likely that Silicon Valley will be the center of development of the $100 computer. It is less clear where the $2500 car will emerge. India and China have the cheap production capability, but I am skeptical about technical breakthroughs. Yet it is certain that the inexpensive, serviceable car will come soon because the demand will be insatiable, and it will be a lot more sophisticated than the Yugo.

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The China Syndrome

Two decades ago, a cashmere sweater was a soft symbol of wealth and status warn by pipe smoking duffers at the club. Eventually women also wanted to wear the wool from the shaggy goat. The boosted demand beyond the capability of shepherds filled in the production shortfall.

But the sharp folk in Bentonville Arkansas who run Wal-Mart believed that cashmere was not the exclusive wool for the rich, and decided cashmere sweaters should be brought to the masses. It was the perfect Christmas present. They asked the disintermediating question, “Why not sell a $49 cashmere women’s sweater, or a $39 or even a $29 one?”

And the Shepherds in China and Mongolia heard them. A herder with 30 goats living in a tent soon had 300 grazing goats. He did what capitalists everywhere do – expand to meet the demand. And shepherds reaped the reward of Wal-Mart’s audacious bet on the desires of its customers to have buttery sweaters for $30 to $40. And soon the Asian shepherds had small homes and televisions and toilets and life was good.

Except 10 times more goats ate all the green grass, and the bigger herds needed to move to greener pastures. The old land turned to dust and the wind blew. Huge clouds of dirt miles long and wide lifted off the ground, browning the local air and ultimately circling the earth. The shepherds had to leave their newly built homes to search for new grass, and China and the world was a dirtier grittier place. But Wal-Mart got their cheaper wool, and you and I got our comfy cardigans.

The net gain for the Chinese economy was real in this case. New sweater factories were built. Girls got jobs at the sewing machines after fleeing the poverty of rural China. The sewing machine firms sold product and the machine guys sold them components for bobbins and stitches. The shepherds tasted prosperity and the goats found more company. But the gains were diminished by the communal degradation of the air pollution. That is not in the Chinese growth statistics, but the people  on the ground know it’s real. This is the yin and yang of “Wild East” growth. Eventually the Chinese people will not take it anymore.

By the numbers, growth will slow and the markets will no longer fawn over the Chinese stocks. The Olympics will come and go. Wal-Mart will still sell cashmere sweaters. I don’t know if they’ll cost more or less than they do today

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