After years of two digit growth figures in China the economy is about to slow a bit down for what IMF believes will be a soft landing. The main drive for this change is the situation in Europe, which does not seem to improve anytime soon. However, the domestic Chinese market seems to be a driver.
The Öresund Bridge from underneath (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
It is quite amazing to see and hear what Institutional investors are communicating at the moment. For a long time it was their job to create more wealth for the people who had trusted their hard earned money into a few very well of funds. They invested freely in all kinds of projects and had portfolios that were very diversified (and some would say to diversified).
The first came the raise of the consumer activist who forced these huge investors to put in ethical screens that ensured that there was some form of consistency between the individual wishes and the investment targets. These pension funds have now taken a further step in the direction of creating a more sustainable investment platform by looking into projects that benefit the very society and people own them.
The financial and economic crisis means that public construction projects are on a diet, but now there are signs that there may be a tremendous boost on the way to the Danish infrastructure. A telephone survey done by a independent think tank, shows that the country’s ten largest pension and the state owned, ATP, are willing to invest nearly 60 billion kroner in the Danish infrastructure such as a harbour tunnel in Copenhagen, sewers or a large bridge between some of the main island of the country. According to calculations this will create 7,200 new Danish jobs annually over a period of 10 years when billions are invested in public works projects.
This means that there is cash then the government just need to provide the projects and vision needed to make it a reality.
Logo of A.P. Moller – Maersk Group (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
The worst CSR performer in the Maersk empire is forced to fire some 400 employees some really poor economic performance. While there is no direct link between their focus on sustainable business solutions and their bottom line, it is interesting to note that the this part of the business have not been able to adapt to the environment that they are operating in fast enough in order to avoid these colossal looses.
The company presented their first quarter results a few weeks ago and the Line devision was a overall looser draging the stock down for the whole company. One of the main contributors have been the price war on freight rates and very high fuel prices. These factors have subsequently send the container shipping line down with a deficit in the first quarter of 3.4 billion against a profit during the same period a year earlier to 2.5 billion. Maersk Line has already set the price to transport containers between Europe and Asia up but this will not mean that the shipping devision will present black numbers this year. Maersk Line is the world’s largest container shipping company and is responsible for 42 percent of revenue in the conglomerate AP Moller-Maersk.
The apple story seem to continue to fascinate people and professionals. Even though that Foxconn is not only producing products for Apple that have become the all-time favorite when it comes to poor ethics management and lack of efficient control systems.
It is quite interesting that people can disregard corporate behavior if the brand of a company is strong enough. Most of my own students use Apple products and they are never surprised when I talk about the ethics record of the company. However, this knowledge does not seem to change their willingness to buy their products. Maybe because there is a wide consensus that most of the production facilities making hardware products in China are more or less branded as being in violation of Labour and Human Rights it does not hit Apple as hard. So while we know that Apple is in violation of these Rights at least we know what they are doing and at least it gives us some idea about their actions.
I received this quite informative infographic from Tony Shin, which I think highlight the case quite good. I know that some of my friends that specialize in Chines working conditions would regards some of theses issues as being quite “normal” and not really seen as a big issue inside China. However, the infrographic from Tony does give a opportunity for customers to gain knowledge about how their consumer goods are produced.
I have touched on the subject of China many times in this blog and have warned about what can be perceived as a growing bubble. The speculation in housing has had many similarities to what we saw in Ireland, Spain and Portugal just on a much much large scale. Driven by large scale growth in the area of 10 % the Chinese economy have been a steam train without breaks or at least nobody was willing to scout for all the dangers that lay on the tracks. But now are the first signs that things are about to change and that we are after all interconnected even if we would like to think it is not the case.
Chinese has the second largest economy the world after the U.S. and in 2011 it expanded by 9.2% a figure that European governments can only dream about, but for China these represent the first figures that points in the direction of a slowdown. The economic growth in 2011 was thus lower than in 2010 and country’s statistical authorities expect a even further slowdown in economic activity.
Economic growth was in the fourth quarter, less intense than in the previous quarter but still a bit higher than economists had predicted. Production from China’s millions of factories rose in 2011 by 13.9 percent compared to 2010 but also the improvement was less than the year before. Retail sales, an important indicator of citizens’ private consumption expanded by 17.1 percent. Again also a bit slower than in 2010.
And despite the general slowdown economists do not expect a catastrophic slowdown as we saw in the US and Europe, But then again so did economists in US and Europe in 2007. As one Li Hiyong from the finance house Shenyin Wanguo in Shangha said “The actual growth in the quarter of 8.9 percent indicates that our economy remains in good condition and stable. The risk of an abrupt slowdown in economic growth is thereby diminished.”
While these figures are quite impressive they are indications that things are changing in the Chinese economy. First of all, China is still heavily relying on exports for their growth and with the slowdown in the economies in general they are vulnerable to changes in consumer behavior. Secondly, a lot of companies are taking production home or closer to their markets reversing the outsourcing flow that we have seen. One of the main reason why is because of the recession and the advantages of mass production in Asia is becoming less attractive. Third, wages in China are rising at an alarming rate some estimates puts the figures at above 20%, which have fueled the housing bubble and will eat up the advantage of producing in china. This should be compared with the 0-2% wage raise that we see in most European countries.
I will not say that the Chinese bubble will burst tomorrow but in my mind there is structural issues in the economy that will lead to a sharp corner and it is closing fast. China has a lot of money in the bank and they just might be able to pull through using their reserves to counter the downturn. However, it is imperative that the country starts to have a more conservative outlook in their economic and development of their social systems if they are not going to end up driving into a very big brick wall.
Ny christmas reading is as usual one of the classics this time Joseph Schumpeter “Capitalism, Socialsm and Democracy”
Capitalism, Socialism and Democracy remains one of the greatest works of social theory written in the twentieth Century. Schumpeter’s contention that the seeds of capitalism’s decline were internal, and his equal and opposite hostility to centralist socialism have perplexed, engaged and infuriated readers since the book’s first publication in 1943. By refusing to become an advocate for either position, Schumpeter was able both to make his own great and original contribution and to clear the way for a more balanced consideration of the most important social movements of his and our time.